Category Archives: Comedy

Comic Scott Capurro on comedians who lie and Gordon Brown’s hot handshake

29 days ago – yes, 29 days ago – I chatted to American comedian Scott Capurro in London, after one of the Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club ‘new material’ nights. Then I got busy and/or distracted and/or just plain lazy. I have no excuse. But here it is, 29 days later…


SCOTT: It’s great to write new material. It’s really, really exciting. And I think the audience enjoys seeing us crush and then being crushed. They like to see us fail. It’s fun. And we enjoy watching each other fail on stage because the process of what we do – creating comedy – has to have an element of failure in it, otherwise it’s never going to work.

You will never find the joke in it unless you are able to tell it five or ten or twenty times on stage in front of somebody to find out where the humour is. We will famously rehearse something for days and think: This is perfect now; I’ll bring it in… and it doesn’t get a laugh. Not a whisper. Because to us it’s funny but, to a roomful of strangers who don’t know us, they don’t get it.  So you gotta make it accessible to a roomful of people who don’t know you – again and again and again.

It’s tough for comedians, because it’s hard to remember that what you do is difficult. Even though you know it’s a speciality and a very specific talent to take something like the stabbings on London Bridge and turn that into what has gotta be a joke. The only place where you can deal with it immediately after is on the comedy stage.

JOHN: So the relationship between the stand-up comic and the audience is…?

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

SCOTT: There has to be a moment where the audience remembers that the lights are pointed not at them, but at that solitary figure on that piece of the wood. And the problem I think with the current way we discourse through phones and iPads and so on is we don’t make eye contact.

I find myself now, when I’m talking to people in an audience, if they’re under the age of 25 and I make eye-contact with them, they are a little bit wary of me. And that can be difficult because, to them, a punchline sounds old-fashioned – something their bigoted uncle tells at a wedding when he’s drunk.

The focus of comedy has shifted a bit and my job now is to find a way to make what I do accessible to those people as well. There is no point blocking them out or saying they don’t get it or they’re ‘too woke’ or they’re ‘too PC’ or too ANYthing.

People are in a comedy club for a reason: they want to laugh. So you have to allow them the chance to do that.

JOHN: But that is, as you say, difficult…

SCOTT: And it SHOULD be a difficult struggle or else the audience is gonna know what’s gonna happen next. When I go see a comedian, what I find cynical is when I find them predictable or they seem lazy on stage and the audience knows where it’s going. What I think is great about live performance or really any performance I like is that I don’t want to know what’s round the corner.

Now, in this country and especially in comedy for some reason, it has become difficult sometimes to deal with certain subjects.

I was in Stoke at the weekend and told some jokes about Stoke terrorism.

JOHN: Stoke terrorism?

SCOTT: Well that guy who stabbed those people on London Bridge. I told some jokes and they got quiet, but it’s my job. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t do that.

JOHN: You started a podcast recently…

SCOTT: Scott Capurro Probes – I just talk to writers, comics, politicians – people that present their work publicly.

JOHN: Politicians? Like…?

“I got a real tingle from his handshake.” (Copyright: World Economic Forum)

SCOTT: I really want to interview Gordon Brown. I met him backstage at the Hay Festival. I had just met my (future) husband the year before and we were thinking of getting married. I think it was around 2009; Gordon Brown was Prime Minister at the time. He had some really handsome bodyguards.

I shook hands with him. He’s a really big guy. He’s very attractive in person. I found him extremely attractive to talk to. Just five minutes, but really funny, charming and affable and very self-deprecating. On camera, I don’t think his warmth comes across as much as it does in life.

We had shared a stage but not at the same time. A lot of the audience who had seen him in the afternoon stayed to watch me in the evening.

On stage in the afternoon, he had praised Tony Blair and I found out later the audience had not responded very well to that.

Not having seen that afternoon performance, I spoke about what a hero Tony Blair was to me. And the audience… I don’t think they turned on me, but they were not as receptive as I normally find an audience of Guardian readers to be. I was quite surprised by their response and then a woman who still writes for the Guardian wrote a SCATHING review of my performance. It upset me for years.

But people forget that, to gay men – even now – Tony Blair is a hugely iconic supportive figure, because he introduced marriage equality. That was a big deal for us. Huge. And he says it is still a shining moment of his legacy and he still thinks very proudly of it.

People also forget that, at a lot of Gay Pride functions, Tony Blair showed up as Prime Minister. That was a big deal to us. That had not happened before.

So, however smug or supercilious or middle class you want to be, watching me, thinking that you can judge me because I happen to be a supporter of Tony Blair, you can fuck off. That’s kind of what I told them that night.

I really admired Gordon Brown. I got a real tingle from his handshake. He held it for a while. I thought: This guy’s really hot. He’s gonna win! He’s gonna win!… And then it all went sour and here we are now.

JOHN: Are you doing a podcast because it allows you to be more serious? So you don’t have to do gag-gag-gag?

SCOTT: No. I just like chat. In comedy, I am very gag oriented. I am very jokey.

JOHN: You are very fast.

SCOTT: I don’t write set-ups. I tend to just tell punchlines for 25 or 30 minutes. When I first came over from the US and was playing the UK, I was very much nicer and, when I started breaking the mainstream, I felt I had to buffer. But I don’t buffer jokes now. I don’t at all. 

JOHN: Define ‘buffer’.

SCOTT: A set-up.

There’s a traditional joke set-up. You set the joke up. You do an example. And then you tell a punch.

My mother is tough. When I was a kid, she did this to me. And… PUNCH.

I understand that structure and it’s something audiences are very comfortable with. It’s familiar. But now I skip the first two parts. I just tell the punches.

Joan Rivers – Life in Progress at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe

I learned about ten years ago how to do it, watching Joan Rivers at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then I read an interview with her where she said: “I only pay comics for the punchlines; I never ask for the set-ups.”

I thought: That’s interesting. If you only told the punchlines in a set, I wonder how many you could squeeze in. That’s what the audience is here to hear. I mean, I don’t think they give a shit about my politics or my personal response to things.

JOHN: Don’t they?

SCOTT: I think, in Edinburgh, you can break that mould and do more personal stuff. It’s actually expected of you now in Edinburgh. They want a journey. They want you to be fingered or some sort of lie.

JOHN: Lie?

SCOTT: Yeah. 

JOHN: Explain?

SCOTT: Well, at least two shows that have done very well recently, I’ve been told by the premise-creators that they weren’t true… But, oh well. It’s a show anyway. Just a show.

JOHN: So they were telling a…

SCOTT: That’s all I’ll say about it.

JOHN: Comedians are paid to go on stage and tell lies…

SCOTT: They are. But if the show is based round something and you then talk about that thing seriously in public… (PAUSE) but it’s still just a story… I find that… (PAUSE) You know what, though? You are giving people what they want.

I mean, I saw a show in preview last year and, when the artist came off stage, the artist’s management said: “You didn’t put that thing in about your father dying…” And this artist said: “I didn’t think it was necessary.” And they said: “You need to put it back in if you want to get nominated.”

And I thought: That’s fine. Why not put it in? Why not write jokes about it? That’s our job… But then I thought: But you need to let the artist do their progression. I don’t want administrative staff stepping in and telling me what creativity is.

So that’s all.

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Filed under Comedy, Gay, political correctness, Politics

Jewish comic and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller in Berlin and London

Lynn Ruth Miller continues her globe-trotting blogs…


It has been over a year since I visited Berlin. I try to get there every six months. In all the places I visit, I have been fortunate to make good friends and Berlin is no exception but, this past year, it was impossible to schedule anything sooner.

I try to stay with my wonderfully gifted friend Lilli Höch-Corona when I am there because she and I are on the same page in so many ways.

She runs a company that distributes Gefühlsmonsters – wonderful pictures that psychologists and counsellors use to help people identify and deal with their emotions. The pictures were first drawn by her son Christian when he was 13 or 14 years old but, through the years, they have been refined and expanded to cover a gamut of feelings.  

Whenever I am with Lilli we talk about how important it is to identify what you are feeling before you can deal with it sensibly and logically.

She has helped me understand that ‘now’ is all I really have to deal with and if I can manage that, tomorrow will take care of itself.

Lynn Ruth in Berlin with Bryan Schall aka Nana Schewitz

This visit I spent a lot of time with her talking about what life really means.

I had just read an essay about the turbulence and uncertainty of the past decade.

Lilli pointed out that what those writers ignore is how many, many people are now standing up and making themselves heard; people like Greta Thunberg, the women in the #MeToo movement and others demanding equality, recognition and action to remedy the inequalities so prevalent in our world.  

In her Christmas broadcast this year, Queen Elizabeth of Britain reminded us that progress is taken in very small steps and I think it is these steps we should encourage and support. Little by little they will renew stability and encourage reform that will address the major problems of our age.

Lilli and her husband live in East Berlin now but, during the time Berlin was a divided city, they were in the West. Lilli and her family used to visit friends in the Eastern sector and bring them little luxuries because everyone was forced to live meagre, Spartan lives. It was a communist country then and, although everyone had food, a no-frills car and enough to supply their basic needs, their lives were very limited and it was a hard life for them all.

The neighborhood has been tarted-up since it was part of East Berlin and the artists and non-conformists that defined the district’s intriguing subculture in the 1980s and 1990s have been replaced by a young, hip crowd that frequents the many cafes there. Where there were once run-down houses in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, there are now designer shops and varied lovely restaurants.

“The very first comedy club that took me into their heart in Berlin…”

The very first comedy club that took me into their heart in Berlin was Neil Numb’s Cosmic Comedy Club.

Neil is a born entrepreneur and he started this English speaking comedy club in the basement of a hostel called Belushi’s. The club has grown into a successful, professional performance area frequented not just by visitors but by the entire ex-pat community in Berlin. The key guy on stage is Dharmander Singh who not only hosts every night but helps with publicity and is the man who put Cosmic Comedy on the Edinburgh Fringe comedy map.

The beautiful thing about Cosmic Comedy is that, unlike other established comedy clubs, they give everyone a chance to perform. Comedy is a developed skill and you cannot get better unless you do it over and over again. Dhar and Neil offer everyone their moment of fame on stage and I have seen the quality of performance there get better and sharper each time I am there.

However, this time, my first show was not with the boys. It was with Bryan Schall who does a magnificent variety drag show called Jews, Jews, Jews that has travelled all over the world. This was their Chanukah show and Bryan, whose drag name is Nana Schewitz, with his first in command LoIita VaVoom, put on a spectacular show for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Jews, Jews, Jews with (L-R) Gieza Poke, Karma She, George N Roses, Nana Schewitz, Lynn Ruth Miller, Lolita VaVoom, Betty Q and Caitlin Gresham at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke

The audience was a mixture of religions and backgrounds and the show was both original and very camp.

All the performers were amazing but the final act was a Polish Burlesque star called Betty-Q.

She knocked our socks off using Chanukah candles to light her performance.

Nana came out as a giant golden menorah.

And Lolita treated us to a potato pancake extravaganza.

I felt like I had entered another world: one filled with magic and wonder, miles away from reality.  

Finally, after all these years, I got a glimpse of the real Berlin kind of cabaret I had heard so much about. This time I managed to get a bigger taste of Berlin than I usually do. Ordinarily I just eat, sleep and run to the comedy club for my performance. 

This time, Friday and Saturday nights, I performed at The Cosmic Comedy Club. 

The second night I did my show I Never Said I Was Nice and, to my surprise, a woman who loved that show in Tokyo was there to see it again. The international comedy scene is far smaller than I thought and we tend to see one another in very unexpected places as we travel from one place to another.

I came home to London on Sunday, ran to perform in A Night in Soho and then packed to go to the Limmud Festival in Birmingham, a Jewish international festival powered by learning. It features hundreds of educational and informative events and caters to thousands of Jews worldwide. Many similar festivals are held all over the world but the UK one in Birmingham is the biggest and people have been attending for at least forty years.

Lynn Ruth Miller and Rachel Creeger at the Limmud Festival

I had the good fortune to do an hour’s comedy show, be part of a showcase, do a talk on optimistic living and then have a discussion with Rachel Creeger on how we got into comedy and what it means to us. Usually, when someone sees me at a gig and likes what they see, they come up to me after the show to find out where I am performing next. This, however, was a Jewish event and people came up to me to invite me to dinner.

When anyone walks into a Jewish home, they are immediately invited for a meal. The lady of the house will rush into her kitchen, swearing there isn’t a morsel of anything in the house, open her refrigerator and it will be so packed that food will tumble to the floor. She will hastily put together a five course feast for whomever is standing in her front hall and then, should there be anything left over after the meal, her eyes will fill with tears and she will say: ”No one ate a thing!”

I assure you huge feasting is not limited to the Jews. I thought only my people ate a lot on their holidays. I was wrong. The British know how to feed you on a holiday and the family I am spending Christmas with do it with a gourmet flair. The three sons are vegetarian and I have been inundated with mushroom and ale pies, beetroot flan and alcohol, alcohol, alcohol.

I am not complaining.

I have taken an antacid and I am ready to welcome 2020.

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Performer Lynn Ruth Miller tastes life in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

Lynn Ruth Miller concludes her 4-blog jaunt around SouthEast Asia…


I was in Singapore to open for Jinx Yeo, a young man who has become a hit in Asia. Wherever I go in this part of the world, the bookers know and respect him. He lived in London for a short time hoping to make a profitable career but his mother died and he returned to Singapore. Here he is a name and does corporate gigs as well as conventional stand-up performances.

The show was held at The Merry Lion. The place had been refurbished since I was there last. It used to be a very plain, no-frills place that looked more like an upstairs meeting room with a bar, but now it is painted with caricatures of comedians on the wall and a cute little lion to decorate the stage. The lighting has improved, as well.  

All this is thanks to Aidan Killian who took over direct management of the place several months ago. The Merry Lion now looks like a proper comedy club and since it does performances every night it will soon become the major club in Singapore. It is the place for both local and traveling comedians to get a good audience, proper payment and have a good, well-supported show.  

“Audience was large but anxious to laugh”

I opened for Jinx and did a 30-minute set. The audience was large but anxious to laugh and the response was wonderful. I stayed to hear Jinx because I love his comedy.  

The thing I have to remember is that comedy is artistry with words and Jinx is performing in his second language, while I  am using my native tongue. That anyone can get laughs in a foreign tongue is amazing to me, yet I know many comedians do this: Eddie Izzard, Des Bishop to name two 

I returned the next evening to do my solo show I Never Said I Was Nice and there were about 30 people there, most of them ex-pats. I did the show to ecstatic response, which was not easy because the first act was filled with novice comedians who, nice as they are as people, had not mastered the art of stand-up enough to connect with this audience.   

The exciting thing for me was that I was able to pick up a totally dead and very tired audience and make them laugh.

I got up at 6:30am the next day because Gary Tan, my wonderful friend, fellow comedian and taxi driver, wanted to be sure I caught the plane to Kuala Lumpur.

My plane was late (of course it was) and when I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport I was met by Neal Kang, a 19-year-old Communication student whose brother Nat is a comedian and who had conned him into waiting several hours at the airport until I finally arrived. 

Neal goes to an international school. He and his family only speak English at home although he can also speak Malay. His parents are both Chinese but each one speaks a different dialect. Actually, his father is Indian but he was abandoned as a child and a Chinese couple adopted him.

“They have no sex education… No-one knows how to use a condom” (Photograph by Tim J)

Neal filled me in on the inadequate educational system in Kuala Lumpur  “They have no sex education,” he said.  “No-one knows how to use a condom.”

At 15? They are doing it? And using condoms? And this is a Muslim country ruled by Sharia Law?  

One of the required subjects is Morals (?) and, unless you pass it, you cannot get out of high school    

In ‘Morals’, they teach you the basic rules of politeness that our parents taught us in Western countries. 

The laws appear very restrictive but they do not seem to limit people’s lives. For example, you can only divorce if the man approves.  

Many couples separate and do not divorce unless the woman finds someone else and wants to marry him. In that case, they have to pay the first husband money to get him to approve the divorce.  

If the man wants to remarry, he can initiate a divorce with no problem.  

Abortion is illegal but still people do it.  

Being gay is illegal but there is a very large gay population in Kuala Lumpur.  

If you are a Muslim, you must abide by Sharia law but, if you are not, you need not worry.  

The Chinese in Malaysia are considered the wealthy faction of the population and the Indians are suspect.  

I do a joke where I say, “I say something no black person ever says: The policeman is my friend.  When I did my set at the Crack House in Kuala Lumpur, I changed ‘black’ to ‘brown’. It got a huge laugh. 

Kuala Lumpur traffic (Photo by Timothy Tan via UnSplash)

The traffic in Kuala Lumpur is horrid but not as bad as Jakarta.

Still, it took two hours to get from the airport to my hotel and I had just enough time to unpack, grab some food and get dressed for the gig that night.  

Neal’s brother Nat picked me up along with Prakash, the MC for the evening and an amazing performer.   

That night, a huge contingent from Starbucks Coffee came to the show and drank a lot of liquid that was not coffee. The entire audience was one of the best I have ever seen and the four comedians (all men) who made up the first act were unbelievably funny. Every comedian was spot on. I thought: Thank God there is an interval because I could never follow that much laughter.

I did 45 minutes in the second half and it went down to thunderous applause.  Afterwards, all the comedians stayed to drink, dance and chat. It was lovely to see how they all form a very close supportive community.

The next day I met a magnificent, seasoned cabaret performer, Joanne Kam. It was her birthday but SHE took ME to lunch. She has been performing for over thirty years so she initiated the comedy cabaret scene in Kuala Lumpur.  

She is a single mother but has managed to create a very respected and well-paid niche for herself in her part of the world. She must have had huge and daunting blocks to overcome: a woman performing in a male-dominated culture. But she has obviously won her game. She puts on her own shows and packs houses with hundreds of patrons. She is amazing and more important a very kind, giving human being. I never felt any sense of competition with either Joanne or any of the comedians I worked with in Kuala Lumpur and the standard there is exceptionally high. 

After Joanne dropped me off at my hotel, I met Jai and Mark, (with their one-year-old Elezer), a couple I met in London two years ago. We have kept in touch and they also were with me when I did the Merry Lion in Singapore.  

I am beginning to have friends I look forward to seeing again in every country I visit and that makes these trips even more exciting and rewarding.

I Never Said I Was Nice…

And then it was time for the grand finale of my trip to Southeast Asia.  

I did I Never Said I Was Nice – my one hour show – as the second half of the show at the Crack House and it was a hit. Thank goodness for that.  

After the show, all the comedians went out with me for a late dinner and wonderful talk about the meaning of being human, what love is about and why we do comedy. I have to say this comes pretty close to being THE most exciting evening of my life (so far, of course.)  

Wherever we live, whatever we believe, we all share similar goals and aspirations.  

I had a friend from St Petersburg who once told me: “Everybody needs a place to live, to stay warm and eat delicious.”

I guess that says it all.  

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Filed under Comedy, Malaysia, Singapore, Travel

Lynn Ruth Miller on comedy in Singapore, London and Edinburgh

In immediately preceding blogs, she wrote about performing comedy in Cambodia, then in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi and Jakarta. Now London-based American Lynn Ruth Miller continues in Part 3 of a 4-part blog…


My next stop was Singapore.

The comedy scene there is not a good one in which to polish your craft. The open mike opportunities are sparse and, unlike London or even San Francisco, the only audiences at these events are other comedians and that is no way to judge if your comedy has a broad appeal.  

When I had been doing comedy for seven years I had already been elevated to paying gigs and could improve by listening to the reaction I got from larger more diverse audiences  

In Singapore, they have only two outlets.  

Umar Rana runs Masala and he always has international headliners. He is very good at employing locals, but his shows are only once a week and he cannot have the same person week after week. That means there is little opportunity to practice your craft with a real audience. There are too many comedians and too few slots to fill.  

The Merry Lion began two years ago and is not as established. I was very interested to see if it had improved. It had been a very basic room with few comforts or amenities when I last performed there. 

The result of this paucity of opportunity – only two outlets – is that the ‘big’ names here are not that effective in the larger international scene. 

Here they are local headliners; in European venues throughout the world they are mediocre at best.  

Comedians in Singapore who feel they have an edge want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to get reviews and make an international name for themselves.  

I find that appalling because they do not understand the true nature of what the Edinburgh Fringe has become.  

It will cost them an inordinate amount of money. The cost of getting a show listed and advertising it – even if they are part of the Free Fringe or Free Festival – is very high. 

They will be paying twice as much for food and three times as much for lodging as they would anywhere else in the world. The reviews they receive for the most part will be by amateur reviewers hired for no pay by the reviewing outlets who do not understand the challenges of doing comedy in your second language. 

They may very well fill the house in Edinburgh (although I have my doubts about that) but, when they launch their career internationally, it founders because they are simply not sharp  or experienced enough.  

And that is not because they are not funny.

It is because, despite what people think, it takes years and years to polish a set so it has universal appeal.  

I have been doing this for 16 years and I have a natural talent for comedy. Yet, I am still far from there… and I have had plenty of opportunities to practice and to work on my delivery.

People in this part of Asia do not have those outlets. 

Furthermore, standup comedy has become a business. You have to have a name that people recognize if you are to be booked at the major clubs who make a profit from their shows.  

That becomes a Catch-22 situation because you cannot get that name unless you have the opportunity to perform and those chances are given to people who are already established.  

I always tell comedians that they have to truly love doing what we do for its own sake. This is easy enough for me to say because I am on a pension and only have myself to support. If you have a family and expensive tastes, I do not know what to advise. It is true that money can get you pretty far in the field but then even kids with rich daddies (and I see far too many of them on the scene) grind to a halt.   

Stand up comedy has changed my own life for the better. I am not sure even now if this is an individual thing because my previous life was such an unflushed toilet or something I can say will happen to anyone who devotes himself to it. 

…CONTINUED HERE
IN SINGAPORE and KUALA LUMPUR

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Dragos, “the David Jason of Romania”, on comedy styles and the revolution…

Dragoş Moştenescu first appeared in this blog back in 2017 and in 2018,

When I try to explain who Dragos is, I tend to say he is the Romanian equivalent of UK TV star David Jason with a touch of Elton John. In other words, he is indescribable – in a good sense! We are talking an international level of top entertainer here.

On Sunday (15th December) he is performing his full-length stage show All Aboard for Christmas! in London, so we met up at the Soho Theatre Bar for a chat. Towards the end, we got interrupted by another performer…


JOHN: You’ve already performed All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So now you are going to stage it…

DRAGOS: …every three or four months. My next aim – which turns out to be not that easy – is to find an agent – I don’t expect to be ‘big overnight’! – Someone to provide work at least constantly. Perhaps not daily but maybe weekly. What I do is very suitable for let’s say private parties – playing the piano; my Elton John thing. ..

JOHN: Corporate gigs you would be ideal for.

DRAGOS: Exactly. I am realistic.

JOHN: What would be a good step for you?

DRAGOS: A three minute song on a morning TV show. Three minute songs on radio shows. Three minutes here and there.

JOHN: You are more of an hour-long solo show performer but you can also do 5 and 10 minute spots…

DRAGOS: Yes. If you have 5 minutes of material, it is very difficult to extend it to 10 or 20 minutes; but, when you have 60 minutes, it is easier to extract 5, 10 and 20 minute routines. But they are different styles.

JOHN: (I NAME ANOTHER PERFORMER) does great one-hour shows and, in fact, I’ve seen (THE OTHER PERFORMER) do brilliant two-hour solo shows, but they are never going to be on BBC TV on Live at the Apollo, because The Apollo wants gag-gag-gag, punchline-punchline-punchline.

Five-minute acts tend to be full of quick gag punchlines.

DRAGOS: Exactly. It is very difficult to catch the audience within five minutes and keep them. You need to use one-liners and I respect that and salute it. But, when you are doing a 60-minute show, you cannot have the audience punched every minute. You have to bring people into the story… A beginning, a punchline or two or three and sections and an end and maybe you draw a conclusion from the story. The pace has to be different.

The trend is for stand-ups which I am not… entirely.

What I want now is not even money. I want people to be aware I can bring an hour of ‘light’ entertainment and people will go home more content, more relaxed and re-charged like a battery for work the next day.

JOHN: You must have had to learn what sense of humour British audiences want. 

DRAGOS: When I came here, I didn’t use any of my Romanian routines. When I first started in Britain, one routine I had was about people lacking money and being in a shopping mall where money was flying around but it didn’t work with the audiences. People were laughing reluctantly. They didn’t relate. 

Someone told me: “Everybody in the world needs more money but it is not an issue for us. We are not that poor. Not comedy audiences. They can put food on their tables. They can travel around the country or even the world. So people do not personally relate to being poor in comedy routines.”

But the rent in London is not low and audiences can personally identify with that. So I have a song about it and, at the end, I have sometimes had standing ovations. Especially if there are a lot of young people in the audience. They identify – Shared house, high rent, poor living conditions.

Dragoş created, wrote, produced and starred in Romania’s first television sitcom after the Revolution – La Bloc

JOHN: What is the sense of humour in Romania?

DRAGOS:
We still tend to laugh about what British people used to laugh about 20 or 30 years ago – the disabled, drunken people, less-minded guys…

JOHN: Punching down.

DRAGOS: Exactly.

JOHN: And now, in Britain, we punch up not down.

DRAGOS: Yes. But, on the internet, I have seen shows from 20 or 30 years ago and it was the same here in Britain. People laughed at different things then.

JOHN: Did Romanian TV charge after Ceausescu was overthrown?

DRAGOS: Under Ceausescu, there were only three hours of television per night.

JOHN: And that was mostly about what Ceausescu had done that day.

DRAGOS: Yes. And occasional Romanian movies. And, once a week we had an international – specifically American – film. That is why Romanians speak English with an American accent. The only foreign languages we heard were French, a bit of Russian and a lot of American.

JOHN: And television after Ceausescu…?

DRAGOS:
He fled with his helicopter and his entourage on 22nd December 1989 and landed at a cabin in the mountains. But he was captured and he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day.

JOHN: And, after that, television changed…?

DRAGOS: The revolution caught them unprepared. They had no regulations about what you could show on TV. They transmitted an uncensored Romanian film with nudity at 8 o’clock at night and…

(…AT THIS POINT, PERFORMER NARIN OZ ARRIVED IN THE SOHO THEATRE BAR…)

JOHN: (TO NARIN) Do you know Dragos? You should go and see his show at the Hen & Chickens on Sunday.

NARIN: I can’t. I’m filming in a horror movie. I play Death. I’m the villain.

JOHN: That’s typecasting. It’s the evil eyes. Dragos is the David Jason of Romania. Ask him something.

Narin Oz unexpectedly arrived during my chat with Dragos at the Soho Theatre Bar in London

NARIN: What’s your background?

DRAGOS: I graduated in engineering from the University of Timișoara, where the Romanian revolution started. in 1989.

JOHN: You were there?

DRAGOS: Yes. I was there in the beginning. Things expanded dramatically. Within four days, there was blood on the streets. We didn’t have weapons. We had the mentality at that time to go out bare-handed and, as they say, bare-chested. But I wasn’t that crazy. When things changed and became quite serious, I ran. I ran and I was kind of a prisoner in the students’ area.

Nothing was working. Not the public transportation, not the trains, not nothing. I was blocked up to about the 24th December. The spark was on 18th December and rolled over and smashed all the country, but it ended up in Bucharest within two or three days on 21st of December and, on 22nd, Ceausescu fled, then was killed on 25th. They call us religious people, but we killed our leader on Christmas Day: come on!

NARIN: So your show is about Romania…

DRAGOS: No. Not at all. I just put all that in brackets – what I just said.

NARIN: Those are very big brackets. Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

JOHN: It’s not a comedy show as such. It has comedy but with lots of music. It’s like an old-time variety show but solo.

DRAGOS: Though I think, when you walk away, you have some ideas and a conclusion maybe?

NARIN: Are you singing?

DRAGOS: Yes. Singing and playing the piano and comedy.

JOHN: Songs you have written yourself.

DRAGOS: Ten songs written especially for the show.

JOHN: And a bit of Elton John.

“A serious piece of music… an impersonation of Elton John.”

DRAGOS: Yes. That is a more serious piece of music. I do an impersonation of Elton John. (HE SHOWS A VIDEO ON HIS PHONE)

NARIN: You’re a bit of a legend.

JOHN: He is. Twenty years daily on television. Multiple series. And he wrote and produced and starred in this sitcom which…

DRAGOS: That was the first sitcom ever in Romania because, before 1989 and the overthrow of Ceausescu, we didn’t have such entertainment there. Then, after ten years of importing Seinfeld and Married With Children, we started our own sitcom on Pro TV – a private one, like ITV here. It lasted for ten years and 524 episodes.

JOHN: Produced and written by you…

DRAGOS: Well, there was a whole team of writers…

JOHN: But mainly you…

DRAGOS: Yes, because I created the idea; so I was like the head writer; I would re-touch and revise a little bit and I also acted in it.

NARIN: So, why did you come here? You were known there. You had everything.

DRAGOS: Yes, but I felt I needed somewhere to go and something to do NEXT. When you become very comfortable within your situation, that can lead to lack of inspirational creativity.

I have built up this new stage show and now I am struggling to get it going because I am in-between worlds.

Romanians in Britain would come to see me but, when they find out the show is in English… Not many have perfect English, especially the guys who just come here to work, to get some money to build something back in Romania. In London, there are doctors, lawyers and others who have been here about ten years and speak good English, but…

NARIN: Why don’t you do a Romanian language show?

DRAGOS: I have. But it’s not what I came here for. When I address things in English, I have to have a British audience. And the non-Romanian, English-speaking audience do not know me at the moment. I’m not complaining.  This is the normal way to do it. To build a new audience. 

NARIN: You could do, say, a 4-day run with two shows in Romanian and two in English.

DRAGOS: I could, but doing the same show in English and in Romanian doesn’t work. The topics are slightly different. With the Romanian shows I have to be very specific with Romanian references and culture. Every other month, we have a 2-hour Romanian show with various acts.

But I want to move on, move up.

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Romania

Comic Nathan Lang: “Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian”

Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.

I got an email from him:

“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back. 

“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.

“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”

So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.

And I have only just transcribed it.

I got severely side-tracked.

The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…


Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia

NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.

JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.

NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.

JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?

NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.

JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.

NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing. 

JOHN: And the comedy?

NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.

JOHN: I want to go there.

NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey. 

JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.

NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.

JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.

JOHN: With what?

NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.

JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.

NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”

JOHN: So Bobcat is better?

NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.

JOHN: Biblical?

NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.

JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?

NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.

JOHN: So why Bobcat…?

NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…

JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?

NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.

JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…

NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?

This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.

JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?

NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.

JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?

NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.

JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.

NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.

JOHN: Caracal?

NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.

JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.

JOHN: You seem happy.

NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.

JOHN: You’re on them?

Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London

NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.

After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.

JOHN: Because of Perth?

NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.

JOHN: Why was it long overdue?

NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.

But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.

It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.

So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.

JOHN: And you are OK now?

NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.

JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.

NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.

JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.

NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectioned immediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.

JOHN: Why did you come back to the UK?

NATHAN: Our careers.

JOHN: What is Shelley?

NATHAN: A trainee psychotherapist.

JOHN: That’s useful.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology, UK

Ria Lina on Comedy Unleashed, non-PC audiences and the Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.

Ria was born in England.

Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.

At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.

Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.

And now she’s a comedian.

She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.

Now read on…


JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…

RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.

JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.

RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.

It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.

JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.

RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250… 

JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.

RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.

If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!

JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?

RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities. 

I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it. 

JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?

Ria Lina, BSc, PhD, MC and comedian

RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is. 

I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…

JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?

RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!

It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.

JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?

RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.

JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?

RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.

JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…

RIA: Yes. 

JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…

RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate, 

The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.

Ria Lina’s show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe

JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…

RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.

JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…

RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.

The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.

JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?

RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.

JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!

RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics