Category Archives: Comedy

Is London’s uniquely decorated comedy venue – The Poodle Club – barking?

Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) was a physician recognised as a founder of clinical medicine and epidemiology who discovered Sydenham’s Chorea aka St Vitus Dance

What did he suggest caused illnesses?  Humoural imbalance.

South East London’s Sydenham area is named after him and humour has been restored there, at least.

(That is an example of why I am not a comedian.)

Betsy, the club’s meeter-and-greeter…

The Poodle Club has re-opened for comedy in Sydenham. The club first opened in 2017 but, of course, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, had to close in 2020. 

It’s run by indefatigable dog-lover Karen O Novak and her husband Darren Ball.

Unusually for UK comedy clubs, it’s not just some room in a pub; they own the lease and it was purpose-built as a comedy venue.

“Why call it The Poodle Club?” I asked Karen.

“Betsy, of course,” she told me.

Betsy is a tiny poodle: a very enthusiastic and much-loved meeter-and-greeter of audiences at the club.  

My last blog was a chat with stand-up performer David Mills backstage at the sold-out grand post-pandemic re-opening of The Poodle Club.

In it, I used the word “unique” about the club. Because it is.

Karen O Novak and David Mills back in 2014

You can choose to share a toilet with Liberace…

The revitalised post-pandemic Poodle Club has a new state-of-the-art ventilation system which delivers 500 litres of fresh air per second.

It also aims to have an equal number of male and female comedians and to promote LGBTQ+ and non-white comics in order, says Karen, “to raise up voices that are sometimes lost in the traditionally straight, male-dominated comedy scene”.

The policy, she claims, has drawn an audience that is 70% female.

The club’s decor – like Betsy the Poodle – shows signs of quirky character.

…or visit Bloo Hawaii in the other poodle loo

There are two unisex toilets in the club: one lavishly decorated as a tribute to Liberace and one equally lavishly dedicated to Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii

Despite being clearly marked as unisex, Darren tells me that, overwhelmingly – and for no known reason – men tend to go into the Liberace WC and women into the Elvis WC.

The audiences on the sold-out opening weekend came into the club beaming with joy – partly because of the warm welcome from Betsy, partly because of the club-wide OTT decor which greeted them and partly, I imagine, just because they were able to go to local comedy again.

There’s a plethora of poodle ornaments and ‘kooky’ knick-knacks crowding behind the bar…

“How,” I asked Karen, “did the good people of Sydenham react during the club’s pandemic closure?”

“There were,” she told me, “non-stop emails, weeping, people throwing themselves under buses.”

“Normal for Sydenham, then,” I said. “Has Betsy greeted audiences since the start in 2017?”

Poodle pooches are all over the place in this lovingly-decorated oasis of the comedy arts…

“Before Betsy,” said Karen, “there was Snoopadoo. She used to hold court here at the bar, but she was an elderly lady poodle and passed away at 19 years old.”

“Were Betsy and Snoopadoo related?”

“Sadly no.”

The poodle obsession runs deep, though. In the backstage dressing room, even the signs on the wall board are held up with little pink poodle pins.

The club has performances every Friday and Saturday – during most other days it lies fallow.

But, ever-enterprising, Karen and Darren are running the First Annual ‘Sydenham Comedy Festival’ at the Poodle Club for a whole week this year – 10th-18th June.

The Festival will feature 20 one-hour shows – a series of Edinburgh Fringe previews by the likes of Arthur Smith, Paul Foot, Tony Law and Shazia Mirza..

The Poodle Club in Sydenham is far from Barking…

Like I said, I’m no comedian, but I know what I like.

I like originality. And The Poodle Club certainly has that.

The never-less-than-extravagantly costumed Ada Campe performing on stage at The Poodle Club

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David Mills on the difference between US and UK comedy clubs… and more…

Every week, British-based US-born comedian David Mills posts online an extraordinary 5-point bulletin called Quality Timea smörgåsbord of societal snippets, curated curious comment and interesting insights.

This week, in issue 67, there are items on the Mexican rodeo tradition, US abortion laws, personal advice from the founding executive editor of Wired magazineunforgettable movie trailers and a suspected Basque Country serial killer of gay men who is still on the loose…

We had a chat backstage when I went to the grand re-opening of South London’s unique comedy venue The Poodle Club. David was headlining the opening night, of course.


JOHN: How would you describe Quality Time?

DAVID: It’s a column, really. It’s a window onto the world. Culture & commentary.

JOHN: Very you…You were born in LA?

DAVID: No, it’s where the family ended-up in the 1980s and 1990s. I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Pennsylvania and we travelled over to California when I was about 18. My family’s now in Northern California and Oregan.

JOHN: Recently, you’ve started performing in the UK AND in the US. Are the audience tastes different?

DAVID: Yes. What I’ve found, going back to LA and gigging is that a lot of comics out there are really great on stage and they’re really warm and they have tons of charisma, but they have none of the craft that you need to play comedy rooms in the UK.

JOHN: So what do you need in the UK?

DAVID: You need jokes. You need callbacks. It needs to be quick fire. You need to keep them laughing. In the US – at least in California – I think it’s very different in New York – they are happy to just have a charming host. Someone like a party host and maybe a joke comes and maybe it doesn’t.

David at the Underbelly’s Thames-side South Bank Festival in London, 2019

When you get UK acts like me or Brett Goldstein who go over there and… joke, joke, joke, joke… they don’t know what they’re even looking at but they LOVE it.

I was over there for two months at the end of last year and the beginning of this and I thought: There’s lots of opportunity here for UK acts and for me. And they’re also looking at me because I’m American but I’m not American. So I’m sort-of this interesting thing to them.

JOHN: And yet you are one of them…

DAVID: Yes. I AM ‘one of them’. It’s good to go back. It’s nice to be around. It’s always nice to come home, isn’t it? Look at James Cordon. He’s coming home to the UK.

JOHN: Indeed. So that means there’s an empty space for a late night chat show host in the US. Perhaps a culturally-diverse person like you? They’ve had James Cordon and Craig Ferguson and Trevor Noah – all non-Americans. You are an American but, in a way you are not an American. So you…

DAVID: No. What they want is a woman. And there should be a woman. There is no woman on the late-night chat shows. Well, Joan Rivers did it. Samantha Bee does it. Others have done it, but they’ve never lasted.

What’s interesting is that James Cordon is going AND Ellen DeGeneres  is going. Ellen is daytime and Cordon is evening. Ellen’s been doing it for 19 years. Cordon was tipped to replace Ellen but it seems he’s coming back to the UK.

JOHN: So they have two spots open and they want someone sophisticated who…

Multi-cultural David at the Bar Chez Georges, Saint-Germain in Paris, 2020

DAVID: I don’t know that they want ‘sophisticated’, but they want someone who can really connect with the audience. And that’s what you see on stage in LA. All these acts really connect with audiences. They’re not looking to be stand-up comics. They’re mostly looking to be actors or TV presenters or whatever – and they just want to get exposure.

They don’t need to be joke-joke-joke good comics. They do need to be charming and dynamite and look great and be friendly and likeable. And then they get picked up from that and thrown into something like an Ellen spot.

JOHN: But you’re an actor too. You were in Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. When are you going to be in another feature film?

DAVID: Well, there’s a small film I did – a small part – which I filmed last July in Glasgow.

JOHN: A small film called?

DAVID: Indiana Jones 5.

JOHN: And Glasgow is Gotham City?

DAVID: Yes. Glasgow is New York. Whenever they want to do New York in the UK, they do it in Glasgow.

JOHN: Might you go back to the US more full-time? Like 10 months a year?

DAVID: Who knows?

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Facebook attacks the long-established UK tradition of a ‘banger-up-the-bum’

It seems to have taken six months for Facebook to decide that sticking a banger up your bum is unacceptable. This message arrived just before 07.00am this morning (UK time). Bad news for fans of football and Chris Lynam…

The above was posted in a members-only Facebook group for fans of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

I think the picture of England football fans in Leicester Square during the Euro 2020 Championsip was taken from the UK newspaper Metro – owned by Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail – or possibly from the BBC News website, though I can’t quite remember. It was also published online by the Daily Mail itself.

I can’t help but feel this frown from Facebook demonstrates a cultural gap between UK (possibly European) and US sensibilities. Sticking a banger-up-your-bum is a commendably British tradition which started in the 1980s – 40 years ago.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee, in his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, tells how the revered banger-up-the-bum routine originated…


One of the most popular acts with any Tunnel audience that enjoyed General De Gaulle was Chris Lynam, who had been so kind to me when Pip was ill.

He was in The Greatest Show on Legs at one point and we were all sitting round saying:

“How can we follow The Balloon Dance? We’re all naked. What can we do? We just have to walk off stage. There’s no way to finish it!”

“Well,” I said, “You might as well stick a banger up your arse!”

“Good idea!” Chris said: “You do it!”

So I was the first one to do it. But I only did it once.

You don’t actually stick the banger up your arse, you just clench it between your buttocks, then light it. I didn’t have the necessary muscle-control. It drooped a bit and set light to the hairs on my testicles. I said to Chris:

“You’d better do it”.

So now the finish to his act involves putting a firework up his bottom, then an extravagant version of There’s No Business Like Show Business starts playing on loudspeakers, the firework is lit, goes off and he exits the stage trailing glorious sparks. Sometimes it’s a three-stage Roman Candle shooting forth increasingly spectacular jets of silver sparkles. Good finish. Difficult to follow.

The first year he did it in Edinburgh, we were playing a little pub called The Comedy Boom. It wasn’t very big, but we got the Banger Up The Bum routine passed by a Fire Officer called Maurice Gibb. That’s his real name. It just is. We did the routine the first night then the landlord said he wouldn’t let us do it again. He said:

“You’re not doing that in my pub!”

I said we’d compromise. At the end of our show, we’d take the audience outside and do it in the street. So we did that the second night and it wasn’t just the audience from the show who were there: it drew a bit of a crowd. The landlord said:

“No! You’re not doing that again. It’s bringing my pub into disrepute!”

So we had to video the routine and show the audience the video and it wasn’t the same.

On the last night of our run, I decided we’d do it again for real. We’d been paid already, so fuck the landlord. I was sick of it. We’d had other rows about our act – obviously.

So Chris Lynam bought an extra-large firework.

That night – banger in the bottom – light it – No Business Like Show Business – and it set the pub alight. Just the wall. A bit of plaster. It wasn’t much damage. But some people…. moan, moan, moan.

The next year, The Greatest Show on Legs played The Assembly Rooms, the big, prestige venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. Same thing again. The Fire Officer passed it. First night went without a hitch. Lovely. On the second night, for some reason, it set off all the fire alarms in The Assembly Rooms and they had to evacuate the entire building – about 3,000 people had to evacuate, including our audience and some Russians who were doing a four-hour play and only had three minutes left to go.

We were all standing around outside The Assembly Rooms – a motley crew – when the fire engines turned up with Maurice Gibb. He was there, ready with the hose. Then he saw me naked, saw Chris Lynam, and said:

“Banger up the bum?”.

“Yes,” I said.

“Hoses away, lads!” he said.

And off they went.

The Russians – fair play to them – went back upstairs and did the last three minutes of their play.


YouTube has a clip of Chris Lynam’s routine, as shown nationally on France’s Got Talent in 2014…

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A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 2 – Comedy, characters, dreams…

Robert Wringham is not his real name…

Yesterday’s blog finished with:

ROBERT: So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

Now read on…


JOHN: I am not in any way a performer. No talent; no interest in doing it. There is a different mindset between performers and writers, isn’t there? I’m not remotely a performer. I can’t ad-lib fluently in spoken speech, whereas I can write I think fluently quite quickly.

ROBERT: I don’t want to be truly me performing on stage; I want to be a character. I think I can just about hold my own in terms of fast thoughts, but what I can’t do is play the character at the same time. However, in Stern Plastic Owl and my other books, I think I CAN do that.

JOHN: So, when you were a stand-up, it was character comedy…

ROBERT: Not like Alan Partridge. It’s like what I said about ‘Robert Wringham’ and the doppelgänger. I want this clear line between the real me and what I’m showing, otherwise it’s not actually a creative act. I don’t want to go out there and just talk. I want to have a character and that was why I was not very good as a performer. I couldn’t really do that.

The way I’ve found round that problem is to do these books. 

JOHN: By and large, I don’t like character comedy because, in television, I got typed as a finder of bizarre and/or eccentric ‘real people’. So I know there are loads of eccentric or even just slightly unusual people out there – well, most people are slightly unusual – and they are really interesting. So why should I watch someone pretending to be eccentric or unusual when they are not? – They are just analysing someone who isn’t themselves and fabricating a character to hide behind.

Charlie Chuck is not a subtle character study of a real type…

The closer a character act is to being real, the less I’m interested. The more ‘cartoony’ they are, the more I’m interested. Charlie Chuck springs to mind. Charlie Chuck (real name Dave Kear) is not a subtle character study of a real type of person.

ROBERT: One of my favourite comics is Harry Hill (real name Matthew Hall) and a lot of people don’t really think of him as a character comic although he is. You could not be like that in real life. I assume Matthew Hall at home is going to be nothing like Harry Hill.

JOHN: Yes, he’s a cartoon character – in a good way. I think really good straight stand-up comedians on stage are themselves, but slightly heightened versions of themselves. And then there are the OTT cartoony-type ones. But stand-up ‘character comedy’ tends to be just wannabe actors showing off their abilities, not performers who inherently have that odd ‘comedian’ gene.

I also don’t particularly like slow-speaking comedians. If I pay to see Jerry Sadowitz, I’m getting value for money in the words-per-minute, but slow comedians, by-and-large, I think: Just get on with it! I never liked Jack Benny. Too slow. Although, oddly, I liked George Burns.

ROBERT: To me, ‘slow’ is the ultimate cool because it’s the opposite of… When you’re nervous on stage, you go fast. A slow-speaking comedian instills a certain confidence in the room. You think: Oh! This guy knows what he’s doing! He’s going to slowly reveal the routine. It’s also very funny: almost as if they don’t care what the audience thinks.

JOHN: I guess maybe George Burns felt more Jewish to me, which I like. Jack Benny was maybe less ‘American Jewish’ humour.

ROBERT: My partner is Jewish and Jewish is a big part of our shared life. In my secret mind, ‘Robert Wringham’ is Jewish, though I don’t tend to talk about it on the page. My favourite humorists are all Jewish. 

JOHN: S.J. Perelman?

ROBERT: Yeah. Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, Jon Ronson.

JOHN: So what’s next for you after Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: I’m working on my novel. It’s almost done.

JOHN: Tell me it really IS about sitting in a bathtub and it’s called Rub-a-Dub-Dub

ROBERT: Yes! It is!

JOHN: A lucky guess on my part. What’s the plot?

ROBERT: I think ‘plot’ is old hat. So, instead of going wide with a plot, go deep. It’s about the conscious state you have when you’re in the bath. You’re nostalgic. You’re thinking back. There’s this time machine effect. You’re thinking back to you childhood. So that’s what my guy in the book does. He’s remembering things, thinking of his worries, thinking on his body. There’s a lot of stuff about the body in it.

There is something called phenomenological writing, which is just the real nitty-gritty of what surrounds you. You’d be surprised how you can make that interesting.

JOHN: As I speak to you, I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun sitting in front of a station/cathedral. What is phenomenological writing?

“I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun…”

ROBERT: It’s really old. It’s a French thing. For example, Georges Perec did one where it was all in one building, but it was into the nitty-gritties. So he’d be talking about the design on the carpet for ages and going into the shagpile of this single room or the individual books in the bookcase and what they were. And it would all be in the service of something: like This is the character of the person who lives there. But it would be really deep into the nitty-gritty.

You would think: That can’t possibly be fun to read. But, actually, it’s really entertaining and interesting. What I’m doing and what Georges Perec did is playing it for laughs.

JOHN: I remember reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and wondering why she went into such detailed descriptions of people’s houses… until I realised the descriptions were actually also descriptions of each householder’s personality. The houses personified their occupants. 

This blog bit is just pure self-indulgence…

You were talking about dreams earlier on. I’m interested because I have an unidentified medical problem. I used to sleep soundly and deeply and never remembered my dreams. But now I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since June 2020 – I wake up literally every hour and, of course, sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream. I always wanted to remember my dreams because I assumed they would be surreal but they’re not. The dreams I have are very realistic not surrealistic. They have narrative storylines running through them. I am disappointed. You sound like you have better dreams.  

ROBERT: Mine aren’t stories at all. If I do something very repetitive during the day – like doing the washing-up – that’ll end up in my dream. Repetitive things go in. Embarrassingly dull.

JOHN: I don’t seem to have nightmares. Do you?

ROBERT: No. And, if I do write things down in my notebook, it’s always things like Stern Plastic Owl. I DID once write down Stoat: Hospital with a colon between the two words. I can’t even begin to imagine what that means. 

JOHN: I can only dream of having dreams which are that weird.

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Award-winning Janet Bettesworth: her Mercenaries novel and a Ukraine song

Walking a tight-rope on a roller-coaster

Stand-up comedian and comedy club promoter Janet Bettesworth has published her first novel Mercenaries

The blurb says it “plunges into the no-holds-barred dark world of Airbnb machinations” in which “Carla, a comedian, and Louise, an actress, are bribed by an elderly landlady, Alice to… extract revenge… A mélange of gruesome memories emerges as events unfold”.

And… “This plot line walks a tight-rope on a roller-coaster! And includes all you need to know about Butlins Holiday Camp Margate, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, racism, Airbnbs, #MeToo, bribery, the Royals, insects, coffins, croissants, failed comedians and revenge.”

Janet started creating the book by posting a series of her portraits of characters on Facebook (I blogged about it in 2020) and asking people to suggest their backgrounds.

So I had a chat with Janet and fellow comic Peter Stanford at her undeniably prestigious book launch in South London.


JOHN: So why write this book?

JANET: The genesis was when I won £1,000 in a writing competition.

JOHN: From whom?

JANET: The Oldie magazine. The topic was The worst job I’ve ever had.

JOHN: Which was?

JANET: Being a waitress at a Butlin’s holiday camp in Margate. I had to go to the Garrick Club where The Oldie held their Award thing. I went with (comedian) Will Franken. 

The evening dragged on and they hadn’t told me when the presentation was going to happen. I really needed to go to the loo and thought: When on earth is it going to be time to give out the prize? Everyone was drinking away so I thought I’ll quickly just nip to the loo and the next thing I knew there was a banging on the door of the toilet and it was Will Franken…

JOHN: This was the Ladies toilet? 

JANET: Yes.

JOHN: Was he dressed as a lady?

JANET: No. But, by the time I got back, they had lugged (comedy icon) Barry Cryer on to fill the gap because there was no Me to be seen anywhere… Barry Cryer was in the middle of one of his parrot jokes but they kind of wheeled me on and I looked a bit shamefaced… When they wrote it up in The Oldie, it was all my fault this had happened: the person who didn’t really know what they were doing.

PETER: One would have thought they would have checked you were there before making the announcement…

JANET: Exactly! OR told me when it was going to happen.

JOHN: … or done the presentation in the toilet.

JANET: Before all that, I had been going round the room talking to various people who didn’t know anything about me. But, after the presentation, everyone was incredibly much more friendly. So I talked to Maureen Lipman and also to this really nice woman called Elizabeth Luard and she said: Have you ever thought of writing a book? And I said I genuinely felt it was beyond me.

I’d read hundreds of books and quite often I would be so full of admiration for the writer but I would think it was one step too far: I wouldn’t be able to do it.

JOHN: So why did you do The Oldie competition if you weren’t interested in writing yourself?

JANET: Well, I could write short things. Like for comedy writing….

But Elizabeth Luard said: If you can write something like the short Oldie piece, all you need to do is get ten more bits of that length and sew them all together.

JOHN: So the book is not so much a novel, more like a series of vignettes.

JANET: You’ve not read the book, have you?

JOHN: No.

Former art teacher Janet’s portrait of Peter Stanford…

PETER: Do you even own a copy of the book?

JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and can’t read books. I can write them, but I can’t read them.

PETER: You could always buy it and not read it…

JOHN: When is the audio book coming out?

JANET: Actually, a blind friend of mine asked the same thing. But I’ve never had anything published before and I’m completely new and it’s a strange world to me. My husband reads to me every single day, usually in the afternoon. I love being read to and he loves reading things out loud. We’ve read the Diaries of Alan Clark and… 

PETER: Does your husband do all the voices?

JANET: Yes. He always does the voices. I have actually had part of Mercenaries read out loud by a voice artist: Seanie Ruttledge.

 He read out the very first bit, which is quite pornographic.

JOHN: That’s a good start. If they read the first five pages, they’ll get some porn.

JANET: Oh, there’s plenty more after that.

JOHN: Why is the book called Mercenaries?

JANET: One of the themes is the difference in outlook between the generations. You have two women – the slightly younger generation – who are tangentially in the comedy or acting worlds. One of them is a vegan and she is very Me Too; and the other one is an elderly woman called Alice. So it’s the way she is viewed.

JOHN: Autobiographical in some way? 

JANET: I am 77 at the moment. When I was about 68, that’s when I started doing stand-up comedy and, in a way, going to all these gigs was a bit like going back to my youth. The kind of atmosphere of going to all these gigs was like a kind of renaissance, in a way.

Janet’s impression of me as an East End street trader…?

JOHN: It gave you a new lease of life?

JANET: Yes. And it gave me a sort of different prism to see the world.

JOHN: And the relevance of that to the book is…?

JANET: Well, they’re both aspects of me.

JOHN: So, if you’re describing different aspects of yourself, did it make you understand something more about yourself?

JANET: (DUBIOUSLY) I suppose so, yes. The hard part was trying to put it more together so there was some sort of plot.

JOHN: The easy bit was the pornography?

JANET: I dunno.

JOHN: You are an arty person as opposed to a wordy person. You were an Art teacher…

JANET: (DUBIOUSLY) Is it not possible to have both interests?

JOHN: Yes, but I thought maybe you were a fulfilled arty person and an unfulfilled wordy person.

JANET: I suppose. 

JOHN: Have you an idea for another book in your brain?

JANET: I did have the other day, but… 

JOHN: I know. I can’t remember what happened yesterday.

JANET: All the proceeds are going to the Ukraine, by the way. 

PETER: The book was published after the Russians invaded Ukraine.

JOHN: So the profits go to Ukraine charities for how long? Forever?

Janet checks the Ukrainian song’s lyrics…

JANET: Why not? Until Ukraine stops needing it, I suppose.

JOHN: So, if it’s all going to Ukraine, you’re going to earn nothing from this.

JANET: Great.

JOHN: So are you going to write another book?

JANET: I don’t know. I just have to wait for…

(AT THIS POINT, PETER PULLED OUT A PIECE OF SHEET MUSIC…)

PETER: We can sing. Here’s a song in Ukrainian. 19th century.

(JANET, WHO CAN READ MUSIC, STARTED SINGING “A PRAYER FOR UKRAINE”…)

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Too mild? Chris Rock should learn from Jerry Sadowitz and/or Malcolm Hardee

Last weekend, actor Will Smith (a former comic) slapped Chris Rock (a current comic) in the face at the Oscars ceremony for allegedly slighting his wife with an ad-libbed joke obliquely-referring to her alopecia-caused baldness/shaved head.

I can’t help but feel that Americans’ sensibilities are a little too touchy and their attempts at edgy comedy could do with a bit more edge-sharpening. 

Still… it was the slap that echoed round the world, making front-page news and generating much comment.

On Twitter, British comedian and writer David Baddiel observed: “As a comedy moment it’s still not up there with a member of the audience at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 1991 punching Jerry Sadowitz out cold for opening with Hello moose-fuckers!

The full line was: “Hello moose-fuckers! I tell you why I hate Canada: half of you speak French, and the other half let them.

As David Baddiel pointed out, there is no footage of that particular punch, but there is a video of Clive Anderson interviewing comedians Denis Leary and Bill Hicks about it after the event…

In a comment on David Baddiel’s Tweet this week, Mr AR Felix (who describes himself as a “Ferrari supporter, casual artist and culture vulture”) wrote: 

“The rarely-quoted follow up line, which Sadowitz claims is what actually led to him being attacked was: Why don’t you speak Indian? You might as well speak the language of the people you stole the country off of in the first place.

When I mentioned the Sadowitz attack on my own Facebook page, former Time Out editor Dominic Wells commented:

“Loved Jerry/Gerry Sadowitz — the reason for my G/J being that when I was still chief sub on Time Out, and editor Don Atyeo showed his new columnist round the office, I asked him (pre-internet): How do you spell G/Jerry? 

Spell it how ye fucking want, son, ah don’t give a shite, quoth the comic. 

Jerry or Gerry Sadowitz takes Time Out with Ben Elton

“So I (unlike Wikipedia, now that it exists) spelt it with a G in all his Time Out columns and the cover he was on, throttling the Spitting Image puppet of Ben Elton, for which Ben apparently never forgave us. 

“G/Jerry was by a long chalk the funniest columnist I have EVER read, let alone subbed. I would hoot with laughter at his copy. Sadly G/Jerry proved too close to the edge even for Time Out. The editor couldn’t handle the letters of complaint and sacked him after just four or five, despite my entreaties. 

“I guess the tone was set by his very first column, replacing Muriel Gray, who had departed for the Guardian or similar. It opened with a poem: 

See that Muriel Gray/ In a’ the Fleet Street papers/ You can read her if you want/ But I’d rather fuck the Proclaimers.

After this Facebook comment, comic and cultural icon John Dowie reminisced:

What’s the worst opening remark a comedian could ever say? asked Nick Revell, backstage prior to a 1980s comedy gig. Nelson Mandela – What a cunt! was the winning answer… Jerry opened with it… Of course.”

Then, returning to the subject of outrage caused at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, Rob Williams (who describes himself as a “writer of stuff” added:

“Malcolm Hardee at Montreal got told before going on that they love observational humour. Do observational stuff and you’ll be fine, they told him… So he opened with: Have you ever noticed that if you stick a carrot up your arse and lick it it tastes like shit?

I can’t help but feel that Will Smith – especially as an ex-comic – was being more than a tad over-sensitive and Chris Rock could have been more offensive.

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Steve Best: The photographer comedian

Comedian Steve Best is going to publish his third book of photographs this summer. His two previous books – Comedy Snapshot in 2014 and Joker Face in 2017 – comprised photographs of comedians plus brief anecdotes/jokes. 

The new book – Comedians – is a big departure.


“It’s an expensive book to create because it’s fine art…”

STEVE: I’ve been meaning to do this book for bloody years. It’s not cheap – it’s £50 to buy. It’s an expensive book to create because it’s fine art. It’s a lot of money to raise. I was thinking of going the crowdfunding route via a publishing site that specialises in that, but they take a management fee and ask for all my contacts. So I thought: I might as well do it myself.

So I’ve kind of done crowdfunding on my website by asking people to pre-buy it. I’ve nearly broken even. If I could pre-sell another 100 or so then, when it comes out, we can do a good old PR/publicity thing with the comedians.

JOHN: You previously published the two smaller paperback books.

STEVE: They were very much of the snapshot portraits type. With this one, I’m trying to ‘sell’ it to the Art world as well as to comedy fans.

I think you’ve gotta put your stall out and say This is what it is, because I don’t want to confuse people.

JOHN: You’ve already had photographic exhibitions in arty places…

STEVE: Yeah. There’s still an exhibition of my photos at the Observatory Photography Gallery in London.

JOHN: Which lasts for how long?

STEVE: Indefinitely at the moment.

JOHN: And Joe Bor is making a documentary about you: Clowntographer.

STEVE: Yes. He wanted to do a film about photographers who take pictures of comedians.

JOHN: A limited area…

STEVE: There are a few, obviously. But, as we were setting it up, I said: “Why don’t you do it about me? I’m a comedian who’s a photographer who takes photographs of comedians. It’s a nicer narrative, a better story.”

So we interview Don Ward at the Comedy Store about the pictures on the wall and there are lots of live shoots. It’s more-or-less all filmed. Joe’s editing it now. We’re going to try and get it ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

JOHN: Although it’s about British circuit comedians, I guess it will be of interest internationally. And, because both Joe and you are comics, you presumably got great backstage access.

STEVE: There are very few people who have had relaxed access backstage. Some of the most interesting photographs I’ve done are backstage.

The idea with this book is to position myself in the art/photography world so I could actually go to clients and say: “Look, I can document something else for you…” I’ve done a few corporate things. The way to get on in any profession in the arts is to keep developing.

Steve explores the fine art of photography and the fine heart of comedy in his Comedians book…

The idea is to step up the game on the arty side of photography. No-one is really doing this. People like David Bailey and Annie Leibovitz have done backstage photo stuff on music, but no-one’s really done it with comedy.

JOHN: So are you a comedian with a sideline in photography or a photographer with a sideline in comedy?

STEVE: It has changed. I think I was a comedian with a sideline in photography. Now it’s very much reversed. But there’s always a risk in pigeonholing someone. I think you can be a performer AND be an artist. You don’t have to be a comedian only.

JOHN: What’s the difference between creating comedy and creating photographs?

STEVE: In the comedy world, you write your stuff and you try it out and it’s very immediate: it either works or it doesn’t work. In some of the other arts, you do it and there’s a delayed response from critics and the art public.

JOHN: In fine art – or  even when writing comedy – you can pore over the details endlessly. But, in photography, sometimes it’s just a matter of luck, isn’t it? Capturing that one split second.

STEVE: You can teach someone how to write and perform comedy but whether they are really funny is another thing. In a way, it’s the same with photography. You can teach somebody the technical aspects of shutter speed and aperture but whether they have the eye for it is another matter.

JOHN: Surely there’s a limit to the number of ways you can photograph comedians standing at the microphone or doing their make-up in front of a mirror?

Steve takes great Carr with his backstage photography…

STEVE: Well, backstage, I’m always looking for the little bits and pieces that haven’t been done. And onstage I have found some very nice angles – shooting up into the light, from behind the curtains…

JOHN: Physical AND psychological angles? A normal photographer, won’t understand what the comedian is actually thinking. But you – because you are a performer…

STEVE: Well, I can know when the punchline is coming and I can anticipate stuff that might happen…

JOHN: And, with you, they will be more relaxed than with someone who’s just a photographer.

STEVE: Yes, they think of me as a comedian with a camera, rather than as a ‘Photographer’.

JOHN: How long have you been taking photographs of comedians?

STEVE: Comedy Snapshot came out in 2014, so I started maybe 5 or 6 years before that.

JOHN: And you began performing comedy…

STEVE: …28 years ago. I started very young. Haven’t really done anything else. At school, I became involved in magic and got to the final of Young Magician of the Year, then I started doing my ‘A’ Levels at school and then started doing theatre and kids’ parties and then went into the entertainment world. I learned how to juggle, how to unicycle, did lots of circusy stuff. Never did street performing.

JOHN: Does the misdirection inherently involved in magic link into being original in photography? The way people perceive images…?

STEVE: I think you can look into stuff too deeply, John…

Steve in the forthcoming Clowntographer documentary

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Why the spoof radio game Mornington Crescent is called Mornington Crescent

(L-R) Graeme Garden, Willie Rushton, Barry Cryer, Humphrey Lyttelton, Tim Brooke-Taylor

I had always assumed the fake BBC Radio game Mornington Crescent was called that more-or-less at random. After all, there is no logic to any of it, so why not just choose a random tube station?

Wikipedia currently explains:

The objective of Mornington Crescent is to give the appearance of a game of skill and strategy, with complex and long-winded rules and strategies, to parody games in which similarly circuitous systems have evolved. The rules are fictional and its appeal to audiences lies in the ability of players to create an entertaining illusion of competitive gameplay.

The person who first names Mornington Crescent as being on a supposed London Underground route wins.

Our starting point… Finchley Central station

I knew Mornington Crescent was a version of a game previously called Finchley Central which dates back to at least 1969 when Anatole Beck and David Fowler mentioned it in the Spring 1969 issue of the mathematical magazine Manifold, in which they discussed A Pandora’s Box of Non-games.

They describe the rules of Finchley Central as:

Two players alternate naming the stations of the London Underground. The first to say “Finchley Central” wins. It is clear that the ‘best’ time to say “Finchley Central” is exactly before your opponent does. Failing that, it is good that he should be considering it. You could, of course, say “Finchley Central” on your second turn. In that case, your opponent puffs on his cigarette and says, “Well,… Shame on you!”

On BBC Radio, Mornington Crescent first appeared in the opening episode of the sixth series of comedy panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, broadcast on 22 August 1978 – nine years after the Manifold mention of Finchley Central. 

As I said, I assumed Mornington Crescent was chosen at random as the station at the centre of the new spoof game.

But, this morning, former TV & radio announcer/presenter and so much more Keith Martin told me this was not the case.

“The show used to be recorded at what was then the BBC’s Camden Palace Theatre,” he told me, “which, as you know, was directly opposite Mornington Crescent tube station. I used to go and watch it being recorded there. So it was the station everyone coming to the show arrived at.”

BBC Camden Palace Theatre could fit an entire orchestra into the studio

The Camden Palace had a life almost as varied as Keith Martin’s.

It opened as a music hall on Boxing Day 1900, became the Camden Hippodrome variety theatre in 1909, the Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre in 1913, a Gaumont cinema in 1928, closed in 1940 and was then a key studio for the BBC Light Programme, becoming BBC Radio’s ” home of light music and comedy” between 1945 and 1972. (The BBC Light Programme was re-named BBC Radio 2 in 1967). The studios closed in 1972, but the building re-opened as a live music venue – The Music Machine – in 1977. It was re-named the Camden Palace (again) in 1982, closed in 2004 and re-opened as music venue KOKO.

“I used to watch The Goons there,” Keith told me, wistfully.

So there you are. I  took a circuitous route but…

Mornington Crescent.

I win.

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Never cancel a live comedy show even if not a single person has booked to see it

(Photograph by Tyler Callahan via UnSplash)

This morning, I was told that an act had cancelled a show at the current Leicester Comedy Festival.

No-one should ever cancel any comedy show because of low or no pre-bookings – unless, perhaps, they are playing the O2 arena and only one person has booked. In that case, perhaps the person should consider their career or their agent.

Apparently – unknown to the act – the Leicester Comedy Festival show that was cancelled was going to be reviewed.

One year at the Edinburgh Fringe, a comedy show was cancelled without notice because no-one had booked in advance and previous shows had had low or no audiences. The act had gone back to London in despair.

In fact, two people did turn up for the show that night and had to be turned away by the embarrassed venue.

One was me, working as an ITV researcher looking for acts and general talent. The other – entirely separately – was a BBC TV producer.

Another year at the Fringe, I turned up for a three-hander comedy show and the acts were there to explain that, as I was the only audience member, there was no point them doing the show. I did not point out to them that (again) I was a TV researcher up there to find talent. There was no point me telling them because they were clearly not dependable pros.

I’ve heard the argument that doing a comedy show to one or two people is not a true representation of the act.

Well, if you can’t perform the comedy act to one person, your act does not work. The rule of thumb on TV is that you should perform in your mind to one person – the one person sitting at home (perhaps in a family group, but still sitting alone) on a sofa.

The performer may want a reaction from a massed audience. But each individual is watching the show alone, inside his or her head, even if others react with them. If you can’t perform the comedy act to one person, your act does not work.

I remember The Scotsman once gave a 5-star review to a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe. The reviewer was the only audience member. If the act works, it works. If the reviewer knows what he/she is doing, they review the show and the performance not the audience reaction.

I once helped an act at the Fringe. It was his first trip up there and he was unknown.

He got very very low audiences and was thinking of giving up and going back home to England. I told him that he should stay and play even if there was only one person in the audience because he had no idea who that person might be.

Even if no-one turns up, still perform the show to an empty venue and treat it as a tough rehearsal. If someone turns up after 15 minutes, keep performing and they will get a private performance which they will adore.

One day when I had to go back to London myself for the night, that particular act played to four people.

Two of them, it turned out, were TV producers looking for an act to appear in a brand new Channel 4 TV show. They had not booked in advance.

As a result of his performance that night, the act got booked for the whole new and successful Channel 4 series, which led to two subsequent BBC TV series.

Never cancel a live comedy show even if no-one has booked to see it.

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He has a simultaneous one-year run in London’s West End AND on Broadway

Katsura Sunshine after two days in quarantine

Back in September 2017, I blogged about Katsura Sunshinethe unique Canadian purveyor of the traditional Japanese storytelling genre Rakugo.

He flew into London from New York last Thursday, sat out his two-day Covid isolation in a hotel, performed his show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday, then flew out to Tokyo yesterday (Tuesday). I chatted to him before he left.


JOHN: When are you coming back again?

KATSURA: I’m going to be performing my show Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo at the Leicester Square Theatre every month for the next year. Dates are on their website.

It’s going to be my one-year run in the West End. It’s only once-a-month on a Sunday, but it’s a one-year-run… And, starting next month, I also have my weekly run in New York for a year, every Thursday.

JOHN: On Broadway?

KATSURA: The theatre’s on-Broadway; the size is off-Broadway.

JOHN: So you will be performing a one-year run of your show in London’s West End AND simultaneously be performing a one-year run of your show on Broadway in New York…

Reuters christened him the King of Kimono Comedy…

KATSURA: Yes. So once a month on a Friday I will fly to London to perform at Leicester Square on the Sunday.

It doesn’t make any economic sense.

However, the thought was – pending Covid etc – I can be here once a month for a week with a base at the Leicester Square Theatre and do other shows in the UK and Paris and around Europe. That would make more economic sense.

I could play New York on the Thursday; fly to London on Friday; play Paris on Saturday; London on Sunday; and New York the following Thursday.

JOHN: And, the rest of each month, when you are performing weekly in New York…

KATSURA: I would be living in New York.

JOHN: With visits to Tokyo?

KATSURA: The current (Covid) quarantine restrictions in Tokyo are tight. A two-week quarantine.

JOHN: Will you be doing roughly the same show in New York and London?

KATSURA: Yeah. When I was performing before – twice-a-week for six months in New York – Thursdays and Saturdays – it was a different show every month. Meaning different stories in the show every month… and I started to get a lot of ‘repeaters’. Quite a few people would come back monthly. Which is kind of the way it’s performed in Japan too.

JOHN: So, over the next year, you could hopefully build up repeat London audiences in the same way…

KATSURA: Hopefully.

JOHN: What’s your New York venue?

The New World Stages 5-venue theater in New York City

KATSURA: It’s called New World Stages and it’s built like a movie theater in that, when you come in, there’s five different theaters. Two 500-seaters, two 350-seaters and a smaller one. I’m in one of the 350-seaters. The way I am able to do it is there’s a children’s show that has been in there for maybe three or four days a week for 13 years; on a Saturday, they do 3 or 4 shows. When you get to Christmas, they’re doing 10, maybe 12 shows a week.

JOHN: For 13 years! Jesus!

KATSURA: It’s called The Gazillion Bubble Show – they blow bubbles. It’s for small children and they don’t use the theater in the evening, so I was able to piggy-back off it. That’s the way I can do one-day-a-week in a Broadway theater, which is kind-of unheard-of.

JOHN: You should do the Edinburgh Fringe next August. (LAUGHS) Fit it into your busy international schedule. Do your weekly show in New York, your monthly show in London and fly up to do a one-off Edinburgh show the same weekend as London.

KATSURA: That’s a great idea!

JOHN: I was joking… But think of the publicity! New York on Thursday; Edinburgh on Saturday; London on Sunday…

KATSURA: (LAUGHS) It’s a great idea!

JOHN: So how is your career of taking original traditional Japanese storytelling around the world going?

KATSURA: Step by step. Being interrupted by Covid was not so good; but six months on Broadway was not bad before that; and the theater’s waiting for me there. I’m really lucky I can start again. I started the show in September 2019 and the theaters got closed down in March 2020.

JOHN: So, like all performers, Covid stopped your career for 18 months.

Katsura Sunshine in his shiny denim lamé kimono

KATSURA: I started a denim kimono fashion line.

JOHN: You seem to be wearing some sort of super-denim kimono.

KATSURA: Yeah, it’s kind-of lamé fabric, got a silver coating to it. But I also sell normal denim. And haori.

JOHN: Haori?

KATSURA: You wear them over the kimono and they come down to your knees. I’m spinning the kimonos off into a separate business: Katsura Sunshine Kimono.

JOHN: You’re a money-spinner. You sell kimonos to non-Japanese people?

KATSURA: Half-and-half. Right now, people email me for their size and it’s made-to-order.

JOHN: When you leave London now, you’re flying to Tokyo?

KATSURA: I hope… I have a lot of important performances over New Year.

JOHN: Important?

KATSURA: It’s a New Year family festival at a hotel. They’ve been doing it for like 50 years. The other performers are all extremely famous.

JOHN: New Year is big in Japan?

KATSURA: The 23rd/24th December is for dates and 31st December is for family.

JOHN: Dates?

KATSURA: Girls who don’t have a boyfriend try their best to get a boyfriend by Christmas. Everyone goes on dates then goes to a hotel.

JOHN: I’m shocked! 

KATSURA: (LAUGHS) I was shocked the first time. I thought they were making fun of me when they first told me that 20 years ago!

JOHN: That everyone goes to hotels?

KATSURA: Yes. You go to a restaurant and then you go to a ‘love hotel’. That’s at Christmas… Last Christmas I spent in (Covid) quarantine because I had just come back from New York to Tokyo… and this Christmas I will be in quarantine too.

JOHN: Eating turkey…

KATSURA: In the West we eat turkey at Christmas but, in Japan, the thing is to eat chicken.

JOHN: Not just chicken, it seems.

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