Category Archives: Comedy

“Variety is Back and it’s Slightly Fat…”

“It is a marketing nightmare,” Slightly Fat Features originator Goronwy Thomas aka Goronwy Thom told me.

Wednesday to Saturday this coming week, Slightly Fat Features are back at the Leicester Square Theatre in London with The Slightly Fat Show. Six shows in four days – four evening shows; two matinees. Their blurb reads:

“Stuffed to the seams with staggering stunts, lots of laughs and orchestrated mayhem to dazzle and delight. Hard to describe until you witness it live. Suitable for kids but not a kids’ show. Cirque du Soliel meets Monty Python. This unique group has to be seen live to be truly understood!”

For once, a marketing blurb that is true.

“So why a marketing nightmare?” I asked.

“Because,” Goronwy told me, “we are straddling two things. We are a family-friendly show – it is totally clean; there’s no swearing. But, as soon as you are seen as a family show, you can lose a comedy audience, because they don’t want to see a kids’ show. And, if you are billed as a comedy show, you can lose the kids’ audience. That really has been a marketing problem for us.”

“Is that why you are doing matinees AND evening shows?” I asked.

Showstoppers do two shows,” said Goronwy. “There is Showstoppers For Kids and then there is also the normal one as well. We have done some late-night stuff and all-adult stuff. In Leicester Square, the 4.00pm shows will be very very family-based and the 7.00pm ones won’t be so much but, to be honest, the show stays exactly the same. We are straddling two things.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for the show?” I asked. “A strapline?”

“Variety is back and it’s Slightly Fat,” said Goronwy.

When I saw their show in 2014, it included juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine (presumably we won’t be seeing that again!), a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience. The show got a standing ovation from the genuinely ordinary punter-filled audience at the end.

Before that, I had seen Slightly Fat member Herbie Treehead at the Glastonbury Festival; he also performed in this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Will they,” I asked Goronwy, “be the same seven people I saw in 2014?”

“Always the same seven since 2010. But, of course, with lots of new material.”

“You been trying it out somewhere?” I asked.

“Lancaster, Canterbury, York, Sidmouth, a lot of places to run it in.”

“All seven of you?”

“Mostly. One of our members – Richard Garaghty – has been filming Tim Burton’s Dumbo. He’s been doing that most of this year, dipping in and out of our try-outs, but he’s doing all the shows in Leicester Square.”

“Where did you started Slightly Fat Features?” I asked.

“Sidmouth in Devon.”

“That’s a slightly odd place to start.”

Slightly Fat Features – extremely indescribable

“A lot of us were old friends from street performing in Covent Garden. Some had known each other since the early 1990s though I didn’t meet any of them until about 2000. Then, when I moved from London to Sidmouth, I wanted an excuse for my mates to come down, so I put on a gig. We did that again and again and brought in guest variety and speciality acts until, in 2010, we said: Let’s just do it as the seven of us.

“We did stuff at the Roundhouse in London and it went on from there. The Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Montreal in 2014. London’s West End in 2014. We all still work individually or as duos. We come together as Slightly Fat three or four or five times a year.”

“It must be a nightmare finding gaps in your schedules and getting together.”

“It is, but it’s worth it.”

“But you won’t,” I suggested, “have any creative clashes because your skills don’t particularly overlap.”

“Not really. And, since about 2013, Petra Massey has done additional direction on top of it and she acts as a sort of UN peacemaker. Where a routine ends. Certain lines. Certain gags. Looking at the bigger picture sometimes. If you get that laugh there, it might underwhelm the bigger picture. Especially with character comedy. Yeah, it DOES get a laugh, but let’s lose it so we can get a bigger laugh later on. Those kind of discussions. And avoiding in-jokes.”

“Why these seven people? Was there a conscious balancing of skills?”

“Originally, we were nine. Then one moved to New Zealand and one dropped out. I don’t think there was any conscious deciding: Oh, he’s a juggler; he’s an escapologist. It was just people who liked spending time together and developing stuff.”

“All seven of you continue to do separate street acts?” I asked.

“Yes. Apart from Robert Lee, who’s a musician. Me and Richard Garaghty have worked a lot as a double act for years now, mainly at European street festivals. And ‘booked street performing’, where you are invited to a town to perform. About a third of my work is probably still outdoor work and you can’t beat it for the immediacy and improvisation with stuff happening. It’s unbeatable for that, though you have to be careful you don’t get too stylistically lost in it.”

“How?”

“Sometimes, in order to keep an audience and sustain them and make them pay you, you have to… Well, I have seen brilliant street performers go inside on a stage in a theatre and their style needs a bit of tweaking, otherwise it can be a bit shouty. Because you have more focus from an audience in a theatre. Street performers are just talking and talking and talking and talking. In a theatre, you can get away with more quiet parts. Street style can sometimes be too fast in a theatre.”

“With seven people to divide it between, you’re not going to make money.”

“No,” Goronwy laughed. “We are seven plus a stage manager sometimes plus accommodation, travel. We are absolutely not going to be hugely rich from it. But it’s a place where we can develop material; that’s a golden thing to have.”

“Have you got a five-year plan?” I asked.

“No. My five-year plan is not to have a five-year plan.”

“I understand,” I said, “that The Boy With Tape on His Face has always had five-year plans.”

“I think it’s destined to underwhelm you – you might not get there. Or you might find it too easy to get there and it puts up a barrier I don’t think we need. But there have been discussions about whether or not we should have one – exactly because of The Boy With Tape on His Face. Exactly that.”

“Have you thought,” I asked, “about America’s Got Talent?”

“That is,” agreed Goronwy, “what Boy With Tape on His Face did. And Piff and Paul Zerdin.”

“I think,” I said, “Mr Methane, farteur of this parish, was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent. He is not German.”

“We haven’t been approached by America’s Got Talent yet,” said Goronwy, “but we have been by Britain’s Got Talent.”

“Well,” I said, “I think everyone should appear on anything and everything because you never know where things may lead, but a lot of people disagree.”

“In the professional industry,” Goronwy replied, “as far as I can tell, America’s Got Talent has got more prestige than Britain’s Got Talent; and it might break you into the States – Piff went over there and now he is touring the US.”

“The seven of you are good enough for Vegas,” I said.

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Filed under Comedy, Music Halls

Phil Jarvis of Consignia: “Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.”

Pay attention now. Concentrate.

Last Sunday, I went to Lottie Bowater’s Depresstival event at The Others venue in Stoke Newington to chat to Phil Jarvis of Consignia about a gig they are performing this coming Sunday at the Bill Murray venue in Islington.

Phil had been to Highgate Cemetery the previous day.

Consignia – named after a failed attempt at re-branding by the Royal Mail – are always interesting. I went to see one of their late-night shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and, at the end, they decided to repeat the whole show. So their one-hour show turned into a two-hour show.

“So,” I said to Phil, “this show on Sunday at the Bill Murray. You told me it’s about neo-liberalism. What on earth is that?”

Phil performing at Depresstival last Sunday

PHIL: Privatise everything. Privatise the whole lot. That’s what neo-liberalism is about

ME: The whole lot of what?

PHIL: Eh… Jobs.

ME: Jobs ARE privatised, aren’t they? Unless they’re public sector jobs?

PHIL: Well, I dunno, I mean, it’s dismantling of the state.

(AT THIS POINT, COMIC ALEXANDER BENNETT ARRIVED)

ME (TO ALEXANDER): Your scarf only starts halfway up.

PHIL: It’s the Euan Blair way.

ME (TO PHIL): Alexander is going to play Tony Blair’s son on Sunday?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME (TO PHIL): You went to Highgate Cemetery yesterday. Why?

PHIL: To look at dead Marxists.

ME: So neo-liberalism is privatising everything?

PHIL: Yes. There’s lots of job insecurity. There are competing Santas because Santa is dead.

ME: It is a Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: Did I know this?

PHIL: I don’t know. It’s a Christmas show about neo-liberalism. Santa is dead and Euan Blair has made sure there’s lots of competing Santas.

ME: So who is performing in this show?

PHIL: Consignia.

ME: Consignia changes occasionally. Is Andy Barr in it?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: But Alexander is not in Consignia.

PHIL: Yes he is. Everyone is in Consignia. You are in Consignia. The whole world is in Consignia.

ME: Could we privatise a percentage of them?

PHIL: That is what the show is about – About fighting back against that.

ME: You said it was about privatising things.

PHIL: No. And it’s coming together quite nicely.

ME: You mean it is organised? Well, that is no use. Consignia has a style to maintain. I was slightly worried you had sold out when I read on social media the word ‘script’…

PHIL: There is always a script. But it is just a guide.

ME: It was unsettling when I saw that Edinburgh show where you did it twice and the second time was pretty much the same as the first time. I thought: “There surely can’t be a script!”

PHIL: Exactly. That is how it is. A script is a prompt. It’s not something you have to religiously stick to.

ME: Like Christmas?… So, this Christmas show on Sunday, is it going to be in Edinburgh next August?

PHIL: No. It’s a special show with lots of our friends in it.

ME: Oh dear. Such as?

PHIL: Seán Morley. It’s all the talent.

ME: I have gone off the idea now. It’s the word “talent”.

PHIL: It’s gonna be a spectacle.

ALEXANDER: It’s all good people, but they’ve not abandoned what Consignia is.

ME: What is Consignia?

ALEXANDER: Phil.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you going to take your clothes off in it?”

PHIL: I’ve reined that in now. I think the way to go is to put more clothes on.

ME: I am rapidly going off this show. It has a script and you are not going to get your kit off.

ALEXANDER: I haven’t had a drink since yesterday morning.

ME: That’s hardly giving up drink…

ALEXANDER: I wasn’t claiming that. I was just telling you how long it had been.

PHIL (TO ME): Are you coming to the show on Sunday?

ME: Yes. I am seeing the Consignia show, then seeing Matt Price & Martha McBrier’s storytelling show at the Bill Murray, half an hour after you finish.

PHIL: Oh, we had better clean up for them. I am doing Dinner For One again, within the Christmas show.

ME: Your shows have a tendency to over-run – by about 60 to 90 minutes.

Phil with part of the 12-page Christmas script

PHIL: Well, the script is only 12 pages long.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of bits in the script that say something happens and then, in brackets, THIS GOES ON FOR FIVE MINUTES.

PHIL (TO ME): So, although you might slag us off for having a script, we are true to who we are.

ME: Your last show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a non-show, wasn’t it?

PHIL: Yeah. I had to go for a job interview.

ME: It was a gig with no performers but with an audience.

PHIL: Yeah. We can still get people in without us being there. We are making the system work for us.

ME: Well, it is a way to avoid losing money in Edinburgh. You get an audience for your show but you are not there, so it doesn’t cost you anything and you can’t lose money. It’s a win.

PHIL: It is a win.

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): You should say who else is in the show.

ME: Who else is in the show?

PHIL: Seán Morley.

ME: Again? The Seán Morley Twins?

PHIL: Ben Target, Euan Blair, Adam Larter, Nathan Willcock, of course. Lottie Bowater. Helen Duff. She’s very good. Have you seen her?

ME: I saw her at Juliette Burton’s boyfriend’s birthday. She wasn’t performing. She was eating. But she ate very well.

PHIL: Cassie Atkinson is in it. We’ve got half the comedy scene.

ALEXANDER: The crème de la crème.

ME: You are going to have no-one in the audience. They will all be on stage.

PHIL: That’s the plan. But tickets are selling. Tickets have sold.

ME: So Adam Larter is in your Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes. He is directing it. We have three different directors.

ALEXANDER: Andy Barr is the director…

PHIL: …in Consignia.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you a director?”

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): Well, you are the main driving force behind all of this.

PHIL: I am the project manager of it. We basically have a show about neo-liberalism which mirrors neo-liberalism, because it has lots of competing… eh… sort of things… going on within the actual show.

ME: Structured.

PHIL: Structured.

ME: So it has 12 pages with three directors.

PHIL: Joz can be in it if he wants.

(JOZ NORRIS WAS SITTING ACROSS THE ROOM)

JOZ: I’ll be there.

PHIL: We have to have some punters in the audience.

ME: I’ll be there.

JOZ: I could play a hat stand.

PHIL: Who else is in it? There’s Cassie Atkinson.

ME: Again?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in it.

ME: The Seán Morley Triplets and the Cassie Atkinson Twins?

PHIL: Mark Dean Quinn’s in it. Alwin Solanky. Michael Brunström is in it. He is playing Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The show is basically about dead Marxists come to save Christmas from neo-liberalism. That’s the basic thrust of it.

Phil with one of the Karl Marx Twins (Photo by Adam Larter)

ME: And this is why you went to Highgate Cemetary yesterday? To see Karl Marx’s grave?

ALEXANDER: There are two Karl Marx graves there.

ME: What? Like all the people in your show? There are two of them?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in the show.

ME: So have they divided him up?

PHIL: Seán Morley?

ME: Karl Marx. Are there two graves in different places?

PHIL: Yes there are. They’ve got the original grave, when he wasn’t famous. And then, in the 1950s, the Communist Party of Great Britain got some money together and made a bigger thing for him.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: Jeremy Beadle is in the show. George Michael is in the show. And Kat Bond. She is also in the new the new WeBuyAnyCar.com advert. She’s in the advert with Mark Silcox about building a statue to Philip Schofield.

ME: You are joking.

PHIL: No. Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.

ME: So, this show on Sunday at the Bill Murray. You told me it’s about neo-liberalism. What on earth is that?

Phil performing at Depresstival last Sunday

PHIL: Privatise everything. Privatise the whole lot. That’s what neo-liberalism is about

ME: The whole lot of what?

PHIL: Eh… Jobs.

ME: Jobs ARE privatised, aren’t they? Unless they’re public sector jobs?

PHIL: Well, I dunno, I mean, it’s dismantling of the state.

(AT THIS POINT, COMIC ALEXANDER BENNETT ARRIVED)

ME (TO ALEXANDER): Your scarf only starts halfway up.

PHIL: It’s the Euan Blair way.

ME (TO PHIL): Alexander is going to play Tony Blair’s son on Sunday?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME (TO PHIL): You went to Highgate Cemetery yesterday. Why?

PHIL: To look at dead Marxists.

ME: So neo-liberalism is privatising everything?

PHIL: Yes. There’s lots of job insecurity. There are competing Santas because Santa is dead.

ME: It is a Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: Did I know this?

PHIL: I don’t know. It’s a Christmas show about neo-liberalism. Santa is dead and Euan Blair has made sure there’s lots of competing Santas.

ME: So who is performing in this show?

PHIL: Consignia.

ME: Consignia changes occasionally. Is Andy Barr in it?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: But Alexander is not in Consignia.

PHIL: Yes he is. Everyone is in Consignia. You are in Consignia. The whole world is in Consignia.

ME: Could we privatise a percentage of them?

PHIL: That is what the show is about – About fighting back against that.

ME: You said it was about privatising things.

PHIL: No. And it’s coming together quite nicely.

ME: You mean it is organised? Well, that is no use. Consignia has a style to maintain. I was slightly worried you had sold out when I read on social media the word ‘script’…

PHIL: There is always a script. But it is just a guide.

ME: It was unsettling when I saw that Edinburgh show where you did it twice and the second time was pretty much the same as the first time. I thought: “There surely can’t be a script!”

PHIL: Exactly. That is how it is. A script is a prompt. It’s not something you have to religiously stick to.

ME: Like Christmas?… So, this Christmas show on Sunday, is it going to be in Edinburgh next August?

PHIL: No. It’s a special show with lots of our friends in it.

ME: Oh dear. Such as?

PHIL: Seán Morley. It’s all the talent.

ME: I have gone off the idea now. It’s the word “talent”.

PHIL: It’s gonna be a spectacle.

ALEXANDER: It’s all good people, but they’ve not abandoned what Consignia is.

ME: What is Consignia?

ALEXANDER: Phil.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you going to take your clothes off in it?”

PHIL: I’ve reined that in now. I think the way to go is to put more clothes on.

ME: I am rapidly going off this show. It has a script and you are not going to get your kit off.

ALEXANDER: I haven’t had a drink since yesterday morning.

ME: That’s hardly giving up drink…

ALEXANDER: I wasn’t claiming that. I was just telling you how long it had been.

PHIL (TO ME): Are you coming to the show on Sunday?

ME: Yes. I am seeing the Consignia show, then seeing Matt Price & Martha McBrier’s storytelling show at the Bill Murray, half an hour after you finish.

PHIL: Oh, we had better clean up for them. I am doing Dinner For One again, within the Christmas show.

ME: Your shows have a tendency to over-run – by about 60 to 90 minutes.

Phil with part of the 12-page Christmas script

PHIL: Well, the script is only 12 pages long.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of bits in the script that say something happens and then, in brackets, THIS GOES ON FOR FIVE MINUTES.

PHIL (TO ME): So, although you might slag us off for having a script, we are true to who we are.

ME: Your last show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a non-show, wasn’t it?

PHIL: Yeah. I had to go for a job interview.

ME: It was a gig with no performers but with an audience.

PHIL: Yeah. We can still get people in without us being there. We are making the system work for us.

ME: Well, it is a way to avoid losing money in Edinburgh. You get an audience for your show but you are not there, so it doesn’t cost you anything and you can’t lose money. It’s a win.

PHIL: It is a win.

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): You should say who else is in the show.

ME: Who else is in the show?

PHIL: Seán Morley.

ME: Again? The Seán Morley Twins?

PHIL: Ben Target, Euan Blair, Adam Larter, Nathan Willcock, of course. Lottie Bowater. Helen Duff. She’s very good. Have you seen her?

ME: I saw her at Juliette Burton’s boyfriend’s birthday. She wasn’t performing. She was eating. But she ate very well.

PHIL: Cassie Atkinson is in it. We’ve got half the comedy scene.

ALEXANDER: The crème de la crème.

ME: You are going to have no-one in the audience. They will all be on stage.

PHIL: That’s the plan. But tickets are selling. Tickets have sold.

ME: So Adam Larter is in your Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes. He is directing it. We have three different directors.

ALEXANDER: Andy Barr is the director…

PHIL: …in Consignia.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you a director?”

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): Well, you are the main driving force behind all of this.

PHIL: I am the project manager of it. We basically have a show about neo-liberalism which mirrors neo-liberalism, because it has lots of competing… eh… sort of things… going on within the actual show.

ME: Structured.

PHIL: Structured.

ME: So it has 12 pages with three directors.

PHIL: Joz can be in it if he wants.

(JOZ NORRIS WAS SITTING ACROSS THE ROOM)

JOZ: I’ll be there.

PHIL: We have to have some punters in the audience.

ME: I’ll be there.

JOZ: I could play a hat stand.

PHIL: Who else is in it? There’s Cassie Atkinson.

ME: Again?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in it.

ME: The Seán Morley Triplets and the Cassie Atkinson Twins?

PHIL: Mark Dean Quinn’s in it. Alwin Solanky. Michael Brunström is in it. He is playing Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The show is basically about dead Marxists come to save Christmas from neo-liberalism. That’s the basic thrust of it.

Phil with one of the Karl Marx Twins (Photo by Adam Larter)

ME: And this is why you went to Highgate Cemetary yesterday? To see Karl Marx’s grave?

ALEXANDER: There are two Karl Marx graves there.

ME: What? Like all the people in your show? There are two of them?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in the show.

ME: So have they divided him up?

PHIL: Seán Morley?

ME: Karl Marx. Are there two graves in different places?

PHIL: Yes there are. They’ve got the original grave, when he wasn’t famous. And then, in the 1950s, the Communist Party of Great Britain got some money together and made a bigger thing for him.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: Jeremy Beadle is in the show. George Michael is in the show. And Kat Bond. She is also in the new the new WeBuyAnyCar.com advert. She’s in the advert with Mark Silcox about building a statue to Philip Schofield.

ME: You are joking.

PHIL: No. Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.

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Filed under Comedy, Surreal

OH YES IT IS ! – Matt Roper + the first pantomime in New York for 100 years

(L-R) Jenni Gil as Jack, Michael Lynch as Dame Delancey, and Matt Roper as Silly Simon. (Photograph by Don Spiro)

“So,” I said to British performer Matt Roper in New York, “Have you ever done a pantomime before?”

We were speaking via FaceTime, obviously.

“Years ago,” he told me, “as a 20-year-old I was in Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal, St Helens, with ‘Olive’ from On The Buses. Anna Karen. She was great! What a woman! She was a Soho stripper in the 1960s in London. She was deported from South Africa in the Apartheid years. She was a puppeteer at a theatre in Johannesburg and gave a private puppet show to a bunch of black kids and she was deported.”

“And now,” I said, you’re in Jack and The Beanstalk – New York’s first panto for 100 years,”

“Yes. The first major panto for over a century.”

“How did you get involved?” I asked. “You were just an Englishman in New York?”

Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser (Photograph: Laura Vogel)

Mat Fraser lives in New York now and he wrote it with his wife Julie Atlas Muz. She’s a Ukrainian American. Mat’s English, as you know, and his parents were performers, so he grew up watching a lot of pantos.”

“Julie Atlas Muz,” I said, “is a ‘feminist burlesque star’?”

“Yes,” said Matt.

“OK,” I said.

“Matt and Julie have a long relationship with this theatre – the Abrons Arts Centre,” said Matt. “The last thing they presented here was an adults-only version of Beauty & The Beast – she was Beauty and he was The Beast. Very explicit. Very adults-only. But this time, with the panto, it’s completely 100% family-friendly.”

“The whole concept of panto,” I suggested, “must be next-to-impossible to understand if you haven’t grown up with it.”

“Someone is going to go out right at the top of the show,” explained Matt, “doing a whole warm-up routine, explaining the rules to the kids.”

“Someone?” I asked.

Dirty Martini plays the Good Fairy and Hawthorn Albatross III is – Boo! – villainous Dastardly Dick. (Photo by Don Spiro)

“Me,” said Matt. “I think it will work, because New York audiences are not very quiet audiences. I imagine it will be like an audience full of Scousers – you can’t keep ‘em quiet. There is a villain in the show – Dastardly Dick – so I will tell the kids: Every time you see him, you have to hiss and boo!

“And,” I said, “of course, you have to explain things like Behind you! Panto is just weird. The whole format – Things like the principal boy is played by a girl and the motherly dame is a middle-aged man. Who are you?”

“I’m the comic. I am Jack’s brother, Silly Simon. And Jack is an actress called Jenni Gil. She’s from the Lower East Side, from the projects. It has been adapted for a New York audience. So I think that will help. It’s set in the Lower East Side – in a lost village called StoneyBroke.”

“What about the accent differences? Or are you playing with an American accent?”

“It is set up that we had different fathers. In the story, both my brother – Jack – and my mother are people of colour – African American. It’s a really diverse cast; very New York. Our ‘mother’ is Michael Johnnie Lynch, a big, black, brassy drag queen from the Bronx. Honestly, we couldn’t have wished for a better dame.”

“Surely,” I said, “the dame has to be a male-looking man in a dress as opposed to a drag queen?”

“Michael just nails it in some way,” said Matt. “He’s brilliant.”

“Is he a feminine drag queen, though?” I asked. “You can’t be too feminine as the dame. You have to be knowingly masculine.”

(L-R): Julie Atlas Muz, Jenni Gil, Matt Roper, Michael Lynch in rehearsal in New York (Photograph by Dirty Martini)

“He’s feminine but not in a Danny La Rue type of way,” Matt explained. Occasionally he goes into a deep, husky voice… And we have Dirty Martini as the Good Fairy – a plus-size burlesque legend. She’s done great things for body positivity.”

“Any Trump parallels in the script?” I asked.

“The giant is Giant Rump and he lives up in the clouds.”

“Is the Giant a large actor or do you just have giant feet in the background?”

“All the puppets… there are quite a lot of animals in the show… There is Daisy the Cow, obviously, because Jack has to sell the cow to get the magic beans. There’s the goose and there’s the giant. And they’ve all been designed by a guy called Basil Twist, who has been nominated for Tony Awards on Broadway shows.”

“You don’t have a pantomime cow with two men inside?”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course. There’s actors inside the cow. Of course.”

“You have,” I told him, “done very well over there. How long have you been in New York now? Two years?”

“Just over. It’s tough. Health insurance and all that stuff. No-one gives a shit what you’ve done in the UK; you have to start at the bottom.”

“Certainly if you are the cow,” I said. “But you landed on your feet off-Broadway, playing Chico in the ‘lost’ Marx Brothers revue I’ll Say She Is.”

Top Marx (L-R) Seth Sheldon, Matt Roper, Noah Diamond.

“Yes,” Matt agreed. “The New Yorker said: Matt Roper catches Chico Marx’s unearned belligerence.”

“A Brit pretending to be an Italian-American…” I said.

“Well,” Matt reminded me, “of course, he wasn’t. He was a Jewish guy from the Upper East Side in New York. As a kid, because there were lots of Italian gangs and he was Jewish, he pretended to be Italian to protect himself from getting beaten up.”

“And then,” I said, “you went into that early American play.”

“We just closed it last month,” said Matt. “Androboros: Villain of the State. The earliest-known play published in what is now the US. Based on an investment scandal that happened in the 1700s in the British colony of New York.”

“And you were…”

Matt as Androboros: Villain of the State

“Androboros.”

“What was the appeal to a 2017 audience?”

“They put it on because there were many parallels between Androboros and Trump.”

“So you are surviving,” I said.

Yes,” said Matt. “And I write a column each week for Gorilla Art House, it’s a subsidiary of Lush UK, the ethical cosmetics company. And I have a voice-over agent here in New York.”

“And a residency at The Slipper Room,” I said. “What is the Slipper Room?”

“It’s a burlesque house. They market it as ‘a house of varieties’ – It’s like a new vaudeville.”

“Is it the whole caboodle?” I asked. “Singers, dancers, comedy…”

“And we have sideshows and a little bit of magic and it’s all rigged-up so we can have aerial acts.”

“What does ‘sideshow’ mean in this context?” I asked.

Wondrous Wilfredo performs at The Slipper Room

“People who stick piercings through their eyes and stuff like that. Stuff that makes your stomach turn.”

“And you…?” I asked.

“I open the show sometimes as my character Wilfredo… Wilfredo is more-or-less confined to the Slipper Room, which pleases me.”

“Are you ever ‘Matt Roper’ in the Slipper Room?”

“Yeah. We have in-house shows and some out-of-house guest shows who hire the theatre and I’ve done comedy sketches and stuff like that.”

“There is a man in a gimp mask on your Facebook page…”

Matt Roper (left) and Peaches, who lives underneath the stage

“That’s Peaches, the Slipper Room gimp.”

“The Slipper Room has a resident gimp?”

“He lives underneath the stage and, now-and-then, comes out and performs.”

“Nothing surprises me,” I said.

Jack and The Beanstalk opens at the Abrons Arts Center in New York on Sunday. Previews started yesterday.

“Break a leg on Sunday,” I said to Matt, when we had finished chatting.

“Don’t say that,” he told me. “On the opening night of the Marx Brothers musical, the guy playing the dowager’s butler actually broke his leg. So no broken legs. Especially with the cost of healthcare in this country.”

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Award-winning Becky Fury WON’T tell me things but WILL give you a discount

The self-effacing Becky Fury (right) with Claire Lenahan has multiple advisors on self promotion

Someone said to me the other week: “Becky Fury seems to know everybody.”

I had to agree.

Becky with her Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016

The last time I went to see the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner’s Democratik Republik of Kabaret evening, her audience included The Establishment Club’s Mike O’Brien, acclaimed international graffiti artist Stik and British Alternative Comedy godfather/legend Tony Allen

“And now you are putting on The Alternative Christmas Party in Shoreditch,” I said to her yesterday.

“I’m doing two shows, John,” she told me. “One is The Alternative Christmas Party on 20th December. It’s a nice room, a really big room, a nice space for cabaret. At the Bridge Bar.”

“In Shoreditch,” I said, “So that will attract trendy IT people?”

“Hopefully,” said Becky, “spending money for their Christmas parties.”

“How much for the tickets?” I asked.

£20 via Eventbrite and on the door… But I will do a discount on the door for readers of your blog – It will only cost them £15 with the code words Becky Fury is Brilliant.

“They will be flying in from Guatemala in droves for it,” I enthused.

“And I’m also doing shows at the Cockpit Theatre,” Becky added.

“Near the Edgware Road in London,” I clarified, ever-thoughtful of my Guatemalan readers or reader. “So at the Cockpit you are doing what?”

“I don’t really want to go into what I’m doing.”

“I’m trying to create some interesting theatre. Anyway, I don’t really want to go into what I’m doing, otherwise people will just rip it off like they have in the past. I am just doing my thing.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. “Chat finished.”

“That’s it,” said Becky. “People will nick the idea.”

“Tell me the bits you can tell me,” I suggested. “When is the Cockpit Theatre thing?”

“February – the 12th.”

“What do you want to say about it? Heaven forfend that you would say anything to promote it.”

“I’ve been commissioned by the theatre to do a hybrid theatre cabaret gig.”

“What is a hybrid gig?” I asked. “Partly electric, partly petrol-driven?”

“I’ve been given a budget to create some cabaret around a theme.”

“And the theme is…?”

“They’re doing a Samuel Becket season at the Cockpit, so I have written Waiting for Guido. Which is the character in my play.”

“Guido Fawkes?” I asked.

“Yes. Precisely. It’s about waiting for a revolution that never happens.”

“Are you going to wear masks with beards?” I asked.

“No. There’s a couple of really good performers. Some of them are going to take on the theme more than others.”

“I suppose,” I said, “at this point in the blog, I should add in …she says intriguingly…

“The thing I don’t want to talk too much about…” said Becky

“If you like,” said Becky. “What I’m trying to do… Well, the thing I don’t want to talk too much about… is I’ve got three characters and they’re all gonna do monologues. I’ve got Geoff Steel, who is in The Alternative Christmas Party, and Jonathan Richardson, the guy who runs House of Idiot. There’s going to be people doing some circus stuff. And Trevor Lock is headlining.”

“As himself?” I asked.

“Well, he is playing the Sun,” Becky replied. “That’s what he’s been told to do.”

“How?” I asked.

“However he wants to interpret that.”

“This Cockpit Theatre thing and The Alternative Christmas Party,” I asked, “are they under the banner of The Democratik Republik of Kabaret?”

“No. I have been told it should be Becky Fury or Fury Productions.”

“Or just Becky Fury Presents,” I suggested. “You have to have a brand.”

“That is what I have been told by my friend who has managed to make his brand out of drawing stickmen.”

“Has The Democratik Republik of Kabaret disappeared?” I asked.

“It is on hold.”

“Until?” I asked.

“Until I find a better venue. But The Alternative Christmas Party is essentially an extension of what’s going on in The Democratik Republik of Kabaret.”

“What IS going on in The Democratik Republik of Kabaret?” I asked.

“It is a sort of Maoist state,” Becky replied. “No. It’s not a Maoist state,” she corrected herself. “It’s a bit like North Korea. So we will never really know. Journalists obviously are not allowed to investigate it.”

“My head hurts,” I said. “This Alternative Christmas Party in Shoreditch on 20th December… erm…”

Who is in the show?” Becky suggested.

“Comedians want to talk about themselves but”

“I never asked,” I told her. “By the sound of it, you are keeping schtum. It’s that odd thing about comedians – They want to talk about themselves but are perversely shy.”

“Well,” said Becky, “Lewis Schaffer is playing Santa Claus.”

“Will he win?” I asked.

“It depends which game they’re playing,” Becky replied.

“So Lewis Schaffer,” I said, “Jewish comedian, plays Santa Claus, Christian saint and symbol of pagan midwinter…”

“It is an Alternative Christmas Party,” Becky reminded me. “A Jewish Santa. With Lewis Schaffer as a sleazy Santa Claus… In the publicity, I wanted there to be a little imp with a strap-on and, in the show, I wanted to sexually assault boys, but I couldn’t find any boys who would let me sexually assault them.”

“That is hardly credible,” I said. “Anyone else in this sophisticated soirée?”

“There’s a Virgin Mary striptease…”

“By whom?” I asked.

“I believe Claire Lenahan, who is also doing some amazing comedy magic. And there is Geoff Steel, who is also doing my Cockpit show. He is a very interesting up-and-coming act.”

“When you say up-and-coming,” I asked, “into what is he rising and coming?”

“Are you trying to be sleazy?” Becky asked.

“I try,” I said. “Anything else happening after the show that evening?”

“A disco.”

“And who else is performing?”

“Oh – I am…. I am going to compere.”

“That is not mentioned on the flyer,” I said.

“According to my friend who has made his celebrity from drawing stickmen, I need to promote myself better. Am I allowed to say that?”

“I dunno. Are you?”

“I think so.”

Becky’s 2016 Edinburgh Fringe publicity flyer aided by Stik

“Stik did your Edinburgh Fringe poster last year.”

“Two years ago. The year I won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. He did do that poster, so I think maybe we are going to have a collaboration next year.”

“At the Edinburgh Fringe next year?”

“Yes.”

“And the show will be…?”

Apocoloptimist.”

“Which you are trying out in…?”

Leicester in February and Brighton in May.”

“You tried out one bit in Edinburgh this year,” I said. “The bit about being in Calais.”

“Yes. Going to the Calais Jungle and, when you try to do the right thing, it goes horribly wrong…”

“Except for the lucky boy on the beach,” I said.

“You know too much,” Becky told me.

“You will have to do the full autobiographical show at some point,” I told her. “That’s what makes an impact at the Edinburgh Fringe. Laughter and tears. You were telling me some hair-raising tales from your past a few weeks ago and I was thinking: That’s a cracker of an Edinburgh show!

Becky Fury raised an eyebrow like Roger Moore.

It is an admirable skill, though difficult to divine its exact meaning.

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Uncategorisable act Worbey & Farrell won’t be playing the Edinburgh Fringe

The act formerly known as Katzenjammer at the Fringe

Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell met while studying at the Royal College of Music. They formed their Katzenjammer act in 2003. Their ‘hook’ was that they play the same piano simultaneously – a ‘four hands, one piano’ musical act.

Their current selling blurb is: “They’ll astound you by pushing the boundaries of their instrument, using it in unconventional ways to mimic the sound of a full symphony orchestra!”

But they are no longer called Katzenjammer – they haven’t been for ages. Since 2008, they have been simply Worbey & Farrell.

“Why the name change?” I asked.

“With Katzenjammer,” Steven Worbey told me, “there was a Norwegian girl band who came out and started to do very, very well and started going international. Although we had the name Katzenjammer in the UK and Europe, they had the rights in America. So we thought: We might as well change now, while we’re about it.”

“And then,” said Kevin Farrell, “when we put up on Facebook Has anybody got any suggestions for a new name? quite a lot were inappropriate.”

“Well, yes,” said Steven.

“Such as?” I asked.

“Well,” said Kevin, “the one that kept on coming up was Two C***s on a Stool…”

“More than once!” laughed Steven.

“…from people” Kevin laughed, “that didn’t know each other!”

“Well,” I said, “a stool does have an unfortunate other meaning.”

“Much as we loved that name,” Kevin explained, “we couldn’t really use it because we were about to do a concert with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and we did not think Carnival of the Animals with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and Two C***s on a Stool would have sold the concept well to the schools audience.”

Steven Worbey (left) and Kevin Farrell are breaking through

“So Worbey & Farrell you became,” I said. “Claire Smith of The Scotsman – who once lived in a tent in your back garden throughout the Edinburgh Fringe – told me you don’t want to play the Fringe next year but, instead, you are going to play the Usher Hall in Edinburgh next Thursday (30th November, St Andrew’s Day). Why?”

“The thing is,” Kevin explained, “we have had a fantastic time doing the Festival but the struggle for us is that the bookers for what we do don’t really go up to the Fringe. It’s more theatre and comedy orientated. We have had a problem in the past being reviewed as a comedy act and we’re not. We are a sort of classical music act that is unpretentious and we make it quite fun. We are quite happy to put Lady Gaga next to Rachmaninov or whatever. And we don’t fit into one single category.”

“Would you not be better,” I suggested, “listed in the Cabaret section of the Fringe Programme?”

“Even that is wrong,” said Kevin.

“Yes,” agreed Steven. “It’s not quite right, because there’s a lot of classical music and, y’know. We are in-between.”

“You are hyphenates,” I suggested.

“We are,” agreed Steven.

“The problem is,” said Kevin, “that, if we went into the Cabaret section, we would only get cabaret bookers and, although we have done cabaret venues in London, generally their pianos are not up to it, because our arrangements are huge and they’re getting bigger. It does require a big Steinway Grand to get the full…”

“At least” said Steven, “the Usher Hall comes with three Steinway Grands for us to choose from, so we haven’t got to spend thousands of pounds hiring one.”

“Most of our audience at the Fringe,” said Kevin, “are locals anyway. Ironically, we will make more profit doing one night than we did doing 23 nights at the Fringe.”

“And it gets you more prestige?” I asked.

The interior of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh: always impressive

“Well,” said Kevin, “it has helped us book the Cadogan Hall in London next year and we’ve also booked the Brighton Dome with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Usher Hall again for next year. There is a kind of snob value to it. More people are likely to come and see you in a big venue, even if they don’t know who you are, as long as you get the title right. Ours is just  Rhapsody in Blue.”

“There is,” admitted Steven, “a bit of a risk to it as well, of course, filling a hall like that. But we are doing OK.”

“We are doing very well,” said Kevin. “And, as we are doing the Usher Hall, the powers that be in the classical world are sitting up and taking note of us now. We have been around for ages, but now they realise we are not going to go away.”

“You have played in over 150 countries,” I prompted, “including Papua New Guinea.”

“It took us 40 hours to get there,” said Kevin, “and the last flight was nearly cancelled because the volcano was erupting, but we flew through the ash and got there in the end.”

“Not the Icelandic volcano?” I asked.

“No,” said Steven. “There was one in Papua New Guinea that was erupting.”

More than music was on the menu in Papua New Guinea

“What was disturbing,” continued Kevin, “was that they had only recently ruled out cannibalism. They eat berries from the trees. It sends them high, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” agreed Steven. “They’re all high. They’ve all got red teeth.”

“I didn’t like the way they looked at us,” laughed Kevin.

“No,” agreed Steven. “It was a funny old place. Just a few years previously, they had lowered old ladies into the volcano because they were…”

“…witches,” said Kevin.

“Yes,” said Steven. “It is a very odd place.”

“Did you,” I asked, “play Papua New Guinea because you were playing Australia?”

“No,” Steven replied. “We left from here in the UK and the following gig after that was…”

“…Berwick-upon-Tweed,” said Kevin.

“So the reason,” I asked, “for playing Papua New Guinea was just because it existed?”

Steven and Kevin have flown hither & thither to entertain

“Yes,” said Steven.”

“That week,” said Kevin, “we played Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Newark Palace Theatre, Papua New Guinea, Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

“That’s right,” said Steven. “Lots of Germans there.”

“No, that was Namibia,” said Kevin.

“There were Germans in Namibia as well,” said Steven.

“I can’t remember,” said Kevin.

“It’s all sand dunes,” said Steven.

“We have,” said Kevin, “played in some strange places.”

“Yeah,” said Steven.

“Different cultures,” I said.

“You can,” Kevin said, “be walking around in South Korea, especially on a Friday night, and men in suits will suddenly fall over flat on the ground, because they’re pissed out of their brains. And you just leave them there, because it is disrespectful if you point out they are pissed or try to help them. You just see all these drunken men in suits lying along the streets.”

“It is basically,” said Steven, “like Wakefield.”

“They drink this very strange red liqueur,” said Kevin.

“In Wakefield?” I asked.

“Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely!”

“South Korea,” said Kevin. “We were in a bar there last time and were saying: Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely! They don’t seem to have any violence! And then there was this bottle being hurled across the bar by this girl at another girl who had disrespected her and she wanted to kill her. They were holding her back and we thought: Shit! We spoke too soon!

“Sounds like Glasgow on a quiet night,” I said. “The Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday will be different.”

“Audiences are different all over the UK,” said Steven. “The brightest audiences we have found – the ones you can’t fool – are from Yorkshire.”

“Except maybe Wakefield,” I suggested.

“The further south you go in England,” said Kevin, “the more politically correct. You have to be careful. It’s very strange. What goes down well or not.”

“So Geordie-land is different from Kent?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Steven. “Completely.”

“Yes,” agreed Kevin.

“We could get in trouble here,” I said, “but is the North of England more Old School?”

“That is a way of putting it,” said Steven. “You get away with a little bit more in the North of England.”

“But in Scotland,” said Kevin, “the further you go up, the more religious they become.”

“And the further West,” I said.

In Scotland, ya cannae please all of the Papal all of the time

“When we were Katzenjammer,” Kevin told me, “we used to sing a song about the Pope…”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“…and,” Kevin continued, “Oh my God! We practically had death threats. But now, since 2011, Geoffrey Durham directs us and, when he came in, he just stripped the whole act down. We were a variety act and he took out all the songs. He wanted us to do more classical music and he makes sure that everything we do is at the same level.”

“He’s a genius, really,” said Steven. “We don’t try anything unless we run it past Geoffrey first.”

“This is Geoffrey Durham as in Victoria Wood’s ex-husband?” I checked.

“Yes,” said Kevin.

“Someone compared your act to Victor Borge,” I said.

“Everyone wants to pigeonhole,” said Steven. “We’re not. Victor Borge did very little music. They’ve also said we are a bit like a suited-and-booted Hinge & Bracket. But they didn’t play long classical pieces or anything like that, so… Everyone wants to pigeonhole you.”

“You are not going back to Papua New Guinea?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” said Kevin.

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With other comedy clubs closing, a new one opens in maybe an ideal location…

Borehamwood view by Google with 96 pretty-much centred

I live in Borehamwood which is on the north west edge of London, just inside the M25, London’s outer orbital road. This is relevant.

I moved here because of the easy access. It is close to and betwixt three motorways – the M1, the A1(M) and the M25.

It is also on the Thameslink railway line (appallingly managed by the incompetent Govia franchise but extremely convenient). Trains run direct from Luton and Bedford (north of London) to Brighton (on England’s South Coast), connecting Luton Airport with Gatwick Airport and running through the middle of London, across Blackfriars Bridge, interchanging, I think, with every Underground line in London. And the trains run throughout the night.

Borehamwood (just to confuse visiting Americans) is home to Elstree Film Studios (which also hosts TV shows like Big Brother) and to the BBC’s Elstree Studios (home of the TV soap EastEnders).

What is strange is that it has had no permanent comedy club.

Until now.

Philip Simon outside Borehamwood’s 96 venue

This Saturday, comic Philip Simon is opening the Borehamwood Comedy Club in the local Council-owned 96 venue, right slap-bang in the middle of the high street.

The Jongleurs comedy chain has staged a few sporadic ‘On The Road’ gigs at the venue. But, last month, Jongleurs went bust.

“I have always thought that Borehamwood is the perfect place for comedy,” Philip told me. “It was just a case of finding the right venue. When Jongleurs ended, the Council was approached by every comedy booker you can imagine, including some that have no links whatever in London or even in the South. But I think the Council were more interested in working with a local one-man-band than a big company, so here I am.”

“It’s a great location for a comedy club,“ I said.

“Transport is really important,” agreed Philip. “Elstree & Borehamwood station is the last stop on the Oyster (cheap travel) card and it’s very easy to get to. I did a gig last night in Brixton (in South London) and I got back to Borehamwood in 45 minutes – and that was three trains. Acts can double-up very easily.

“I genuinely think you can get top-level acts who would have opened at maybe the Comedy Store in Central London and be looking for a second show to close and think: Oh! I can get to Borehamwood in half an hour! Because of the transport links, there’s no reason we couldn’t get Brighton acts. It’s a direct train. The venue is a 5-minute – if that! – walk from the station…”

“And the trains run all night,” I said.

Philip has written for TV’s Mock the Week and Taskmaster

Philip was involved in setting up the Comedians’ Network within the actors’ union Equity.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints,” he told me, “about the way acts have been treated by promoters on the comedy circuit in general – not specifically related to Jongleurs. About how replaceable we comedians are and how irrelevant we are to the bigger picture. So when I found Jongleurs had booked acts here already, the first thing I said was: Those are the acts I want to replace themselves, if they’re still available.

There was already a date booked in here by Jongleurs – this Saturday 25th November – so I took that and went back to the acts who were previously booked by Jongleurs and had been let down. I wanted to honour the bookings so the people who had potentially lost money were given first refusal on the new gig. There had been three acts booked. Two of them signed back up and one was busy elsewhere.”

“And the two are?” I asked.

“Lateef Lovejoy and Trevor Crook. I added in Geoff Boyz to close and I am going to compere it. In future, it will be that same format – One act / a break / another act / a break / headline act. And I will compere it.”

“How much per act?” I asked.

He told me.

“That sounds quite high,” I said. “How much are the tickets?”

“£12. The venue decided that. I have no control over it. The thing I am guaranteeing is that I will pay all of the acts on the day.”

“Unlike Jongleurs,” I laughed.

Are royal portraits all that comedy promoters care about?

“Well,” said Philip, “speaking as an act… the thing that really frustrates me is that I have done gigs where I have seen promoters walk off with a wad of cash and then refuse to pay you for 30 days after the event. I don’t have an agent and I don’t want to spend all my time chasing payment when the money is in the hands of the promoter. Whatever happens, the acts here will get their money on the day of the gig provided the gig goes ahead and they turn up. If, for some totally unforeseen reason, the venue cancels the gig, then the act will be paid a cancellation fee.”

“You don’t have a gig here in December,” I said, “because, obviously, 25th December is not an ideal date. But will you try to go weekly next year?”

“No. I don’t think there’s enough interest for a weekly comedy club of this level. When we re-launch in 2018, I am hoping we will take it monthly. What I might do is a monthly comedy show of this level and, in between, maybe another monthly new act/new material night. £12 a ticket is a lot of money to spend weekly and I’m not convinced that, by spreading myself so thin, I can give enough attention to the gig. Especially if I resident compere it.”

“You said of this level,” I pointed out.

“Yes. I would like it to be a high-end type of show. with faces that people will recognise and will represent the demographic of this area.”

“You could,” I suggested, “do a monthly Jewish gig here?”

“Well,” said Philip, “I did a show at Camden Fringe last year with Aaron Levene called Jew-O-Rama and maybe in this venue here we could do a once-a-quarter Jew-O-Rama. We were intrigued that it did not appeal as much to the Jewish audience as it did to the non-Jewish audience. The nights we sold out, there was a predominantly non-Jewish audience.

Philip aims to heighten the glamorous world of Borehamwood

“As well as the main monthly show, there are two things I want to do – one is the Jewish gig; one is a local gig. To find a way of supporting local acts. If the venue is investing in me as a local act, then there is a benefit in extending that.

“I could do the main show monthly, here. And then, in between those main shows, on alternate months, I could do the Jewish gig and the local gig. There are loads of comedians in the Borehamwood/St Albans/Radlett/Barnet/Shenley/Watford area – comedians of all levels. Newcomers and pro-level comedians.

“What I probably cannot do in the main show is to give stage time as many local acts as I’d like. Because they are all at different levels. The level of the main show at this venue has to be at a high level. But, if I can find a way of supporting local comedians with maybe a lower-level gig that is going to involve less cost and less administration… And there are other projects I would like to do such as maybe a quarterly charity gig and a Christmas show.”

“To be totally PC,” I suggested, “you would need a white male… a female… gay… black… and Jewish… You would need to have five acts per show.”

“I want funny,” said Philip. “The diversity will come with finding the right funny people.”

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Is David Mills the Dolly The Sheep of Dave Allen, Bob Newhart & Gore Vidal?

So I had a chat with David Mills, the American comic who lives in London, and we had trouble getting fully on-subject.

“My memory is shit,” I said, “and I have forgotten. How long have you been over here?”

“Seventeen years.”

“Are you here forever?”

“Well,” David joked, “now all these people are going down in Hollywood…”

“That’s not the best phrase to use,” I suggested.

“…there is,” he continued, “a lot of opportunity for middle-aged silver foxes like myself.”

“British TV?” I asked.

“If you’re not British,” said David, “you only get so far here. Look how long Tony Law’s been at it and yet he can’t get that regular spot on a panel show. The last one to manage it was Rich Hall.”

There can only be one David Mills in the UK

“Maybe,” I suggested, “there can only be one biggish North American ‘name;’ on TV at any one given time. Like you can only have one gay person ‘big’ at any one time – Graham Norton on BBC1, Paul O’Grady on ITV, Alan Carr on Channel 4. Maybe the most to hope for would be one big name American per channel.”

“Mmmm…” said David. “I think they’re happy to have people who come over from America. Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s always one or two. But the ones who are here… The attitude is: Who wants to listen to an American living in Britain talking about the UK? People want to hear Americans who live in America talking about America.”

Bill Bryson,” I suggested, “wrote about the UK when he lived in the UK. But, then, he was a writer, not a performer – different audience.”

“And writers have a longer shelf life,” said David. “Stand-ups can come very quickly and go very quickly.”

“Last year,” I started, “you were in the Meryl Streep/Stephen Frears film Florence Foster Jenkins…”

“Let’s not talk about that,” said David. “It’s too long ago. I can’t flog that horse any longer.”

“It must have done you some good,” I suggested.

Florence Foster Jenkins led David on…

“Well, that led me on to other things, I’ve had some big auditions with (he mentioned two A-list directors) and  (he named an A-list Hollywood star) is making a new film and I went up for the role of the baddie’s sidekick. A great part. But this film – I read the script – is so bad it might become infamous. I thought to myself: I really want this! I really want to be in this! I would love to be in an infamously bad film! That would be so much fun. But no.

“Are you a frustrated actor?” I asked.

“That’s where I started, but no I’m not – though I would be happy to do more. More and more is being filmed here, because the pound is low, they get a big tax break and the acting and production talent here is so high. I was up for a small role in the new Marvel Avengers film and the new Mission Impossible film.”

“Do you have another film part coming up?”

“Yes. It’s for TV. But it’s Showtime and Sky Atlantic.”

“You have a small part?”

“My part, John, is perfectly adequate.”

“This is an acting role in a serious drama?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s that serious.”

“But you’re acting seriously. It is not a red-nosed, floppy-shoe clown role?”

“I’m playing a version of me, John.”

“Sophisticated, then,” I said. “Suave. What were you in Florence Foster Jenkins?”

“A critic. Well, I wasn’t a critic, but I was critical.”

David Mills (left) and Gore Vidal – brothers under the skin?

“You were like Gore Vidal?” I asked.

“I would love to play Gore Vidal,” said David.

“Well,” I suggested, “now Kevin Spacey’s film about Gore Vidal has gone down in flames…”

“My Edinburgh Fringe show next year is called Your Silence is Deafening. It’s about being a critical person. I love people but that doesn’t mean I’m not critical. I am critical and I think that is good. The problem with the world is no-one likes critique.”

“Critical or bitchy?” I asked.

“They are different things,” said David.

“You don’t want to be ghettoised as being gay,” I said.

“No. I really don’t.”

“Your influences are interesting,” I said. “I never twigged until you told me a while ago that you partly model your act on Dave Allen.”

“Well, the act is different, but the look is inspired by him.”

“And you are very aware of the sound of the delivery.”

“Yes. A lot of things I say because I like the rhythm of the joke and the sound of it.”

“Are you musical?”

David with Gráinne Maguire and Nish Kumar on What Has The News Ever Done For Me? in Camden, London, last week

“No. But, to me, it’s all about precision. When I’m writing jokes or a show, it’s almost like a melody. I write it out and I do learn the words and I repeat the words. A lot of comics find a punchline and there’s a cloud of words leading up to it and those exact words can change every time. For me, that’s not the case. I may deliver it a little bit differently, but the wording is really important to me, because there’s a rhythm that takes me to the punchline.”

“You are a good ad-libber too, though,” I suggested.

“To an extent. But I am more heavily scripted than a lot of acts. Some other scripted acts are contriving to seem off-the-cuff, but there is something about that which, I think, feels wrong. I am trying to refer to a specific style – Dave Allen here and, in the US, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, people like that. They went out and had scripted routines and it felt more like a ‘piece’ which they presented, instead of shuffling on stage and I’m coming out with my observations. I aspire to the old school style: I have brought you this crafted piece and here it is. 

“Bob Newhart was so subtle and he had such an understated brilliance. He was able to get great laughs out of a short look. So studied and crafted. He developed that. You could put Bob Newhart in any situation and he would bring that same thing.”

“Yes, “ I said, “Lots of pauses and gaps. He looked like he was vaguely, slowly thinking of things. But it was all scripted.”

He’s not like Max Wall or Frankie Howerd…

“In British comedians,” said David, “I thought Max Wall was super-brilliant. And I love Frankie Howerd.”

“And,” I said, “the odd thing about him was that all the Ooohs and Aaahs were scripted.”

“Of course,” said David, “I have to do a lot of shows where I am still working it out, so it’s less crafted, but it’s all aiming towards me ‘presenting’ something. I think a lot of acts are not aspiring to do that. They are aspiring to a more informal kind of connection with the audience.”

(For those who do not remember Dolly The Sheep, click HERE)

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