Category Archives: Comedy

Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch, Princess Margaret and the Pub Quiz Mafia…

Paul Vickers with clock sans cuckoo spoke on FaceTime

Twonkey aka Paul Vickers is back at London’s Soho Theatre on Tuesday with a new show. 

Well, sort of.

I talked to him on FaceTime. He lives in Edinburgh.


JOHN: You didn’t play the much-cut-back  Edinburgh Fringe this year.

PAUL: No, because it kept wavering. I was due be doing it at Dragonfly again, but then that got closed for two weeks because of a Covid outbreak.

JOHN: You’re coming down south for your Soho Theatre show: Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch. Didn’t you have a Twitch show before?

PAUL: Yes, there was Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. This one is more like a ‘Best of Twonkey’ show.

The difficulty is selecting what the best is. I’ve just chosen what I think the best bits are and hope people will agree with me. I mean, really, Twonkey started as a joke and just got out of hand. 

It was something I did off the cuff. I didn’t think: Oh, I’ll be doing this for over ten years. I just thought: I’ll do one Edinburgh Fringe and see what happens. But then you get addicted; you get on the treadmill of doing it.

I am feeling a bit like James Bond, in the sense that I’ve created a franchise and I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’d like to pass it on to someone else.

JOHN: Who else could do a Twonkey show though?

PAUL: Princess Anne was on the list.

JOHN: Have you asked her? It’s worth asking because you’re likely to get a reply from some official which you could quote… Who else?

PAUL: Peter Crouch, the footballer. John Craven was mentioned.

Twonkey’s greatest latest seen soon in Soho

JOHN: Why would Princess Anne be ideal to do a Twonkey show?

PAUL: It was thought she might give it a bit of dignity. But Princess Margaret was the fun one. She used to get stoned with the Incredible String Band, apparently.

JOHN: And now it’s too late…

PAUL: Yes. But I feel like Roger Moore gearing up for Octopussy. It won’t feel like that once I get going again. At the moment I’m in that nervous period.

It will be like Diamonds Are Forever when I get going.

JOHN: You haven’t performed as Twonkey for a while, because of the lockdowns…

PAUL: Yeah. I’ve been more into band stuff. (More on his band Paul Vickers and The Leg in my blog of February this year)

JOHN: Are you going to do less Twonkey and more music?

PAUL: I think it might be a bit like that, yeah. We were gonna try and incorporate a band thing in the new show, but we’re not really ready: it’s such a long process with the band.

JOHN: Your shows tend to have music in them, but you mean the band could actually be part of a Twonkey show?

PAUL: That could happen. I’ve always wanted to do that. The main thing that stops me is expense and all the Edinburgh Fringe venues are basically just like a plug in the wall. It would have to be a big enough venue to fit six people with equipment on the stage.

JOHN: Anything planned after the Soho Theatre and before next year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

A cultural dessert – the Custard Club

PAUL: Well, I did write another show that I had been going to do in 2020: Twonkey’s Custard Club. I had an elaborate idea involving custard as currency and where desserts had become the main meal.

JOHN: That works for me.

PAUL: I was all geared-up to do it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but then all the lockdowns happened and I couldn’t do anything for almost two years.

JOHN: So why are you not doing Twonkey’s Custard Club as your Soho Theatre show?

PAUL: Well, I kept opening the Word document and I thought: I don’t know how I feel about that now… There had been enough time for doubts to creep in. Previously, there had never been enough time for doubts to creep in because, every year, I barely had enough time to get a coherent show together for the Fringe.

I think everyone’s gone through this thing where you had a structured life and, during the pandemic, it wasn’t there any more. And then you start thinking: Do I really need to do that any more? Is that important? Do I LIKE doing that? It’s quite stressful.

Paul Vickers and The Leg – all six members of the band…

All those things came into the equation, so I became a bit more serious. The new band album is quite serious. I got quite into that during the pandemic – crafting a really good album.

JOHN: What was Twonkey’s Custard Club like?

PAUL: There was a book that had 100 pages with the same picture on every page. It was a tankard and a sleepy/romantic Alpine scene. There was a whole bit about if that book did exist, how would you interpret it? You would probably automatically think there might be a slight difference between the pictures and start looking for it. But there was no difference.

JOHN: Was any custard involved?

PAUL: In that bit, no. It was not custardy that bit. It wasn’t ALL custardy.

There will be a couple of custard songs in the Soho Theatre show – the ‘Best of’ show – despite the fact they’ve never been heard by anyone before.

JOHN: Seems reasonable.

PAUL: If the gig at the Soho Theatre goes well, that’ll help me make my decision on what to do.

If everyone’s like You can’t stop doing that! That’s great, Paul! that’s one thing. But, if it ends with people booing and asking for refunds, then… (LAUGHS)

Twitch bound… the Wobbly Waiter from Twonkey’s Custard Club…

There are some amazing puppets that Grant’s made for the show. The Wobbly Waiter of the Custard Club has got leg braces and everything. It was going to have custard and wobbly things on the plate. You bomb about and create absolute chaos with him because it’s very heavy and impossible to control. So it’s the perfect foil for comedy activity. 

JOHN: You haven’t done Twonkey at all during the pandemic?

PAUL: Well I did a pub quiz as Twonkey in a little pub called The Hoppy in Edinburgh and that went really well. That was the first time I’d done Twonkey in ages.

JOHN: How does Twonkey do a pub quiz? Surreal questions?

PAUL: Well, there’s a lot of things I do that make it not work.

JOHN: Is that the basis of Twonkey? Making it not work.

PAUL: Essentially. For example, at the pub quiz, I was forgetting to read out all the answers and no-one had any idea who was winning, not even me because I had forgotten to count it up.

JOHN: What happened at the end?

PAUL: My brother tried to make sense of it all and we did crown a winner.

Woodland Creatures bar, home of an unconventional pub quiz

JOHN: You had hosted pub quizzes before?

PAUL: When I did it on Leith Walk, I used to do it at a place called Woodland Creatures. But the trouble with pub quizzes is that people take them very seriously and the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia came round. I was like the new kid on the block.

JOHN: Who are the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia?

PAUL: Well, there’s a few of them that do the pub quiz circuit. Some of them do five or six pubs. I used to think the host for a pub quiz was probably a local schoolteacher with a bit of knowledge and time on his hands but – nah – it’s much more cynical than that.

The Pub Quiz Mafia were like: What’s this guy up to? Because I was going against the conventions of pub quizzes…

JOHN: … like giving the answers…

PAUL: …erm… yes. It was controversial at first. I had one round where I showed a clip from a film and people watched it really carefully, thinking the questions were going to be about that clip… but then I’d ask questions about a completely different film.

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey – unconventional is now standard

At the start, it was quite popular. I had a dominatrix doing the score cards. She was in latex and stuff.

She was like Carol Vorderman from Countdown. She was the brain and the discipline of the quiz and I was like Richard Whiteley, sitting there not having a clue what was going on, but being charming in a way I suppose. If I messed up, the dominatrix would keep me in line.

JOHN: She would whip you into shape?

PAUL: (LAUGHS) There was no whipping involved, but she made it known she was displeased. And she got angry with people who weren’t behaving in the crowd. After she stopped helping out, I was just sort of floating because I forgot I was doing a pub quiz. And it turned out that really frustrates people.

JOHN: What were you thinking if you forgot it was a pub quiz?

PAUL: Well, I start off thinking: Oh, this will be fun. And then I lose interest because it’s a pub quiz. I suppose I’ve made it my own. You could say it’s just a bad pub quiz.

JOHN: You should do a bad pub quiz at the Edinburgh Fringe. People would flock to it.

PAUL: Maybe… I will send you a link to my new video: Everyone Loves Custard. It will be in the Soho show.


And he did…
 

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Surreal

Nathan Lang: The Covid pandemic, a wolf daughter and three Big Wowies…

Happy family: Nathan, Shelley and Chilli Bobcat Lang (Photograph by Phil Zachariah)

The last time I talked to Nathan Lang for a blog – “Comic Nathan Lang: ‘Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian’” was in December 2019, just before the pandemic hit. It was also shortly after the birth of his first daughter, named Chilli Bobcat.

I asked him why she was named Chilli Bobcat. 

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

Chilli Bobcat is now 2½. And he has a second daughter, now aged 2 months. She has been named Wolf.

Now read on.


“I thought we were just having a chat….”

JOHN: Why Wolf? Surely that is a boy’s name. What is a female wolf called anyway? Just a wolf, I suppose…

NATHAN: Possibly a bitch, because it’s a type of dog…

JOHN: So you were right: better to call her Wolf. What are you plugging?

NATHAN: I thought we were just having a chat.

JOHN: I thought you were plugging something.

NATHAN: Well, I’m doing a series of three monthly comedy cabaret shows, raising money for Hackney Night Shelter. I’ve done Christmas cabaret fundraisers for them the last three years at the same venue – Grow in Hackney.

The Hackney Night Shelter used to be called the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, but they’ve now gone year-round because of the demand for their services. It’s a critical time for them, because they’ve just moved into two permanent shelter venues, serving all the year round, so they need more money to do it but, for the last almost two years, because of the pandemic…

JOHN: This is one of your Big Wowie shows?

NATHAN: Yes. We were about two start a regular live cabaret – Big Wowie Cabaret – in March 2020 but, of course, lockdown kicked in and we had to cancel that. So we went online with an interactive character show. We did it every month for eight months on Zoom. It had to be on Zoom because it was interactive. It was two hours; loads of fun; and we started to ‘find’ our audience – people who were really into it.

But our last online show was in June and it got – what do you call it? – ‘bombed’?… Sabotaged by a bunch of kids who got the Zoom link and just jumped in, went absolutely mental and, with Zoom, whoever speaks the loudest gets the spotlight. 

They were playing very loud YouTube clips and making rude gestures. Basically interrupting the show so, for the first hour, we couldn’t really start but we out-crazied them and got rid of them. It was still a debacle, though.

But now we are live again.

JOHN: People have to wear masks?

“It’s by the canal, the stage is a floating pontoon…”

NATHAN: No. The venue takes a lot of Covid precautions and there’s a healthy distance between the performers and the audience. The venue – Grow, by the River Lea – has made a stage which is a floating pontoon and the audience sits outside – there are heaters and stuff. So it’s by the canal, the stage is a floating pontoon and, if you don’t like one of the acts, you pull a lever and the stage flips over and the next act steps on. They’re just comedians. If they drown, no matter.

JOHN: (SILENCE)

NATHAN: Alright, I’m joking, but the stage IS a floating pontoon. It maintains a healthy distance and makes the audience feel safe.

JOHN: Why the name Big Wowie?

NATHAN: I always fantasied about the worst chocolate bar in the world. That’s why the logo is a chocolate bar wrapper. And the worst chocolate bar in the world is a thin tube of flavourless wafer with a little bit of chocolate drizzled on the top and it’s just a hollow wafer tube wrapped up in this glamorous chocolate bar wrapping. When you bite into it the whole thing just crumbles and you go: “Oh! Big Wowie!”

“I always fantasied about the worst chocolate bar in the world”

JOHN: This is a good image for the show? Hollow, tasteless and crumbling?

NATHAN: Maybe when I explain it like that it doesn’t sound so good… I think maybe I was trying to be ironic… I think most people would think BIG WOWIE!!!! 

But, to me, it’s…

JOHN: …an empty chocolate bar.

NATHAN: Maybe it’s just a hollow dream… (LAUGHS)

My actual dream for Big Wowie was always to connect the local community and the Hackney community is really special to me because, when I stepped off the boat 15 years ago as an immigrant from Australia…

JOHN: You love Hackney.

NATHAN: Yeah.

Future parents – Nathan and then-pregnant wife Shelley

JOHN: Yet you just moved to Margate in April this year. Why?

NATHAN: I’m a conformist. I follow the trends. When you live in Hackney for 15 years, then have a family, you move to Margate. And we can pick up French radio here.

JOHN: So… the Big Wowie show is raising money for the Hackney Night Shelter.

NATHAN: Three shows… October 12th, November 9th, December 14th. And we have a sponsor – a local business INTUNE that makes CBD drinks.

JOHN: The active ingredient in marijuana?

NATHAN: Yes, but they have distilled the good stuff without the intoxicant. So it’s made from natural ingredients and it’s mood-enhancing, but you don’t get high. You are not macrodosing marijuana when you drink them.

JOHN: So during the 18 months or so of pandemic mayhem, what did you do?

NATHAN: I was doing Big Wowie’s online and I was making comedy videos.

Nathan remembers his Australian heritage…

We went up to Scotland for Christmas 2020 (my wife is Scots) and, about two days later, there was a national lockdown and we couldn’t leave Scotland. Well you couldn’t leave your shire; you couldn’t even leave your town. Fortunately because we had family up there, we had a place to stay and it turned out OK because there was more space and we were right by a forest and Chilli was happy.

JOHN: Your wife is a…

NATHAN: …a psychotherapist. She took a year off.

JOHN: The pandemic must have…

NATHAN: You would think so. Yeah, lockdown was hard. It certainly tightened the screws on my mental health. I started therapy again. My therapist is in Australia – online therapy via Zoom.

JOHN: Presumably you are not allowed to get therapy from your wife…

NATHAN: I get that from her constantly. (LAUGHS) She says very insightful, wonderful things but you’re not allowed to have any clients you know. My wife knows, as a therapist, that I need to talk about her to my therapist. Though, in fairness, I talk to her about my therapist, because she’s fascinated in the process. I struck gold with my therapist and my wife is fascinated to know why she’s so good.

JOHN: In the new year, you have new projects…?

“I haven’t really got time for much in my life right now…”

NATHAN: I haven’t really got time for much in my life right now. I’m running Big Wowie every month, I’ve got two children and I’m the primary carer… My wife’s going to go back to full-time work.

It’s very fulfilling being a present father, because my own father was an absent father and then he left us when I was four.

JOHN: Are you going up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

NATHAN: No. Because my child’s birthday is August 5th. Basically my second daughter has ruined my live comedy career. 

JOHN: Well, she IS called Wolf, so I guess it’s best not to annoy her too much.

NATHAN: I tried to have her cut out early so it wouldn’t interrupt my future Edinburgh Fringe plans, but… Well, if the Fringe starts after August 5th one year, I might go up.

JOHN: A lesson to all performers there. They should control their base urges nine months before August.

NATHAN: Also I’ve got to have something to say in a Fringe show which is not “Being a father…”.

JOHN: You are tied-down.

NATHAN: I’m a happy house husband.

JOHN: And that’s great. You’ll get psychological insight into the human condition and can write novels about it.

NATHAN: Mmmmm…

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Filed under Cabaret, Charity, Comedy

A DIY guide to getting and making an Edinburgh Fringe comedy award…

This morning, a month after this year’s cut-down-by-Covid Edinburgh Fringe finished, the 2021 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner was announced. Yes, a month after it finished. 

The late Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home

Alas no attempt was made to link the fact that the Award and the dead-but-impossible-to-forget comic Malcolm Hardee himself are both late.

Normally, there are three Malcolm Hardee Awards but, with no Fringe last year, with Covid still stalking the land and with staggeringly fewer shows at the Fringe this year, it’s a miracle there was any award at all.

As for the lesser Fringe awards… There were no Edinburgh Comedy (aka Perrier) Awards at all this year. And the eponymous TV channel did not attempt to award any prize for ‘DAVE’s Best Joke of the Fringe 2021’.

Fittingly, then, the winner of the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year was Will Mars, who announced his own ‘(Some Guy Called) DAVE Joke of the Fringe 2021’.

A cunning stunt indeed.

The TV channel’s annual prize is awarded after multiple allegedly top comedy industry professionals assiduously scout for jokes to nominate a shortlist and the final winner is decided by an allegedly carefully supervised public vote. 

This year, Will Mars just got together a few gags from people’s shows and then wandered up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh trying to find anyone called Dave who would pick a winner from the bunch.

Surprisingly, finding someone called Dave turned out to be almost as difficult as picking a winner.

The chosen winning joke was Masai Graham’s:

“I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but, when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”

The shortlist of other jokes – inexplicably Caesar-centric – which Will had got together included:

Adele Cliff: “The Roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.” 

Ben Clover: “Getting a caesarian is dangerous in Russia. If they open you up and find a little girl, they open her up to see if there’s another.”

Ivor Dembina: “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.”

Sameer Katz: “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.”

Leo Kearse: “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.”

Will Mars’ own: “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.”

Tom Mayhew: “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.”

Rich Pulsford: “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.”

The trophy for the one-off 2021 Award itself was designed and crafted by mad inventor John Ward, who has designed and made all the previous trophies.

But you can’t just knock-off a Malcolm Hardee Award in a minute or two. Oh no. Oh my dear me, no. Quality counts.

You need raw materials and then you have to decide what the fuck to do with them…

Once you have ’em, you have to shape ’em and craft ’em…

Then, if you’re talented like John Ward, you have to tart ’em up into a final trophy…

John Ward (he’s the one on the right) with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2021

John Ward told me: “It’s basically Malcolm’s bonce, with real imitation hair, plus the specs mounted on an ‘H’ shaped base for Hardee.

“I used a BAFTA type theme but tried to take the piss out of it with the silver (on the right) symbolising the bland year and half it’s been with Covid and the golden ray of laughter (on the left) is pure (if that’s a suitable word) Malcolm with a hearty grin.”

“With real imitation hair?” I asked. “From where?”

“From a fabric shop I patronise for such things…”

“Such things?” I asked.

“I use it to make wigs and I buy it by the yard as you never know when you might run out of the hairy stuff…” replied John.

Here is a reminder of John Ward.

Here is Will Mars’ typically non-promotional speech accepting the 2021 Cunning Stunt Award…

 
And here is the base of John Ward’s trophy…

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Edinburgh

Njambi McGrath: “I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do…”

Njambi’s book Through The Leopard’s Gaze

JOHN: So, Njambi McGrath, you are very busy at the moment. 

NJAMBI:  Well, lockdown gave me the space to write.

Before that, I was travelling loads to do comedy gigs but all the way through lockdown I didn’t have to travel anywhere so I could literally write all day.

When my first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze was published I had done so much research I didn’t want the richness of what I discovered to be wasted.

So I decided to write my second book last year as fiction and use the research in that. 

I wrote that new book last year and I’m writing another one this year.

Both novels are set in Kenya. I wanted both of them to reflect everything.  The chaos and how people tried to make sense of life before independence and everything.

Njambi at a book signing, with many more still to come…

Last year’s novel is called The Residence of the Ministry of Works. It’s about people living in a compound in Kenya. No-one even knows how they found their way there. Is it a Ministry? No. It was something the British created and, when they left, it… it is like a slum.

When they arrived, the British found systems that were intact and it’s like Lego. If you kick it, then it goes in all directions. The British kicked the existing system and caused chaos.

JOHN: And the new book this year is…?

NJAMBI: Rinsing Mukami’s Soul – it’s more focussed. I think I’m on the final draft now. The ‘Rinsing’ is because of all the things she does and encounters; her soul needs rinsing.

JOHN: So, with the long-drawn-out lockdown, the enforced isolation and the book-writing, have you lost your urge to go on stage and do live stand-up?

NJAMBI: No. It’s like a drug. Every time I’m on stage I am: Oooh! I wanna do this again! I performed at The Comedy Store a couple of weeks ago and a couple of other venues this week. I’ve done enough gigs since lockdown finished to forget how many I’ve done.

JOHN: And you went up to the whittled-down Edinburgh Fringe in August…

NJAMBI: Yes, I was invited to Edinburgh and offered a 98-seater at the Pleasance to do a 3-day run of my show Accidental Coconut, the show I did in 2019. 

JOHN: What was Edinburgh like this year?

NJAMBI: I had very good, full-house audiences. People were hungry to laugh after the lockdown.

The week before that, I had been up to Edinburgh to record my radio show over two nights. The audiences were the same then – amazing. What a way to come out of lockdown hibernation!

The Sunday Times loved Njambi’s new radio show.

JOHN: Your radio show… That’s your BBC Radio 4 series of four, which starts this week?

NJAMBI: Yes, it’s based on Accidental Coconut but it’s called Njambi McGrath: Becoming Njambi. It starts this Wednesday, the 22nd of September, for four weeks at 11.00pm on Wednesdays.

JOHN: Why is it not called Accidental Coconut?

NJAMBI: Because Radio 4 said: “If you use that term on radio, referring to yourself, other people may think it’s OK to use that derogatory term.”

JOHN: Why was it called Accidental Coconut in the first place?

NJAMBI: Because when I had been doing an Edinburgh show in a previous year – African in New York – I said that, when I got to America, I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because I was an ‘accidental coconut’ – because, obviously, we don’t learn that history in Kenya.

And then I thought: Oh my God! That’s a really great title! – It reflects exactly what we are. We are not taught about our history.

JOHN: How did black New Yorkers react when you opened your mouth and they realised you were British?

NJAMBI: The first time I was in a lecture hall, I put my hand up and spoke and everybody went: Whooaaaa! How come you’re not speaking with the black people’s accent in America?

JOHN: Did they think either (a) she’s just a foreigner or (b) she’s English so she must be posh? She must know the Queen?

NJAMBI: Well, they were even more confused because I said: “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan”.

JOHN: And their reaction was…?

NJAMBI: Well, after my university days, when Barack Obama was still President, I was in Florida and said, “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan,” and their reaction was “Where is Kenya?”

JOHN: Whaaat?

“I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because…”

NJAMBI: I said: “That is where your President is from. And one woman asked: “George W Bush?” 

Everyone around the world was talking about this new American President and she hadn’t even noticed they had got a new president and he was black. If she hadn’t looked so confused, I would have thought it was a joke.

JOHN: You are also performing Accidental Coconut at Soho Theatre in London next month. (4th-9th October) 

NJAMBI: Yes, it actually overlaps with the radio series.

JOHN: And what comes after your Soho Theatre run?

NJAMBI: I’ll be finishing my new book Rinsing Mukami’s Soul and I have a new stage show as well. I was working on a draft of it in early 2020 and was going to take it to Edinburgh that August, but then the pandemic happened and the Fringe didn’t. So it will now be my 2022 show.

JOHN: Titled…?

NJAMBI: Black Black.

JOHN: Why?

NJAMBI: Because, the night before I got married, my mother-in-law came to me and I thought she was going to say something like: “Welcome to my family”. But she whispered to me: “The day I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black…”

JOHN: So books, live stage stuff, radio… and a TV series of your first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze…?

NJAMBI: Well, we are waiting on that. You know how long these things take. It was optioned during lockdown.

Njambi and I chatted at London’s Soho Theatre

I have got to a point in my life where I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do.

For a long time, I didn’t think I had the skill. 

I was working in IT; I didn’t think I was good at it. I couldn’t sing. There were so many things I couldn’t do, so I thought I was useless.

Then I discovered I can make people laugh.

Then I discovered I could write.

Oh my God!

Now I’m like a ferret on a treadmill because I want to write as many shows as possible because I discovered I can actually do something when I thought I could do nothing. So I have been doing all these things as well as co-writing a TV sitcom and I’ve been writing some drama as well…

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Filed under Comedy, Performance, Writing

R.I.P. author/comic Lynn Ruth Miller…

Regular readers will know of the unique, seemingly indefatigable and gloriously multi-talented US comic Lynn Ruth Miller, an occasional and much-admired contributor to this blog.

If not, type her name in this blog’s Search. 

Multi-award-winning Lynn Ruth died of cancer yesterday afternoon in London. So it goes.

In 2019, she explained that she didn’t plan on being a stand-up comic.

She had a Masters degree in Journalism from Stanford University and said she had considered herself a writer, a newspaper columnist and ‘a TV lady’ (she had her own TV show on the US West Coast) but never in her wildest dreams thought she would become a comedian. She said: “I always came up with smart remarks that got me into trouble”.

At the age of 67, she published Starving Hearts, her first book – an autobiographical novel about her struggle with her overwhelming mother and her battle with bulimia. She then released two compilations of her essays – Thoughts While Walking the Dog and More Thoughts While Walking the Dog – which had previously been published in US newspapers. She turned to stand-up comedy aged 71.

Her friend Sarah-Louise Young has today posted this on Lynn Ruth’s Facebook page:


 
Our beloved Lynn Ruth passed away yesterday afternoon at St Joseph’s Hospice in London. She spent the last few weeks of her life there being wonderfully cared for, enjoying the garden and making new friends.
 
For those of us who knew she was ill, we had all hoped she would begin radiotherapy at Barts Hospital  for her oesophageal cancer this week but in the end, sadly she was not well enough for treatment.
 
She was and will continue to be loved by hundreds of people and my heart goes out to each and every one of her friends and family. The outpouring of love online has been immense.
 
Whilst in the hospice she was only allowed six visitors and I know it pained her to have to turn people away. Her phone was never silent and she was busy making plans to gig, sing, write, paint, laugh, tell stories, drink Pinot Grigio, buy a puppy and travel the world right up to the end.
 
I had the great privilege of being with her in the last few days. Even though she was not fully conscious, I held her hand, told her how much she was loved and dabbed a little of her Miss Dior perfume behind her ears as I know she always liked to be sweet-scented. I also played her some music: Only A Paper Moon, Deep Purple (by jazz pianist Peter DeRose) and the songs she loved to sing from her own shows. Occasionally she would move her shoulder in time to the music and I like to think she could hear it and was dancing.
 
Any cards which had arrived in the last few days I read to her and I described the beautiful bouquet of flowers which arrived on Monday. They were put in a vase next to her bed.
 
One of her final requests was that her friends didn’t know she was dying. This was a very hard request to honour so I hope you will understand and respect why news of her reaching the end of her life was not made public.
 
She wanted to leave this world in privacy and with dignity. She knew that she was loved but she was tired and ready to go.
 
She had many, many offers of practical and emotional support from friends during her stay at Homerton hospital, when she was back home afterwards and in the final weeks in hospice, for which she was eternally grateful. Thank you to all of you.
 
She didn’t want a funeral and although she asked for her body to be left to science, in the end that was not possible. She will be cremated instead as per her instructions.
 
There will be a private memorial for close friends for which she made specific plans.
 
We will also be holding a public celebration on what would’ve been her 88th birthday in her honour. It will take place in the West End of London with the ticket proceeds going to charity. This will be live-streamed so all her international friends and family can attend.
 
I will post more information on both of these soon.
 
She had specific charitable causes she wanted to support: domestic abuse, hunger, education for marginalised groups and homelessness. I feel sure she would also be happy with people donating money to the hospice who could not have been more kind and caring in looking after our dear friend.
 
The world is a richer, more beautiful, mischievous and loving place because of Lynn Ruth. Her legacy lives on in each and every one of us whose life she touched.
 
With love, Sarah-Louise Young
8th September 2021
 

An early proof copy of Lynn Ruth’s recently-published autobiography

Some of Lynn Ruth’s many books…


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Can you be taught how to be a stand-up comedian?… Are you mad or a misfit?

Is there any point studying comedy for an academic qualification?

Someone asked that in an online comedy forum for comedians and wannabe comedians last week. It wasn’t and won’t be the first or last time the question is asked.

My reaction is – admittedly as a non-performer – absolutely not.

You are either capable of being funny or you are not. You learn from doing, not from listening to someone else telling you how to do something you either have or do not have in your psychological make-up.

Those who can… do.

Those who can’t… don’t. 

They may try but they don’t. 

Spend the time you would have spent getting an academic qualification or buying books written by academic wannabes by going out and seeing as many BAD comedians as you can and learn from their mistakes.

If you can’t see what bad comedians are doing wrong or where good comedians occasionally fail, then you are never going to be a successful comic. 

You are not going to learn as much from watching a good comedian as you will by watching a bad comedian.

You learn from mistakes – yours and others – not by watching perfection. And, in any case, you don’t want to copy another person’s version of perfection. You want to create your own perfect stage version of yourself.

Comedy cannot be taught because teaching implies rules and there are no rules if you want to be original.

If you follow the alleged ‘rules’, you will – by definition – be unoriginal.

But there is a major downside in wanting to be an original comedian.

Performing comedy is not a job for sane, well-rounded people.

It is a vocation for misfits.

If you don’t have something missing in your life – a great, gaping psychological hole eating away inside you – you won’t be an original comic.

You may be watchable, but you will not be great.

Comedians are masochists with a vocation.

If they are about to play a gig, they fear the audience may hate them. Yet they must play it.

If they have a great gig, they ‘know’ their next gig is unlikely to be as good. Yet they must play it.

If they play a bad gig, then they are confirmed in their suspicion that they are as shit as they feared they might be. Yet they have an emotional need to play the next gig. 

Comedians are spurred on by their own insecurity rather than by their own self-confidence.

They want to get an ongoing objective reassurance from the audience that they are ‘good’ – likeable, loveable, creative.

They are insecure inside.

To overcome this, they want to control the audience to such an extent that each and every member of the audience will be unable to control his or her emotions. 

That is the whole core of successful comedy.

Each and every member of the audience will be unable not to laugh.

Their bodies and souls and nervous system – their reactions – will be controlled by the performer.

To be successful as a comic, you have to feel incomplete and be lacking in self-confidence inside and, as a result, want to demonstrate to yourself your own ability to control others.

This has not necessarily any connection with financial success.

Comedy is a series of paradoxes.

If you follow the so-called rules, you will – by definition – be unoriginal and will not stand out from the crowd.

Yet, if you are too wildly original, you will not be accepted by the general middle-of-the-road crowd.

But what do I know?

I genuinely don’t care what people think of me. So I don’t have the soul or psychology of a performer.

All I know is…

There are no rules.

Though, of course, by saying that, I am stating an opinion as a certain fact.

So you should ignore that and everything else I have written, because there are no rules. 

A true comedian’s mind is a collection of extra-ordinary paradoxes.

A series of interlinked, extra-ordinary paradoxes.

In that respect, they are just like an ‘ordinary’ person.

But with talent.

Maybe.

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This year’s Edinburgh Fringe in the very personal opinion of ex-Sir Gideon Vein

The Edinburgh Fringe – or what passes for the Fringe in this let’s-hope-it’s-almost-over-Covid-pandemic netherworld – finishes this coming weekend. It started on 6th August.

The former Sir Gideon Vein with a very personal look…

I have not been up there but, when I chatted to performer Tony Green aka Sir Gideon Vein for a blog posted a fortnight ago, I mentioned that he might like to give his view of what it is like this year. He lives in Edinburgh for a lot of the year.

I have just received his highly-personal account…

I say ‘highly-personal’… That is exactly what I asked him for but, in other words, if you are an act who is mentioned, don’t send the hit-men to shoot ME…


The Duke of Wellington had developed a pointed head

A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Duke of Wellington’ had a cone placed upon his head. It seemed to herald the beginning of The Fringe (albeit a severely pared-down version). Although Queen Victoria’s statue at the top end of Leith Walk where the down and outs invariably assemble is frequently treated to a cone.

Anyway, as I mentioned to you, there has been practically no-one flyering up here – only the occasional one around the St Giles area giving out flyers for their own shows. 

I went to see Walshy’s (formerly a homeless geezer whose face tells the story) show (A Number of Stand-Ups) in Niddry Street.

It turned out to be in the back annexe of a basement. No distancing and about sixty people (a capacity audience) crammed into one small oblong room about 20ft by 9ft with some wearing masks, some not. 

There was no way I felt I could go in especially with a partner (not actually with me) who is totally vulnerable as regards this bloody virus. 

So I walked along to The Canons’ Gait in the Canongate to see PBH’s Show (I’ve known him for years)… It turned out to be his night off. The compere was a woman called Kate Smurthwaite who opened with a stream of extraneous expletives.

I see the objective here but personally don’t feel it is necessary. 

Kate Smurthswaite’s own one-woman show

Not that she actually said this but it could just as well have been something like:  “Right, so Jack and Jill went up the fucking hill to fetch a fucking pail of water…” 

I certainly have no objection to so-called ‘bad language’ – far from it – just the way it is used… e.g. When Malcolm Hardee used the ‘Fuck’ it was necessary AND funny in a lighthearted way – but this is a different arena. 

Then there was a bit about about her ‘bush’ and pubic hair removal, then onto asking the audience intrusive questions (par for the course these days it would seem) e.g. “And what do you do for a living…?” 

I was not asked – a pity perhaps. 

Although the Oxbridge-educated Kate, who was formerly an investment banker in London and Japan, is a deeply politically-motivated comic as well as an activist and teacher, she didn’t touch on politics in her opener. Perhaps she was saving the political stuff for her midnight chat show. 

I later saw her on the internet clashing with Laurence Fox – this was a TV link-up. 

So the Chat Show would indeed have the potential for an explosive midnight hour and it is, by the way, the only midnight show at the Fringe.  

The first comic on was a very young Norwegian bloke called Thor. He was alright, I suppose, and not unlikeable but nothing there really for someone like me  – also asking the audience personal questions and explaining the problems he’d encountered regarding his ethnicity. 

His English was actually better than many English people’s. Early days for him though. 

It started to look a bit packed and there were no precautions or any distancing so I left early which may have been a pity. 

Critic Kate Copstick went there last week and gave the night she went a 5-star review and later I believe Kate Smurthwaite’s own show was also highly commended. 

A couple of days ago I saw a bloke – ‘Edinburgh Fringe Favourite’ Robert Inston – doing a one-man show about Jack the Ripper – a subject I know a fair bit about. 

He attempted to portray five characters all of whom were closely associated with the Whitechapel Murders. This was in the large basement (so it was possible to sit far back) called Maggie’s Chamber at The Three Sisters in the Cowgate. 

I appreciated his effort but, as he said, he is used to performing as women. 

The trouble was (for me) ALL of the characters were portrayed in an overtly camp manner (fair enough with Queen Victoria) and his depiction of Walter Sickert (about whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell has a definite bee in her bonnet) as a nasty homosexual bitch hardly tied up with what is actually known about the man who was allegedly born with a malformed penis but who was married a couple of times (to women).

‘Leather Apron’ (John Pizer) was depicted as a fey gay (or that was the impression given).

An opportunity missed I thought. 

Some people put as little as a penny in the collection bucket. The audience nevertheless were very well behaved throughout. My partner fell asleep (a large area and we were able to sit at the back). 

Few posters at the Fringe in 2021

It sort of reminded me of a production of Dorian Gray (merit-wise) that I saw up here a few years ago. Oscar Wilde would have taken out a lawsuit – to call it lacking in subtlety would be a gross understatement. 

The board with the posters at the end of the Cowgate is virtually the same board ALL over town. I haven’t seen Daniel Sloss or Craig Hill and somehow can’t imagine I ever will. The former I know got good reviews up here a few years ago.

In Hill Square (Hill Place), off Nicholson Street, there is a marquee with a raised platform. The venue is called The Space. On stage there were about six or seven young English girls by the sound of them singing pop songs a cappella, often with interpolation. It was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive I heard. No disrespect to them, but hardly my bag. They had a reasonable audience.

It is a pity I couldn’t have said something nice about a show. The Free Fringe is hit and miss as expected. And this year there was not exactly a great deal to choose from…

The a cappella girls got a reasonable audience in Hill Square…

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Comic Malcolm Hardee remembered by Australian performer Matthew Hardy…

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (Photo by Steve Taylor)

In yesterday’s blog, Australian performer Matthew Hardy remembered British comedian Sean Lock, who died earlier this week. 

Matthew also mentioned the late comedian Malcolm Hardee – oft called ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ – as “the most outrageous individual I’ve ever known”. 

Eight days after Malcolm’s death by drowning in 2005, Matthew Hardy shared this memory. 

Stories about Malcolm Hardee are plentiful but, to my mind, this one from Matthew may be the definitive one…


Malcolm took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.

Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.

I wanted to hit him and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. 

Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. 

He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. 

Anarchy.

We laugh… NOW!”.

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UK comic Sean Lock remembered by Australian performer Matthew Hardy

(Image by comedy news website Chortle.co.uk)

The British comedian Sean Lock died of cancer on Monday, aged 58. I remember him in the 1990s as highly intelligent, a very very funny stand-up and, most of all, a kind man unspoilt by any discernible ego. I don’t think he changed when he became successful.

Here, Australian performer Matthew Hardy pays tribute to Sean…


(L-R) Matthew Hardy, Malcolm Hardee, Sean Lock (Photograph courtesy of Matthew Hardy)

Rising up the London stand-up comedy club ladder in 1993, I’d started to get paid gigs (after 12 months of poverty-stricken gradual improvement), many of which were ‘Door Splits’ (meaning the Promoter splits the door-take equally with the comedians).

I’d been living in Welwyn Garden City, way too far out of London (grateful though I was for anywhere at all, having landed from Australia without a clue) and needed a room closer to the city, quickly. 

I ended up staying with the most outrageous individual I’ve ever known (who became a great mate, the comedian Malcolm Hardee, pictured above in the middle, but that’s a whole other story) and that opportunity came about because I’d been telling anyone who’d listen within the comedy community (I didn’t know anyone else) that I was desperately lacking in both money and a place to live. 

After an early paid Door Split gig at a well-attended club I won’t name, another act (who I met for the first time that night) named Sean Lock, offered me a lift to Kings Cross station (where most changeover train routes threaded through: trains I couldn’t afford tickets for, so I’d be nervously watching out for inspectors the whole way in and back) and, having delivered a good show, I spoke excitedly to him about how awesome it was to be have been paid £20.

“TWENTY POUNDS!” Sean said, loudly and incredulously.

“Yes”, I said, “I’ve been doing open-spots (free 5 minute trials) for a year now and it’s great to have gotten good enough to get paid”.

“You told the Promoter you were skint and needed somewhere to stay, didn’t you?” Sean said. 

“Yeah – and they said they’d try to help me out if they could,” I replied, enthusiastically. 

“Help you out?” he said. “The rest of us got £120 pounds each!”

I’d been lonely and thought I was about to cry, at which point Sean pulled over, took £50 out of his wallet and shoved it in my hand.

“Now we’ve both been paid the same,” he said, with a smile. 

And then, “You’re not in the outback anymore, cobber. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. And, by the way, I loved your ‘Windy Day’ routine”.

He dropped me off and I recall this all concisely because I was keeping a daily diary back then.

People remember kindness. 

People won’t forget Sean Lock.

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Vertigo, a stroke, partial paralysis, two heart attacks and an inoperable cancer…

Irony upon irony.

In the UK, we are in the middle of an extreme heatwave.

Irony upon irony. It never rains but it pours.

Last Wednesday, torrential rains started in western Germany triggering deadly floods. At the time of writing, the German death toll is 188, with around 1,300 missing and an estimated 31 dead in Belgium. Poor old Belgium always gets forgotten.

And let’s not even mention the current Covid infection rate. Yet.

Irony upon irony.

The newspapers here in the UK are billing today as ‘Freedom Day’ when most Covid restriction in England are lifted. Yet the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, yes, the Health Minister are all quarantining lest they have or spread Covid..

And, as ‘Freedom Day’ – freedom from Covid day – approached, there was a large surge in Covid cases which continues.

But more important to me, in my own little world, is that my vertigo returned with a vengeance this morning at 5.00am and I have been in bed all day. If I lie in bed on my right side – ie with my right ear on the pillow, it is like the inside of my head is being pulled apart by centrifugal force while I am spinning round on a phenominally fast fairground ride. 

But the importance of anything is comparative. 

In Germany: 188 flood deaths seems very bad… But they have had 91,370 Covid deaths.

Joe Palermo in hospital… He’s a fighter AND a lover…

I have vertigo again, but…

About a week ago, comedy critic Kate Copstick sent me an email saying that comedian Mark Dean Quinn had been hospitalised by a stroke and was paralysed down one side.

And London-based Italian performer Joe Palermo had had a heart attack.

Joe lived. So did Mark.

Mark Dean Quinn in better days at Edinburgh Fringe

After a week, Mark Dean Quinn was back at home. His speech was still slightly slurred, but he was able to cut two eggs, two onions, two tomatoes and open two jars… though it took him 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, before all that, on 8th July, Copstick had also told me about 87-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller. Copstick wrote:


Lynn Ruth Miller had what she calls a “mild” heart attack last week.

She is leaving hospital today.

That is not the worst of it.

She has been told she has oesophageal cancer. A large, ulcerated tumour which is wrapped around her oesophagus. Inoperable, they said.

She cannot eat solids.

They can operate to put a stent into the oesophagus to stop it closing completely BUT they are not happy about surgery because of her age.

She is talking to them on Tuesday to discuss treatment options – chemo or radiation.

She is continuing to do her gigs.


I talked to Lynn Ruth after that billed Tuesday NHS appointment.:

“How did it go with the doctors?” I asked.

“I am getting the same runaround you are from the NHS,” she said. “I am unable to eat food and I am unable to sleep. They keep postponing the consultation that will tell me exactly what kind of cancer I have and what they can do about it – and they are doing nothing at all about it. I have to find out what kind of cancer it is and what stage it is at first before I can fight it and they keep moving the date forward.  

“I do not know what to do or where to turn. I do not want to die just because no-one got around to figuring out how I can eat and sleep but that is exactly what is happening.

“I do know if I don’t get some help pretty soon I won’t make it and I want to make it very very badly. 

“In other news there is a dead rat stinking up my kitchen and I cannot find it.”


I got in touch with her again today.


“I have been complaining about the symptoms since mid May,” she told me. The NHS has known about this cancer since the end of June because it showed up on a CT scan when I went to A& E.  

“On July 2 I had the mild heart attack and, while I was having it, darling, I made the bed, brushed my teeth, did my etc and dressed properly, got the coffee ready and then collapsed.  

“When they took me into A&E (for a second time) the doctor knew what was wrong and said: You had a heart attack and you have oesophageal cancer…  

“WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL ME THAT AT THE END OF JUNE? I might have avoided the heart attack!   

“In all this time, NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has been done to treat the fact that my oesophagus is closed and I cannot eat solid food and it is getting worse. I have lost about 12 pounds and am losing more every day.   

“I have told them that and they have increased the pain meds (they are working).

“I now have a ton of meds for my heart,  but nothing for my digestive problem and, when I was in the hospital, the dietician couldn’t get it through her head that I really really really cannot chew or swallow ANYTHING… They kept giving me Heinz’s cream of chicken soup.  

“So the bottom line is I can’t eat solid food and I cannot sleep because the pain is keeping me awake. Without food and sleep one dies… I am not in the mood to go this soon. I have a lot more trouble I want to cause.  

“I also have a LOT of morphine I am planning to sell on the street to finance going private. Who do you know?

“Tomorrow I am supposed to get a diagnosis. I still do not have an oncology doctor or a gastroenterology doctor or a diagnosis.  

“They have put off telling me three times. 

“And this is socialized medicine!  

“What has this world come to?”


 

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