Category Archives: Comedy

Samantha Hannah… A bad day in Australia and a trans-world romance

Next Up – it’s Samantha Hannah’s lockdown special show

Samantha Hannah got in touch with me in July to plug her newly online NextUp Comedy show – How To Find Happiness in a Year – it’s her 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show shot in her living room at home during the UK Coronavirus Lockdown with her partner as the sole member of the audience. NextUp had been going to film it on stage in front of a live audience until COVID-19 intervened.

But, when they saw her living room version, they snapped it up.

Hello. I thought. That’s interesting.

And also Samantha comes from Perth in Scotland. My mother was born in a village just outside Perth.

That’s interesting, I thought.

We met on 30th July in a pretty much deserted Covent Garden Piazza.

It was very interesting.

Three problems.

I have been lazy.

Lockdown Lethargy hit me.

And her back-story is so interesting, she is not getting much of a plug for her NextUp show here…


Samantha in a deserted Covent Garden…

SAMANTHA: I performed on the UK comedy circuit for about two years, about six nights a week. Then I gave up in 2009 for about seven years. Didn’t do any stand-up.

JOHN: You had always fancied being a stand-up?

SAMANTHA: Well, I studied Performing Arts at university then went more down a directing route – youth theatre, helping adults with learning difficulties… 

JOHN: Adults with learning difficulties? The comedy circuit…

SAMANTHA: (LAUGHS) No!

When I moved to London, I didn’t have the connections to do the work I’d done in Scotland, so I auditioned for A Christmas Carol at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town and did that for several weeks, but I always loved writing comedy sketches. I was writing them and putting them on the British Comedy Guide forum… Someone saw one of the sketches online and asked to film it.

The sketch never got filmed, but the director of A Christmas Carol asked: “Who was that guy you were meeting?” 

“Oh,” I said, “he does comedy.”

“You do comedy? Why don’t you put on a show here for the next six weeks after this run finishes?”

“…a space to do whatever I wanted…”

So I was basically given a space above the theatre to do whatever I wanted… I got a few people together and put on a show that was about 3½ hours long with so many acts and so many intervals and Aaron Barschak did like a full hour of stand-up at the very end.

It was a most bizarre experience but, because I did it for about six weeks, I met lots of actors. I wanted to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, but everyone dropped out, so then I did a stand-up course to meet other people to write and perform with.

Then I realised: Oh! You can just do it on your own! You don’t have to rely on anybody and people won’t drop out!

That’s basically how I got into comedy.

JOHN: But then, after two years, you gave up for seven years. Why?

SAMANTHA: I think I just got burnt out by the circuit. I was doing some 20-minuters and getting paid, but I wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t know why I was doing it. It just wasn’t giving me any joy.

And also I met someone who was also in the industry – never do that. He was a promoter.

I gave up comedy; we broke up; my brother passed away and I just went travelling. I went to Australia for a year. I worked in ski-fields in the middle of nowhere, worked at Madame Tussauds in Sydney, making wax hands…

A very hand-some figure at Madame Tussaud’s in Sydney

JOHN: What qualifications do you need to make wax hands?

SAMANTHA: I have no idea. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I was just doing what came along. I worked on a cattle farm in Queensland…

JOHN: You rode horses?

SAMANTHA: I was given a horse by the owners and they said: “We trust this horse with our 3-year-old, so you will be fine.” 

One day I was mustering cattle and the horse was getting really unhappy. At one point, we went over mud and the horse really didn’t like it, started bucking and threw me off. I landed on my head on a rock – luckily I had a helmet on. The helmet got dented and, obviously, I was quite dazed and confused.

All the farmers around were saying: “You’ve gotta get back on the horse and teach it a lesson!”

But I couldn’t, so one of the other farmers, she jumped on the back of the horse and rode it off and gave it a telling-off.

Later that same day, we had to go into the bull pen, sorting out the cows and bulls…

Samantha’s animal encounters were unlike this (Photo: David Clode via UnSplash)

JOHN: This sounds like a bad idea.

SAMANTHA: I was told: “You’re alright. The bulls are not going to go for you. You’re fine.”

But this one bull just locked eyes on me and started charging towards me.

You know about ‘fight or flight’?

I did nothing. I was just staring at it and the farmer was looking at me like: Why is this girl not doing anything? And, at the last moment, as it got to me, it suddenly swerved out of the way. So it was fine.

When we got back to the farm that day, the mum took my dented helmet and was going to separate the sun visor from it… But, as she took it apart, she saw that, inside the helmet was a redback nest with a redback in it – a very poisonous spider – the Australian black widow. If I had been bitten by the spider, I probably wouldn’t have known because I was so dazed by hitting my head on the rock.

JOHN: An eventful day…

SAMANTHA: And then, a couple of days later, an eastern brown – one of the deadliest snakes in the world – came into the house and got behind the TV set.

JOHN: I’ve never really fancied going to Australia. New Zealand, yes.

SAMANTHA: My mother and father came over to visit me in Australia and wanted to go to New Zealand, so we went there. After they left, I stayed on and worked there in Queenstown – another ski resort – and lived in Glenorchy with an old man and an unrelated 7-year-old child. We watched Lord of the Rings. Then I decided to move up to Wellington and to write a show about trying to find a husband in a year.

I posted a Tinder profile…

…and I started to say Yes to EVERYone who replied. 

JOHN: New Zealand is a relatively small country.

SAMANTHA: Several times I ran out of matches. You could only do 100 every 12 hours.

JOHN: How many did you do? 400?

SAMANTHA: Oh, there were more than that! I went on a few dates. A few nice guys. And then, the day I got to Wellington, I was getting a bit sick of it. But the next morning, when I woke up, I’d had a Match with someone called Toby…

He was a New Zealander in London, doing his own experiment, trying to understand the algorithms and he thought he probably wanted to move back to New Zealand. He had thought: I’ll set it to New Zealand and see what happens. So he set it to Wellington.

He was in London, really near to where I used to live. And I was in Wellington, literally one stop away from where he used to go to university.

Samantha’s pic on Tinder. She liked melons.

We started Messaging. He was a data scientist. I asked if he could do an analytics report to see if we were a good match. He put all our messages into Excel and looked for commonly-used words and sentiments. I was going to use the results as part of my show.

JOHN: Were you a good match?

SAMANTHA: We had our first phone call when I was quite drunk and, when I woke up the next day, didn’t really remember it but, because he had Uber Eats for Wellington, he used it to send me breakfast. And that was it. He was clearly the person for me. I met his parents before I met him.

Six weeks after the first message, I flew back to the UK to meet him. I arrived about 05.00am in the morning after a 38-hour flight… and he wasn’t there.

Then he turned up with a bottle of Copella apple juice in hand, because I had kept telling him how much I liked Copella apple juice. And we decided: “Right! Let’s go on our first date!”

JOHN: How did you decide what sort of date it would be?

SAMANTHA: It was six o’clock in the morning. I needed food and to go to sleep. But it was still a bit nerve-wracking. Imagine if you flew 12,000 miles to meet someone and…

Anyway, it was fine and we had a week together, then he went back to New Zealand for Christmas and I went up to Scotland.

In the New Year, we dithered a bit, because he was thinking about going back to New Zealand, But then he broke his leg in a ski-ing accident in France.

JOHN: You arranged this?

SAMANTHA: I wasn’t there! But, when he came back to the UK, he was very ill. He had picked up a bug. I was nursing him back to health and we just decided, because he couldn’t run away with a broken leg, we would go for it.

“…I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber…”

JOHN: And you wrote the show…

SAMANTHA: Yes. How to Find a Husband in a Year at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber at 11.00am in the morning. I wasn’t even in the Fringe Programme. Then my second show, in 2019, was How To Find Happiness in a Year.

JOHN: Which is your NextUp show… But the Rule of Three. There has to be a third How To show…Were you preparing it as your 2020 Edinburgh show before coronavirus hit?

SAMANTHA: Yes: How To Win At Life.

JOHN: Edinburgh in 2021?

SAMANTHA: I hope so.

All’s Well That Ends Well… The happy couple – Samantha Hannah and Toby – at home in London

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 28 – Phishing, MI6, COVID, comedy, Kunt

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 27

SUNDAY 26th JULY

Ariane Sherine, who is writing an album of songs as Ariane X, has discovered that, since finding a new man in her life and becoming happy, she has been unable (temporarily one hopes) to write songs.

I remember Charles Aznavour being asked in an interview why he always seemed to write sad songs. He said that, when people are happy, they are all happy in much the same way, so happy songs are a bit samey; when people are sad, there are varied, specific reasons why, so ‘sad’ is more inspiring and more interesting.

Let’s go off on a random phishing expedition… (Photograph: Bearmix Studio via UnSplash)

MONDAY 27th JULY

I had a call from BT, my internet provider, telling me that my line has been compromised and that my landline and broadband might be cut off…

Except BT is not my internet provider nor my line provider.

There was an electronic recorded voice explaining the above, which then transferred me to a second electronic recorded voice which said it was putting me through to an ‘adviser’ who said, in a very heavy Indian accent: “Hello. This is BT, your internet provider”.

I replied “No you’re not. So you can fuck off.”

It seemed best in the circumstances.

As someone pointed out, the quality of scammers has deteriorated recently.

The COVID self-administered swab test pack – my fifth test…

TUESDAY 28th JULY

No wonder the self-administered COVID-19 swab tests are inaccurate. I just self-administered my second one. (This time, I was randomly chosen by IpsosMORI for their research.)

You are supposed to stick the swab up both nostrils and into the back of your mouth, touching both tonsils, using a mirror to see the tonsils.

Perhaps I am oddly built but, for the life of me (which could be literally true) I cannot see my tonsils nor pretty much anything at the back of my mouth/top of my throat.

After sticking the swab up both nostrils and turning it around a bit, I dabbed it and turned it vaguely at the back of my throat on each side and hoped for the best.

In the evening, I went to my local cinema to see The Dark Knight. Cinemas are currently screening ‘modern classic’ movies to entice people in after the coronavirus lockdown.

I sat in my normal seat in the very front row. I was the only person in the screening room until, at the very last moment, a tall man came in and sat in the very back row. He had a green Mohican hairstyle, which struck me as a little old-fashioned. I was reminded of James Fenimore Cooper.

WEDNESDAY 29th JULY

Good news for comedy clubs. A friend of a friend who works for a comedy club (and who has luckily been on paid furlough because of the coronavirus) will be back at work this Saturday because a lifting of restrictions means that comedy clubs can open provided they observe social distancing and take other anti-virus precautions.

Other than that, it was a surreal day…

The ‘artist formerly known as The Iceman‘, now occasionally and erratically known as AIM, has been painting aliens. He sent me an image of his latest encounter.

Like many by the artist formerly known as The Iceman, this painting is fairly self-extra-planetary

The “BARGAIM of the WEEK” (sic) on his website is currently a painting of his ice block at the Glastonbury Festival for a very reasonable £5,077…

Richard Moore, known as ‘C’ or ‘M’ but not as Roger Moore.

Richard Moore has been appointed the new head of MI6 – ‘C’ to his chums; ‘M’ to James Bond fans.

It is a sign of our surreal times, that #RogerMoore is now trending on Twitter because people only skim the headlines and get confused between reality and fantasy.

THURSDAY 30th JULY

On Monday I have an appointment to see the doctor who is trying to figure out why my calcium level and kidney function went mad in May and I had to be hospitalised. It is a face-to-face meeting and will include yet another blood test.

As I have come to expect, this morning the NHS sent me a text saying the face-to-face meeting has been changed to a telephone call. I assume this is bollocks.

This afternoon, I had a chat in Covent Garden with performer Samantha Hannah for an upcoming blog. Nearby in the piazza, in front of ‘The Actors’ Church’, a lone puppeteer street performer was trying to attract a crowd. The place used to be thronged. No more – because of COVID-19.

A street pupeteer (extreme right) tries to attract an audience (extreme left) in Covent Garden piazza

Samantha told me two fascinating facts which will not be in the blog…

Apparently up-market apartments are not selling at The Shard in London – not because of the prices but simply because it is (just) south of the River Thames. North has more prestige.

And she read somewhere that people from hilly areas speak with accents that go up and down more than people from flat areas. This is such a weird and unlikely idea that I suspect it may actually be true.

Life is a simultaneous drama and comedy for all these days

FRIDAY 31st JULY

On the early morning Today programme on Radio 4, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that comedy clubs can open tomorrow.

I double-checked with the hospital that my appointment on Monday is, indeed, a face-to-face meeting with my Kidney Man, not via telephone.

And, indeed, it is face-to-face.

The text I got from the NHS was bollocks.

Later, I got a text about my self-administered coronavirus test:


Thank you for completing the COVID-19 swab test. Your swab analysis results indicate that you are COVID-19 negative. Although results are not 100% conclusive, it is important that you and your household continue to observe social distancing guidance. If you or anyone in your household has or develops symptoms you must follow the Stay at Home Guidance even if you have a negative result.


That is my fifth COVID-19 swab test. All negative.

I received a more positive email from Kunt and the Gang:


“It took 18 months… 20-odd rehearsals, 3 days in the studio”

It took 18 months, 2 line-up changes, 20-odd rehearsals, 3 days in the studio and about 2 months of pinging mixes back and forth remotely all through lockdown, but finally, at long last… Kunts Punk In Your Face is out now to download from our Bandcamp page.

As a thank you to everyone who supported my book Kickstarter all those years ago it’s available for free until 17-08-2020.

For everyone else it’s pay what you want – I suggest between a fiver and a tenner, depending on how flush you are, or be a proper kunt and go and pinch it for free!

Or get it on CD with extra bonus track from http://katg.co.uk

It should also be up on the likes of your Spotifys and your iTuneses etc. soon, so go and have a check – if it’s not up right now it won’t be long but those platforms are a bit of a law unto themselves.


At lunchtime, it was suddenly announced that the slow easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has been put on pause and comedy clubs (and other premises) will NOT be allowed to open tomorrow.

Worse still, for me, cinemas can remain open but audiences will have to wear masks.

It is, at least, good to know that, in such uncertain times, you can rely on the arrival of Kunt albums with puns in the titles.

SATURDAY 1st AUGUST

And, it seems, you can also rely on Apple…

Writer/performer/producer/comedian/all-round good guy Peter Michael Marino, who lives in New York, says:


Socially-responsible, financially lucky Peter Michael Marino

At Grand Central Genius Bar:

“Your 2.5-year old, out-of-warranty MacBook Pro is defective and needs a new keyboard, new battery, and new hard drive.

“How much?”

“It’s your lucky day. It’s all free. Don’t ask any questions. Play the lottery, dude.”

Just played the lottery and won $10.


I reply:


Apple Store, London, late 2011.

I took my out-of-warranty MacBook Pro in for repair for the third time – a faulty DVD drive. They had previously repaired it for free, because the drive was a third-party item – not of their making – and they passed the repair charge on to the other company.

“John, you seem to be having a problem with this machine. Would you like a new one for free?”

“How much would it cost if I bought it?”

(The answer was over £2,000)

“I’ll have it.”

“I’m afraid there will be a delay of about a week. We have to get it in from Ireland.”

A week later, I am watching the BBC News Channel. They announce that Steve Jobs has died.

Half an hour later, the phone rings.

“Your new MacBook has arrived.”

Newer model. Bigger hard drive. Faster processor.

July 2020… It is still working.

Thankyou Steve Jobs.


I buy a ticket for tonight’s UK lottery game.

My numbers do not come up.

Welcome to reality, John.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 27 – Face masks, new talent and The Iceman

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 26

SUNDAY 19th JULY

Writer/performer Ariane Sherine‘s hugely-talented 9-year-old daughter sent me a song which she had composed about eggs.

MONDAY 20th JULY

Apropos nothing, I was reminded today that, when I worked at Thames Television in London, one of the executives had the job title Head of Further Education and Religion, abbreviated on memos etc – rather appropriately – as Head of FEAR.

TUESDAY 21st JULY

As anyone who wisely reads every posting of this blog knows, I was recently in hospital because my calcium level was very high and my kidney function was very low. The doctors still do not know why.

Back in June, I mentioned in a blog that, when I brush my teeth, I have always cleared my mouth by drinking water straight from the tap – and, in the recent hot weather, was drinking a lot of water from the tap. I wondered if the high calcium level in my body could be due to this drinking from the tap which had developed a (possibly calcium) deposit on it.

Today, my friend and executrix Lynn caught up with reading that blog and commented:


Tap water is far safer and cheaper and better for you than any bottled water – but the only drinking water in the house is the kitchen sink tap.

A discarded sock with duck motif – I may soak it in vinegar and/or lemon juice…

If you are really not trusting even the tap water then boil it, let it cool and bottle it – that is assuming your kettle is scale free?!

Scale is what is clinging to the tap in your photograph and that can be removed with a limescale cleaner – although a cloth/old sock soaked in vinegar or lemon juice and wound around the tap overnight works just as well.

The kitchen tap is a direct feed to outside and is as pure as it can be, whereas all the other taps are fed through the house system and often from a tank in the attic full of…

Well, perhaps we won’t think about that.


WEDNESDAY 22nd JULY

The UK comedy circuit is currently, temporarily dead because of the coronavirus pandemic – live venues are closed.

The BBC has now announced it is on “a mission to kickstart live stand-up again” with “a new stand-up series designed to support grassroots comedy talent”.

The unique and original President Obonjo…

Given that, last year, BBC Studios attempted to rip-off President Obonjo’s long-running unique circuit comedy act with a claim that no-one in BBC Studios had ever heard of said unique act that had been successfully playing the circuit for ten years and had got 4-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe…

…and, given that a BBC Studios producer told comedy critic Kate Copstick that they “don’t have much to do with live comedy” and that live circuit comedians are “not nearly as important as they think they are”…

…it will be interesting to see how this change of thinking works in practice.

The line-up for these six half-hour shows has not yet been announced. It will be interesting to see if the BBC peoples it with genuinely talented new-to-TV live circuit comics or the same old rosta of familiar TV comics they already have drinks and expenses-paid meals with.

Is that bullshit I smell in the air?

More refreshingly, I got an email from The Iceman, the very amiable and surprisingly sane man I first met when he auditioned for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross – ooh! – a century ago..

Since then, The Iceman has long-taken to creating fine art and re-styled himself as ‘The Artist formerly known as the IceMan’ (AIM).

Today’s email read:


The Iceman (AIM) has self-launched into Space. The Duck is the same duck previously referenced by myself/yourself in previous Blogs [from a hotel in Southampton!].

Both The Iceman and Duck survive in space through connection to the Ice-Block and previous intense mind training exercises on Earth.


THURSDAY 23rd JULY

Jonathan Ross – a man who actually cares about new talent

Following on from the BBC’s alleged search for alleged new comedy talent, ITV have now announced an upcoming series with Jonathan Ross which will “showcase the very best new talents performing in a recreation of the vibe and atmosphere of a small comedy venue, all filmed within COVID guidelines.”

There is actually some chance of finding genuine new talent here, as it’s the energetic and enthusiastic Jonathan as opposed to the lazy, uninterested BBC…‬

“This new series,” the publicity says, “will see him get behind fresh new comedians on the cusp of their big break, offering them a stage upon which to make people laugh.”

Meanwhile, The Iceman emailed me his paintings of comedians Stewart Lee and Mike Myers, both fans of his.

Stewart Lee (centre) interviewing The Iceman (bottom right) on Resonance FM radio

Mike Myers (left), a fan of The Iceman, having his mind expanded by The Iceman’s performance

FRIDAY 24th JULY

From today, everyone going into a shop or supermarket will have to wear a face mask in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. There is the distant threat of a £100 fine for anyone not wearing a mask.

The London Evening Standard reported a man had walked naked down Oxford Street wearing nothing but a mask (covering his genitals).

Meanwhile, The Iceman sent me multiple photos of multiple happy buyers of his art.

A delighted buyer (right) of one of The Iceman’s ice-citing paintings is congratulated by the artist.

“The happiest buyer,” The Iceman told me, “is Tobias with a poster of 42 of my ice blocks. It has increased hugely in value since his purchase date.”

Tobias, left, yet another delighted member of the public who invested in a valuable Iceman artwork.

SATURDAY 25th JULY

Unrelated to this barrage of self-publicity from The Iceman, I coincidentally went into my local Iceland supermarket this afternoon.

100% of the customers were wearing face masks.

0% of the five staff were wearing masks – one at the checkout, two wandering around filling shelves and two having a close-up conversation beside the checkout man.

Apparently shop staff are not required under the government regulations to wear masks. I can’t help but feel the government has not thought it through and this rather undercuts the purpose of wearing masks in shops.

Seeing that the staff don’t actually need to wear masks for any public safety reason will discourage people from wearing masks in shops.

When smoking was banned in pubs, I didn’t think that would work but it did because the pub risked getting fined, not the punters. ‬

Later in the day, I received another email from The Iceman:


Here’s today’s painting.

It is a diagram in space explaining the significance of The Iceman’s ice block. It is self-explanatory.

The Neowice comet is aiming for the Block.

He also sent a self-portrait photo (below) of the artist “as he prepares his canvas by balancing it on his head prior to painting to ensure the concept is properly absorbed in advance.”


… CONTINUED HERE

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Kunt and the Gang with Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and the Yorkshire Ripper

I try to make these blogs fairly immediate. But, in this case, I have failed miserably.

After trying and failing two or three times to meet up online during the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, Kunt (of Kunt and The Gang – is there any other?) and I eventually chatted via FaceTime on 14th May – that’s almost a month ago now.


JOHN: What have you got on the wall behind you?

KUNT: It’s my memorabilia… Look… Here… I got this on my final tour: it’s a signed picture of Rolf Harris, some saucy seaside postcards and…

Kunt in front of his wall of memorabilia… Saucy postcards, a famous family TV star and Kunt’s book

JOHN: Who’s in that picture on your Facebook page? The Yorkshire Ripper and Jimmy Savile and…

Kunt performs in front of the Yorkshire Ripper, Jimmy Savile and Frank Bruno… in Hitchin…

KUNT: On my final tour, at a gig in Hitchin, they said: “Have you got an image you want projected behind you?” and I said, “No. not really, but it’s a shame not to have something projected,” and so we used that one. It’s one of my favourite photos. It’s Jimmy Savile introducing Frank Bruno to the Yorkshire Ripper.

JOHN: He’s a nice man is Frank. Did he know it was the Yorkshire Ripper?

KUNT:  No. he was completely hoodwinked into it. So there’s Frank shaking hands with The Ripper and Jimmy Savile is in the background just looking all pleased with himself. The thing I like most about that photo is that it was obviously years before all the stuff came out about Savile and he’s there in I think Broadmoor with a great big cigar and, behind him, there’s a NO SMOKING sign. That says all you need to know about Jimmy Savile in that one photo, smoking, introducing the Yorkshire Ripper to Frank Bruno.

I also love the fact The Ripper is in a late-1980s/early-1990s shell suit. Savile must have just taken it in on that visit and said: “Here, Pete, just slip this on. This’ll suit ya.”

Kunt’s latest Bumface book – free to download

JOHN: It’s been so long getting to chat, I’ve forgotten what you are plugging. Is it your children’s book Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown?

KUNT: No, I’m not actually plugging anything. That was weeks ago I done that.

JOHN: Look, I’m an old man; I’m sick; I’m not going to last much longer. There’s COVID-19 around. Help me out here. Make up something surreal. Are you plugging your nightly online show Kunt’s Korona Klub?

KUNT: No! I’m not plugging it because I don’t want other people tuning in to it. I like the people who are tuning into it already, because they’ve been with it for kinda 45 nights and, if you tune in now, you just won’t understand what’s going on because it’s sort of developed its own lingo.

JOHN: You don’t want my blog readers? I’m shocked and saddened.

KUNT: A couple of ‘em are alright but the majority of ‘em I wouldn’t give the time of day.

JOHN: You’ve started drinking early…

KUNT: It’s to take the edge off doing FaceTime with you. I don’t really like doing FaceTime. I don’t wanna plug anything, John. I don’t like plugging things; it’s a bit shameless, ain’t it?

JOHN: Shameless? Have you listened to any of your songs??

KUNT: Well, they’ve got their own integrity. But it’s a different type of integrity.

JOHN: What sort of integrity would this be?

KUNT: One that I sort of tell meself is alright.

JOHN: Which is?

KUNT: It’s morphed over the years.

JOHN: On whom did you base this moral code? Heinrich Himmler?

KUNT: Are you comparing me to Heinrich Himmler?

JOHN: No. He was an underling. You’re more Hitler.

KUNT: Well, I have got a moustache, so there are some similarities. Though not a very good one. It has a bit of mascara on it.

JOHN: Why have you got mascara on your moustache?

KUNT: Because it’s flecked with grey. I’m going prematurely grey.

JOHN: So the ego has landed? You have done pretty much everything. What is there left? You’ve done books, albums, stage shows, become a cult Kunt…

KUNT: I think I’m gonna fake my own death from COVID-19 to make it current and then I’m going to surruptitiously put the thousands of CDs I’ve got stored round me mum’s house on eBay, but in dribs and drabs. It’s the perfect time to hold a funeral and get away with it.

JOHN: Does it have to be a fake death? It would be better if it were real. I could get people to kill you. As a favour, obviously – mate’s rates.

“This is my actual hair. There’s rumours about it being a wig.”

KUNT: John, this is my actual hair.

JOHN: Eh?

KUNT: There’s a lot of rumours about it being a wig.

JOHN: Don’t mention hair to me. Why did you write a children’s book anyway?

KUNT: I’m not plugging it.

JOHN: So it started because…?

KUNT: I went round my mate’s house one day and, on his fridge, he had this picture pinned up of this character with an arse for his face and these poo hands. I asked: “What the fuck is that?” And he said, very matter-of-factly: “That’s Bumface Poohands.”

He said: “I just do these little drawings and leave ‘em in me daughter’s lunchbox to make her laugh.”

JOHN: Has he ever read any books on parenting?

KUNT: No. My mate told me: “He’s a down-at-heel character who ends up in all the situations.” So I said to him: “Have you ever thought of making it into a children’s book?” and I… well… Well, it was just an excuse to meet up every few weeks. We’ve got about a dozen books written now and half a dozen illustrated and we’ve put two out – Bumface Poohands: A Birthday Surprise and Bumface Poohands: A Snowy Day and now we’ve just put this Coronavirus one online as a free e-book.

JOHN: How is Bumface going?

KUNT: It’s going alright. Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown seems to have landed quite well. I’m quite happy with it. It sort of tells a story of what we’re kinda stuck in at the moment… in a fairly jocular way, compared to how bleak things actually are – and it seems to kinda cross over with adults and kids.

But Bumface Poohands is like everything I do. I always think Oh! This’ll be the thing that crosses over. But it never is. The ideas I have always have a very finite amount of people who are gonna like them. I thought at one point that Bumface Poohands would be my retirement plan, but now I’m looking at alternative arrangements.

JOHN: If you have 12 new ones written and 6 illustrated, it may yet still happen. JK Rowling approached every sensible publisher in London with Harry Potter and they all turned her down – quite rightly. It’s a ridiculous idea: a boy wizard in this day and age! No-one is going to buy that. Totally uncommercial. But then she got a publisher and now everyone is drowning in dosh.

KUNT: Yeah. I can just see Bumface Poohands becoming the new Harry Potter… It’s never gonna happen, John.

The great showman’s autobiography…

JOHN: Well, you’re a great lyricist; you write great tunes; if you drop a few of the ‘cunts’ and ‘fucks’… You are an Essex boy made good… or bad. Rags to riches story or whatever…

KUNT: But I came from a working class, aspirational middle class family. There’s no story there. It’s not rags to riches.

JOHN: What’s it been like round your way?

KUNT: It’s been strange round here. My mate’s doctor died and the landlady at one of the local pubs. But, other than that, it feels like it’s all kinda happening in London and the cities, not Essex.

It’s like it’s happening somewhere else.

JOHN: I think I have enough for a blog there.

KUNT: I don’t think so.

JOHN: I think so. I will craft it into a thing of fascinating beauty and riotous fun.

KUNT: I don’t think so, John. I read the last one you did.

JOHN: Have you ever had anyone write a brilliant, incisive piece on Kunt and the Gang?

KUNT: No. Anyway, a brilliant, incisive piece wouldn’t really be right for Kunt & the Gang.

JOHN: Then I’m the ideal person for you.

KUNT: Just make it sound better than it actually is, John, and then it’s maybe worth this awkward FaceTime.

JOHN: Do you still feel awkward?

KUNT: You haven’t put me totally at my ease… Heinrich Himmler?

JOHN: This might not get posted in the next two days. I might be sleeping.


Exactly one week later, I was taken into hospital for seven days with low kidney function and high calcium problems. I don’t blame Kunt. Not totally. But I did think it might be a good excuse for taking so long to post this blog.

He finished his nightly Kunt’s Korona Klub shows on YouTube with Episode 58 on 31st May.

Last night, 8th June, I got an email from Kunt. It read:

“How you keeping John, not chasing you up, just seeing how you are?!”

I took this as a veiled threat – he lives in Essex – and I had run out of excuses for my laziness in transcribing our chat. I did not think the fact I currently have constipation would be justification enough.

On a cheerier note, he added: “I’m going to start a new monthly YouTube show called The New Normal in a few weeks time… 

“In one section, Down Meme-ory Lane, I turn investigative journalist and hunt down people whose image became a viral internet phenomenon…

“In another, I’ll Be The Judge of That, I adjudicate over petty Facebook disputes and make a ruling as to who has been the biggest cunt…

“And there is going to be a continuing serial drama following the inhabitants of ‘Yewtree Close’… a bit like Neighbours for sex offenders.”

The man is unstoppable.

 

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Angelo Marcos on why comics are like lawyers and jokes are like whodunnits

Angelo Marcos is a stand-up comedian and actor. He has written two short story collections and two novels. His fifth book, the crime thriller Victim Mentality, is out now.


JOHN: So what’s it about?

ANGELO: Well, I’ve written other psychological thrillers and they were quite dark, so this one was meant to be a lighter book, but (LAUGHS) it didn’t turn out that way. 

JOHN: Part of it is written in the First Person and part of it in the Third Person. 

ANGELO: Yes. The First Person is from the point-of-view of a stand-up comedian. 

JOHN: Everyone says a first novel tends to be autobiographical but, with you, the fifth book is autobiographical?

ANGELO: This is the most personal book I’ve written.

JOHN: You did Law and Psychology at university.

Angelo Marcos (Photo copyright Remy Hunter)

ANGELO: Yes, I studied Law and while I did that, I was also performing stand-up and doing acting, but then I found I didn’t have any money. So then I worked a bit – various things – a bank, offices, a supermarket. I worked for a market research company which was basically just other actors, with everyone sitting around trying to do as little work as possible, waiting for their agent to phone.

Then I re-trained – basically a Post-Graduate three-year Psychology course in one-and-a-half years. And I was writing during that time as well.

JOHN: So originally you wanted to be a lawyer, which is a very level-headed thing to aspire to… but you also had this mad stand-up comedy gene?

ANGELO: I went to university because everyone was going and I thought – Well – Law – OK. But, from the beginning, I was also doing stand-up. I was at the University of London, so it was easy enough to find gigs. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the degree that thought: OK, I DEFINITELY not only do not want to be a lawyer and I don’t want to work in Law. Let’s just get famous instead!

JOHN: Why didn’t you want to be in Law?

ANGELO: I found the analytical side of it fascinating, but I liked the kind-of absurd analytical side of it. I liked the fact you could pretty-much make words mean whatever you wanted them to mean.

I love stories. In criminal law, the cases were fascinating. So I elected to do subjects like Moral Philosophy, Law & Terrorism and other things kind-of affiliated with law, but not the core subject. I dunno. I just found Law itself a bit dry. It’s a really good degree to have. It’s a really good set of skills to have. But I prefer using them in other ways.

Lawyers and comics have much in common

JOHN: Barristers and comedians have in common the fact they both stand up and tell lies to create an effect on an audience.

ANGELO: That’s very true. Although lawyers get paid more, until you get to Michael McIntyre. But there IS that element of performance. 

When you are heckled as a stand-up, there are no holds barred. You HAVE to win. And I guess it’s similar in a court situation. If you are a barrister and someone questions one of your points or if you have a witness who is particularly hostile, I imagine the switch that goes on in the brain is the same: I have to win now!… In the same way that, as a stand-up, you don’t want to lose credibility, you don’t want to ‘lose’ the audience.

JOHN: And you have to persuade the audience that your story is credible and real, even if it might be a lie.

ANGELO: That’s true. You are saying: This is a scenario you need to buy into. This is what happened that night. Whether it’s true or not is a different thing. You have to sell that to the jury or the audience… I’m not saying that all lawyers do this. I’m not saying that no lawyers are interested in truth.

JOHN: I am. They are interested in winning and getting paid though, of course, they get paid whether they win or lose.

ANGELO: What I am saying is that, in my experience, it is entirely possible to be a successful lawyer and not be interested in truth.

JOHN: Being a lawyer in court and being a stand-up comedian are both about telling a story, which is what being a writer is also about…

ANGELO: Yeah. Absolutely. I do a lot of different things – stand-up, acting, writing – and I think the link is they all involve stories.

JOHN: And an interest in structure where the story has to build up to an interesting climax…

ANGELO: I think with the build-up to the punchline of a joke… the mechanism of that is the same when you are writing the twist in a novel crime thriller or a short story. In all three, you are giving the audience or the reader only the information you want them to have. Enough to follow you, but not enough to work out what the twist or what the joke is going o be.

Whether it’s a surprise punchline or the revelation that: “It was the babysitter all along!” – it’s a similar mechanism. I loved The Usual Suspects because it’s so clever and it totally tricked me.

JOHN: Like an optical illusion.

ANGELO: When I was doing Psychology, one of the lecturers explained the mechanism behind optical illusions and he was saying no matter how much you know about how they work, as a human being, every time you look at these pictures you will see the illusion first.

That’s where I got the premise for Victim Mentality: that it doesn’t matter how much you know, we are all wired in a certain way and that makes us all victims. You can try and look at the picture and not see the illusion, but you always WILL see the illusion.

“…the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book”

I suppose a lot of the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book. That sense of going to a gig that’s just not set up for comedy. There are a lot of hostile environments that you walk into at the open mic level, which is where the comedian in my book is.

He has been doing it for a while, struggling, and he’s also trying to get into acting. At the start of the story, his agent books an interview with him and an incarcerated criminal so he can get into character for the role. When they meet, it becomes obvious there’s quite a lot of similarities between them.

The premise of the book is that we are all victims of our own minds. The guy in jail is saying: “You are looking at me as if I am some kind of special case. You are trying to understand why I would do the things I do. But, essentially, we are all wired in certain ways; we all have certain life experiences that cause us to act the way we do.”

There is tragedy in the comedian’s past and in the criminal’s past.

I don’t go so far as to question Free Will, but it’s a case of Are you doing this because you are wired to do it or because it’s fun or whatever? Are you a victim of your own brain just like everyone else?

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Filed under Acting, Comedy, Legal system, Psychology, Writing

Kevin McGeary on writing satiric Chinese-language comedy songs

I talked to musical performer and writer Kevin McGeary about how and why he came to “write controversial songs in the world’s largest authoritarian state” (his own turn-of-phrase). 

He got in touch with me because he had read my blog chat last November with Kunt & The Gang.

Coronavirus conversations via Skype are becoming the norm. He was self-isolated in his flat in Manchester while I was self-isolated at my home in Borehamwood.

Kevin McGeary talked to me from Manchester via Skype


JOHN: In the last two weeks, you’ve  released an English-language album TMItastic and a  Chinese language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure), both humorous. How are they different?

KEVIN: My English comedy songs are often foul-mouthed and use a lot of swear words, though not to the extent of Kunt & The Gang. My Chinese songs tend to be offensive in a different way: they satirise Chinese culture and society. The Chinese ones are PG-friendly. They are not sweary; they are more satirical. They satirise aspects of society like wealthy men who keep mistresses. There are entire villages in China where pretty-much everybody is a ‘kept’ woman.

JOHN: Presumably you could not sing these Chinese songs in China… The authorities would take exception to them.

KEVIN: Well, my initial wave of creativity in writing Chinese songs came just before Xi Jinping took over as President. Under him, censorship of the media and the blocking of websites has got a lot stricter. But I used to busk in China; I used to perform on the streets singing my songs in Mandarin and people were very friendly.

JOHN: Are there loads of buskers in China?

KEVIN: No, not at all.

JOHN: So you must have been stopped, surely. They have Party people on every block, don’t they?

KEVIN: Urban administrators, yes. But they’re not really very powerful and they’re only there to stop violence or actual crime. I wasn’t committing a crime and I got away with it because my stuff was so off the wall. 

Kevin McGeary busking in Shenzhen (Photograph by Jesse Warren for China Daily)

JOHN: You were in China for…

KEVIN: …for eleven years. The first 3½  years, I was teaching English. I studied the language very hard, so I was conversant within a year and could read a newspaper within two years. 

The second year, I lived in a small city in the middle of the country in Hunan Province – the equivalent of living in Arkansas or Oklahoma.

The only form of entertainment, really, was karaoke: I went almost every night and that’s where my Chinese songwriting grew.

JOHN: And, after you finished teaching English…

KEVIN: I worked on a  newspaper for two years – the Shenzhen Daily. Then I left China, but I missed it, so I went back 2014-2018, working for a massive Chinese company Midea who make home appliances.

Kevin McGeary on GuangdongTelevision

JOHN: Not a creative, artistic job, then…?

KEVIN: Same as Kunt & The Gang, I don’t expect to monetise my creative work, so I need a steady job that gives me the material basis to be creative. You can’t be creative if you don’t have a roof over your head and clothes on your back.

I started writing Chinese-language songs in November 2008 and, in February 2012, it just suddenly struck me to start writing comedy songs.

When I started writing songs in Chinese, I had only been learning the language for 18 months, so my pronunciation was not perfect and also the novelty of having a white person singing in Chinese meant most people were just laughing at my attempts. After a while, I realised I had to turn this weakness into a strength. If people are laughing at my attempts, I might as well try to make people laugh. That’s how it started.

JOHN: Is satire a good idea in China?

KEVIN: Well, people are more open-minded than you would imagine. There was a feature in China Daily about my songwriting; I also performed and was interviewed on Chinese television.

JOHN: So being offensive is OK?

KEVIN: A lot of my stuff is beyond bad taste. It’s too silly to even be offensive.

JOHN: You don’t have any problem getting your music heard online in China?

KEVIN: I didn’t originally but, within a year of the Beijing Olympics – which was supposed to be China’s ‘coming out’ party – they blocked YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Back when blogging was big in the early 2010s I had quite a popular blog with a decent audience – tens of thousands of hits for a video – but now, with the internet being more heavily censored and pretty much all Western websites blocked in China – the New York Times, the BBC – it’s harder now to get my stuff heard. 

JOHN: So how do you get it heard? What sites do you put it on?

KEVIN: Youku and Tencent and QQ – Chinese-owned video-sharing sites which are the equivalents of YouTube. Youku is owned by Alibaba; QQ is owned by Tencent. They are not as censorious as some people might imagine. You can get almost anything on there unless it’s sexually explicit or violent.

JOHN: The Chinese love Yes Minister, don’t they? And that satirises bureaucracy. So there must be a liking for taking the piss out of your own system – though keeping low-key about it!

KEVIN: Definitely. I think Yes Minister was a vastly superior show to The Thick of It because, for a start, the characters are a lot more likeable… and there’s a lot more subtlety. When the Chinese criticise the regime, they tend to be very subtle about it.

For example, when the #MeToo movement broke in 2017, all internet posts with the Mandarin phrase for ‘Me too’ – ‘I also am’ – were censored. So the way to get any subversive message across was to use the image of a bowl of rice and the image of a rabbit. Because (in Chinese) ‘mee’ is the word for rice and ‘to’ is the word for rabbit. So ‘mee-to’ sounds very similar to the English expression. If you do that, you are not breaking the law.

JOHN: Very subtle.

KEVIN: Yes, images of Winnie the Pooh were banned because there was this paranoia he looked like Xi Jinping.

JOHN: In a sense, you must have had to change your ‘self’ to live in China. What terrible Western habits did you have to drop?

KEVIN: There is a lot more subtlety to the way people communicate in China. In a country like America or Australia, where people came from different parts of the world and they grew as a nation state in a very short time, the only way to get by was to be very direct. But, in China, a much larger percentage of communication is unspoken. So much is about context and reading between the lines. Criticising people as individuals is generally very taboo in China.

JOHN: Are you worried one night there is going to be a knock on your door and a Chinese man will be saying: “We have been reading and listening to your work in Beijing…”?

… CONTINUED HERE

… There is a taster for Kevin’s Chinese-language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure) online…

… There is a YouTube playlist for the album HERE

… AND THERE IS A TOTALLY UNEDITED AUDIO VERSION OF MY CHAT WITH KEVIN ON THE PODBEAN WEBSITE HERE.
IT RUNS 42 MINUTES.

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Simon Munnery on his first exhibition, buying vegetables and a new form of art

Simon Munnery with Tazzy, his over-large lap dog, out shopping for vegetables in Bedford…

It’s Tuesday today.

Last Wednesday, I went to Bedford for a chat with ever-original comedy performer Simon Munnery. He travels about 11 miles to Bedford every Wednesday to buy his vegetables.

Since then, I’ve either been busy or lazy or I’ve been waiting for the coronavirus panic to settle in some way to find an angle. Take your pick.

But there is no angle. Simon’s first solo art exhibition What Am I? has opened in Bedford at Andy Holden‘s suitably quirky Ex-Baldessarre Gallery. It runs from noon to 6.00pm every Saturday until 9th May, coronavirus allowing.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested everyone in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas and that people who did not absolutely have to go out should stay at home – an end to “all unnecessary social contact.”

London theatres have already started to close. Who knows if smaller, intimate exhibitions like Simon’s will close? As of this morning, the art exhibition continues but his Alan Parker Urban Warrior ‘Farewell Tour’ comedy show is pausing, with luck recommencing in April, perhaps later. Just a week is a long time in a virus pandemic. This is what happened last week…

Simon’s first solo art exhibition is taking place in the character-filled Queen’s Park area of Bedford


JOHN: You live in a village in the countryside. I thought you were a city boy.

SIMON: Born in Edgware, raised in Watford, died all over the place.

JOHN: So why are you living in a village?

SIMON: It’s cheap. 

JOHN: This is billed as your first art exhibition? Surely not.

SIMON: I had stuff in Arthur Smith’s art gallery at the Edinburgh Fringe one year. He turned a house into an art gallery. That was it. 

JOHN: So this is your first solo exhibition.

SIMON: Yes. 

JOHN: I’m surprised you haven’t been approached by a major London gallery before this. I mean, you’re a ‘Name’. The Scotsman described you as “The closest that comedy gets to modern art.”

SIMON: Well, a jacket of mine is in the Museum of Comedy in London: the jacket with cider cans all over it. And this art exhibition is booked to go to Edinburgh.

JOHN: During the Fringe?

SIMON: Yup.

JOHN: If there IS a Fringe this year because of the coronavirus…

SIMON: Well, we don’t know at this stage. If there is, I’m doing a show called Trials & Tribulations.

JOHN: Because…

SIMON: Because you have to think of a title. I think the art exhibition may also be going to Stroud. Maybe it might go to London after that… The idea of a show that can tour without you is good.

JOHN: This sounds like a rounding-off-your-career type of exhibition.

Simon Munnery, in his youth, billed as “The Next Shakespeare”… though with an interest in science

SIMON: Not really. It was Andy Holden’s idea. He’s an artist; he uses some of the space he has in his studio for a tiny gallery and he said: “I shall do you.” So I said: “Alright.” And that was it.

JOHN: There’s something in the exhibition which you did when you were nine years old.

SIMON: There’s a poem. Something about The Fog.

JOHN: The Fog?

SIMON: I can’t remember it. I got a text from a neighbour that Mrs Nunn, my primary school teacher – there was some dispute at the time – says: “I still think you cheated on that poem.”

JOHN: How?

SIMON: I don’t know how. I didn’t. But it’s been following me round for 40 years.

JOHN: What’s in it?

SIMON:
Just things that rhyme with fog, I think. The fog lingers… I can’t remember.

JOHN: I can’t remember what you studied at university.

SIMON: Science. Well, “Not much,” is the real answer. In the last year, I ended up doing ‘The History and Philosophy of Science’.

JOHN: Is that actually Science? Or is it History and Philosophy?

SIMON: I don’t know. I didn’t go to any lectures, so I have no idea what the course was like. I just slipped through the net and no-one noticed, really.

JOHN: This was at Cambridge.

SIMON: Yes. I met my Supervisor a week before the exam. Because I had never been to anything, he hadn’t written any reports about me saying how well or badly I was doing and I said to him: “Can you recommend one book?” and he recommended Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge by Paul K Feyerabend.

So I read that and regurgitated all his arguments – which was basically saying there’s no such thing as the philosophy of science, along with some really good examples about Galileo… And I passed on the strength of reading one book.

JOHN: Did you get a good degree?

Simon leaves no stone unturned in his Bedford-based search for originality in Art… soon to tour

SIMON: A third. It goes First, Second, Third, so Third is the best.

JOHN: It’s the best because…?

SIMON: Because it’s the highest number. If you are utterly brilliant, you can get a Fourth.

JOHN: Why did you do science? You’re very arty.

SIMON: Am I? To be honest, in school subjects, I was quite good at everything. But when you got to ‘A’ Levels, at that time, you had to choose one or the other.

JOHN: You must surely have wanted to be an artist as a kid. You’re not usually doing straight stand-up in your shows. You’re always trying to work out some new, original, unique angle.

SIMON: It’s just to keep myself busy, really…

JOHN: But you could keep busy by doing the same old stuff over and over again.

SIMON: Well, I AM touring Alan Parker: Urban Warrior again. It’s billed as a ‘Farewell Tour’. But it has resurrected very nicely. I think it’s funnier played by someone in their mid-50s rather than their mid-20s, when I first did it. He’s still anti-Thatcher. The fact she’s dead now doesn’t make any difference to him. It’s like a bedrock. But there are new bits. Climate change. Extinction Rebellion and all that.

Reflections on a much younger Alan Parker, Urban Warrior, in one of the art exhibition’s videos…

JOHN: You performed for Extinction Rebellion…

SIMON: I played Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Brockwell Park in South London.

JOHN: Anyway, to get back to the exhibition… Andy Holden decided you were going to have an exhibition. So how did you choose what to include in it?

SIMON: I didn’t. I submitted things and he chose what to put up… I did have this massive canvas in my shed, which had been there for years… When I was spray-painting buckets, they rested on the canvas, so there were strange patterns on it. I tried to get that in the exhibition, just to get rid of it out of the shed, but he REALLY objected to that.

JOHN: Couldn’t you claim it was post-modern…?

SIMON:  That’s what I tried. But no, he wouldn’t have it.

JOHN: There must be phrases. ‘Post-modern’ is usually a good one. ‘Meme’ is a good one now. I suppose ‘Zeitgeist’ is a bit old-fashioned.

SIMON: I might have got away with just ‘Abstract’, but I feel it’s destined to stay in the shed.

JOHN: Couldn’t you have claimed it was about the Iraq War or something?

SIMON: A good title might have saved it. But no. He gave me some canvases and asked me to fill them and I printed out some stuff and he selected what he wanted. I did make an Alan Parker from an Action Man doll.

JOHN: That’s the mobile.

Simon addresses Extinction Rebellion in a video while his Alan Parker doll takes flight in the gallery

SIMON: Yes. Did you notice how padded its tummy was?

JOHN: Was it pregnant?

SIMON: No, but your standard Action Man isn’t the same shape as me.

JOHN: But you’re slim…

SIMON: Less so now…

JOHN: There was the wall with lots of quotes on.

A wall of quotes from Simon’s AGM show surround one of his always inventive television videos…

SIMON: That is only two-thirds of one year of my AGM show. I have sacks of those.

JOHN: So you were just trying to empty your house. What’s next?

SIMON: I came up with a format for a new form of Art… Roadside placards.

JOHN: Discuss…

SIMON: You often see an advert at the side of the road but you could put a sentence… then another sentence… and another sentence… and it would build up into a paragraph. Or maybe not even a sentence or a paragraph; just an image and then another image that replies to the previous image. You could prove Pythagoras’ Theorem entirely in images. People could learn as they drove past. Your experience would alter depending on the speed you were travelling at. You could design it for cyclists or car drivers or something to make people slow down. I dunno.

I was imagining green-on-brown so you would have to know it was there, maybe. Secret Art.

JOHN: Pythagoras?

SIMON: Pictorial proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem. It could be done. The format of roadside placards has not been fully exploited.

JOHN: More immediately, what next for you?

SIMON: I’ve bought eggs from the egg lady. She’s not shaped like an egg; she sells eggs. I’ve got my fruit and veg. I was supposed to be getting toilet rolls. We are running out at home. I went to the supermarket – none. Other people’s houses must be full of toilet rolls.

Simon Munnery’s exhibition What Am I? runs in Bedford every Saturday until May 9th, probably.

…Simon about to catch a wreath at a funeral staged in his back garden…

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Paul Vickers aka Twonkey fails to explain next week’s comedy show…

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey performs his latest show Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch at the Soho Theatre in London next Monday night. He lives in Edinburgh. I live in London (ish). We talked via Apple FaceTime… We both got sidetracked in cyberspace…


JOHN: So your new show is…

PAUL: Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe show. But it’s not been seen in London before… Well, no, that’s not true. The very first early version of it I did at the Bill Murray comedy club in London. But that was a disaster. All over the place. It was the first time I’d ever done a show where I had misjudged it so badly.

JOHN: Yet it was successful at the Fringe last August. What had you got so wrong in the first version?

PAUL: The right bits in the wrong order. I had sussed-out a formula for how to do my shows. The best way to do a Twonkey show is to have loads of short, fast, fun bits to (LAUGHS) lure people into a false sense of security and then, about halfway through the show start telling a longer narrative right through to the end.

For some reason, I decided in that first version to do it in reverse to see what would happen. I started with the story and then went to short, fast bits at the end and it didn’t work because people said: “You were telling a story and then you just completely abandoned it.”

JOHN: So, like Eric Morecambe, you did all the right bits, but not necessarily in the right order… in that first London try-out.

PAUL: Exactly. So I did major surgery on it overnight and, the next day, I did it in Leicester in a completely different way and it worked. Can you hear the dog?

JOHN: What?

PAUL: There’s a dog here. He’s going tomorrow. He’s going to live on a farm, which offers him a more rewarding life than we can… Eric.

JOHN: Eric?

Eric is Paul’s dog, but is not Paul

PAUL: That’s his name. Eric.ou

JOHN: After Eric Morecambe?

PAUL: I don’t know. It was my friend Mary who named him. I suppose it’s a strong name. I’ve written a song about him.

JOHN: How does it go – the song?

PAUL: I remember! The name! It’s because of Lynn Ruth Miller… That’s why he’s called Eric. Because Lynn Ruth always calls me Eric. Whenever she sees me, she yells out (in an American accent): “Oh, my God! It’s Eric!”

JOHN: She has always thought you are named Eric?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: When I worked at Granada TV, there was a man who called me ‘Peter’ for two years. I never had it in my heart to tell him I was not Peter. But he was happy and I was happy, so no problem. It’s only a name.

PAUL: Yeah, well, that’s how it goes, isn’t it? After a while, I stopped correcting Lynn Ruth because it seemed pointless.

JOHN: What does she say when she sees the dog? Does she call it Paul?

PAUL: She’s never seen the dog.

Mr Twonkey is cleaning up (Photo by Steve Ullathorne)

JOHN: Just as well, The dog might have developed an identity crisis… You were talking about the narrative story in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch? What’s the narrative?

PAUL: It’s about the fact that all the weather in the world has been replaced by fake weather in 1982. 

JOHN: Why?

PAUL: Because the old weather was being repaired and so there is a factory in the Dordogne where the weather is being stored. I travel to the Dordogne and find out who invented the weather originally… That kind of thing.

JOHN: Oh, the old ‘weather factory in the Dordogne’ meme…

PAUL: The previous year’s show Night Train to Liechtenstein had been about inherited wealth. It was a bit like Jack & The Beanstalk because, when I went to collect the inheritance, all there was were some beans but, when I grew the beans, inside there was a pumpkin and inside the pumpkin were diamonds. 

JOHN: But that is not what Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch is about…

Paul’s head is full of Twonkey ideas (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

PAUL: No. But the bit of music I was working on at the time of Night Train to Liechtenstein was like a choral thing and I realised the key it was in was exactly the same as Somewhere Over The Rainbow. So the end of the show had me holding up this pumpkin with diamonds in it and suddenly there was this weird choral music and out of it came Somewhere Over The Rainbow and it almost felt like I was floating out of the room. It was very odd, especially when I got tired.

JOHN: But that’s not the ending of Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

PAUL: No. It’s probably going to end with an advertisement for my next show, which will feature an interview with Maradona, the Argentinian football player. He will be played by Simon Jay, who is also in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. He plays ‘the old hag’ – and he’s also the technician as well. I thought: Well, it’s daft him just sitting there pressing buttons. If he came on and acted a little part, it would be cool as well.

JOHN: So he is going to do a trailer as Maradona for your next show at the end of this show in which he is ‘the old hag’.

PAUL: Yes. He was Leonardo da Vinci’s landlady in Night Train to Liechtenstein.

JOHN: And in your next show he will be Maradona.

PAUL: Yes. My next show is going to be called Twonkey’s Custard Club.

JOHN: It’s about custard?

“I misjudged what a physical mess…”

PAUL: It’s about rival custard shops. I’m still writing it. I’m hoping ‘the custard chef’ will be built in time, but he has very long arms and is difficult to pack. I’ve done one dry run of it, but I misjudged what a physical mess it creates, because there is a bit where I get covered in custard pies and I can’t actually see anything. It was difficult to see my laptop computer and it was not actually good for my laptop computer to be covered in shaving foam.

But it was good in terms of working out the parameters of what I need to do. I realised I will need a couple of towels close-by. And I now know how many custard pies you can get out of one tin of shaving foam. And I have a good Django Reinhardt kind-of jazzy song called The Custard Club, so it seemed like a good idea.

JOHN: But that’s not what happens in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch…

PAUL: No. Sometimes you don’t know what a show is about until like five years later and then you sort-of think: Ah! That show was about me! I think it’s impossible to create work without it being about yourself. But you can’t necessarily see it immediately… I had quite a difficult year last year. I had a lot going on in my personal life. Just a lot going on.

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Lynn Ruth Miller: “Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy…”

In yesterday’s blog, Lynn Ruth Miller gave an insight into comedy industry life in Los Angeles. The blog finished with Lynn Ruth getting booked to appear in Scot Neary’s unique Boobie Trap variety show AND on Ron Lynch’s legendary midnight comedy club show AND NBC booking her for a spot on Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio‘s TV show 1st Look. Now read on…


The minute I walked into the Boobie Trap venue, I knew I had made the right decision. This was a variety show that was totally out of the box. I particularly love Scot Nery. He made his name in San Francisco first, cooking pancakes on stage and throwing them at the audience. This time, he piled chairs on top of one another and balanced them on his face.  

I was one of two stand-up comedians. The other acts were magic, mime, song and poetry. The show’s finale was done in the middle of the seating area. We removed all the chairs and watched three men spit water at each other.

After the show, I returned to my hotel to romp around in the shower…alone of course… Some dreams never come true.

The next day, my friend and very talented comedian and cross-dresser Nick Leonard drove down to be part of my Los Angeles experience. Nick is one of the finest comedians I know and has given me many of my punch lines. He has a way of zeroing in on just the right expression to make you smile and still describe what you are after.  

I wanted a succinct description of my poodle and he said: “How about Donald looked like a fluffy baked potato?”  

You simply cannot beat that for accurate humor.

The highlight of my trip was the day NBC picked up Julie and me to begin filming for 1st Look.

The idea was that I was supposed to teach Johnny Bananas how to become a stand-up comedian. Since it has taken me 16 years to come close to figuring out what I am supposed to do on stage, this was a daunting assignment.  

People think that stand-up comedy is just standing on a stage cracking jokes, but it is far more than that.  

I tried to explain timing, mic technique and the need to ‘find the funny’ to this very enthusiastic, over-the-top young man.

The idea was that, after I coached him, he would do a set for Ron Lynch at his midnight show that evening.

Ron Lynch’s show is called The Tomorrow Show and everyone who performs in Los Angeles loves to be on that show. I love being in that show so much I used to drive 382 miles to LA from Pacifica to be on his stage. I always bought a bottle of wine to pep things up. Often I would drive back home the same night if I had nothing else to do in LA. The show was (and still is) that much fun.

NBC filmed both my set and Johnny’s attempt at humor. The highlight of the evening was the band Ron has on the scene, playing unexpected accompaniment to the things we all say and do.

Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy. It lacks the subtlety, the double entendre and the wit… at least to me. But what do I know? With my hearing aids on high, I still can’t hear enough to make a judgment.

The next night was my big show at the Five Star Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Julie had been working for at least a month on creating an audience to stir up interest in that show. She planned to do an hour of open mic performances; then the main show with a few supporting comedians for me; then my hour show; followed by more open mic sets.  Her reasoning was that the open mic performers would fill the house and that would give me a large audience.  

Entrance was free but on the stage for all to see was a big bucket labelled Lynn Ruth Miller’s Retirement Fund. Julie passed this around at appropriate and inappropriate intervals

Edwin Li walked into the bar see the show. Edwin started comedy in San Francisco the same year that I did but the difference is that he was 14 years old and I was 70. He is Chinese and his signature joke was: ”My dick isn’t small; it’s cute.”

Edwin no longer does comedy because he has moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make his fortune… as they all do. He said he had to move away from his house full of women because he needed to find out who he really was.

In order to support himself now, he delivers food for a local take away café. By the time he finishes his deliveries and makes his way to a comedy club, it is very late at night. Getting home is a huge problem because all cabs, even Uber and Lyft, are expensive when you are living on minimum wage. 

Los Angeles’s public transportation, while not horrid, isn’t very good.  

It is very challenging for people who do not drive when they live in areas where the buses only run once an hour or not at all.

So Edwin, who moved to LA to do comedy as well as escape a house filled with domineering women, is now too tired and too financially challenged to develop a talent that showed so much promise when I knew him in San Francisco.

It is a great loss to the comedy community. It also is instructive.  

Those of us who really love what we are doing in comedy will manage to do it no matter what. Common sense and logic play NO part in pursuing this thankless, yet addictive, career.  

Edwin did a sensible, pragmatic thing… and I have no doubt he will return to comedy eventually.  

On the other hand, I never paid any attention to common sense. I knew that, for me, comedy was the entrée into living a fulfilled life. So I did it.

And here I am still – 16 years into the game and not even close to wanting to quit.

I was overjoyed to see Edwin of course, though I never managed to find out if it was still cute.

And now I’m back in London.

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What’s US West Coast comedy life like? 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tells you.

Lynn Ruth Miller on stage in Los Angeles

In three recent blogs, unique 86-year-old comic and occasional burlesque dancer Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her recent trip home to San Francisco.

After that, she went to Los Angeles…

So now read on…


It is funny how some friends stay and some vanish as you travel through your life. I met Julie Anderson at the beginning of my comedy career. She took Kurtis Matthew’s course at the San Francisco Comedy College the year after I did. From the beginning, I knew she was a very special human being. At the time I discovered her, she had a 9-year-old son Nigel who thought he was a stand-up comedian. Julie thought so too.

She was living in Vallejo, California at the time. Vallejo then was a very low- income, unsavory place to live.

It still has the highest crime rate of any place in America. 

If you live there, your chances of being a victim are something like 1 in 22.  

Still, Julie loved it. She had her own house and commuted to work as an administrator in a glass gallery in Napa. At night, she honed her skills as a stand-up comedian.

Julie is a wonderful storyteller and she holds an audience’s attention. She is a born performer. She started her own comedy night in Vallejo and booked lots of San Francisco comedians – but Nigel always stole the show.  

After the gig, all the comedians on the bill would go back to Julie’s house where we gobbled up a huge buffet dinner before we drove the hour‘s journey home. I cannot say the comedy was much to boast about, but those dinners were magnificent and everyone loved the entire evening.

As the years went by, Julie found a new partner named Martini and the two created comedy shows together. It was Julie who filmed my first cabaret Ageing Is Amazing 

She has innovative and creative ideas and is not afraid to put them in motion.

She creates happenings wherever she is.

“Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis?” (Photo: Sergi Viladesau, UnSplash)

Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis? It actually began in 2007 with the depreciation of the subprime mortgage market in the United States and developed into a full-blown international banking crisis by the fall of 2008.

The Bay area in San Francisco was particularly affected with mortgage rates soaring and banks like Wells Fargo determined to take advantage of people whose equity in their homes plunged.  

I was one of those victims and so was Julie.

However, Julie handled it differently than I. She stopped paying her mortgage and waited it out until the bank got around to kicking her out of her home.  

I continued to pay Wells Fargo, while I tried to reason with them and convince them that they were overcharging me. I wasted hours of my time and energy only to slam against one wall after another.  

Julie didn’t even bother to contact her bank. She knew that there were so many foreclosures in Vallejo that it would take years before anyone got around to dealing with her.

And she was right.

During the time she was waiting for the inevitable, she began selling her furniture and her belongings. Finally, the year before I lost my house, Julie walked away from her Vallejo property and moved to downtown LA with absolutely nothing but her determination to make a new life.

Julie Anderson and Lynn Ruth Miller in London in 2018

That was ten years ago and now Julie has established herself in Los Angeles. She is part of the downtown community and feels at home there.  

The last time we saw each other she told me that, when I returned to San Francisco, I should go down to LA as well.

I had done comedy in Los Angeles several times while I lived in the Bay Area and had never managed to get into the paying market there. LA is a tough market to crack. This time, I wrote to one of the former San Francisco comedians who moved to LA to make his fortune (as so many of them do) and asked if there was a possibility of being a headliner there with my credentials. He said: “Lynn Ruth, we all do sets for no money because we are ALL headliners.”

I dispute that but I knew that, for me, getting any paid work in Los Angeles was a pipe dream. So I told Julie that it would waste my time and money to go to Los Angeles. 

Julie said, “Lynnie, I will create gigs for you.  I promise.”

So I relented.

I said I would spend a week with Julie.

She told me that she had some extra money saved for a vacation that she wanted instead to spend on my visit. She would take care of my accommodation and pay for the transportation I needed to get from one place to another. More important, she would create gigs for me to sold-out houses.  

I didn’t really think she would do either, but I love Julie and when we are together we have fun.

So I agreed to spend the last week of my California journey this year with her.  

Ron Lynch liked the idea of seeing Lynn Ruth at midnight…

I wrote to Ron Lynch (who is my favorite LA comedian) and told him I would do his midnight show for him if he liked.

He liked.

Then I got a letter from NBC.  

They are doing a reality show called 1st Look, a lifestyle and travel show hosted by Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio, airing nationally every Saturday after Saturday Night Live. Johnny is the host of 1st Look and famous for his successful appearances on The Challenge, a program that tests physical prowess.

One 1st Look program will be about older people doing something unusual with their lives.  

They asked me if I planned to be in New York or LA anytime this year and I told them when I would be in LA. They made arrangements for me to be filmed with Johnny Bananas for their program.

After I committed to doing that show with NBC, I discovered that my dear friend Greta Pontarelli had already done a segment for them and that we would be in the same show together.  

I met Greta several years ago in Montenegro… She is in her seventies and is a pole dancer and performer.  She is an amazing woman who can do far more than stunts on a pole, but it is those stunts that have made her unbelievably famous.

Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio took a 1st Look at Lynn Ruth

And so the die was cast.  

I committed to go to LA.  

NBC asked if Johnny Bananas could be on Ron Lynch’s show with me and both Ron and I said Yes.

I also arranged to be on Scot Nery’s variety show Boobie Trap where I was assured I would get four minutes of fame…

… CONTINUES and CONCLUDES HERE

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