Category Archives: Comedy

Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

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Lynn Ruth Miller: “My lust for romance is gone. I bought me a brioche to love”

In the last few weeks on this blog, 84-year-old London-based American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller has been documenting her globetrotting gigs – in PragueDublin and Berlin. Her next international stop is Edinburgh for the Fringe.

I have just received this message from her:


We leave Paris today and my lust for romance is gone. I bought me a brioche to love. It winked at me in a patisserie in Montmartre and I could not resist. It was a bit costly, though. – When WILL the day come that I do not have to pay for love?


That message came with the diary she kept during her week of performances there:


Lynn Ruth Miller at Palookaville in Paris

I am in PARIS!

There is something about this place.

Maybe it is all the wonderful things I have read about it… Maybe it is the glorious sound of the language… Maybe it is all the quaint outdoor cafes on every street.

Whatever it is, Paris is magic and I am here. I am here with Sarah-Louise Young who can speak this lovely language and understand what everyone is saying.

We are staying at a gorgeous flat in Montmartre that has a crystal chandelier in the bathroom and a fancy coffee maker that I am still trying to figure out.

Whatever happened to percolators?  

We are here with a lovely man who wants to make a documentary about me.  For reasons I cannot fathom, he thinks the world needs to know about a ditsy old lady who is addicted to chatting on stage with a microphone.

We three took a stroll to a lovely restaurant with wine, food and endless conversation. It is really very hot in Paris this week so we ate outside and made our plans for the time we are here.  We are preparing for tomorrow, when we acclimatise ourselves to the pace of life in this hot, humid, exciting city and get ready for my first gig here: French Fried Comedy. Yes, that is what it is called.

French Fried Comedy Night is English stand-up comedy in Paris with guest host Adrien Arnoux, and “your favourite local comics” Robert Hoehn, Wary Nichen, Noman Hosni and “special” Lynn Ruth Miller at Le Paname – Art Café!  I am coming up in the world! Or am I?

The show itself was a real test of my comedic endurance. Our audience was a dozen people in the basement of a bar and café, Le Paname. Unfortunately, there were only three people there who could speak English besides the comedians.  

I spent nine agonizing minutes on that stage chattering away to people who all had blank expressions on their faces as they smoothed their coiffures (we are in Paris) drank their absinthe, fiddled with their cell phones and exchanged bored looks with one another.  

The guy in the front row was Russian and had absolutely no concept of what I was saying. He stared at me as if I were a relic from the local museum. His girlfriend patted his hand and tried to smile encouragingly to me, but she was German. A joke does not exist in her language.  

Thankfully, a couple from New Jersey who sat huddled in a far corner got my jokes. Thank goodness SOMEONE did. They were on their honeymoon and had decided to take a break from whatever romantic thing they were doing to have a laugh. 

“Good news for me was that I could understand everything…”

Robert, the man who runs the show, is from Minnesota and calls himself Ro Bear. (It took me a while to get that joke).  

The good news for me was that I could understand everything he was saying because his accent is so like my own. 

I was told I got the most laughs in the evening but, I assure you, you could count the chuckles I inspired on one hand.  

Robert wrote me later to tell me this had been his fourth worst gig ever and I handled it like a pro. I shudder to think about the agony of the other three.   

But, listen…  

I am in PARIS!  

We three walked up at least a thousand steps to the very top of the city to see Sacré-Cœur, a breathtakingly beautiful church that overlooks the city. We lunched and dined in outdoor cafes drinking wine and talking and just being Parisian. Not easy for a Jewish yenta from Toledo, Ohio.  

Thursday was the gig that actually brought me to Paris.  

Sebastian Marx and I have been corresponding for four years about my doing English comedy here. I was supposed to do his room last Fall but he changed nights at the last minute and I could not change my Eurostar reservations in time. Which meant that, although I had come to Paris to do a gig, I ended up spending more money in four days than I had spent in a year, dining in outrageously expensive places designed to bilk the tourist instead of telling jokes to English people who left their hometown to absorb a little Gay Paree. This is the life of a performer.  

This time, though, I got here on the right night and actually did a gig that I had begun to think was my ever-receding utopia.  

“Former speakeasy with a sexy atmosphere”

The show began at 10.00 pm at Café Oscar in Montmartre. It is a former speakeasy with a sexy, dark atmosphere, lush velvet draperies, tiny sparkles of light so you can make out the drink you are served and baroque paintings of a bunch of women who evidently had just had a fresh bikini wax.  

And the audience understood English.  

Actually, very few of them were from English-speaking countries.They came from Sweden, Morocco and (mostly) from France; the native English-speaking people were from Ireland and the UK, but there were very few of them… maybe four in an audience of about 25. The comedians were all Jewish except for one man from Dublin, Darach McGarrigle.

I did a solid ten minutes plus… and finally got some laughs… in French, of course.

The good news is that Sebastian does a solo show in English on Saturday nights and I am opening for him this Saturday. It is on a boat and, since I am terrified of the water and cannot swim, this blog may very well be my swan song. 

Friday night, Sarah-Louise and I planned to sing our songs at Palookaville, an adorable music open mic place run by Steve Cass. I went there on that last trip and it was delightful and very, very fun.   

However, this time we three trooped over there way too early.  

I am beginning to realise that French time is even more relaxed than Jewish time. We were supposed to arrive at 6.00pm and we managed to get there at 7.00pm. The place was not even open. However there was a board outside announcing that I would be telling everyone jokes.   

We waited a half hour for someone to appear and finally Steve arrived, laden with groceries and let us into the place. It was obviously still in disarray from whatever had been going on the previous night. There were dead flowers in dirty vases, empty candle-holders and a candelabra dripping with wax. The keyboard was cluttered with unwashed glasses and cords and the sound system was sitting unplugged in the middle of the room.  

We decided that, since the place was obviously not audience ready, we would nip out for a magnificent French dinner with atmosphere.   

So far on this trip, we had not actually managed to find anything that we felt was REALLY Parisian, although ALL our meals have been delicious.  

“We all loved the food so much we forgot to check the time”

Anyway we did locate a place in Montmartre that was unusual and charming called Chez Prout. But we all loved the food we were served so much we forgot to check the time and so we missed returning to Palookaville to sing our songs.    

From what Steve said when we left, there was not much hope of an audience anyway.

Evidently, there is a lot of soccer going on at the moment and, in France, if it is a choice between a laugh and a goal, the goal wins.  

Saturday in Paris is always special and we lunched, wandered through art galleries and then I went to La Nouvelle Seine to open for Sebastian Marx’s show, A New Yorker in Paris, in the hold of a boat on the Seine. It was truly a good experience with all the laughter I always dream of getting and want to kill myself if I do not.  

We ended up at Chez Papa, a jazz place beyond wonderful with food to die for and an atmosphere like you always hope to find and never do. The jazz was from the American songbook so, of course, I loved it. 

Both Robert and Sebastian have invited me back, so this trip is the groundwork for more croissants, espresso and coq au vin… not to mention a few comedy gigs to aid my digestion.  

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John Dowie on Bowie, Bolan, bicycles, drinking, drugs, poetry, prose and book

John Dowie is not an easy man to describe even without a hat

I worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas with John Dowie’s sister Helga.

His other sister is writer/director/actor Claire Dowie.

John wrote an original short story for the Sit-Down Comedy book which I compiled/edited with late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

But John Dowie is not an easy man to describe. 

He is a man of many hats.

Wikipedia currently describes him as a “humourist” and says:

“Dowie was among the inaugural acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. In 1978 he contributed three comedic songs to the first Factory music release, A Factory Sample, along with Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and Cabaret Voltaire… As a director, he worked on Heathcote Williams’ Whale Nation and Falling for a Dolphin, as well as directing shows by, among others, Neil Innes, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Simon Munnery and the late Pete McCarthy… His children’s show Dogman, directed by Victor Spinetti, was described by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker as the best show he had seen in Edinburgh that year. Dowie went on to write and perform Jesus – My Boy which was performed in London’s West End by Tom Conti.”

Basically, John Dowie has been about a bit and is unclassifiable but wildly creative. 

We had this blog chat to talk about his new book, The Freewheeling John Dowie, the Stewart Lee blurb quote for which reads:

“Great cycle of life and love and death”

“In the ‘70s, John Dowie invented Alternative Comedy. At the end of the ‘80s, he abandoned it. In the ‘90s, he sold all his possessions and set off to cycle around Europe indefinitely, meaning Dowie’s love of Landscapes and Life is matched only by his hilarious hatred of himself and others.”

Author Alan Moore adds: “This appallingly funny and delightfully miserable man delivers hard-won insights into the great cycle of life and love and death from the vantage point of a great cycle… I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”

Alas, in our chat, I started off with good intentions, but, as I tend to, meandered…


DOWIE: This book my first prose work.

FLEMING: You did wonderful prose for the Sit-Down Comedy book.

DOWIE: That was a short story. This is my first full-length prose work aimed for the page rather than the stage.

FLEMING: So why now?

DOWIE: When you’re riding your bike in a quiet place – pootling along a country lane or whatever – your mind wanders and you enter strange thought patterns you don’t expect to enter and I like that and I thought: This would be a nice way to tell stories, just gently ambling along with twists and turns.

FLEMING: Picaresque?

DOWIE: Is that the word?

FLEMING: I dunno.

DOWIE: Picking a risk, I think, is what you’re saying.

FLEMING: How has the book done?

An early John Dowie Virgin album by the young tearaway

DOWIE: Hard to tell, but I think it’s doing OK. It only came out in April. I check the Amazon sales figures approximately every 47 seconds. It started at around 45, then Julian Clary Tweeted about it and it went straight up to Number 3. It’s doing OK now. There has never been a massive demand for my work. The world has never beaten a path to my particular door. As long as it sells slowly but consistently, that’s fine.

FLEMING: Did you find it difficult to write?

DOWIE: It was for me. What I was more used to in writing verse or jokes was getting feedback from an audience. When you write prose for the page, you have not got that, so it is very difficult to judge.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between writing for poetry and prose?

DOWIE: No idea. I would not say I write poetry – I write verse.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between poetry and verse?

DOWIE: I think poetry takes more time to understand or is more difficult to understand.

FLEMING: So writing verse it dead easy, then.

DOWIE: Well, comparatively easy for me, because my stuff always rhymes. Use a rhyming pattern and you’ve got a way of telling a story.

FLEMING: So you see yourself as a writer of verse and…

DOWIE: Well, I only wrote it when the kids were little.

FLEMING: To distract them?

DOWIE: As a way of punishing them if they were not behaving well.

“Do you want me to read you one of my poems?”

“No! No! Please don’t do that to me, daddy!”

“You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time…”

It was just a thing to do for a while. You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time. Luckily, for me, this has never included doing mime. I did do a couple of mime sketches in my youth, but they weren’t real mime.

FLEMING: What sort of mime were they?

DOWIE: Well, it WAS doing things without words, but it wasn’t being a ‘mime artist’ and being balletic about it.

FLEMING: Mime artists seem to have disappeared. They call themselves ‘clowns’ now and go to Paris and come back and stare at people. I only ever saw David Bowie perform once…

DOWIE: … doing mime… Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex… I saw that too.

FLEMING: I loved Tyrannosaurus Rex; not so keen on T Rex.

DOWIE: I’m a big Tyrannosaurus Rex fan.

FLEMING: Whatever happened to Steve Peregrin Took? (The other half of Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Marc Bolan.)

DOWIE: He choked on a cherry stone and died in a flat in Ladbroke Grove.

FLEMING: A great name, though.

DOWIE: He nicked it from Lord of the Rings. Peregrine Took (Pippin) is a character in Lord of the Rings. Steve was his own name.

FLEMING: Steve Jameson – Sol Bernstein – was very matey with Marc Bolan.

DOWIE: They went to the same school. Up Hackney/Stoke Newington way… Marc Bolan was a William Blake man.

FLEMING: Eh?

Warlock of Love: “It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written”

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got Marc Bolan’s book of poetry: The Warlock of Love. It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written. That may be a good or a bad thing.

FLEMING: You have an affinity with William Blake?

DOWIE: Not a massive affinity other than he was a one-off.

FLEMING: He was a hallucinating drug addict.

DOWIE: Well, we’ve all been there. And we don’t necessarily know he was hallucinating. He might have been supernaturally gifted.

FLEMING: Now he has a plaque on a tower block in the middle of Soho.

DOWIE: Well, that’s what happens to poets, isn’t it? Plaques on buildings. I like his painting of the soul of a flea.

FLEMING: I don’t know that one.

DOWIE: There was a girl standing next to him and she said: “What are you doing William?” and he said: “I’m just sketching the ghost of that flea.”

FLEMING: Does it look like the soul or ghost of a flea?

William Blake’s soulful Ghost of a Flea

DOWIE: A big, tall, Devilish type figure.

FLEMING: Are you going back to comedy in any way?

DOWIE: Well, it hasn’t gone away. There’s lots of comedy in the book.

FLEMING: On stage, though?

DOWIE: What I don’t like about actual performances is that they hang over you all day. You are waiting for this bloody thing to happen in the evening and you can’t do anything until it’s over but then, when it’s over, all you wanna do is drink.

FLEMING: I think that might just be you.

DOWIE: No, it’s not just me.

FLEMING: Performing interrupts your drinking?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Most days I can start drinking when I get up. I don’t have to wait till half past bloody nine in the bloody evening.

FLEMING: Have you stopped drinking?

DOWIE: I drink a bit, but I try to keep it outside of working hours which is why (LAUGH) I’m not so keen on gigging.

FLEMING: You going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

John will be in North Berwick, near Edinburgh, during August

DOWIE: No. But I’m doing Fringe By The Sea at North Berwick.

FLEMING: Ah! Claire Smith is organising that – It’s been going ten years but she’s been brought in to revitalise it this year. What are you doing? A one-off in a Spiegeltent?

DOWIE: Yeah. A 40-minute reading from my book and then a Question & Answer section.

FLEMING: What next for creative Dowie?

DOWIE: I’m waiting to see what happens with the book.

FLEMING: It’s autobiographical. Will there be a sequel?

DOWIE: Depends how long I live.

FLEMING: At your age, you’ll die soon.

DOWIE: I’m not going to die soon!

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Maggy Whitehouse, comic and vicar: “Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley”

“I was at the end of my rope with Christianity…”

Yesterday’s blog was a chat with Maggy Whitehouse, stand-up comedian and freelance vicar/priest.

It was intended to be about her comedy, but strayed into religion… Here it continues…


JOHN: So, at home, you have an Isis and Mary altar? Isis the Egyptian god, not the Islamic fundamentalists.

MAGGY: Yes, Isis and Mary represent the Great Mother, because it’s all one Great Mother and one Great Father. The idea is she stuck her husband’s body back together after he was all carved up and she managed to conceive a child from it.

I studied New Testament Greek and really got into it and then I met a Jewish guy and he was at the end of his rope with Judaism and I was at the end of my rope with Christianity and my teacher of healing sent us off to this guy in London who was teaching Kabbalah, which is Jewish mysticism. So I started studying that.

JOHN: The Madonna stuff?

MAGGY: No. There are two sorts of Kabbalah. Hers is based in the 16th century and takes the theory that, when God created the Universe, he made a mistake. 

Mine is based in Biblical times, which is that, when God created the Universe, it was all perfect and we screwed up. Well, not even that, because Jews don’t believe in Original Sin, so how could Jesus?

Independent Maggy marries a Sikh man & a Christian woman

Anyway, there I was, doing this New Age stuff, doing funerals and my now-husband’s best friend was murdered in London and he and I were members of the same Kabbalah group. He asked me to do the funeral for Jon and my (Christian) bishop was in the congregation and phoned me up the following week and said: “OK, God told me we need you and you need us.”

I told him: “You must be out of your mind.”

But he was a guy after my own mind who was saying: Christianity has lost EVERYTHING. It’s all meant to be about love, inclusivity, kindness, simplicity. So I decided I would train. And I did.

JOHN: The Old Testament and the New Testament appear to me to have totally different gods. The Old Testament teaches “an eye for an eye”… The New Testament teaches “turn the other cheek”.

MAGGY: One thing is we only have one Hebrew testament. There used to be dozens and dozens and dozens of versions of it. But they pulled it all together into one after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. So we don’t know what the original text was.

We DO know that there are an awful lot of edits. And also, in ancient days, they read the text on four levels: the literal, the allegorical, the metaphysical and the mystical. If you take the texts out of the literal sense, they’re all about the psychological development of the soul. 

JOHN: You don’t sound especially Christian to me; just generically religious.

MAGGY: I am a very passionate follower of the teachings of Jesus… But he never once asked us to worship him. He said: “Follow me.”

JOHN: Buddha tried that. It didn’t work. I am not a god. I am not a religion. Do NOT worship me. But now loads of people clearly worship him as an idol.

“90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley”

MAGGY: Of course it doesn’t work. The thing about faith is… If you like the look of it, you’ve got to go on the journey, go through all these Road to Damascus moments.

Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley. If you are a proper seeker, you travel to Finchley. But 90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley, so they will find somebody who HAS been to Finchley and worship them. And, if they can’t find someone who has been to Finchley, they will worship the signpost… And that is what religion is.

I was Church of England, but now I am an Independent. We have been associated with part of the liberal Catholic Church, but I am actually ‘an independent’.

JOHN: If you don’t follow the rules of a specific recognised branch of Christianity, surely you are a heretic?

MAGGY: Of COURSE I am a heretic. The Methodists in West Devon use me – I’ve got two services this Sunday – 11.00am and 6.30pm – which is very decent of them. They heard me on BBC Radio Devon: I did a year there as a presenter. But my local rector, who runs the Anglican area can’t use me, because he would get lynched. 

JOHN: Not literally.

MAGGY: Not literally.

JOHN: So you are only really recognised as a proper person by the Methodists?

MAGGY: I’m not really recognised by them, because I can’t do communion for them. I just showed up, lay on my face on the floor in my white robe and got my hands and brow anointed.

JOHN: Ooh! A white robe. Sounds kinda Druidy.

MAGGY: I COULD be Druidy. The wonderful thing is, if you do this mysticism, this direct experience of what you perceive to be the divine, you can converse with anyone of any faith and none – And that’s what it’s about.

Maggy’s first book – about a different type of journey

JOHN: You have written seventeen books, mostly about religion and spirituality.

MAGGY: I’m writing a new book at the moment: Kabbalah and Healing. I have to deliver it to the publisher by the end of September; published the beginning of next year.

JOHN: I suppose we should mention you doing stand-up comedy as, supposedly, that is the bloody reason why we are sitting here chatting in the first place. How did you get into comedy?

MAGGY: I do spiritual workshops and events and things like that to make a living. People kept saying to me: “You’re very funny; you should do comedy.”

There was a comedy course in Birmingham half a mile from me that cost £50. I went along and I was the oldest person by 35 years. At the end, there was a showcase and, a week later, I was asked to back Hal Cruttenden on an Edinburgh Fringe preview at Kings Heath in Birmingham.

I started doing unpaid gigs after that. But then I moved to Devon. Six months later, I got cancer – non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That was a massive Road to Damascus healing journey too.

JOHN: Edinburgh Fringe?

MAGGY: I did one Edinburgh run in 2014 when I had only been performing comedy for 18 months and I had the cancer at the time. I went to Edinburgh as a bucket list thing. I had to rest all day, do my hour at night, then go back and rest. So I didn’t really get the Edinburgh experience at all.

JOHN: Will you go again?

MAGGY: At the moment, I am trying to get together four priests including me to go to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 – There’s Ravi Holy, a rector in Canterbury; Kate Bruce, who’s chaplain to the RAF at Brize Norton; and Mark Townsend, who’s an ex-Anglican but still a vicar who is a magician.

Maggy performed at the Monkey Business comedy club in London earlier this month

JOHN: So where else do you go from here? Another Road to Damascus?

MAGGY: I have no idea where I go from here. I basically thought: I will give the comedy five years and see what happens. That is almost up now.

I don’t know where I’m going.

I am writing the book; I am doing spiritual workshops; I am pottering along quite happily in comedy.

And I am happy.

I am incredibly happy. 

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The Maggy Whitehouse Experiences – the stand-up comic who is also a vicar

Maggie says: “Most of the congregation are sheep… Literally”

Maggy Whitehouse bills herself as a “Maverick priest, comedian and author who believes in an All-Inclusive Loving Beingness that also kicks ass.”

 So, obviously, I wanted to talk to her.

So, obviously, we did – at Paddington station – when she was in London.

So we were, obviously, supposed to be talking about comedy but we ended up, obviously, talking about religion…

…and, no, she is not related to Mary Whitehouse…


JOHN: I tend to ramble when I chat to people..

MAGGY: I love rambling. Going off in different directions. Most of the congregation are sheep.

JOHN: Be careful what you get quoted saying!

MAGGY: No. Literally. I sometimes go out and practise a sermon at night, when I’m putting the chickens to bed. I will be in the paddock sermonising out loud and I will turn round and 30 pairs of sheep eyes are staring at me, from the field behind.

JOHN: You live a rural life on Dartmoor. Are you from there?

MAGGY: No. Harborne in Birmingham.

JOHN: And you were a producer for Carlton TV.

MAGGY: I did a couple of documentaries on China in the 1980s, because my dad was a railway expert and used to write books about steam engines. He founded the Birmingham Railway Museum. He went in to China in 1976 – as soon as it opened up – with my brother. After three or four years, my brother decided to get married. My father had no-one else to travel with, so he took me to China.

Suzi Quatro, Vince Hill and Caesarian scar sightings

I was already working as a radio presenter with Radio WM in Birmingham, then I moved over to BBC TV – Pebble Mill at One – as a producer. I joined them three months before they closed. Then I moved to Carlton TV and a terrible lunchtime show called Gas Street. It had Suzi Quatro and Vince Hill as presenters. That was a marriage made in Hell. Suzi was great fun: she used to show us her Caesarian scar and things like that.

JOHN: You met loads of famous people.

MAGGY: Yes. This was back in the politically incorrect days. I met Rolf Harris and he was disgusting.

JOHN: He had a reputation, back then, as a groper.

MAGGY: He used to push himself up against you and put his hands behind you and go “Woo-wugh-wugh-woo-wugh-wugh” like his wobbly board thing. Fortunately I was too old for Jimmy Savile. I just knew he was vile; he made my skin crawl.

JOHN: Steam engines got you into TV…

MAGGY: Yes. My dad got a commission to write a book on steam engines in China but they wanted a real coffee table book – not just all about the engines; more about travel. I had been travelling with him for six years by then – we went out every summer – so I wrote the book and he took the pictures.

Then I did two TV documentaries on steam engines in China and got lots of marriage proposals but Tiananmen Square happened and all future travel in China went out the window. And I had also met my first husband, Henry. He was a sound recordist. We got married and he was diagnosed with terminal cancer six months later – two months after Tiananmen Square – and by February the following year he was dead. So I lost husband and career within a year, which was a bit…

JOHN: Was this when you had a Road to Damascus and decided to become a vicar?

MAGGY: No. But I lost my faith then, really. I had been an armchair Christian. I just showed up at church occasionally at Christmas.

My husband Henry had been an atheist and, on his deathbed, the Catholic hospital chaplain said: “I’m sorry, my dear, but, if he’s an atheist who does not believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, then he cannot go to heaven.”

THAT was a Road to Damascus moment, because I just thought: But that is wrong! Henry was a better person than I. He was kinder than I. He was far less of a trollop than I had ever been. I just thought: No! No! And I could not get a funeral for him that would reflect a little bit of faith. 

It had to be Church of England or Humanist back then and my family and his family would not go for Humanist so, basically, I walked up the aisle behind my young husband’s coffin hearing him damned to Hell. And I was thinking: This isn’t right! This isn’t right!

Most people might go into Atheism from that, but I went crazy and went into New Age – Buddhism and chakras and healing and that sort of thing.

JOHN: Kabbalah?

MAGGY: That came later.

JOHN: Did the New Age stuff help you?

MAGGY: Yes, because I learned about all sorts of alternative things and Healing was very interesting at this point.

Maggy’s business card (NOTE: Terms & conditions apply)

After a few years, I realised I was still FURIOUS with Christianity. The whole idea that, if you didn’t believe in Jesus, you didn’t go to heaven. And all the power and corruption which everybody alerts me to and I know about… But I realised what I had done was I had stuck all this in a nasty heap in the corner, put a nice pink blanket over it and covered it in tea lights and crystals and I was pretending it didn’t exist. I realised I was going to have to deal with it.

I also started having the opportunity to do funerals for people.

JOHN: You were a multi-faith funeral giver?

MAGGY: Sort of. A sort of self-taught one. I found a guy in London who taught me.

JOHN: Funerals? What needs teaching?

MAGGY: You have to be taught what not to say and how to deal with dead bodies and bereaved people. You are quite often going to be there when they are dying. I ended up being a hospice chaplain.

So I started putting myself around as a funeral person in London, where the work was. And I went to university to learn New Testament Greek because I thought: If I can read the New Testament in Greek, I might actually understand what this guy Jesus was on about and not have to rely on other people’s translations.

However, it turns out there are 32,000 versions of the New Testament in Greek.

JOHN: Not literally 32,000…

MAGGY: Yes, literally. Most of them are fragments. Only about 500 are full ones. But they are quite dramatically different.

JOHN: Are they all translated from the Aramaic or something?

MAGGY: No, they’re just different ways they wrote it down because, in those days, if somebody had written down one of the Gospels and wanted to copy it out, they would read it out loud and people would copy it down and they would make mistakes. 

JOHN: I remember reading or hearing somewhere that, in the original language, there is no definite or indefinite article. 

MAGGY: That’s right.

JOHN: So the phrase ‘Son of God’ does not necessarily mean THE Son of God, it can equally mean A Son of God. And we are all Sons (or Daughters) of God.

MAGGY: Yes. We are all children of God… and Christ is not Jesus’ surname… The Christ exists independently of Jesus.

JOHN: In the original, no-one was saying he was The Christ. They were saying he was a Son of God: he was a good man. The Moslems believe in Jesus as a prophet, don’t they?

MAGGY: Yes. In fact, he is mentioned in the Koran more than Mohammed is.

A sphere representing the Left Eye of God – inside the Cao Dai Tây Ninh Holy See in Vietnam.  (Photograph by Ernie Lo)

JOHN: The Cao Dai religion in Vietnam reveres Confucius, Jesus and Victor Hugo… I think because the French civil servant who created the religion rather liked the works of Victor Hugo.

MAGGY: Well, you should see my altar at home. It has Isis, Mary & Joseph and…

JOHN: Isis as opposed to ISIS

MAGGY: Yes. One of my friends Christened his daughter Isis eight years ago. It is a problem now…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Lynn Ruth Miller – “Comedy is a skill that is far more than the jokes you tell”


In the past few weeks, globetrotting UK-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller – physical age 84; mental age 24 – has sent me pieces about her trips to Prague and Dublin.

Next week, she has a week of performances in Paris. But last week, she was in Berlin for six days. 

This is (some of) what happened…


The Ryanair flight was ONE HOUR late landing, so we didn’t get the bugle call to tell us we were on time but my hearing aid gave me a little whistle which was much nicer and didn’t disturb anyone else.    

I had made friends with a lovely break dancer who was telling me how he had mutilated his body and had even begun losing his hair because of the extreme physical demands of his profession and I thought to myself: “It is a good thing I only do the Lindy Hop half time. I certainly cannot afford to lose any more hair than I already have.”

Bald is only beautiful on a baby’s butt and I am definitely beyond that.

I think, in a strange way, Berlin is very much like Brighton (although Brighton is wildly expensive and Berlin is amazingly affordable).

Ex-Brighton resident Lynn Ruth in Berlin

The similarity is that anything goes in both places and everyone loves everyone… no homophobia of any kind. But, although everyone feels at home and loved in both places, it is really hard to earn a living. Everyone has a unique talent they cannot market and they are so dedicated to that talent that they will do it anywhere and everywhere just to have the opportunity to express themselves to others.

No-one needs to pay them for what they do. So you cannot earn a living; you cannot progress in whatever field you happen to be in; and yet… and yet… both are such FUN places to be, everyone hates to leave.

Berlin is a place you need to experience rather than describe. There is an atmosphere of politeness and concern that is really comforting. It has been one of the most welcoming of places for me with people anxious and eager to help. I often wonder what happened to this national sensibility when my ancestors were here being converted into soap and lampshades.

We run away from our roots, don’t we? I certainly have: across a vast country, across an ocean. And the strange truth is that the clarification and validation I sought was inside me all that time.

That first evening in Berlin last week, I was intending to meet Kenny (a guitarist I met last trip) to go open air dancing but – alas – he was too tired (story of my life).

Instead, we took a little walk and talked about him. He is finding the glow that is Berlin fading and he is thinking about finding vibrancy somewhere else. The low cost of living and wonderfully hopeful atmosphere is tarnished. Kenny has been here 11 years. The problem of living in a low cost area is that salaries are also low, so no-one can get his or her head above water.

The second night – Wednesday – I was blessed with a comp ticket to Quatsch Comedy, THE upscale comedy club that does one English show every couple of months. The MC is Christian Schulte-Loh who is amazing because, although English is his second language, he has the English subtext down pat. He is an excellent host, never dominating the stage and always priming the audience for what is to come, welcoming them and getting them set up for laughter.

The headliner was John Moloney and I was amazed and delighted at his ability to give us one punch-line after another, never slowing his pace and never descending to cheap shocking material. He is an artist and he is the reason I struggle to perfect my set… What he does is where I want to be (before I die? Fat chance). The entire show taught me that I have a long way to go to be that smooth and that professional.

After the show, I went to Bombay – an Indian restaurant across the street – to have dinner and met two vegan women from Amsterdam who were in Berlin for a conference that was cancelled. Both are writing a vegan cookbook. The son of the owner of the restaurant fell in love with all three of us and plied us with shots until we were all bloopy. Evidently alcohol is fine on a vegan diet.  It is just cheese and eggs that are verboten.

“I am more than an old lady to them…”

Thursday was my first night at Cosmic Comedy and it was a delight. The audience is receptive and happy, filled as they are with pizza and free shots. I truly love doing my sets there because the owners and the audience always get my humor. I am more than an old lady to them. I am a funny comedian. Eat your heart out Joan Rivers. I didn’t have to have a face lift to do this.

Friday night was a showcase night and I headlined. The audience was small because of the Big Game (football over here is a way of life) but they were responsive and I did my usual routine. The interesting thing was that usually my audiences in Berlin are all expats, but this time the majority was German. English is their second and sometimes their third language. They got the jokes all right but slowly.

This highlights my theory that standup comedy is a skill that is far more than the jokes you tell. You are paid to make the audience laugh no matter what the demographic. That means adjusting your material to their response. Not easy, but definitely part of the job.

Saturday was my big show and I did one of my compilations of songs and stories. My friend Kenny Stanger accompanied me on a guitar. Since I cannot carry a tune anyway, it really doesn’t matter what the musician accompanying me plays.

When I looked at the list of musical numbers I realized that nine out of the ten were about my looking for love, loving men, wanting to find a guy and bemoaning my obvious failures. I was fairly sure this topic would be boring and out of date for the modern expat generation in progressive Berlin, but I was wrong. Even though I did my usual stumbling over words, tunes and melodies, the audiences was captivated and simply could not get enough of me. The show was a great success.

They clustered around me after the show just to assure themselves that all the stories I tell of my failed attempt at romance were really true (as they are) and several said they had never seen a show like this one and of course they were right. No-one in the world has stumbled and fallen so indecorously or made such a mess of a performance. I suspect the charm of this performance was that everyone thought: “If that old hag can make a fool of herself on stage, I would be a star.”

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Why has comedian Akin Omobitan started a podcast called IT DIES HERE?

JOHN: So you have started a podcast. Why not do a blog? – Or is that too old-fashioned?

AKIN: I did do a blog back in the day and someone did once call me a blogger and I really didn’t know how to take that.

JOHN: Are you sure it was a blogger he called you?

AKIN: Yes. You have a blog. How do you describe yourself?

JOHN: The former John Fleming. 

AKIN: I used to blog back in 2004. I had wanted to do a podcast for ages but never had an idea I thought would be ‘for people’. 

JOHN: And now you have. Why is it called It Dies Here?

AKIN: It is pretty much a celebration of idiocy, calamity, regret, stupidity, misfortune, mishaps. So, each week, I have a different guest and they bring a story, a situation or an event which plays in circles in their head because, in hindsight, they now know how they could have handled it differently and better. So, instead of it living in their head, they bring it to the podcast and it can die.

JOHN: Sounds like online therapy.

A couple of people have said: “Oh wow! This is like therapy!

AKIN: A couple of people have come on and said: Oh wow! This is like therapy! but none of them has agreed to pay for my services yet.

JOHN: Do you have a couch to lie on?

AKIN: I do. But, if I invited people to my home to lie on a couch, it might just lead to misinterpretations.

JOHN: People might queue.

AKIN: Well, since releasing the trailer and putting Episodes 1 and 2 online, people have got in touch with me asking to be on the podcast.

JOHN: Do you edit it?”

AKIN: No. Because of the time it takes. And because I think it’s good for the listener to get the full conversation.

JOHN: Are the guests all comedians?

AKIN: No. Coming up, we have a couple of comedians, a financial journalist, a DJ and a TV presenter.

JOHN: Despite having co-hosted 101 Grouchy Club podcasts, I am not really a podcast listener. I have a feeling there’s something else I could do – like watch two-thirds of an old British comedy movie on TV.

AKIN: Or you could listen to a podcast and hear about the demise of an individual who started his own business, was offered millions for it and a job in Silicon Valley and all of that crumbled.

JOHN: But will it have knob gags? Anyway… where is this new weekly podcast leading? To a ‘proper’ broadcast radio show?

AKIN: I don’t know. It’s a different way of expressing yourself creatively. I used to write; that was one method. Doing stand-up comedy is another method. I MC shows as well; that’s different. And the podcast is such a different platform.

JOHN: How?

AKIN: With a lot of my stand-up, it is scripted. I may go off on tangents and play around a bit, but the majority of it is premeditated… When you are MCing, you can have a chat with the audience, but there are lots of different people and you are not really having a conversation with them; you are just trying to make the room fizz… When you do a podcast, you sit one-on-one with someone and have a good in-depth conversation for around 45 minutes.

JOHN: I find listening to what people say is over-rated.

“…I had things which ran around in MY head…”

AKIN: Part of what inspired…

JOHN: What?

AKIN: Part of what inspired the podcast is that I had things which ran around in MY head much longer than they should have… You know when you are a teenager and you are just very broody and moody and miserable? And that can go from adolescence into adulthood. Break-ups, different careers, failures. I was fired from jobs on a number of occasions. There were lots of things I had to let go of and, in letting go of them, I realised that I myself was the main reason I was not happy.

When I realised that and took a bit more control of my own happiness, I became a happier, nicer person.

And, because I had this reference point of me being a moody, miserable, self-indulgent person, I never wanted to be that person again. It inspired me to drift away from that aspect of my personality and more towards embracing the good things of life.

JOHN: You are a Christian. Did you go through a period in your teens of not being a Christian?

AKIN: I wouldn’t describe myself as re-born. I think a big part of it, actually, is that, when you grow up in a Christian household, there are a lot of beliefs and belief systems which you adopt without really making a choice. I guess part of my ‘liberation’ was stepping away from a lot of things. 

I guess I stepped away from a lot of the formalities of Christianity and the closeness I had with my parents. I quit my job. A lot of things: friendships, relationships, even myself. Lots of things I just stepped away from entirely.

Akin will be appearing with Lew Fitz at the Edinburgh Fesival Fringe this August

And then, one-by-one, I started re-connecting to all of these things, but under my terms. My relationship with my family is great, but I no longer feel the need to pander to my parents’ wishes for my life. I have tailored my friendship circles, so it is people who I genuinely want to be friends with, as opposed to people who I have just known for a long time.

Even with my Faith, I would say I am a lot more liberal in my views and outlooks. I guess there are different ideals and morals and stuff which I agree with. I just connect with things very differently. I guess there’s just a certain amount of freedom now.

JOHN: So you are more liberal in accepting other people’s ideas and beliefs?

AKIN: Definitely. I would always have described myself as liberal but I think, until you step away from your ideas then re-connect to them as you want, you are not really living your Truth.

When I decided who I wanted to be and who I wanted to connect with, I then started thinking: Why do I?

So, as opposed to Oh! I just love everyone, man! I then started thinking Why do I believe that?

I guess a lot of my beliefs and ideologies now are bounded more in me personally, not just: Oh. Because I’m a Christian, this is why I love everyone… or Because I’m a black person, this is why I behave this way. I just separated myself from a lot of parts of my identity and found a way of re-connecting… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

AKIN: Maybe that sounds a bit hippyish and… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

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