Category Archives: Crowdfunding

“Parrotopia” – one step beyond British Music Hall, The Goons and The Bonzos

Michael Livesley (left) and Rodney Slater, Lords of Parrotopia

“Why should I talk to you?” I asked Rodney Slater, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Do0-Dah Band and Michael Livesley who, in the last few years, has revived Vivian Stanshall’s 1978 epic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

“Because,” said Michael, “of our wonderful new collaborative CD effort Parrotopia.”

“You  sound like,” I told him, “a Northerner trying to be posh by using long words – collaborative, indeed!”

“But it IS collaborative!” he insisted. “The crazy thing about this CD is that, without any kind of planning, it has 12 tracks, six of which are mine and six of which are his. We then cross-pollinated it, of course.”

“You’re using big words again,” I told him. “So the music is random?”

“Yes, it’s very random,” Michael said. “I suppose, if it has a genre, it might be front step.”

“That is a pun beyond my ken,” I told him.

“The young folks,” Michael told me, “have something called ‘dubstep’. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe that was ten years ago or more.”

“A couple of days ago,” said Rodney, “I got a magazine from PRS and I didn’t know what they were talking about in it.”

The Bonzos’ 50th Anniversary show at KOKO in Camden, 2015

“It’s been a helluva lot of fun,” said Michael. “A gestatory nine months.”

“You’re at it again with the words,” I said. “But why another CD? Artistic inspiration or the lure of more filthy lucre?”

Michael laughed.

Rodney laughed: “Gross money is pouring out of our pockets! Why did we do this?”

“Because,” Michael told him, “we couldn’t not. Let’s be honest, we’re never going to become rich doing this. As it is, we’re selling teeshirts as well as the CDs to get money back. We do the music and the songs because we have to do it. Essentially what happened was we started talking during the Bonzo’s Austerity Tour last year, as things got increasingly more fraught…”

“In what way ‘fraught’?” I asked.

“It was nice amongst us,” said Michael. “Lovely among the players… Let’s not talk about it.”

“So the new CD… Parrotopia.” I said.

“The initial spurt,” explained Michael, “was that Rodney bought an iPhone and, all-of-a-sudden, you could email him. And there was no holding him after that. Pretty soon, we were sending each other stupid things about long-dead Northern comics and long-dead, obese footballers. Just tittle-tattle in general.”

Susie Honeyman of The Mekons, Rodney Slater and Michael Livesley during Parrotopia shed recordings.

“It’s just a collection of stories, really,” said Rodney. “Stories we wanted to tell that happened between 2016 and when we finished it in June this year. Our reaction to what was happening in the world and what was particularly happening to us in that context.”

“Not,” I checked, “what was happening politically in the grand scheme of things, but…”

“There was a sprinkling of that,” said Michael.

“You can’t get away from that,” added Rodney, “because that’s the time we were doing it.”

“Well, Parrotopia was almost like a coping mechanism, wasn’t it?” Michael suggested.

“It’s all about stories,” said Rodney. “Stories we tell ourselves. All of us. Fantasies we enact in our own heads when we go to bed at night. Michael said to me: We’ll make the album that we want to listen to. And that’s what has come out.”

“Why is it called Parrotopia?” I asked.

Mr Slater’s Parrot,” said Rodney.

It is a 1969 song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

“What we said we were originally gonna do,” Michael explained, “was to declare ourselves The People’s Republic of Parrotopia, because there was stuff going on – and that name stuck.”

“Cultural Revolutionary,” Rodney said, apparently thinking out loud.

“There is,” Michael continued, “a song, one line of which is: Reflecting feudalist tags. That’s the general disjecta membra that is left over.”

“Oooh!” I said.

“Did you make that up?” asked Rodney.

“No,” Michael told him. “It’s a real word. In many ways, we were sort of living this madness through a shared past. A strange shared past, because Rodney is older than I am, but I was brought up by my nan – my grandmother – and she was brought up around the same time as Rodney’s parents. So we maybe both have a similar outlook. We see what we’ve done as very much as a continuation of British music hall and The Goons and The Bonzos.”

“Are you going to do a musical tour of Parrotopia?” I asked.

“Costs money,” said Rodney. “It would need a cast of 10 or 12. We would need some man with a lot of money who was honest, which is a very rare thing in this business.”

“Any videos?” I asked.

William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, Sheffield United goalkeeper 1894-1905

“Well,” said Michael, “we talked to John HalseyThe Rutles’ Barry Wom – who plays drums on our CD – and we discussed making some films – particularly a little silent movie of a track called Fatty – who was a goalkeeper for Sheffield United in 1902. Rodney as the referee with a twirling moustache and a top hat.”

“I think,” I told him, “you should write a song called Rodney Bought An iPhone.”

Rodney responded: “Writing used to be a slow and laborious process by hand. Now, if we have an idea, rather than me learning it, I hum something, he plays it on the keyboard and there’s the dots.”

“It’s a very quick way of working,” said Michael. “I can come up with a melody, I play it on the keyboard into the iMac computer and literally just press a button and the music dots are there for him to play. The computer is the real paradox here. Well ‘irony’ is better. Rodney has this disdain for computers and…”

“I don’t want a computer,” Rodney emphasised.

“But you have an iPhone,” I said. “That’s a computer.”

“I know it is,” he replied, “but it’s not a two-way mirror quite as much.”

“Would you care to expatiate on that?” asked Michael.

“It’s too intrusive in one’s life,” said Rodney. “It’s like walking around naked. It’s just my way of thinking about it. It’s like radio. Originally, radio was a wonderful, educational tool. All manner of communication. It’s when the arseholes get hold of it and then the big money comes in. I have utter contempt for the people running these things. Utter contempt because of what they’re doing with it. I’m not very good technically. I manage an iPhone; well, part of it.”

“One of the tracks on the CD,” said Michael, “is One Step Behind where Rodney sings about Who harvests your data? He was telling me about opinions being shaped and formed by…”

“Algorithms,” said Rodney. “I’m very interested in all that. The way it shapes human behaviour. I don’t like the sort of society that these things are making. The parallel worlds that we all live in. I prefer to go down the pub and play darts and crib and have a fight.”

“What attitudes are being formed that are bad?” I asked.

“Isolation,” he replied. “Parallel lives. Self-centred interest. What really pisses me off is that people are totally inconsiderate of the consequences of their actions on other people. They don’t think about that.”

Michael says Rodney’s Parrotopia album is “riddled with it”

“Are you going to do a second Parrotopia album about it?” I asked.

“We are doing another one,” said Michael.

“Parrot-toopia,” said Rodney.

“And when is that out?”

“Maybe next year,” replied Michael, but this one is riddled with it. Virtual reality. Augmented reality.”

“I just think, as I get older,” said Rodney, “it is time to write things down. I’m not a grumpy old man. I don’t write grumpy old man songs. I write reality, looking from now to what I’ve known, which is 76 bloody years. It’s a bloody long time. I was born at the beginning of the Second World War and I saw all that social evolution…”

“You retain a lot of optimism,” said Michael.

“A lot of optimism,” said Rodney, “from a bad beginning.”

“There is a lot of attitude on the CD,” said Michael.

“You have had a haircut since we met last,” I observed to Michael.

“Yes,” he said. “I went to Chris the barber near where I live. It is in the back of a garage. You go through his car sales bit and there’s a shed and you sit there surrounded by Classic Car Weeklys.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Between Andover and Southampton.”

“I think there is a stuffed cat museum in Andover,” I said. “In tableaux.”

“I don’t think so,” said Michael.

“Maybe it’s in Arundel,” I said.

“There’s a pencil museum up in Keswick in the Lake District,” suggested Michael helpfully.

“And a vegetarian shoe shop in Brighton,” I said.

“I know,” said Michael. “I popped in once.”

I looked at him.

“I was starving,” he added.

Parrotopia was successfully financed by crowdfunding, using this video…

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Crowdfunding, Eccentrics, Music

Crowdfunding a UK sci-fi movie: The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains!

Bob Pipe at Soho Theatre Bar yesterday

Bob Pipe in alien invasion mode at Soho Theatre yesterday

Six degrees of separation, eh?

Matt Roper, who performs as the singer Wilfredo, is living in my spare room for another couple of weeks.

I was talking to TV and video producer/director Bob Pipe at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday and the fact that Bob recently directed the video for Wilfredo’s Christmas song (out soon) never came up because neither of us twigged that we had Matt in common.

Bob was talking to me about raising money for his feature film project The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains!

“We’re making a 90 minute version of our web series,” he told me. “We’ve written a first draft a lot of which encompasses the sketches from the web series. James Wren (of the Hen & Chickens theatre) is co-writing and co-producing it with me. Now we’re crowdfunding to get the development money – £13,586 – so we can hire a line producer and a script editor or script doctor.”

“Is there a market for 1950s-style sci-fi?” I asked.

The Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal

Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal

“I think people do want the unexpected,” said Bob. “I mean, The Artist won Oscars – that was a silent movie in black & white – and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck was successful. I think there still is a market for honing old tropes.

The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! will have modern CGI special effects, a modern style of acting, modern editing. There won’t be wobbly sets!”

“So it’s not really a pastiche,” I said.

“No. It’s not going to be a parody or a spoof.”

“More like,” I suggested, “Star Wars, which was not a parody but an homage to 1930s sci-fi serials?”

“On a lower budget! But, yes. The web series is very much in that vein. With humour.”

“So the film comes out of the web series of the same name…”

“Yes, we did the original web series for £16,000 for a production company called ChannelFlip – part of Shine. YouTube were funding production companies to create original content and ChannelFlip was one of 10 or 12 who were given £1 million each to create original channels. What ChannelFlip pitched was The Multiverse, with sort-of sci-fi home of geek content and I heard about this and pitched the idea to them of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and they said Oh, We want to do a 1950s sci fi alien invasion spoof! So they gave me £16,000 to make it.”

“How long did you have to make it? ” I asked.

“From commission, they gave me three weeks to supply a trailer. They wanted two trailers and then a series of ten episodes of 3-4 minutes. They wanted the trailers before the series, which was a challenge.”

“And then?”

“I made the first trailer. Then Warwick Davis saw it. ChannelFlip had him as an ‘ambassador’ for Multiverse to publicise their business. He loved it and asked if he could be in it, so I wrote a role specially for him. We shot all his stuff in one day up in Peterborough.”

“Showbiz is a glamorous world,” I said. “How did you start?”

“When I was in college, around 1998/1999, I did a HND in Media Production at North Oxfordshire School of Art & Design and our end-of-year project was to make short films. I made a 5 minute short version of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! back in 1999. I didn’t have access to proper actors and I had just watched Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and thought: I can do that!

“Then I started in TV as a runner and worked my way up to AP level – at North One and ITV. North One created the ‘list’ format.”

“Things like TV’s 100 Funniest Hats?” I asked.

“Yes. I worked on a lot of those shows. I worked for Endemol as a researcher on TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.

We thought - perhaps wrongly - it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a small milk jug

We thought – perhaps wrongly – it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a milk jug to promote his science fiction film

“At Warner, in 2007, I co-set-up a comedy website called Comedy Box – record sales were going down and Warner were looking for new areas to invest in. We got John Lloyd in to be our figurehead, much like Warwick Davis was for ChannelFlip. We ran Comedy Box for a year – five sketches every week – but we couldn’t find revenue; this was only a year after YouTube had been set up.

“We were about to fold everything up and then MySpace came along – do you remember MySpace? They were setting up MySpace Comedy so they bought all our archive and we became their production company to supply original content. At that point, we went away from the John Lloyd esque sketches into more prank reality stuff. But, then, again, that part of MySpace folded in a year.

“And I’ve been freelancing ever since working on things like The Matt Lucas Awards – I did behind-the-scenes stuff for that; Dick and Dom’s Funny Business. I was a digital producer on The Voice this year – creating the content for their social media sites and producing  the highlights show The Voice Louder on BBC iPlayer and YouTube.

“So why 1950s science fiction films?” I asked.

One of Bob’s inspirations

One of Bob’s 1950s movie inspirations

“I’m a big fan. Films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet. And when I was growing up, on TV it was the era of Red Dwarf, Quantum Leap and Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“Your interest,” I asked, “was in American B films, as opposed to British ones like Hammer and the Quatermasses.”

“Well, there’s a writer called Phil Whelans who used to write on The 11 O’Clock Show and be in Bill Bailey’s band and he runs an evening called Grand Theft Impro.

“When we made the web series last year, he brought an Englishness to The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and suggested we go for a more Quatermass kind of feel. He plays a Quatermass kind of doctor character in the web series: much more stoical than American.

“The challenge is trying to make a 1950s alien invasion movie applicable to the modern market. Do you remember the The Comic Strip Presents films with loads of celebrity cameos? There will be four or five strands running through our feature film, peppered with celebrity cameos.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for it?” I asked.

“Our tagline is ALIEN INVASIONS REALLY SUCK.”

“What cost over-all?”

“We think between £250,000 to £500,000 but, if we get in some script doctor who has worked on major films and a great line producer… At the moment, the production company is The Forgery Club which is also a comedy night we run  – a sketch, character and themed night.”

“How much have you raised so far?”

“We’ve raised £3,602 at the moment.”

“Out of £13,586…. When does the Indiegogo crowdfunding end?”

“Next Tuesday, December 2nd. Hopefully, with some private investors I know and this production company, I think we’re going to make it.”

There is a 30-minute compilation version of the web series on Vimeo.

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Filed under Crowdfunding, Internet, Movies, Science fiction

The illegal Silk Road linking BBC TV’s EastEnders to the Edinburgh Fringe

It was Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Gareth Ellis – one of those people who seems to know everyone – who told me that writer Alex Oates was going to be on The Keiser Report last week.

I had tea with Alex at Soho Theatre yesterday.

“Being on Max Keiser’s show must have been an interesting experience, I said.

“I had thought,” replied Alex, “it was an online version of some Bloomberg type thing. I had no idea it was on Russia Today. I just agreed to it.”

“When did Max start shouting?” I asked.

Alex Oates (centre) with Dominic Shaw (left)and Max Keiser

Alex Oates (centre) with Dominic Shaw (left) and Max Keiser

“Quite soon,” said Alex.

Alex appeared on The Keiser Report with director Dominic Shaw, to plug Alex’s upcoming Edinburgh Fringe play Silk Road.

“Max wanted us on cos of the Bitcoin thing,” Alex told me. “He’s a Bitcoin evangelist.”

“And your play,” I prompted, “is about…?”

“We were going to call it SILK ROAD – OR HOW TO BUY DRUGS ONLINE but everyone said that was too gimmicky, so we just called it SILK ROAD. It’s a dark comedy about Silk Road, the illegal marketplace that uses Bitcoins, so we thought we would try and get funding through Bitcoin. It would be the first play financed through Bitcoins.”

“The guy who allegedly started Silk Road has been arrested,” I said.

“But,” said Alex, “three weeks after he was arrested, it came back and Silk Road 2 is very much alive.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to do a play about an online site where you can buy heroin and AK-47s?”

“You can’t buy AK-47s any more,” said Alex, “they’ve got a conscience.”

“But heroin is OK?” I asked.

One drug-selling page on the Silk Road hidden website, 2012

One drug-selling page on the illegal Silk Road website, 2012

“Yeah,” said Alex. “Strange, their moral compass. A bit wonky. Why did I want to do it? Because it’s really fascinating: the idea you can buy drugs on the internet and have them posted to your door by Royal Mail. And there’s a feedback system so you know what you’re buying is good drugs. There have been lots of plays and films about drug dealers, but this is the next generation of drug dealers.”

Silk Road is a one-man play starring James Baxter.

“How do you make it interesting?” I asked. “Because no-one ever meets anyone. It’s all online.”

Silk Road - The Play

Silk Road – a play about drugs, nans and tea cosies

“The guy in the play lives with his nan,” Alex explained. “She has an eBay business selling tea-cosies. He is trying to bring drugs to your average user. It’s quite hard to use Silk Road, so what he does is buy the drugs in bulk from Silk Road and then start slipping them into his nan’s tea-cosies. He lets people know that, if you buy his nan’s tea-cosies, then you’ll get a gram of cocaine with each one. So his nan’s eBay business goes from selling them for £5 to £60 and she virtually becomes a millionaire overnight.”

“How did Silk Road react?” I asked.

“Well, I advertised the play in the forums on Silk Road. Originally, a bunch of dealers were quite angry about it, saying: We don’t need any more press! We’re trying to keep this quiet! Then some dealers said: Look, we’re gonna get press regardless. So we might as well have someone in our corner. 

“Then one dealer said: I’ll give you some Bitcoins. And two Bitcoins were deposited in our account which, at the time we sold them, were worth £600 (together) – now, two weeks later, they’re worth around £850. The producer had thought Bitcoins might crash but, really, they’re not gonna crash any time soon, so we should have kept them. It was a mistake.

“I tried really hard to sell tickets for the play on Silk Road itself, but they’re not accepting any new venders at the moment. There’s a very strict authentication process and they’re being cautious since the fall of the first Silk Road.”

Alex Oates at the Soho Theatre yesterday afternoon

Alex Oates at the Soho Theatre in London yesterday afternoon

“How did you get involved in Silk Road?” I asked.

“I’m friends with a lot of tech guys and I know some people who use the website.”

“For what?”

“Buying drugs. They were telling me about Silk Road and how amazing it was.”

“You can see pictures of what you are going to buy,” I said.

“Yes. And the actual chemical breakdown of the drug and how pure it is. And that is guaranteed. And then there are people who write reviews and say: Yes, I’ve tested this. It is actually what it says it is.

“Is there a money-back guarantee if not satisfied?” I asked.

“There’s an escrow system,” explained Alex.

“I’m not sure if this is a good development of capitalism or a bad development of capitalism,” I said.

“It fascinating, though, isn’t it?” said Alex.

“So,” I asked, “Your Silk Road play. Does it have a message?”

Alex Oates laughs on The Keiser Report

Alex, a man with little political agenda, on The Keiser Report

“I think if I have a political agenda,” replied Alex, “it’s about drug reform and how the War on Drugs does not really work.

“It has demonised a generation of potheads and, really, if you regulated it and taxed it, then it would be a lot safer. In the play, we go into local gangsters who cut cocaine with urinal cakes.”

“Urinal cakes?” I asked.

“The little yellow cakes that are there to make the urinals fresh.”

“Oh,” I said, “I thought for a moment you meant cakes made out of urine. After all, we are sitting in Soho. There is probably a niche market for people who want to eat things like that.”

“There is a market for everything,” said Alex. “If I’m making a political point it is about drug reform, but Silk Road is a very light and whimsical play.”

“So you wrote it because…?”

“I’ve always been obsessed with theatre.”

“There’s no money in writing plays is there?” I asked.

“They say you can’t make a living, but you can make a killing. So I’m going for the killing.”

“No theatrical background?” I asked.

“My dad’s a policeman; my mum’s a nurse.”

“Your dad was in the drug squad?”

“No. He’s a retired inspector.”

“What did you study at university?”

“Theatre Arts at the University of Middlesex.”

“And then…?”

“I started writing on an EastEnders spin-off for the BBC.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “I should do research in advance.”

A BBC publicity shot of Alex for EastEnders:E20

BBC TV publicity shot of Alex for EastEnders:E20 series

“I was very lucky,” said Alex. “I got into a BBC Young Writers’ Summer School thing. It turned out the idea was for ten of us to create this thing called EastEnders: E20. I became the lead writer for that and wrote for three series of it.

“Then I applied for the Old Vic New Voices scheme and got onto that. They used to do a thing where you’re given 24-hour to write a play and you put it on in the Old Vic as a way to showcase yourself to the industry.”

“Jesus Christ 2,” I said. “I really should do research in advance. But I do know you are trying to finance Silk Road by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter and Max Keiser’s StartJOIN.

“Yes,” said Alex, “it finishes next Tuesday on Kickstarter. We need to raise £2,500 by next Tuesday or we get nothing.”

The play has already received £1000 from the Kevin Spacey Foundation.

“Next?” I asked.

“My next play is about an autistic boy,” said Alex, “because that’s my day job. I work with people with special needs.”

Rain Man?” I asked.

“No,” laughed Alex. “The thing that annoys me about the autism stereotype is the Rain Man thing. I wanted to show the other side. The really hard work. It can potentially ruin your life if you have an autistic child. It’s the sort of thing nobody really says, so the play is about a couple struggling to deal with having an autistic kid.”

There is a teaser for Silk Road on YouTube.

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Filed under Crime, Crowdfunding, Drugs, Theatre

RT financial guru Max Keiser’s view of journalists, criminal banker wankers & financing new Edinburgh Fringe shows

On Tuesday, the American journalist Abby Martin seemed to commit premeditated professional suicide on Russia’s RT TV channel – her employer – by criticising the Russian invasion of Crimea, part of the Ukraine.

On Wednesday, her colleague Liz Wahl did resign live on air.

I asked RT’s American financial guru Max Keiser about this when I chatted to him in London’s Soho yesterday.

“Journalists report on the news,” said Max, “and, at RT, they’re free to report anything they want to report. There’s no editorial restrictions. The young woman who resigned didn’t have to resign. After giving her thoughts, she could have easily stayed on just like Abby Martin stayed. Abby had comments regarding Russian policy on Ukraine and these comments were – eh – widely talked about and that’s what a journalist does. They either report the news or they give their opinion. But to then resign on air… That’s not journalism. That’s being a drama queen.”

Max, of course, is not shy of expressing his own opinions. Nor of unexpected actions.

A couple of weeks ago, he launched a crowdfunding site called StartJOIN, just one week after he launched his own alternative currency – Maxcoin.

Maxcoin was the biggest launch in the history of altcoins and achieved a $5 million market capitalisation within a week. Maxcoin is similar to BitcoinLitecoin and other crypto currencies.

Max himself, as I mentioned in a previous blog, is a former Wall Street stockbroker and still occasional stand-up comedian. But launching your own crypto currency is no joke.

“The Mt Gox bitcoin exchange has now collapsed,” I said. “Doesn’t that mean all these crypto currencies are vulnerable?”

“That one exchange collapsed,” said Max, “but it has nothing to do with Bitcoin. It’s like saying the London Bullion Market Association might collapse one day – but that wouldn’t really affect gold.

“We launched Maxcoin and it very quickly got up to $7 million in value and now it’s trading at around $2 million and it’s still one of the most actively-traded currencies out there. The miners who are mining it are profiting from their mining activities. Maxcoin launched successfully. And, based on the success of Maxcoin, we may soon see Stacycoin.”

“Based on Stacy Herbert?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Max.

Stacey Herbert with Max Keiser on RT series The Keiser Report

Stacey Herbert with Max Keiser on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Your TV co-presenter on The Keiser Report?”

“And my wife,” added Max. “She used to be a comedy script doctor. She worked on lots of TV shows here in the UK, including an animated sitcom called Popetown, commissioned by the BBC. But it was never aired here because the Catholic Church found it highly offensive. It had the voices of McKenzie Crook, Kevin Eldon, Matt Lucas, Bob Mortimer and Ruby Wax. Before that, Stacy was in Los Angeles doing TV and mostly film.”

Roseanne Barr is trying to finance a new film via your StartJOIN crowdfunding site,” I prompted.

“Yes,” said Max. “It’s called Bailout 2. It’s a sequel to a film called Bailout.”

“Now there’s a thing,” I said.

Bailout 2 is described on the StartJOIN site as “a hard-hitting, mud-slinging, social and political documentary exploring the Eurozone Crisis”.

“So what is your new StartJOIN site?” I tried.

“It’s crowdfunding – proper crowdfunding,” replied Max.

“For anyone?”

“Anyone. Any thing. I’m particularly interested in the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“But there’s no money in the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“Well,” said Max. “I went to the Fringe for the first time last year and fell in love with it. But you hear over-and-over again about performers going up there and losing money. Crowdfunding seems perfect as a way to solve that problem: to get money up-front so you don’t have that economic risk. All the shows: comedy, theatre, music, lectures, whatever.

“The economics of the Fringe are terrible because the performers lose money for the most part. They have to come up with money ahead-of-time, then they have to go there and try to make it back and, for the most part, they don’t. So crowdfunding is perfect for this; it allows performers to raise money before they go and, when they get to the Fringe, they can concentrate on just doing their show.

“I’m going to make it a personal goal with StartJOIN to try to get as many acts as possible financed and up there. It’s an example of where alternative economics can step in and solve what I perceive to be a problem.”

“You see yourself as a modern-day Medici helping artists?” I asked.

“My hope with the Fringe is that, if it works this year, next year we can get even more active by actually putting as much additional financial resources as we can behind acts. We wanna make it the crowdfunding home for Fringe in the UK. We’re going to promote it as aggressively as we can. My intention is to throw as much money as I can at good acts.”

“Isn’t launching a crowdfunding site and your own crypto currency dodgy?” I asked.

“I’ve already launched successful businesses before,” said Max. “The Hollywood Stock Exchange in Los Angeles which is now a $200 million business that was sold eventually to (the bank) Cantor Fitzgerald. And KarmaBanque (a hedge fund) was a big project. I did that with Zac Goldsmith here in the UK. Plus my TV show is very successful. RT has a huge global presence. It’s in 150 countries. We do three Keiser Report shows each week, each show broadcast three or four times. We figure my show gets about 20 million viewers a week.”

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs – possibly in Edinburgh

“And, as for the Edinburgh Fringe…?” I said.

“I want to go up there this year myself with my own stand-up show Rage.”

“What are you going to rage about?” I asked.

“The bankers.”

“Isn’t that yesterday’s news?”

“I don’t think so, because the scandals are continuing and they will continue because there’s no reform. The regulations are getting weaker not stronger, so the criminality will get more intense.”

Criminality is rather a harsh word.”

“It’s an apt word because they break laws. They break laws and they pay civil fines to avoid criminal trials. They should not be allowed to simply pay civil fines for an amount of money that is less than the money they made breaking the law. These banks in the UK have a profit centre called Law Breaking.”

“Surely that’s a world-wide thing, not just in the UK,” I suggested.

“The UK is uniquely positioned,” argued Max, “because it has the weakest regulations in the world. That’s why so many other banks in other countries outsource their banking fraud to the UK.”

“The UK is possibly going to recognise Bitcoins, isn’t it?” I said.

“This is what could be the saving grace for the UK. They could become the Bitcoin capital of the world, which could save them from destruction. I’m all for that.”

“And the Bitcoin Foundation is moving to London isn’t it?”

Mark Carney: Is this man a brain-damaged ex-hockey player?

Mark Carney: Is this fine Canadian man a brain-damaged ex-hockey player or is he only Chairman of the Bank of England?

“Yes. This is potentially going to save Britain from economic destruction. It will replace Mark Carney, the Chairman of the Bank of England.”

“You’re just averse to him because he’s a Canadian and you’re a Yank,” I said.

“He’s a Canadian and he’s a shifty fellah,” replied Max. “When he played hockey in college, he played as a goalie. If you’ve ever played hockey, you know that goalies almost universally suffer brain damage because they get hit in the head so many times with the puck. Mark Carney’s a perfect example of that… and that’s an example of what I’m going to rage about.”

“That’s it then,” I said. “Thanks for the chat.”

“What about Charlie Brooker? asked Max.

“What about him?” I asked

“He does a show called Newswipe,” said Max.

“Yes,” I had to agree.

“And,” said Max, “he takes the piss out of TV shows and commercials. He hasn’t had a clip from my show on his show yet.”

“Am I to be blamed for this?” I asked.

“I want the people to know I’m not happy,” said Max.

“Why are you not happy?”

“Because, by all rights, he should have a clip of my show on his Newswipe show. He’s the only guy I like in UK media. Charlie Brooker’s got the best show in the UK right now. It’s the funniest and it’s very biting satire. He’s a very talented guy.

Max Keiser with friend Alec Baldwin in New York’s Upper East Side

Max Keiser with Alec Baldwin in New York’s Upper East Side

“We were going to do a show together – It was going to be Charlie Brooker and myself and Alec Baldwin. We were going to do a show here in London. A writer friend of ours put it together. It was going to be shot over at the Gherkin building and we were going to try to sell it to an American distributor. We were talking to Charlie Brooker’s ‘people’. Alec Baldwin was going to be the executive producer, because he’s been a friend of mine for 30 years. He’s thinking about moving to London and doing theatre.”

“Well, now Kevin Spacey is leaving The Old Vic…” I mused. “What sort of TV show was it going to be?”

“It was based on that BBC World News series I did called The Oracle. We’re trying to bring it back for another season, but I keep Tweeting about how the BBC is full of drunks, so it’s gonna be a tough sell.”

“If you can’t sell it, no-one can,” I said.

Max Keiser is such a good salesman he could even, in my dreams, sell laissez-faire rather than blindfolded pragmatism to the Russians.

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Comic Devvo needs money to publish a book for a toilet to save his nan’s house

Devvo in a ‘selfie' taken yesterday

Devvo – a ‘selfie’ taken in Doncaster yesterday

“So you’re going to publish a book,” I said to Devvo yesterday via Skype. “How come? Surely you can’t read or write?”

“It’s a picture book, John,” he told me. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a picture book.”

“For children?” I asked.

“Definitely NOT for children,” he confirmed.

“You have to paint your ceiling,” I told him. We were video Skyping. I could see a large crack in his ceiling.

“It’s the spare room,” he said. “We got a lotta work to do on our house.”

“It looks like the House of Usher,” I told him.

“Well, it’s me nan’s house,” he said. “I live in me nan’s house. It’s on the outskirts of Doncaster. It’s all falling apart.”

“Doncaster?” I asked.

“The house,” said Devvo. “She burns coal, me nan does. She burns coal. What the previous owners did was to re-arrange the walls but they did it really badly, so we need lots of money to fix all the things. It’s me nan’s falling-down house that eats all the money.”

“So what sort of book is it?” I asked.

“It’s kind of like a David ShrigleyChris (Simpsons’ artist) type of silly book with loads of like Devvo-type stories in. There’s life tips, dating tips, there’s…”

“Filter tips?” I suggested.

“No filter tips,” said Devvo, “but I’ve made little stories with me and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve called him Arnold Shuitzman, because I thought that sounded more fun.”

The book every fine toilet should have

A book that may save Devvo’s nan’s house

“OK,” I said. “Look. You’re a chav from Doncaster. Writing a book is a bit above your station, isn’t it?”

“I’ve done it,” said Devvo, “because I like pictures and drawing and I want to make some money and people make money selling things. So I thought Let’s make a book to sell.”

“So it’s got photographs?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“And drawings?”

“Yeah. I’ve drawn stuff and I’ve learned how to use PhotoShop a bit and I’ve written stuff and drawn bits and found pictures and put them in PhotoShop and made really cool pictures so people will go Ah, they’re dead funny, aren’t they? Yeah, they’re dead funny!

“Can you send me a copy of the book?” I asked.

“I can send it to you as an eBook,” said Devvo, “but you have to keep it to yourself because, if you allow these things to be freely available, it would be jeopardising everything and I know what you’re like, giving away things.”

“No, I understand,” I said. “Some of us have been trying to turn our blogs into eBooks for the last two years and I’m two months away from proofreading the first one but, my god, it’s like wading through treacle.”

“That’s why I’ve just done pictures,” explained Devvo. “It just took two weeks to do and it was really fun.”

“So you’re artistic?” I asked. “Or autistic?”

“Bit of both,” said Devvo. “No, I’m not artistic at all. That’s the thing. I’m probably the least artistic out of all the people that exist. But that’s alright. Maybe I’ve found a little talent. Maybe it’s another thing to add to my bow.”

“Your bow?” I asked.

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

“My bow,” said Devvo. “When it’s done, it’s going to be a printed book as well as an eBook. The Kickstarter appeal has done really well. It’s got close to £900. We met our Kickstarter target in 24 hours and it closes on 15th March.”

The book’s estimated delivery is the end of March. If you pledge £10, you get a physical and a digital copy of the book. If you pledge £250, Devvo will perform “at your house, in your house, on your roof, in your car, at your local church. Whatever.” And you also get ten copies of the book.

“So you reached your target in one day,” I said. “What are you going to do with the extra money?”

“Well, this is it,” said Devvo. “It’s clever business with crowdfunding. You put the target at an achievable level and you really want to make more anyway. So it’s all just clever business. I really need to get about £1,000 to make good quality books.”

“So,” I said, “if you get more money than you expected, you’ll make an even better quality product?”

“Well, that’s it,” said Devvo. “That’s it. And it means I get the books cheaper in print which means I can make more of a profit, which is what everyone’s after really, innit?”

“You’re going to sell the physical copies at gigs?” I asked.

“I’m going to sell ‘em at gigs, sell ‘em online. People like to buy stuff, John. I’ve done three gigs in the past two weeks and I’ve sold about sixty T-shirts. I did one gig in Barrow-in-Furness and I got bored of selling T-shirts I was selling that many.”

“There’s nothing else to do in Barrow-in-Furness,” I pointed out. “When I was a TV researcher, I went to Barrow-in-Furness to talk to a man who was blind and wanted to parachute jump. It took forever to get there and, when I did, the weather was overcast, the houses were roughcast and the people were downcast. I think suicide may be an option people in Barrow-in-Furness take to improve their lives.”

“But they were the best people I ever met!” enthused Devvo. “It felt like I were doing a gig to loads of mates I’d just met. It were real good.”

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

“So who is the audience for your book?” I asked. “Where is the gap in the market?”

“It’s one of them books,” replied Devvo, “that fits in the gap where you think Ah, we don’t need a book there. Like in your toilet. You’re sat on the loo and you need a little toilet read. You’re there for five minutes and you think, Oh, I’ll have a little read of that! It’s just a dead good, dead funny book that people need to have. The main thing I’m excited about is having a copy for myself. I can have a copy of my book in my toilet and have a look at it and laugh at it. Anything else is a bonus, really.”

“Is this book,” I asked, “connected in any way to Bob Slayer’s increasing empire of books, comedy venues and drunken revels?”

“It’s published through the Heroes name,” said Devvo, “and I’m absolutely delighted to be part of Bob’s growing empire and just general, exciting stuff in life, really.

Devvo’s self-designed poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

Devvo self-made poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

“This Friday, I’m playing the Leicester Comedy Festival with Bob – We’re doing Devvo’s Deal or No Dealer gameshow and Bob’s my glamorous assistant and then I think we’re doing the same show at the Bath Comedy Festival together.”

“So Devvo’s on the rise?” I asked. “What can you do after being an internet sensation, a stage sensation and potentially a publishing sensation?”

“I’m starting to become a businessman,” he replied. “When people talk of Devvo in his early years, he’s just stupid, swearing and this, that and other. People don’t allow me to get older, but Devvo’s got better at business. So my plan is to start an empire selling T-shirts and books and all the things people don’t need but need. Filling those gaps.”

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The Santa Claus comedian, mad crowd funding and a crime wave in Greenwich

My car last night - without its numberplate

My car in Greenwich last night – without its number plate

The London Borough of Greenwich which rather grandly markets itself as Royal Greenwich has a good image… unless you live in their council flats.

The Up The Creek comedy club is less than a 30 second walk from the centre of Greenwich and less than a 30 second walk from a shambolic crime-ridden area where the ever-uncaring Council shits on tenants, ignores anti-social behaviour, where gangs have had running gun battles and where, apparently, it’s unsafe to park your car at night.

I had my car window smashed in December 2010 and blogged about it.

Nothing was stolen because of my (cheap but wonderful) Toyota’s excellent double-locking system.

The same thing happened in February 2012 further along the same street. This time, whoever did it actually climbed in through the smashed window of the double-locked door, went through the interior, lowered the back seats and got access from the inside to the boot. A SatNav was stolen from a not-immediately-obvious cavity.

After that, I never parked in that road at night and, if I had to park my car at night at all in Greenwich, I parked it a 10-minute walk away near the police station.

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner with performers Vivienne and Martin Soan at their home in Nunhead, Peckham, where they were preparing this Friday’s Pull The Other One show starring the oft-name-checked (especially by himself) Lewis Schaffer. Then I drove to Greenwich to pick up some belongings from my eternally-un-named friend’s flat. I parked in a nearby well-lit road under a lamp post at a T-junction overlooked by flats, where anyone trying to do anything to my car could be visible. When we came out, 50 minutes later, both the number plates had been stolen off my car.

Don’t talk to me about Greenwich. There is a video on YouTube of what the area was like in March 2011.

Slightly cheerier, were two reactions to my blog yesterday about crowdfunding.

Los Angeles based comedian Nikki Lynn Katt contacted me because she reckons I am a “comedy ninja”.

I have no idea what this means and sometimes I think the loss of the American Colonies was not necessarily a negative factor for our Sceptred Isle.

Still, enthusiasm – though clearly un-British – can have its plus points.

Nikki Lynn sent me a message saying: “I intend to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award from you at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. Unless, of course, you decide to fund my Edinburgh show and then it becomes a conflict of interest for me to win the award 🙂 In the meantime, I’m wondering if you’d be interested in covering my Kickstarter campaign.”

She is raising crowdfunding to make a comedy electronic dance music EP record titled Dance Your Hate Away. One of the songs on the proposed album starts:

When I’m with you I want to die
I want to slit my wrist and I don’t know why
When I’m with you I want to bash in your head
But I don’t and then we fuck instead

Nikki Lynn Katt’s dancing technique still needs a little work

Nikki Lynn Katt’s dancing technique still needs a little work

She is also learning to burlesque dance and hardly needs my help either with that or with the fundraising.

So far she has raised 130% of the funds needed for her $5,000 EP – with $6,510 pledged and 11 days to go. Ever-enterprising and with commendable Colonial enthusiasm, she has now added to her Kickstarter page the words: “We can record 10 songs instead of 5 if we raise $10,000!”

The incentives to contribute, of course, vary.

For $1 you get a digital download, she says, of “my entire existing catalog of music! You will immediately receive everything I’ve ever professionally released!”

“For $55, she says: “I will give you a private burlesque dance performance in your living room for you and your friends (provided you live in Los Angeles). I’m going to bring a friend as well to keep it safe and, to make it super clear, you can’t touch me! I set the delivery to March of next year but this could happen sooner if you have a compelling reason, like you want me to dance at a house party you’re throwing, for example.”

For $85 you get a hand-crocheted scarf. She explains: “Sorry for the high cost, these take a long time to make!”

For $150, you get dinner with Nikki in Melbourne, Australia, between November 18 and November 20, 2013. You have to pay for the dinner.

For $200, you get a date with Nikki in Los Angeles. She says: “The differentiating factor between this reward and the Dinner With Nikki reward is that on a Date With Nikki she will actually consider you as a potential romantic prospect. She is single, after all. All genders are welcome (this is when bi-sexuality really comes in handy!) A chaperone will be provided… Nikki is a lady, no funny business on a first date!”

All this Colonial enterprise and enthusiasm is no doubt admirable, but I rather tend towards the other response I had to my blog on crowdfunding.

It came from British comedian Ray Davis. He hopes to raise £750.

Totally unexplained image on Ray Davis’ appeal page

Unexplained image on Ray’s Indiegogo page

On his page on the more dubious Indiegogo website (regular readers of this blog may remember comic Laura Levites getting financially messed-around by Indiegogo) Ray says:

“The purpose of this project is to raise funds for no real purpose – I plan to do absolutely nothing with any monies raised except perhaps waste it on frivolity.”

He adds:

“I have of course not formatted this pitch, provided a video despite advice that it increases contributions by 114%, a web site and even started sentences in lower case and with a connective – in essence I’ve done all I can to provide an empty petri dish.”

If you contribute to Ray’s appeal, some of the temptations on offer are…

If you donate £1, you get  “An Original Thought” – If you have a Twitter account, Ray will “tweet you an original thought (no guarantee it’ll be witty or inspiring though). Estimated delivery: December 2013.”

For £25, you get “My Tweeted autograph – possibly worthless…but you never know, one day, eh?”

And – the biggie – If you donate £100 or more, you get Broken Christmas Tree Decorations (delivery date in January 2014)”

Ray explains (without resorting to capital letters):

“you know what it’s like – you always lose some tree dangler over the festive period (and we have a cat so odds are high) – any damaged or broken will be boxed and shipped at my expense – plus a genuine on paper autograph.”

So far, Ray has raised zero of his hoped-for £750 funding with 56 days left.

But he makes me feel proud to be British and I wish him well.

Bob Slayer AKA unexplained Rachel

Is this the face of Santa for 2013?

In late news… This morning, I received an e-mail from comedian and indefatigable self-publicist Bob Slayer. It reads:

“I have just been asked to be a Christmas Santa at a shopping centre – and I think I am going to take it. I have offered to dye my beard white which I think might be the clincher… Santas seem to get quite well paid.”

Reading this, I realised that I myself have Santa potential. If I re-grew my beard, it would by now be white and I already have a Santa stomach already in place.

Alas, I think I may be missing the required Ho-Ho-Ho factor… Bloody Greenwich!

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Comedians’ crowdfunding, books and ‘missing’ Edinburgh Fringe free shows

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

This year, several performers crowdfunded their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I was in Brighton for the launch of registrations for the Brighton Fringe festival.

The crowdfunding site Zequs are saying that they will give £500 each to the first ten people who raise £1,000 for their shows via the Zequs site.

And, in a reassuring marketing wheeze, they cleverly point out that crowdfunding is not new – the plinth for the Statue of Liberty was financed by crowdfunding.

Crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

The crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

It certainly seems to be on the rise.

Last Saturday, I was at the launch of comedian Phil Kay’s crowdfunded book The Wholly Viable at the Soho Theatre, despite the fact I seem to remember there were two launch gigs for it at the Edinburgh Fringe back in August.

Still, it is being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob is also crowdfunding a new “children’s book for adults” with illustrations by Malcolm Hardee Pound of Flesh Award winner Rich Rose. The online Kickstarter appeal seems suitably non-sober.

Bob Slayer appeals - not very soberly - in a Kickstarter videoStill, it was being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob Slayer appeals – not very soberly – in a Kickstarter video

His book is called The Happy Drunk and he aims to raise £666 (I wonder where that number came from?) and, at the time of writing, he has already raised £481 with 12 days still to go.

The Happy Drunk is sub-titled Bob Slayer: The Baby Years and Bob’s pitch is: “Got kids? Here’s how to start them on the booze!”… “I don’t know why this was rejected by my publisher,” he says. “You can receive rewards of exclusive artwork, a caricature, a show in your own home, a magical mystery tour… even your very own baby… all of which will help make this project happen…”

CalPolIsEvil

The original title of Bob’s book

The book was originally titled Calpol Is Evil, but Bob surprisingly changed the title.

Meanwhile, fellow comedy performer and Edinburgh Fringe regular Ian Fox has updated his book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show.

Now updated both online & as print book

Now updated both online & as print book

The book, says Ian, “shares eleven years experience of producing shows at the Fringe for the price of a café latte, without the social awkwardness of having to sit with the author in a coffee shop – highlighting the author’s personal experiences of half-full houses, flatmates gone bad, hostel horror stories, campsite calamities, and general comedy cock-ups.”

“Why update it?” I asked Ian yesterday. “Surely advice about putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago is much the same as today?”

“The principles are the same,” he told me. “but some of the information has changed. Things like the price of ads in the Fringe Programme and the PBH Free Fringe have a voluntary contribution for their shows.”

“Ah, that’” I said, is one of the advantages of eBooks and publishing on demand: you can update facts immediately for new purchasers of the book.”

“And,” said Ian, “everything new which I’ve added, I have put online. Both the Kindle and the on-demand printed version have an address in them which tells you where you can find the updates on-line. It would be a bit unfair if you had to pay for small updates.”

“What’s the main difference,” I asked, “between 2003, when you first produced a show, and 2013?”

Michael McIntyre beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award

Oddly, Michael McIntyre was beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award in 2003 by Gary Le Strange

“The number of free shows,” replied Ian. “There weren’t any in 2003 and there were 814 last year… Well, 814 official ones, because a lot of the PBH Free Fringe ones aren’t actually listed in the Fringe Programme. The Laughing Horse Free Festival insists all its shows are listed in the official Fringe Programme, but the Free Fringe doesn’t.

“I got the 814 figure by searching the official Fringe site for free comedy shows, but the Chortle and the British Comedy Guide websites actually listed over 1,000 shows: so those extra ones obviously listed themselves on those websites but didn’t pay to list themselves in the Fringe Programme.”

“So,” I asked Ian, “if I ‘m a performer thinking of going to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time next year, why should I buy your book?”

“It will probably save you £300 or £400,” replied Ian. “The secret to making money at the Fringe is knowing how to not spend money unnecessarily. One Fringe publication was offering – for £100 – to put your ad on a webpage that got 10,000 impressions. But I remember from 2011 – the year of ‘Cockgate’ – when I took all those photographs and put them on my blog site… I thought I’d put an advert for my show down the side of the page…. I did… I got 14,000 hits on that page on the first day and I got two clicks on the ad… and one of them turned out to be Ashley Frieze, who I was sharing a flat with.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s say I’m going to perform at the Fringe for the third time next year. Why should I buy your book?”

Ian Fox in Edinburgh during the Fringe

Ian Fox – now over a decade at the Edinburgh Fringe

“I probably can teach you some stuff, but there’s also loads of stories in there and some of the history you might not know, people’s failures. It’s not just a technical guide; there’s loads of anecdotes. There was one year when me and Ashley were putting free tickets for our shows in the Half Price Hut and people were getting them, even though the tickets were free. It’s just an extra outlet, another way of advertising a show – our show came up on the LED board outside the Half Price Hut – Shows starting in the next hour… There’s loads of tips like that in the book.”

“Do you know what show you’re doing yourself next year?”

“Sort of. I read that blog of yours about the more interesting shows being less straight-stand-up. I’m definitely going in that direction: that it’s not totally straight stand-up.”

“You could do burlesque,” I suggested. “Stripping in a sequin dress. I’d pay to see it.”

“I’m definitely not doing that,” laughed Ian, “though I once did a video with Mick Ferry. He used to do a show in Manchester called Mick Ferry’s Space Cadets and, every month, the audience used to set him a challenge and, because they’d had a burlesque dancer on in a particular show, they said he had to be a male burlesque dancer. I used to make videos of his challenges – shoot them on the Monday for the gig on the Tuesday. They’re on YouTube and on the videos page of my website.”

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