Category Archives: Disability

If you see a ginger dwarf lying on the ground, would you think: “That’s odd!”

Tanyalee Davis: a big comedy talent from Canada

Last night, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I were in Covent Garden to see the Maple Leaf Trust’s annual Hilarity For Charity gig with profits going to the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund.

On the bill were Canadian comics Ryan Cull, Tanyalee Davis and Tom Stade.

Afterwards, we had a drink with Tanyalee.

“I am hopefully getting new hips in the next two years,” she told us: “I have the hips of a 90-year-old with the mentality of a 19-year-old.”

“So what’s next for you now?” I asked.

“Starting on Monday,” she told me, “for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be FaceTiming and Skyping with some disabled performers in Vancouver who are going to be doing stand-up pretty much for the first time at a three-night event in Vancouver at the end of May. On May 4th, I’m going to Vancouver and working with them in a rehearsal space.”

“May the fourth be with you,” I said.

No-one laughed.

“Why do these people wanna be stand-ups?” I asked. “All stand-ups are mad.”

“I dunno,” Tanyalee replied. “Who knows? Everybody wants to give it a go.”

“What,” Copstick asked, “is your advice going to be?”

“They have sent me some of their material,” replied Tanyalee, “and… there are no jokes… But maybe that’s the problem of seeing stuff as written words. I’m not the best writer by any means but I sell it with my performance. So I’m hoping, once I meet these people on Skype and I see them doing it, I will have advice on their writing and how they perform it. I have just seen the bare bones so far. I’ve been in the business 27 years, so I have some experience.”

“Who has chosen these people?” I asked. “Are they self-chosen?”

“They’re part of a non-profit-making theatre company called Realwheels. They got a government grant to fly over an international performer to mentor.”

“You are Canadian,” I said, “but you live in the UK in Norwich. I have lived in Norwich. For heaven’s sake, why are you living in Norwich?”

“Because I’m part of an anti-bullying campaign,” Tanyalee told me. “A self-empowerment campaign called Great As You Are. I go into schools and work with little snot-nosed kids, but I absolutely love it. It is really rewarding.”

Copstick and Tanyalee in London last night

“Are we talking children-children?” Copstick asked.

“4-7 year olds. Our programme was for a three-year pilot but we’ve already accomplished everything in two years. We’ve now done 4-11 year-olds and maybe 1,000 more kids than was intended. We are putting in another funding application with the Big Lottery Foundation. We want to expand. There are 400 schools in Norfolk and we are only doing 16.”

“Were you ever bullied?” Copstick asked.

“Absolutely. I still get bullied. Oh my God! It’s constant. The other night, some girl came up and just started pushing my (electric mobility) scooter. People yell at me in the streets: Fucking midget! Chase me. Stop dead in front of me going Ahahahaha! and laugh and point at me. And I’m like: What the fuck is your problem?”

“Is that,” I asked, “just in London?”

“In the UK.”

“Moreso than in Canada?” I asked.

“God yes. Nobody’s ever done that to me in Canada.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“I dunno. I think it is more the drink here. It’s just weird. But that’s why with me doing comedy and hopefully getting on more shows I really want to bring to light how fucking horrible people can be…”

“Yes,” Copstick agreed.

Tanyalee continued: “… and the fact I still get bullied. I’m an adult, a 46-year-old and I still get bullied. I tell the kids that and they’re shocked. I give them an example of when I was by the London Eye a couple of years ago – a tourist area, hundreds of people – I was looking up, wasn’t paying attention and I drove over the kerb and I tipped over and the scooter fell on top of me. There were hundreds of people and not one person stopped to ask me if I was OK. People are so stuck to themselves with blinders on, especially in big cities like London. Everybody’s on their phones: Oh! Ooh! That didn’t happen!

“Even what happened on Westminster Bridge last week (when a terrorist mowed-down pedestrians with a car), there are pictures of people walking past on their mobile phones and there is blood and a person lying on the ground.”

“Nobody ever looks at anybody,” said Copstick.

Kate Copstick and Tanyalee Davis – surely a future double act?

“It’s a Big City mentality,” said Tanyalee. “It’s in Vancouver and Los Angeles and New York and here. We have just gotta get to where we’re going. Get the fuck out of my way! But, I mean, if you see a fucking ginger dwarf lying on the ground with a scooter on top of her, you would surely think: That’s odd!”

Copstick said: “There is probably some kind of police code: Dwarf down!

“Like Black Hawk Down!“ agreed Tanyalee. “Yeah.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “it is because you are ginger.”

“Yeah,” said Tanyalee. “Maybe that’s the problem. There was this kid (in Norfolk). He was 14 but super-tall for his age and his headmaster told me the boy had had to move school four times because he had been bullied because he had ginger hair. In Australia, they don’t call them ginger; they call them ‘rangas’.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Orangutans,” said Tanyalee.

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Pioneer Approaches to people with learning disabilities and differences

Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour generic

Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour runs 2 hours

I went to see the monthly feel-good show Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour last night. Also in the audience was Ali Jones, who runs Pioneer Approaches which arranges “creative training, consultancy, workshops, projects and activities”. Their blurb says: “We offer specialist and innovative creative support with an emphasis on music and drama in leisure, personal development, life skills and employment.”

A few weeks ago, I went to a fascinating Asperger’s day in Stevenage, organised by Ali and Pioneer Approaches.

“Who is involved in your company?” I asked her. “The word ‘disabled’ is not right?”

The Stevenage Asperger’s show

The Stevenage Asperger’s Syndrome  event I saw

“We say we work with and for people with learning disabilities and/or differences. A lot of what I do is working with people who have autism. You can have autism AND a learning disability. The people with more complex autism tend to have a learning disability as well, but the autism is what will alter the way they perceive situations or they might have sensory differences associated with it.”

“Did you,” I asked, “get involved in this sort of area because you knew someone with problems?”

“I’ve had friends in the past – autism, Down’s Syndrome.”

“It’s very arts-based,” I said. “Were your parents arty?”

Ali Jones with Johnny Awsum after the Happy Hour show

Ali Jones with Jonny Awsum after the Happy Hour show

“No. My mum came from a very well-to-do Swiss family and my dad was the opposite.

“He was a mechanic, left school far too young.

‘And then he became very seriously disabled with multiple sclerosis – the progressive form of it. It’s not a death sentence but, for him, it was a VERY extreme form. I was in my early teens when it happened.

“I went to Dr Challoner’s High School for Girls in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, but I didn’t fit in. I didn’t work hard. They were terribly posh, all girls. I had a few friends there, but never many at all. I don’t think an all-girls school was right for me. I maybe tended to not fit in so well, so I tended to have a lot of so-called outsider friends. I was probably one myself.”

“Why?” I asked. “You’re very sociable.”

pioneerApproaches“I am quite sociable,” Ali agreed, “but I think maybe my family were a bit different. They were very private and a little bit old-fashioned. We would always look a bit like we’d come from another era. I’ve always been used to being a bit different. I got used to looking out for people and caring for them.”

“You lived in Mexico for a while.” I said. “Why? Was it the mescaline?”

“We did get offered peyote,” said Ali, “and nearly took it up but it didn’t come about. It’s good to say yes to interesting experiences.”

Ali met her musician husband Carlton when she was 14 and he was 16. They have been together ever since.

“My husband was like me,” she said. “A bit of a waster at school. He’d gone to the Royal Grammar and all his friends had done really well but he went to night school and became… He’s fluent in Spanish and he thought: Why not do Latin American Studies?

“Why Mexico, though?” I asked. “It’s hot food, hot climate and diarrhea.”

“There was a bit of all of those,” agreed Ali. “But we love Mexican food and loved living there. If it hadn’t been for family, I’d still be out there. But my dad was alive and disabled and needing me at that time. I speak Spanish but I’m much better at Mexican Spanish because it’s all slow and lazy.”

Lazy is not a word I associate with Ali Jones

Lazy is not a word I associate with Ali Jones

“Lazy is not a word I associate with you,” I said. “You have this very taxing, busy job with Pioneer Approaches and you also sing in two bands.”

“Yes,’ said Ali. “A singer/songwriter.”

“That,” I suggested, “must have been what you wanted to be when you were a teenager?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “Always. I have always wanted to do it. I was in a band when I was 14 – I was a punk rocker. I was 13 when I started getting into all of that. I left school at 16, moved to London, got a job.”

“You were,” I asked, “headstrong and decided not to go to university?”

“I benefitted from the life of all my friends who were at university. I joined them all at UCL and Cambridge and so on. I had all the fun without the work. And I did a lot of musicy-type things, but nothing that ever took off. Some of my friends have done a lot better than I had, but I’ve always been involved in music in one way or the other. And I’ve since done all sorts of training. I’m a qualified Tutor of Further and Adult Education.”

“Hardly lazy,” I said. “Two bands are a bit over-the-top with your full-time work as well.”

“I’ve always been over-the-top, unfortunately,” said Ali.

‘What sort of bands?” I asked.

The Wood Festival 2015

The Wood Festival 2015 in Oxfordshire

“I suppose the new one was based originally on Bluesy-Americana-type music. It was two bands who got together just for fun and now we’re going to be doing something at the Wood Festival in Oxford next Friday (15th May). One of the members of our band, who runs an organic fruit and veg delivery service, will be running workshops on how to make carrot flutes.

“There are three singers in the band, which is interesting for me. We take it in turns to lead and back one another.”

“You said it started off Bluesy, as if it has diverged since.”

“It still has that Bluesy side to it. I think maybe the stuff I write has a more funky Bluesy, even Gospelly, feel to it for that band. And then the songs that the others are writing are maybe more Country/Bluegrass. It’s acoustic, but we don’t have a drummer. We need someone who can do meaty rock ’n’ roll but who also has a bit of swing as well.”

“What’s the name of the band?”

“Ah. We only got together about seven weeks ago. Our band was originally called The Ragged Charms and theirs was called The Goldmine. We thought of calling the new band The Golden Shower, but there’s bound to be one called that already. We even thought of The Devil’s Doorbells, but apparently there’s already a band called that.”

“Devil’s Doorbell?” I asked.

Oxford Pride

Oxford Pride visit for Deadbeat Apostles

“It’s a euphemism for female parts. We eventually chose The Deadbeat Apostles as a name. As well as the Wood Festival next Friday, we are also going to be playing at Oxford Pride on 6th June.”

“And Pioneer Approaches is involved in a festival too,” I said.

“Yes,” said Ali. “In St Albans on 21st June. Our section is going to be called Go To but it’s part of a bigger St Albans Festival, tying in with Disability Week.

“And, every year since 2011, we have been putting on a special awards show called The Rumble Awards, named after Keith Rumble, who was a member of our drama group The Pioneer Spirits – a group who all have learning disabilities/differences. He died. He had all sorts of health problems and syndromes. He had been presented with quite a lot of challenges in his life and had complex disabilities. Over the years, once he got the right sort of support from some lovely people, he flourished and made us all laugh. He was good fun.

“To celebrate him, before the Awards came along, we put together our own band The Rumbles and decided to be complimentary therapists – not complementary but complimentary, in that we pay people compliments and we go around trying to cheer people up. We’ve got a range of songs: a ska-based one, a Bo Diddley style one, a Fats Domino type one.

“The message that we’re trying to push is that people with learning disabilities generally are very open, very loving, non-judgmental and quick to get to the point about good things. They don’t get bogged-down in all the strange agendas other so-called normal people might have.

The Rumble Awards were started in 2011

The Rumble Awards are on July 16th in Hemel Hempstead…

“And from that, Paul – one of our members with autism – said: Let’s put together an awards show and call it The Rumble Awards. It was a great idea. I don’t think there’s anything in the country like it – where the awards go to people with learning disabilities.

“The aim of the whole Rumble project is trying to find a meeting point that is not all about people saying: Oh, bless these little dears! Aren’t we doing good for them! or Ooh! that all looks a bit scary! It’s trying to find that place where we actually do all have respect and a laugh together.

We always write a song every year for The Rumble Awards. This year, we’ve got this lovely bloke from Herts Drum Circle – Abdul Conteh – he’s an African drummer but it’s djembe drumming and we have this big Africany-based song

“Everyone wants to do something that has some kind of worth to it – though, if you’re not careful, you can take over in a controlling way or in an over-caring form. People can feel good about themselves for doing ‘unto’ somebody else and I’m sure there’s something of that in me. It does feel nice. But I also feel I am sort of my ‘better self’ when I’m with the people I’m with. I’m less self-conscious, have less of all the other sort of baggage people carry around. It goes to the side and I just enjoy the company of the people I hang out with.”

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Hyphenate comedian Steve Best hopes to get laughs out of the Kosovo War

A selfie taken by Steve Best for the book

Steve Best – a comedy hyphenate with other strings to his bow

“You are a hyphenate,” I told comedian Steve Best in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“What?” he asked.

“In Hollywood,” I said some people are called hyphenates – writer-directors or actor-producer-directors. You are now a hyphenate. A writer-comedian-photographer podcaster.

In yesterdays’s blog, Martin Soan mentioned that Steve Best had performed with him and Boothby Graffoe in a freeform existentialist theatre piece in Germany.

On sale from this week

A second Comedy Snapshot book is in the pipeline…

Readers of this blog in March this year might remember Steve published Comedy Snapshot, his book comprising 440 photographs of UK comedians.

He is currently working on a second book of photographs and, he told me, is talking to a potential sponsor for the book tomorrow.

He is also involved in Abnormally Funny People, the highy-regarded group of comics with, as our American cousins might say, physical challenges. Abnormally Funny People have just launched a third podcast in their monthly series.

“Barclays Bank are sponsoring the podcast,” Steve told me, “but they’ve given us complete editorial control.”

“What’s in it for them?” I asked.

“To attract disabled customers,” replied Steve. “I think they’re trying to reach out and be accessible. They did that ad with (blind comic) Chris McCausland about talking ATM machines.” (It is currently on YouTube.)

“So Barclays approached you?” I asked.

“Well,” said Steve, “we always wanted to do a podcast, but we probably wouldn’t have done it without them. If you like the idea of something and someone gives you the money to do it, you do it.

“It’s something slightly different and we’d tried so many other avenues – TV scripts that nearly made it. We had Jimmy Mulville script editing at Hat Trick and it got to Channel 4, but that was the time BBC2 had Life’s Too Short and we didn’t get any further in the end.”

Life’s Too Short - maybe one worthy series a a time?

Life’s Too Short – Was it the big problem?

Life’s Too Short was TV’s token disabled show?” I asked.

“You kinda felt that it was,” said Steve, “but you can’t know for sure.”

“Yours was a sketch show?” I asked.

“No,” explained Steve. “It was Abnormally Funny People on tour as a sitcom. It wasn’t gratuitous disability; it just happened to be there and it was funny.”

“Why do Abnormally Funny People need a token non-disabled person like you?” I asked.

“Well,” said Steve, “Simon Minty and I knew each other from school. He has run consultancy firms and it was his original contact with someone who worked for Sky – Kay Allen – that financed our whole first Edinburgh Fringe run. They paid for the accommodation, venue, publicity, everything.

“Kay Allen now runs RUS – Really Useful Stuff – which is the company that provides us with the products we review in the new podcast.”

“Products such as?” I asked.

A self-stirring mug in action

An admirably self-stirring mug in action – I want one now!

“There’s a self-stirring mug,” said Steve. “If you have rheumatism or you can’t stir for some other reason, it stirs itself. Then there was the shoelace that was elasticated and worked like Velcro so, once you got the shoes on, you didn’t have to tie up the laces.

“Anything in the pipeline,” I asked, “other that the next photo book?”

“I’ve finished some fiction I want to get out,” Steve told me.

“A novel?”


“About comedy?”

“Sort of. It’s a love story, but to do with comedy and Yugoslavia – Kosovo – in 1999.”

The Kosovo War took place 1998-1999.

“Why that subject?” I asked.

“My wife is from Bosnia. She came over just before the Bosnian War (1992-1995) started. She is a lecturer in Linguistics at UCL, got a PhD in Linguistics. She studied at MIT with Chomsky.”

Steve has been married for 18 years.

“Your wife is a Kosovan or a Bosnian?” I asked.

“She would say she’s Serbian. She was born in Bosnia. Her mum was a Bosnian Croat and her dad’s Montenegran.”

“The Serbs were the baddies,” I said.

“They were put across as the baddies,” said Steve. “Sthe Bosnian War started in Croatia, when they chucked out the Serbs.”

“And the Croatians rather liked the wartime Nazis,” I said.

“I learned so much about it,” said Steve.

“Not many laughs in the subject,” I suggested.

Steve Best talked to me at Soho Theatre Bar

Steve Best aims to add another hyphen to his jobs – novelist

“It is a very funny book. Hopefully,” said Steve. “It is to do with an English comedian meeting a Yugoslav woman. So it’s semi-autobiographical.”

“Have you been out there?” I asked.

“Loads of times,” said Steve. “Been to Bosnia five times, Sarajevo, Mostar, all those places. But I’ve also worked out there with the forces – in CSE shows. I did a lot of research, but I’ve kept the politics very much away from the book. It is a funny book.”

Well, it is a funny world.

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Filed under Comedy, Disability, war, Writing, Yugoslavia

Comedian Jenny Eclair, born in Kuala Lumpur, gets annoyed about Christians

Jenny Eclair, as she wants to be seen on her website

Jenny Eclair, as she wants to be seen, on her website

I chatted to Jenny Eclair at her home last week. In the first blog that came out of that, she talked about parts of her very varied career. In the second blog, she talked about iconic comedian Malcolm Hardee and that led on, obviously and easily, to his drinking.

“Towards the end, the last couple of years before he died,” I said, “I thought all those years of drinking were taking their toll and were showing.”

“But,” said Jenny, “brains do dry out as well. I have a friend who basically flooded his brain with alcohol but, because he now doesn’t live in London, he’s drying out. It’s like an old carpet. It’s gone a bit but it is repairing.”

“I have a smoker’s cough, but I don’t smoke,” I said. “I have a beer gut but I don’t drink. Sometimes I think I would be in better condition if I had taken heroin. Keith Richards can fall out of a tree with no problem and Dennis Hopper was perfectly lucid in his latter years.”

“Heroin’s better for your skin and it doesn’t make you fat,” suggested Jenny. “But the trouble with coming off heroin is you normally go to something else. Once an addict, always an addict.”

“I suppose someone could come off heroin and get addicted to the Salvation Army or something worse,” I mused.

“They’re just at the bottom of the road,” said Jenny. “The most beautiful building.”

“Yes,” I said, “I saw it coming out of Denmark Hill station.”

The Salvation Army building at Denmark Hill, South London

The Salvation Army building at Denmark Hill, South London

“The Salvation Army are actually quite good,” Jenny added, “because once Geoff (Jenny’s partner) was choking – he had been greedy over a sausage – and I was trying to give him the Heimlich manoeuvre but, because he was too fat, I couldn’t get both my arms round him. I was really struggling and he was about to die and there were two Salvation Army people walking past and they came in and they Heimliched him between them and saved his life. They also come and play Christmas carols round the corner, which is nice.”

“Well,” I said, “Christians, by and large, are OK.”

“They get a lot of stick these days,” said Jenny. “You’re not allowed to slag off any other religion. But you can slag off Christians. That pisses me off. There are too many smart-alecky people around in the media who wouldn’t dare slag off Moslems, who wouldn’t dream of slagging off Jews, but they give Christians a right old kicking and you just think: Hold on! Hold on here!

“I can’t bear the hypocrisy. It really does piss me off. Those people who do all the science stuff and find Christianity an easy target. They show an intolerance about Christians that isn’t allowed about anything else.”

“There’s nothing wrong with religion,” I suggested. “Just organised religion.”

“Or people talking about it to you,” said Jenny. “On the bus.”

“That’s people trying to convert you,” I said.

Jenny with her back to bad weather last week

Jenny with her back to bad weather last week

“No. That’s because I live too close to the Maudsley Hospital. Nutters. A lot of religious nutters… Ooh, look at the weather. It’s horrible…” The rain had started battering on her back windows.

“I’ve got to go to Greenwich to deliver some Ladybird books to my eternally-un-named friend,” I said.

“I love Ladybird books,” said Jenny.

“My eternally-un-named friend,” I said, “was brought up in the RAF and you were an Army child, so you have that in common. You were in…?”

“Kuala Lumpur and Berlin and then Barnard Castle in County Durham,” Jenny replied. “Barnard Castle was tough. I went to a very tough school there.”

“People whose parents wear uniforms – police or armed forces or whatever – sometimes rebel, don’t they?” I asked. “You became a punk poet and comedian. Was that rebelling?”

Jenny Eclair performing at The Tunnel club, London, in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Jenny performing at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

“No. My dad was an Army major, but he wasn’t ‘an army major’, if you see what I mean. He’s very funny. And my mum didn’t work – she was an Army wife – but she was very, very clever. In fact, she should have worked. She was a wasted opportunity.”

“I suppose,” I said, “all that generation of women were wasted.”

“Yeah,” said Jenny. “also, she was a cripple in an old-fashioned sense of the word. She had polio.”

“My mother was born without a left hand,” I said.

“Did she have a hook?” asked Jenny, perking up.

“Just a rounded stump at the end,” I said. “Why did you perk up at the thought of a hook?”

“I do love a hook,” said Jenny. “A hook and a glass eye.”

“You could get them if you wanted,” I suggested, “through the wonders of modern surgery.”

“I don’t want my own,” said Jenny, “but I am very drawn to that sort of thing.”

“Have you done Peter Pan in panto?” I asked.

Robb Harwood as Captain Hook in Peter Pan c 1906

Robb Harwood as Captain Hook in a production of  Peter Pan c 1906

“No,” Jenny replied, “but I do like the look of a pirate.”

“What’s the glass eye got to do with it?” I asked.

“Anything that’s a bit wrong,” Jenny explained, “I’m quite attracted to anything that’s a bit wrong.”

“Was your mother in a wheelchair?” I asked.

“No, Full-length calliper. It’s only one leg. She is really magnificent.”

“My mother only had one hand,” I said, “but she didn’t let it affect her. She seemed to be knitting all the time in my childhood. She used to play tennis when she was younger, which is actually quite difficult – You have to hold the racquet in one hand and have to throw the ball up in the air.”

“My mother was a tennis player,” said Jenny.

“My mother,” I said, “mostly hid the end of her left arm – because her parents had told her she shouldn’t show it.”

“Yes,” said Jenny. “It was slightly shameful. My mother told me that, after she got polio, her father assumed she would never marry.”

“I don’t think my mother expected to marry,” I said, “because she thought Who would marry a one-handed woman?

“And with my mother,” said Jenny, “it was Who would marry somebody with a great big leg iron?

“A pirate, perhaps?” I suggested.

“My dad,” said Jenny. “It was the only romantic thing he ever did. He was abroad when he heard it had happened. He got Compassionate Leave and hitch-hiked his way back from Aden or somewhere like that. She had been his girlfriend and then they’d fallen out. He was in the Army and went off to Aden. She went to a cinema in Blackpool and caught polio there. He heard about it and made his way back to Britain and to Blackpool Infirmary.

“My grandmother was there and said: Derek, you can’t go in and he said Yes, I must and he saw my mother. She said I’ll never walk again and he said Yes you will – when you walk down the aisle to marry me.

“Aaaaaahhhhh…..” I said.

An example of a modern egg poacher

Example of a modern egg poacher, seldom seen as romantic

“I know,” said Jenny. “But he’d used all his romance up in that one sentence. In terms of romance, never anything again. He once bought her an egg-poaching pan for her birthday and said: Go on, June. I’d love some eggs…” They’re both very gung-ho and Northern and good fun. Both from Blackpool.”

“So you feel Blackpudlian?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Jenny.

“The place I feel most at home,” I said, “is Edinburgh, but I’ve never had a home there. I always had relatives there until recently, so I was visiting there every year as a child, probably since I was an embryo.”

“I feel Northern,” said Jenny, “I think it’s more to do with the sense of humour than anything else, I understand that quite graphic, broad, seaside postcardy humour.”

“Blackpool is seasidey,” I said. “Not like Manchester.”

“No,” agreed Jenny. “I went to drama school in Manchester. And Liverpool’s different again. But I wouldn’t leave London now.”

“I met your daughter with you,” I said, “at Glastonbury about… It must have been…”

“Nine years ago,” Jenny told me. “When she was 15. She’s 24 now. She’s a playwright. She’s got the writing gene. She’s working at the Royal Court Theatre at the moment. Then she’s got a play on at Theatre 503 on Monday (that’s tomorrow if you read this blog on the day it’s posted) in a thing of new writing, then she’s got a residency at the old BBC building in Maida Vale… or it might be in Marylebone. It starts with an M anyway.”

“And you?” I asked.

Jenny helped develop the concept of Grumpy Old Women

Grumpy Old Women – touring the UK April to June 2014

Grumpy Old Women on stage,” said Jenny. “We go into rehearsal in March; we tour in April, May, June. And I’m writing a Radio 4 series at the moment for broadcast later this year: six 15-minute monologues. They’re all set in real time.”

“Will you be starring?”

“No. The producer thought we should get better actresses and she’s right, because I’m quite limited and I always sound like me.”

“That’s the sign of star,” I said.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere other than London now” Jenny said again.

“It’s where everything happens,” I said.

“It is,” said Jenny. “I like it when things happen.”

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What a comic should do if an audience member throws her artificial leg at you

Lewis Schaffer + part entourage Alex Mason & Heather Stevens

Lewis Schaffer (centre) last night with Alex Mason and Heather Stevens, part of his increasing entourage of helpers

Sometimes comedians have people walk out of their shows.

Comedian Lewis Schaffer’s shows tend to take matters to quirky excess and things happen which are scarcely credible.

As I arrived last night for his twice-weekly Free Until Famous show at the Source Below in Soho, he was still at the door greeting people on the way in when out came three French people who had decided to leave… He had not even started the show!

When I went into the venue, there were another three French people in there and, when Lewis Schaffer did start his comedy monologue, it was obvious only one of them could understand English.

They left during the interval but, before they left, yet another three French people arrived to see the show which, by now, was halfway through. As far as I could guess, none of the latest three bemused-looking French people understood any English and, after about 15 minutes, they left.

Even for Lewis Schaffer, it is a rare thing to have nine French people walking out of his show.

The language problem I can gloss over. But why they were all travelling in groups of three simply mystifies me.

After the show, Lewis Schaffer and I and two of his increasing entourage of helpers went with comedian Joel Sanders to eat at a falafel cafe in Old Compton Street.

I always find the best way to write daily blogs is to get other people to do the work, so I asked Lewis Schaffer to chat to Joel Sanders and get something for today’s blog while I ignored what they said and chatted to the Alex Mason/Heather Stevens section of Lewis Schaffer’s increasing entourage of helpers.

Lewis Schaffer (left) ‘interviews’ Joel Sanders for my blog last night

Lewis Schaffer (left) ‘ blog interviews’ Joel Sanders last night

“You told me an amazing story on my weekly radio show…” said Lewis Schaffer to Joel Sanders, remembering the first golden rule when one comedian talks to another – Always publicise yourself.

“Your weekly radio show?” asked Joel Sanders.

Nunhead American Radio,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “Every Monday on Resonance FM… What I wanna know is… What I… What I wanna know…” he continued, trying to think of something he might actually want to know about anyone else. “You’ve been around America a lot, Joel. Did you see the dark side of America?”

“It was like Deliverance,” Joel told him.

“Did you fear for your life?” asked Lewis Schaffer, becoming more enthusiastic. “Did they ask you to squeal like a pig?”

“They didn’t quite get to that stage,” Joel replied.

“Have you ever squealed like a pig?’ asked Lewis Schaffer even more enthusiastically.

“Not in the context of comedy,” shrugged Joel.

“So what happened in Johnson City, Tennessee?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Where IS Johnson City, Tennessee?”

“In the mountains,” explained Joel, “about a mile from the North Carolina border.”

“Is it a coal mining area?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I don’t know what they do there,” said Joel, “except I do know they have a Dukes of Hazzard festival there once a year. You know, the South is beautiful. The mountains are beautiful, but that is also where the shit happens. The most beautiful parts of America are also the most dangerous parts.”

At this point, I interrupted: “I heard the words Beautiful and America,” I said. “That’s no use for my blog. Get on to something eccentric involving bestiality.”

“So what about the woman’s leg?” Lewis Schaffer asked Joel.

“Are we going to get a train?” asked Joel.

“No,” I said, “not until you tell me an interesting story about a woman’s leg. You’re my blog for tomorrow.”

Lewis Schaffer entourage member Heather Stevens reacts to Lewis Schaffer

Entourage member Heather Stevens reacts to a Schafferism

“Don’t mention the squealing like a pig,” Lewis Schaffer told Joel.

“It was in Hot Springs, Arkansas,” Joel began. “It was in a venue which had once been a sex club and they had converted it to a comedy club, but it still had the poles for the pole dancing. This was in the year 2000. It was strange. There were two shows that night: an early show and a late show. What do you want to know?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I wasn’t listening to what you and Brian were talking about.”

“Who?” asked Joel.

“Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Is this funnier than the Johnson City, Tennessee story?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes,” said Joel. “So, that night in Hot Springs, Arkansas, there was an early show and a late show and, at the end of the early show, about four people left but all the rest stayed for the late show.”

“I had nine French people walk out tonight,” lamented Lewis Schaffer.

“I know,” said Joel.

“We were there,” I told Lewis Schaffer.

“The French don’t like me,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They hate me. The French hate me.”

“So,” said Joel, resuming his story, “almost all of the first audience stayed in the club and a few new people came along and we started the late show. It was basically the same audience watching the same comedians.”

“Why did they stay?” I asked.

“That was what they did there,” said Joel. “There was nothing else to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas… It was Bill Clinton’s boyhood home: the best barbecue I’ve ever had… Anyway, there was a woman sitting at the front of the audience. She’d been a bit of a pain in the early show. But, by the late show, she’s completely drunk – totally pissed – and, about ten minutes into my set, she took her leg off.”

“She took her leg off?” I asked.

Joel Sanders holds the false leg on stage

Joel Sanders holds the artificial leg on stage

“She just detached it,” explained Joel. “There was no cue for her to do this. No trigger words. She had been interrupting and I had been responding and she was just playing a game of one-upmanship. And she won, because she removed her leg and hurled it onto the stage as if to say: Well… deal with that!

“And did you?” I asked.

“Well, I tried,” said Joel. “The first thing was I refused to give it back. She started screaming I need to go to the bathroom! and I told her to detach her vagina, give it to her husband and he could take it for her.”

“Surely she could have hopped to the toilet?” I asked.

“Well no,” explained Joel. “By this point, she had taken both her legs off and both legs were now on the stage. So I had this woman sitting at the front of the audience – just a body with arms… and I was standing on stage holding these legs.”

“I think that’s enough for the blog,” I said. “Leave them wanting more.”

In case you should think this story has been made up, the incident on stage in Hot Springs, Arkansas, was captured on video and is posted on YouTube:

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So there was this comic with cerebral palsy and no voice who auditioned as a singer on The X Factor yesterday…

Lee voices his amusement at yesterday’s X-Factor auditions

One of the joys of writing this daily blog is that people send me bizarre anecdotes.

This is certainly one, so pin back your eyes like you are Alex in A Clockwork Orange and read on.

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a Jeff Lantern, who describes himself as “an enigmatic North East England based act” and who says: “I perform on the comedy circuit because no-one else will take me seriously”.

He said he had “recently met a new comic from Sunderland called Lee Ridley, aka ‘Lost Voice Guy’ who cannot physically talk. Today, he is auditioning in Newcastle to go on The X Factor.”

This successfully grabbed my attention, so I got in touch with Lee, who had just returned from the auditions. And this is what he told me:

Basically, I have cerebral palsy from when I was ill when I was a baby. This resulted in me losing my speech and having a weaker right side of the body (which means I walk funny). Instead of talking, I use a small computer called a Lightwriter to communicate with – although I use an Apple iPad on stage as it is clearer and more practical. I just type what I want to say and the iPad says it out loud. A bit like Stephen Hawking.

I only started doing comedy last month so I’m still building up my profile. I’ve only had three gigs so far. I started because I’d always enjoyed making people laugh and watching stand-up. I never thought I’d get to do it because of my disability. But then my mates suggested it might work. I thought about it for a bit and then decided to give it a go. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.

I already had some X Factor material in my act so, as it looked like it might be a boring Saturday, I thought it would be funny to audition for The X Factor as a singer and see what they said when I turned up. I decided to do I Believe I Can Fly because I thought it seemed apt in a deluded kind of way. I got up this morning at 6.00am to get to the auditions for 8.00am. Once there, I was put into ‘Pen B’ which was for disabled auditionees. I thought it apt that the staff referred to them as Pen A and Pen B as if we were animals going to the slaughter.

I was signed in by an assistant who talked to me through my communication device. This begs a question about how she expected me to sing when she could see I couldn’t talk. Was she just being polite? Two more people spoke to me in the same way and still no questions were asked. Good news for me!

We stood in the cold for an hour while X Factor production staff got people to sing Fog On The Tyne and Let’s Get Ready To Rumble. Stereotypical?  I was surprised they didn’t bring in the fat topless bloke from Newcastle games just for good measure. Or maybe Gazza with some chicken, a dressing gown and a fishing rod.

Then we were let into the venue – the Metro Radio ArenaOnce inside, we had to sit together and wait to be called for our audition. Everyone around me started practising and I did start to feel a tiny bit bad for potentially wasting someone’s opportunity. But not too bad.

When I finally got in for my audition (about two hours after arriving) – basically in the side corridors of the arena – I was greeted by two production assistant type people who were my judge and jury. I could see straight away that they weren’t sure what was going to happen. They asked me if I was going to sing, like they were double checking.

I broke into I Believe I Can Fly and the looks on their faces were priceless. You could tell they were still trying to figure out if I was serious or not. In my opinion, I quite obviously wasn’t (I even had a Lost Voice slogan on my t-shirt), but the sense of humour seemed to be lost in translation. I tried not to laugh too much and just sway along to the words. After a few verses and some very weird glances, they stopped me and told me I wasn’t going through to the next stage. Part of me thought they looked annoyed at me for being a twat and wasting their precious time. I hope they were anyway.

I asked if I had sounded too flat as I walked out.

Still not a smile.

As I said, I already had some X Factor material in my act, so I plan to add to it with what has taken place today. My biggest gig yet is coming up is next month – Sunday 8 April 2012 at Rib Ticklers’ 1st birthday in Hartlepool with special guest headliner Patrick Monahan.

I have decided to record my ‘losers song’ and put it online.


Here it is:

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