Category Archives: Drink

A video of comedian Malcolm Hardee paralytically drunk twelve years ago

Twelve years ago tonight – on 28th April 2002 – the BBC Choice TV channel (later re-branded as BBC3) transmitted an episode of their eavesdropping reality series Diners which included comedians Malcolm Hardee and Steve Bowditch, both seemingly a little the worse for alcoholic wear.

Well, Malcolm was paralytically drunk – something he had only started to be (in my opinion) in the previous six months.

There is a 5min 41sec clip on YouTube.

MalcolmHardee_Diners

The next day, I went down to Malcolm’s Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Rotherhithe. His insurance broker had stolen £1,000 instead of passing it on to the insurance company, so the pub was not insured. Both Malcolm and his girlfriend Andrée had wide, desperate eyes, but this could have been for any number of reasons.

Malcolm and I took his other boat out in windy conditions.

“When the lock keeper throws you a rope,” Malcolm told me, “just hold on to it.”

The lock keeper threw me a rope. I held on to it.

The lock keeper, his voice barely audible in the wind, started shouting: “The turn! The turn!”

I kept holding the rope. The lock keeper dropped his end of the rope in the water.

It transpired that I had been supposed to tie the rope to the ‘turn’ (a metal thing) on the deck. If the lock keeper had kept holding the rope, he would have been pulled into the water. He was neither a happy nor a forgiving man.

The boat – Malcolm insisted it should be called a ship – drifted sideways into the lock and the stern hit the side. It took some time to get out.

We sailed – or, rather, bounced on bumpy waves – down the River Thames to a floating diesel fuel station near Tower Bridge, but it was closed.

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm got a call on his mobile phone from Andrée to tell him she had “pranged” his car in an accident.

Then we sailed back along the Thames to the Cutty Sark pub where Malcolm met, as pre-arranged, his previous girlfriend Faith and three of her friends.

Malcolm, like the River Thames, was never uninteresting and the best thing was to go with the flow. He drowned, drunk, in 2005.

This year, the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are being presented during a two-hour variety show at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 22nd August.

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Drink

How to start & run a successful comedy club – by Ivor Dembina (who knows)

Liam Lonergan: man of comedy

Liam Lonergan: laughing is a serious business

In yesterday’s blog I ran an extract from a chat Liam Lonergan had with comedian and club owner Ivor Dembina for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

In this further extract, they talk about running comedy clubs.

Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club in London celebrates its 20th anniversary next month.

______________________________________________

Ivor Dembina

Ivor Dembina – club owner and promoter

Ivor Dembina: At the moment you have a lot of these free gigs. There’s a reason for that. Most people are not going to local live comedy clubs because they’ve been persuaded the only stuff worth seeing is the stuff that’s been on TV. And, as soon as anyone half decent turns up who has a bit of talent, they disappear off the face of the earth…

Liam Lonergan: …onto TV.

Ivor: Yeah. They get signed by an agent and you don’t see them on the club circuit anymore. So the quality of the clubs goes down. So, this is a bit of a drag. But someone goes to a landlord and says: “Look, you have got an empty room up there on a Tuesday night.”

And the landlord says “Yeah I have.”

So you go: “Would you want me to fill it?”

The landlord says: “Yeah. What you gonna do?”

“I’ll put on a free show. I’ll get fifteen comedy acts and they’ll all bring at least one mate. So that’s thirty people. Maybe another ten people will wander in. So I’ll get you forty drinkers. You give me £50 and I’ll organise it.”

So the landlord thinks: “£50… forty drinkers… I’ll ‘ave some of that”.

The landlord don’t give a fuck about the quality of the show. All he cares is that there’s forty people drinking his beer in an otherwise empty room. And that’s why you’ve got all these… There’s no quality control… And any comedian who is any good will soon get depressed by that arrangement. The most each of the fifteen acts can do is five minutes. You never develop. You never get any real critical feedback. The audience aren’t a real audience because 70% of the audience are either other comics or their friends. So no-one’s going to come up to you and say: “Actually. That wasn’t really very good mate”.

The thing about a comedy club is you have to build it.

Anyone – any cunt – you can put this in your thing – any cunt can fill a comedy room. For one night.

But can you fill it so they will come back next week? And will they still be coming back in six weeks’ time?

The answer is… That’s harder.

Not only have you got to have consistently interesting and good quality entertainment but you’ve got to the have the audience leaving thinking: I’m coming back here.

And now people have so many entertainment choices that how often do you go to the same place every week? Also the idea of local entertainment – We always go down to Ivor’s or to Andy’s or to Liam’s on a Tuesday night – that has been kind of eroded by the internet, by TV, by going abroad.

People think: “Where can we go?”

Well, they can go down to the West End or spend Saturday night in Rayleigh or Portsmouth. That, Ah, this is a bit local has gone.

Also what is interesting is that somewhere in the history of this the idea came up that you have to see comedy accompanied by alcohol. There’s now a myth that, in order to enjoy comedy, you have to have a drink. It’s bullshit.

In a way that came about because, in the early days, if you were gonna put comedy on you needed a room and the people who had lots of free rooms were the pubs. So, there was a quid pro quo. You take the money on the door, pay the acts and make a few quid for yourself and they’d sell their beer. So the association between alcohol and comedy got embedded very early on.

But it’s nonsense! You don’t need to be pissed to have a laugh. It’s absolute rubbish. Of course brewers recognised this, so then they reinforced the (mythical) link with all these sponsorship deals and of course the final apotheosis was the Fosters Award.

Liam: So you reckon, even before all the agencies and producers came in and tarnished it all – well, not tarnished it but corporatised it – you think the brewers were…

Ivor: The idea that the more you drink the funnier it will seem is just bullshit. But I’m not blaming the brewers. We collaborated in it. That was the deal. I mean at the Hampstead Comedy Club, my club, it’s still it’s the same. I get the room free because I’m gonna bring in sixty or seventy people who are gonna drink beer. That’s the deal, y’know?

Liam: I was talking to Bob Slayer about his Heroes of Fringe and the percentage of ticket prices that he shares with performers. At the Hampstead Comedy Club… You don’t actually have to answer this, if you don’t want to…

Ivor at his Hampstead Comedy Club in January

Ivor at Hampstead Comedy Club in January

Ivor: I don’t mind. I don’t care who knows. I pay guarantees. I’ll tell you exactly what the economics are. I have three acts whom I pay £80 each. There’s a compere – who I admit is usually me but if I isn’t it’d be someone else – and I pay them £100. So that’s £340. I pay a door person £60. So that’s £400. I pay the booker £30-£40 a show. So I have costs. The costs of the show are around £450. There is a £10 ticket price. So I have to sell 45 tickets to break even.

Liam: What’s the capacity?

Ivor: Well, it’s just gone down, as it happens. My capacity is now gonna be sixty five. So I’m risking £450 to make £200. So, I’m not doing it to get rich.

Liam: Lewis Schaffer told me, “It’s all still about paying off the Inland Revenue and paying off the mortgage,” but then Bob Slayer said, “If he wanted to do that he could be a salesman and he’d be a very good salesman.”

Ivor: It’s true. But you can get lucky. I mean, over the years certain people they found themselves with a room of, say, two hundred people in a location where people will go and and they’ve kept going. In the past, some promoters have made serious money but not now I don’t think.

Liam: What’s the criteria for booking acts? Or is it just people that you’ve seen and you’ve thought were…

Ivor: Well, when you’re running a club, it’s not the acts. It’s the venue. Do the punters enjoy going there? Obviously you’ve got to put on the best possible entertainment that you can but once people start going to see the acts rather than specifically coming to your venue, the club is finished. You want them to go to your club because:

Oh, Tuesday night we go down the club. They usually have something good down there. Let’s go down the club.

That was the ethos on which the comedy circuit was built.

It is now crumbling away for the various reasons that I’ve described.

… CONTINUED HERE

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Drink

Which makes you a better stand-up comedian? Alcohol, cocaine or heroin?

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp stayed in my flat at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, musician/comedian Andy Zapp performed in a show with comedian Ivor Dembina.

Currently, he performs on Saturdays at Ivor’s Hampstead Comedy Club in London.

He is billed as The Orchestra of Andy Zapp.

“A lot of jazz musicians liked heroin,” I said to him over tea in Soho.

“Yes,” agreed Andy. “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all those ones.”

“One comedian told me,” I said, “that he might take Red Bull, but he never took cocaine before going on stage because he wouldn’t be able to control his act. I’m not sure I believed him, though.”

“Well,” said Andy, “Lenny Bruce managed to do it quite successfully for a time. I think you can do it if you have that creative spurt. I might be quite good doing that for five or six months, then I’d just be fucked. You’ve got that sort of creative burst because you’ve got the energy and you’re not worried about how you feel when they don’t laugh. Subjectively, you’re cut off. You’re not really connecting with the audience and it doesn’t bother you.”

“I suppose though,” I suggested, “it could make the paranoia even worse.”

“Well, yeah,” said Andy, “you’ve gotta get paranoid first, though. When you take cocaine, you don’t automatically get paranoid; that’s further down the line. The initial part of it’s really nice, but then you start getting paranoid. Heroin would be better. Nice and relaxed.”

“You don’t want to be too relaxed performing comedy, though,” I suggested.

“You wouldn’t have the anxiety, though,” Andy argued. “I don’t know how it would work for comedians. They’re more piss-heads. Drink.”

“I wonder why?” I mused.

“Well,” said Andy, “it’s a different type of buzz. More outward. Music’s a little bit more inward: you don’t really have to ‘perform’.”

“I suppose drink makes people go off more at tangents,” I said.

“Garrolous,” agreed Andy. “Drink dis-inhibits. Heroin stops you feeling. You don’t feel physical pain, you don’t feel emotional pain. Me, I couldn’t use anything, really. I’m never tempted that much.”

“Why are you tempted at all?” I asked.

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy Zapp in London last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy in London last week

“I think: Oh yeah, I’ll just take a bit of speed and I can just really fly about or some cocaine and it’ll really turn off the internal sensor. But doing comedy clean the way I’ve been doing it – I’ve been doing it two-and-a-half years now – being with Ivor helps. He’s really useful.”

“Why? Because he’s analytical?” I asked. “I saw Ivor put his Palestine show together over a few months and it was like seeing a watchmaker paying attention to every little detail.”

“He’s maybe a bit too careful,” replied Andy, “but I’m all over the place, so he’s very good at getting me back on track. I’m still trying to sort this composure stuff out before I go on stage. If I forget my composure, I forget what I’m doing and get scared when I get up on stage.”

“Where did you and Ivor meet?” I asked.

“At the Red Rose Club about 27 or 30 years ago,” said Andy. “I used to like going to comedy shows. I was a junkie then.”

“How many years?” I asked.

“I’ve been in recovery for 27. I’m 15 years clean now.”

“How does that add up?” I asked.

“I was clean for 7; got a tumour on my spinal cord; the doctors prescribed me pain-killing medication and I sort of lost the plot on that; then I relapsed for 4 years; and I’ve been clean for 15. That’s 26-and-a-bit years. It’s been a great journey. I love being clean; I really do.”

“You recommend it as a career path?”

“I would. What’s your bag?”

“Chocolate,” I explained. “I have a stomach to support.”

“Other people do gambling or sex,” said Andy. “I just do drugs. It’s all addiction.”

“But if you’re clean of drugs now,” I asked, “what’s your addiction?”

“It’s kind of low-grade now,” said Andy. “I kind of understand how I roll. I can do chocolate now. I’ve got a high metabolic rate. I exercise quite a lot.”

“Marihuana is fairly harmless,” I said.

“That’s not true,” said Andy. “It isn’t harmless. It mimics mental health problems. Schizophrenia, paranoia, low self-esteem.”

“Sounds like the basic requirements for becoming a stand-up comedian,” I said.

“Well, it’s a good starting point,” said Andy, “but you can’t tell which way it’s going to go. It’s the way you smoke it, really. Physical damage; throat cancer; stuff like that. Heroin is the most benign of all the drugs.”

“Pure heroin,” I said.

In the 1950s, heroin was a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

In the 1950s, heroin was still a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

“Yeah pure heroin,” agreed Andy. “I used to get jacks – 10mg tablets – like little saccharine pills. You got them off doctors. As a drug, heroin progresses through the body really easily. Within seven hours, it’s flushed through your system. It doesn’t damage any of the major organs. The only thing is it’s very addictive and, if you take a wrong amount, you can overdose. The stuff people get now… it depends what it’s cut with.

“It used to be only the middle and upper classes that took it and they were injecting heroin. But, once it became a smokable commodity, then it filtered into the working classes and the criminal classes and then it really took off.”

“It was the fall of the Shah of Iran that made heroin big here, wasn’t it?” I asked. “People couldn’t take their cash out of Iran, so they converted it into heroin and took that out.”

“Yeah,” said Andy. “But it was the marketing, really. People were putting it in joints, smoking it and thinking it was quite benign and, two weeks later, they’d got a heroin habit, a running nose, coughing.”

“What IS the Orchestra of Andy Zapp?” I asked.

“It’s me and a loop machine. Makes it sound like an orchestra of harmonicas.”

“That’s nice,” I said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Drink, Drugs

No blog today, but some toast hanging and the reality of a man talking to a wall

I have about five long and, I think, interesting blog-chats recorded and no time to transcribe them today.

You can normally tell when I do not have time to write a blog because I revert to some tale from a past electronic diary.

Last night, suffering from a small part of my eternally-un-named friend’s cold or mini-flu or whatever she has, I had trouble sleeping horizontally – the inside of my throat burned. So I had to try to sleep sitting up, propped amid four pillows. It was a fitful night. Little sleep. But at least my throat did not burn.

I woke late and have to leave early.

Wassail toast hangs from the trees

Wassail toast hangs from trees while cider is poured on roots

I think I vaguely remember some dream about people hanging pieces of toast from the branches of trees at night: some flashback to a wassailing night in nearby Shenley a couple of years ago. They poured cider at the bottom of trees to encourage them to grow.

When I woke up, I looked at my diaries. Nothing happened on this day in years past. Except that, in 2001, a friend of mine told me she was thinking of moving to Australia because she liked the Australian character which, she felt, was less cynical than the British “because the country isn’t so old and they haven’t learned it yet”.

She has not moved to Australia.

And, in 2003, I heard that someone I had worked with at Granada TV in Manchester was now living in Bath. He had gone to Yorkshire to stay with a friend for a week but had been asked to leave after two days because he was scaring the kids. Whereas others might take a few cups of tea during the course of a day, for him a bottle of wine stood in for each cup of tea. The children found it unsettling that he had a tendency to get up without warning and start talking to the wall.

He is dead now.

So it goes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogs, Dreams, Drink

Does the fact I do not smoke, drink or take drugs make me boring or bizarre?

Thoughts on performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

After a lifetime of avoiding drink and drugs…

Yesterday, the BBC reported: “Long queues have been seen as the world’s first state-licensed marijuana industry opened for business in the US state of Colorado… Washington state has also legalised cannabis and is expected to allow the drug’s sale later this year.”

People think I am a bit odd if I mention I have never knowingly taken recreational drugs.

I have nothing at all against people taking marijuana in any form though I think, maybe, I would not want my airline pilot, bus driver or the person overtaking me at 90mph on the motorway (with or without a car) to be totally zonked out of their head.

I think I may have had hash cakes a couple of times without realising it – and without any discernible effect. But I have worked with people who have clearly been taking too much hash for too many years.

I once worked for a TV company where the man in charge of the department found, on a Friday morning, that we were unexpectedly very understaffed due to illness. He spent three hours – three rambling hours – telling us how we were going to re-arrange things to get through the increased workload. I could have killed him but, alas, I was not drunk so had no real excuse.

The only drugs that ever attracted me were heroin and LSD. Neither were available to me when I would have taken them and, by the time they were easily available, I had met smack and acid casualties.

Well, that is not altogether true.

Me - in my late teens or early twenties

Me – in my late teens or early twenties

I never took LSD because I thought it might push me over some nearby psychological ledge and I would never be able to get back again.

By the time heroin was available, I had already tried suicide and that had not worked.

I was never interested in marijuana because I never smoked nicotine (so the actual smoking technique was a mystery to me).

I do not smoke nicotine because, when I was about six years old, I asked my father: ”Daddy, can I have a puff of your cigarette?”

And he said: “Yes.”

I was appallingly nauseous.

I never wanted to smoke again and did not.

The attraction to other people of marijuana seemed to be that it had the same relaxing, uninteresting-to-me effect as drink – though without the bad side-effects of excessive drink like wild, mindless aggression, vomiting and splitting headaches.

It never seemed to me that getting drunk and then proudly saying the next day: “I can’t remember anything I did last night,” was a good life choice. If I want to get so drunk I can’t control my own body and start falling down in the street and/or losing consciousness because my brain has closed itself down to avoid further damage, I might as well get into a boxing ring with a psychopath and get him to repeatedly punch me in the head until I become unconsciousness.

People seem to drink to lower their inhibitions, so that they feel free-er to do or say what they want and, if it goes wrong, they can blame the drink. I think I was always prepared to do or say what I wanted without having to have excuses.

Although that is, perhaps, not good career advice.

People think I am bizarre – they really do – because, except on special occasions when it would be rude not to, I do not drink alcohol or spirits.

I had some mulled wine with a couple of meals over the Christmas period. The last time I drank before that was probably last Christmas.

When I tell people I do not drink, they assume I am an ex-alcoholic.

In fact, it is because I never enjoyed it.

In my teens and early twenties, I used to drink small amounts of lager to be sociable because it had a more bland taste than other beers. I never actively enjoyed drinking it.

I only ever really enjoy vodka drowned in orange juice and champagne drowned in orange juice.

Nothing else grabs my taste buds.

Also, in my late twenties, I encountered two people.

One was the Press Officer for a film distribution company. He had obviously been very bright and intelligent in his youth. Now he was in his mid-forties and I guess had been drinking socially and doggedly for professional reasons for about 20 years. His mind was doolally.

The other was someone I had worked with in a broadcast TV company. We then ended up working at the same Soho TV facility production company AND with him living in my flat weekdays for about six months.

He was highly intelligent. After graduating from Oxford University, he had been talent-spotted and trained by Granada TV. He used to sit and watch University Challenge and effortlessly answer about half the questions, almost without thinking.

But he had been drinking solidly, like the film PR man, for about 20 or 25 years.

He used to drink wine at lunchtime in Soho. Then, after work, he would have a few pints of beer. Then he would come home and drink spirits.

I was still drinking at this point – though only small amounts of lager after work.

I stopped drinking altogether because of him.

His brain – though still able to function at work and answer University Challenge questions – had been damaged.

He would start a sentence, then stop in the middle, drift off and start doing or saying something else, never completing his original sentence or thought process.

I did not want to be like him in 20 or 25 years time.

The irony is that now I have a shit memory. And I witter.

But then I always did.

As far as I remember.

Irony. Don’t talk to me about irony.

2 Comments

Filed under Drink, Drugs

Can comedian Bob Slayer – infamously Edinburgh Fringey – turn into a cuddly grey-bearded children’s entertainer?

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that comedians often have another ‘day job’.

Around seven years ago, Bob Slayer was managing Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock when they made a Christmas video in which he appeared as Father Christmas. It was posted on YouTube.

Now Bob has become a real Santa Claus. He started the job yesterday in a grotto under a giant Christmas tree at Whiteley’s department store in London’s Queensway and he will be donning his red-and-white robes there throughout December.

BEFORE...

BEFORE…

AFTER...

AFTER…

“You have to respond to the audience that’s in front of you,” says Bob

‘Santa’ Bob with helper elves ‘Ruthy Boothy’ Sarah (left) and ‘Wilma Words’ Christine

I talked to him last night after he finished his Ho Ho Ho duties. He told me he was going to have to think up some more Christmas stories, because some children had come back a second time on this his first day in the role.

“I’d been telling them how reindeer fly and how they have to go to Tromsø in Norway,” said Bob, “and I could see some of the parents looking at me thinking I don’t know this story; this isn’t a real Santa, so I told the children You see, mummies and daddies don’t know about reindeer.”

Happy Drunk illustration by comedian Rich Rose

One Happy Drunk illustration by Rich Rose

And that’s not all.

Tonight, at the Chortle Comedy Book Festival, Bob launches a children’s book he wrote, with illustrations by Rich Rose of comedy duo Ellis & Rose (last referred-to in this blog yesterday a propos their Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show).

“Rich is a brilliant illustrator,” said Bob.

“Remind me what the book is called?” I asked.

The Happy Drunk,” confirmed Bob.

He financed it by crowdfunding and reached 169% of his target. The title was originally Calpol Is Evil but he changed it – allegedly after he received an alleged letter from solicitors representing the manufacturers of Calpol. Never forget that Bob Slayer won a much-coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2011 for his ‘Cockgate’ stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“What’s the premise of The Happy Drunk?” I asked.

“It’s a children’s book for adults. It’s for Big Kids.”

“Would 14-year-olds enjoy it?” I asked.

HappyDrunk

Bob’s new book is for Big Babies everywhere – but not lawyers

“I don’t know,” replied Bob. “I think they would, although whether their parents would want them to read it… I’d say it should have a PG rating.

“Actually, I should have put that on the cover!” he laughed. “I’ve only printed 50 so far – as a proof to check they’re OK – so I think I might put PG Rated on future covers.”

“Are drunks happy?” I asked.

“Drunks in comedy clubs,” explained Bob, “get a bad name due to the alcopop drunks that the Jongleurs and Highlight comedy chains get in, whereas the sort of people I like doing gigs to are genuinely happy drunks: people who know what they’re drinking.

“When I do gigs in breweries, they’re drinking nice drink. They’re lively, but they don’t get out of hand; they’re good audiences. They’re people who are in for their drink but also in for their comedy. In the comedy club chains, you get big groups of people and some of them do want to see comedy, but others had wanted to go to the cinema or go bowling; they’re not all committed to watching comedy.

“I’m going to print 1,000 copies of The Happy Drunk initially. Rich Rose is having 300, I’ll put some online and sell the rest at gigs. Writing it was a stopgap, because it’s taking me longer to write my How To Out-Drink Australia book than I thought it would. It’s taking longer to edit.”

Bob Slayer - too hot to handle in Australia

Turning a tour into a book is complicated

“You have a problem with people’s perception of you,” I said. “People think you’re always going to be the OTT Edinburgh Fringe Bob Slayer character.”

“Well,” said Bob, “you have to respond to the audience that’s in front of you. I like to think that I can mirror whatever audience is there. If you put me in a golf club, then I’m not going to end up naked – well, unless that’s what they want. There have been occasions when it’s gone out of control and perhaps I have gone the wrong way, but they’re one-off incidents like in Norway, where I got banned from that theatre.

“But, look, the fact was that they had five members of The Cumshots band there. So I’m going to perform to my mates The Cumshots, aren’t I? And they’re a band that invite you to come onstage and ‘fuck for forests’ – I HAD to come off the balcony on a rope. Though the reason I was actually banned was because I opened a bottle of Jägermeister on stage and had a drink and I was unaware how strict the licensing laws are there.”

“Ironically,” I said, “you got a Scottish licence to run your own bar at Bob’s Bookshop during the Edinburgh Fringe. Are you going to do other comedy club bars?”

Bob Slayer: no entry for the easily offended

Comedian; promoter; licensed venue manager; looney?

“Well,” explained Bob, “The reason I could be Father Christmas here was because I had a mostly-free December. And that was because I was going to do a pop-up comedy venue and bar in London – like Bob’s Bookshop in Edinburgh. I looked at a couple of places in Hackney and round East London, but I just ran out of time to get the licensing sorted. So I had kept December free and, when the pop-up club didn’t happen, I put a few club gigs into my diary then this Father Christmas offer came along.”

“So you will be doing other pop-up comedy venues and bars?” I asked.

“I’m doing one at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February,” said Bob. “The programme’s out tomorrow and I’m doing three long weekends, putting on about 30 shows – people like Tom Binns, Devvo, Brian Gittins, Stuart Goldsmith, Phil Kay, Adam Larter, Doug Segal, Ben Target. We’ve got an old chapel in Leicester – Hansom Hall, named after the guy who invented the hansom cab. He designed the building.

“I’m working with a new brewery – BrewDog who are Aberdeen-based. They’re the fastest-growing food and drink company in the UK in the last three years. A really interesting independent brewer. They’re funding themselves by crowdfunding: you can invest in BrewDog. The moment they heard about Cockgate at the Edinburgh Fringe, they said We want to work with you.”

“And then?” I asked.

“I’m trying to be quiet in January to finish writing my Australian book. I’ve got to get the book done for the next Edinburgh Fringe.”

What???

Bob Slayer “trying to be quiet”?

This does not compute.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Children, Christmas, Comedy, Drink

Pretty soon, comedian Martin Soan will not be speaking to me. Lucky him…

Pretty soon, comedian Martin Soan will not be speaking to me. Lucky him, some might say.

Yesterday’s blog about things I cut out of my blogs reminded me of something else I had cut out but still had as an iPhone recording: a chat I had with Martin shortly after one of his several 60th birthday parties.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog in which Martin talked about spirituality.

When he read it, he told me he thought it made him sound like a drunken airhead. I think what he said was very interesting. Okay, he was drunk, but he can still say interesting things when he’s drunk.

He was slightly drunk in this conversation, too, recorded shortly afterwards. If he doesn’t like what is quoted, he can always claim he was drunk. I do not have that excuse.

A brick wall - or it could be anything you want

A brick wall – or maybe it could be anything you want it to be

“I read an article years ago,” I was saying to Martin, “which suggested that, in the future, you’ll be able to manipulate molecules. Everything we see is just molecules. The air, the stone walls, my hand: they’re all just molecules. So, if you can control the molecules, you don’t need to have walls for your house that are permanent brick walls. You can make them of anything you want. You could reconfigure the walls’ structure with the press of a button. You could have leaves or television screens instead of walls and change them in the click of a button if you have access to the right molecular structure.”

“But going back to my previous drunken blog with you,” interrupted Martin, “about spirituality.”

“Much appreciated,” I said.

“Fuck off,” laughed Martin. “Are you ever going to escape Man’s essential… How many millennia are we going to have to live into the future before we pass on to the next stage of evolution? That’s if Man’s even lucky enough to be included in the next stage of evolution. Manipulating molecules is just going along a linear line of technology and invention in such a small speck of evolution.”

I told Martin he should sell this ‘found art’ to Tate Modern

I told Martin he could sell this ‘found art’ to Tate Modern

“I think,” I said, “within a hundred years, we…”

Martin started laughing loudly: “You think you could go down Argos and get it?”

“Within 100 years, we could manipulate molecules,” I said.

“But that,” said Martin, “wouldn’t necessarily mean you had any more understanding, would it?”

“It would mean different ways of living,” I said. “I mean, Shakespeare was only 400 years ago. The Queen Mother lived to over 100. The distance between Shakespeare’s time and now is only the length of four people’s lives.”

“But,” argued Martin, “for several millennia, Man’s been exactly the same.”

“In Shakespeare’s time,” I said, “there were people living in wattle huts.”

“But is that the point?” asked Martin. “To be warm?”

“When I came down to London for the first time when I was a kid,” I said, “you walked along Whitehall or looked at St Pancras Station and there was no detailing on the buildings, because it was all totally caked in black soot and it smelled of soot.

Claude Monet’s view of London at the turn of the 20th century

Claude Monet’s view of London at the turn of the 20th century

“In the thick pea-souper smogs, we got let off school early, the air smelled of sulphur or something and, if you held your arm out in front of you, you couldn’t see your hand. You had to move carefully along the pavements step by step and pray when you crossed a road. If you walk around now, it’s a completely different world.”

“Certain things are better…” admitted Martin.

“Almost everything’s better,” I said.

“Ahhh, John,” said Martin, “I don’t think that’s true.”

“What’s got worse?” I asked. “I read old newspapers when I was researching a TV programme and, in 1780-odd and 1880-odd, you could not walk down Regent Street in the daylight in mid-afternoon without the risk of getting mugged. They were calling out the army every Friday and Saturday night to quell drunken riots in places like Woking. The army! The more the cameras look at us and the more GCHQ hacks into us, the safer it will be.”

There was a long, long pause.

“John…” said Martin. There was another long pause “…John…” he repeated.

“But really,” I said, “Just 400 years ago – which is nothing in time terms – people were living in mud huts in Britain. If you brought someone from 1613 to here, they’d have no idea what was going on.”

“But John,” argued Martin, “you’re just basing the next stage of Man’s evolution on sitting in a warm place with a computer and loads of puddings bought from Marks & Spencer… and without any walls. I don’t think that’s necessarily the next step in Man’s evolution. Molecular-manipulated houses and blogging and Marks & Spencer puddings – that’s your next step in evolution.”

“Yes,” I said. “Wasn’t it the US Agriculture Secretary who got sacked for saying people just want a tight pussy, loose shoes and a warm place to shit? There was some racism involved too but remove the racism and he has a point.”

“Will we live any longer?” asked Martin.

“Yes,” I said.

“But is living longer important?” asked Martin.

“It’s a bad thing living longer,” I agreed.

“I saw this TV programme by Kate Humble,” said Martin, “and she went to this part of Afghanistan where the average life expectancy is 35 years and, of course, their life is fucking hard. But that’s what I think life is. I mean, in Sex and The City, they’re moaning because they haven’t got the right boyfriend and can’t find the right shoes and they’ll live to 90 and they’ll spend the last part after they’re 60 bitter. Wouldn’t it just be better to burn out in glory and respect by the age of 35? It’s better to have a good life than a long life.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “There was that Greek myth about the wife who asked the Gods to give her husband eternal life and, of course, she found out that was the wrong thing to ask for. She actually wanted eternal youth, not eternal life. Eternal life would be appalling.”

“And that American sci-fi series,” said Martin. “The famous episode where there was a third-rate comedian who sold his soul to the Devil. He said I just want everyone to laugh at me all the time and, of course, he went out and someone was stabbed and he got blamed and everyone was laughing at him Oh! That’s so funny, man! and he got sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair and everyone was laughing Hahaha! What a way to go out! Now that’s what I call a funny man!”

“Life’s constantly getting better,” I said.

“Most of the guys who sell me my food,” said Martin, “are orphans from foreign countries.”

Downtown Fallujah, Iraq, 2003 - better than East Glasgow

Fallujah, Iraq, 2003 – more life-enhancing than East Glasgow

Janey Godley,” I said, “had a line in one of her shows that life expectancy in Fallujah, Iraq, is 65… In the East End of Glasgow, it’s 55.”

“Also,” said Martin “there was a line in The Wire – though all these things we quote we don’t know if they’re true – that literacy levels are worse in downtown Baltimore than in central Africa.”

“But centuries ago,” I said, “everywhere was shit. Now some places aren’t shit. I imagine the Central African Republic is as bad as it ever was, but Manhattan isn’t as bad as it was.”

Martin then opened the back window of his living room and pulled a beer from the refrigerator which he keeps outside.

“You leave me alone, John,” he said. “I’m drunk. Leave me alone.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “You got drunk and I got my blog and you’re sitting here accumulating money even as we speak…”

“Accumulating money?” Martin asked.

“The value of your house has probably gone up by £10,000 in the last ten minutes,” I said. “This is Peckham. Things are getting better all the time.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Drink, Humor, Humour, Philosophy, Technology