Category Archives: Eccentrics

The making of The Comedians’ Choice Awards at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

I have mentioned the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in the last couple of blogs. The actual trophies were designed and made by mad inventor John Ward who is particularly keen (via an email this morning) that I mention he lives in or near Moulton-Seas-End in Lincolnshire.

If you go to Wikipedia, you will find there is an article on Moulton-Seas-End currently illustrated with  a sole photograph (below).

John Ward clearly is, indeed, a man out standing in his own field.

Moulton-Seas-End, home of John Ward  (Photograph supplied by Kate Jewell via geograph.org.uk)

I suspect he may be trying to drum up tourist trade for Moulton-Seas-End, which is nowhere near the sea.

Having established specifically where he lives, onwards more generally to this year’s Comedians’ Choice Awards.

These, like the Malcolm Hardee Awards, are currently organised by the British Comedy Guide with trophies designed by John Ward but, in this case, there is sponsorship from London’s Museum of Comedy.

The Comedians’ Choice Awards were founded in 2014 and aim to help highlight “the amazing work of those at the Fringe who may well otherwise go unrecognised, as judged by those who understand their efforts the best: their peers.”

Every comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe is eligible to both cast a vote and to be voted for.

There is no panel of judges, no industry specialists. The performers themselves decide who wins. Voting is conducted during August via an online form administered by the British Comedy Guide.

The Comedians’ Choice Awards are presented in three categories:

BEST SHOW at the Fringe.

BEST PERFORMER – The best individual comedy performer at the festival.

BEST PERSON – “A person who the voter feels should get recognition for their contribution to this year’s Fringe. This does not need to be a performer; it can be anyone associated with the comedy industry at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, from reviewers to producers and venue staff.”

The Best Performer and Best Show winners and the Best Show shortlist nominees get invited to take part in a special Comedians’ Choice showcase season at London’s Museum Of Comedy in October.

This year, as a bonus, streaming platform NextUp Comedy will also record some of the Museum Of Comedy nights, with the performer receiving a revenue share.

The actual trophies, as I said, are designed and made by John Ward, who lives in or near the village of Moulton-Seas-End in Lincolnshire. He tells me:


John Ward, from Moulton-Seas-End, with the original Award

Before the Covid, if you recall we met up at Milton Keynes with the then ‘new’ Award that – unbeknown to me at the time – was then given in three classes and not one as I first thought.

Trying to replicate that one this year has been slightly chaotic… Since the Covid malarkey, things have been a bit fraught in acquiring the same materials in the making of.

The materials that went into making that Award are not readily available nowadays – blame the Ukraine business, the 3 Day Week, fluoride in toothpaste, wotever.

John Ward, resident of Moulton-Seas-End, crafting an Award

The new design is more handy for standing on a bookshelf, fireplace or to use as a door stop.

It’s in a mask configuration with the now standard ‘red nose’ being central, with a slanted ‘comedic eye’ on one side with the Comedy Guide emblem opposite making the twin ‘eyes’ as such with raised eyebrows.

The ‘grinning’ mouth has been chiselled out and filled with red ‘sparkly ripple’ type finish inserted and is not symmetrical but, as you look at it, there is a small curl on the left hand side at the top of it.

It is secured to the base with twin screws and a central wooden dowel so, in theory, there is not much chance of it falling apart… but, then again, they said the Titanic was unsinkable..

I have made nine of these: three for 2021 to give to the winners from then, three for this year 2022 and three for next year 2023, with each year being designated its own colour scheme.

The colours per year are: Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year, for 2022, it’s Silver.

Three years’ worth of The Comedians’ Choice Awards


THE COMEDIANS’ CHOICE AWARDS

2022 WINNERS

BEST PERFFORMER

Jordan Gray …performing in Jordan Gray: Is It a Bird?

Sharing the news on social media, Gray said: “This means EVERYTHING to me.”

BEST SHOW

Rob Copland: Mainstream Muck (Gimme Some of That)

In a nod to his unconventional show, when asked what it felt like to win, Copland supplied this statement: “\m/”.

BEST SHOW SHORTLIST

Ali Brice: I Tried To Be Funny, But You Weren’t Looking
Chelsea Birkby: No More Mr Nice Chelsea
Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann
The Delightful Sausage: Nowt but Sea
Elf Lyons: Raven
Luke Rollason: Bowerbird
Siblings: Siblage
Shelf: Hair Stuart Laws – Putting Zoo

BEST PERSON

Martin Willis

He is managing director of show production company Objectively Funny. The company also produces and distributes the Small Book on Mental Health at the festival, to support performers.

Martin Willis said: “It is a massive honour to win an award like this, one that’s voted for by people involved in shows here. It means the world to be recognised by a community that I care so dearly about, and I’m incredibly grateful.

“That being said, it cannot go unmentioned that in the history of this particular award the winner has always been a man. That fact speaks both of the demographics of the voters but also of what we actually see from behind the scenes. For an industry that is historically male-dominated onstage, there is a vast array of brilliant women that have made so much work possible in so many ways – technicians, producers, agents, venue programmers and people that do whatever job needs doing with care and gusto.

“I would like to accept this award on behalf of the Objectively Funny team that has worked so hard to make excellent things happen at this festival: Ellie Brayne-Wyatt, Maddy Bye, Kathryn Higgins, Olivia Phipps and Lois Walshe.”

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Who/Where on Earth reads my blogs?

45 minutes ago, someone asked me if all my blog readers were in the UK, which is an interesting question and the answer is No.

This is often called a “comedy blog” but not by me. I see it as just whatever takes my fancy. I have, in the past, called it a blog mostly but not exclusively “about interesting people doing interesting (often creative) things”.

I am sometimes approached by performers who want a specific comedy show mentioned/plugged… for example at the Edinburgh Fringe or in London.

And I sometimes (not always!) point out that the blogs may be read way after the show has finished and certainly not exclusively in London or Edinburgh or any-pinpoint-where.

If an interview is involved, I record it so that I cannot misquote people. I do make some edits to what people tell me, mostly to clarify what is being said. I take out the umms and erms and general linguistic ramblings which everyone does. Including, very much so, me.

And I try to clarify details for non-UK residents. For example, when “Soho” is mentioned, I usually expand this to “Soho, London” to avoid confusion with Soho in New York.

Most of my readers are in the UK, followed by the USA, then by the native English-speaking countries. There is also a TRANSLATE button on the blog. Who knows what gibberish that may create?

But, as a public service – and as a crass piece of self-promotion – here are four graphics showing where my blogs are read.

The first shows the hits on the blog today… up to 3.00pm… so there are still another nine hours to go in the day.

 

As you can see, most of the hits ARE in the UK, with a strong secondary following in the USA.

The next image shows the hits received in the last seven days:

I find it a tad unsettling that I appear to be read in Russia.

By whom I dare not guess.

The next graphic shows the hits in the last 30 days:

This one is even more worrying because it shows people reading me in China and, as far as I know, all Western blogs are blocked (to ordinary people) in China.

The good news is that I appear not to be read in North Korea.

Finally, a map showing the origin of hits on my blog in the last 12 months.

Clearly I have much work to do in the Faroe Islands, Iran, Yemen, Tajikistan, Honduras, Madagascar and chunks of Africa. I will continue to try to avoid drawing the attention of anyone or, rather, any organisation in North Korea.

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What happened when I produced a Jerry Sadowitz TV comedy special…

WARNING! THERE ARE MULTIPLE USES OF THE ‘F’ WORD AND THE ‘C’ WORD IN THIS PIECE… PROCEED AT YOUR PERIL IF YOU ARE OF A NERVOUS OR EASILY-OFFENDED DISPOSITION… OTHER BLOGS ARE WIDELY AVAILABLE TO READ ELSEWHERE…

The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz in September 1990


Yesterday’s blog was an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in which Malcolm recalled being, for a time, Jerry Sadowitz’s manager/agent in the 1980s.

I encountered Jerry through Malcolm during that time and later, in 1990, I produced a couple of TV shows for BSB (the precursor to BSkyB) via Noel Gay Television.

One was Malcolm Hardee: 25 Years in Showbiz, a variety show interspersed with various people, including Jerry, paying tribute to Malcolm.

The other was an episode of Noel Gay’s series The Last Laugh.

The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz was recorded to be a 55-minute show though it was later transmitted as a 45-minute show (for general scheduling reasons, not because of content).

BSB had a fairly liberal remit for comedy content. 

Comedians were allowed to swear, within reason, and could use the words ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ if they were an integral and essential component of the routine – ie if removing or changing the words would weaken the gag.

However, as Jerry tended to have a high level of expletives in his act – and, indeed, at one time used to say, with some justification, that “The word ‘cunt’ is a term of affection in Glasgow”, I thought trying to bar him from using the F and the C words altogether would damage the flow of his delivery of the lines.

So I told him in advance something like (I can’t remember the precise words nor the exact number):

“Try not to swear but we can probably cope with a couple of ‘cunts’ and four or five ‘fucks’. We won’t cut them out or bleep them but, if you try not to use them at all then, if a few slip through in the nature of the act… that’s OK.”

Imagine my surprise when he did the whole comedy and magic act, full-on for 55 minutes without a single ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’. And he was still able to maintain the offensiveness of the act.

There was one, not really surprising, problem though.

During the show, there were two lesbians in the audience whom Jerry spotted and, inevitably, he started making them the butt of some of his material.

Afterwards they made clear to me and others how outraged they had been by all this “offensive” material aimed at them.

I can’t remember whether Jerry was there when they complained or whether I told him afterwards.

But he was, in my opinion, genuinely taken aback that anyone would or could be actually offended and complain about the content of his comedy show. His reaction was – and again I paraphrase here – “But it’s a comedy show!” 

I tend to agree with him. 

(The lesbians were cut out of the transmitted show for flow-of-the-programme reasons, not for offensiveness reasons.)

The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz but without lesbians, for time reasons…

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Phil Jarvis of Consignia’s alternative review of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

“If you like fat blokes sweating, futuristic, nihilistic storylines, confusion… and a LOT…”

I blogged about the commendably eccentric Consignia comedy group at the beginning of last week.

They are currently at the Edinburgh Fringe

Their penultimate show is tonight; their run finishes tomorrow.

Yesterday morning,The Scotsman gave their show The Flatterers a 4-star review.

Critic Kate Copstick’s piece included: “I won’t understand Consignia. I never understand Consignia. I suspect that they, themselves, don’t understand Consignia. But some things are just not meant to be understood… 

Phil, an otherwise amiable and admirable chap

Consignia fans will be surprised at the use of an unexpected joke at one point, but, as usual, if you like fat blokes sweating, futuristic, nihilistic storylines, confusion, repetition and a LOT of poo, then this is undoubtedly the show for you.”

I thought it would be interesting for Consignia’s main begetter Phil Jarvis to write a review of his time at the Fringe this year. 

The result is below. 

The neglected brutalism of Glasgow’s Savoy Shopping Mall…

I should warn you in advance that Phil – an otherwise amiable and admirable chap – has an unfathomable adoration of brutalist architecture…


Edinburgh in the sunshine makes the city exceedingly beautiful, if that was even possible. However, I started off in Glasgow, enjoying the neglected brutalism of the Savoy Shopping Mall, which I give 10/10

At-swim comics Caitriona Dowden and Nate Kitch

Eventually, I make my way to Edinburgh, where I watch three afternoons in a row of Nate Kitch and Caitriona Dowden’s double bill, At-Swim-Two-Birds but it’s Two Comics called Nate Kitch and Caitriona Dowden at BrewDog (The Garage)… enjoying the masterful storytelling and deadpan delivery of Caitriona’s set and Nate’s commitment to pushing his ideas to unexpected outcomes. 10/10

Some of what surreal Alwin Solanky left behind in Uganda…

Alwin Solanky’s monologue at the Omni Centre – about his personal experiences as a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda – What You Leave Behind makes me cry each time I’ve seen it.

This is a show that deserves to be snapped up by arts theatres across the land, detailing the social relations of living in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s as a refugee, told through well-crafted vignettes and the approachable surrealism I have come to expect from Alwin. 10/10

Sisyphean Mark Dean Quinn really did have a stroke

Mark Dean Quinn’s show Mark Dean Quinn: Has a Stroke but at Least He Got a Show Out of It at the Revolution Bar is different each evening. The first set I see ends with a visibly distressed Mark. I overhear some audience members asking afterwards if that was real. Oh yes, all too real.

The next time I see the show, Mark puts himself and the audience through even more of an endurance test with a flip chart. I count only one walk out: a real feat considering Mark is possibly the most experimental comedian in the UK devoted to a Sisyphean struggle. 10/10

Bleeding Baby Train psychedelia with Rob Duncan

The Omni Centre venue has wonderfully put together performance spaces with stages, with an unfortunate consequence of sound bleeding from one show into another. This makes for an interesting experience. 

Within this sound collage, I watch Rob Duncan’s Baby Trains which delivers the goods on a segue, a functioning train set prop in his hands, taking the audience on a journey of being a CEO and a teacher. Perfect psychedelia for my sunburnt scalp. 10/10

Ceci n’est pas un cheval… C’est un spectacle.

Also at the Omni Centre, I zoned out a bit to Soliloquy of a Horse, but my headspace was probably on the right planet for this tale of misadventure and redemption, performed in a stripped-back, low-fi aesthetic with no props, apart from a chair in the middle.

Perfect ground to just let your imagination run wild conjuring up the visions the storytelling leads you on. 10/10

I show my pal from Consignia, Nathan “Wilco” Willcock, the Basil Spence designed Canongate building (10/10), with the concrete fire exit taking our senses to a state of transcendence. 

4-star Jarvis (L) plays it cool with Willcock…

On this high, we find out Kate Copstick has given our show a 4-star review in The Scotsman. Wilco is desperate to find a copy of The Scotsman. I just play it cool but, secretly, I’m happy.

As it turns out, the gig we do that evening is the worst it’s been the whole run. The costumes Nathan and I wear are now drenched in the fat man sweat we have unleashed over the run so far and humming hard. Nathan performs with minimal energy and I flounder not knowing how to riff off it. 0/10

I bury my sorrows by paying an overpriced £7.50 for chips, cheese and curry sauce, lathered in brown sauce (10/10) on the walk back to the digs. 

St Andrew’s House: creates ecstasy for two (Photo by Daboss)

The next day, to rejuvenate ourselves, a trip up to Carlton Hill has Nathan and me ecstatic at the sight of the Art Deco St Andrew’s House (10/10).

We climb up the steps to Carlton Hill and Nathan is disgusted at the sight, in the distance, of a shopping mall that now looks like a Mr Whippy style turd (1/10)

Still, Edinburgh is pretty beautiful in the sun.


Consignia’s latest and possibly last ever show The Flatterers 

Consignia’s latest and possibly last ever show The Flatterers ends tomorrow.

Sometime during that theatrical experience at the Banshee Labyrinth, they will also be giving out their Gareth Morinan Alternative New Act Of The Year Award.

I  realise none of this venue information is of any practical use to my long-suffering reader in far-off Guatemala nor for anyone reading this three years hence, but I feel obliged to share it for completism’s sake.

 

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Consignia: The Flatterers – The end of their anarchy at the Edinburgh Fringe?

Admirably anarchic comedy group Consignia are performing their show The Flatterers at the Edinburgh Fringe starting this Saturday (6th-14th August).

It is a free show – you can pay what you like at the end – and it is not listed in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure.

Last year, they got two reviews at the Fringe, both 4-stars:

“They actively want you to walk out” ★★★★ (Chortle)

“They eschew likeability” ★★★★ (The Scotsman)

I chatted to Consignia’s Phil Jarvis and (late-on) Nathan Willcox via Skype…


Phil Jarvis (left) at home with a non-Vietnamese doll with a beard (right)…

JOHN: What is that doll?

PHIL: I bought it in Poland the other day. It looks like Ho Chi Minh a bit.

JOHN: ho ho Ho Chi Minh… No it doesn’t. In my bedroom, I have a painting of Uncle Ho writing in a forest. That doll doesn’t look like him.

An inexplicable painting of Ho Chi Minh in a forest in my bedroom…

PHIL: It has his beard.

JOHN: Is the doll relevant to your show?

PHIL: No.

JOHN: Why is your show called The Flatterers?

PHIL: There was a 16th century painting called The Flatterers, so we just borrowed the title. It was about brown-nosing, so we thought we’d use that. By Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

Potentially relevant – The Flatterers by Pieter Brueghel the Younger…

JOHN: That doesn’t really answer the question Why is your show called The Flatterers?

PHIL: OK. The reason it’s called The Flatterers is because it’s about the billionaires leaving Earth in the near future and me and Nathan play people who are on a sort-of a waste ship that takes away the rubbish from the billionaires’ spaceship. Basically, our spaceship is full of shit and detritus from the billionaires and Nathan thinks that, by eating the billionaires’ ship, he will himself become a billionaire.

JOHN: That still doesn’t really answer the question Why is your show called The Flatterers?

PHIL: It’s an A-Level style metaphor about the billionaires just shitting on everyone else. So it’s just really hammering home a (LAUGHS) quite obvious idea. Originally it was going to be a show called The Urn – a person who is having the launch for his art show dies and… But we’re not going to do that because I saw the error of my ways.

JOHN: The Flatterers is only on at the Fringe from the 6th to the 14th August because…

PHIL: Money. I’m paying to go to one of those student dorms and it’s £700 for a week.

An unrelated Consignia show was Lemonade

JOHN: The Flatterers starts at 11.00pm and is billed as being one hour long. I find this difficult to believe. I saw that hour-long show you did which lasted about 3 hours. You are the Ken Dodd of anarchic comedy. You got to the end of the show, then just did the whole thing again. How performing a 1-hour show twice even lasted 3 hours I don’t know. Has any poor sod got a midnight show supposedly following your 11.00pm show in the Banshee Labyrinth?

PHIL: (LAUGHS) Last year’s show was 50 minutes and we ran to time.

JOHN: Is The Flatterers really going to be the last ever Consignia show?

PHIL: I would genuinely like it to be the last one. It feels like… Why not? Why not just end it? Once you get good reviews, why not just end it and do something different. I think that’s a better tactic than…

JOHN: A better tactic than being successful?

PHIL: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Define “do something different”. Doing mother-in-law gags?

PHIL: (LAUGHS) Maybe not THAT different! Nathan and I already do a podcast: Modernist Cat Wee Wee.

JOHN: Nathan got married. Has that affected the dynamics of the group?

PHIL: Maybe. Well, it was quite a struggle to get Nathan to come up to the Fringe this year.

JOHN: You get an audience, though…

PHIL: You came to the early shows before we were even called Consignia – when the shows were billed as Malcolm Julian Swan Presents – and they had a funny energy to them. And then it kind of found its audience without any flyering, which I feel a bit smug about while being bemused about it too. It doesn’t make any sense.

JOHN: Sounds like a good show review.

(There is a recording of the 2015 pre-Consignia show Malcolm Julian Swan Presents: Hokum on Soundcloud),

Galaxy, scrambled egg or vomit? You decide.

JOHN: When I look at the poster image for The Flatterers, am I wrong in thinking that’s a picture of a bit of vomit on some tarmac?

PHIL: It is, yes. That is our anti-poster. You’re meant to have your picture on a Fringe poster, probably taken by that photographer Steve Best…

JOHN: …or Steve Ullathorne. The Fringe is over-endowed with people called Steve.

PHIL: You’re supposed to look like you’re in a Top Shop kind of thing, but we’re all past 30 now, so we can’t even look smart. We put on a nice 4-star review from Kate Copstick (in The Scotsman) and a good 4-star review from Steve Bennett (on chortle.co.uk).

JOHN: Like I said – over-endowed …

PHIL: We put the review stars on there and our two nominations from the Leicester Comedy Festival, but then we thought Fuck Off! We’re not going to put our faces on it!

JOHN: You reckon, once you are over 30, you are past performing anarchy at the Fringe?

PHIL: Definitely! Once you get into your 30s, you are… well, the advertisers don’t aim at that group. If you go to Berlin, as we did recently – all these hip and happening places – they’re all aimed at people in their 20s, really. 

JOHN: Consignia played Berlin?

PHIL: Yes, we did a show called Maastricht Reloaded, which was actually made in 2019. We built a ClingFilm wall, which we stood behind.

Maastricht Reloaded by Consignia in Berlin…

It was just an improvised show about three hours long about the Maastricht Treaty. We weaved-in a story about Guy Fawkes travelling through time, trying to torpedo John Major’s government.

JOHN: Social realism, then?

PHIL: (LAUGHS) Pretty much, yeah.

JOHN: Pseudo-realism?

PHIL: That’s a great name.

JOHN: You can have it… You played the Fringe last year.

2021: “50 minutes of Migraine…” at the Fringe

PHIL: Yes, It was called Migraine. That was the one we got the 4-star reviews for.

The show’s blurb said it was “50 minutes of migraine”.

We were being quite honest.

JOHN: This year’s show is not listed in the Fringe brochure.

PHIL: Why give money to the Fringe Society when you’ve seen what kind of shit-weasels they are with that duplicity about the app?

(The Fringe Society charged performers in advance but never told them there was no Fringe app for finding shows this year, as there had been last year,)

JOHN: Shit-weasels?…

PHIL: It’s disgusting. What kind of people do that? The Fringe Society is just a toff club.

JOHN: If this really is the last Consignia show, how are you going to unleash your inner anarchy in future?

PHIL: I dunno. Who knows? I think maybe that’s why Consignia was there in the first place: to fulfil that inner need and to get a release. Though I think it became a bit more than that.

JOHN: So that’s enough for the blog…

PHIL: … and here’s the fucking prick!

(NATHAN WILLCOX ARRIVES ON THE SKYPE SCREEN)

PHIL: Where have you been? We’ve been talking for 24 minutes.

NATHAN: You didn’t invite me.

PHIL: That’s no excuse…

On Skype, Phil Jarvis (left) and Nathan Willcox focus on explaining their show title…

JOHN: Why is your show called The Flatterers?

NATHAN: It’s a gross-out, state-of-the-nation piece. It’s set in the not-too distant future when Earth has become uninhabitable due to…

JOHN: …the French?

NATHAN: Probably. Your words. Or climate change. Could be something else. Never specified.

We are in space on Waste Ship 6668…

JOHN: I get 666. Why 8?

PHIL: It’s a Dante reference.

JOHN: Joe Dante, the director of Gremlins?

NATHAN: No. Dante. The Divine Comedy. The 8th level was where The Flatterers were – in the 8th circle of Hell.

JOHN: I thought it was something to do with Pieter Brueghel the Younger…

NATHAN: The show was originally conceived by Phil because of Navara Media’s Left Wing reporter Ash Sarkar. There was a Tweet I sent Phil where there was an article about the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezoses… Their ships, when they go up in space… their waste gets thrown out and burns up in the atmosphere and is often mistaken for shooting stars. The Tweet said something like: Oh what a perfect metaphor for capitalism or something.

I sent that to Phil and he said: “Oh, we should do a show about that!”

JOHN: Close encounters of the turd kind?

PHIL: That’s gotta be the pull-quote from your blog.

JOHN: I can die happy.

(THERE IS AN 18-MINUTE, 46 SECOND CONSIGNIA “WELCOME TO DUNGENESS” VIDEO ON VIMEO WHICH HAS NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO WITH THEIR NEW SHOW “THE FLATTERERS”… AS FAR AS I KNOW…)

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The English language… It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it…

(Image by Hans-Peter Gauster, via UnSplash)

A large number of these blogs over the years have been interviews or, more precisely, transcriptions of chats with other people. I record everything so that I can make certain I quote the people I talk to exactly.

I type exactly what they say.

Except, of course, there has to be a certain amount of tidying-up of what they say. I have to take out the gaps, stumbles, repetitions, umms and ahhs and errrms and general ramblings of normal speech, because almost no-one ever speaks in fluent sentences.

At college, part of the course I took involved radio production and part involved linguistics.

One afternoon, we were asked to go off in groups of three or four and have a short recorded conversation with each other about anything, then transcribe the exact words which had been spoken.

Three or four of us went off and had an interesting, fluent chat about something-or-other.

But, when the recording was transcribed – writing down every word exactly as spoken – we realised we had not conversed in sensible, coherent or even necessarily meaningful sentences. Our ears and brains had cut out all the crap and what we thought we heard was what the other person INTENDED to say rather than what he/she actually said.

So transcribing interviews is a laborious process. It can take three times as long to transcribe a chat as it took for it to happen. So an hour of chat might take three hours to transcribe even before turning it into something which flows. And then, of course, there is intonation – or even a casual or ironic glances of the eyes. Intonation and unspoken implication can totally change the meaning of what is said.

In the 1960s there was a very late-night BBC TV series which aimed to help people – mostly new immigrants – learn English. It included acted-out scenes. One such sketch took place in a Post Office with a long queue. 

When he eventually reached the counter, the first customer simply asked for “A first class stamp, please…”

The second customer – not a native English speaker, but trying to be very polite – asked for “a first class stamp, PLEASE”… The Post Office person serving him, bristled.

The point being made was that, by emphasising the PLEASE with that particular intonation in that particular situation, instead of being polite, the impression the customer communicated was extreme annoyance at having queued for so long. The sentence was polite. The communicated emotion was confrontational annoyance. The intonation mis-communicated the actual spoken words.

Because transcribing a recorded chat can be time-consuming and very dull, a few years ago, I tried to use speech recognition software, thinking it would type out what was said in real time and I would only have to do some minor tidying-up and re-punctuation of some sections.

It turned out I was being over-optimistic, as the below section of a chat with an anonymous British comedian shows. The eventual edited interview, I think/hope, showed them in their true vocally fluent light.

This is how the speech recognition software transcribed the exact recorded words…


What happened was that was. My most successful show today. And that was me as me whereas before that. I had been. Doing character based. Comedy. And I was. The. One. Who was the most successful. Because I trained for many many years to be an actor. And so I didn’t really want to do stand up. But I did that show with me and it was the most successful. And. I. Think I just felt like I’d plateaued plateaued be. That I didn’t have much else to say.

It’s all out of love with it because it was fantastic but I’ve got. To come back. With something else. I wanted it to be. And I didn’t want to rush into the mix. And I kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh. Training I’ve done about. Six Edinburgh’s in a row. By that point. You don’t want what you’ve got. Well. You know I did. Six. Shows. Including that one up to 20 as I’d been reading yeah. You know. All. Went. 

Yeah. So you need. Help basically. So I had someone. Who was amazing. Help me out. Did. She was. Just. Like. Those bums on seats. It was the least. Stressful. One. And I just felt that if I didn’t follow I wanted it to be as good. As much. And I just didn’t feel like. It. Felt like I. Felt a bit jaded my head. And. The thought of having another show and doing the same. Circuit. Again straight away. So. This. Year. I just. Might.

I mean I’ve always done. Acting and. That’s. What. I really wanted was. And. I had. Up until that point as. Where. What. I call a mortgage. Job. Which most people. Have. Which was an office job. A horrible office job five. Days a Week. With. You. Know not made to any of my strengths and just to just pay the bills. I started to build. Quite. Happy. And. I thought you know what it’s. Time to move on. So I did.


That might be an extreme case but I think it shows some of the ways real people talk, constructing thoughts as they speak… To an extent, it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it. That’s what gets results.

Conversation – and writing – is about communication and the human brain is designed to spot patterns, so clarity is often in the ear and the brain of the beholder far more than the mouth of the speaker. 

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Amazon’s Alexa is a psychopathic killer. Apple’s Siri is a New Age Californian…

A few weeks ago, I was in a charity shop with my eternally-un-named friend. 

A glass head was being used to display headwear.

I took a liking to it as a slightly surreal objet bizarre.

I asked the shop assistant if it was for sale.

He said, “No.”

Unknown to me, my eternally-un-named friend later found a similar glass head online and bought it for me.

She very kindly gave it to me the other day. 

I was a bit uncertain where to put it in my living room for the maximum aesthetic impact of its pointless splendour and, on a whim, asked my seldom-used Alexa electronic assistant: 

“Alexa, where should I put the head?”

This was the answer I got:

“Place the head in the freezer…”

Afterwards, I asked the same question to Apple’s arguably more sophisticated Siri assistant: 

“Hey, Siri, where should I put the head?”

“I’m not sure I understand,” was her first response.

But, when I asked again:

“Hey, Siri, where should I put the head?”

… she had second thoughts.

And her answer, as befits Apple’s more caring Californian image, included a suggestion of the “Best direction to sleep, according to Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra.”

Eventually, I decided by myself, without electronic advice.

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A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 2 – Comedy, characters, dreams…

Robert Wringham is not his real name…

Yesterday’s blog finished with:

ROBERT: So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

Now read on…


JOHN: I am not in any way a performer. No talent; no interest in doing it. There is a different mindset between performers and writers, isn’t there? I’m not remotely a performer. I can’t ad-lib fluently in spoken speech, whereas I can write I think fluently quite quickly.

ROBERT: I don’t want to be truly me performing on stage; I want to be a character. I think I can just about hold my own in terms of fast thoughts, but what I can’t do is play the character at the same time. However, in Stern Plastic Owl and my other books, I think I CAN do that.

JOHN: So, when you were a stand-up, it was character comedy…

ROBERT: Not like Alan Partridge. It’s like what I said about ‘Robert Wringham’ and the doppelgänger. I want this clear line between the real me and what I’m showing, otherwise it’s not actually a creative act. I don’t want to go out there and just talk. I want to have a character and that was why I was not very good as a performer. I couldn’t really do that.

The way I’ve found round that problem is to do these books. 

JOHN: By and large, I don’t like character comedy because, in television, I got typed as a finder of bizarre and/or eccentric ‘real people’. So I know there are loads of eccentric or even just slightly unusual people out there – well, most people are slightly unusual – and they are really interesting. So why should I watch someone pretending to be eccentric or unusual when they are not? – They are just analysing someone who isn’t themselves and fabricating a character to hide behind.

Charlie Chuck is not a subtle character study of a real type…

The closer a character act is to being real, the less I’m interested. The more ‘cartoony’ they are, the more I’m interested. Charlie Chuck springs to mind. Charlie Chuck (real name Dave Kear) is not a subtle character study of a real type of person.

ROBERT: One of my favourite comics is Harry Hill (real name Matthew Hall) and a lot of people don’t really think of him as a character comic although he is. You could not be like that in real life. I assume Matthew Hall at home is going to be nothing like Harry Hill.

JOHN: Yes, he’s a cartoon character – in a good way. I think really good straight stand-up comedians on stage are themselves, but slightly heightened versions of themselves. And then there are the OTT cartoony-type ones. But stand-up ‘character comedy’ tends to be just wannabe actors showing off their abilities, not performers who inherently have that odd ‘comedian’ gene.

I also don’t particularly like slow-speaking comedians. If I pay to see Jerry Sadowitz, I’m getting value for money in the words-per-minute, but slow comedians, by-and-large, I think: Just get on with it! I never liked Jack Benny. Too slow. Although, oddly, I liked George Burns.

ROBERT: To me, ‘slow’ is the ultimate cool because it’s the opposite of… When you’re nervous on stage, you go fast. A slow-speaking comedian instills a certain confidence in the room. You think: Oh! This guy knows what he’s doing! He’s going to slowly reveal the routine. It’s also very funny: almost as if they don’t care what the audience thinks.

JOHN: I guess maybe George Burns felt more Jewish to me, which I like. Jack Benny was maybe less ‘American Jewish’ humour.

ROBERT: My partner is Jewish and Jewish is a big part of our shared life. In my secret mind, ‘Robert Wringham’ is Jewish, though I don’t tend to talk about it on the page. My favourite humorists are all Jewish. 

JOHN: S.J. Perelman?

ROBERT: Yeah. Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, Jon Ronson.

JOHN: So what’s next for you after Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: I’m working on my novel. It’s almost done.

JOHN: Tell me it really IS about sitting in a bathtub and it’s called Rub-a-Dub-Dub

ROBERT: Yes! It is!

JOHN: A lucky guess on my part. What’s the plot?

ROBERT: I think ‘plot’ is old hat. So, instead of going wide with a plot, go deep. It’s about the conscious state you have when you’re in the bath. You’re nostalgic. You’re thinking back. There’s this time machine effect. You’re thinking back to you childhood. So that’s what my guy in the book does. He’s remembering things, thinking of his worries, thinking on his body. There’s a lot of stuff about the body in it.

There is something called phenomenological writing, which is just the real nitty-gritty of what surrounds you. You’d be surprised how you can make that interesting.

JOHN: As I speak to you, I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun sitting in front of a station/cathedral. What is phenomenological writing?

“I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun…”

ROBERT: It’s really old. It’s a French thing. For example, Georges Perec did one where it was all in one building, but it was into the nitty-gritties. So he’d be talking about the design on the carpet for ages and going into the shagpile of this single room or the individual books in the bookcase and what they were. And it would all be in the service of something: like This is the character of the person who lives there. But it would be really deep into the nitty-gritty.

You would think: That can’t possibly be fun to read. But, actually, it’s really entertaining and interesting. What I’m doing and what Georges Perec did is playing it for laughs.

JOHN: I remember reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and wondering why she went into such detailed descriptions of people’s houses… until I realised the descriptions were actually also descriptions of each householder’s personality. The houses personified their occupants. 

This blog bit is just pure self-indulgence…

You were talking about dreams earlier on. I’m interested because I have an unidentified medical problem. I used to sleep soundly and deeply and never remembered my dreams. But now I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since June 2020 – I wake up literally every hour and, of course, sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream. I always wanted to remember my dreams because I assumed they would be surreal but they’re not. The dreams I have are very realistic not surrealistic. They have narrative storylines running through them. I am disappointed. You sound like you have better dreams.  

ROBERT: Mine aren’t stories at all. If I do something very repetitive during the day – like doing the washing-up – that’ll end up in my dream. Repetitive things go in. Embarrassingly dull.

JOHN: I don’t seem to have nightmares. Do you?

ROBERT: No. And, if I do write things down in my notebook, it’s always things like Stern Plastic Owl. I DID once write down Stoat: Hospital with a colon between the two words. I can’t even begin to imagine what that means. 

JOHN: I can only dream of having dreams which are that weird.

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The oldest man in the world, a mystery moon and the broken Rule of Three…

Tonight I went to see the regular Monday Club show at the Museum of Comedy in London. I had been telling comic Siân Doughty it was an excellent place to see good acts trying out new material. She went to check it out.

Afterwards, she mentioned to me: “There was a report on the radio that the oldest man in the world has died again.”

“Again?” I asked and then realised that, of course, the oldest man in the world is forever dying.

On my train back home, I met a neighbour who told me he had heard a radio programme about exoplanets and had to look up what an exoplanet is. (I didn’t know either.) 

The programme pointed out, he told me, that our Moon has no name.

Loads of other planets have moons, some with names, some without. 

Ours is just another moon – one of gazillions – but it has no specific name. 

I had never thought about this before.

I have a cold, but that is no excuse.

I felt cheated when I got home because I felt a third quirky insight should have been visited on me. The Rule of Three had been broken.

I will sleep uneasily tonight.

Seen this afternoon – rain through my kitchen window pane – I have no point to make…

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Death of The Ratman – UK cabaret’s Dark Knight and a British ‘Joe Exotic’

Ratman & Robin – Ken Edwards (left) and Dave Potts

What do you get if you combine the British tradition of sticking a ferret down your trousers and the Room 101 section of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984? You get – or got – the admirably OTT act Ratman and Robin.

I have only just found out that Ken Edwards died a couple of weeks ago on 9th January. He was 79.

He was better-known to connoisseurs of the bizarre as the ‘Ratman’ in Ratman & Robin.

Reporting his death, the German news website news.de called him “Britischer Joe Exotic” – “the British Joe Exotic“.

I auditioned Ratman & Robin back in 1987 for the Channel 4 TV show The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross. They and their rodent co-stars arrived in a Rentokil van.

 Alas the show’s producer was not enamoured of rat acts, especially when the rodent co-stars had a tendency to escape and run round the audition room. So the Jonathan Ross show sadly remained rat free.

Ken’s Ratman inspired David Walliams

Years later, in 2012, Ken also got turned down after an audition for Britain’s Got Talent in which he ate cockroaches out of a paper bag in front of the judges.

David Walliams later said his children’s book Ratburger – particularly the character Burt – was inspired by this audition. Walliams told the Irish Daily Mirror in 2017: ”I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t go through to the next round because he was such an amazing character.”

When I met them, both Ratman and Robin seemed very relaxed and amiable: just two blokes who had stumbled on an interesting sideline; much better than making matchstick models of the Eiffel Tower or breeding racing pigeons.

Ken was a man of many animal parts. As the Britain’s Got Talent audition showed, he could also turn his creative hand and mouth to eating live cockroaches.

Asked what the cockroaches tasted like, he once said: “They taste awful. I just cannot describe them. I just think of England and a pint… It’s like having an anaesthetic at the back of the throat.” (A result of the scent they let off to repel predators.)

He also (at least once) took part in a slug-eating competition to raise money for Hyde United football club and, over the years, he raised thousands of pounds for charity.

He reportedly contributed to a few un-named Hammer horror movies, where he would allegedly provide rats and the like for unspecified “crucial scenes”.

Ken  eating cockroaches for Britain’s Got Talent

In 1987, according to the Manchester Evening News, the RSCPA attempted to get the Ratman & Robin act banned “but were unsuccessful in their efforts”.

He found himself included in the 1988 Alternative Book of Records after he stuffed 47 rats down his, admittedly elasticated, trousers. And he earned a ‘proper’ Guinness World Record title in 2001 for the most cockroaches eaten – 36 – in one minute. He did this during an appearance on TV’s The Big Breakfast.

Ken had started his working life as a projectionist at the Hyde Hippodrome cinema before moving to the Ritz Cinema in Hyde, Greater Manchester.

By the age of 18, he had started acting on stage at venues including the Plaza, Stockport and the Theatre Royal, Hyde. He then bought a concertina and started touring concert halls across the North of England telling ‘mother-in-law jokes’ but (according to the DerbyshireLive website) “demand soon dried up”. Whether this was because the North of England comedy-goers of that time were early with political correctness or because he delivered the jokes badly is a matter for conjecture. 

After that, according to the Derby Telegraph, he spent around 15 years ‘prowling’ the sewers and cellars of Manchester, earning a living as a ratcatcher.

He looked after lions, emus, giraffes and, here, a tiger cub

In the 1960s and 1970s, he also spent time working as a zookeeper at Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester, looking after lions, tigers, emus, hippopotamuses and giraffes. He had joined the Board of Directors of the Belle Vue Circus in 1963.

One day, while working as a ratcatcher, he was asked to set traps at a glove factory in Stockport and met worker David Potts.

They became friends and, together, became Ratman & Robin. 

Ken was a late developer. His talent for carrying out bizarre stage acts was initially unveiled on the British TV show Over The Top when he was 39. After that, Ratman & Robin appeared on various TV shows throughout the 1980s including The Russell Harty Show though, sadly, not The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross.

Poster boys for eccentric rodent excesses

David Potts, his ‘Robin’, said Ken would often catch the vital co-stars of their act – the rats – in traps in Manchester’s sewers and then clean them up and look after them in his six garden sheds before using them in the act.

In 1985, Ken told reporters: “Our rats are really well treated… The rats are all caught from sewers, shampooed, deloused, and kept in special galvanised cages.”

David said Ken’s home “would often contain around 150 rats, a pet mink and even a Mexican coatimundi – a type of racoon”.

Not surprisingly, Ken became a bit of a local hero in Hyde.

Reminiscing on a local website in 2011… someone called ‘Tom’ remembered: “I once saw Ken walking a ring-tailed lemur on Great Norbury Street, near to the George pub.”

Ken, daughter Catherine and inevitable rats

Another contributor – ‘Westar Steve’ – added: “He used to live on Chapel Street and in his house he used to sleep in a coffin and he had two fangs put in his mouth instead of two normal teeth. Last time I saw him, he had a stall on the flea market on Ashton Market and he was living in a caravan near that Alexander Mill in Hyde”

His friends and family became used to his OTT behaviour and Ken said: “If I were to actually do something normal, THEN they would react!”

In 1988, he told the Liverpool Echo: “I put the rats down my trousers… It’s boring but the audience loves it.”

According to the Manchester Evening News: “One of Ratman & Robin’s most controversial acts revolved around a ‘Coffin of Blood’ performance, which involved Ken being handcuffed inside a Perspex coffin. Assistant David would inflict several wounds to his body and then introduce 30 wild rats into the coffin, while audiences watched in horror as they fed off his open wounds.”

Allegedly, he used to sleep in a coffin

Ken once said he loved to take himself “to the limits of disgust” with the act: “I just think of the money,” he told the Liverpool Echo in 1988. “I soon realised people love to be disgusted.”

He was unsurprisingly sometimes called an eccentric: “He loves offending people,” a friend said, “piercing pomposity and giving his audiences a belly laugh.”

His publicity card in 1990 proudly proclaimed the opinions of various journalists: 

“…a very complex man”

“…that strange man”

“…yuk”.

RIP Ratman. 

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