Category Archives: Fame

Embarrassing name-calling & the 1985 hopes of Neil Mullarkey & Mike Myers

John Williams in 2013, when his show was at the Edinburgh Fringe

Last year, John Williams’ show was at the Edinburgh Fringe

This morning I was having an e-mail conversation with superb performer John Williams.

I missed his show My Son’s Not Rainman at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, but saw it recently at London’s Canal Cafe Theatre.

It is about life with his autistic son.

John did not put a creative step wrong in it anywhere. Writing, delivery, intonation, pacing, laughter, tears. All absolutely 100% spot-on for 100% of the time.

I mentioned to him this morning that he is difficult to find online because his name is relatively common. He told me:

“I did stand-up comedy years ago and had a stage name then – John Lauren – it became a bit of a thing to hide behind. I didn’t gig much, I got to the final of Laughing Horse’s New Act of The Year in 2002 after eight gigs, was completely out of my depth, got a bloody awful review and ran away for ten years… I always said if I was coming back I’d use my proper name so there was no safety net – it certainly makes me difficult to find, though. It has been handy over the years for dealing with credit reference agencies, less so for publicity.”

I told him:

My full name is John Thomas Fleming (I don’t think John Thomas meant anything to my parents) and, when I first applied for my National Insurance number it took about six months to get because there were six – SIX – John Thomas Flemings all born on exactly the same day and they thought I was the one in Newcastle trying to pull some scam. Who would have thought? SIX! It tends to keep your ego in check at a sensibly early stage about your own uniqueness.”

John Williams’ reaction was:

“Christ Almighty, I’m another John Thomas – I thought I was the only one whose parents managed that stunt. I kept my middle name top secret after years of stick at school then realised on my wedding day that I would have to come clean as the vicar would declare in front on the congregation: Do you take John Thomas… So, I suffered the indignity of finally confessing my true name only for the vicar to just refer to me as John.”

In this blog a couple of days ago, I posted two chats with comedian/executive business coach Neil Mullarkey.

In the 1980s, he was in a double act with Mike Myers who went on, in 1997, to make the first of his three Austin Powers movies (in which Neil Mullarkey appeared).

Back in 1985, Mullarkey & Myers were founder members of The Comedy Store Players and both were at the start of their careers.

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photo by Bill Alford)

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club back in 1986 (Photo by Bill Alford)

Neil Mullarkey was 24 and Mike Myers was 22.

They wrote a list which I had been going to include in my Neil Mullarkey blogs this week, but which I regretfully cut for reasons of length. On second thoughts, though, it is maybe worth posting as a comment on the nature of time and fame and humility.

Most people born after a certain date will not know who most of the people mentioned in this list are… or were. Fame is fleeting. Names and people and their lives are quickly forgotten.

Tempus fugit.

Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.

This is Mullarkey & Myers’ 1985 list of…

AMBITIONS FOR ’86 AND BEYOND

  • to meet Reg Varney (On The Buses)
  • to meet Doug McClure (Trampas in The Virginian)
  • for Reg Varney to meet Doug McClure
  • to be asked to do a prestigious benefit gig
  • to perfect their Mexican accents
  • to bring happiness to people who are sad
  • to meet Bob Todd (the tall bald bloke on Benny Hill)
  • to visit East Finchley
  • to write a sketch set in ancient Greece, so they can wear sheets as if they were togas and do their hair in a funny way and wear laurel leaves round their heads and also sandals
  • to travel
  • oh, and be happy
  • to make it big
  • to punish Hawaii for the brutal slaughter of Captain Cook
  • to meet Roger Ramjet
  • to be in one of the Brylcream adverts
  • to release a hit single, get on Top of the Pops and ask the people on it why they dance in such a funny way, also to meet Dave Lee Travis
  • to make it really big

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The cult of comedian Lewis Schaffer gets a disciple at the Edinburgh Fringe

Rose and Lewis Schaffer in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon

Rose and Lewis Schaffer in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon

“He was literally dancing home last night,” Rose said to me about Lewis Schaffer yesterday afternoon.

“Why?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“This man came up and said he’d been thinking about me all day,” Lewis Schaffer said.

“Yeah,” said Rose. “He said he’d been thinking about Lewis all day and he comes to the Fringe every year and he’d seen Lewis before and then he just walks into Bob’s Bookshop last night and Lewis is there.”

“He showed me pictures of my own posters,” said Lewis Schaffer.

Rose told me: “He’d taken a photograph in Edinburgh of every single poster he’d seen with Lewis on it. On his phone. Like obsessionally.”

“His friend said he didn’t want to see him,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He lives in East Dulwich and he listens to Nunhead American Radio – my radio series.”

“So he’s the listener?” I asked.

“It seems so,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” said Rose, “this man’s obsessed with Lewis and he walked into Bob’s Bookshop last night…”

“He said it was a message from God,” interrupted Lewis Schaffer, “and he said I was a messenger from God… Him seeing me at Bob’s Bookshop last night at one o’clock in the morning during Midnight Mayhem was a sign that he had to go see Lewis Schaffer’s show and disregard his friend back in East Dulwich. He showed us all the pictures he had taken of my posters.”

“And then,” said Rose, “a lovely lady with a little bob haircut said that Lewis Schaffer was her favourite comedian and then, on the way home, Lewis got a 4-star review. And that was it. He was off. Dancing in the street. He was like Gene Kelly in the rain.”

“Where was the 4-star review?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

Fringe Guide,” he replied. “The reviewer called me unhinged. It made my day. He had seen me many times since 2008. So it wasn’t like one of these people who just happened to see me on a really, really good day.”

“If I mention this in my blog,” I asked, “what do I call Rose? Is she one of your new entourage of helpers?”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Rose is not an entourage. I do not have an entourage.”

“But,” I said, “Claire Smith of The Scotsman told me you now have four people. If you have one person, it’s a stalker. If you have four people, it’s an entourage. You’ve got Heather. You’ve got Rose. You’ve got that tall bloke…”

“Alex Mason,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“And you’ve got some flyerer,” I continued. “That’s an entourage.”

“It’s just that…” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t even know what it is… What is it, Rose?… There’s something that… It’s just that super smart people are attracted to me.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You’d have to ask Rose what’s in it for Rose,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, she’s doing a thesis on comedy,” I said.

“That’s what she says,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Claire Smith told me your act was much better,” I said, “because Rose was writing down everything and you were talking to her about it. Like Rose was semi-directing you.”

“Well,” Lewis Schaffer admitted, “it has had a really positive effect on me. As Heather has had. And Alex Mason. We’re all a team together.”

“What does Alex Mason do, except look tall?” I asked.

“He’s very deadpan, but super funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He’s destined to be a great comedian or writer or something.”

“Like Lewis Schaffer?” I suggested.

“Hardly,” said Lewis Schaffer. “The guy’s a genius. I mean like a serious genius… Rose is a genius too, but she masks it with a working class patina.”

“Have you got a patina?” I asked. “It sounds sexual.”

“I don’t know what the fuck a patina is,” said Rose.

“You have a patina,” Lewis Schaffer told Rose.

“You have an entourage,” I told Lewis Schaffer.

“If you write about an entourage,” Rose told me, “I’m going to go fucking mental, because he’s going to look like a cunt.”

Look like?” I asked.

“Don’t write about this,” said Rose. “Write about him dancing in the street last night. He was like Gene Kelly. He was as happy as Larry.”

“What’s your university thesis on?” I asked Rose. “This is your second thesis isn’t it?”

“Third,” said Rose.

“She got two Firsts,” said Lewis Schaffer. “According to her. I don’t know if it’s true.”

“It’s absolutely true,” said Rose.

“What was the first thesis about?” I asked.

“Taboo comedy material at Lewis Schaffer’s shows.”

“Only at Lewis Schaffer’s shows?” I asked, surprised. “I thought it was in general.”

“I’m a bit lazy,” said Rose.

“What was the second one about?”

“Audience participation…”

“…at Lewis Schaffer’s shows?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Rose. “At Lewis Schaffer’s shows. And the third one is a compilation of the first two.”

“Like your Best Of… thesis,” I suggested.

“Yes,” said Rose. “It’s the highlights plus an extended interview I haven’t done yet. You said ‘theses’. But the first two were just research papers. This is the Big One.”

“If you write about me,” Lewis Schaffer told Rose, “you’ll become famous after I die.”

“I don’t want to be famous,” said Rose.

“I want to be famous,” said Lewis Schaffer. “So I assume everyone wants to be famous. All I’m saying is it will help you, Rose, by writing about me.”

“So has this mad man from last night got your e-mail address?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I hope so,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t want to lose track of him. Having a stalker is always amazing, although sometimes there’s a price to pay.”

“And your point is?” I asked.

“What is my point?” Lewis Schaffer asked Rose.

“He is happy a man is obsessed with him.”

“Anyone,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Just anyone.”

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Forgotten famous British comedians and Sean Brightman’s comedy condoms

Sean Brightman at the Sanderson Jones gig

Sean Brightman this week at Sanderson Jones’ Internet gig

Yesterday, I blogged about Sanderson Jones’ geeky new comedy night All Your Internet Are Belong to Us and how this month’s show developed into a bit of a gross-a-thon.

But, before it went so entertainingly off-the-rails, it had stayed on its geeky theme with the end of a ‘tumblr battle’ between comedians Sean Brightman and Stuart Laws in which, for about three weeks, they had created collections of tumblr images.

Stuart Laws had created a collection of comic ‘riders’ demanded by performers.

Sean Brightman had gone for his rather more ambitious A-Z of Alternative Comedy – The Alternative Alphabet.

This proved interesting because, the All Your Internet Are Belong to Us show had a full audience of average-aged comedy punters, many of whom had simply never heard of a few of the famous comedians whom Sean had chosen.

Sic transit gloria.

It was an age thing. I guess it also demonstrates the power of television.

Comedian Charlie Chuck - aka “Donkey!"

Comedian Charlie Chuck – now popularly known as “Donkey!”

When Sean showed his tumblr graphic for Charlie Chuck and asked, “Does anyone know who this is?” someone immediately shouted out in a throaty voice: “Donkey!”

Everyone knew who Kevin Eldon is, presumably because of his current TV series; before that, I suspect, most comedy-watchers knew the face but not necessarily his name.

Everyone, of course, knew Stewart Lee but no-one knew his hero and inspiration Ted Chippington.

No-one in the audience had heard of the great Stanley Unwin – admittedly more of a personality than a comedian, but he did gain television fame in his day. Sean admitted Stanley was “not really an alternative comedian, but there is fuck-all else for ‘U’.”

Oy! Oy! - Who the hell is this unknown famous bloke?

Oy! Oy! – Who the hell is this unknown famous comedy bloke?

And absolutely no-one in the full room knew who Malcolm Hardee was, despite I think valiant efforts by me over several years to link the phrase ‘the godfather of alternative comedy’ and the name ‘Malcolm Hardee’ together in the comedic collective mind…

As Sean explained to the audience: “This is Malcolm Hardee. He was a famous… well, not too famous… but he was quite famous… erm.. around the comedy scene… especially round London… for being the… the… he was… Just buy his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. You’ll find out all about alternative comedy. He’s a comedy legend. He sadly died.”

Afterwards, I chatted to Sean.

“Why?” I asked. “Why do the tumblr Alternative Alphabet?”

“It was an educational device to teach people a little bit about alternative comedy,” he told me.

“Are you being serious?” I asked. “Are you going to take it into schools?”

“I think it could live on longer than a tumblr battle,” replied Sean. “It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’m a designer as well as a comedian, so I present things all the time and this was a nice way of combining my skills.

“I’m doing a show with my wife Renata at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, which is going to be a PowerPoint presentation. It’s called Philip and Marjorie’s Marriage Preparation Course For Regular People and The Gays.

A man with a mission - well, quite a lot of missions, in fact

A man with a mission – well he owns rather a lot of missions

“Renata and I got married in September in a Catholic church. I’m not a Catholic. They send you on a marriage preparation course and you can either do it over five weeks or you can do it over one day. We did it over one very warm Saturday last year and it just struck us both how hilarious it was.

“In many ways, it’s good to get 26 or 27 couples together in a room and work through different scenarios and troubleshoot various areas of marriage that might come up.

“The spark for our show was that the couple teaching the course had been reading off this Comic Sans presentation – endless Comic Sans slides – and they stopped for a second and decided to ad-lib something. They looked at us all up and down and said:

“OK. You may have seen what’s going on in the news. How many of you, by a quick show of hands, believe that gay people should be allowed to get married?”

“A lot of people’s hands went up, including ours.

“They were taken slightly aback by this and I thought Wow! We’re at a Catholic event with a lot of people who ARE Catholic, yet there’s a big groundswell of support for this. 

“So the idea for our show is that these two (fictional) bumbling characters are doing a marriage preparation course and they’re trying to modernise things when, really, they probably shouldn’t and they don’t really have an understanding of the issues.

“But the show will be done from a place of love. Trying to walk that fine line between being offensive and putting on a show that’s educational and a bit different.”

“Renata’s a comic herself?” I asked.

“She is a comic, explained Sean. “She was performing a lot in Australia and then came over here to pursue comedy and met me. But then she had a horrible back accident and had to rest and stop. She broke her coccyx and had to take time off. So she’s just finding her way back into it now and she’s helping me run my We Love Comedy gig in London.”

“She was born in Australia?”

“Yes,” said Sean. “Australia’s a great place. I’d love to live there at some point in the future.”

“But,” I argued, “it’s just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

Australia - a big desert with bits round the edge

Australia really IS just a big desert with bits round the edge

“Yes,” agreed Sean. “Desert is the word, but it’s not what we’ve got here. It’s summer here now and it’s snowing outside. We had plans to move to Australia, but we’ve put them off because we’ve now adopted a three-legged dog and a cat.”

“Have you done the posters for your Edinburgh show?” I asked.

“We’re going to do very simple printed leaflets,” replied Sean, “of the sort you’d see in a church. And then we’re going to staple condoms to them.”

“This afternoon,” I said,” I was talking to Kate Copstick and she told me that, if you go to Poundland, you can buy 12 condoms for £1.”

“It’s been worth talking to you tonight,” Sean said and left quickly.

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At what point does ‘being famous’ start? Take these three comedians… Please.

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer publicising his Leicester Square Theatre show

Is American comedian Lewis Schaffer famous? He has been performing his free show – Free Until Famous – for so long that it has become the longest-running solo comedy show in London.

He usually starts his shows by saying they will be free until he is famous.

In a fortnight, he begins an eight-week run of his new show – Lewis Schaffer’s American Guide to England – at the Leicester Square Theatre (every Sunday) at £10 per ticket. Does this, as mind-reader Doug Segal has suggested, mean that Lewis Schaffer is now famous because he is charging admission? And will his ongoing Free Until Famous shows affect or enhance audiences for his paid shows?

Who knows but, last night, he lost the shirt off his back.

Lewis Schaffer performing in London last night

Lewis Schaffer performing semi-naked in London last night

A woman in the audience told him she was disappointed he was wearing clothes because she had seen the publicity for his Leicester Square shows (in which he is seen, naked, under an American flag) and thought that was the show she had come to see.

So he took his shirt off and did half his show half naked,

I am not sure if this is a sign of successful publicity or fame or desperation or not.

Scór Encore with Aindrias de Staic (left)

Scór Encore with the newly respectable Aindrias de Staic (left)

Yesterday, I also got a publicity blurb from Irish broadcaster RTÉ which informed me that Aindrias de Staic is one of the judges on the new talent show Scór Encore starting on their TG4 channel this Sunday.

Just a few years ago, Aindrias was performing an autobiographical Edinburgh Fringe show called Around The World on 80 Quid. He had done exactly what it said in the title. When I contacted him yesterday, he told me: “You could say I’ve been appearing on all sides of the globe lately…

Aindrias de Staic - his normal look

Aindrias de Staic – his more well-known, for-him-normal look

“Last Friday, I was appearing in the UK premiere of Songs for Amy at the Glasgow Film Festival. This week I’m in Toronto, appearing in the first ever Spoken Word Symposium at the Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto – don’t forget to say I’m performing my ‘unique brand of gaelic-hiphop’ – and this coming weekend I’m back on Irish screens as a judge on Scór Encore.

“Having been up before the judge myself many times, it will be an interesting turn-around for this Galway boy to sit in a judge’s chair. I’ll tell you more soon.”

But does all this big screen/stage/small screen work mean he is famous?

At a certain level, it must mean that.

But, as yet, people are not selling or buying Aindrias de Staic face masks or costumes.

You too can buy a Mr Methane costume

Buy your own Methane costume

My chum Mr Methane – the Farter of Alternative Comedy – told me yesterday that ‘officially-licensed Mr Methane costumes’ are currently on sale at the very reasonable asking price of £14.95 – a saving of £15.04. And, for only £1.99 extra, you can also buy “a realistic-looking silver glitter microphone with a black handle” to “complete the desired look”.

Does the fact a company wants to buy a licence to sell copies of your costume to the public mean you are famous?

Mr Methane told me that it set him wondering how many other UK comics market their image via costumes. Sasha Baron Cohen’s ‘mankini’ costume seems to be out there for around £5 but, says Mr Methane, “generally people’s marketing seems to be mostly via those likelife celebrity masks as opposed to a fully-blown costume.

Alan Partridge, as work by Mr Methane

Alan Partridge mask as worn by Mr Methane

“I myself,” confided Mr Methane, “own an Alan Partiridge mask. It was on offer in a local charity shop, unused and still bagged for 50p, so my sister bought it for me with the idea that I could annoy everyone on Christmas Day with Alan Partridge impressions.”

I think everyone in the UK would admit Alan Partridge is famous.

But he does not exist. What about fame?

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The line between being world famous and being forgotten is thin and random

Sir Keith Park defended London

I had never heard of Sir Keith Park, who saved London

Like most people, I know a lot about what happened during my parent’s generation’s time.

So I grew up knowing a lot about the Second World War.

But, until I visited the RAF Museum in Hendon yesterday, I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.

A New Zealander, he was in operational command of the defence of London during the Battle of Britain in World War Two and, later in the War, in charge of the defence of Malta.

I had, of course, heard of British national hero ‘Bomber’ Harris, who is now partially discredited because of his bombing of Dresden but I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.

The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history is thin and random.

When I woke up this morning, the Google.com homepage was celebrating the 197th birthday of Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace – aka Ada Lovelance.

I had never heard of her but, in 1843, she first published the idea of inputting punch cards to Charles Babbage’s ‘Analytic Machine’.

Charles Babbage, of whom I had heard, designed his Analytic Machine purely as a powerful calculator but is remembered as the father of computing. The less-remembered (and, by me, totally unknown) Ada is, according to Google, considered by some “the world’s first computer programmer, as well as a visionary of the computing age”.

The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history really is random.

John Logie Baird and his 'Televisor' c 1925

John Logie Baird and his misguided ‘Televisor’ in around 1925

Everyone knows John Logie Baird invented television.

Except, of course, he did not. He had the wrong system.

My favourite author, George Eliot, is usually credited with the quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been” and it sounds, indeed, very much like her. But it seems to have actually been an urban myth type variation on a quote from the novel John Halifax, Gentleman by the almost totally forgotten Dinah Mulock Craik.

The original quote is the unmemorable: “You mean, Mr. Halifax, what I might have been. Now it is too late.”

That has pretty much the opposite meaning to the more famous remembered quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” which seems to have been conjured out of nowhere by generations of misquotation.

Who is remembered and why and for what is fairly random.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Sic transit gloria. 

Ars longa vita brevis.

They all seem to cover it.

But I, perhaps not surprisingly, prefer to remember a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel set partly in the post-War US, partly during the bombing of Dresden by Bomber Harris’ planes and partly on the fictional planet of Tralfamadore:

“Now when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”

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