Category Archives: Finance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Based on Stacy Herbert?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Max.

Stacey Herbert with Max Keiser on RT series The Keiser Report

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

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

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

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

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

“Now there’s a thing,” I said.

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

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

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

“For anyone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs – possibly in Edinburgh

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

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

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

“The bankers.”

“Isn’t that yesterday’s news?”

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

Criminality is rather a harsh word.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Charlie Brooker? asked Max.

“What about him?” I asked

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

“Yes,” I had to agree.

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

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

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

“Why are you not happy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Bankers, Comedy, Crowdfunding, Finance, Politics

My egg throwing goes into a new text book and financial provocateur Max Keiser launches his own currency

My blog yesterday was about giving a speech at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral.

An earlier choice for speaker had been juggler Steve Rawlings, who toured the UK with Chris. But it turned out he was in Berlin. He had got scouted by Cirque du Soleil, gone out to meet them and become part of their artist list.

Last night (still in Berlin) he told me:

“One of my favourite memories of Chris was when he was struggling to get gigs and I’d got him one in a club down in the South of England and had picked him up at his house and taken him to the gig.

“He did a great show, of course, and afterwards went off to the bar to celebrate while I went off to do my act.

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby recreated movie Zulu in the UK

“At the end of the night, after the gig, I found him at the bar totally drunk doing his impersonation of the songs and chants of the Zulu army – as in the movie Zulu – when they attacked Rorke’s Drift, complete with spear and shield motions.

“He was performing this to two very large and very angry-looking black guys.

“I managed to drag him away before someone killed him, but the funny thing was – being Chris – all the sounds and words of the chants would have been 100% accurate and it would never have occurred to him that sharing this knowledge with two big black guys would have caused offence.”

Steve also remembered: “Playing Trivial Pursuits with Chris was a bit pointless as he knew all the answers and would only stop going around the board when he got one wrong on purpose so you would keep playing with him”.

If you are reading this blog on the day it was posted, there is a high likelihood I will still be making my own way to Germany. I am travelling to Leipzig with comedian Nick Revell (unless something goes wrong with the trains) for the first gig at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s new Leipzig club – a sort of Pull The Other One East – at Noch Besser Leben (which translates as Still Better Living). Obviously, Nick is performing and I am not. Martin and Vivienne are not that experimental nor mental.

Going to Leipzig seemed like a good idea when it was first suggested and still seems a fairly good idea despite the fact it is a 12-hour train trip.

When this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith heard I was going to Leipzig, her reaction was: “Not Leipzig, Saskatchewan, I hope!”

“Why?” I asked. So far, there has been no response.

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

Comedian Matt Roper’s response was: “I’m in San Francisco, showering them with spittle tonight (as his character Wilfredo), then off to Los Angeles tomorrow. Nothing really much to write about here, except that I finally managed to make it coast to coast across the US without flying!”

This seemed mildly eccentric – and then I opened three bizarre e-mails one-after-the-other.

The first was from publishers Pearson Education, asking if they could use 79 words from one of my 2012 blogs about the World Egg Throwing Championships in a new educational textbook they are producing titled Skills For Writing. They said: “We would like to request permission to include the material, within the electronic components of our publication.”

I have no idea what this really means nor why they want to use 79 words from the blog, versions of which were re-published both in the UK edition of the Huffington Post and by the Indian news site WSN (We Speak News).

John Ward smashes the losing egg on his forehead

John Ward loses to me as he smashes an egg on his forehead

The blog’s headline was World Egg Throwing Championships: Cheaper and Funnier Than the Olympics and the words Pearson want to use are:

I triumphed in the Russian Egg Roulette heats in face-offs with two small children, who seemed to be the only children in the contest. I faced John Ward in the semi-final. I triumphed again.

In the grand final, I unfortunately faced a large man called Jerry Cullen, dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. The first four of the six eggs we smashed on our foreheads were hard-boiled, leaving only two more eggs – one for each of us…

The fact that Pearson Education wanted to use this in a textbook entitled Skills For Writing was a little surprising. But not as surprising as the next e-mail I opened, which told me that Max Keiser – whom I like to describe as an American financial provocateur who appears on Russian and Iranian TV and who has occasionally appeared in my blog… was launching his own currency last night, not totally dissimilar to Bitcoin. It is being called Maxcoin.

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English channel

I asked Max to tell me more. He sent me an e-mail saying:

“Maxcoin is being developed at the University of Bristol which has some of the best crypto talent in the world. Anybody looking to get into a fast growing industry that pays incredibly well should look into their programs.”

This doesn’t help me much, but then he sent me an even more jaw-dropping e-mail detailing something that I am not allowed to talk about for another couple of weeks.

We live in interesting times, but then we always have.

Ashley Storrie, the daughter of my chum Janey Godley, has been nominated as Best New Scottish Comedian by Capital FM. The awards are being announced on 22nd March and you can vote here.

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Russia Today’s American financial guru Max Keiser tells me how to make myself $100 million and why he can libel me

Max Keiser in a taxi in 2007, as the financial markets headed for collapse

Max Keiser in a London taxi in 2007, as the world financial markets headed for collapse

“I can tell you how to make $100 million right now,” RT’s Max Keiser told me over coffee at Bar Italia in London’s Soho.

“Join Al-Qaeda?” I asked.

“No, said Max firmly. “All you have to do is you call up someone like Jamie Dimon over at JP Morgan or call Goldman Sachs and say I want to open a Prime Brokerage Hedge Fund account and I need to borrow $100 million and then you sell short gold futures contracts in the open market along with all the other players who simultaneously sell gold every day at the same time.

“If you watch the chart of gold every day, at around 8.00am UK time, gold drops by about 3% or 4% – almost every single day at the exact same time.

“You do this repeatedly for a number of weeks. You bank your $100 million in profit. You pay back the loan to JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs. And you walk away. There’s nothing hard about it.”

“Unless,” I suggested, “it moves in the other direction.”

Today’s gold prices. The graph looks the same each day

Today’s gold prices. The graph has the same drop at the same time each day

“Well,” said Max, “since they’re all colluding together and they do it together and there’s no law against it – or, if there is any law against it they don’t enforce the law – the risk is almost zero. Every day traders working together – colluding – slam the price of gold for a quick profit using money they borrow at 0% interest – all gains are 100% cost free – and since the government bails out any losing positions, these gains are also risk free.

“This is a well-documented occurrence in the gold and silver markets that many have tried to get regulators to stop – but it’s too profitable for the insiders who have control of the regulators.”

The price of gold price on another day

Price of gold drops on another day

“What’s that name you have for bankers?” I asked. “It’s not wankers, it’s…”

“Terrorists?” suggested Max.

“Banksters,” I remembered. “Banksters – a combination of bankers and gangsters.”

“They’re also terrorists,” said Max. “(A major British bank) just admitted they laundered money for HezbollahAccording to David Cameron, Hezbollah is on the list of terrorist organisations.

The price of gold on yet another day

The price of gold on yet another day

“I mean, a lot of people don’t think Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation but according to Israel, according to the EU, according to the British administration, Hezbollah are terrorists and (a major British bank) just said Yeah, we do launder money for them. We will pay a little fine. That makes (a major British bank) financial terrorists. There’s no equivocation here. There’s no hyperbole. They are financial terrorists and they have no way to counter-argue what I just stated. If there was, they would.”

“Well, they would probably sue me for libel,” I said.

“But I get an American exception,” Max told me. “Under the Speech Act of 2010, no British person can sue me for libel. Any libel suit against me where you’re seeking damages would have to go through and comply with American free speech law. You’d have to persuade an American court I was violating free speech according to American law.”

“You can say I fuck sheep and I can’t sue you?” I asked.

“I can say you fuck sheep all day long,” said Max. “You can sue me in the UK, but you’d have to go to America and prove the libel to get at my American assets.”

“I can only imagine what those are,” I said.

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How British Government finance works – by the stand-up comic who worked for Education Secretary Michael Gove

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Stand-up comics tend to have odd and interesting backgrounds.

Gareth Morinan’s university degree was in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics.

Yesterday at Bar Italia in Soho, he told me: “I started in the Civil Service in late 2008 because I wanted to see how government works and I was there until around mid-2011.

“Most of the time I was there, I was in the Education Department although, for the first six months, I worked in this dodgy department called The Export Credits Guarantee Department, which is the only department other than the HM Revenue & Customs that makes money. It’s basically like a government-run insurance firm.

If some big British company wants to export, they’ll always have an insurance deal. But, if they’re exporting to some dodgy country – if they want to export fighter jets to some dodgy country – no private insurance company is going to insure that: it’s too risky. So the government has this entire department purely set up for supporting dodgy deals. I was really curious, so went to work there for six months and then left. I was an analyst there. As an analyst, people take your word as Gospel.”

“That’s because your art is a science.” I suggested.

“Yes,” Gareth laughed, “even though, when you look at the spreadsheets, it’s very dodgy. I had situations where I would e-mail someone a figure saying This is a very rough figure. This is the best figure I can get. And it got sent round the department and would eventually come back to me as fact and I’d say: I know that’s not fact. I came up with that figure. Don’t put that out on a press release. But they did. This happened a lot in the Export Credits Guarantee Department.”

“That was under the Labour Party?” I asked.

“Yeah. You had these figures – especially around the time of the financial crisis, where some analyst somewhere in some bank had come out with some figure he’d plucked out of the air on the back of an envelope and, as soon as it became public, that figure became ‘fact’ and it could not be changed and everyone had to work from those figures.

“All politicians really want is a number: Give me a number. Don’t tell me anything else. The less I know about how dodgy this number is, the better it is – It’s that plausible deniability thing.

“I started in the Education Department about a year before the General Election so, when I started, Ed Balls was the Minister and then, about a year later, it was all-change because the Coalition came in and what we were doing changed somewhat.”

“Changed?” I asked.

“Well,” Gareth told me, “the key thing Michael Gove did when he came in was – on the first day – a big picture of the Queen was put up in Reception. And there were some formality differences.

Policies changed with Michael Gove

Policies changed with the arrival of journalist Michael Gove

“The most interesting thing was that the Permanent Secretary told us – these are not his exact words, but he basically told us – This new government – specifically Michael Gove – doesn’t care so much about the details or the facts. He cares more about ‘the narrative’. 

“When we were doing White Papers, whereas before it was very much We’ve got to have these details; this is the headline figure, Michael Gove, because he’s a journalist, just wanted the story to read well.

“He was a local journalist, then a journalist for The Times, then a TV commentator… then suddenly he’s in charge of national education policy, which makes a change from cracking jokes on A Stab in The Dark with David Baddiel.”

There is a clip on YouTube of him presenting 1993 TV satire show A Stab in The Dark:

“Most of the financial projections in Education,” Gareth told me, “are based on how many kids there are going to be and those calculations are based round the Office for National Statistics’ population projections. But Michael Gove was quite keen for a while on trying to replace them with projections done by somebody he knows at Tesco.

“At Tesco, they have all this Clubcard data and they have projections which help them decide where to open up a new store. And, for quite a while, he was arguing we should start incorporating those – or replace the official national projections with ones done by Tesco. It didn’t go down well in the department.

“I actually had to lie for Michael Gove once.

“During the big Comprehensive Spending Review where (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne works out how much money he’s going to give to all the departments, I was basically the guy working out the headline figures of how many billions we needed. I would hand those numbers to someone who then had a meeting with Michael Gove – There was always a buffer zone between me and Michael Gove. Maybe I was too scruffy.

“Our department did quite well in the budget review – basically they decided to give us extra money at the cost of other departments. So we had a nice little champagne reception to thank everyone and the look Michael Gove gave me when I stood there listening to his speech was like How did this one get in? I was just wearing a shirt and cardigan and looking very scruffy with uncombed hair. He was like Oh God! What is going on there?

“But, basically, in the spending review, we were negotiating and there was a strategy department. I provided numbers and we would go into meetings with all these senior Treasury people and I was the person having to justify all the numbers.

“Over the course of several months, while this was happening, the Office for National Statistics came out with a new projection of pupil numbers, which underpinned all our financial projections… and their projections were basically lower. So, overnight, our projection of how much money we needed went down by about half a billion pounds.

Michael Gove at Westminster in 2008

Michael Gove looking contemplative in Westminster in 2008

“Michael Gove’s opinion was that this had not happened and that the projections we believed were the ones that were higher. That was the official line.

“We were about to go into this meeting and I’m the one who has to explain the actual numbers to all these senior Treasury people who were probably better negotiators than the people in our department and better analysts than me. And I was told before I went into the meeting: Well, just come up with something.

“So I was pinned down in this meeting by the Treasury people: What’s the difference in these numbers? Which ones are the correct ones? The higher ones? Why? I basically just stuttered for a while and gave a very unconvincing performance.”

“Did you get away with it?” I asked.

“No,” said Gareth. “After that meeting, I went to my boss, who was an analyst, and he was like Well, this is outrageous. We shouldn’t be lying. And my boss spoke to the other person’s boss and eventually they decided that we were going to go with the lower numbers… But here’s an interesting example of how analysis works in the government.

“The thing you learn when you work in any government department is how little information we actually have. There are entire swathes of the education budget that no-one really knows the cost of.

“The biggest mystery black hole is kids who have special needs. There are more of these kids every year – especially ones with serious medical problems who require like £100,000 a year – because, as health technology improves, more kids get saved and live longer.

“There’s no way of predicting how many of these kids there’s going to be and medical costs keep going up, so there was this line in the budget which was The 1% Assumption. It was a long-standing assumption: We don’t know how much it’s going to be, so we just assume it’s going to rise by 1% every year.

“My brainwave was to ask: Well… Could we make this The 2% Assumption? That was thought to be a genius idea. We put it into the calculations and suddenly the gap was closed and we were back to the higher figure we had originally wanted.

“That was probably the one thing I did which made the biggest actual difference when I worked for the government.”

* * * * *

Gareth Morinan has a YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/gmorinan, to which he will be adding over the next couple of months.

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Filed under Education, Finance, Humor, Humour, Politics

“Being a stockbroker is like being a comedian”: Russia Today’s Max Keiser

Max with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

Max (right) with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

If you want to see the heir of the late American comedian Bill Hicks performing, where do you look?

Not in British comedy clubs where Bill Hicks is the comedians’ comedian. Certainly not in America,  where Bill Hicks only came to most people’s attention fairly recently.

Perhaps one place to look is a television programme transmitted three times a week on the RT channel (The channel used to be called Russia Today.) American presenter Max Keiser is RT’s economic guru; he fronts his own show: The Keiser Report.

Max Keiser (extreme left) on 10 O'Clock Live

Max (perhaps suitably on the extreme left) on 10 O’Clock Live

Last month, he was a guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You. Last year, he was a guest on Channel 4’s comedy series 10 O’Clock Livepresented by Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. 

Jimmy Carr came up to me after the show,” Max told me yesterday in Soho. “He was very nice and wanted to know more about my views on the economy. A few weeks later, I was having lunch over at his place – beautiful house, beautiful tennis court. He had me up there to talk about gold and silver. He said he was prepared to buy a ton – that’s 32,000 ounces – of silver. Since that lunch, the price has dropped about 50%. So that’s probably why I haven’t heard from Jimmy since then.”

“And you’re a fan of Bill Hicks,” I said.

“If anyone is a big fan of comedy and they watch my show on RT,” said Max. “they’ll recognise that I borrow heavily from him. I liked Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and that raw, unvarnished truthfulness is something we’ve always tried to strive for in The Keiser Report. It’s just very raw and sometimes it works not from having people’s funny bone tickled but because they are uncomfortable.”

Max Keiser presents his Report on Russia Today TV

Max presents Keiser Report next to Boris Johnson’s City Hall

“But The Keiser Report,” I said, “is a current affairs show – a news show covering business and finance – that is not normally a comic area.”

“At this point in time,” replied Max, “the financial world and the banks are so pathetically corrupt that it’s impossible to cover them without having, to some degree, a satirical view. Very few things which banks do, in this country at this point, are legal. Virtually 100% of everything all the Big Four banks do is illegal.”

“Could you be pushing this angle because you’re a presenter on the Russian government’s own TV channel?” I asked.

“Well, the show is produced by Associated Press,” said Max. “which is an American company. The show is recorded at a TV studio that’s part of London & Partners, which is London Mayor Boris Johnson’s public relations division. And we make other shows with Associated Press which are sold to other outlets. We sold a show to Press TV.”

“Thats worse!” I said. “That’s the Iranian government!. These are dodgy people we are talking about.”

“These are fine international news organisations,” said Max. “We’ve done a show for BBC World News. We did shows for Al Jazeera English.”

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English, Doha

“Ah, now,” I said. “Al Jazeera English is a very, very good news channel, though I don’t know about the Arabic version.”

“When we were in Doha where Al Jazeera English is based,” said Max, “there was this famous car park with the Al Jazeera English building on one side and the Al Jazeera Arabic building on the other and they really did not get along. So there is a perpetual stand-off in Doha and occasionally executives would be taken out to the car park and…”

“Beheaded?” I suggested.

“…left to their own devices,” continued Max. “And that’s not easy to do, because you need an exit visa. So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.”

“What show did you make for them?” I asked.

“We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.”

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?

“Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still seems to want to be fighting the Cold War. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the US, they still think it’s 1970. They don’t understand that Russia and the Russian economy has leapfrogged well beyond what was happening during the Cold War, well past the Soviet Union. They are very entrepreneurial in Russia and the TV network is very savvy. They have a bigger reach than the BBC – over 800 million. I think they’ve really taken the top position in the world right now as far as global international satellite and cable TV is concerned. And whatever we can do to support that, we’re happy to do. In this country, I would say the relationship with the Soviet Union is quite strained. Other countries have moved on from their Cold War perception.”

“You’ll get a Hero of the Soviet Union medal,” I told Max. “You’ve had other comedians on The Keiser Report, haven’t you?”

Max Keiser (right) interviews comedian Frankie Boyle on Russia Today

Frankie Boyle (left) interviewed on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Yes, we’ve had Frankie Boyle. I’m a big fan of his. A no-holds-barred comedian who’s willing to take big risks.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I think he and I talked about the state of the media.”

“But you’re a business show.”

“Yeah, but so much of business now is driven by perception and that perception is driven by the media. The Stock Market – whether it’s the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones – it’s a hologram driven by perception. There’s no actual equity in those markets; it’s completely a bubble puffed up on zero collateral.”

“What were you before being a TV presenter?” I asked.

“I started out as a stockbroker for Paine Webber on Wall Street in the early 1980s. Before that, I was at New York University and I was doing stand-up comedy. I made the transition from doing comedy to being a stockbroker at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period.”

“Why?”

“Because, surprisingly, being a stockbroker is not that much different from being a comedian. You’re telling stories to people, going through a lot of stories quite rapidly and you are essentially getting people not to laugh but to say: Give me 1,000 shares. To get to that moment, you use the same techniques as a comedian: pacing, word-choice, empathy.

“I was at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. Rich Hall was doing improvisation down in the theatre district. Robin Williams was at Catch a Rising Star. On the West Coast, you had Steve Martin. It was the beginning of that huge new wave when comedy became the new rock ’n’ roll and then TV shows came out of that.

“Watching Robin Williams work was pretty remarkable. During that time, before he went on stage, his ritual was to line up seven or eight Kamikaze cocktails. They’re extremely potent alcoholic concoctions. As the MC was about to introduce him, he’d just go Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang and down those suckers and then hit the stage with all that energy.

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser is into a post “Comedy is Rock ’n’ Roll” period

“Now we’re into a post Comedy is rock ’n’ roll period. I’m hoping we’re getting back to the more politicised comedy – the Lenny Bruce type of comedy – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway. A lot of people who do comedy here in London go to the United States and come back and tell me: It’s great; it’s all very funny; but it’s homogenised. They’re all doing the same kind of jokes, which is because of this huge thing called TV: the sitcoms. They’re looking for a certain type to fill a certain spot and there’s 10,000 comics trying to get that one spot and they’re all doing the same act.

“I love the comedy here in London, because it’s completely different. There’s a lot of political edginess to it. A lot of comedians here identify themselves as ‘left wing’. In America, there is no left wing. There’s only slightly right-of-centre and extreme right-of-centre and the fanatical right.”

“Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I went for the first time last year.”

“You should do a show up there,” I suggested.

“I would like to take a show up there though, if I do, I’d have to workshop it here in London beforehand. But I’ve already been doing my Stand-Up Rage show in cities around the world: Dublin, Los Angeles, London.

“People are fans of my rages on The Keiser Report and this is a 60-minute rage without any control whatsoever. I go into a fugue state in a white rage. Afterwards, I literally have no memory of what I’ve said. It’s a cathartic experience and the audience, in many cases, achieve a level of ecstasy.”

There was a slight pause.

“So you don’t have a script,” I asked. “You just go off on a rant?”

“I start off on one basic idea,” explained Max, “and I will refer to headlines and each usually triggers a good ten minutes of rage. Then, to catch my breath, I will maybe cut to a 20 second music or video blurb.”

“And you rage about politics?” I asked.

“It’s about the bankers and the banksters because, when you have this merging of the private banking interests and the political interests otherwise known as Fascism… I mean, London is the capital of financial terrorism. This is where the financial Jihadis congregate.”

“You do good headline,” I said.

“If you go down to the City of London,” continued Max, “they have the madrassas – otherwise known as HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. These are the madrassas of banking fanaticism. They pursue market fundamentalism which says they can blow themselves up and others around them – not to seek THE Prophet but some profit.”

(The Keiser Report is transmitted on RT, with editions also available on YouTube)

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Cunning stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe & US comic Laura Levites left destitute by crowd funding site Indiegogo

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Broadway Baby in Edinburgh yesterday - or is it?

Broadway Baby in Edinburgh yesterday – is it?

Cunning stunts seem to have escalated at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Yesterday was to see the announcement of the shortlist for the Perrier Awards, now re-named the Fosters Awards, presumably because their parentage has been very variable.

Shortly before the announcement Barry Ferns, already nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award, distributed a second edition of his fake Broadway Baby review sheet – this one headlined FOSTERS AWARD NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED.

After an apparently self-publicising puff for Broadway Baby, the Fosters five Best Newcomer nominations included Barry Ferns and the six Main Prize nominees also included Barry Ferns.

At the Pleasance Dome, I watched as people picked up sheets of the fake edition to study what they thought were the real nominees.

edinburghcomedyawards_fakepage

Edinburgh Comedy Awards maybe?

Meanwhile, an Edinburgh Comedy Awards website appeared online at the address  www.edinburghcomedyaward.com in the same colours as the Fosters Awards and with a logo sporting an E instead of an F. I think the Edinburgh Comedy Awards was a previous name for the Perrier/Fosters Awards, but there have been so many it is difficult to remember.

The nominees for this years Edinburgh Comedy Awards included Nathan Cassidy (a Malcolm Hardee Award nominee last year) and it was said: “The Winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award 2013 will be announced at 7pm on Thursday 22nd August at Finnegan’s Wake on the stage at the end of Nathan Cassidy’s show (starting at 6.15).  This in no way reflects a bias towards Nathan.”

The site includes a clip of “the ‘great’ comedian (Broadway Baby) Nathan Cassidy in action.”

In a further confusing twist, explicably, it also turns out that the web address www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk takes you to the Malcolm Hardee Awards page.

Andrew J Lederer in Edinburgh - not

Andrew J Lederer now in Edinburgh – not

To confuse matters even more, esteemed New York based comedian Andrew J Lederer sent me an e-mail saying: “I think I should have been nominated for the Cunning Stunt Award by figuring out the cheapest, laziest way to do Edinburgh yet devised – by simply not going.”

Instead of coming to perform at the Fringe this year, he has been posting a daily Fringe blog that makes no mention of the fact that he is not actually in Edinburgh.

“More people read the posts every day than typically came to see my Edinburgh shows,” he tells me. “And I have been receiving e-mails from people who think I am in Edinburgh saying Where are you? and We can’t find you listed.

Where all this leads next year, I barely dare to think. Life is anarchic enough at the Fringe.

For example, the final two days of my Fringe chat shows had their line-up thrown into turmoil yesterday.

Yesterday’s chat: Tim Fitzhigham (left) and Patrick Monahan (photograph by Garry Platt)

Yesterday’s chat: Tim Fitzhigham (left) and Patrick Monahan (photograph by Garry Platt)

Today’s show was to have featured Perrier/Fosters boss Nica Burns with iconic 80-year-old American performer Lynn Ruth Miller. Nica will no longer be appearing and has been replaced by flame-haired young comedy temptress Laura Levites. So we will be having two feisty American Jewish female comics from different generations.

And tomorrow (Friday) – adding to the anarchy – Martin Soan of the Greatest Show On Legs will no longer be coming up to Edinburgh from London after being kidnapped by a group of Bosnian gangsters when he was walking along a street in Peckham and held for a ransom which his wife Vivienne is unable or unwilling to pay.

At least, that is what I am going to tell people.

Anyway, he is not coming up.

So the billed Friday afternoon chat with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and Martin Soan will now instead be a chat with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and ultimate Scots comic Janey Godley, author of the bestselling and excellently-edited autobiography Handstands in the Dark, still in print after eight years. (I allegedly edited it.)

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Increasingly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Awards

Martin Soan’s enforced non-appearance on Friday also has an interesting knock-on effect in that he was due to perform with the Greatest Show On Legs in the Naked Balloon Dance as the climax to tomorrow night’s increasingly prestigious and increasingly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

No… At the moment, I have no idea what will happen either. But at least I have some money in my pocket.

Which brings us back to young flame-haired American comedian Laure Levites.

She crowd-funded her utterly brilliant current Edinburgh Fringe show Self Helpless through what seemed to be a trustworthy online site Indiegogo.com

Indiegogo may or may not actually be a competent crowd-funding site in the same way that Saddam Hussein was a humanitarian.

“I didn’t have the money,” Laura told me yesterday, “so I thought What a great way to fund my Fringe show. I wanted to raise $7,500 and the fundraising finished on July 15th. I was supposed to get the money I raised 7-15 days afterwards – the end of July – just before the Edinburgh Fringe started.”

“And has the money appeared?” I asked.

“As of today – 21st August – no,” Laura told me yesterday. “On July 22nd, I received an e-mail saying that Indiegogo didn’t have my bank account information which I’d previously set up.

Laura’s crowd-funded show was not

Laura’s crowd-funded show was not funded

“So I went in and put in my bank’s routing number. I put it in three times and their system declined it. So I got in touch with my bank and they gave me a different number. I put in that number and Indiegogo accepted it. By now I was in the UK.

“On August 1st, I received this message: We noticed your campaign Help Send Laura Levites To The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 contains content that is prohibited by our Terms of Use. Our Terms of Use states that campaigners may not use Indiegogo to raise funds for ‘obscene or pornographic items, sexually oriented or explicit materials or services.’ Because the minimum age for using Indiegogo is 13, campaign pages may not include any explicit language or depictions, or offers of sexual services. Typically, we put campaigns and disbursements on hold.

“Did you have anything dodgy in your appeal?” I asked.

“No,” Laura told me. “I was very careful not to curse or anything. The next day, I got another message: Congratulations on raising funds. Today, on August 1st, we triggered a disbursement to your Bank. They said it would be in my account by August 8th.

“On August 9th, they said that the bank information I had put in on July 22nd and which their computers had accepted was incomplete or inaccurate, so they couldn’t disperse my funds.”

“I was in the UK by now so, on the 9th, my brother in the US sent a message to Indiegogo and, on the 10th, I sent them a message. My brother tried to get a phone number, but they don’t have a phone number. By the 12th, they hadn’t replied.”

Indiegogo, by this point had stopped claiming Laura’s appeal had been obscene and had started claiming her bank routing number (which their computer had accepted) was incorrect. It was the same bank routing number she used and uses on her PayPal account and it worked and works perfectly OK with PayPal.

She, nonetheless, got another routing number from her bank and gave it to Indiegogo on August 13th, adding: “I have already started my project and I don’t have money to eat.”

She then got an e-mail from a Brittany of Indiegogo: “Hi Laura, I spoke to your brother a couple of times today and we have done everything we can to get you your funds as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the routing number provided was incorrect, so I did a little research and had your brother update it with the correct number. You should be good to go. We expedited the process as much as we could so you will see your funds next week.”

Laura wrote back pointing out it was the third time she had updated her number.

Brittany replied: “The routing number you provided was in fact not correct. You provided a ‘Wire Transfer’ routing number as opposed to an ‘ACH/Direct Deposit’ routing number… I understand how this information may be misleading, so I would be happy to bring this up to our product team for further review… I spoke to your brother and we were able to input the correct routing number and we expedited your disbursement to occur next week.”

Laura wrote back: “I’m not happy with this as the routing number I originally provided for you was correct and you told me it wasn’t.  I can’t get my money next week, I have no money to eat. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I HAVE NO MONEY TO EAT. YOU GUYS HAVE SCREWED THIS UP NOT ME. I NEED MONEY TO EAT, IT CAN’T WAIT TILL NEXT WEEK.”

Laura Levites yesterday, reduced to borrowed Coca Colas

Laura Levites yesterday, reduced to borrowing Coca Colas

Yesterday, Laura told me: “Their customer help team is called the Customer Happiness Team so, at the end of every fucking message you get from them, it says Cheers, Brittany, Customer Happiness. Are they fucking kidding me?”

“What happened next?” I asked.

“On the 14th August,” Laura told me, “I get a message from Pam of Customer Happiness. It said: Please update your bank account information.

“So I write back to Pam and tell her the whole story again, because no-one at Indiegogo reads their e-mails. I said: I’m very upset with Indiegogo. You have put me in a horrible position. I have used this platform because I needed help. Now I’m in the UK with no money to eat, in debt, and the people that have donated to me are furious. They want to cancel their donations and just give me or wire me money. Everybody has emailed me saying they want to do this. So I urge you, to please get my funds released to me.

“What happens? I get a message from Brittany: My apologies that you’re unhappy with the current situation… We do not currently have a banking information verification for our system.

“They don’t have a verification system for checking anything?? We’re talking about money here! Money! No bank verification system? PayPal has bank verification. How are Indiegogo taking money from banks and credit cards without a bank verification system? They have a bank verification system for the money coming in but they don’t have a bank verification system for the money going out?

“Then I get a message from Jordan of the Customer Happiness Team. It says: I help manage disbursements here at Indiegogo and Brittany shared your note with me. I’m happy to help clarify the status of your current disbursement… Unfortunately, Indiegogo does not currently have the ability to verify bank account routing numbers. Our system can recognize when a routing number is the correct format, but our system cannot recognize when a routing number is correct… I completely understand your frustration thus far, and I do agree that it would be extremely helpful to have built in verification systems on Indiegogo… I’m reaching out to our payments team to see if there is anything we can do to help you receive your funds.

“Then, on August 15th, I get an e-mail from Sandy. It says: We have expedited your disbursement to be included in the current cycle and you should expect to see your funds in the next 3-5 business days. I got this on the 15th. It is now the 21st!”

Laura wrote back to Sandy on the 16th: “I find this totally unacceptable. You haven’t kept up your end of the deal. My campaign finished on the 15th of July it’s now the 16th of August. This is a breach of your contract. I’ve had to borrow money… My show is suffering as I don’t have the funds needed for essential promotional activity.  Now, I’m going to lose money as a result.”

Laura then got a message: “Today, August 15, we triggered a disbursement to your bank account… We estimate that you will receive your new disbursement by Thursday August 22.”

Today is Thursday August 22nd. No money has arrived. Laura’s fundraising finished on July 15th. Her money was due 7-15 days afterwards, at the start of August, to fund her Fringe show.

“People have asked how crowd funding has worked for me,” Laura told me today, “and the truth is it hasn’t worked for me at all. Extreme unhappiness doesn’t even begin to cut it. I don’t have my money.”

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Three things I cut out of my blogs: Apple computers, racism and bankers

Cutting edge blogging?

Occasionally, there are little bits that I do not include in my blogs which I think are interesting but which just don’t fit that particular blog. Here are three of them:

APPLE COMPUTERS AND THE NUMBER 42

I mentioned to a friend that I had once interviewed Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, in which the answer to everything is 42.

“Oh,” she said, “I have a friend who is a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He works for Apple computers in California. He has to alter things and, whenever he comes to some situation where he is not certain of the amount to alter it by then, if it’s vaguely sensible, he puts in the number 42. Obviously, if it should be nearer to five billion, then he doesn’t. But, if it’s a change that might have a numerical value between 1 and 100 then, if he’s not sure, he just puts in 42.”

“Does it usually work?” I asked.

“It does,” my friend told me.

THE BBC AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD

When I was talking to violinist Bobby Valentino recently about his surreally low payments for the worldwide hit song Young at Heart, he told me:

“A few years ago, when I was with Los Pistoleros, I was at a festival up at Newcastle for the Tall Ships Race and the BBC were hosting the website for the festival and we said we were the best honky tonk band in the land and they censored the word ‘honky’. They put five asterisks instead of the word honky. They said it was racist.”

I asked Bobby: “Did the word ‘honky’ as in ‘honky tonk’ ever have a racist meaning?”

“No,” he said, “The poor white folks in the Southern states of America were called honkies because they went to honky tonks. Honky tonk is the origin of the word ‘honky’ but a honky tonk is basically a working men’s club down South. It wasn’t a formal club, just a bar.

“There are loads of songs with the words ‘honky tonk’ in them. The BBC play the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women without any problem, but they thought the phrase the best honky tonk band in the land was racist!”

COMEDY CLUB OWNER NOEL FAULKNER ON BANKERS

When I recently chatted to London Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner about the state of British comedy, we started by talking about Las Vegas.

“The one time I went to Vegas,” I told him, “I decided not to gamble at all, but I went into this massive room with rows and rows of one-armed bandits and a blind Chinese woman was led in to play on the machines. I would have thought the whole point of one-armed bandits is that they’re visual: you see the images on the wheels rotate and you see them either line up or not line up. This woman was blind. I suppose she heard the sound and that was the atmosphere she got from it. But it was bizarre. A blind woman pulling the handle on a one-armed bandit in Vegas.”

“Las Vegas to me,” said Noel, “is all these machines and they’re saying Yeah, just put yer money in here. It’s Amusement! Certainly it’s fucking amusing. To the casino owners. But the banks are a bigger racket than Vegas. At least when you go to Vegas, you know you’re being fucked. Vegas is for the damned.

“You go to Vegas; you get fucked.

“You open a bank account, you don’t expect to get fucked, but you really get it up the ass.

“At least in Vegas you get to pull a handle a few times. When you get involved with the banks, you get to pull your own dick, that’s all, because you feel like a wanker after they’ve fucked with you.

“All these Boris bicycles around London,” Noel said, “are sponsored by Barclays and they have the name painted on them but, instead of RCLAY, I want to go round painting STARD on them.”

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Computers, Finance, gambling, Music