Category Archives: France

Globetrotting 84-year old US comedian Lynn Ruth is part of a ‘British Invasion’

Last week, I had a chat with 84-year-old, London-based, American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller – the thinking senior citizen’s crumpet – whose upcoming schedule of gigs includes Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, various cities in the US, Manila, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “probably somewhere in Cambodia”.

Lynn Ruth in London’s Pall Mall last week

That’s an interesting itinerary for an 84-year-old American living in London, I thought.

I was going to write a blog about the chat this week but, then, blow me, I got this email from her two days ago…


I am in CANNES, where the sun is shining!  

At first, I was alarmed because I did not know why I didn’t have to turn on all the lights to see my hand in front of my face.

Then I realised I WAS NOT IN LONDON.

When you are out of the UK, people actually see the sun.  

My hotel here is called The Hotel Bellevue and it is adorable.

My room is the size of a disabled public toilet but somehow it is very complete. I feel like I have just entered Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputian village. It is a good thing I am 4’10” tall and weigh under 100 pounds or I would never fit into the place.

I must say the world does dote on the elderly. At Gatwick Airport, a lovely Englishman from Birmingham stood behind me in line to board Ryanair and carried my case down the stairs without my even asking and the woman in the seat next to mine chatted with me the entire two hours we were on the flight.  Not that I WANTED her to chat for so long but she was from Essex. What can you expect?

Vanessa Marcié met me at the airport. Her mother is a wild, adventurous driver. She drove us to Vanessa’s flat.  As we darted from one lane to the tree on the side of the road into the highway and across four lanes and a traffic bump, I stifled an impulse to call my friends and say good-bye but we got to the flat intact.

Her mother had made me a homemade pizza which I devoured with champagne as Vanessa and I discussed the profession of comedy and the insensitivity and stupidity of her university students.  

Vanessa is a very educated woman with a PHD and two masters degrees and it made me wonder why she is so devoted to talking dirty on stage to crowds.  

I know MY reason: it is that it brings back memories of my youth.

Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes (Photo by Joseph Plotz)

I called Uber to get me from Nice where Vanessa lives to Cannes and my driver was Charlotte who took me INTO the hotel and opened the door to my room.  The world does dote on the elderly.

She told me driving a cab is her living because it is the only thing she can do besides eat. Looking at her squeezed between the steering wheel and the seat I saw that she was right about the food and, when she got me to the hotel safely, I realised she did indeed know her stuff.

As I said, the whole fucking world just loves the elderly… EXCEPT when they are doing business with them.  

I decided to take a walk to find a place for lunch in Cannes. It abounds in many, many eateries with menus in French. I do not speak French.

If it isn’t a crepe or an omelette, I have no idea what it is.  

I finally found La Civett Carnot which had a sign saying it was a brasserie. I knew what that was. The food there was all right and the service very fast. However, if you speak only English or you are older or a woman, beware.  

I ordered a weak coffee and got charged for a double espresso which looked like one shot to me. Naturally, being Jewish, I complained that I was overcharged. Two very large imposing men insisted that that is what they thought I asked for and what they gave me and I better damn well pay for it. I did.

I feel certain had I been able to speak French or had I not been a single ancient hag they would have adjusted the bill. Life does have its hurdles.

Lynn Ruth, part of the ‘British Invasion’ (she is from Ohio)

My gig was called THE BRITISH INVASION (Lynn Ruth was born in Ohio, living most of her life in San Francisco) and was in an Irish Bar, just 6 minutes from my hotel.  

However, I get confused by the little blue dot on Google Maps and the 6 minutes expanded to 30, as I wandered the streets of Cannes.

The comedy show was interesting and well attended. The comedians were very inexperienced but the audience was very thirsty for a laugh and the show was a success. I headlined for them and the response was gorgeous. I even got a Caesar Salad, two drinks and a bit of cash.

I managed to find my way home with the help of two escorts and it did indeed take me 6 minutes to get to my hotel. Which all goes to show Google does not lie.

The next morning I took a bus to the airport, got a flight to Gatwick, came home to grab my burlesque costume and took my clothes off to a standing ovation in Islington.

As we all know, a girl has to do what she has to do.


 I think we may hear more of Lynn Ruth’s travels…

 

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The award-winning comic who almost joined the French Foreign Legion

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the Awards last night

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the SYTYF Awards in Edinburgh

Luca Cupani won the already prestigious So You Think You’re Funny? contest at the recent Edinburgh Fringe.

This Saturday, he appears with fellow Puma Londinese Italians as part of the launch weekend for Bob Slayer’s Blundabus in Hackney.

Next July, Luca goes to the mega-prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.

“Part of the prize for winning So You Think You’re Funny?” Luca told me, “is to go to Montreal and appear in a showcase for British comedy and I will have the spot as the up-and-coming British comedian.”

“So you,” I said, “an Italian, are representing Britain.”

“Yes,” said Luca. “This year was really a UKIP comedy. The runner up in So You Think You’re Funny? was Yuriko Kotani, who is Japanese. What I like about the UK is that I manage to win a competition despite my accent and broken English. This would not happen in Italy.”

“Don’t let the Queen down,” I said.

“She’s the head of Canada,” replied Luca, “and she’s not Canadian. This year, America’s Got Talent was won by an English ventriloquist.”

“And my chum Mr Methane, the farteur,” I said, “was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent, despite having nothing to do with Germany.”

“Ah,” said Luca, “but he speaks an international language.”

“You were an actor in Italy,” I said to Luca, “before coming here to do comedy. Why did you become an actor?”

“I was not happy with my job.”

“What was your job?”

“I was a freelance editor at a publisher. Not a bad job, but it did not pay very well. I thought: I’m not going to do this forever. I was already 35 and still living at home with my parents. I loved my parents but my mother was very possessive. When you do something that is boring, you sit at a desk and work and get up and ten years have passed and you do not have any memory of this.

Luca cupani took a selfie in London this week

Luca Cupani took a selfie in London this week

“Since I left that job, I now remember almost every single day, because every day something new happens. Sometimes horrible things like my mother dying, my father dying. But also sometimes beautiful things. New people. So I was looking for a way to get out of my boring job. And I thought: Why not join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Errrrrrr,” I said, surprised.

“I would never have joined the Italian Army,” said Luca, “because I’m not particularly patriotic. To be honest, Italy should be ruled by someone else. But, in the French Foreign Legion, they don’t bother where you are from. So I thought: Why not? It seemed a safe place to hide.”

“Did you mention this to your mother?” I asked.

“I tried. I thought about running away, but my father was disabled and I could not leave him alone.”

“But,” I said, “if you had joined the French Foreign Legion…”

“I just had this idea,” said Luca, “that, if something went wrong, I would join the French Foreign Legion.”

“Perhaps you should still consider it,” I suggested. “There must be an Edinburgh Fringe show and a book in it…”

“You can join the French Foreign Legion until you are 40 or 50,” mused Luca. “The transition from being a freelance editor or proof reader behind a desk to becoming a comedian or an actor did not change things too much money-wise – and uncertainty about the future was pretty much the same – but now I feel more free.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide not to join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Because it is so boring. I checked the website and the entry pay was only something like 200 Euros more than I was earning – to stay in French Guinea in the jungle – and you had to learn French. That could have been good, because I would have learnt another language, but you also have to sing and I sing terribly.”

“They sing?” I asked.

“They sing a lot,” said Luca. “Even before dinner. I learned one of their songs: Adieu vieille Europe…”

“Is it,” I asked, “one of the strict rules of the French Foreign Legion? You have to sing?”

“Yes. And then you have to iron your own uniforms. It is a clash between being macho and being quite camp. Their uniform is unique, so they make a lot of effort into putting the pleat correctly in it when you do the ironing. You have to put a lot of effort into the ironing and then, maybe, you have to kill someone.”

“Kill someone?” I asked.

“You have to, maybe. I don’t know. My favourite group in the French Foreign Legion were the Pioneers – the people who make bridges.”

Sappers?” I asked.

French Foreign Legion Pioneer wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather apron

French Foreign Legion Pioneers wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather aprons

“Yes. There are very few of them.”

“I guess there are not many bridges in the desert,” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Luca. “Their symbol is an axe and an apron open on one side. I don’t know why it is open on one side. And a long beard.”

“A bird?” I asked.

“A beard. A very long beard. And they hold axes and wear aprons. They seem very proud of their aprons.

“I also decided not to join because a friend of mine knew someone who had been in the French Foreign Legion and he was not happy and he left before his contract ended because he was heavily bullied. Apparently they were ‘fond’ of him.”

“Fond of him?” I asked.

“They fancied him,” explained Luca. “And I know men can fancy me. And so I thought: Mmmm. If I am in the jungle in French Guinea and find I am the most attractive ‘girl’ in the battalion, they will never get my heart but still they can…

“…get your butt?” I suggested.

Luca nodded.

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Frankly, I prefer North Korea to Paris

Afternoon tea with Elf includes interesting conversation

I suspect Elf Lyons can pronounce French better than I can

Yesterday afternoon, I bumped into comedian/actress Elf Lyons at the Soho Theatre Bar. She had only recently returned from Australia and, next week, is off to Paris. I had just been to Shepherd’s Bush. I think I may have annoyed God at some point.

I have been to North Korea twice (in 1986 and 2012) but have only been to Paris once (in 2000). I think this was a good decision, if you can call it a decision.

I was fascinated by North Korea; I can’t say that Paris held the same attraction when I went there, although Montmartre was nice.

I was in Paris on 21st March – exactly 15 years ago.

I was staying with two French sisters.

One of the local schools was called Lycée Lino Ventura, after the Italian actor. This seemed slightly odd to me.

I said to one of the sisters:

“Maybe in Britain, we should name a school after Michael Caine.”

She mis-heard Michael Caine as my cocaine.

Confusion ensued.

I managed to break my denture when I was there (don’t ask). Later, after having my denture repaired, I tried to thank the dental technician by saying: “Merci beaucoup,” but, because of the remnants of my Scots accent which makes me pronounce -oo- sounds idiosyncratically, it apparently sounded like I was saying to her Merci. Beau cul which means “Thankyou. Nice ass.”

It’s only flipping’ Noel Gallagher, ain’t it?

It’s only flippin’ Noel Gallagher, ain’t it?

I am not one of life’s great linguists.

In the evening, we went to see the English band Oasis perform in concert at Le Bataclan Club. The rowdy audience had been indulging in English football chants, a large flag of St George was being waved and there were groups of very obvious Brits. At one point, Noel Gallagher said: “Is there anybody out there who isn’t from flippin’ England?”

That is my main memory of Paris.

That I heard Noel Gallagher unexpectedly use the word “flippin”.

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UK comic Sarah Hendrickx in French psycho hotel horror and buttock hell

Sarah and Gerard One boarding the ferry to France

Sarah & Gerard One boarding cross-Channel ferry to France

“How are your buttocks?” I asked comedian Sarah Hendrickx last night.

As mentioned in a previous blog, she set off a week ago on an 800 mile cycle ride to Barcelona having only previously ever cycled for 38 miles. I talked to her yesterday, via a Viber line of what was called ‘average’ quality.

“My buttocks are not good, to be honest,” Sarah told me. “I’ve been cycling up to 100 kilometres a day, but it’s been exhausting. It’s been too much, really, so I’ve been having a rest today… My bum has been having a rest day as much as anything… I have special cream.”

“How is your dodgy French getting on?” I asked. “Are you making yourself understood in the villages you pass through?”

“I am just passing,” said Sarah. “I’m not stopping to meet random rural people. The main conversations I’ve had have been with French bicycle mechanics. My aged bicycle Gerard One broke down on Day Two, so I spent two days with various French bicycle mechanics. The second mechanic declared Gerard One entirely dead. It was the back wheel. It was an old bike and new back wheels are a different size. My bike was declared morts.”

“Morts? Merde!” I said. “So you had to buy a second bike? That’s terrible, though it could be worse. I half expected to hear a news item about a British bicyclist being found dead and decapitated in the mountains.”

“It’s been very flat and monotonous so far,” said Sarah, “with long, straight roads stretching ahead of me. But the mountains are still to come, so you may yet not be disappointed.”

“I never thought about the monotony,” I told her. “Have you got an MP3 player to music it up?”

“Have you been following my Tweets?” asked Sarah. “@sarah_hendrickx.”

“I still haven’t got my head round using Twitter while retaining a life,” I admitted.

By this point in the conversation, the ‘average’ Viber connection was playing up quite badly and Sarah was starting to sound like she was talking to me through the overflow pipe of a bath.

“It’s so hot and sweaty and horrible, it doesn’t feel safe,” I think Sarah told me, though I missed the context.

Sarah’s Edinburgh Fringe poster worryingly says I would pay to see the free show

Sarah’s Edinburgh Fringe poster worryingly says I would pay to see her free show

“So do you think there’s an Edinburgh Fringe show in it?” I asked.

“This is only one small part of my Fringe show,” Sarah’s multiple voices reminded me through her apparent bath overflow pipe, “but I’ve got loads of material out of it already… I had a kind of breakdown the other day. I went a bit mad sitting in my tent in a camp by myself and left my tent behind and ran across the road to stay in a B&B which was run by the sort of man you find in an American horror film. I spent the night wondering if this man was going to come and hack me to pieces.”

“That would have made a good blog,” I said, brightening up. “What you should do is fake your own death then reappear just before the Fringe starts.”

“That would be a bit of a desperate way to get an audience,” said Sarah.

“You’re a comedian, so you’re desperate already,” I suggested.

The Viber line then started to deteriorate even more. After a fair bit of metallic-sounding abstract sounds, I heard Sarah say:

“It’s a bit lonely, cycling across France on your own. No-one to share the experience with. It’s a bit crap.”

I think that’s what she said.

“Have you met any other Brits?” I asked.

“Not many,” her multiple voices told me, “but they tend to be intrigued by my journey. The adventure.”

“What’s the reaction when you tell people why you’re doing it?” I asked.

“I haven’t been telling them about the comedy show,” she explained. “I’ve just told them I’m having a mid-life crisis or I’m having a little adventure. That’s all. It’s too complicated to mention the comedy show.”

“Are you glad you’ve done it?” I asked.

“I’m only halfway through, John!” she laughed. “I’m nowhere near Barcelona. I’m in Poitiers in the middle of France!”

“Are you on schedule?” I asked.

Sarah’s tent - temporarily abandoned, it seems

Sarah’s tent – temporarily abandoned for psycho hotel & train

“I’m going to have to slightly cheat and catch a train,” Sarah admitted, “otherwise I’m not going to finish in time. The road network out here is either dual carriageways or farm tracks. It’s very remote and I’ve realised since being here that, at a certain level it’s just not safe. I’ve been on motorways and scared the shit out of myself. The ring road in Le Mans is no place for a person to be. So I’m going to catch a train, then carry on a bit further south. One hundred kilometres a day is too much, really, for my little untrained physical self.”

At this point, the Viber connection went abstract.

“Hoping… weight… become this bronze goddess…That’s probably not going to happen… burning off so many calories… shovelling down my neck… time just for a mid-morning snack… hungry so much… it’s amazing… I can eat, basically, whatever I like… diet… a new diet.”

The Hendrickx Diet has got a certain ring to it,” I said. “You could become a millionairess by next year.”

Is this the next Keep Fit millionairess?

The originator of the next trendy diet plan?

“I think so,” laughed Sarah, her voice temporarily clearing. “But you wouldn’t have a job, a family or a social life because you’d spend most of your life dieting… But it’ll save you a lot of money and, yeah, it’ll…”

“It’s going to be a joy to see if I can transcribe any of this,” I said. “Can you hear my voice OK?”

“Yes,” said Sarah. “Very clearly.”

“Viber says this is average quality,” I told her, “but you’re echoing like you’re in a metal tube.”

“No,” said Sarah, “I’m just in some cheap hotel room.”

“But without some psycho owner,” I said.

“I hope so,” said Sarah. “I hope so.”

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UK comedian Sarah Hendrickx setting off on a 800 mile cycle ride having only previously ever cycled for 38 miles

SarahHendrickxBlog

Sarah in Spain 12 years ago, when it all went wrong for her

“So just to check,” I said to comedian Sarah Hendrickx on Skype yesterday. “You’ve gone mad. On Monday, you’re going to start cycling 800 miles to Barcelona and you’ve never done anything like this before. You could go by train but, no, you’re going to cycle.”

“That wouldn’t be quite such an adventure,” Sarah explained. “That’s not so much of a personal, physical and mental challenge.”

“So remind me why you’re going…?”

“It was about the terrible thing that you blogged about,” said Sarah, “when I got stuck up the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and ended up going a bit mental and getting agoraphobia. So this is me going back to sort it all out and become a brave person.”

“And you’ve never done anything like this cycling before?” I asked Sarah.

“Oh, absolutely not,” she said. “I’ve never even slept in a tent before. I put the tent up in my back garden to try it out a few weeks ago, but I was too frightened to sleep in it.”

“This was in your back garden in Worthing?” I checked.

“Yes,” confirmed Sarah. “Ten yards from my own back door. The trip to Barcelona is going to be quite a challenge.”

“Have you been testing your legs,” I asked, “so you’re sure you really can cycle for 800 miles?”

“Noooo!” said Sarah. “I’ve been extraordinarily lazy… The weather’s been crappy and… no… I… erm… I’ve been working away from home a lot and the weather’s been shit and I’ve been lazy and… No…Not in any way or shape or form have I prepared for this. I went out once for a bike ride… Oh! And I also cycled to the beach, about a mile away from my home and had a cup of coffee and a cake.”

“So what’s the furthest you’ve ever ridden?” I asked.

“38 miles,” replied Sarah. “Once. In Oxfordshire. It was very sunny. And flat.”

“How much do you intend to ride every day?” I asked.

“I’ll have to do at least 50 miles a day for at least 16 days,” explained Sarah, “so, by Day Three, there are going to be children in campsites going: Maman! What is zee matter with zat lady? She appears to be paralysed from head to toe and unable to put her tent away!

“The main question,” I said to Sarah. “My main question is: Why? Just Why?

Sarah Hendrickx ponders her cycle of life on Skype yesterday

Sarah Hendrickx ponders her cycle of life on Skype yesterday

“Last year,” explained Sarah, “I went to this thing called The Adventure Travel Film Festival and there were all these absolute nutcases who had canoed down the Congo and suchlike on their own.

“None of yer Bear Grylles support vehicles. Just individual people who had headed off alone to do this mental stuff. And I was inspired by this. But I’m not brave enough to go down the Congo in a boat.

“So my slightly more sedate adventure is to cycle across France back to this place in Barcelona where things all went a bit wrong for me 12 years ago.”

“So the furthest you’ve ever cycled,” I re-checked, “was 38 miles in…”

“In Oxfordshire,” Sarah interrupted. “It was very flat. I’m allergic to hills. I don’t think there are any in France, so I think it’s going to be fine. And it’s all downhill to the Mediterranean, surely?”

“Do the words Pyrenees Mountains mean anything to you?” I asked.

“I think I might go round the edge of them,” Sarah told me.

“Can you?” I asked. “You can out-flank them?”

“I don’t know!” laughed Sarah. “By the time I get that far, I’ll either be dead or I won’t care! “

“When are you back in the UK?” I asked.

“I’ve got a flight booked home from Barcelona on Sunday the 16th of June.”

“So how long are you going to be in hospital in Barcelona?” I asked.

“The food’s gotta be better than it will be on the trip,” laughed Sarah. “Though I have been thinking of just hiding in my house for three weeks and randomly sending Tweets as if from France and Spain.”

“You’ll be doing things on your Twitter @sarah_hendrickx?”

“Possibly. And I’ve been doing a few little blog posts in preparation for it.”

“What’s your blog called?”

A Bird on a Bike.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Are you raising money on this? You should be doing a charity thing.”

“No,” said Sarah. “If people want to give money to charity, they can just do that anyway without the excuse of me having to go and half-kill myself.”

Sarah preparing for her Edinburgh Fringe show

Sarah preparing for Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller

“But,” I asked, “ultimately all this is going to end up in your jaw-dropping and jolly jape-filled Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller in August?”

“It will,” said Sarah.

“Does your Edinburgh venue have wheelchair access in case anything goes wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do your two children think about it?”

“They’re both grown up. They’re not worried about the physical challenge. It’s more my mental well-being: the fear that mother will go even more mad. I think the fact I can’t cycle that far is almost a done deal. They’re more worried by Do you think she’ll be OK out there on her own?

“I’ve never been anywhere for three weeks on my own. I think most people haven’t. Not without anybody. No structure. No plan apart from just to keep going. No-one to talk to. No-one there. That’s something I’ve never experienced for that length of time.”

“Can you speak French or Spanish?” I asked.

“I can speak a bit of French, though probably not the kind of French vocabulary I will need, which involves punctures and mental illness.”

“What happens if you really don’t make it? If you get stuck halfway?”

“I don’t mind. It’s the sense of adventure and what happens along the way that’s the point of it, really. If it becomes completely undo-able – physically or because it pisses with rain – I shall just dump the bike in a hedge and get a train and that will then be part of what the Edinburgh show’s about. It’s not about me finishing. It’s about me going for it and having a crack. People don’t push themselves out of their comfort zone. I want to. What could possibly go wrong?”

“Have the two words Cannibal Frenchmen ever crossed your mind?” I asked.

“A tough old bird like me?” said Sarah, “Anyway, I’ll be road kill by the time I meet any.”

“Are you going to be sending me regular updates?”

“Certainly,” said Sarah.

“You can Skype me,” I said.

“Then you’ll be able to see me crying in real time,” said Sarah. “I have a solar-powered phone charger. I’m hoping for some sunshine.”

“Normally,” I told Sarah, “I would say Break a leg, but that’s probably not a good thing to say. Lots of people do far more adventurous things than this, but they’re probably a bit more prepared. If Ranulph Fiennes were to do this, it would not be very impressive. But, if you do it, it’s bloody impressive because your adventure threshold starting point is lower.”

Sarah Hendrickx is not sad any more

Sarah Hendrickx has a message for you

“I have prepared a little,” said Sarah. “I’ve been reading this morning about how long your pubic hair should be to avoid pulling, chaffing and all sorts of unpleasantness. There’s all sorts of medical things you need to know if your backside is going to be on a saddle for 800 miles over 16 days. There’s all sorts of things you really wouldn’t want to know about, John.”

“The pubic hair detail is already more than I wanted to know,” I told her.

“Well,’ said Sarah proudly, “that’s the sort of preparation I HAVE been doing instead of going cycling.”

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