Cologne Pride, 2015… a banner with the flags of 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal
I need to tell you about the latest ghastliness to blight the land of happy safaris and dancing with Maasai.
A short while ago, the Kenyan government had a chance to behave like decent human beings and revoke laws criminalising homosexuality, in line with pretty much exactly what their own 2010 Constitution says. But no. They went with the old Colonial Penal Code forbidding “carnal knowledge contrary to the laws of nature” – which, according to people who obviously know bugger all about nature, means homosexuality.
They also refused to stop forced anal examinations by police (which are supposed to be a sure way of telling if you are a friend of Phillip). And, of course, the bigoted, the ignorant, the religious and the bastards rejoiced and began a happily homophobic spree.
Today I met up with Vicky for her beverage of choice – Cafe Latte – and a catch-up and planning meeting for Mama Biashara.
Vicky is straight, but a greater ally than could possibly be imagined in a country like Kenya. I ask her about the situation and she sighs the Vicky sigh that says things are not good.
Of course, there are beatings and killings (there always have been, but now the government has decreed they are probably for the best) and, of course, no one in a job is safe from being outed and immediately fired. Ditto people in rented accommodation.
60% of gay people (it is reckoned) have been or are still married with children here. And that means when they are outed very often those around them evince displeasure with their lifestyle choices by sexually abusing their children.
But the worst thing is that gay guys are frequently being denied access to AntiRetroViral drugs in government hospitals. And not just ARVs but all manner of medical treatment.
The gay community is fast disappearing underground, says Vicky. She has hundreds of people wanting help from Mama Biashara. So, this time, we are going to help a load of gay (and lesbian) groups to get to a safe place (few and far between) and start a business and a new life.
This will almost certainly be outside big towns, because even Mombasa – once very gay-friendly – has become ‘hot’.
Our big challenge will be finding safe places to meet them. But that is where our Mama Biashara network comes into play.
One group who is particularly desperate is, she tells me – wide-eyed – a group of gay Maasai men.
I cannot begin to imagine how tough it must be to be a gay Maasai.
29 days ago – yes, 29 days ago – I chatted to American comedian Scott Capurro in London, after one of the Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club ‘new material’ nights. Then I got busy and/or distracted and/or just plain lazy. I have no excuse. But here it is, 29 days later…
SCOTT: It’s great to write new material. It’s really, really exciting. And I think the audience enjoys seeing us crush and then being crushed. They like to see us fail. It’s fun. And we enjoy watching each other fail on stage because the process of what we do – creating comedy – has to have an element of failure in it, otherwise it’s never going to work.
You will never find the joke in it unless you are able to tell it five or ten or twenty times on stage in front of somebody to find out where the humour is. We will famously rehearse something for days and think: This is perfect now; I’ll bring it in… and it doesn’t get a laugh. Not a whisper. Because to us it’s funny but, to a roomful of strangers who don’t know us, they don’t get it.So you gotta make it accessible to a roomful of people who don’t know you – again and again and again.
It’s tough for comedians, because it’s hard to remember that what you do is difficult. Even though you know it’s a speciality and a very specific talent to take something like the stabbings on London Bridge and turn that into what has gotta be a joke. The only place where you can deal with it immediately after is on the comedy stage.
JOHN: So the relationship between the stand-up comic and the audience is…?
Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson
SCOTT: There has to be a moment where the audience remembers that the lights are pointed not at them, but at that solitary figure on that piece of the wood. And the problem I think with the current way we discourse through phones and iPads and so on is we don’t make eye contact.
I find myself now, when I’m talking to people in an audience, if they’re under the age of 25 and I make eye-contact with them, they are a little bit wary of me. And that can be difficult because, to them, a punchline sounds old-fashioned – something their bigoted uncle tells at a wedding when he’s drunk.
The focus of comedy has shifted a bit and my job now is to find a way to make what I do accessible to those people as well. There is no point blocking them out or saying they don’t get it or they’re ‘too woke’ or they’re ‘too PC’ or too ANYthing.
People are in a comedy club for a reason: they want to laugh. So you have to allow them the chance to do that.
JOHN: But that is, as you say, difficult…
SCOTT: And it SHOULD be a difficult struggle or else the audience is gonna know what’s gonna happen next. When I go see a comedian, what I find cynical is when I find them predictable or they seem lazy on stage and the audience knows where it’s going. What I think is great about live performance or really any performance I like is that I don’t want to know what’s round the corner.
Now, in this country and especially in comedy for some reason, it has become difficult sometimes to deal with certain subjects.
I was in Stoke at the weekend and told some jokes about Stoke terrorism.
JOHN: Stoke terrorism?
SCOTT: Well that guy who stabbed those people on London Bridge. I told some jokes and they got quiet, but it’s my job. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t do that.
JOHN: You started a podcast recently…
SCOTT:Scott Capurro Probes – I just talk to writers, comics, politicians – people that present their work publicly.
JOHN: Politicians? Like…?
“I got a real tingle from his handshake.” (Copyright: World Economic Forum)
SCOTT: I really want to interview Gordon Brown. I met him backstage at the Hay Festival. I had just met my (future) husband the year before and we were thinking of getting married. I think it was around 2009; Gordon Brown was Prime Minister at the time. He had some really handsome bodyguards.
I shook hands with him. He’s a really big guy. He’s very attractive in person. I found him extremely attractive to talk to. Just five minutes, but really funny, charming and affable and very self-deprecating. On camera, I don’t think his warmth comes across as much as it does in life.
We had shared a stage but not at the same time. A lot of the audience who had seen him in the afternoon stayed to watch me in the evening.
On stage in the afternoon, he had praised Tony Blair and I found out later the audience had not responded very well to that.
Not having seen that afternoon performance, I spoke about what a hero Tony Blair was to me. And the audience… I don’t think they turned on me, but they were not as receptive as I normally find an audience of Guardian readers to be. I was quite surprised by their response and then a woman who still writes for the Guardian wrote a SCATHING review of my performance. It upset me for years.
But people forget that, to gay men – even now – Tony Blair is a hugely iconic supportive figure, because he introduced marriage equality. That was a big deal for us. Huge. And he says it is still a shining moment of his legacy and he still thinks very proudly of it.
People also forget that, at a lot of Gay Pride functions, Tony Blair showed up as Prime Minister. That was a big deal to us. That had not happened before.
So, however smug or supercilious or middle class you want to be, watching me, thinking that you can judge me because I happen to be a supporter of Tony Blair, you can fuck off. That’s kind of what I told them that night.
I really admired Gordon Brown. I got a real tingle from his handshake. He held it for a while. I thought: This guy’s really hot. He’s gonna win! He’s gonna win!… And then it all went sour and here we are now.
JOHN: Are you doing a podcast because it allows you to be more serious? So you don’t have to do gag-gag-gag?
SCOTT: No. I just like chat. In comedy, I am very gag oriented. I am very jokey.
JOHN: You are very fast.
SCOTT: I don’t write set-ups. I tend to just tell punchlines for 25 or 30 minutes. When I first came over from the US and was playing the UK, I was very much nicer and, when I started breaking the mainstream, I felt I had to buffer. But I don’t buffer jokes now. I don’t at all.
JOHN: Define ‘buffer’.
SCOTT: A set-up.
There’s a traditional joke set-up. You set the joke up. You do an example. And then you tell a punch.
“My mother is tough. When I was a kid, she did this to me. And… PUNCH.”
I understand that structure and it’s something audiences are very comfortable with. It’s familiar. But now I skip the first two parts. I just tell the punches.
Joan Rivers – Life in Progress at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe
I learned about ten years ago how to do it, watching Joan Rivers at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then I read an interview with her where she said: “I only pay comics for the punchlines; I never ask for the set-ups.”
I thought: That’s interesting. If you only told the punchlines in a set, I wonder how many you could squeeze in. That’s what the audience is here to hear. I mean, I don’t think they give a shit about my politics or my personal response to things.
JOHN: Don’t they?
SCOTT: I think, in Edinburgh, you can break that mould and do more personal stuff. It’s actually expected of you now in Edinburgh. They want a journey. They want you to be fingered or some sort of lie.
SCOTT: Well, at least two shows that have done very well recently, I’ve been told by the premise-creators that they weren’t true… But, oh well. It’s a show anyway. Just a show.
JOHN: So they were telling a…
SCOTT: That’s all I’ll say about it.
JOHN: Comedians are paid to go on stage and tell lies…
SCOTT: They are. But if the show is based round something and you then talk about that thing seriously in public… (PAUSE) but it’s still just a story… I find that… (PAUSE) You know what, though? You are giving people what they want.
I mean, I saw a show in preview last year and, when the artist came off stage, the artist’s management said: “You didn’t put that thing in about your father dying…” And this artist said: “I didn’t think it was necessary.” And they said: “You need to put it back in if you want to get nominated.”
And I thought: That’s fine. Why not put it in? Why not write jokes about it? That’s our job… But then I thought: But you need to let the artist do their progression. I don’t want administrative staff stepping in and telling me what creativity is.
Martin Besserman, host of the long-established London comedy club Monkey Business is starting another night on Friday this week at his regular venue – the Pembroke Castle in Primrose Hill/Chalk Farm… It is not altogether comedy, though there will be some.
So we had a chat about it in his car, because it was raining. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It was bloody wet.
JOHN: So, your new Camden Cabaret night. It involves burlesque. Will you be getting your kit off?
MARTIN: (LAUGHS) The most I’m likely to do is show a nipple. Those days of me showing a bit of my body – which I used to do at Speaker’s Corner – are long gone.
JOHN: You’re a long-time comedy venue runner. So why are you starting it? Bottom fallen out of comedy?
MARTIN: Well, all businesses are challenging. I was once a market trader. Before that, I was in a band and this is part of my journey in life. I’ve always been attracted to providing entertainment.
JOHN: So from band to street market to comedy to stripping.
MARTIN: I think stripping is an exaggeration. These days, stripping completely naked is rare. The emphasis is more on the creative aspect. I have gone through something like 150 different clips to identify the more creative and funny burlesque performers.
JOHN: How you suffer for your art…
MARTIN: (LAUGHS) But the shows are not just burlesque. It’s a real variety show.
“I was in a band” – Martin was performing in the mid-1980s…
JOHN: You know I have this obsession that, when Alternative Comedy first started in the mid-1980s, you would see a magician, a juggler, a comedian, all sorts of bizarre acts on the bill. Now you go to a comedy club and it’s six 24-year-old white blokes talking about wanking and how they watch porn.
MARTIN: And variety was on the bill before the 1980s as well. Bruce Forsyth and Ken Dodd and all those people. Our shows will have burlesque and drag artists and comedians and magicians. The character of the night will be one of unpredictability.
JOHN: Ironically, a lot of those old-school comics learnt their trade dying terrible on-stage deaths to apathetic audiences in between strippers at The Windmill.
MARTIN: Well, the new type of burlesque has really taken off in a big way. It is huge. Once there was an awareness that I was going to host this kind of night, a lot of performers – more than I had ever envisaged – were sending me their clips and wanting to get on the night. Perhaps in recognition that Monkey Business has been hugely successful over many, many years.
JOHN: Will you be having comics like (I NAMED A SPECIFIC COMIC) on the Camden Cabaret bill?
MARTIN: Well, we are living in a completely different political environment and it’s a dilemma for me to allow people to be a little bit rebellious on stage without offending customers who you want to return.
JOHN: So the punters won’t be offended by tits and bums, but they might be offended by (THE SPECIFIC COMIC I NAMED).
MARTIN: And you know why also? Because the burlesque performers are primarily feminists.
Martin starts to prepare for the big night on Friday
MARTIN: Well, you gotta understand there would certainly be feminists opposed to the idea of women taking their clothes off and potentially turning men on. But – again – I have to say this is not about women taking their clothes off. This is about Art and we have some really, really creative performers. There’s a marvellous hula-hoop girl. Not all of the burlesque performers take their clothes off.
On the night that Stephen Bailey is hosting – because I’m taking a back seat on some of these – he has an act on called Soul Illusion, a wonderful magic dance act.
What I’m trying to bring to this night is unpredictability. And it’s all about costumes as well. I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment. By doing that, we will hopefully cater for all.
It’s a cabaret night that happens to have a bit of burlesque in it. And comedy. And drag. But not always drag and not necessarily always burlesque.
It will cater for the straight AND the gay community. I should point out that The Black Cap in Camden closed about five years ago. It was a gay pub before homosexuality was even legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967) It did temporarily relocate to another venue in Camden, but it was very very short-lived.
I am not saying that Camden Cabaret will be a replacement for The Black Cap, but I hope Camden Cabaret will cater for that community as well.
JOHN: A bit like the late lamented Madame Jojo’s in Soho, then…?
JOHN: And Camden Cabaret is not replacing Monkey Business but is running in tandem…
“I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment…”
MARTIN: Yes. Monkey Business is at the Pembroke Castle on Thursdays and Saturdays… and Camden Cabaret is on Fridays.
JOHN: You have President Obonjo appearing on your second Camden Cabaret show – presumably not stripping – and the wonderful Malcolm Hardee Award winning Candy Gigi compering your third and fourth nights.
MARTIN: Yes. For what I want to achieve with this kind of night – unpredictability – she will be fantastic. I want it to be a crazy kinda night.
(L-R) The comic Trinity of terrifying Maggy Whitehouse, Satanic Ravi Holy and secretive Kate Bruce
Maggy Whitehouse is a former BBC journalist and Funny Women finalist, described by one head of BBC Religion & Ethics as ‘terrifying’… Ravi Holy is a former Satanist, now a regular on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought; Kate Bruce is a former crematorium worker, now a chaplain somewhere so important that she’s not allowed to say where.
And one was expelled from the Brownies for cheating on her Housework badge. I don’t know which, but suspect it was not Satanic Ravi.
Well, OK, mea culpa, I told a fib… Forgive me Lord… I was only contacted by one vicar – Maggy Whitehouse.
If anyone at the Fringe is LGBTQ and thinks they might get any hassle from stupid religious types (though Edinburgh at the Fringe is generally lovely), Ravi Holy, Kate Bruce and I are the three vicars from White Collar Comedy, performing there this year, 1st-10th August.
We are all three 100% allies of the LGBTQ community and we would all be very willing to act as a “don’t even think about it” bodyguard force for you if you think it might help. We can also out-quote scripture to any fundamentalist twat. Then, at the very least, you could say: “Would you like to speak to my vicar about this?”
Both Ravi and I have gay daughters and we think it’s REALLY important if vicars are going to the Fringe to nail our colours to the mast.
I wanted to know more…
This morning she told me…
“I went to the Fringe two years ago in a rainbow clerical shirt”
I went to the Fringe two years ago in a rainbow clerical shirt and I was amazed and touched at how many people from the LGBTQ community stopped me in the street and said: “Are you really a vicar?” They were so chuffed to see open support when there’s so often badly-researched religious prejudice.
Christianity began as a faith for the rejected, the poor, the slaves, the women and all the people who, in those days, didn’t fit in. It should be a place of love and safety for those who don’t fit in today.
Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, St. Paul’s writings equated it with gossip and being rude to your parents (and who hasn’t done those?) and, anyway, he was talking about the Roman custom of male rape as a power game, not two loving people in a one-to-one relationship.
Where Christianity has gone so badly wrong over the centuries (as we three agree) is by becoming a religion of power and war. That was never Jesus’ message. Trouble is, it’s far easier to worship him (which he never asked us to do) than it is to follow him (which he did ask us to do).
Ravi and I both have daughters who are gay so, yes, it is personal.
We are quite happy to quote the hell out of scripture to anyone who wants to have a go at the LGBTQ community and we really want everyone at the Fringe to know that, if they need help, support or a good scriptural rant, we are there for them.
Obviously we’re not superheroes and we can’t fly directly to help but, if anyone is upset or made to feel they don’t belong, we’ll do all we can to remedy that situation, including – if possible – finding the protagonist and having a quiet, authoritative word.
Contact points? You can email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UK mobile is 07799-761999 and texts would be by far the best way to contact.
“I suppose,” I told Maggy, “you had better also plug your show White Collar Comedy…”
It’s mainly about the ridiculous things that happen to vicars, from being asked to do a wedding dressed as Elvis or a funeral dressed as a pink fairy (and that’s just Ravi…) to…
…well, Kate has a lot of material about nuns and knickers…
and I re-translate the Bible for the digital age, having Moses clicking on Buzzfeed for the Ten Commandments and selfies of the free Fish McFillet at the Galilee… and I mess about with unicorns.
Then there’s the weird stuff people say to vicars too…
“I can’t hear you properly. Your lips are too thin. You need louder lipstick…”
“Why did you speak out against Hippocrates? What’s he ever done to you?…”
JOHN: Your show is called Coming Out Loud. Good title, because the audience knows what it’s going to get.
SAM: (LAUGHS) Dick jokes for an hour!
JOHN: Is there an elevator pitch for the show?
SAM: An openly gay comedian coming from a country where free speech and homosexuality is illegal… Expect dick jokes.
JOHN: Can you say free speech is illegal in Singapore?
SAM: No. In Singapore, I can’t say that free speech is illegal in Singapore. If you criticise the lack of free speech while you are here, you will be… erm… It’s a lovely irony.
JOHN: Is being gay totally illegal in Singapore?
SAM: Yes. It’s 100% illegal. The law itself is as vague as possible. It is basically the old-school English sodomy laws. It is illegal but…
JOHN: So how can you talk on stage about being gay if it’s illegal?
SAM: Because I am not yet popular or famous enough. On stage I always say I am gay. But, if they try to arrest me, I can say it is a character and then they would have to prove I’m gay which… well, good luck to them.
JOHN: So doing this chat with me could get you imprisoned…
SAM: It depends… They would need to prove I have done something untowards with another gentleman…
JOHN: You can say you are gay provided you’ve done nothing about it…?
SAM: Kinda. But, if you are on-stage saying it, they can still fine you or arrest you for homosexual propaganda or propagating that homosexuality is positive.
JOHN: Anyway, Coming Out Loud at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Why?
SAM: A lot of Edinburgh regulars recommended I should give it a bash – Martin Mor told me: “Come over, Sam, do the full run, go crazy and lose money.”
I guess I have to. It’s the Hajj. It’s the Mecca for comics: we all have to do it once in our life. But I don’t understand how people can do it for 10 or 20 years: a whole month!
JOHN: It’s addictive.
Sam is gearing up for Edinburgh with a tour of South East Asia
SAM: I am doing a whole run shows around Asia before it. I am gearing up to play outside my comfort zone.
JOHN: You started performing comedy in 2012…
SAM: Yes. The comedy scene is Asia is less than ten years old.
JOHN: I presume, if you are gay, you can’t play China?
SAM: I can, actually. I have played Brunei, if you can believe that!
SAM: It’s on hold. The law is technically not in effect but it has not been repealed. In very heavy Moslem areas like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, I have to be really careful. If I play there, I try to play in embassies like the British or American so I have that clemency of being on international soil.
JOHN: Remembering this is going online, is it just a problem with Islam?
SAM: No. Myanmar is heavily Buddhist and they set people on fire. In China, they put people in re-education camps. There are heavy beliefs in this part of the world: whether religious or atheistic.
There was a chief from the UN who came down to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya crisis and the chief Buddhist monk of Myanmer called her a slut and threatened to have her raped… Remember this is a man of peace.
JOHN: How do your audiences react to a gay comic?
SAM: They have changed over time. They don’t mind hearing about it; but not too much. When I first started, it was a combination of me not knowing how to tailor the material for the audiences and the audiences not being ready to receive such information. But I have become a more competent performer with time and they have grown with time.
Sam See or Woody Harrelson? You decide.
JOHN: People get pigeonholed. Who do people compare you with?
SAM: I see myself as a much longer-form Joan Rivers, more into storytelling and less insults.
SAM: I have no idea why. He is not known for his stand-up comedy!
JOHN: Are there many gay comics in Singapore and surrounds?
SAM: No. I am the one openly gay comedian. There are two who are closeted and one bisexual, but she is more into poetry than stand-up.
JOHN: I presume no-one is admitting to being lesbian?
SAM: None of the locals. There are some expats who come to Asia, do stand-up and say: “I’m proud to be a lesbian.” But then they move on.
JOHN: Things must be getting better. You have been on TV in a weekly Singapore panel show OK Chope!
SAM: No-one had really done the panel show format in the region before. There are variety show formats but not the traditional UK-style panel show. Host, regular panellists and rotating guest panellists.
JOHN: Did it work?
SAM: It was a mess, because it was a topical news show where we were not allowed to talk about news because… well… it’s Singapore.
It was a one-hour show transmitted live, with a zero second delay.
JOHN: Jesus! A zero second delay?
SAM: Yes. I am not kidding.
JOHN: This was actually transmitted? It wasn’t just a pilot?
SAM: Yes, a full season… 7.30pm prime time, before the watershed.
JOHN: Double Jesus!
SAM: We all managed to drink in the afternoon before we shot it.
JOHN: Did the TV company get nervous after Episode One?
SAM: Oh yes. Every week, we would have one of the government censors watching us from a booth. He would give us a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.
JOHN: But, if it’s live, it’s too late…
SAM: Well, too late for the show but not too late to put us in jail.
JOHN: And it ended because…
SAM: We made fun of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia who had been accused of being a thief and we made jokes about it and somehow he watched that episode.
JOHN: And the result was…?
SAM: He called our Prime Minister who took us off the air.
JOHN: So the series ended before it was due to end.
SAM: It happened on the last episode at the end of the season.
JOHN: So was someone being intentionally provocative?
Sam See addresses his audience
SAM: No, that whole segment had actually cleared the censors. It was just that, at the time, Malaysia was having an election, so they needed a scapegoat and a way to look strong. If they can get the neighbouring country to formally apologise to them, it makes them look powerful and in control.
JOHN: Do you have a 5-year career plan that starts in Edinburgh and ends in Las Vegas?
SAM: Well, it starts in Edinburgh and then I am in talks with some folks over in the United States for representation.
JOHN: Presumably, like performers everywhere, you want to move to the US.
SAM: I don’t know. I think I would like to move to one of the other countries, but I would still make Singapore my home base because (a) it is my home and (b) the tax rates are better. (LAUGHS)
JOHN: I suspect Donald Trump thinks Singapore is somewhere in South America.
SAM: No. He knows where we are, because he started the North Korean treaties here.
JOHN:(LAUGHS) You should play North Korea!
SAM: You joke, but some of us have been thinking about it for a while. You just have to find an embassy that’s crazy enough to go along with the idea and just play it on embassy soil and don’t make jokes about the North Korean government or mention South Korea.
JOHN: Getting in might be a problem. And let’s not even fantasise about getting out. Singapore doesn’t have an embassy there, does it?
Micky Fawcett, a close associate of UK gangsters the Kray Twins, pops up every now and then in this blog.
He wrote arguably the definitive ‘inside’ story about Ronnie and Reggie – Krayzy Days.
So we were having a chat in Stratford, East London, yesterday…
MICKY: Did you know the Twins had a mynah bird?
JOHN: I don’t think I did.
MICKY: They were given this mynah bird and it was very good at imitations.
“Mum! Mum!” it used to say and COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH. – it used to take off their dad’s cough – Old Charlie.
“Some money! Some money!” it used to say; “Get some money!” and “What’s YOUR name?”
It frightened the life out of people. They used to have it in the corner of the kitchen.
The best one was when Old Charlie ‘outed’ Ronnie.
There was me and Dukey Osbourne and Ronnie, who was sitting at the table with a basin of stew and a bull terrier laying at his feet.
JOHN: What was the dog’s name?
MICKY: Dunno. Don’t know if it had one. Anyway, this was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and there was a bit of noise in the hallway. And it’s their old man, Old Charlie, coming home pissed.
Ronnie squawks like his mynah bird and says: “Mum, mum! The drunken old bastard’s here!”
And the mynah bird goes: “Drunken old bastard! Drunken old bastard!”
Old Charlie Kray – the Twins’ father
Old Charlie comes in, straightening his shirt cuffs and his tie – he was always straightening himself up – and he says: “Shuddup, son! What I’ve heard about you today, you’re gone! You’re GONE! You’ve completely gone! That’s what you are. What they’re saying about in the pub, in the 99 (a pub in Bishopsgate) is disgusting! You make me sick!”
Ronnie says: “Shuttup, you old cunt! Shuttup! Fucking shuttup!”
He got up, rushed over to Old Charlie and he’s got hold of him by the collars and he’s still got the knife and fork in his hands and the dog was attacking Old Charlie’s leg, but not fiercely. And, with the knife in his hand, Ronnie – he hadn’t actually meant to, but he – scratched Old Charlie’s cheek by his nose – a little trickle of blood.
And Old Charlie’s shouting out: “Violet! He’s cut me! He’s cut me!”
At that point, I took my leave and was out the door. I was gone.
Next day, I went round to see Reggie and he was limping slightly. I asked what was wrong and he said: “Ronnie kicked me up the bollocks.”
MICKY: I dunno why. I didn’t ask. You didn’t ask questions like that.
JOHN: Surely everyone always knew Ronnie was gay from the beginning? From when he was a teenager or whatever.
MICKY: No. I don’t suppose so. Well, people didn’t want to know. Nobody used to say it, did they? Not in them days. I remember the first time anybody told me.
JOHN: About Ronnie?
MICKY: Yes. Well, about the pair of them. It was a close friend of mine. I don’t think ‘gay’ was a word then. ‘Poof’, maybe. He said: “They’re poofs” or whatever.
I said: “Yeah?”
He said: “Course they are. Why do you think all them young boys are coming round? Can’t you tell?”
Micky Fawcett (left) first met Ronnie Kray around 1956
JOHN: How long had you known them at that point?
MICKY: A couple of years, I guess. About 1956 maybe. They were quite young. (The Kray Twins were born in 1933.) It was billiard hall days. I remember we were outside this billiard hall. I think Ronnie had done his famous escape from Long Grove mental hospital.
JOHN: Which was?
MICKY: Reggie went in to visit him and Ronnie walked out.
JOHN: Being twins.
MICKY: Yeah. I knew Reggie but not Ronnie then.
I remember the first time I met Ronnie. I saw him from the back and thought he was Reggie. He was walking up to the billiard hall and I come up behind: “Hey! Reg!”
And he said: “I think you want my brother.”
JOHN: But they looked different. Reg had a narrower face and Ronnie’s was wider.
MICKY: In the pictures when they were younger, they don’t look so different.
The Kray Twins in their younger, boxing, days
JOHN: Of course. The boxing pictures.
MICKY: But they didn’t look quite the same. Ronnie was scruffier the first time I met him. Not scruffy intentionally.
He had just come out of a mental hospital.
The bottom of his trouser leg was roughed-up a bit and his boots were a bit… You know how you can imagine someone who has just come out of a…
Reggie was very, very smartly dressed.
JOHN: Was that always the case?
MICKY: Later on, towards the end, Ronnie was a very smart-dressed feller who went to Savile Row tailors for his clothes. Reggie dressed very smart, but went to Wood’s in Kingsland Road. It was like East End boy and West End girl.
JOHN: Ronnie being the West End girl.
JOHN: You always dressed very smart yourself.
MICKY: You had to be. It was part of the thing. I was five years younger. Reggie was very impressive when Ronnie was away. Reggie was running the Double R club. You always get trouble in clubs. He was very smart. You can imagine the rest, can’t you?
Maybe it played a part in their hatred for the rest of the world.
JOHN: What did?
MICKY: Being gay at that time. Although it worked for them as well because the stars – a lot of them were gay – used to come to see them in the Kentucky club or the Double R.
When they were younger, they didn’t want anybody to know.
JOHN: Did they get picked-on at school for being gay or did no-one know?
MICKY: Well, I think they were frightening everybody. I imagine that. Reggie didn’t want anyone to know. He wanted to be one of the boys.
JOHN: He didn’t ‘come out’ at all, did he?
MICKY: Not totally, no. He did when he was in the nick. I don’t want to… People talk about them when they were away in the nick; what they did. But it’s too… distasteful.
After winning most public votes from viewers in his semi-final appearance, he is now through to the live Sunday night final tomorrow on ITV1.
It seemed the right time to ask him why he seems to have such a wide appeal.
So I asked him…
JOHN: After your song on the semi-final, your mother now definitely knows you are gay.
ROBERT: Yes and gay comedians have been my idols since I was young. There’s a sort of gay sense of humour you have if you’re camp or an outsider. I know Britain’s Got Talent has a massive gay following, a massive musical theatre following.
My song had a particular gay slant to it. We all have a particular relationship with our parents and I think it was maybe a song that other gay people found an empathy with.
JOHN: You said you had gay idols. For example…?
ROBERT: One of the people I looked up to and look up to is a guy called Mark Bunyan, who I think was the first openly gay performer at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you listen to the sort of songs he did then, they are about the same sort of level – or tamer – than the stuff I’ve done on Britain’s Got Talent.
JOHN: You write songs with intricate lyrics. But you are dyslexic. That must be a bit of a problem.
ROBERT: Well, since I was a kid, it has been easier to make stuff up than to read it. I can read and write music and lyrics but, by the time you’ve sat down and got the end of the line, you could have played most of it by ear anyway.
JOHN: Any creative genes in your family?
ROBERT: My granddad – Samuel Thomas – was from Wales and he was a massive part of my life. A lot of my comedy comes from him. He was from Bleinavon – he was eccentric and intelligent; he was self-taught; he was told he could have been a teacher but he wanted to go and spend time down the pits with his brothers. His father was a band leader and he himself played the euphonium and the cornet. All my music comes from him. He was this crazy, eccentric musical genius: a brilliant man.
I’m regularly in Neath: there’s a lovely comedy festival there. I do gigs in Cardiff, Aberystwyth, all over.
One thing I remember about doing my first gig in Wales was when I first got heckled. The words were nasty, but the accent itself just reminded me of my granddad. So I sort-of can’t be effectively heckled in Wales because it just reminds me of this lovely Welsh voice that used to tell me stories when I was a child.
JOHN: But now you’re a Londoner…
ROBERT: Well, I have adopted London. At the moment, I live in Mile End, but I’ve lived all over London – Brixton, Kilburn, Willesden Green, North, South, East, West. London has done for me what it has done for a lot of people. It has made me who I am. I was born in Sussex – born in Crawley, brought up in Horsham – but made in London..
I had a police escort when I was born. My dad was on his way to Crawley Hospital with my pregnant mother, could not find the entrance, stopped by the side of the road, was spotted by a policeman and I got a police escort to the hospital.
JOHN: That sounds a suitably bizarre entrance to the world for a gay, dyslexic, Aspergic, quarter-Welsh, web-toed performer.
ROBERT: Things which used to be classed as disabilities are now accepted and I think that’s very positive.
500-1,000 years ago, people who were left-handed were being called witches and branded as outcasts.
20 years ago, I was allowed to be dyslexic at primary school, but I was not allowed to be dyslexic at secondary school because they did not have the funding for it.
Now these things are accepted. By highlighting them, what I would like to do is make them be seen as normal. They are not exceptional; they are just different.
JOHN: Which brings us to the fact you have web toes…
ROBERT: When people ask me about my web toes, I try to ‘duck’ the question. My nan had webbed toes as well. Quite a lot of people have it. Anne Boleyn had a sixth finger and it may or may not have been webbed.
“…there is,” he continued, “a lot of opportunity for middle-aged silver foxes like myself.”
“British TV?” I asked.
“If you’re not British,” said David, “you only get so far here. Look how long Tony Law’s been at it and yet he can’t get that regular spot on a panel show. The last one to manage it was Rich Hall.”
There can only be one David Mills in the UK
“Maybe,” I suggested, “there can only be one biggish North American ‘name;’ on TV at any one given time. Like you can only have one gay person ‘big’ at any one time – Graham Norton on BBC1, Paul O’Grady on ITV, Alan Carr on Channel 4. Maybe the most to hope for would be one big name American per channel.”
“Mmmm…” said David. “I think they’re happy to have people who come over from America. Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s always one or two. But the ones who are here… The attitude is: Who wants to listen to an American living in Britain talking about the UK? People want to hear Americans who live in America talking about America.”
“Bill Bryson,” I suggested, “wrote about the UK when he lived in the UK. But, then, he was a writer, not a performer – different audience.”
“And writers have a longer shelf life,” said David. “Stand-ups can come very quickly and go very quickly.”
“Let’s not talk about that,” said David. “It’s too long ago. I can’t flog that horse any longer.”
“It must have done you some good,” I suggested.
Florence Foster Jenkins led David on…
“Well, that led me on to other things, I’ve had some big auditions with (he mentioned two A-list directors) and (he named an A-list Hollywood star) is making a new film and I went up for the role of the baddie’s sidekick. A great part. But this film – I read the script – is so bad it might become infamous. I thought to myself: I really want this! I really want to be in this! I would love to be in an infamously bad film! That would be so much fun. But no.”
“Are you a frustrated actor?” I asked.
“That’s where I started, but no I’m not – though I would be happy to do more. More and more is being filmed here, because the pound is low, they get a big tax break and the acting and production talent here is so high. I was up for a small role in the new Marvel Avengers film and the new Mission Impossible film.”
“Do you have another film part coming up?”
“Yes. It’s for TV. But it’s Showtime and Sky Atlantic.”
“You have a small part?”
“My part, John, is perfectly adequate.”
“This is an acting role in a serious drama?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s that serious.”
“But you’re acting seriously. It is not a red-nosed, floppy-shoe clown role?”
“I’m playing a version of me, John.”
“Sophisticated, then,” I said. “Suave. What were you in Florence Foster Jenkins?”
“A critic. Well, I wasn’t a critic, but I was critical.”
David Mills (left) and Gore Vidal – brothers under the skin?
“My Edinburgh Fringe show next year is called Your Silence is Deafening. It’s about being a critical person. I love people but that doesn’t mean I’m not critical. I am critical and I think that is good. The problem with the world is no-one likes critique.”
“Critical or bitchy?” I asked.
“They are different things,” said David.
“You don’t want to be ghettoised as being gay,” I said.
“No. I really don’t.”
“Your influences are interesting,” I said. “I never twigged until you told me a while ago that you partly model your act on Dave Allen.”
“Well, the act is different, but the look is inspired by him.”
“And you are very aware of the sound of the delivery.”
“Yes. A lot of things I say because I like the rhythm of the joke and the sound of it.”
“Are you musical?”
David with Gráinne Maguire and Nish Kumar on What Has The News Ever Done For Me? in Camden, London, last week
“No. But, to me, it’s all about precision. When I’m writing jokes or a show, it’s almost like a melody. I write it out and I do learn the words and I repeat the words. A lot of comics find a punchline and there’s a cloud of words leading up to it and those exact words can change every time. For me, that’s not the case. I may deliver it a little bit differently, but the wording is really important to me, because there’s a rhythm that takes me to the punchline.”
“You are a good ad-libber too, though,” I suggested.
“To an extent. But I am more heavily scripted than a lot of acts. Some other scripted acts are contriving to seem off-the-cuff, but there is something about that which, I think, feels wrong. I am trying to refer to a specific style – Dave Allen here and, in the US, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, people like that. They went out and had scripted routines and it felt more like a ‘piece’ which they presented, instead of shuffling on stage and I’m coming out with my observations. I aspire to the old school style: I have brought you this crafted piece and here it is.
“Bob Newhart was so subtle and he had such an understated brilliance. He was able to get great laughs out of a short look. So studied and crafted. He developed that. You could put Bob Newhart in any situation and he would bring that same thing.”
“Yes, “ I said, “Lots of pauses and gaps. He looked like he was vaguely, slowly thinking of things. But it was all scripted.”
“And,” I said, “the odd thing about him was that all the Ooohs and Aaahs were scripted.”
“Of course,” said David, “I have to do a lot of shows where I am still working it out, so it’s less crafted, but it’s all aiming towards me ‘presenting’ something. I think a lot of acts are not aspiring to do that. They are aspiring to a more informal kind of connection with the audience.”
(For those who do not remember Dolly The Sheep, click HERE)
This week, he was back in the same upstairs rooms of a North Soho/Fitzrovia pub in London, launching the soundtrack of his controversial gay porn film Trouser Bar – “It’s the sexy package you’ll want to fondle. A green vinyl LP lovingly wrapped in haute couture corduroy complete with lavishly illustrated insert, Paisley hankie, badge and (director) Peter de Rome‘s visiting card.”
I blogged about the film in October 2015, when it was being touted as hard-core, and in March 2016 when it was not – just well-promoted – and was first screened.
Among those appearing in cameos in Trouser Bar are Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers.
This week, as last week, David McGillivray gave a speech to the assembled, definitively eclectic, audience. He said:
Composer Stephen Thrower (left) with David McGillivray and the corduroyed soundtrack LPs. (Photograph by Alex Main)
My only purpose in being here is to lament the fact that two people who should be here can’t be here.
One is the alleged writer of the screenplay.
(LOUD LAUGHTER FROM THE AUDIENCE)
I appreciate that response. Obviously, there’s probably nobody in this room who doesn’t know who I am referring to, but I still can’t say his name. Isn’t that marvellous?
The other person is the man for whom the alleged writer wrote the screenplay – the great erotic pioneer Peter de Rome.
How both these men would have loved both Trouser Bar and Stephen Thrower’s musical score!
Over the past year, it has been my enormous pleasure to tell the story of this collaboration throughout the world. Next week, I will be telling the story yet again in Buenos Aires – How exciting is that?
The story starts a long time ago, in 1976, when the alleged writer of the screenplay was appearing in a play on Broadway in New York. The alleged writer was a huge fan of pornography and he wrote in a letter to his friend that, while on tour with the play, he had seen in Washington the film in which Linda Lovelace was fucked by a dog. Those are his actual words.
Now, he did not say whether he liked that film but he did say, in a letter which I’ve seen, how much he admired the work of Peter De Rome.
And that is why, one day in his hotel in New York, the alleged writer wrote the screenplay of Trouser Bar. And that is his title, as well.
(Left-Right) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome
I worked on three films with Peter De Rome.
During the production of the first, he presented me with this screenplay which had been written for him in 1976. It was still in the envelope from the hotel.
Astounded is not a strong-enough word as far as I am concerned.
For the rest of Peter’s life, I tried to get him out of retirement to make this film. But, alas, he was absolutely adamant. He was fed-up with filming. He found it tiresome.
So, when Peter died in 2014, there was nothing else for it – I had to make it for him.
I honestly assumed that, when I contacted the John Gielgud Charitable Trust – and, due to the vagaries of English law, I CAN refer to that organisation – I honestly thought they would be delighted that we were making a film based on the only known screenplay written by the alleged writer.
David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location.
How wrong I was!
They were furious and litigation proceeded over a period of three years.
When they found out that we were due to start production – now, this is something I have never ever told the people involved in the production of the film until tonight – they threatened to sue me AND everybody involved.
Well, it was like a red rag to a bull.
We went into production the following week.
I assumed that the film would never be released and I was quite happy to leave it on a shelf until every member of the Trust was dead. But the reason we are here tonight is because of two very important people, one of whom IS here.
Brian Robinson of the BFI during the shoot.
He is Brian Robinson of the British Film Institute who suggested that we could release the film without a screenplay credit.
The other person is my indefatigable solicitor, who isn’t here.
That is the reason the film premiered at the BFI, Southbank.
After the premiere, more than one person came to me and said: You must release the music on an LP, preferably corduroy-clad.
I said: It’s not going to happen, because how can it?
Well, I reckoned without the composer Stephen Thrower.
Because of his skill and determination, here is the record.
You can currently hear samples from the soundtrack online.
David McGillivray is, as ever, energetically promoting it…
“And,” David told me, “I had a chat show with another comic in San Francisco maybe 20 years ago – Late Night Live – with this hilarious woman called Bridget Schwartz.
“She has since given up comedy. A great loss.
“We had big local San Francisco politicians, some of the big newscasters and drag queens – the same sort of thing I’m trying to create here. Not just people from the comedy world, but people from politics and culture and newsmakers.”
“So The Mix will not be all comics?” I asked.
“No. That’s why it’s called The Mix, John. Next Wednesday, we will have comic Jo Sutherland and the writers of Jonathan Pie – Andrew Doyle and Tom Walker who plays Jonathan Pie – and London’s Night Czar Miss Amy Lamé who will be talking about the night-time economy.
“For the second show on 19th April, we are currently negotiating to get a controversial politician and we already have comic Mark Silcox and Daniel Lismore, who is the current reigning Leigh Bowery of the world – like a crazy creature who has come out of some couture closet. A sort of Art Scenester. I don’t want it to be all comics. It’s The Mix.”
“No. I won’t be playing Edinburgh this year. I’ve been going back to the US a lot – more regularly – so I haven’t been spending time writing a new show. I’ve been gigging in LA, gigging in New York, also I have family out there. Trying to make my way. But it’s a bit of a challenge to make your way in LA if you’re only there for two weeks every three months.”
“You could,” I suggest, “get a position in the Trump administration. He’s running out of people to nominate. Do you know any Russians?”
“There was Denis Krasnov,” said David.
“He seems,” I said, “to calls himself Jack Dennis now.”
“He’s the only Russian I know,” David told me. “He used to be on the circuit in London, then he went to New York. but I don’t think he can get me into government. Well, I don’t want to be in the Trump administration, but I’d work for Milania – perhaps as a stylist or a gay best friend.”
“It was a real stretch for me, John, because… I don’t have friends. For research, I had to hang around with people who have friends and let me tell you – I don’t know if you know anything about friends, but – they’re a lot of work. There’s a lot of lying involved. Lots.”
“Where was Florence Foster Jenkins filmed?”
“All over. North London, West London…”
“It was supposed to be New York?”
“But filmed in the UK, which is why I got the job. They needed an American gay friend in London. So there’s basically me or Scott Capurro and Scott wasn’t around.”
“Stephen Frears directed it,” I said. “Very prestigious. So you might appear in other films.”
“Well, I’m in the short Robert Johnson and The Devil Man directed by Matthew Highton and written by Joz Norris. Guess who plays The Devil Man.”
“No. They needed someone with a suit. Who looks good in a suit?… I always get those parts. When Tim Renkow did the pilot for A Brief History of Tim, they thought: We need some guy in a suit… Who?… David Mills! – so I played the part of ‘Guy in a Suit’.”
David Mills & Tim Renkow in BBC3’s A Brief History of Tim
“Yes,” I mused. “Who wears a suit? So it’s either you or Lewis Schaffer. Strange it’s always you that gets the sophisticated parts and not him.”
“That’s because he doesn’t wear a sophisticated suit,” said David. “I love Lewis Schaffer – I’m not tearing him down, right?…”
“But?” I asked.
“…he would tell you as well,” said David. “It’s sort of a shabby suit.”
“Though he would be less succinct telling me,” I suggested.
“…and shiny,” David continued. “The suit. He’s had that suit for about 15 years. I try to keep mine up-to-date.”
“What else is happening in your life?” I asked.
“I’ve got a solo show – David Mills: Mr Modern – at the very chic Brasserie ZL near Piccadilly Circus on 23rd March.”
“Why is it called Mr Modern?
“Because it’s about modern life… and about me.”
“You do have your finger in a lot of pies,” I said. “If you see what I mean.”
“I find myself increasingly on TV talking about cats,” replied David.
“Why?” I asked.
“I did a thing called LOL Cats on Channel 5. They show videos of cats, then turn to a comedian who tells jokes, then they go back to the video and then back to the comedian. It’s a ‘talking head’ thing.”
“Are you an expert on cats?” I asked.
David admitted: “I know very little about pussy…”
“No,” said David. “I know very little about pussy. But I seem to have a nose for it. And LOL Cats went well, so they had me come back to do LOL Kittens.
“The guy at the cafe I go to every morning asked me: What were you doing on TV talking about kittens? And someone at the gym said: Why were you on TV talking about cats?”
“Cats then kittens,” I said. “They will have to diversify into other species.”
“There are still big cats,” David suggested.
“Have you got cats?” I asked.
“Too difficult in London?” I asked.
David shrugged. “I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my entire life. 17 years I’ve been here. Sometimes, I have lived in London longer than most of my audience have been alive. Often they are students or other people aged under 22.
“There’s a risk with younger audiences that they won’t get my references, they may only have been in London six months and they may tend to be scared of anything remotely edgy.”
“Student audiences at the moment,” I said, “are very right-on PC.”
“It’s something,” agreed David, “that’s endemic across a lot of clubs where young people are the primary audience. They are very nervous about jokes that touch on any sort of identity issues – unless you are taking the ‘accepted’ position. I always try and tweak my audiences a little bit. Having come from a world of identity politics and having been through certain battles and marched on certain marches, I feel I have some justification to joke about that shit. But these people don’t have a sense of humour about sexuality or gender or race or…”
“Surely,” I suggested, “YOU can do gay jokes in the same way an Indian comic can do Indian jokes.”
“I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now,” says David.
“You can,” said David, “if the target of your punchline is heterosexuality. But not if the target is homosexuality. Even if you ARE gay.”
“So,” I asked, “if I were a Scots or a Jewish comic, could I not safely joke about the Scots or the Jews being financially mean?”
“I think you can,” said David, “but I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now. Particularly around gender. Gay comics invariably wave the rainbow flag.”
“You’re saying they can’t make jokes about,” I floundered, “I dunno, retro jokes about…”
David said: “It’s not retro to be critical, to have a critical take. It IS retro to be calcified in your position and unable to hear any criticism.”
“So you couldn’t,” I asked, “do a cliché joke about camp gays?”
“I wouldn’t want to. What I would want to joke about is the oversensitivity of the gay world and there is not a lot of interest in that at the moment.”
“What sort of jokes would you want to tell and can’t?”
“I do jokes about a drug a lot of gay men take – PrEP. They take it in order to then have un-safe sex – they don’t have to use condoms. It’s sort of a prophylactic for HIV. So I say: Of course I’m on PrEP. I am a gay white man. I demand a portable treatment for my inability to control myself. And You’re not getting your money’s worth on a gay cruise unless you come back with at least one long-term manageable condition. I try to collect them all.
“With those sort of things, people are thinking: Hold on! Are you making fun of people with HIV? It’s as if there is no ability for people to laugh at themselves.”