Category Archives: Humor

President Obonjo on the Pleasance’s dangerous Edinburgh Fringe decision

Benjamin Bankole Bello, who performs comedy as President Obonjo, is rather concerned by the Pleasance venue’s banning of comedian Jerry Sadowitz’s show at the Edinburgh Fringe…


For well over 11 years I have performed as self-exiled dictator, President Obonjo, living in the UK – bombastic, loud and terrorising the audience – a great conduit for jokes.

The press statement from the Pleasance included this:

“In a  changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged”. 

This has more implications for Character Comedy than Straight Stand Up. There is a difference and I have always believed that, when performing Character Comedy, you can get away with anything you say on stage… and I mean absolutely anything.

Displaying the characteristics of a dictator on stage has been warmly received over the years, The audience automatically assume he is a tribute act of the late Field Marshall Idi Amin. 

They know what to expect once they attend the show. They could end up with their heads in a fridge. They are expecting to be shot for comedy effect

The audience “could end up with their heads in a fridge…”

President Obonjo will never get his knob out to the audience, do racist, sexist or homophobic material. But audiences who come to see him know what to expect.

Dictators use intimidation, terror and the suppression of fundamental civil liberties.

He is likely to bring a gun out and threaten to use it, grab a woman and ‘marry’ her in front of an audience. He may threaten to waterboard an audience if they don’t laugh.  

Audiences have continued to accept this brand of comedy.

This statement from the Pleasance opens a can of worms for character comedy.

Saying something in character that is not in alignment with the organisation’s views could get your show cancelled.

Would President Obonjo survive performing at the Pleasance, if given the opportunity to do so, using the above characteristics? 

In fact, he did perform at the Pleasance as part of a compilation show AAA produced by Bound and Gagged in August 2019.  

The act has taken a new direction since 2019. What he says now is different from what he said in 2019. 

One of the President’s confidants recently said: “I think you need to go darker with your audience. They are  expecting it. You should do it and go darker.”  

I think the West is now so confused about Freedom of Speech, it is clearly exhausted with democracy.

President Obonjo (ironically) is the man to defend freedom of speech.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Humor, Humour, political correctness

“I was at the Jerry Sadowitz show… The Pleasance are just making **** up…”

As an addendum to the blog I posted earlier today about the Jerry Sadowiz/Pleasance venue contretemps at the Edinburgh Fringe…

My eagle-eyed, eternally-un-named friend has spotted a Tweet posted yesterday.

I cannot guarantee it is genuine, but I have no reason to suppose it is not…

I have put asterisks in the title in case anyone feels scared by words…


So, I was at the Jerry Sadowitz show last night at #edfringe and it was fucking hilarous. There was not a single walk out I saw, people laughed, and honestly what the fuck did you expect booking him @ThePleasance? He did what he does. If you are cancelling this you are fucked.

In case anyone thinks I’m bullshitting here is my booking. 

I have honestly never seen the left and right of Twitter united like this. Fuck you @ThePleasance. What he did was his act. That’s it. I understand he’s a thoroughly nice bloke away from his stage persona too.

Can confirm he did get his willy out, for anyone wondering. How many other festival shows have penises in them? Loads.

He’s also, by the way, one of the best magicians I have seen.

The comments by @ThePleasance about the walkouts are just completely fabricated btw. Neither my partner or I saw a single walk out, indeed we both commented on it after the show. 

The Pleasance are just making shit up to justify what they did.

I’m on the left btw, Jerry Sadowitz does not want to become a poster boy for the right, he’s said so publicly in the past. Anyone who thinks he’s a right winger is in for a shock – expect to face tirades aimed at you and your views/beliefs if you go see him live.

Everyone is a target. That’s the point.

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Jerry Sadowitz, “freedom of speech” and The Pleasance paving the Road to Hell…

(WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS AT LEAST ONE OFFENSIVE WORD; DON’T READ FURTHER IF IT IS GOING TO SCARE YOU)

Jerry Sadowitz’s 1987 album Gobshite

The aftershock of The Pleasance venue cancelling the second of Jerry Sadowitz’s two comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe rumbles on.

Yesterday’s blog was a transcript of what I said in an interview with LBC Radio yesterday morning.

As a reminder, the venue’s jaw-dropping Doublethink ‘explanation’ for cancelling Sadowitz’s show was:

“The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material… the material presented at his (Jerry Sadowitz’s) first show is not acceptable… This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.”

After criticism, the venue has now issued a second carefully-worded (I emphasise carefully-worded) statement including the frankly chilling: 

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged.”

I have italicised “whether performed in character or not”.

As people who have actually seen Jerry Sadowitz shows over the last 30 years know (as opposed to those who have not seen the act) his confrontational delivery sets out to affront. It is clear he is being offensive as an act, for an effect.

He used to open his shows with: “Nelson Mandela – What a cunt!” presumably just to set the tone while the esteemed Mr Mandela was alive.

The Pleasance knew that Jerry Sadowitz’s act was – and would be – confrontational and intentionally offensive. Always has been. Indeed, it was advertised by Jerry and by The Pleasance as such. And they have staged his shows before. 

The Pleasance stages theatrical performances as well as comedy.

To repeat with additional italicisation:

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged.”

This means – and, yes, it can only logically mean – that character comedy such as Al Murray’s comic creation The Pub Landlord and Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character should not be allowed to express their ‘unacceptable’ stories and views.

Both on-stage/screen characters often express views which are not the performer’s. Jerry Sadowitz’s on-stage performances – though more extreme – also include views which are equally and clearly not his own. 

First they came for the words and I said nothing; then they came for the stories and I said nothing; then they came for the thoughts and I could say nothing. 

“…stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged…” 

Vast swathes of British drama would presumably be deemed unacceptable because to express offensiveness would itself be unacceptable, even if the offensiveness expressed was by a character. That’s the end of parody, satire and irony, then. Context becomes irrelevant.

A drama – or indeed a comedy – about Hitler would not and should not be allowed to include the character of Hitler expressing any racist views. So Hitler’s thoughts and beliefs could not be shown to be vile because the thoughts and the expression of those thoughts would be in themselves too offensive to utter.

Last night on GBNews, Andrew Doyle’s Free Speech Nation, with comics Leo Kearse and Josh Howie, discussed The Pleasance’s first steps on the Road to Hell.

Andrew Doyle is a former writer for the comedic Jonathan Pie character.

Someone I know tells me they won’t watch this clip because they won’t watch (their words) “right wing” GBNews.

For those who won’t watch the nationally-transmitted GBNews, at one point Andrew Doyle, who is gay, says: 

“There’s always something in a Jerry Sadowitz show that makes you think: That’s too far! He couldn’t possibly have just said that!

“And that’s the point. That’s the context.

“I remember sitting there watching him do this TEN MINUTE rant about the evils of homosexuals and the disgusting things that they get up to behind closed doors and it was hilarious and (in theory) so offensive to people like me.

“He’s also incredibly anti-Semitic. He’s Jewish!

“That should give you a clue about what he’s doing there…”

Later, Doyle says:

“I heard, by the way, that the complaints mostly came from members of staff at the venue.”

I have no way of knowing if that’s true but, according to the BBC, The Pleasance said that “unacceptable abuse” was later directed towards some staff on Saturday from people phoning to criticise the cancellation.

Some members of the public complained about the show, so it was cancelled…

Some members of the public complained about the show being cancelled, so did The Pleasance bow to their individual views? No.

Presumably The Pleasance places more importance on the opinions of their temporary staff on the night and after the night than on the reportedly 600 punters who chose to pay to attend and see the show, which had up-front warnings from both The Pleasance and Sadowitz about it being offensive.

Incidentally, the show was titled: Not For Anyone

Yesterday, Jerry Sadowitz put a video online promoting his upcoming comedy tour…

…and he also Tweeted, via @RealJSadowitz, a comment on The Pleasance’s actions.

“The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material… the material presented at his first show is not acceptable…”

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged.”

First they came for the words and I said nothing; then they came for the thoughts and I could say nothing.

The road to Hell is paved with right-on thoughts…

Next step: the book burnings.

(…THERE IS AN ADDENDUM TO THIS BLOG HERE…)

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

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

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

They are currently at the Edinburgh Fringe

Their penultimate show is tonight; their run finishes tomorrow.

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

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

Phil, an otherwise amiable and admirable chap

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

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

The result is below. 

The neglected brutalism of Glasgow’s Savoy Shopping Mall…

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


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

At-swim comics Caitriona Dowden and Nate Kitch

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

Some of what surreal Alwin Solanky left behind in Uganda…

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

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

Sisyphean Mark Dean Quinn really did have a stroke

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

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

Bleeding Baby Train psychedelia with Rob Duncan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, Edinburgh is pretty beautiful in the sun.


Consignia’s latest and possibly last ever show The Flatterers 

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

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

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

 

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Brian Damage and Krysstal, Malcolm Hardee reborn plus balls and bagpipes…

(Photo via pxhere.com)

Some stories which I do not mention in this blog are often even more interesting than what appears, but not quite long enough to blog about. And some are just plain unrepeatable.

Last week, I spent Tuesday evening in the company of the infamous Flying Haidrani Twins, purveyors of the best gossip and most scandalous international tales in Greater London. Sadly my lips are sealed on the details, but I hope their cracking stories will surface in some future novel or magazine article by one or both of them.

The night before that, I went to Chesham Cricket Club which, somewhat unexpectedly, is in the same place as Chesham Football Club. This confused several revellers.

I was there because comedy act Brian Damage & Krysstal were hosting a farewell event. They are moving to Australia.

Brian Damage and Krysstal – any old excuse for a party…

Well, it turned out they are not actually moving to Australia until September but – hey! – any excuse for a party.

For almost the whole of this century, they hosted the Pear Shaped comedy club, which they wrongly billed as the second worst comedy club in London.

At some point during the evening, with cricket continuing in the background, four comics were discussing heckler anecdotes and Brian recalled one female comic’s response to an annoying heckler: she took a fish out of her clothing and threw it at the heckler, catching him in the face.

After that, Brian & Krysstal implemented a ‘no fish’ policy at the gigs they hosted.

Apparently the fish was not part of the planned act; it just happened to be in the comic’s clothing.

Cricket ground selfie by Pam Ford with (L-R) Stephen Carlin & Andrew O’Neill

Andrew O’Neill, one of the veritable plethora of comedy industry people who got up on stage to pay tribute to Brian & Krysstal said:

“I started in 2002 and I never met Malcolm Hardee and there are all these stories about him, but I feel like we’ve got our own Malcolm Hardee now, but there’s two of them in Brian & Krysstal.

“I can’t remember the first time I went to Pear Shaped; they sort-of morphed into one incredible adventure. But that absolute fucking madness… held together by what I genuinely believe is one of the funniest comedy acts I’ve ever seen.”

The evidently not incomparable Malcolm Hardee was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbiz.

Patsy Kensit as a baby with (L-R) her father James, her mother Margaret and her family godfather Reginald…

But in fact, he told me, he only had the SECOND biggest bollocks in British showbiz.

He had once come second in a table-top contest with Patsy Kensit‘s father ‘Jimmy the Dip’ who, allegedly, used to book acts for, I was told, the British Army. 

Two nights before Brian & Krysstal’s cricket-based farewell, I had bumped into Malcolm Hardee’s chum Martin Soan at a wake for Dave ‘Bagpipes’ Brooks, an early occasional member of Martin and Malcolm’s Greatest Show on Legs comedy group.

Dave Brooks died two years ago but Covid had delayed the get-together.

So it goes.

Dave Brooks with offensive bagpipes

In 1981, Dave was part of The Human Scottish Sword Dance with the Greatest Show on Legs on the TV show Game For a Laugh in which they performed a ‘human sword dance’ in Highland costume, with presenter Matthew Kelly lying on the ground instead of swords, looking up while The Greatest Show on Legs members danced over him. 

Martin Soan mentioned something I had never realised before: that, in keeping with Scottish tradition, the Greatest Show on Legs wore nothing under their kilts on this (and no doubt other) occasions. 

Alas, YouTube have seen fit to remove the relevant clip. 

Dave’s son Charlie Brooks reminded me that one of Dave’s many claims to fame was a court fight with the Corporation of London over his playing bagpipes on Hampstead Heath. I mentioned it in a 2020 blog.

In 1996, the Corporation prosecuted Dave at Hampstead Magistrates’ Court under an 1890 by-law for “playing a musical instrument (his bagpipes) on Hampstead Heath on three separate counts”. This was despite the fact that Dave had been playing his pipes on the Heath for an hour every morning for 15 years without any complaint from anyone.

History seemed to come to Dave’s rescue. 

One of the weapons of war used at Culloden in 1746

After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Lord Chief Justice of England ruled that the bagpipes were not a musical instrument but an instrument of insurrection.

Dave argued his case against the Corporation of London on the basis that his Highland bagpipes legally remained (in 1996) an instrument of war and insurrection and therefore were not a musical instrument as charged. 

Sadly, he was still found guilty on three counts of playing a musical instrument and fined £15 on each count plus £50 costs. 

But, like Malcolm Hardee and Jimmy ‘the Dip’ Kensit, you have to admire his balls.

RIP Dave (1947-2020), Malcolm (1950-2005) and Jimmy the Dip (1915-1987).

So it goes.

Dave also used to play bagpipes at Indian weddings…

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Dan Harary (Part 1): Flirting with Fame; insulting Schwarzenegger and Streep…

Dan Harary talked to me from Los Angeles at the weekend…

Dan Harary calls himself “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. He started his own company Asbury PR of Beverly Hills in 1996. Now, 26 years successful years later, he is suddenly publishing four – yes four – books. The first was published last month: Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters.

Part of the PR pitch for it is:

“Dan quite often found himself in rather bizarre circumstances while interacting with famous people – like having a staring contest with Barbra Streisand, twice; or smoking a joint in silence with Jill Clayburgh in Central Park; or talking with Billy Crystal about Chinese food at Sid Caesar’s funeral; or introducing his mother to Mel Brooks and finding out they both went to the same high school. Dan’s countless ‘close encounters of the celebrity kind’ are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and quite often cringe-inducing.”

We chatted at the weekend…


Flirting and skirting but never hurting…

JOHN: FOUR books being published between now and next Spring? Why now?

DAN: Flirting With Fame was from Covid. Last Spring, 2021, I looked at the calendar and I was going to turn 65 and realised the very first celebrity I ever met was when I was 15 years old – Richie Havens, who was a famous singer from Woodstock.

During Covid, I was bored and had nothing to do. Wow! It’s been 50 years since I’ve been meeting and working with celebrities! So I took a piece of paper and just wrote down all the hundreds of celebrities I’ve met or worked with and there were so many of them that I thought: I should just write a book.

When I was in high school, I had really long hair, I played the drums and ran lights and stage crew for a little concert hall in Asbury Park – The Sunshine Inn.

Bruce Springsteen played there quite often; he was considered like the house band. Before it was called the E Street Band, he had a band called Steel Mill, one called Doctor Zoom and The Sonic Boom and then he had the Bruce Springsteen Band.

JOHN: You’ve known everybody.

DAN: It’s not that I know them, John. It’s like in the title of my book – Flirting – It’s like I skimmed with hundreds of very very very famous people. Most of my clients are behind-the-scenes people in the entertainment world. I’m FLIRTING with fame. I’m not famous. Only a few of my clients – like Jay Leno – were famous. But, over the course of time, I’ve been in situations surrounded by a lot of famous people.

JOHN: According to your own publicity for the book, you pissed-off some…

DAN: Arnold Schwarzenegger, sure. I was at an event in Beverly Hills in 1996. He wasn’t the Governor of California yet, but he was a big star. The event was for Milton Berle. You remember Milton Berle?

JOHN: Of course. A comedy legend.

Dan with Sid Caesar – semi-retired but still active in 1987…

DAN: I worked with Milton a few times. I represented Sid Caesar for a couple of years.

Anyway, I was at an event in Beverly Hills for Milton Berle. I knew Arnold Schwarzenegger would be there and my 8-year-old son was a huge fan of The Terminator movies. So I took a photo of Arnold as The Terminator and a white marking pen.

During a break in the festivities, Arnold is at a table with two giant bodyguards and I just tapped him on the shoulder: “Hello. My name is Dan. My son is 8 years old. He loves The Terminator. Would you be kind enough to give a quick autograph?” I have the photo and the pen in my hand.

He looks at me and he goes (CONTORTS FACE) “GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

I say: “Arnold, please. He’s 8 years old.”

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

I swear to God. Steam virtually shooting out of his bright red… like he wanted me to burn in a fire…

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Arnold Schwarzenegger: GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!

He never said a word to me. 

So now I’m like shaking, right?

His bodyguards are looking at me.

I’m like: Come on, Arnold, you can do it! 

It’ll take five seconds.

Come on, man. Please! Please do it!

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Really, it was a stand-off. And, eventually, he realised I was not going to leave without it… So, after quite a while, he finally grabbed the pen and did it and wrote: TO JORDAN – BEST WISHES.

My son is 34 years old now and he has it framed on his wall in his house in Alaska.

JOHN: The thing that most shocks me is that Arnold Schwarzenegger needed two bodyguards.

DAN: They had little earpieces with little curly wire that came out.

JOHN: Meeting ‘stars’ can be strange…

DAN: I was at a photo shoot with Kevin Costner in 1990… Kevin wasn’t a huge, huge star then, so he was very approachable. He couldn’t have been nicer. This was to promote an Earth Day TV special on ABC. 

A lot of executives from Warner Bros and ABC were there and everyone was saying: “She’s coming! She’s coming!’

I didn’t know who. They didn’t tell me.

“It’s ten minutes till she’ll be here… She’s coming!… Ten minutes!… Five minutes!”

“Who’s coming?” I asked.

They said: “Meryl Streep!”

“Meryl Streep?” I said. “Meryl Streep is coming?”

Carla holding her Oscar for Sophie’s Choice…

She was very famous, of course, and, at the time, was just a few years out from her Sophie’s Choice Oscar. This is MERYL STREEP, you know?

So Meryl Streep’s coming! Oh my God! Oh my God!

I wasn’t a particular fan of hers. I don’t think she’s particularly… I was never a fan of hers ever, but everyone was scurrying around: “Meryl’s coming! Meryl’s coming!”

So I got caught up in it.

The doors open. It’s bright sunshine outside. She enters. She’s all in white. She’s like an angel from Heaven. It’s like Mother Mary has descended and we’re like the peasants in Guatemala or wherever. She comes in and there’s like 20 people in a line. ABC people. Warner Bros people. I’m at the very end of the line. Next to me is a friend of mine named Carla from Warner Bros.

So Meryl goes along the line like the Queen of England. 

“Miss Streep, it’s such an honour”… “Miss Streep, it’s such an honour…”

I’m caught up in it.

It’s Meryl Streep! It’s Meryl Streep!

She gets to me and I’m at the very end of this long line and, by the time she got to me,  I was so nervous I shook her hand and said: “Hello Carla, so nice to meet you…”

She looked at me like the RCA Victor dog, with her head on one side, thinking: “…What was…? Did he just…?

I didn’t really know what was happening. She walked away and then my friend Carla told me: “Dan, you just called Meryl Streep ‘Carla’” and I said “I did?? Really??”

JOHN: I’m surprised you would be overawed by a star: you did stand-up comedy.

Dan stands-up on stage at Hollywood’s Improv

DAN: I did comedy much later – here in LA – 1998-2001. I only ever made $6 from it in total. Jerry Seinfeld made $6 billion. I made $6. I have it framed. I did it because, when I was in Sixth Grade, I had a teacher who used to make students go to the front of the classroom and give an oral report. She tortured us: 

“Stand up straight!… You’re slouching!… You’re mumbling!… Speak louder!… Speak softer!… Don’t look at your nose!”… All she did was criticise. So I had a fear of public speaking from the age of 12.

And, for a publicist, it’s really not good to have a fear of public speaking.

So I took a class at the Improv in West Hollywood with one of the owners and the graduation of the class was to do 8 minutes on stage at The Improv. Next to my son being born, it was the most nervous I ever was in my life. I almost threw up before I went on stage. My mother was there; all my friends were there. 250 people. I was shaking; nervous; my heart was pounding; I was a nervous wreck. But I went out and did my thing and I survived.

I’m not a natural stage performer. I’m a drummer. I was in bands all my life. Playing in a band? That’s easy. No sweat. But to stand up on stage with a microphone and you’re saying your jokes?… It’s very, very scary.

JOHN: I suppose the drummer is at the back and not the centre of attention.

Dan not quite hiding behind his youthful hair and cymbals…

DAN: I suppose that’s right. I had really long hair and you have cymbals in front of you. When I played, my hair used to fly everywhere. My parents saw me play once and someone said to my mother: “That drummer, she’s really good for a girl…”

JOHN: But you weren’t interested in performing comedy as such? Even though you knew Sid Caesar and Milton Berle…

DAN: I represented Sid Caesar for two years, 1987-1989. He paid a monthly retainer to our PR firm to keep his name in the press. He was sort-of semi-retired but still active; he was in good health still; he did guest starring roles on TV. I got him many interviews: at the time he was re-releasing Your Show of Shows on VHS tapes for the first time.

Also he, Milton Berle and Danny Thomas did a live tour of the US in 1988 and I was the publicist – The Living Legends of Comedy Tour

JOHN: That was when you got to know Milton Berle as well?

DAN: Around the same time. I spent a day with him at a TV station in Hollywood. He had written a book called BS: I Love Youan autobiography – and he was there to promote it.

So I’m at the TV station and there’s a knock on the backstage door and this little old hunched, shaking Jewish man with a hat and a coat and a cane came in.

“Mr Berle?” I said.

“Yes.”

“My name is Dan. I’m here to help you out.”

“OK. Very good.”

I took him to his dressing room. He closes the door very quietly.

Dan with switched-on larger-than-life Milton.

I wait about 10-15 minutes and then the door bursts open. He’s standing perfectly straight. Different clothes. Big cigar… “Hi kid! Here I am! Where do you want me?”

I almost asked him: “What did ya do with Milton Berle?”

The man who went in and the man who came out of the dressing room – Two completely different men. 

JOHN: It wasn’t a joke? He had just suddenly ‘switched-on’ Milton Berle?

DAN: Yeah. He BECAME Milton Berle in that 10-15 minutes in the dressing room.

I led him out onto the stage and everyone was so excited. 

But instead of shaking people’s hands and saying “Hello, how are you?” he goes: “Aaah… I don’t like that camera over there! These lights: these can be moved! I don’t like this set! That chair has to be over here! This spotlight has to be…”… and for the next 45 minutes all he did was re-arrange this entire studio that had been created just for him. Everyone was like: What is he doing? But it’s MILTON BERLE: What can you do? All you can do is obey his commands!

JOHN: What happened at the end when he left the set? Did he return to being the old man?

DAN: He did the interview. He was very funny. At the end, he shook hands and was very nice. I walked him back to his limousine and he remained in character. He has the cigar. He’s smiling. He’s not the man who walked in. Now he’s ‘Milton Berle’.

(… CONTINUED HERE… with Jerry Seinfeld, sex addiction and party night at the Playboy Mansion…)

 

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How and why children are embarrassed by their eternally immature parents…

The currently immature cover for my Apple MacBook…

I have a creative chum with a good sense of humour. 

Last week, her 11-year-old daughter told her reprovingly – though still affectionately – “You have such an immature sense of humour…” 

Or she might just have said: “Mum, you are so immature…”

At my age, memories, reality and imagined conversations have a tendency to overlap. 

And why not? Does it matter, really?

What ROUGHLY happened in the past is usually, pretty much, good enough.

But my point is…

Throughout my life, I have always tried to stay immature. I think it can be a positive quality. And I think, like most appallingly old people, I feel I am only around 26 years old inside. Other age fantasies are available and it seems I am fantasising younger than most.

A week ago, I got a pitch from a PR company claiming:

“Despite legal adulthood starting at 18, new research has found that the average Brit doesn’t consider themselves a grown up until they pass 30… 95% of Brits believe that it’s important to embrace your ‘inner child’.”

  • 16-29 yr olds believe you’re officially a grown up at age 24 
  • 30-44 yr olds believe you’re officially a grown up at age 30 
  • 45-49 yr olds believe you’re officially a grown up at age 33 
  • 60+yr olds believe you’re officially a grown up at age 36

…and, according to the research, “more than a quarter of us aren’t sure we will ever grow up!”

The PR pitch was for the biscuit Jammie Dodgers (other biscuits are available) which apparently is currently “encouraging shoppers to #WitnessTheMischief through its latest (so far unseen by me) campaign”.

Jammie Dodgers marketing pitch is attempting to  target the ‘young at heart’…

The research commissioned by Jammie Dodgers also found that more than a third of adults (36%) felt they are less mature than their own children and that, far less surprisingly, “of the adults surveyed who have children, over half (56%) have been told that they’re embarrassing parents.”

The survey claimed a definitive list of signs that you are embarrassing your kids includes “watching cartoons (39%), licking the bowl when baking (34%), finding farts funny (24%), getting excited when you’re having chips for tea (23%) and eating your favourite biccie in your own special way, like taking it apart and eating the filling first (34%).”

The last, I suspect, may not be entirely unrelated to Jammie Dodgers’ sponsorship. The one about getting especially excited ahead of chip consumption just mystifies me.

The research also claims that 42% of ‘adults’ insist that millennials will NEVER grow up the way their parents’ generation did – though surely all generations believe that. More than one in ten (13%) admit they still don’t feel like a grownup, with 34% admitting they feel jealous of friends and family who seem to ‘have their lives together’.

The most cited signs of being a ‘grown up’ are:

  • having children (52%)
  • making a will (41%)
  • having savings (34%)
  • having a mortgage (32%)
  • getting married (30%)
  • knowing about politics (26%)
  • hosting a dinner party (21%)
  • reading the Sunday papers (16%)

Each to his own, I say, though there are some people I might not want to live with:

The nation’s Top 10 favourite ‘pranks’ are, apparently:

  1. Jumping out at someone and shouting Boo!
  2. Using an extra or different remote to sneakily change the TV channel
  3. Prank calling a mate
  4. Scaring someone with fake insects or snakes
  5. Whoopee cushions
  6. Replacing family photos with famous people
  7. Removing batteries from devices
  8. Putting clingfilm over the toilet seat
  9. Telling your children the WiFi is down when it isn’t 
  10. Changing the clocks 

Hell, it seems, really IS other people.

Meanwhile, on Twitter…

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

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

A glass head was being used to display headwear.

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

I asked the shop assistant if it was for sale.

He said, “No.”

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

She very kindly gave it to me the other day. 

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

“Alexa, where should I put the head?”

This was the answer I got:

“Place the head in the freezer…”

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

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

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

But, when I asked again:

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

… she had second thoughts.

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

Eventually, I decided by myself, without electronic advice.

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A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 1 – The Stern Plastic Owl man…

Robert Wringham describes himself as a ‘humorist’… His latest book is 2021’s Stern Plastic Owl.

His first book, in 2012, was You Are Nothing (about Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee et al’s comedy show Cluub Zarathustra).

After that, he wrote A Loose Egg (2014), which was shortlisted for Canada’s 2015 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

His 2016 book Escape Everything! was a spin-off from the New Escapologist, a lifestyle magazine he edited and published 2007-2017 and which continues as a series of online essays. New Escapologist describes itself as “the journal of the art of getting out of things” and suggests that “work has too central a position in Western life”.

Escape Everything! was successful enough to be translated into German and released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as Ich Bin Raus and then, in 2018, in South Korea as [] 탈출하라. No doubt to further confuse readers, it was also republished in the UK in 2021 in English as I’m Out: How To Make an Exit.

Meanwhile, in 2020, in English, Robert had written The Good Life For Wage Slaves, which was re-published in Germany as Das gute Leben.

He had also written a regular column 2016-2020 in The Idler, a magazine whose declared aim is to “return dignity to the art of loafing” and had written for a variety of other esteemed outlets including Meat, The Skinny, the British Comedy Guide, Playboy etc etc etc.

Obviously, I had to have a chat with Robert.

It would have been churlish not to.

He lives in Glasgow and Montreal (his partner is Canadian), so we talked via FaceTime.


JOHN: You have said: “The highest form of human activity is the shenanigan”…

ROBERT: It makes sense, right? What could be better than a mischievous, spontaneous act?

JOHN: ARE you a mischievous, spontaneous act?

ROBERT: That’s what I aspire to.

JOHN: You describe yourself ‘a humorist’.

ROBERT: There’s a thing on Wikipedia at the moment about the definition of ‘humorist’ which says it’s “an intellectual who uses comedy to get his or her point across”. And that nails it for me. I don’t want to think of myself as an intellectual, but I do like the idea that I’m trying to communicate a ‘point’ packaged nicely with humour, so you can get inside somebody. It’s the sugar pill, right?

“I think it’s to do with anti-pigeon…”

JOHN: Why is your latest book called Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: That’s a theme. My previous similar miscellany book was called A Loose Egg because I got hung up on that phase “a loose egg”. It came about by accident, because there was a loose egg in our fridge back in Canada.

Stern Plastic Owl is a random phrase too. Like all comedians and writers, I have a notebook nearby at all times, including by my bed. There is an idea that sleeping should be when your fertile ideas come up although, really, what I write down in the night is gibberish. But it feels like it’s a resource I should use and one of the phrases that stood out was Stern Plastic Owl. I didn’t know what it meant.

So there is a story in the book where I try to work out what it means. It’s kind of a detective story in the middle of the book.

JOHN: So did you find out what it means?

ROBERT: Not exactly. But I think it’s to do with anti-pigeon, do you know what I mean?

JOHN: No.

ROBERT: An anti-pigeon device. You’ve got an owl and you put it up on your roof to scare pigeons away. There’s one nearby and I think I must have seen that and it came back to me in a dream. So I tried my best to write a piece around one of those stern plastic anti-pigeon owls.

JOHN: I’ve never heard of this before. Are you telling me, if I come up to Glasgow there are fake owls on window sills and roofs all over the place.

ROBERT: They’re everywhere.

JOHN: You were a stand-up comic.

“I never got a horrible heckle ever…”

ROBERT: One of the very brief things from my very brief stand-up period was my come-back to hecklers: “Sir, you cannot count the number of cylinders I’m firing on”. I’m still happy with that. I never got to use it, but it was just there on standby. I never got a horrible heckle ever.

JOHN: You were too loveable?

ROBERT: Probably too young. A lot of audiences are just polite if you look very young.

JOHN: Why did you give up stand-up?

ROBERT: My favourite thing was writing the jokes and fine-tuning them. The hardest part was making it sound good, sound spontaneous. I didn’t enjoy the late nights or the Green Room badinage. I have met a lot of wonderful comedians in Green Rooms but I never felt I was holding my own in those conversations.

JOHN: You wrote that one great climb-down of your life was “pointing your imagination in the direction of writing rather than performance”.

ROBERT: Well, that’s not really true. That’s just what I put in the book. It didn’t really feel like a climb-down. I just didn’t want to tell the story in the other direction which was I was travelling in a favourable direction to the thing I wanted to do. I didn’t think there was any comedy in saying that.

JOHN: Is it a book full of lies? Like comedy routines?

ROBERT: Oh completely. The idea of what is true is something that is always on my mind a lot. For example, my real name is not Wringham. My actual passport name is Westwood. Robert Westwood.

 I wanted to change my name and be a persona. So, when I’m on the page or on the stage, it’s a separate thing. 

JOHN: Why Wringham?

Agraman aka The Human Anagram, John Marshall, c2018

ROBERT: I was always entertained by people like The Human Anagram (aka Agraman aka John Marshall) in the 1980s, but I wanted to do something else. I like horror novels and there’s one called The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

 It’s of the age of Frankenstein, but it’s Scottish and I think that’s why no-one has given a shit about it and it’s unjustifiably obscure. The villain in that is called Robert Wringham.

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

(… CONTINUED HERE … )

Robert’s books have been published in the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and South Korea

 

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I can’t get over the Bogha-Frois in The Wizard of Oz…

You might think Bogha-Frois meant a bag of fries in America or a bag of chips in England.

But apparently, in Scots Gaelic, it means a rainbow…

It’s not the most romantic sounding of words.

I can’t imagine Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz singing “Somewhere Over the Bogha-Frois”…

But I am going to try harder, practise night and day and hope to succeed soon.

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