Category Archives: Humor

Mr Twonkey pays tribute to Ivor Cutler, “embodiment of the Scottish eccentric”

“Embodiment of the Scottish eccentric”

Influences are always interesting.

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers is currently preparing for his new show – Twonkey’s Night Train to Liechtenstein – at the Glasgow Comedy Festival next Friday (9th March). Paul performs as Mr Twonkey, definitely one of the more eccentric acts in British comedy.

He reminded me that today (3rd March) is the anniversary of the death in 2006 of Ivor Cutler – Scottish poet, songwriter, humorist and arguably the eccentric performers’ eccentric.

Mr Twonkey phoned Mr Cutler in the winter of 1995

Paul says Ivor Cutler was “the embodiment of the Scottish eccentric.” His rider in contracts stated that he had to be provided with a two-bar fire and marmalade sandwiches – “Which,” says Paul, “is reason alone to love him. I would like to keep his name alive. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.”

In the winter of 1995, “feeling slightly hung over”, the future Mr Twonkey interviewed the then Mr Cutler by telephone for the music magazine Sun Zoom Spark.

This is what Paul/Mr Twonkey wrote.

I have edited it slightly for length.


STOP THE GAME THERE’S A HEN ON THE FIELD

An Interview With Ivor Cutler

By Paul Vickers

Mr Ivor Cutler drawing by Grant Pringle to accompany the article in  Sun Zoom Spark

In the heart of World War 2, Ivor Cutler held the position of navigator with the R.A.F, fiddling with maps and charts between 1941-42. He was de-ranked to first aid and store man for the Windsor Engineering Company when his peers noted he had other things on his mind.

He, however, was more suited to teaching movement, drama and African drumming.

He didn’t start writing poetry until 1942 and his creative waters didn’t really flow until he was forty-eight. But, since then, he has been a prolific songwriter with a chest full of wisdom spanning three decades; classic album releases (Dandruff, Jammy Smears and Velvet Donkey) and many books of poetry (Private Habits, Fresh Carpet and A Little Present From Scotland). He has also found time to carry out his numerous duties as chairman of the London Cycling Association.

He has made a name for himself by being a true original with perfect spoken word performance skills and graceful, offbeat sense of comic timing; a difficult man to predict; an impossible man to write questions for; a bona fide enigma, the man behind a huge assortment of atmospheric, melancholy laments.

“How are you doing?” I bellow in the voice of a Yorkshire mining town skivvy.

“Oh… I don’t know… I’m coming to life.”

“Could you give me a brief summary of what a day in the life of Ivor Cutler might consist of?”

“You ought to make yourself known to me…”

“NO. I think perhaps you ought to make yourself known to me don’t you think?”

I stammer and stutter a makeshift introduction. “Oh, I’m really sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Paul. I wrote something about you a year or so ago.”

“Yes… I was very touched by that. You turned out to be unique in saying you laughed yourself sick initially but then began to see there was stuff underneath and I bless you for that. It’s the first time anyone has ever spoken in that way about my work. I’m sure I’m not just seen as one of those belly laugh comics, but the way in which you did it, I think was very revealing”

“Would you like to be taken more seriously?”

“I like to be taken seriously although I use humour as a medium it’s just the way I’m made. It is a way of instantly grabbing people. Yes, of course but not everyone cares to have that happen to them which means 50% of the people who come across my work think it’s great and the other half think I’m a lunatic. I resent that very much.”

“Do people actually get quite aggressive about it?”

“Well not with me but people in positions of power. People who are able to give me gigs or work. A lot of such people think Cutler’s an idiot and we’re certainly not going to put him on our programme. But I don’t want to be seen as complaining about this. It’s very nice to be controversial rather than have the total acceptance of everybody. I mean I worked with the Beatles once – on the Magical Mystery Tour – and I was so glad such a thing never happened to me. This ‘treated like god’ stuff. It would have turned me into a more unpleasant person than I already am,” he giggles heartily.

“I did a tour with Van Morrison some years ago so I got playing all these big places. I’m not crazy about it when it gets over a thousand, because I like to see the audience. I get them to turn the lights up so I can see their faces. I don’t have such a desperate ego problem that I need to play to masses of people. I remember doing a gig in front of three people. It was snowing that night. It was very early in my career and it was a great show… But I prefer more than three actually”

“You seem to find great humour in the cruelty of situations – cruelty in the ways of nature, like the way animals behave.”

“Stick a knife through a tomato –  Owcchh! Spllllcccchhh! That wasn’t very nice!

“Well yes. They’re busy killing one another. If people weren’t to be cruel then the only thing we’d be able to eat would be salt. I mean, all these plants. You stick a knife through a tomato and it goes Owcchh! Spllllcccchhh! That wasn’t very nice! One has to be cruel to survive.”

“But your humour is, at times, very dark”

“Yes, the person who totally changed my way of creative thinking was Franz Kafka who is seen by many to use very black humour indeed.

“The nature of laughter is very often fear. One is glad it’s not happening to oneself. I mean the man slipping on the banana skin gets people laughing. People are glad it’s not them.

“By the way,” he interrupts himself, “I’m not a surrealist. I get that stuck on me a lot. I’m somewhere in between surrealism and realism which makes it difficult for people to know whether to laugh or not. A friend of mine, Phyllis King, used to get dead silence when she performed because people didn’t want to hurt her feelings by laughing.”

“I think your most beautiful song is Squeeze Bees from Jammy Smears. It conjures up this sleepy image of a little girl and a little boy being completely content, sitting in silence and just enjoying the sound of the beehive; very tranquil and romantic.”

“I struck a bee-type noise with the harmonium to get the right emotion. I’m an emotional man. I think people who like to hear emotion get themselves fed by my stuff but of course not all my songs are so emotional. I’m a happy man and I’ll punch the man who says I’m not!”

“What makes you happy?”

“Well I used to collect stones but I’ve grown out of that. People go through life and do something to make them happy for a while and then it becomes boring. In fact boredom has been a very big part of my life. People look at me and think: How can a man like him be bored? Well… I just am, I suppose.”

A Stuggy Pren was a chance to peep inside Mr Cutler’s unique drawers

A photographic exhibition to promote his poetry book, A Stuggy Pren, gave people a chance to go through the keyhole and peep in his drawers, count his cushions and revel in his sentimental attachment to battered and bruised ornaments that litter his home. He is one of the last, great romantic eccentrics and, as the modern world slowly closes in on him, Ivor is slowly pushed out. He rarely plays live nowadays and when he does it’s always in the afternoon, allowing him to return safely home to get a good night’s sleep in his own bed. Anything less than a familiar mattress to Mr Cutler, just won’t do.

“One last question, Mr Cutler. What would you like to see yourself doing at the end of the century?”

“Oh crumbs! Dead, I suppose! The way I find civilisation presently I’d be very happy to be in another world. Life can be very unpleasant for me. I’d be quite happy to shuffle off after doing all one can in a lifetime. You see there’s too much rock music around and I hate loud music. It makes my ears hurt and it interferes with my body clock. I’ve got a lot of fans through John Peel and I’m sure they all like loud music and when I think what they do to me compared to what I do to them, it seems very unfair. I’m a member of the Noise Abatement Society.”


Ivor Cutler: born 15th January 1923; died 3rd March 2006, aged 83.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Poetry

Comic Becky Fury proposes marriage while chatting to me at a Pret a Manger

Becky Fury with stars in her eyes – well, one

Yesterday’s blog was about my first stage appearance at Martyn Sadler’s new comedy club in East London. Malcolm Hardee Award-winning comedian Becky Fury had performed there a month before – on its opening night.

I had tea with her at a branch of Pret a Manger yesterday afternoon. I thought we were going to talk about the new club – and we started on that – but then the subject changed unexpectedly.


JOHN: When I was at Martyn’s club, the audience was a bit rowdy. What were they like when you performed there?

BECKY: There was a stag party in one corner and they were getting the most attention. You know I have the horn…

JOHN: Yes. How did you deal with the situation?

Becky backstage at Martyn’s opening night

BECKY: So I have this horn in my back pocket which means I can squeeze one of my breasts and make a honking sound as I squeeze it. Audiences like it… I nearly turned that bit of my act into a full, very aggressive striptease to keep them quiet but I knew Martyn wasn’t allowed to do that. He has been told that his licence doesn’t allow him to have strippers.

I was going to do it, but then I realised I hadn’t shaved my legs, so I backed away from that, which was a massive shame.

JOHN: So how did you quieten the stag party?

BECKY: Natural charm.

JOHN: What was Martyn doing while all this was going on?

BECKY: He was round the back wearing his fedora. Hanging round the bar talking to people. You know what he’s like.

The Stables bar at Granada Television buildings in Manchester

JOHN: He was like that when I worked with him at Granada TV in Manchester. Always in the Stables.

BECKY: The Stables?

JOHN: The staff bar. What was your impression of Martyn when you first met him?

BECKY: That he is always an act. He is always playing the part of Martyn Sadler.

JOHN: You first met him in Edinburgh a couple of years ago…?

BECKY: Yeah. I met him and we ended up having a drink in a Wetherspoons in Leith and these two Scottish guys were giving me shit because I was swearing. They said they didn’t want to hear that sort of language. They were really nicely sharply suited and booted. I went over and apologised to them but they told me to Fuck off and that I was being rude.

JOHN: In those exact words? “Fuck off”?

The Wetherspoons at the Foot of the Walk in Leith, Edinburgh

BECKY: Yeah. In Leith Wetherspoons at half twelve in the afternoon!

JOHN: Some people have no sense of irony.

BECKY: Yeah. They just really pissed me off.  So I picked up a bottle of ketchup off a table and said: “Oh, it would be a shame, wouldn’t it, lads, if someone got ketchup all over their nice, smart jacket.”

JOHN: How did they react?

BECKY: They kind of freaked out and the manager came over and said: “Just sit down, right?” and it calmed down. But what Martyn did a few minutes after that was he got his glasses…

JOHN: His spectacles?

BECKY: Yes. And he got some ketchup, squirted it across the top of the glasses, put the glasses back on his face and walked past them on the way to the toilet and looked at them with the ketchup dripping down over his eyes and he said: “I told her to watch her language too, lads, and this is what she did to me.”

JOHN: And they…?

BECKY: They grabbed their fucking coats and ran off. Well, they didn’t run – but they exited sharpish. And that is why Martyn Sadler is amazing.

Martyn Sadler (top right) at his new club in East London

JOHN: You like his anarchic tendencies.

BECKY: Yeah. Maybe I should propose to him via your blog. He says he likes pranks.

JOHN: ‘Becky Sadler’ has a nice ring to it.

BECKY: Exactly.

JOHN: You would have your own club to perform in.

BECKY: Yeah. It sounds like a good match to me.

JOHN: A match made in…

BECKY: …Headinburgh… Will you marry me, Martyn?

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A man can avoid UK Death Duties and a woman can piss in a policeman’s helmet

I told someone an untruth yesterday.

In the UK, if you die, your estate has to pay Death Duties (Inheritance Tax) on what you leave behind over £325,000… unless you leave it to your spouse, civil partner, a charity or (rather oddly) a community amateur sports club.

So, basically, your sons, daughters and other heirs have to pay tax on what they inherit in your will.

If you are Lord Bloggs and own some flash country house, hundreds of acres and an estate worth several million pounds, the Inheritance Tax can be crippling. Tax is assessed at 40% of the net value of the estate. The ‘estate’ is property, land, cash, investments, anything of real value you leave behind.

But there is a way round this tax. Not just for Lord Bloggs but for any man who leaves an estate worth over £325,000 (and, with current house prices, that is not uncommon).

If you are a man and your wife is dead, you can marry your son.

A mother cannot marry her son. It is illegal.

A father cannot marry his daughter. It is illegal.

Incest is illegal.

But there is no law against a father marrying his son.

It is one of those quirks in UK law. Much like the quirk that used to mean male homosexuality was illegal but lesbianism was not illegal.

It was never illegal for a father to marry his son because the thought of it was inconceivable and male homosexuality was illegal.

So, now male-male marriages are legal, there is a quirky loophole in the law – that a father can marry his son provided the marriage is never consummated (because incest is still illegal).

That means that if, after the death of his wife, a man marries his son then… when the man dies, the son is his spouse and is not liable for death duties/inheritance tax.

Unfortunately, I found out today that is all a load of utter bollocks.

I told an untruth. Mea culpa.

Apparently a 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act 1949 specifically prohibits a father marrying his son – acccording to the Daily Telegraph, who should know about such things.

Pity.

A great pity.

I rather enjoyed the British quirkiness of it all.

Perhaps we should repeal the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act.

I was always comforted by the thought that there is still an Oliver Cromwell law on the statute books which made it illegal for anyone in England to celebrate Christmas or to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.

But apparently it is an urban myth – Charles II repealed almost all Cromwell’s new laws.

London Metropolitan Police helmet

There is another urban myth that it is legal for a man to urinate on the rear wheel of his vehicle if his right hand is on the vehicle. And that pregnant women can legally urinate in any public place, including into a policeman’s helmet.

Alas, the BBC – who know about such things – say these are just that… urban myths.

Except – and this is true – the Law Commission does say that a police officer may make an exception for an expectant mother.

 

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Legal system, Uncategorized

Is David Mills the Dolly The Sheep of Dave Allen, Bob Newhart & Gore Vidal?

So I had a chat with David Mills, the American comic who lives in London, and we had trouble getting fully on-subject.

“My memory is shit,” I said, “and I have forgotten. How long have you been over here?”

“Seventeen years.”

“Are you here forever?”

“Well,” David joked, “now all these people are going down in Hollywood…”

“That’s not the best phrase to use,” I suggested.

“…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.”

“Last year,” I started, “you were in the Meryl Streep/Stephen Frears film Florence Foster Jenkins…”

“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?

“You were like Gore Vidal?” I asked.

“I would love to play Gore Vidal,” said David.

“Well,” I suggested, “now Kevin Spacey’s film about Gore Vidal has gone down in flames…”

“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.”

He’s not like Max Wall or Frankie Howerd…

“In British comedians,” said David, “I thought Max Wall was super-brilliant. And I love Frankie Howerd.”

“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)

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A comedy fan on a musical trip to Chattanooga gets very, very, very cold

Samantha Hulme works with horses (they are not pictured)

This week, I got an email from comedy fan Samantha Hulme. She works with horses in Lancashire.

“I have got a two week job in Chattanooga,” she told me, “and, when I finish there, I am going to have a road trip for ten days.

“I am going to go to Nashville, Tuscon, Memphis and New Orleans. I am going to have a total and utter music fest…”

I suggested she might want to share her experiences for this blog.

On her arrival, she sent me a photo of the luggage belt at Chattanooga Airport.

Yesterday, I got a message saying that, on her first day in Chattanooga, she had been in a cryogenic chamber.

She told me:


The relevant cryogenic chamber on Day One in Chattanooga.

It was approximately minus 264 degrees in that chamber. Shall I repeat that? Minus 264 degrees.

At that temperature, there is no moisture in the air, so it does not penetrate the skin.

The correct clothing for this is not a huge North Face jacket or salopettes. It is sports wear: shorts, sports bra, special woollen socks and slippers and special mittens plus a nose mask and wool wraparound hat.

I felt slightly concerned when my very lovely teacher uttered the words: Don’t forget to breathe. 

An unrelated sign at a church with a very hot pastor in Chattanooga

The first chamber is the holding chamber to prepare you for the temperatures in the second chamber. This was not in any way, shape of form a warm-up.

The thought Holy crap! did go through my mind as I entered the first chamber… then I am an ex-postal worker. I can do this!

When I hit the second chamber, my trachea appeared to close.

I went from repeatedly saying in my head Breathe!… to thinking This is the weirdest cold feeling I have ever experienced… to laughter.

After I leapt out, I felt energised.

It was terror and fun mixed together


Exactly how this fits into the concept of “a total and utter music fest” for a comedy fan, I do not yet know. But further missives will, with luck, follow.

The last message I received from Samantha said: “Off to see a comedian now.”

I know no more than you, dear reader.

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Israeli comics: “It’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh.”

In a couple of weeks, on Wednesday 4th October, the annual Comedy International conference and showcase is back in London.

Representing Israel in the showcase are three comics: Yossi Tarablus, Yohay Sponder and Shahar Hason. The night before (Tuesday 3rd October), they are performing a one-off full-length show From Israel With Laughs at the Seven Dials in Covent Garden – “People can see us for an hour and a half rather than just 10 minutes each,” Yossi told me on Skype from Tel Aviv.

Yossi Tarablus

“Will I – a non-Jew – appreciate it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he told me. “Shahar and Yohay have just returned from their Edinburgh Fringe show and from the Asia Comedy Festival in Singapore. It’s not going to be Jewish/Israeli stuff. People who don’t know Israel and who aren’t Jewish can come and still have a blast.

“We will be doing international stuff that works that we have performed all over the world. My show is a lot about family and kids and marriage. A wife is a wife and a child is a child and dating is dating. We are doing adjustments, but we won’t be doing material that we would be testing on the crowd. We respect the crowd. We do our homework.”

“Are the three of you similar in style?” I asked.

“No, we’re very different in style. It’s a great mix of comedians because everyone is at a different stage in life. I am the only one who is married; the other two are single.”

“How,” I asked, “is the comedy scene in Israel?”

Yohay Sponder

“The English-language stand-up scene in Tel Aviv and in Israel has really taken off. In the last five years, when we started this endeavour, we didn’t know how it was going to pan out. We started with an open mic and then expanded to another more professional evening and then another evening in Jerusalem and another evening in Tel Aviv. There was was a time when you could go to see English-language comedy in Israel four times a week. Now you can see it three times a week, which is great.”

“You said,” I pointed out, “when we started this endeavour. What endeavour?”

“We wanted Israel to be a base,” explained Yossi, “a hub for international comedy like there is in Amsterdam and Berlin and, of course, I’m not even talking about Anglo places like London and New York. We want to go out and perform all over the world. And we want international comedians to visit Israel. We have a lot of people who speak English here, a lot of expats from the US and the UK. So we have enough of an audience for weekly shows.”

Shahar Hason

“I presume touring American Jewish comedians already include Israel?” I said.

“The production company that is bringing us to the UK is the one which brought Louis CK and Eddie Izzard and Jim Jefferies to Israel and they’re producing Chris Rock’s upcoming tour in Israel in January. So they bring a lot of A-listers to Israel. And Abi Lieberman brings three comedians with him every six months to do charity shows in Israel. Seinfeld was here a year and a half ago.”

“So how,” I asked, “is Israeli comedy different from New York Jewish comedy?”

“I think,” said Yossi, “that a lot of New York Jewish comics are Woody Allen-esque. Very smart, very sophisticated, very funny and more like Eastern European Jews. They are maybe a little bit more self-deprecating: classic Shtetl Jews.

“Israeli Jews, in their comedy, are a little bit more – as Israelis are – more direct. We appreciate political correctness, but not in comedy. We don’t have a problem laughing at anyone. Laughing at our wars; criticising the other side; criticising ourselves.

“I think being in a country that is constantly in a state of… alarm… makes you less vulnerable to… eh… I mean, what can happen? We are here. We have survived everything. So we don’t care about… I mean, subtleties are fine, but we just want to have people laughing, bursting out laughing, forgetting the news, any tension in the streets or even any economic crisis. People come to comedy clubs to forget. People come to comedy clubs to laugh and have a great hour-and-a-half, to forget all their troubles.

“So we are there to punch you in the stomach and to make you laugh and we want to do that in a way that will make you disconnect from the news. We don’t do a lot of stuff about politics or about current events which might trigger you to something a little bit more traumatic. We don’t want that. We just want you to laugh because your life is pretty-much like ours. Finding a common denominator with the audience is something we look for as much as possible.”

“New York Jewish humour IS self-deprecating,” I said, “whereas I think maybe the superficial image of Israelis is that they are very self-confident.”

“Self confident and less politically correct,” agreed Yossi. “Looking at stuff without any buffers. So – Boom! – in your face. That is the Israeli mentality. Straight talking. If we don’t like this guy, we say we don’t like him. In Israel, we are really afraid to be a hypocrite. If we say we are afraid of Arabs, it’s straight. We are afraid of Arabs because we have a problem with the Arabs. You know? What can you do? It’s not an evening of poetry. It’s an evening of comedy.

“People have asked me about anti-Semitism or anti-Israeli feeling— if we have encountered anything – but, when you do comedy, it’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh. We just want people to have fun.”

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Ban for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival – Why?

Anna Smith – as ever, thinking blue sky (Photograph by Elaine Ayres)

I have said it before and I will say it again.

Yes I will.

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, leads an interesting life, sometimes on the boat where she lives in Vancouver.

Yesterday morning, I got this email from her:

“Guess what. I just got banned for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival.”

“Why?” I asked.

This was her reply:


I applied for the volunteer massage work which I had happily done in 2112 and 2013. I enjoy giving massages and it is interesting meeting musicians, even the ones I already know. I have never had any complaint about my massages, ever.

This morning, I received a letter from one of the festival co-ordinators stating:

There is a lifetime ban on you volunteering for the festival from an incident that occurred in 2013. I trust you know what it is in regards to. I’m sorry for not communicating earlier, but the info has just caught up with me. Cheers.

In fact, I don’t know what it is in regards to. It is upsetting but also hysterically funny that this supposedly peaceable music festival has banned me for an incident that I am not even aware of.

I remember massaging a huge, very polite mariachi singer who kept his clean white underpants on and a guitarist whose back was fucked from too much driving.

I massaged the teenaged daughter of a protective blues singer and the daughter talked to me about her school.

I ran into violinist Ben Mink and Dennis Nichol, a bass player who had played at The Zanzibar in Toronto who remembered me as ‘Nurse Annie’ (Anna’s stage persona as an exotic dancer).

None of these people were unhappy to see me.

And I got to hear Lucinda Williams sing Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

It surely could not be because I took a photo of the lady with cucumber on her face or wrote about the hula hoop theft in a comedy blog, could it?

Dressed as a nurse, I stripped for lesbians, but my strip show at The Penthouse was just a month ago, so it could not have been that.

And (unlike Malcolm Hardee) I have never driven any tractors, naked, through any other performers’ tents.

I feel dissatisfied just being banned for life from volunteering at the Vancouver Folk Festival. I wish they could ban me for life from volunteering for anything.

Especially now that summer is here and soon men will be falling in the river again. And dogs.

I have just woken up. It is very peaceful on the river except for a couple of crows causing a little ruckus from the treetops.

Anna’s exotic dancer alter ego – ‘Nurse Annie’

Very late last night, when I was downtown, I met a little old lady as we were waiting for a streetlight to change. She was pushing a walker and was elegantly dressed in a light blue jacket with a long matching blue coloured scarf. She had curly white hair and I almost had to stop her from heading into a busy street before the lights changed to green.

“I’m 94 years old!” she cried cheerfully. “I would give you a hug but I’ve run out.”

She fumbled with a small green purse.

“I had a thousand when I set off this morning,” she told me, “but I’ve given them all away. I give them to everybody. They are only this big… about two inches…”

I heard a skateboarder rumbling towards us, so I stood closer to her.

“We have to be careful,” I said. “They don’t realise the damage they could cause to people our age.”

“It’s true,” said the old lady. “But they are nice, the young people. When I tell them to stop, they always do and they are so sweet about it.”

“I’m 94 years old,” she repeated. “I’m not supposed to be out this late, but I was giving out hugs. People need them, you know. They say Vancouver is the loneliest city in Canada. I’ve had grown men crying in my arms.”

I walked her to her bus stop and waited there with her.

A fire engine drove past and she waved excitedly to the firemen.

Firemen outside the Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver this week

“Oh,” I said. “You wave to firemen? I do that too. I waved to some this afternoon, outside the Balmoral Hotel.”

“I wave to firemen and to the police,” she told me. “And ambulances too.”

Then her bus arrived and she boarded it. She greeted its driver enthusiastically.

I plan on staying home today, thank goodness, so I don’t expect to face the cruel world of folk festivals or anything. I think I may do some gardening when it cools down.

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