Category Archives: Internet

How do you categorise a series of uncategorisable YouTube videos?

When the US chain Borders opened up its own-branded bookshops in the UK a few years ago, I found browsing there a frustrating experience because they had no category for BIOGRAPHY (or autobiography). Someone told me this was fairly standard in the US but certainly not in the UK, which seems to have an unquenchable appetite for biographies.

In the case of Borders UK (which collapsed in 2009), they bookshelved biographies according to subject. Which meant you had to sometimes guess what they thought the subject was. How do you categorise Brian Blessed? Eccentric? Actor? Mountaineer? Does the biography of Lawrence of Arabia go under Military, Middle East or Gay?

In the case of my chum Janey Godley, her autobiography Handstands in the Dark runs the gamut from child abuse to British gangsters to Scottish social history to drug culture, psychology and more. Sometimes Borders categorised it as ‘Comedy’ because she is best known as a comedian.

This week, my chum – journalist, songwriter, comedian Ariane Sherine – she too is difficult to categorise – started a series of YouTube videos called Ariane Sherine Eats Clean and Gets Lean. It is about losing weight.

Ariane talks about her eating and other problems on YouTube

It has some chance of being successful because it is the sort of thing that might appeal to housewives in mid-America, which I understand is where the viral hits come from – as well as from spotty teenagers in the US and elsewhere, who will appreciate the underwear sequences.

The first introductory ‘episode’ was rather different to what you might expect from a series of videos about losing weight. In Ariane’s own words: “It features my #MeToo story of being sexually assaulted hundreds of times and my struggles with depression, anxiety, OCD and weight gain.”

You could also throw in jaw-droppingly honest psychological insights.

The odd thing about this introductory video to her series is the YouTube category she put it under.

She categorised it as ‘Comedy’.

You can use multiple tags on a YouTube video, but can only define it as being in one Category.

These are the possible categories:

Autos & Vehicles
Comedy
Education
Film & Animation
Gaming
How to & Style
Music
News & Politics
Nonprofits & Activism
People & Blogs
Pets & Animals
Science & Technology
Sports
Travel & Events

Which is the correct category for a dark, autobiographical, psychological piece covering sexual assault, mental problems, eating disorders and suicide?

Ariane has tagged her Introduction video in multiple ways, but she has put it under the category ‘Comedy’ because she is currently primarily known for her humorous musical numbers.

Which I guess is right.

But unavoidably unsatisfying and confusing.

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Filed under Food, Internet, Psychology

What happens when you ask people you have never met to make up memories?

My bedcover: it seems relevant

My bedcover at night somehow seems relevant

I like the English language. Even – or perhaps especially – when it approaches the abstract.

Yesterday, there was a message meandering around Facebook which people were re-posting and which said:

If you’re reading this, even if we barely talk, comment with a memory you have of us. After you’re done, post this on your wall. You’d be surprised with what people remember about you.

It seemed fairly pointless, so I posted a version which said:

If you’re reading this, especially if we have never met, comment with a completely fictional memory you have of us. You will be visited by angels and small woodland creatures wearing corduroy culottes.

Below is the result: a series of unconnected, often surreal, almost abstract thoughts which I find strangely comforting and mesmerising.

I have partially anonymised the respondents, all of whom are highly admirable people. A few of them I have actually met, but they have not let that get in the way of their literally fantastic free-flowing thoughts…


MIKE: We met when I caught you giving my unicorn a hand job. Things went steadily downhill from there.

PAUL: Fight Club.

DARREN: You looked better dressed as Mary Poppins than I did as Batman.

ALEX: You used to steal my tuck shop money at school. You also taught me Geography.

ANIL: Remember when we got really pissed and killed that copper?

KEARA: I am so happy about that time I never slept with you. I will treasure that moment forever. Thanks for the memory.

ROBERT: Do you remember that time we got stuck on the train outside Bognor Regis? They wouldn’t open the doors until the engineer came and everyone sat around singing Abba songs. I think your dancing went a bit far, mind you.

ALI: We had booked you for the wedding reception but you were not what was expected. Tracey thought it was Bob Fleming from The Fast Show. We are indeed divorced just as you predicted.

STEPHEN: Imagine my surprise, when but a small orphaned boy in Calcutta, your family would take me in and bring me up as one of their own. I didn’t mind sleeping in the wardrobe and was an honour to polish your shoes. I even came to enjoy the beatings. The handcuffs didn’t chafe much at all.

PETER: I lent you £7,075. Are you ready to pay it back yet?

ANDREW: Our eyes met… what the rest of me was doing I don’t recall.

KERRY: I was the getaway driver when you and Jeremy Paxman robbed that Kardashian bint. I was dressed as a badger and you wore black… Ah yes, I remember it well.

LINDA: Auditioning for Girls Aloud. You joined the Spice Girls. I joined Take That.

RODERICK: Meeting you in person.

DOIREANN: I was an unwitting and rather stupid rodent stuck down a well and you fished me out and gave me some food. I briefly acknowledged your help then ran away and continued my stupid rodent life. Sorry about that. I developed a sense of remorse, uncharacteristic of rodents, so that may be my comeuppance!

STEFANIA: I still have your corduroy culottes….

MARTIN: It wasn’t my only homosexual experience, but it was my last.

ALEXIS: Why don’t we see culottes anymore?

JONNY: We had a Star Wars themed wedding, I was the butch, you were the bitch and Mr and Mrs John Fleming lived happily ever after in a galaxy far far away.

TRIONA: I remember the teeth.

KATE: Don’t beat me again with your meatstick, daddy!! Sorry, just had a bit of a flashback there…

A.J.: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; we were fighting a battle for good against evil. On the Sega Mega Drive in 1992.

IAN: …and then you brought out the handcuffs and I said: “Unless you’re a cop you can forget it.”

ALIAS: Remember that time in the late nineties when we were testing out those prototype virtual reality goggles and we got trapped inside the elk hunting simulation after the computer became self aware? Good times.

ANDY: As my slightly older alter ego YOU need to post the fiction stuff as you only exist as my plausible deniability.

ROSIE: When Barbra Streisand didn’t know when to go home.

KENNY: I did actually meet you once, but you were too busy filling Les Dennis’ trousers with Marmite in the lobby of Yorkshire Television.

JANE: Crikey, I remember that time in Goa when we trod on a snoozing python… but it didn’t seem to mind it was so doped, thankfully.

EVELYN: So glad you told me there was loo roll flowing from my skirt tail. Complete gentleman. Thank you.

SIMON: You went all improv. We had to leave the scenes on the cutting room floor. Shame, as I thought that your SpiderBat look was something the audience of today would want to see.

COLIN: ‘Nam ’67.

JEZEBEL: We’ll always have Paris. One day, we may be forced to take it back.

JAMES: You were an extremely tender lover and taught me so much. I’d certainly never considered doing THAT with THOSE before.

KEV: I was the one who nudged your petri dish and helped you discover penicillin.

HENRIK: It was in an earlier life. You were one of Napoleon’s generals, I was a bumblebee who just happened to fly by.

GEOFF: There was that time in Bogota when some local dropped mescaline into our drinks and we lost a weekend in dreams.

DONNA: Now I just want a cute woodland creature!

JACKIE: I taught you the meaning of the word respect, then I barked like a dog…

ALASTAIR: We were both competing at the Annual Cherry Pit-Spitting Championships. There was a lot of phlegm flying about!! (I give Ariane Sherine some credit for that – not the flying phlegm, I mean me getting this idea – I remember her calling you John Phlegming in one of her Adventures Of A Stand-up Comic.)

ZHURONG: I only added you because I thought you wrote James Bond.

NOEL: That time we used to run guns for the Zapatistas into Chiapas. Crazy times!

ZUMA: That time you gave birth to a creepy baby and said: “It’s not mine”. Hah so funny!

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Filed under Internet, Literature, Surreal

Missing blogs, John Gielgud’s gay porn, James Bond’s toilet and Tony Hancock

John fleming - shocked look

Typical reaction to WordPress’ efficiency

My daily blog has not appeared for a couple of days because WordPress, which hosts it, had some technical problem which meant it was impossible for me to save or post anything. And, even if you pay them, they do not provide Support – you have to post on user forums with no guarantee of any response from anyone.

Giving them grief on Twitter seemed to have some slight effect – eventually. To a partial extent. I got this message:

Let us know if we can help with anything! Here’s how to export your content and take it with you.

I replied:

It might have been useful if WordPress could have sorted out the technical problem which means I cannot post any blogs. I might have thought WordPress would be more concerned with their software not working rather than helping people to leave.

After WordPress getting more Twitter and Reddit grief orchestrated by this blog’s South Coast correspondent, Sandra Smith, I got some reaction from a WordPress ‘staff’ member (whom you apparently can’t contact normally) – which was minimal and apparently transient, as I have heard no more from him.

But, about three hours later, when I tried again, the problem had disappeared. I had changed and done nothing. So I can only assume WordPress corrected the fault and never bothered to tell me.

As Facebook Friend Alias Robert Cummins succinctly put it: WordPress is amazingly shit, in all sorts of tiresome and complex ways, which I’d really rather not go into this late in the evening.

That is his real name, by the way – the one he was given at birth – Alias Robert Cummins. It is a bizarre story and one probably worth a blog at some point.

Anyway, the problem was eventually solved (I hope it has been, anyway) with the help not just of Sandra Smith but also the excellent cyber-guy and indefatigable Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show person Stephen O’Donnell.

John Ward toilet accessory with gun, silencer and loo roll

John Ward’s toilet accessory has a gun, silencer and loo roll

In the two days of missing blogs and navel-gazing, the world still turned, with John Ward, designer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards getting some publicity in Lincolnshire of all places because today the James Bond film SPECTRE is released and, a couple of years ago, John designed a combined gun-rack and toilet paper holder.

He used to own a gun licence himself: something that never made me sleep easy in bed.

When no new blogs were being posted the last couple of days, the old one getting most hits was last Wednesday’s blog, about David McGillivray’s new short film of a previously un-produced gay porn script Trouser Bar written in 1976 by Sir John Gielgud.

David Mcgillivray (left) during the filming with Nigel Havers

David McGillivray (left) during the filming with Nigel Havers

The film (still in post-production) includes performances by Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers. One blog reader user-named ‘Ludoicah’ commented:

I’d say with a cast that includes Nigel Havers and Barry Cryer that there is zero chance of this being any sort of a porn film, gay or otherwise, and it is probably, at most, a mildly risqué sketch.

To which David McGillivray replied:

Incorrect. It’s utter filth, liable to deprave and corrupt. I was blindfolded while I was producing it.

Sir John Gielgud’s script was inspired, it seems, by his love of men in tight trousers, particularly trousers made from corduroy.

Last Thursday, the day after my blog on the film appeared, the following was posted (with photo) on Trouser Bar’s Facebook page:

Trouser Bar still - corduroy trousers

Trouser Bar still – corduroy trousers un-creamed by Sir John

I’ve just seen the rough cut. Sir John would have creamed his corduroy jeans at this close-up.

It also quoted Sir John’s letter to Paul Anstee of 19th October, 1958:

“The students at the schools and universities [in Pennsylvania] are a wonderful audience, and a good deal of needle cord manch is worn (very badly cut, and usually only partly zipped!) so my eyes occasionally wander.”

Also posted on the Trouser Bar Facebook page was this quote from a Galton and Simpson comedy script for Hancock’s Half Hour in 1958:

Sid: “Hilary St Clair.” 

Tony: “Hilary St Clair? I bet he’s all corduroys and blow waves”

with the comment:

Even in the 1950s it seems that corduroy was associated with homosexuality.

All this, plus a photo on my blog of Sir John Gielgud with Sir Ralph Richardson in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, made Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – ask::

I wonder what kind of porn Ralph Richardson wrote?

and to mention:

Tony Hancock. Is this the face of a 1950s criminal?

Comedian Tony Hancock – Is this the face of a 1950s criminal?

I bought a Tony Hancock album last week at a junk shop. A woman wondered to me whether he was a criminal.

“He wasn’t a criminal,” I said, a bit annoyed. ”He was a comedian!”

“He looks like a criminal,” the woman countered, doubting my certainty.

“It was the 1950s,” I said, exasperated. “Everyone looked like a criminal back then.”

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Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Eccentrics, Gay, Internet, Movies, Pornography

Are North Korean cyber attacks now targeting fringe comedy acts?

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman is not really a technologically advanced act

I thought I was over my flu of last week but I slept all day yesterday, so my body obviously knows something I don’t.

Which could explain the brief blog yesterday and today.

But I am not alone in my woes.

Last night, I got a plaintive e-mail from the iconic – or ice comic – cult act The Iceman. It read:


Someone external hacked into my website and obliterated it and even activated “no” search engines.

Have you ever heard of this sort of thing happening other than to big corporations!/governments?

It must have been quite a determined person.

Have I a cyber space enemy?

Or a game player?

Or could it be my server/host? – They seem to think it is me who might have compromised my details but I don’t think I ever have.

Could it happen from not signing off on dashboard? Ice-ertainly would be interested to know your opinion. There is a possible blog! ICEMAN UNDER ATTACK!

Paradice almost lost - The Iceman’s website cyber attacked

Parad-ice almost lost – The Iceman’s website cyber attacked

The website is more or less back to normal (for a fee) but it was traumatice for me and I took it very personally.

Do you think my host is liable? – I do pay an annual fee to them.

Production of painted ice blocks has slowed down because of weather conditions in the studio.


The good news for The Iceman is that snow is forecast for today and, at the weekend, an Arctic wind should be sweeping through the British Isles causing a horrendous wind chill factor.

PS. No, of course North Korean cyber attacks are not now targeting fringe comedy acts.

I blame the remnants of flu for this sort of headline.

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Filed under Comedy, Internet

Crowdfunding a UK sci-fi movie: The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains!

Bob Pipe at Soho Theatre Bar yesterday

Bob Pipe in alien invasion mode at Soho Theatre yesterday

Six degrees of separation, eh?

Matt Roper, who performs as the singer Wilfredo, is living in my spare room for another couple of weeks.

I was talking to TV and video producer/director Bob Pipe at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday and the fact that Bob recently directed the video for Wilfredo’s Christmas song (out soon) never came up because neither of us twigged that we had Matt in common.

Bob was talking to me about raising money for his feature film project The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains!

“We’re making a 90 minute version of our web series,” he told me. “We’ve written a first draft a lot of which encompasses the sketches from the web series. James Wren (of the Hen & Chickens theatre) is co-writing and co-producing it with me. Now we’re crowdfunding to get the development money – £13,586 – so we can hire a line producer and a script editor or script doctor.”

“Is there a market for 1950s-style sci-fi?” I asked.

The Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal

Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal

“I think people do want the unexpected,” said Bob. “I mean, The Artist won Oscars – that was a silent movie in black & white – and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck was successful. I think there still is a market for honing old tropes.

The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! will have modern CGI special effects, a modern style of acting, modern editing. There won’t be wobbly sets!”

“So it’s not really a pastiche,” I said.

“No. It’s not going to be a parody or a spoof.”

“More like,” I suggested, “Star Wars, which was not a parody but an homage to 1930s sci-fi serials?”

“On a lower budget! But, yes. The web series is very much in that vein. With humour.”

“So the film comes out of the web series of the same name…”

“Yes, we did the original web series for £16,000 for a production company called ChannelFlip – part of Shine. YouTube were funding production companies to create original content and ChannelFlip was one of 10 or 12 who were given £1 million each to create original channels. What ChannelFlip pitched was The Multiverse, with sort-of sci-fi home of geek content and I heard about this and pitched the idea to them of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and they said Oh, We want to do a 1950s sci fi alien invasion spoof! So they gave me £16,000 to make it.”

“How long did you have to make it? ” I asked.

“From commission, they gave me three weeks to supply a trailer. They wanted two trailers and then a series of ten episodes of 3-4 minutes. They wanted the trailers before the series, which was a challenge.”

“And then?”

“I made the first trailer. Then Warwick Davis saw it. ChannelFlip had him as an ‘ambassador’ for Multiverse to publicise their business. He loved it and asked if he could be in it, so I wrote a role specially for him. We shot all his stuff in one day up in Peterborough.”

“Showbiz is a glamorous world,” I said. “How did you start?”

“When I was in college, around 1998/1999, I did a HND in Media Production at North Oxfordshire School of Art & Design and our end-of-year project was to make short films. I made a 5 minute short version of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! back in 1999. I didn’t have access to proper actors and I had just watched Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and thought: I can do that!

“Then I started in TV as a runner and worked my way up to AP level – at North One and ITV. North One created the ‘list’ format.”

“Things like TV’s 100 Funniest Hats?” I asked.

“Yes. I worked on a lot of those shows. I worked for Endemol as a researcher on TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.

We thought - perhaps wrongly - it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a small milk jug

We thought – perhaps wrongly – it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a milk jug to promote his science fiction film

“At Warner, in 2007, I co-set-up a comedy website called Comedy Box – record sales were going down and Warner were looking for new areas to invest in. We got John Lloyd in to be our figurehead, much like Warwick Davis was for ChannelFlip. We ran Comedy Box for a year – five sketches every week – but we couldn’t find revenue; this was only a year after YouTube had been set up.

“We were about to fold everything up and then MySpace came along – do you remember MySpace? They were setting up MySpace Comedy so they bought all our archive and we became their production company to supply original content. At that point, we went away from the John Lloyd esque sketches into more prank reality stuff. But, then, again, that part of MySpace folded in a year.

“And I’ve been freelancing ever since working on things like The Matt Lucas Awards – I did behind-the-scenes stuff for that; Dick and Dom’s Funny Business. I was a digital producer on The Voice this year – creating the content for their social media sites and producing  the highlights show The Voice Louder on BBC iPlayer and YouTube.

“So why 1950s science fiction films?” I asked.

One of Bob’s inspirations

One of Bob’s 1950s movie inspirations

“I’m a big fan. Films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet. And when I was growing up, on TV it was the era of Red Dwarf, Quantum Leap and Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“Your interest,” I asked, “was in American B films, as opposed to British ones like Hammer and the Quatermasses.”

“Well, there’s a writer called Phil Whelans who used to write on The 11 O’Clock Show and be in Bill Bailey’s band and he runs an evening called Grand Theft Impro.

“When we made the web series last year, he brought an Englishness to The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and suggested we go for a more Quatermass kind of feel. He plays a Quatermass kind of doctor character in the web series: much more stoical than American.

“The challenge is trying to make a 1950s alien invasion movie applicable to the modern market. Do you remember the The Comic Strip Presents films with loads of celebrity cameos? There will be four or five strands running through our feature film, peppered with celebrity cameos.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for it?” I asked.

“Our tagline is ALIEN INVASIONS REALLY SUCK.”

“What cost over-all?”

“We think between £250,000 to £500,000 but, if we get in some script doctor who has worked on major films and a great line producer… At the moment, the production company is The Forgery Club which is also a comedy night we run  – a sketch, character and themed night.”

“How much have you raised so far?”

“We’ve raised £3,602 at the moment.”

“Out of £13,586…. When does the Indiegogo crowdfunding end?”

“Next Tuesday, December 2nd. Hopefully, with some private investors I know and this production company, I think we’re going to make it.”

There is a 30-minute compilation version of the web series on Vimeo.

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Filed under Crowdfunding, Internet, Movies, Science fiction

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography “will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager”

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee: comic, promoter, inspiration to teenagers

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published in 1996.

I co-wrote it with him. Well, OK, I wrote it from taped conversations with him.

It got quite well-reviewed:

“Hilarious” (The Scotsman)

“Blindingly funny” (The Independent)

“Makes you laugh in great snorts” (Daily Express)

“You will laugh out loud at least a dozen times” (Sunday Times)

“The funniest read in longer than I care to remember” (The Stage) 

“Characterful and not overly ghost-written…a feast of scabrous reminiscence” (Independent on Sunday)

It is now out of print, but Amazon has been happily selling occasional ‘new’ and ‘used’ copies for years.

Now surrealism has struck.

Comedy critic Bruce Dessau (about whom I blogged yesterday) has just drawn my attention to something.

An Amazon.co.uk person or, perhaps, computer has got their/its knickers in a twist.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm at Glastonbury in 2003

For those who don’t know, the late comic Malcolm Hardee was known for his outrageous behaviour. His autobiography tells anecdotes of sex, drugs and the time Malcolm had his genitals painted in luminous paint at the Glastonbury Festival.

Until recently – I think I looked a few months ago – Amazon’s description of the book was fairly spot-on. It was supplied by the book’s original publisher and (I think) read:

The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.

Currently, the book description on Amazon.co.uk reads:

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk’s listing

For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.

Well, if teachers want to ‘extend their repertoire’ (Ooh, missus!) with impressions of French President General De Gaulle using only a pair of spectacles held atop a naked, flaccid penis representing his nose, then this is certainly the book to buy.

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Amazon’s listing opens up a whole new audience for Malcolm

In the current Reviews section, the highly-regarded Teacher magazine is quoted as saying:

This book will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager.

Absolutely true. It will certainly spice up biology classes.

The book also now has some excellent new quotes in the Reviews section including:

I enjoyed this book, and got a lot of good ideas from it” (Chris Kilby, PGCE student)

Puts a strong emphasis on the how” (Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University)

Well, that is true.

And there remain some older and more representative reader reviews…

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel club, Malcolm Hardee (left) watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photo by Geraint Lewis)

I’d recommend anyone to look up the balloon dance on the internet to witness how amusing it was, ditto the ‘banger up the rear’ routine. It takes the reader on a journey of… his touring, drinking, womanising… a great book” (5 STARS – Comedy Cum Hardee, 1st March 2012)

A little piece of comedy history and an amazing insight into the Malcolm Hardie’s (sic) incredible life and journey.” (5 STARS – Sam, 19th May 2011)

Full of cheeky chappies and crazy anecdotes guaranteed to generate random fits of laughter. Malcolm was a lovable rogue who liked to show his knob a lot!” (5 STARS Mitzi, Wales, 9th September 2009)

I am inclined not to tell Amazon about this balls-up and see what happens.

The book is available via them in both new and used editions. Copies of the used books currently vary in price (+ £2.80 delivery) from £7.98p to £999.00. Copies of the book in ‘new’ condition vary from £49.99 to £999.00.

Interestingly, it is the same seller – UK_Bookstore – who is selling both New copies for £999.00 and Used copies for £999.00. The difference seems to be that New copies are in pristine condition and Used copies “may have some underlines and highlights”.

In case you should think I have made all this up or have changed the Amazon listing myself, I have not.

Barry Ferns won last year’s Cunning Stunt Award

Barry Ferns won Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2013 (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held at the Edinburgh Fringe this year on Friday 22nd August. The three awards include a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe.

This Amazon surrealism is not a cunning stunt.

We simply – it seems – live in increasingly surreal times.

I am very glad of that.

 

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Internet, Publishing

Comedian Richard Herring on financing his own TV series and an alternative to losing money at the Edinburgh Fringe

Richard Herring ponders the meaning of life online

Richard Herring ponders online meaning

In my blog a couple of days ago, Richard Herring chatted to me about creating free content like blogs and podcasts as a way to generate paying punters for his live shows.

He has been podcasting since 2008 and his Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts – available on iTunes and on YouTube – continue but, this Sunday at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, he is also recording the second episode of his new online TV series Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life.

The Meaning of Life is another leap forward, he told me over a fifth coffee at Bar Italia in Soho, “because it’s going to cost me money, which none of the other stuff has really done.

“All the podcasts used up my time, but they’re basically free-to-do. I just recorded them on a computer or whatever. I spent a bit of money on equipment, but not very much. Then I just put them out and it’s fairly easy to do. But, with The Meaning of Life, the idea was me thinking: I’d like to do my own 6-part stand-up show on TV, but nobody is particularly interested in giving me that opportunity – so why not do it myself?

A ‘selfie' by Richard last week

A thoughtful ‘selfie’ taken by Richard last week

“We’re doing six shows and, including all the editing, the cameramen and so on – I’m not getting paid, but we’re paying everyone else – it’s going to cost me around £20,000 to film six of them.

“There’s six monthly recordings and that’s a lot of work. I’m trying to write new stuff and not use any old material. I’m writing at least 30-45 minutes of new material each month. I’m trying to use no stuff from my previous stand-up shows but there’s a few things from the 1990s where I think: Well, there might be something in developing that idea.

“We’re recording them every month but really we should have done them every two months. I under-estimated how much work would be involved. I have to write them properly and I go out and do a few gigs on the circuit to familiarise myself with the material. It’s mainly me doing stand-up, but we’ve got an animator who’s 3D animating a sketch with my voice and Christian Reilly is doing the theme music and there’s an interview in each show.

“The first one will hopefully be out at the end of this month – it will probably be about 45 minutes to an hour long – and it will have taken two months to put it together. It would be nice if they came out every month, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to manage that.”

“And I presume the material won’t date,” I said.

The creation of the universe, the paranormal. Whatever next?

The creation of the universe, the paranormal. Whatever next?

“No,” laughed Richard, “because it’s about the meaning of life. Each episode is about a big subject. The first one is about the creation of the universe – so that doesn’t really date. The second one’s about the paranormal.”

“And,” I said, “as an online show, it will get you seen worldwide.”

“Yes, the great thing about the podcasts is I’m getting Australian and American fans without travelling. I haven’t been out to Australia in ten years; I’ve never done anything in America. And I’m building up a sort-of fan base. Within the business, people know who I am, but I’m under the radar of most people so, if people do discover me, it’s quite a surprise for them and there’s a lot to catch up on: the TV stuff, the DVDs and hours and hours of podcasts.”

“I guess,” I said, “you’re under the radar in, say, Sacramento.”

“Oh definitely in Sacramento. But, even in the UK. If I walk round the middle of London for two hours, two people might recognise me. It’s nice in a way because it means I can carry on doing my job. I can sit in a coffee shop and work and look around and see what’s going on. No-one clocks me. If I were Ricky Gervais, all I would hear would be: Is that Ricky Gervais?

“On the last series of the Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, a website was offering me around £5,000 to advertise during it. I decided it wasn’t really enough money to justify selling-out, but also they wanted me to do an advert in the middle of the podcast as well as at the start and the end and I felt it would break the flow and my audience would laugh in the face of it and then they wouldn’t pay me anyway. I also figured If they think they’re going to get £5,000 of business out of advertising on my podcast, then it is surely worth more than £5,000 as an advert for me.

“I think one important thing about The Meaning of Life is showing what you can do if you’re prepared to put up some money.

Going to Edinburgh is financial death for some

The Edinburgh Fringe can mean financial death for some, though success for Richard

“People go to the Edinburgh Fringe and spend £10,000 and five people come and see them and they get one review. If you have got £10,000, why not make a very good one-hour video with some sketches in it instead?

“If you can find three friends with three video cameras, you can do it. You can do whatever you want. You can put that on YouTube for free and potentially millions of people can see it and you can send that link to journalists and producers when they’re not being bogged-down in Edinburgh.

“If you’ve got that much money to spend and to lose, then that’s a better investment than going to Edinburgh and spending the money doing a show that’s fantastic and 100 people see it and that’s the end of it.”

“But the problem is production quality and covering costs?” I suggested.

“Yes,” agreed Richard. “I thought we could make The Meaning of Life look like a normal TV show, but my shirt’s hanging out and it looks a bit messier. We get a little bit of money from the door because the tickets are very cheap – £10 – I struck a very bad 50/50 deal with the Leicester Square Theatre because I thought no-one would come and people are coming.”

“And the bonus of doing it yourself,” I asked, “is you have fewer content restrictions?”

“Yes,” said Richard, “The thing about the Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts (which are videoed and put online at YouTube) where I interview a comedian for an hour-and-a-half or two hours is that you couldn’t do it on broadcast TV. No-one would let you do two hours of talking to one person on broadcast TV.

Stephen Fry on Richard’s Leicester Square Podcast

Stephen Fry was guest on a recent Leicester Square Podcast

“In the end, someone like Netflix might buy them: someone who doesn’t have to put it into a fixed schedule. Four of my stand-up shows are already on Netflix.

“Within five years, I think most people will just have a TV and they’ll select what they want to watch from the BBC or YouTube or richardherring.com and they’ll watch it whenever they want. So we are all broadcasters now. It’s just finding a way to get some money back from that.

“I’ve heard club comedians say Oh, I can never get on the Michael McIntyre Roadshow – which I can’t get on either – but now you can make your own TV show. You can go into any club with three cameras. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. No-one is watching stand-up saying: Ooh, it has to be swooping cameras on a big stage. If the material’s good, you can put it up online and that will cost you let’s say £500 to pay the cameramen and edit it together. It can be done. There’s no excuse any more for not doing it.

“People used to say Well, I WOULD write a novel if anyone would publish it. You can publish it yourself now. You can upload it as an eBook. You can get it out there. It’s exactly the same with all of these things.

“It’s also about understanding that you don’t have to be paid immediately, that it can build up.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comic Red Bastard and the KGB man who wants my Facebook Friends list

I would quite like to die on another planet.

As a way to go, it beats dying in the gloomy upstairs bedroom of a nursing home in Clacton-on-Sea, which is where I sat and watched my father die.

A step too far for the Evening Standard?

Is it rocket science to build pages with links?

So, two days ago, I lightheartedly tried to enter a London Evening Standard contest to win a trip into space. Well, OK, ‘trip’ might be a bit of an exaggeration. It seems the return flight takes 30 minutes overall but the time spent actually outside the earth’s atmosphere is only 4 minutes.

Still, if I want to die on another planet, it’s a start. One small step for a man…

The first problem I had was that the link to the Evening Standard’s competition’s page didn’t exist. Clicking the link just brought you back to the page you were already viewing. It took about a day to rectify this. Obviously creating a working weblink was a step too far in rocket science for the Evening Standard.

When the page was up and firing on all cylinders, I ploughed through the application form only to be told at the very very end of the process that I had to agree the Evening Standard could access my entire Facebook Friends list. Why? The only possible reason I could think of was that they wanted to spam the (at the time of writing) 4,854 people on my Friends list. And I would be responsible for that.

When I queried this, the Evening Standard Reader Offers department replied:

Will the Evening Standard’s explanation fly?

Maybe London Evening Standard’s explanation is groundless?

“Hi! The message you refer to is actually letting you know that the system we use to run the promotion will be able to access your friends list, which will allow you to share the promotion should you wish to. However we will not access or use that information for anything, so none of your friends will be effected (sic) because you have entered.”

Apart from my nagging worry that the Evening Standard people can’t spell ‘affected’, why would they need to have access to my Friends list in order to allow me to send a link for the Evening Standard’s offers page to any or all of my Facebook Friends? If I copied and pasted the web address into a message and posted it on my Facebook page, would that link somehow mysteriously not work unless the Evening Standard had on its computers each and every person on my list?

It is enough to make you paranoid.

I mean, it is surreal enough that the London Evening Standard (like the Independent newspaper) is now owned by an ex-KGB officer. Is this a case of old habits dying hard?

Not a woman in a burkha

Not a woman in a burka

Shortly afterwards, I went out to Holborn in central London and there I saw (I presume it was) a woman dressed in full burka standing next to a Post Office pillar box. It was like something out of a Magritte painting or an imagining of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels.

A medium-sized red-painted pillar with a horizontal slit towards the top through which I could post letters beside which stood a medium-sized pillar of black cotton with a horizontal slit towards the top through which I could see a pair of eyes staring out at me.

This oddness was not topped until a few hours later when I saw Red Bastard perform in the East End of London, strangely just round the corner from Vallance Road, where gangsters the Kray Twins used to live – and from the Repton Boxing Club where they… well… boxed as and with young men.

The showman Adam Taffler last night

Showman Adam Taffler celebrated last night

The Red Bastard event was staged by showman Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver who had managed to successfully promote this off-West-End show at short notice so effectively that the original single show and single workshop by Red Bastard had been upped to two shows and three workshops. (The second show is tonight.)

The show last night seemed to have attracted whatever the collective noun is for a wide collection of some of the most cutting edge, potentially not-far-from-breakthrough acts in London including Holly Burn, Adam Larter, Lizzy Mace, Real McGuffin Dan March, Darren Maskell and Lindsay Sharman not to mention half of Nelly Scott/Zuma Puma’s new clown workshop.

Bob Slayer’s underpants were sponsored last night

Bob Slayer’s underpants were sponsored last night

One unexpected yet somehow not unexpected sight of the evening was comedian/promoter Bob Slayer acting as barman – obviously, occasionally without his trousers so he could display the underpants supplied by his Edinburgh Fringe sponsors Bawbags, purveyors of fine Scottish undergarments.

Bob’s presence was partly explained by the fact that, on 20th October, he and Adam are jointly promoting Malcolm Hardee Award winning Adrienne Truscott’s one-off show at the nearby Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

Who is Red Bastard; what is he?

Red Bastard – the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee

I saw Red Bastard at the Edinburgh Fringe – he was a nominee for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality – and several people have asked me what he does.

I have never been able to find words with which to tell them.

Much like The Short Man With Long Socks, the act is uncategorisable.

That is, after all, a sign of true originality.

If you could include it in a single existing category – comedy, mime, therapy, actor training, psychology, performance art, voyeurism, drama, audience involvement – it would not be truly original. Perhaps the Red Bastard show is best described with that unfathomable 1960s word – an Event.

You cannot describe it; you have to experience it.

Please do.

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British government accused of weakening copyright to help Google – and fat, bald man breaches copyright

Copyright symbol

In the latest issue of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain‘s weekly e-bulletin, this interesting piece appears under the heading

________________________________

INDUSTRY NEWS

________________________________

A committee of MPs has issued a report strongly criticising changes in copyright law and warning, “There is an underlying agenda driven at least partly by technology companies (Google foremost among them) which, if pursued uncritically, could cause irreversible damage to the creative sector on which the UK’s future prosperity will significantly depend.”

The report, by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, quotes Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, as saying: “Google is one of several search engines … and I am very aware of their power, put it that way. I am also very aware, I think, that they have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No. 10, I understand.”

Changes to copyright law follow a review by Professor Ian Hargreaves, a former newspaper editor, and include new exceptions (i.e. free use of copyright material) for educational purposes, private copying, parodies and pastiches, and “user-generated content” in which consumers can download material and incorporate it in their own creations without permission or payment. There is also a plan to introduce “extended collective licensing” which could enable copyright collecting societies to give permission and accept payment for works by people who are not even their members.

The Writers’ Guild keeps a close eye on such developments through its affiliations to two expert bodies – the Creators’ Rights Alliance and the British Copyright Council. Both organisations have made detailed submissions to the Government that have been endorsed by the Guild.

Read more on the Melville House website, the Creators’ Rights Alliance website, and  the British Copyright Council website.

********

I, of course, am all for maintaining strong copyright laws – otherwise everything I write could be nicked and passed-off by others as their own creation. The irony is that, in  re-printing that Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s piece, I have broken their copyright.

In my heart, the importance of copyright and irony are nicely balanced.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the sentence quoted above from a British government minister saying that Google “have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No. 10, I understand.”

The italics are mine.

What reason is being hinted at here?

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New UK audio comedy label launches and initially gets 100% of its sales in US

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

Neale Welch: in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch – building something new in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch is a busy chap.

This year, he took over-all charge of programming at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London, a full-time job which continues.

But, in July last year, he also started his own independent comedy label Just The Greatest and, this month, it released its first three audio albums – by Anil Desai, Steve N Allen and Erich McElroy (all recorded live at the Comedy Cafe Theatre).

When I talked to him in London’s Shoreditch last week, he told me something very odd:

“All of the sales so far,” he told me, “have been in the United States.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think there’s an element of If you build it, they will come. The sales are there. Sales started as a trickle and they are starting to increase.”

“The blurbs must be bloody good,” I said.

Anil Desai: Hey, Impressions Guy!

Anil Desai – the first album released by Just The Greatest

“Well,” Neale told me, “there’s only a very brief description of what’s on the albums – there’s no real space on iTunes for any promo copy or quotes. They’re just really good products. Very funny.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “They’re very good comedians but the Americans, presumably, don’t know them – To the Yanks, they’re Fred Hippity-Hoppity from Guatemala.”

“What I think you’re witnessing here, John,” suggested Neale, “is the power of the distribution channels – iTunes and Amazon. Who are we to know why Americans are buying the albums? It’s comedy, it’s spoken word, it’s British and it’s out there available to buy.”

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“The distributors set the prices themselves,” explained Neale. “iTunes set the price by category and genre. The albums are $9.99.”

“So Yanks are forking out $10 for unknown-to-them comedians!” I said in amazement.

“But they’re getting to know them slowly,” said Neale. “And you can also buy cheaper individual tracks.”

“I guess, when it all develops,” I said, “your market is going to be Britain and the English-speaking pink bits on the map – plus the US?”

“And parts of Europe,” added Neale.

“This is like one of those rock star things,” I said, “where someone from Manchester is a major star in Botswana for no discernible reason. Or Right Said Fred  being massive in Germany, which they are. Massive.”

“…and David Hasselhoff,” added Neale.

“And David Hasselhoff,” I had to agree. “Did you expect to get foreign sales?”

“Not this early, no,” said Neale.

“So why did you start the label?” I asked.

Steve N Allen - one of the acts Yanks seem keen on

Steve N Allen is one of the acts Yanks seem very keen on

“Because,” explained Neale, “a few years ago, I was travelling alone around Asia and Australia and needed something to listen to when I was in planes, on beaches, in hostels. Videos are fine, but videos require your attention whereas, with a sound album, you can do other things when you’re in another environment.

“I came across a great podcast called Stop Podcasting Yourself by Graham Clark. So I brought him over to do a special gig at the Comedy Cafe in London, which was great, sold out, fantastic.

“Graham is signed to a podcast network in the States called MaximumFun.org, run by a guy called Jesse Thorn – a great inspirational guy who started this network with lots of free content, a little bit of paid content, lots of different shows, mostly run on donations.

“And I thought I could do something like that. I thought I want to do something that’s good and I want to work with original artists that are going somewhere and have got something to say.”

“Hold on though,” I interrupted, “You said, with a sound album, you can do other things while you’re listening. But doesn’t comedy require you pay attention? The build-ups and the punchlines?”

“Yes,” agreed Neale. “But not as much as visuals. I think there’s an opportunity for the re-birth of comedy albums in digital form.”

“And physical CDs?” I asked.

“It’s all digital,” said Neale. “At Just The Greatest, we’re not interested in physical products, though some of the artists are going to produce physical products – CDs – to sell themselves after their gigs. It doesn’t make any sense any other way. I don’t have a warehouse to store a load of stuff.”

“And CDs are dead anyway,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” agreed Neale, “CDs, DVDs… but downloads have made up for the decline in over-all sales. If you pay attention to who’s listening to podcasts – graphic designers, knowledge workers if you will – it’s people who are at their desk working a flexible, autonomous working day who can also enjoy audio entertainment. That’s the kind of demographic who are going to buy it.”

“Did you do market research in advance?” I asked.

Erich McElroy - North American but with Brit Identity

Erich McElroy – a North American but with Brit Identity

“The sales ARE the market research,” Neale explained. “I’m finding out now what kind of market I’m going into and it’s clear that there are opportunities. I knew in advance, obviously, that there were similar projects out there already. It’s not like I was wondering if people would buy a digital file; of course they will.”

“How do you think the market will it develop?” I asked. “Will iTunes’ dominance diminish?”

“In the digital market, I just do not know,” said Neale. “If you look at the barriers to entry and the coverage that they get… it would be a difficult market for anyone to attack. If you think that a company the size of Amazon aren’t even getting close, then…”

“And beyond that,” I asked, “you’ll develop radio shows, TV shows and major movies with lots of special effects?”

“No,” laughed Neale. “As you know, I’ve shot some small videos, but try and find someone in Shoreditch who hasn’t!”

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