Category Archives: Ireland

Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller gets a cold – and very warm – reception in Dublin

Lynn Ruth in Dublin at the weekend

Irrepressible and unfathomably energetic 85-year-old London-based American comedian and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has been off on her travels again.

She has just returned from six days performing in Dublin.

She did not get a warm initial welcome.

The occasional Colonial trans-Atlantic spellings are hers.


Every time I go to Dublin, the weather is wet, windy and cold. It is utter hell to be walking the streets of this city with the rain turning umbrellas inside out and making puddles so deep you can swim in them.

This time I decided I would visit when I KNEW the weather would be gorgeous.

I thought.

I arrived at the airport in the middle of a sudden rainstorm where the temperature plunged to mock winter and I shivered through my comedy gigs all week.  

Summer in Dublin is only a concept, not a temperature.

But the comedy scene there is growing by leaps and bounds.

Each time I go, there are more clubs and all of them attract good audiences who love to laugh and love to drink even more. For me, THE club is always The International, run by Aidan Bishop. It is the one club that never sees color, sex, age or disability. Aidan gives everyone a chance to perform and pays them for doing a show for him.

It is a small room above The International Bar with no sound system and it has a casual feel to it. It feels like we are all together in someone’s living room telling jokes.  

Doing comedy at The International teaches you how to project your voice so everyone can hear you. If you swallow your punch lines you might as well be talking to your mirror. People have to HEAR you to laugh with you.

John Francis Smith was amazing…

I started doing my comedy in Dublin at the International almost ten years ago and that first time I performed there was an older barman who stood behind the bar at the back of the club. His name was John Francis Smith.  I was told he had been working there for forty years. He was amazing at his work. He managed to serve everyone in the ten-minute intervals and still find time to race through the room to pick up empty bottles and glasses.  

That first time I saw him, he said: “You were really funny….” And, after that, he always made an effort to stop whatever he was doing and listen to my set whenever I performed.  

I used to worry each time I took to the stage that I wasn’t giving him any new jokes, but he didn’t seem to care. He always made an effort to say hello and tell me it was good to see me.

This year John Francis Smith was not there.  

He died suddenly on March 8th and for me it was a huge loss.  

I always loved being on stage and seeing him standing there at the back listening to every word I said. It made me feel noticed and very important.

In Dublin, I always stay with an amazing family who take care of me as if I were royalty. There are three boys in the family and they all love to cook.

I come from the generation where men went to the office and women stayed home to cook and clean house. I still remember the first time I saw a man actually do the dishes. It was back in 2003. I reacted as if he had just ripped off his clothes and started dancing in my kitchen.

The daddy of my Dublin family keeps kosher but he has adjusted the fact that two of his boys are vegan. He also cooks. He baked kichel (Jewish biscotti) and yummy cauliflower soup that everyone could have eaten if he hadn’t added crème fraîche to it. He loves chicken soup with K’naidles (Jewish dumplings) but, in deference to his sons, he has it in vegan chicken soup.  

While he was creating his dinner, one son was busy making vegan daal and chapatti while the other was dining on ramen with corn, seaweed and mushrooms. There is always someone cooking something in his house. It is like living in the midst of a revolving smorgasbord.

With Richee Bree (left) & Danny O’Brien at Laughter Lounge

As well as my gigs at the International, the centerpiece of this trip for me was a weekend gig at The Laughter Lounge. So I found myself doing two gigs on Thursday and Sunday and three on Friday and Saturday. It involved a lot of walking back and forth but, since everyone in this town operates on Irish time, I was never late for my sets. 

I figure I made more than 2,000 people laugh during this six-day stay and that isn’t bad for an old lady.

My first gig in Dublin is always the Wednesday show at Jonny Hughes’ Anseo and performing there feels like a homecoming for me. I have been performing at this small but beautiful space for at least six years. It was created by Aidan Killian who still books me for HIS clubs in the Bangkok and Singapore, but Jon took it over the place almost immediately because Aidan has always done so much traveling.

Sundays in Dublin are always wonderful because I drop in at Danny O’Brien’s’ Comedy Crunch where the audience gets in for nothing and gets free ice cream at the break. Although why anyone in their right mind would want ice cream when the temperature in Dublin feels like it is below zero with wind and rain is beyond me.

From there I go to the International for my final performance. The Irish like their whiskey and begin greasing up at four in the afternoon at the very least. Most of the shows begin at nine p.m. and, by that time, the less hearty are three sheets to the wind and the tougher natives are just beginning to feel the alcohol they have been filtering into their system for the past five hours.

My last night in Dublin was Monday at Cherry Comedy in Whelan’s doing jokes for a relatively sober group a bit more settled and older than the weekend crowds. Then the Woolshed Baa, which was originally Al Porter’s venue until he disgraced himself.

Lynn Ruth being fruity at Cherry Comedy

The comedy club continued and it is always well attended and a good finale to my Monday series of comedy gigs.

One of the perks of returning time and time again to a city is that I have accumulated a lot of people who know me and make an effort to see me and spend time with me. I am beginning to feel like I have an Irish family just as I have one in Berlin and one in Bangkok, Jakarta and Singapore, not to mention those I left in San Francisco.

At the rate I am going I will most likely have an international crowd at my funeral.   

Though I am not at all sure that is reassuring.

Next is Stockholm, where it probably will be balmy compared to Dublin.

My God it was cold there…

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Noel Faulkner, outspoken comedy club owner, quits London after 40 years

Outspoken Noel Faulkner, the veteran (he will hate me using that word) club-owner is leaving London after about 40 years  (though with an interlude of about 18 years of that in the US). He started and ran London’s Comedy Cafe venue and, through his management agency, helped establish acts including Jimmy Carr. Last night, I met up with him to ask why he is leaving.

I had been seeing a comedy show and we met outside the venue after the show finished. That was his choice.


Noel Faulkner in London yesterday

JOHN: So you’re leaving in around 9-10 days. Do you have a set date for departure?

NOEL: No. I’m out of my house in London in about a week, then I’m going back to Galway. I’m from Galway. I’ve got a house there; I’m buying a boat – 40 or 45ft – and I’m going to sail six months of the year in the Mediterranean.

JOHN: I thought you were from Killarney.

NOEL: My parents moved a village in Connemara when I was a teenager. I was only there for a few years. Galway’s my home town.

JOHN: So why are you going back?

NOEL: Mainly because everybody I know in London is working. I never see anybody. All my friends are comics and I don’t want to hang round in comedy clubs. There is nothing more boring. I’d rather watch a proctologist operate.

JOHN: But you ran comedy clubs for…

NOEL: It’s all gone. After the Comedy Cafe closed, we tried it in a hotel but the people there were fucking idiots; they kept wanting to change the opening times. It’s done.

JOHN: Aren’t you going to feel pangs of nostalgia?

NOEL: I never want to see another comedian perform. I could have gone to this show you went to today. But I thought: I’m not going to sit in that. I just can’t be around comedy. You know the punchline and then the fuckers don’t hit it and you go: Oh! Fucking hell! I have no interest in comedy now. None.

JOHN: But you have an active mind. Galway is lovely. But you will get bored after six months, just sitting around.

NOEL: I’ll have a sail boat: you are permanently fixing something on a sail boat. I can fuck off anywhere I wanna go.

JOHN: And you are going to finish your autobiography in Ireland?

NOEL: Yeah. When I started writing it, there was only one Panama Canal. Since then, they’ve built a second one.

JOHN: Is it basically your 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel?

“…a Tourette-fuelled Helter Skelter ride through three decades” (New York Times)

NOEL: Yeah. But longer. More facts and craziness.

JOHN: What’s the last page? Leaving the Comedy Cafe?

NOEL: It doesn’t matter. Who’s going to buy it?

JOHN: You have amazing stories – Robin Williams, the drug cartels, being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, the…

NOEL: Yeah, it’s a great book but I’m nobody, so I won’t get a publisher. I just wanna finish it for me. I have no ego any more about anything. I don’t give a fuck. 

JOHN: That’s age.

NOEL: Yeah. My mates are dying all around me. My brother’s girlfriend just died. I just want to get up every day and for it to be a good day and joyful.

JOHN: Paul Sinha has Parkinson’s Disease.

NOEL: Yeah. He’s a sweet man… Ian Cognito just died last month. I knew Paul (Cognito’s real name). He was a lovely man. Very sad.

JOHN: His death must have had an effect on you.

NOEL: Scary.  That’s why I realised… Just get the fucking boat… I might be dead in five years time.

JOHN: He was 60. But he had lived a fair old bit…

NOEL: A brilliant singer. I saw him sing with Peter Graham’s orchestra at the Hackney Empire… white tuxedo… beautiful. Highly talented but totally self-destructive. Permanently on self-destruct.

JOHN: I’m amazed Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is still alive.

NOEL: It’s in the genes.

JOHN: Do you have long-living relatives?

NOEL: I have a great-great-great-grandfather who lived to be 125.

JOHN: Was he fairly compos mentis?

NOEL: I don’t know. I wasn’t born then.

JOHN: Comedy moves on. Jo Brand got into trouble. People in the UK have been throwing milk shakes at politicians. She joked on a BBC Radio show: “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” Nigel Farage complained; the police investigated but decided it was not an incitement to violence.

“We can’t start censoring. You’ll have Dialogue Police.”

NOEL: It was just a fucking joke. Listen, we can’t start censoring. You’ll have Dialogue Police. When I had the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, they were doing a test attaching microphones to lampposts. If someone was murdered, they would hear it and the CCTV guys could start looking at the… That’s how fucking… So we could be sitting here outside a cafe having a conversation and you swear 12 times and say this word and… We are right up to that!

JOHN: 1984.

NOEL: We can’t have it! If I was doing stuff on stage now, I would fucking tear into everybody and go: Fuck you all! It’s like “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and everyone with a sexual preference from A to fucking Z”… Now I haven’t offended anybody, ya cunts. It’s fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know what the initials LGBTQ… Does ANYbody fucking know what they stand for? NO. But some guy’s got a penis transplant to his forehead and a vagina in his ear… For fuck’s sake!

JOHN: You should seriously think about doing an Edinburgh Fringe show where you just go up and rant.

NOEL: I don’t want to spend a month up there. It’s depressing. Really depressing.

JOHN: But, if you don’t give a shit, it’s OK.

NOEL: You’re still depressed. I’ve been up there with money in my pocket. Hated it.

JOHN: When you did your show in 2005? But you probably cared then. The trick is not to care.

NOEL: Yeah, but you’re spending fucking £10,000. Edinburgh, for a comic, is the greatest illusion ever.

JOHN: In what way?

NOEL: That you’re gonna make it.

JOHN: Are you gonna have a farewell ‘do’?

NOEL: No.

JOHN: Oh go on… A farewell rant.

NOEL: No, I’m not. I don’t want to stand round in a bar having to talk to people. They can fuck off. I’m gone.

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, political correctness

Lynn Ruth Miller in Dublin – on Irish comedy, Ryanair & middle-aged women

Lynn Ruth – Where will she turn up next?

Lynn Ruth Miller, itinerant American comic based in London, has blogged here about her gigging jaunts to exotic locations in the last few months. She spent last week gigging in Dublin. She writes…


I have been headlining at Anseo, this lovely small room on Camden Street, for at least four years. It is run by a prince of a man named Jonathan Hughes who has built the club up from nothing into a comedy staple on the Dublin scene.  

I did a 40-minute set for him and discovered that the Irish are still squeamish about some of the landmark decisions that have come down from their higher courts.  

I made a reference to the woman whose rapist was not convicted because she was wearing a lace thong. Either they didn’t get it or didn’t want to.  

But they did love the one about all the pipes leaking in Dublin’s ancient buildings. They also got the one about how my generation killed their roaches and now their young people smoke them.  

Thursday night was my first night at The International Comedy Club: the reason I return every six months to do comedy in Dublin. It is run by Aidan Bishop.

All comedians complain about the glass walls we need to break: the unsaid prejudice toward women, minorities, disabilities and age.  

Aidan gives everyone an opportunity at his club and, not only that, he always pays his comedians fairly. To make the experience even nicer, there is always a good audience at The International. That means everything to a performer. It is a lot easier to tell your jokes to 100 people than it is to 20, no matter how badly those 20 want to laugh.

Friday night was my big night. I was booked in three comedy clubs.

I left the International (it was packed with standing room only) to get to Anseo’s new Friday night where twenty people were waiting for me (the headliner) and then off to Comedy Gold, Emily O’Callaghan’s’ new room, where there were a dozen people remaining to see me, the late night headliner.  

The interesting thing about all these rooms is that I arrived ten minutes late to every one of them and I still had plenty of time to unwind before I went on stage. Evidently, Irish time is like Jewish time… very flexible. This rarely happens in London. You almost always go on very close to the time you are scheduled. The English pay attention to time.

The Irish comedy scene is growing and very solid yet everyone I talk to there wants to come to London where they think the action is. I certainly felt that way in San Francisco… but now that I am back home IN London I wonder whether wherever you are doing whatever you do, you always think the market is more open somewhere else.

One of the things that makes my Dublin trips so marvellous is that I stay with this magic family that reminds me of an episode of Leave it to Beaver: a happily married couple with three amazing sons and a tight, loving family unit with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all intricately woven into their lives.  

When I am there, I am treated like another granny: fed, pampered and transported to my gigs.

This is an immense novelty for me as I have lived a very long time and usually make all my arrangements, get myself to wherever I am going and make sure I am properly fed.  

For these short periods in Dublin, I get all the rewards of being a grandparent in a large functional family without having done any of the groundwork.  

I never fool myself however.  

If I had had my own family, my children would have been so over-indulged, they would have become psychopaths and serial killers.

Judging by the caliber of the men I fall in love with, my husband would  have been a conscienceless misogynist with a whip and a gun in the closet to keep me in line and I would have spent my days scrubbing toilets and ironing shirts, never dreaming I could live a life without a dust mop and a sponge.

On Saturday night in Dublin, there are two shows at The International and both are always filled. This time there were two new comedians. One was Robbie Bonham, who is in his forties and has that wry Irish wit that always amazes me.  

I am convinced that a great deal of comedic ability cannot be learned.  

It was Bonham’s very Irish-ness that made his jokes even funnier.  

I know that being Jewish has always given me an edge – and black comedians usually have a dimension to their delivery that adds to every joke they tell.

As our world becomes more diverse and television and the internet reduce our differences, I suspect this will not always be so. The more we assimilate, the more we lose those special ethnic characteristics that add flavor to our jokes and our conversation.  

Much as I applaud universal acceptance of everyone everywhere, I think this loss of ethnic identity is a loss for us all in so many ways. I know we are all alike essentially, but there are attitudes and mannerisms that are handed down generation to generation that I hate to see homogenized.

This intense week in Dublin convinced me that I love the performing life. It does not tire me. Instead, each show I do inspires me to go further and do better.  

Is that what being professional is all about?  

Or is it the stuff of a nervous breakdown?

Sunday was my last performance at The International and it was wonderful.  

Sunday night is normally a slow night but this night it was very crowded.  

I was in the first section and David McSavage was the headliner because he is on TV and is very famous in Dublin. The interesting thing about this night was how diverse the audience was. We had a huge segment from France, so English was their second language… and a girl from Lithuania who had no idea what was going on. But we all managed to hit a responsive chord and the evening was a success despite the immense cultural diversity of the audience.

The Irish have a way of taking you into their hearts and the family I stay with make me feel very loved and important. However, I was brought back to reality sharply when I approached Ryanair on the flight back. Rules are rules and, by God, you are going to pay if you don’t follow them.

I saw a man who could barely speak English (and obviously did not understand the regulations), gulp down a huge bottle of tea as fast as he could. The poor fellow gurgled as he sloshed through the line and I couldn’t help thinking: How on earth would that container of tea with all the tea bags in it have endangered anyone but the poor guy who had to drink it so he wouldn’t have to pitch the container?

I have seen the personnel at Ryanair pat down a tiny baby and all I can say is I hope the kid had a giant poop as the inspector checked out his diaper.

The other interesting thing about this trip was the number of single women in their late forties and fifties who are feeling unfulfilled. They are at that “Is this all there is?” stage of their lives. 

Do men get that feeling? Or do they just put another porn film on the computer and wank off?

These women I met in Dublin were all earning good livings, but still feel they want more than coming home to an empty house with perhaps a dog or a cat to greet them.  

There is no way I can explain to them that these are normal clouds before the rainbow splashes gorgeous color on a grey sky. It is very much like what Winston Churchill said: “When you are in hell, keep going.”  

Middle aged femininity is not hell at all, but it often feels very bland.

For some reason, none of us realize that the best is yet to come.

But it is.

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Comic Lynn Ruth’s Irish adventure, from passport control to birth control

Just over a week ago, Lynn Ruth Miller, the 84-year-old currently-globetrotting stand-up comic, blogged here about her trip to Prague. She is off to Berlin on Monday and has just returned from Dublin. Here she goes again…


Young chicken about to go out on the town…

So. I was in Dublin again. My trip ended in a blast of sunshine and alcohol. If my liver survives all this travel, I just might live to see 85.

My Irish adventure always begins with passport control. The last time I arrived in Dublin, the officer in charge looked at my passport and said, “You don’t LOOK 84,” and I said, “I would if I took off my clothes.”

The man who admitted me this time said he agreed with that officer and there was a spring to what is left of my step as I waltzed through that green door with nothing to declare except that I was a young chicken about to go out on Dublin town.

When I am in Dublin, I stay with an amazing family filled with geniuses who are actually fun. So it is that when I am there I get an education in how to cope with cyberspace.

Zak is the eldest of their three amazing boys, each of whom are going to remodel the world and bring peace and happiness to all of us on earth.

After two days with them, I had already learned how to create my own video blogs and set up a conversation on Reddit where I answered 36 questions and had 5.7k views and an 81 point rating just because I said nothing shocks me anymore. I did not add that this is because I don’t hear anything.

The matriarch of this gorgeous family is Lisa, a woman who really is not shocked by anything. That is her secret to bringing up three boisterous boys with amazingly perceptive and active minds and training a husband who is such an angel that he has to wear a larger suit jacket to hide his wings.

“Luca is now as tall as my first husband and far fonder of my crotch”

Lisa picked me up at the airport and I hurried to her home to change clothes and look glamorous. This is called comforting self-deception. I nurture it by never looking in a mirror. As soon as I entered the house, I was accosted by the family’s new puppy, Luca, who is now as tall as my first husband and far fonder of my crotch.

Three of the family – Lisa, Zak and Ken (the angel, remember?) – came to the show at Anseo, the wonderful comedy club where I headline each time I come into town.

The delightful thing about this show was that Jim Elliott from Washington DC had ASKED to host so he could see me again.

I made the audience laugh for about 45 minutes, which is an accomplishment in Dublin’s fair city because usually, after about 5 minutes, the audience is so drunk they are asleep or singing loudly in an off-colour manner. A dog loved the show and I got three barks and a tail wag from her.

On Thursday I began my run at The International, THE comedy place in Dublin for the past 16 years.

The interesting thing about this particular Thursday night audience was that there were only two couples from Dublin. Everyone else was from somewhere else and there was a preponderance of Americans: four from Lake Tahoe in California, three from Dallas, plus a group from Sweden and another couple from Vancouver.

That makes the comedy I do more challenging because I could not use either my Dublin or my London references because no-one would know what I was talking about. The funniest gaff was when headliner Damo Clark talked about putting a dummy in a baby’s mouth and the Americans thought he was stuffing in a stupid person into its mouth instead of a pacifier. God only knows what the Swedes thought.

I have also now learned how the Irish say goodbye. Evidently they do not. They just walk out as unobtrusively as they can. Very different from the Jews who stay at least an hour after they say good-bye explaining why they are leaving. (Lynn Ruth is Jewish.)

Lynn Ruth Miller sought romance on TV’s First Date series

Walking down George Street on the way to The International a woman stopped me and said, ”I KNOW you! First Date! – The nicest thing about dating at my age is that you don’t have to meet their parents.

I was in the Irish papers for appearing in that TV show.

My final night in Dublin was spent at The Comedy Crunch where we get free ice cream at the interval and by this time the weather was so warm that they probably got the last ice cream bars left in Ireland for the show.

The big issue that everyone was joking about and happy about was the Irish Abortion Referendum. Its passing did more than simply make it easier for women to terminate a pregnancy. It gave women renewed status.

All over Dublin, women’s comedy shows are springing up. Emily O’Callaghan has one series at The Meltdown Café that has an all-woman line-up and she said she got a lot of grief about that. Irish women are very, very funny. I heard several this trip and every one of them was top notch. For way too many years women have been totally left out of comedy line-ups. Perhaps now our time has come?

Next week, I will be performing in Berlin. I am hoping NOT to run into any swastikas or Jeremy Corbyn fans.

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A serious song about being a comedian

Ursula Burns in Belfast this afternoon

Ursula Burns at home  in Belfast this afternoon

Ursula Burns – 2013 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee and dangerous Irish harpist – has just posted online the video for a new song – about being a comedian. So, obviously, I Skyped her about it this afternoon at her home in Belfast.

“It really is a serious song about comedy!” I said.

“Yes,” she laughed, “It is, isn’t it? The whole new album is serious. It’s not comedy.”

“What’s the album called?” I asked.

The Dangerous Harpist.”

“Of course it is,” I said.

Ursula’s upcoming Dangerous Harpist album

The upcoming Dangerous Harpist album – released in May

“It’s a collection of songs,” she explained, “that got sort of swept aside when I was on the comedy circuit for three or four years. There was a backlog of songs written along the way. I wasn’t just writing comedy stuff in that time. Some of the songs were written when I was on the road with the circus; some are more theatre-based, about when I was writing for theatre. I wrote a musical: we did 41 performances. So the album has theatrical, circus, comedy elements in the songs… and there is actually one happy one!”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“It’s about crying in the toilet,” she laughed. “But it’s a very happy song. The songs are all slightly different flavours – snapshots… I suppose it’s like taking a picture wherever you are. Lots of songs had built up. It’s five years since I made an album and the last one was so different.”

“How?”

Ursula in a previous creative incarnation

Ursula in a previous creative incarnation

“It was really kinda Celtic and there was an esoteric aspect to it. It was inspired by a book of poetry I found in London by a poet called Fiona McLeod, who was actually a Scots guy called William Sharp, who was actually a mate of W.B.Yeats. The poetry was very spiritual, very nature-based. It was almost like John O’Donohue in his book Anam Cara. It was very Irish, very Celtic, very poetry, very musical, intensely musical.

“It was just before I wrote the Comedian song – There was that kinda crash of the dark side, going to somewhere. It was like I went from the light to the dark.”

“The light was the Celtic,” I asked, “and the comedy was the dark?”

“Sort of. Within myself. I think the thing about being funny… I think you have to tell the truth and, for me, it felt like a darker aspect – engaging with something dark.”

“You mentioned writing for theatre,” I prompted.

Little Red Riding Hood,” Ursula told me, “for the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. I composed the music. I wrote the wolf’s songs in the style of Tom Waits and Little Red in the style of Kate Bush and Björk.”

“And your album is called The Dangerous Harpist.”

“Yes.”

Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

Not dangerous? Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

“Are you dangerous?”

“No,” she laughed.

“The Comedian track,” I pointed out, “says you are ‘dangerous on the inside’.”

“Well,” Ursula replied, “you know the stereotype of comedians being depressed? It’s this on-the-edge feeling. I’ve been operating as a self-employed artist for 20 years and it’s about how that kind of really takes its toll on you. The aspect of smiling on the outside – making people laugh – but, behind it all, on the inside, there’s an intensity or a dangerous on-the-edge aspect to how you are living and how you are feeling.”

“When is the album being released?” I asked.

“On May the 4th – Star Wars Day.”

There is a video for the Comedian track on YouTube.

and here she is as a harpist.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, Music

Edinburgh Freestival organiser faced 2 murder attempts and got neck broken

Al Cowie drinks his own Laughing Juice brerw

Al Cowie – a man who has several stories to tell

The venue chaos at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe got even more complicated yesterday when venue organisers Freestival announced they had a new venue which will host up to 40 free shows on four stages every day. I had hinted about this venue in a blog earlier this month, which also mentioned another rumour which has not yet happened and one particular jaw-dropping fact which may eventually emerge, I suspect, next year.

“So I hear Freestival have a new venue,” were my opening words when I talked to Al Cowie. He was involved in organising the original Freestival last year but this year (entirely amicably) he is not involved with Freestival.

“Mmmmm….” said Al. And that was that subject over with.

Al last appeared in this blog last month when he was organising a laugh-in in a brewery. And, in February 2014, I blogged about his ancestor Horace Cole who was a massive practical joker.

“So,” I said when we met this time, “titter-making runs in your blood?”

“I do quite like a practical joke,” Al agreed, “Horace’s idea of a practical joke was a friend of his waking up with a carving knife embedded in his pillow. OK, that might seem a little bit mean, but I can see the funny side of it.”

“What’s a good example of a practical joke?” I asked.

“I was,” replied Al, “growing chilli plants in my house and so, one evening, we decided to squeeze the chilli onto one of the flatmate’s toothbrushes, which I thought was very funny, though he didn’t think it was so funny the following morning when he brushed his teeth.”

“Schadenfreude?” I suggested. “Did he get his own back on you?”

“He squeezed chilli onto my toothbrush. But I knew he was likely to do it, so I checked. And he was driving to Newcastle the following day and when he put his contact lenses in… Oh yes! With chilli! Really strong chilli!

“Is that not dangerous?” I asked.

“Well,” Al said, possibly avoiding an answer, “there’s the tequila suicide where you snort a lemon and put tabasco in your eye.”

“And you die?” I asked.

“Oh no, it’s just a horrible way to drink tequila.”

“It surely can’t be good for your eyes,” I suggested.

“I don’t think it is. It is too dangerous to do practical jokes now: you would get arrested. We’ve become too serious. I really do enjoy popping brown paper bags behind people. I have a 120 decibel air horn on my bicycle.”

“You have aristocracy in your blood, don’t you?” I asked.

“A little bit.”

“That means a lot?”

“Not at all. I come from a military family. Winston Churchill’s 2IC was a guy called Alanbrooke and he was my great-grand-uncle.”

“What’s a 2IC?”

“Second in Command. He oversaw the retreat from Dunkirk and was generally credited with saving 300,000 there. And the Germans reckoned if they had had Alanbrooke to advise Hitler, they would have won.”

“Difficult for anyone to advise Hitler,” I suggested.

“True enough, but I think Churchill was equally difficult. He needed someone like Alanbrooke to temper his worst tendencies… and keep up with his drinking… I grew up very much in the countryside in Gloucestershire and Northern Ireland.”

“Your family were…” I prompted.

“We were sent over after the (Irish) Clearances. We were sent over to land that had already been cleared, rather than…”

“Where was this?”

“Donegal and Fermanagh.”

“There’s no reason I can’t print this, is there?”

“No. One of my cousins was Roger Casement, who was hanged by the British government. So I have family on both sides.”

“Cousin?” I asked. “Not a direct cousin.”

“Well, in Ireland, if you’re related, then you’re cousins. I was reading the history of Ulster recently and it’s quite clear that most people changed sides many many times. But I don’t really know my history. My great-grandfather was Prime Minister.”

“What was his name?”

“Brookeborough.”

Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough was third Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. 1943-1963.

“So,” I said. “Military family. Why weren’t you in the military?”

“I was in the Territorial Army for ten years. I joined in 2000 and the general feeling then was that there was going to be no more war. I joined the TA as a fun thing: keep me fit and a nice group of guys. And then 9/11 happened and suddenly everything gets a little bit serious.”

“When did you leave?”

“2011. I stopped really going after I broke my neck.”

“When was that?”

“Six months before I got into comedy, about seven years ago. I was riding one of the Household Cavalry horses out in Hyde Park first thing in the morning while I was working with the City of London Police and, of course, the Commissioner of the City of London Police would sometimes ride out with me…”

“Of course,” I said.

“…and he would then give me a lift into work. So I was galloping down Rotten Row and the horse tripped up and pitched into the ground on its head and so did I and I got compression fracture in my spine and, yeah, it was really annoying.

“I got an X-ray where it didn’t show up. I was in so much pain. It was like someone taking a sledgehammer and smacking it into my back every time I took a breath or took a step. I went to my GP, who was called Dr Savage, and she said: Well, you don’t know pain. You’ve never been through childbirth.

“She didn’t want me to have a second opinion, but I went and saw a neurologist and he said: Don’t do anything. You’re going straight in to have a CT and MRI scan. By that stage, I had already been on a military unarmed combat course for a week. Someone had grabbed my arm in that and I had lost feeling in my legs. I also rode a green horse who threw me off…”

“A green horse?” I asked.

“A very young horse. Then I went and saw a chiropractor who successfully cracked my back because I just couldn’t breath. Then I went to the South of Ireland and bonnet-surfed on a speedboat in a storm on a lake in Galway. That would not be sensible even if I hadn’t broken my neck. I do consider myself very lucky.”

“I think you should reconsider the facts,” I said.

“Someone has tried to murder me a few times.”

“You mean different people have tried?” I asked.

“Yes. Different people. Someone tried to stab me in the head because he thought I was posh and should therefore die.”

“In Ireland?”

“On Battersea Bridge in London. He heard my accent and tried to stab me in the head with a Stanley knife but missed. He swung at me seven times, but I kicked him onto the ground.

“Someone tried to murder me in Argentina. I was hitch-hiking in the desert and this guy gave a lift to me, my friend and a random Argentine bloke. Then we set up camp in the desert and the Argentine bloke came up to us and said: Look, I think you guys should probably get out of here, because the other guy has just suggested to me that we murder you and take your kit. So we left that situation.”

“Has your neck mended?” I asked.

“I have an ache, but it’s nothing important. I don’t believe in pain. I think it’s your body complaining. Pain is not real. the damage is real, but the pain is not real.”

I must have looked bemused.

“Does that not make sense?” Al asked.

“Not remotely,” I said.

“Pain is not real,” Al repeated. I was not convinced.

“Isn’t it,” I asked, “something like electricity travelling down your nerves?”

“Exactly,” said Al. “The pain is just a signal. I once tried to take the blade off a circular saw. I put a spanner onto the central lug and pulled the trigger. The spanner flew out the window and the circular saw went straight through the side of my palm; I’ve still got the scar. I am so lucky; really very lucky. It’s enough to make you believe…

“…that God hates you?” I suggested.

“No,” said Al, “believe in multiple universes: that there are many other universes in which I’ve died.”

“Apart from running comedy gigs in breweries,” I said, “what are your plans?”

“Well, I do a drivetime radio show on Wandsworth Radio, 7.00-9.00 in the morning on Fridays. It’s only online – great for people who live in Hong Kong. And I’m setting up three technology businesses at the moment, which I can’t really talk about. And I’m moving more into clowning now. Clowning and cabaret and burlesque. I really enjoy doing different things. I had an awful lot more fun when I first started doing comedy. I once ate a girl’s sock on stage. Now I am enjoying myself again and having fun.”

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Ireland, Military, Uncategorized

Comedy genes in one Irish family?

Kate Talbot with her 2014 Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot with 2014 Cunning Stunt Award

A month ago, I blogged about Irish comic Christian Talbot and his now 13-year-old daughter Kate who jointly won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award last year and who are both performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. Christian is currently doing previews.

“How’s your daughter?” I asked him.

“She’s now booked in for I think it’s two – might be three – dates for Comedy4Kids and Bob Slayer sent me a message:

Hey! The good show you talked about on Fleming’s blog – Let’s do it on the bus! We have Grace the child (11) and Robin (3) who are both performing on the bus.

Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus

Bob Slayer BlundaBus currently in Croydon; soon Edinburgh

Bob Slayer has a double decker bus – the BlundaBus – as one of his Edinburgh Fringe venues this year.

“I sent him dates when Kate was over,” Christian told me, “but then he didn’t reply. I think he’s got caught up touring with Electric Eel Shock (Bob’s Japanese rock band) and then with the BlundaBus. I must email him again and refresh his memory.”

“So are you encouraging Kate to be a comedian?” I asked.

“I don’t really want my daughter to be a comedian though, if she’s good, I’ll happily take the money. She’s interested in doing it and, if she wants to do it, then… It just really depends on whether she enjoys it. We’ll just have to see.

“She can write phenomenally well. Her teachers are just blown away by her writing. The only trouble is she gets distracted by doing that to the detriment of anything else – her maths, her languages and the other stuff. She just wants to read books and write stories. She did this thing for school where she had to describe what it was like to be a cliff.”

Kate and Christian Talbot

Christian Talbot – not an éminence grise, just a proud dad

“A what?” I asked.

“A cliff. And she was talking about the weeds coming up out of it, like the dead fingers of sailors who had crashed against the rocks. I’m very proud of her. And some of her stuff’s quite dark.”

“Got her parents’ genes, then?” I asked.

“Gayle and myself went to Queen’s (University, Belfast) and we were the only two people to do the same degree. We both did English and Anthropology – social anthropology. Kind of learning about cultures. But I started off doing chemistry and physics and computer science and then I changed because I didn’t like it. I was good at chemistry; I just didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life.”

I told Christian: “I think my chemistry master emigrated to New Zealand because he couldn’t face teaching me any more. I always came last – except once when I came next-to-last in the class – and he wrote on my report: A fair try. He emigrated shortly afterwards. He probably thought his teaching career had peaked.”

“I remember,” said Christian, “going to the Head of Chemistry at university when I finished my first lot of exams and asked: Is this what it’s going to be like? Just doing titrations and bunsen burners and beakers and working in a lab? And he said: Yup, pretty much, unless you’re very lucky and you get into petrochemicals and work for somebody like Exxon or Esso or BP or Shell. That didn’t really appeal to me, so I changed courses.”

“Has your wife Gayle got any performance genes?” I asked.

Gayle Hayes with Christian Talbot

Gayle Hayes with Christian Talbot – a showbiz couple or not?

“She did stand-up a couple of weeks ago in Belfast. She did a course on stand-up with a load of other new people and wrote a thing but she had no interest, really, in performing it. She enjoyed the writing and the creating part of it. So she got up and read it off the sheet. Her heart wasn’t really in it and I asked her: Do you want to do it again? She said: No. She just doesn’t have that need – that void – that comedians have… I have to get up and say something!

“Gayle doesn’t admire it particularly. She just thinks there’s something lacking in people who want to get up and show off and talk about themselves. She’s right, of course!”

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