Category Archives: Ireland

The early days of the Comedy Store and the alleged toilet habits of Irishmen

Tunnel Arts - Malcolm’s early management company

Malcolm Hardee’s early agenting company

In a couple of blogs this week, I quoted from a chat I had with performer Tony Green about the early days of alternative comedy in London. He remembers those days; I don’t really.

Around 1985/1986 I was a researcher on ITV show Game For a Laugh and was looking for bizarre acts. It was around that time I must have met the late Malcolm Hardee, who was agenting acts through his Tunnel Arts organisation (though the word organisation may be a slight exaggeration).

And I have a vague memory of Eddie Izzard standing in a doorway in the narrow alleyway housing the Raymond Revuebar in Soho trying to entice people into an upstairs room where he was running a comedy club. I do not remember the acts, I just remember it was rather small, brightly lit and desperate and I seem to remember the smell of seemingly irrelevant talcum powder.

“When the Comedy Store first started…” Tony Green told me, “…when anyone could go – it was Peter Rosengard’s idea – it would be a Saturday night and somebody would say:

What are you doing tonight?

I dunno really.

Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green back in the early days…(Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

You want a few free drinks? Well, there’s a place round the corner called The Comedy Store. They’ll give you a few free drinks if you get on stage and, if you do well, they may even book you and you’ll get more than a few free drinks and you’ll meet quite a lot of other comics.

Alexei Sayle was the compere. He became a writer after that. Probably gave up the ghost realising he couldn’t change the world because it’s not possible. It’s like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Tony Allen took over from Alexei and I was very happy when Tony was there because, if people gonged me off, Tony would say I’m not gonging him off because I like what he’s got to say, whereas Alexei wasn’t always quite so kind.

“You never knew what you might get on those Saturday nights. It could be quite riotous. We’d get some really nutty acts there – as far as I was concerned, the nuttier the better. Some of the people were terribly boring, but some weren’t.

Keith Allen was probably the best at that time. And there was Chris Lynam sticking a banger up his bum with The Greatest Show On Legs.

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

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

“My old friend Ian Hinchliffe had taken in a lodger – Captain Keano’s cousin.”

I should mention at this point that I never knowingly saw Captain Keano – a Covent Garden street performer friend of Eddie Izzard – but this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith last year told me in a blog:

“Captain Keano (Paul Keane) used to print his own money – headed The Bank of Entertainment – and give away the pound note sized currency instead of business cards. The notes had on them his phone number, a drawing of himself and the promise printed thereon: I WILL DO IT ALL – ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CALL. How innocent.”

“What did Captain Keano’s cousin do?” I asked Tony Green.

“I think his profession was that of horse-breaker,” Tony told me.

“What?” I asked.

Tony Green today remembers his early days

Tony Green today remembers tales of Irish toilets

“Breaking-in horses in Ireland,” replied Tony. “He had a very heavy Irish accent. He wasn’t always that easy to understand. A nice man, a very very heavy drinker, and as strong as an ox.

“Anyway, he needed somewhere to live and my friend Ian Hinchliffe, being the big-hearted man he was, said I’ve got a three-bedroomed place. You can come and stay with me – meaning for a few weeks.

“But, seven months later, Captain Keano’s cousin was still there.

“He was paying rent, but the problem was… I dunno… This will probably sound racist. It isn’t meant to be… There’s an Irish pub near where I live… Somebody once said to me: When you go to the toilet, why is there always shit and piss all over the floor?

“Well, a lot of Irish people I know won’t sit on the seat, because they’re afraid of getting diseases, thinking somebody sitting on that place before them may have had some kind of sexual disease. So they tend to stand on the toilet seat. Sometimes the shit – forgive me, faecal matter – would miss the toilet seat and go down the side of the toilet and very few men would actually pick it up.

“Keano’s cousin had this habit – When he went to the toilet, he would piss all over the floor and I think Ian put a sign above the toilet saying IF YOU MUST PISS – AND, OF COURSE, YOU MUST – WOULD YOU PLEASE DO IT HORIZONTALLY AS OPPOSED TO VERTICALLY.

“I’m not sure that made any sense, but he was actually saying: If you’re going to piss all over the floor, would you please wipe it up, because it’s driving me round the bend every time I myself go to the toilet. 

“After seven months Ian, possibly emulating the man’s Irish accent, told me: He’s the divil of a divil and I want him out.

“I said: What do you want me to do? Get some big, heavy team in to throw him out? He knows he’s got to go. It was supposed to be three weeks; it’s been seven months. You should never have offered it to him in the first place. That kind of hospitality is not always a good idea.

“So Ian was phoning me all the time and phoning Chris Lynam all the time.

“Eventually, Chris drove over there one night at three o’clock in the morning:

Where is he?

He’s asleep in that bedroom.

“So Chris went into the bedroom and packed Captain Keano’s cousin’s clothes into a suitcase. Chris is not the biggest of men, but he managed to throw this big horse-breaker out of the front door – he was half unconscious, from what I heard and still somewhat drunk.

“When he woke up in the morning, he was outside Ian’s front door. Ian told him he wasn’t letting him back in: he had to find somewhere else to live and he’d see him in the pub later that day. And Ian phoned up Chris to thank him for what he did.

“Next time I saw Chris – about two weeks later – I told him: That was a really good thing you did, Chris, because the man was driving Ian round the bend. But, the thing is, Chris, you’re not that big and he’s an ex-horse breaker…

“Chris looked at me in amazement and said: Did I do that?

“Chris had no recollection of doing it. I don’t know where Chris was that night in his headspace, but Ian was eternally grateful.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, Racism

Jewish Israeli comic identifies with Irish Catholics and wants to kill her alter ego

Daphna Baram as ‘Miss D’ - Does she deserve to be killed off?

Daphna Baram as ‘Miss D’ – Does she deserve to be killed off?

Daphna Baram is an Israeli living in the UK. Formerly a lawyer in Israel, she is now a freelance journalist who writes for newspapers such as the Guardian. She also performs as a comedian under the name Miss D. Until this year, she has always kept her Daphna Baram and Miss D personas separate.

But her Edinburgh Fringe show this year was called Killing Miss D.

I saw it in London last week and she is about to tour it round the UK.

“In the past,” I said to her, “you’ve had members of the Palestine Solidarity Group coming in to see your shows.”

“Yes,” agreed Daphna. “In Edinburgh and in Glasgow, I was calling on people to join the Palestine Solidarity Group. Though when they do come – a lot of them are serious political activists – they like the political bits in my shows but I’m not sure how comfortable they are about the Miss D bits. I think that is the thing with my shows. Nobody ever gets everything what they expect; they always get more than they bargained for.

“I’ve been an activist on Palestine for many years and it comes into my writing and my comedy and journalism and everything I do. But I can’t do only political material.”

“Which,” I said, “is the divergence in your shows between Daphna Baram and your comedian persona Miss D.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “So Killing Miss D is about the gap between Daphna Baram, the good conscientious political journalist and ex-lawyer who wants to liberate Palestine… and Miss D… and how I try to kill Miss D because you and all sorts of people kept saying: Stop performing as Miss D; start performing as you.

Miss D - pushy, sassy, rambunctious?

Miss D – pushy, sassy, pretty rambunctious?

“I tried and tried to be solely myself, but Miss D kept pushing me off the stage. So, in the end, the division of labour on Killing Miss D is this: Daphna has written the show but Miss D says she is performing it because she is the better performer. And, the way Miss D sees it, she performs it because she is pretty and I’m not.

“Instead of trying to eliminate each other off stage, we are talking together about how we tried to kill each other. Miss D by giving Daphna a heart attack, by living a wild life, by taking all sorts of risks and misbehaving. And… well, in the show, Miss D explains how Daphna is trying to kill her.”

“So,” I said, “it’s just a comedy show. Not therapy.”

“Massively therapy,” replied Daphna. “Very Gestalt. But I don’t like shows that are therapeutic in the sense that the act is falling on the neck of the audience and asking them for salvation. I think it’s good to do a show that is therapeutic after you’ve already done the therapy and done the process of integrating your characters. I could not have done this show while Daphna Baram and Miss D were very acrimonious to each other.”

“What’s the difference between the two?” I asked.

“Miss D is funny.”

“But Daphna Baram is funny too,” I said.

“Daphna’s funny,” admitted Daphna, “but she also knows irony and has political jokes. Miss D is… Well, reviewers always say she’s sassy and vivacious and loud. One word someone suggested on Facebook was ‘rambunctious’ and I like the sound of that. I guess she’s most often called ‘sassy’.”

“I instinctively feel you are,” I said, “but I’m never too sure exactly what ‘sassy’ means when referring to comedians.”

Daphna at the Fringe in August

Daphna was at the Fringe this August

“I think it means ‘has big tits’ doesn’t it?” replied Daphna.

“That would be it,” I agreed.

“My act is difficult to describe,” said Daphna.

“You were,” I said, “in a ‘Best of Irish’ show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Despite the fact you’re an Israeli Jew.”

“I think it’s easier for people from the Eastern Mediterranean,” she said, “to gel with the Irish than for us to gel with the English. I don’t know if it’s a Celtic thing. Maybe it’s a bit of a Catholic thing.”

“You gel with them because you’re Catholic?” I asked.

“I think all Jews are kind of Catholic.”

“Maybe it’s the guilt,” I suggested,.

“I think,” said Daphna, “it’s something to do with the sense of… I think… I think when I met Irish people, I mainly thought They’re Arabs.”

“You are an Israeli,” I pointed out to Daphna. “You’re not supposed to get on with the Arabs.”

“But we ARE kind of Arabs.”

“Semitic, yeah,” I said.

“We’re similar in our traditions,” explained Daphna, “in the way we view the… We have big families… We have a strong sense of friendship… Our friends become part of our extended family… You can very quickly become someone’s Best Mate after three hours of drinking.”

“So this is an Israeli admitting the Arabs and Israeli are actually all the same Semitic people?” I asked.

“It’s not a race thing…” said Daphna.

“You may be right,” I said. “The Irish like killing each other… just like the Arabs and Israelis like killing each other. It’s like supporters of two football teams in the same city hating each other.”

“This is not what I’m trying to say,” said Daphna. “Maybe I just like the Irish cos they’re great guys.”

Daohna Baram in Dublin last week

Daphna Baram looking surprisingly Irish in Dublin last week

“So how,” I asked, “did they explain on stage that, in a show billed as ‘Best of Irish Comedy’, there was suddenly a Jewish Israeli woman performing.”

“They didn’t explain,” said Daphna. “They just introduced me.”

“That’s very Irish,” I said.

“I had to go on stage and explain which part of Ireland my accent stems from. I said I was from the Eastern Colonies.”

“Well, to look at you,” I said, “I suppose you could be Spanish and there’s lots of Spanish blood in southern Ireland from the Armada when the sailors got washed ashore from the ships that sank.”

“It’s not a race thing,” said Daphna.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Ireland, Israel, Palestine, Politics

Extraordinarily original acts at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

Red Bastard on the cover of local magazine The List

Red Bastard on the cover of local magazine

I saw four extraordinarily vivid acts at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday.

The first was the much-talked-about Red Bastard, who manages to combine mime and verbal attacks on his audience with bits of psychology, philosophy and the hint of a dodgy cult thrown into the mix.

Oddly for a performance artist, Red Bastard also managed to work in a big dig at the Fringe itself. The one thing that was unoriginal in his act was to say that everyone involved in shows at the Fringe – the venues, the publicists, the technical people, the management, the agents – all make money – everyone except the performers. But somehow he made even that sound unexpectedly original.

The late-night vivid act I saw was Bo Burnham.

In 2010, we gave him the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award as ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’. We were right to do that. The extraordinary thing is he manages to attract large audiences of almost rock music mentality with a comedy act of genuine originality.

The moment Doug Segal ‘sold’ his idea to Copstick

The moment Doug (right) ‘sold’ his suggestion to Copstick

Sandwiched vividly between those two acts was mind-reading Doug Segal, who abandoned the normal format of his show I Can Make You a Mentalist.

Usually, a random member of the public is chosen (sometimes by throwing bricks into the audience) to be on stage and to ‘do’ the mindreading etc.

Last night, that member of the audience was pre-chosen: Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Critic Copstick becoming a mentalist with help from Doug

Copstick becoming a mentalist with Doug yesterday

This was a lesson in how to get publicity and a near-guaranteed good review for your show. Doug collared Copstick outside Bob’s Bookshop the other night and (I did not hear the exact words but) ‘sold’ her on the concept of actually taking part in his show one day.

Yesterday, that happened and Copstick was so baffled afterwards – “I have absolutely no idea how he did any of that,” she told me when she came off stage – that I cannot believe he will not get a good review.

Of course, it only works if you have a good show to begin with.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about word-of-mouth.

Scotsman journalist Claire Smith told me she had, as she came out of a show, met the next act going into the venue. It was a “dangerous harpist” act who had never been to the Fringe before and who was unbilled in the main Fringe Programme.

Claire thought this sounded like something I might like. She told me. I went. I did.

The performer is Ursula Burns.

Ursula Burns performing at the Piano Bar in Edinburgh

Ursula Burns playing her Paraguayan harp at the Piano Bar

She was born in the Falls Road, Belfast, in 1970 – not a good time or place to be born.

“Bombs, shooting, war. Miracle that I actually survived,” she tells her audience (several of whom have never heard of the Falls Road).

“Total and utter war zone,” she tells them in her Ulster accent. Then she switches to a Spanish accent to say: “Now I will sing my song for you: Being Born.”

Her aunts play the piano and sing; her grandfather was a fiddle player from Donegal; her dad “sings funny songs in bars”; and her mum plays the harp – which is why Ursula never wanted to play the harp while she was a child.

She sings comic songs while playing a very glamorous Paraguayan harp. Her songs include I’m Your Fucking Harpist and Get Divorced and Join The Circus.

When she was 14, she actually did run away from home to join the circus – “They were dark, dark times,” she told me – and, when the Fringe ends, she is going to France with the Irish Tumble Circus.

Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

Ursula, circus-trained, plays her harp on stilts in Belfast

She cannot read music but she can stilt-walk and taught herself to play the harp only when she was an adult. She accidentally won an Irish music comedy award.

During her show, she says:

“People think, because I play the harp, that I’m actually cultured. They think I care about the history of the harp and how many strings it has. They think, because I play the Paraguayan harp, that I know stuff and I’m cultured. But, actually, I just do it for the money.”

Her show is called Ursula Burns: I Do It For the Money, which is true – because she has to support her 9-year-old son who is, she says, very successfully flyering for her in Edinburgh “because he is cute and everyone likes him on sight”.

After the show – in Fingers Piano Bar at 3.10pm daily (except Mondays) until 24th August – she told me:

“I had always written funny songs and I’ve always composed music, but I never associated what I was doing with ‘Comedy’. Then I accidentally won the Irish Music Comedy Awards last year.”

“Accidentally?” I asked.

Ursula wins award (photo courtesy of thecomedyscoop.com)

Ursula accidentally wins award (photo – thecomedyscoop.com)

“I uploaded a couple of videos to YouTube,” Ursula explained. “The Hospital Song  and It Does Not Rock (aka I’m Your Fucking Harpist)

“People shared them round and a comedian in Belfast – Stephen Mullan – used it in his comedy night and he said You should forward your video to the IMCA Awards, which I’d never heard of.

“I tried, but the deadline was the next day – in March last year – and I couldn’t do it. But another guy had forwarded my details and just got in before the deadline.

“The IMCA people got in touch with me and asked me to come down to Dublin and play in the finals… and I won. I only had two funny songs at that point but, in the next month, I wrote the hour-long show.

“I had accidentally got on the comedy circuit and I found that really difficult, because I was getting up there with a harp, sandwiched on the bill between two stand-up comics. I found the comedy world quite rough; I didn’t understand it; I was a fish out of water. They were all men and I’d turn up in a ball gown with a harp. I’d won this award and people were looking at me: Go on! Prove yourself! I need good sound and some of these gigs wouldn’t even have proper sound set-ups.

“The comedy scene doesn’t pay very well. I live off gigs; I live from gig to gig. There’s months where there’s nothing coming in and my life is expensive – I have a 9 year-old son. That’s why I wrote the song I Do It For The Money. I’ve been performing all my life. I’ve paid my dues. Everyone who was on the scene when I was learning my craft has either got famous or given up, but I’ve hung in there.

UrsulaBurns_van

Ursula packs her gear into her van after the Piano Bar gig

“People said You’d go down well at the Edinburgh Fringe but, at a basic, bottom reality, I couldn’t afford to come here. So I applied to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a grant and I only found out I was getting it at the very end of June (too late to be in the Fringe Programme) and I only got the money the week before I arrived. I couldn’t have come here without their help. Sustaining yourself as an artist with a child is hard and ends do not always meet.

“When I first started,” said Ursula, “I would write really violent lyrics and put them with beautiful melodies and I would be travelling round with bands in vans. I’ve played everywhere from the Albert Hall to tube stations.

“The thing for me about the harp is breaking down the boundaries and comedy is just another aspect where I can do that. I don’t imagine that I will stay in comedy. I need to explore all things in all directions.”

She is a stilt-walking harpist who won an Irish comedy award by accident…

Only in Edinburgh during the Fringe…

Midnight Mayhew in Edinburgh last night - Don’t ask

Midnight Mayhew in Edinburgh last night – Just don’t ask

Perhaps the oddest thing I saw yesterday, though, was in the early hours of this morning at Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem show (though even he admits it is not a ‘show’) when surrealist Doctor Brown met flatulist Mr Methane. Neither had heard of the other.

The initial conversation went along the lines of:

Mr Methane: You won the Perrier Comedy Award last year without saying anything?

Doctor Brown: You fart?

Eventually, a bemused understanding was reached.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Ireland, Music

God and a joke told to me in Ireland

Back in the mists of thirteen years ago there was Tara TV...

Back in the mists of thirteen years ago there was Tara TV…

I see that the RTÉ Player is now downloadable from the Apple App Store, giving access in the UK to Irish TV shows.

Thirteen years ago, I was working in Dublin for a now-deceased TV station called Tara TV which broadcast Irish programmes to the UK.

Today, in 2000, there was a Tara TV staff outing to Shelbourne Park, the dog-racing track in Dublin.

Someone told me that, when you go greyhound racing, you should always bet on the black dogs. Sure enough, in the first five races, four had black dogs running. Three came 1st; one came 2nd.

I had not bet on them.

On that day thirteen years ago, someone also told me that God had been chatting to a chum (Yes, God has a chum) and explained that he was very happy with the balanced world he had created. There were dry bits and wet bits. There were hot bits and cold bits. There were nice bits and nasty bits. Everywhere there was light and shade equally balanced.

“I’m particularly keen on that green bit down there,” God explained to his chum. “That’s Ireland. Beautiful countryside. Nice people. Good sense of humour. Lovely music. Laid back and gentle. I’m very happy with them.”

“But,” his chum said, “I thought you said everything was balanced. How come everything is so idyllic in Ireland?”

“Ah well,” says God, “you should see the wankers I put on the island next to them.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor, Humour, Ireland

Comedy man Steve Bennett talks about stalking women and losing his virginity

Chortle website owner and editor Steve Bennett

Steve Bennett, owner of the Chortle website

Since 2007, I have organised the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. They continue until 2017.

Steve Bennett started the Chortle comedy website in 2000.

In 2010, he looked back at The 50 Most Memorable Gigs of The Decade and, at Number 6, put the Malcolm Hardee Tribute Show staged at Up The Creek comedy club in February 2005.

He wrote:

“The funeral of this alternative comedy legend was probably one of the gigs of the decade, but this wake in the venue he founded must run it a close second. A suitably raucous celebration rich with reminiscences, gags – and, of course full-frontal male nudity, the line-up included Arthur Smith, Jools Holland, Jimmy Carr and Chris Lynam, with his traditional firework up the backside.”

So I was little surprised when, last week, I got an email from Steve Bennett headed Elegibility For Malcolm Hardee Award, saying:

“I am doing my first solo hour as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival this year. I was just wondering about the eligibility criteria for your awards. Do I need to apply anywhere or do you just come to my show and decide from there?”

I was even more surprised when I Skyped him yesterday in Bordeaux and he told me about the night he lost his virginity.

Obviously, the Steve Bennett of whom I write is the Irish comedian who shares his name and not the esteemed Chortle website supremo.

Still, losing your virginity is always interesting.

This other Steve Bennett – the Irish one – currently teaches English to kids in a primary school in Bordeaux. He has been a comedian since 2008, but he has only “treated it seriously” since 2011, when he finished four years of studying French and Psychology at college in Galway.

This August, he will be performing his one-man show In Bits at the Finnegan’s Wake venue during the Edinburgh Fringe..

“I do a lot of musical comedy with a ukelele or a guitar,” he told me yesterday. “This year, it’s been ukelele mostly because I couldn’t bring my guitar to France, so I bought a ukelele here  – it was cheaper and smaller.

Steve Bennett talks to me via Skype yesterday

Steve Bennett talks to me yesterday from Bordeaux via Skype.

“My Edinburgh show’s about the ‘breakup hangover’ – what happens post-breakup and comparing that to the drinking hangover, being Irish. One song’s about your ex finding you on Facebook all the time. The stalking thing that happens. So it’s written from her point of view – kind of crazy zany, which suits the ukelele because it kinda has a NING NING NING NING sound to it. The…”

“Erm…” I interrupted. “You said ‘the stalking thing that happens’ as if stalking is an everyday result of a relationship breaking up.”

“The stalking thing on Facebook,” explained Steve. “It’s done more by girls, I’m told, than by gentlemen. I don’t really do it too much, but it’s where you can go on Facebook when you’re Friends with your ex and take a look and see what they’re doing with their lives. That’s the thing the exes do now: they keep tabs on you.”

“You said I don’t really do it too much,” I said. “This implies that…”

“Oh, I’ve definitely taken a look see,” admitted Steve. “Who’s that guy? Is he your boyfriend?

“Does the ex-girlfriend know you’re doing this show about the breakup of your relationship with her?”

“Yeah, she’s aware of it. She’s not aware of all the intense details and I think I’d be happier if she didn’t see it. But she told me she’d be happy with it so long as it wasn’t baring all the details of our relationship. I’m fine with that too: I don’t want to get too personal about stuff. It’s more about general things and exaggerated things. A lot of it’s true, but not all of it’s true: the same way with most comedy.”

“When did you realise there was another Steve Bennett?” I asked.

Steve Bennett performs at the Róisín Dubh club in Galway (Photograph by WonderfulLife Productions 086 668 1375)

“Quite early,” replied Steve Bennett. “I started doing the Róisín Dubh club in Galway. The guy who runs the club introduced me to another more experienced comedian who went: Oh! You’re that asshole! It turned out Steve Bennett had given him a bad review at some point.

“Chortle actually ran a short piece about me and included a very early YouTube video of some of my stuff that I’m not very happy with. It’s from a talent show back in 2009. I won that, but it’s not really indicative of my stuff these days. I do a lot more high energy comedy these days.

“Back then I was a very subdued man standing at a microphone telling jokes. Now I’m a lot more getting into the crowd, having fun and the songs are snappy and fast, some done in characters like the Facebook one written from my ex’s point of view.”

“But you seem quite sane,” I said. “Why do you want to be a comedian? All comedians are mad.”

“I don’t know,” Steve replied. “I’m probably trying to find some deep-seated emotional depression.”

“But,” I said, “You are too happy to be a comedian, surely?”

“I probably just like the attention. When I was about ten years old, a kid at school said to me You should be a comedian, because you’re funny and I just went Yeeaahhh! That only came back to me after I started doing the comedy. I only fell into it because… well, the first time I picked up a microphone at an Open Mic night was the night I lost my virginity. So that’s why I…”

“Say that again?”

“The first night I did a comedy Open Mic, I lost my virginity.”

There was a long pregnant pause.

“So that’s probably why I’m still doing it.”

“Perhaps you are hoping to lose it again,” I suggested.

“That’s maybe it,” said Steve. “I’m still trying to find what I was looking for.”

“But you’re going to be stuck in France for the foreseeable future,” I prompted.

“Oh no, I’m done here at the end of next month. So I’ll be back in Ireland from May 3rd and I’m booking comedy stuff now over the summer and then in August it’s Edinburgh.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m going to pick up the odd job here and there, maybe tutoring people in French.”

“But you’d like to be a permanent, full-time millionaire comedian?”

“That would be the ultimate goal, wouldn’t it? But I’ve always liked the idea of having a day job to give me material. If I was only a comedian, I don’t know what I‘d talk about. I know there’s life and day-to-day stuff, but I’d like to have that other job I do at the same time. Which works, because there’s no money in comedy at my level.”

“And next?”

“At the moment, I’m running an internet thing. I campaigned on Facebook amongst my friends and fans to try and get as many words and descriptions of hangovers as possible. Sick as a parrot. Those kind of things. One of them became my show title – In Bits – and I took loads of suggestions and, when I was in Paris one weekend, I said the words to camera with loads of Parisian landmarks in the background. And now I’m trying to get people to send me videos of them saying In Bits and I was hoping to put together a promo video of loads of people saying the name of the show.”

“Do you read the Chortle website?” I asked.

“I don’t much. Not at all, no.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. Is that a good place to keep up-to-date? Is that what I should be doing?”

“You should be reading my blog every day,” I told him.

“Oh,” said Steve Bennett. He seemed surprised.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Ireland

Irish comedy podcaster Christian Talbot laments the state of current British TV

Christian Talbot

Christian Talbot does not take his clothes off

Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewed at the King’s Head in Crouch End, London, by Irish comedian Christian Talbot for his weekly podcast Seven 2 Ten.

It should appear online in two or three weeks.

Comedian Daphna Baram was sitting in on the conversation.

As I was recording Christian recording me – just in case there was a blog in it somewhere – I managed to ask him a few questions.

“You said you didn’t think your act was bizarre enough for Bob Slayer to book you at The Hive during the Edinburgh Fringe last year,” I said. “Why?”

“I don’t take my clothes off,” Christian laughed.

“So how would you describe your act?”

“Cheerily grumpy,” suggested Daphna Baram.

“Grumpy, introspective, confessional,” suggested Christian.

“Why do your podcast?” I asked.

“It’s a blatant rip-off of Marc Maron’s WTF in America,” replied Christian.

“So,” I started to say, “you’re doing it to be famous…”

Christian Talbot at the King’s Head yesterday (Photograph by Daphna Baram)

Christian recorded his podcast in London yesterday (Photograph by Daphna Baram)

“No, no,” interrupted Christian. “Not at all. I just thought I’d like to hear a version of WTF for Irish comedians, because I’m interested in comedy. I’m like yourself, John. I’m really interested in comedy and I’m really interested in comedians. How they tick and how they go about the process of writing, performing. The different personalities. I’m just a big fan. I enjoy talking to the guys who’re just starting out doing open mic spots, talking to seasoned guys who’ve been doing it for years, the promoters, the writers. I get a huge amount of personal enjoyment out of it.”

“Is it going to get you anywhere?” I asked.

“No. I wouldn’t imagine it will.”

“You seem fairly sane,” I told Christian. “This is not good news for a comedian.”

“I’m quite sane, but I’m quite…A lot of comedians are quite sane.”

I raised an eyebrow as far as I could. You will not hear it on the podcast.

And, after the podcast was recorded, Christian and I had another chat.

“People like Dara Ó Briain,” I said to him, “had to come over here to England to succeed in Britain. They couldn’t stay living in Ireland and do it.”

“You have to travel,” Christian agreed. “There’s Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain… and now Jason Byrne is starting to make inroads over here. No, I don’t think you can make it big over here without being over here.”

“So you’re going to have to move,” I suggested.

“Well,” Christian mused, “it depends what your ambitions are. I don’t know if my ambitions stretch that far. I like coming over here and doing gigs, maybe getting a little bit of recognition. But I’m 40, I’ve got a wife, a 10-year-old daughter. Unless something amazing was going to happen… and, realistically, the chances of that happening are very very slim at this stage…”

“When did you start performing comedy?” I asked.

“About two and a half years ago,” Christian told me. “I’ve always been a comedy fan. I really don’t understand why I didn’t do it sooner. I should have. It’s always been in the back of my mind that I’d like to.”

“And the trigger was…?” I asked.

“I think it was the late 2000s,” said Christian. “I looked around and saw what was on the TV – and there were comedians that I liked – but you looked at some and thought How has this guy got on the TV? I can be funnier than that.

“The public seemed to want really very bland stuff then… and maybe now.

“My first comedy stand-up heroes had been people like Billy Connolly and Ben Elton – I thought Ben Elton was wonderful on Saturday Live and Friday Night Live – Fry & Laurie, Jo Brand… I don’t think you could have called any of them bland.

“I mean, Julian Clary – how could you have Julian Clary on TV now doing what he was doing then. There’s no place for him to do that. Or even Harry Enfield doing Loadsamoney or Stavros. They simply would not put him on television now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I think people are much too afraid of… Everything now is being scrutinised for being sexist, racist, homophobic… And, don’t get me wrong, I would be fervently anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist too… But they want to put on television only those shows which will appeal to the most amount of people, which is not necessarily a good thing.

“Their thinking is Now we’re going to cater for the audience rather than Hey, let’s do this and, you never know, this might become their new favourite thing.

“I think if I was a teenager now, looking at what’s out there, I don’t think I would have a favourite comedian. I don’t think there would be anybody out there that really, truly excites me on the television. I think they’re OK. I’d go Yes, he’s on the TV, he’s famous, he must be quite good but there would be nobody out there that would have me going Wow! I want to BE him!

“There are comedy shows on BBC3 which don’t have to get big ratings,” I suggested.

“There is some good stuff,” admitted Christian. “Live at the Electric is good. People like Nick Helm. OK, OK, I’ve just gone against my argument. People like Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds and Nick Helm. Russell Kane’s alright.

“But just think how hugely influential things like Saturday Live and The Comic Strip were on a whole generation of people. Not only did they inform your comedic sensibilities but also politically and socially as well. Those were comedians who were saying things about politics, particularly Ben Elton, but even Fry & Laurie. Even if it was subtle, there was a message there. There was a social message there. They got involved in things like Comic Relief and Live Aid.

“Even though programme like Friday Night Live didn’t get huge ratings, the people it got to were teenagers and young people and the influence they had was huge and immeasurable and I think we’re still getting the repercussions.

“But we don’t have anything like that in comedy at the moment. There’s nobody sticking their head above the parapet.”

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Ireland, Television

Irish YouTube sensation Rubberbandits in shock BBC Jimmy Savile revelation

(This was also published by the Huffington Post and on Indian news site WSN)

Rubberbandits bagged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

Rubberbandits bagged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

Last August, Irish musical/comedy duo Rubberbandits won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are currently over in Britain performing at London’s Soho Theatre this week and next week.

I thought it would be jolly to chat to them for this blog, because I thought there might be a chance they would pay me money in a belated, after-the-event bribe to win the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. Sadly, they preferred to do the interview by e-mail. Below is the result. I am a sadder, none-the-wiser, man.

At the time of writing this blog, their YouTube video Horse Outside has had 9,991,031 views.

Why will you only do email interviews?

We never said we only do email interviews. We said we only do face-to-bag interviews by Females.

Why the name? Shouldn’t you be called The Plastic Bag Bandits?

In Ireland, people often use plastic bags as rubbers and also carry their groceries in rubbers.

Are you THE Rubberbandits or THE Rubber Bandits or just Rubberbandits or Rubber Bandits? Why?

Rubberbandits, We don’t know why. But we know we were influenced by The Prodigy becoming Prodigy in 1995.

What’s with the bloody plastic bags on your heads anyway?

It started off as a way of frightening rats out of a house and then we kind of left them on permanently.

Has the YouTube tsunami of views on your video stuff had any good effect?

Yes, the opposite effect of a tsunami ironically.

Has the Japanese tsunami had any good effect?

Yes, actually. A lot of independent music CD warehouses were destroyed and it reduced competition in the Irish music market for a month or two. Our CDs were intact.

Has your increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award had any good effect?

Very good for our fans’ arguments in pubs back home when we get compared to Jedward.

Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back to you next week.

Yes, but only in cold war Russian money.

Why do you (and other people) think you’re funny?

We’re not funny. We’re hardcore gangsta rappers. We have no idea why people laugh at us.

What type of comedy do you do? Is it like Miranda?

It has been described as battered comedy. Like normal comedy but if it was battered and deep-fried. Miranda would get a ride.

Are you rich?

Not yet filthy, just small but grubby.

Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week. Honest.

We can give you 50 now and we’ll give you the rest four months ago. However there’s interest at 100% so technically you should owe us 200 quid by now.

Will you ever be rich? Would becoming ‘very rich’ mean you’re very good performers. If not, why not?

We will be rich. Not from performing, though. From our lucrative hot air balloon business where we encourage Americans to spit on roundabouts from 1,000 feet and take bets.

Would doing a big TV series or a movie be ‘selling out’?

Yes it would, so we’d counteract it by peppering the TV series or movie with gay sex scenes to regain some integrity and edge. Like Danny Dyer did in Borstal Boy.

Would you have been as happy just being successful in Ireland, land of your fathers?

Our fathers are from Malta. We are using Britain as a gateway to the Maltese comedy scene.

Are you playing the Edinburgh Fringe again this year?

A bit too early to say. We were told to stay away from Scotland after we fellated a tern in Orkney.

Are you performing for six-to-eight minutes on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year? If not, why not.

See tern fellation above.

Can you lend me £100? I really will give it back to you next week.

When you give us back our £200 that you owe us from four months ago, we can talk.

What’s next? How can you keep your act fresh?

We just throw the bags into a washing machine and Hey Presto!

Have you any good Jimmy Savile stories to increase the hits on my blog?

He had a spy camera on the end of his cigar. He used it to secretly film the camera man while he was on Top of the Pops. There’s a rule in the BBC that if you are filming while being filmed then you are entitled to tell the Board of Directors a big secret and, if they ever utter it, they grow a set of donkeys’ ears.

Explain the Irish ‘Troubles’ in two short sentences.

This piece of bread is just normal bread but this other piece of bread is haunted by the ghost of a bearded man from the Iron Age. Let’s fight about it.

How would you describe the people who watch you on YouTube and come to see your shows? Are they different types?

In Ireland, they are young drunk people who don’t know how to be quiet when we talk. In England, they are older beard-rubbing people who treat us like a monkey in the zoo that can talk.

Do people in the high-rise flats in North Dublin estates really take their horses up in the lifts?

Horses have an intrinsic fear of lifts, however they are quite adept at climbing stairs.

Why are the Irish funny?

Because we take the English language,  pull its pants around its ankles and ask it to walk sideways like a Saxon crab.

Can you juggle spaghetti? Would you like to try on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year?

Spaghetti juggling is racist to Italians. It would be like Morris dancing and not taking a fancy to your cousin after a bottle of elderflower wine. Or caber tossing in an Erasure T-shirt.

Seriously. Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week.

OK, here you go. But we’ve drawn missing teeth on the Queen’s grin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Ireland, Music

“Ooh! Ah! Up The RA!”… Is the RA the Royal Academy?… Ooh! Ah! No, Missus

A report in The Scotsman today headlined

‘OOH AH UP THE RA’ FOOTBALL CHANT OUTLAWED BY CROWN

says:

“Celtic fans have been warned by police that singing ‘Ooh ah up the ’RA’ at games will lead to arrests and prosecutions, following advice from the Crown Office. However, Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan said “no other chant or song, sung en masse by the Celtic fans” would currently be subject to criminal proceedings.”

This report is, I suspect, totally incomprehensible to a reader brought up anywhere other than in Scotland or Ireland.

For one thing, of course, the Yanks in their eccentric colonial way call football ‘soccer’ (as do the southern and Republican Irish). For another, probably only people in the British Isles know that Celtic has predominantly Catholic supporters – although, oddly, my admirably perverse Protestant Uncle Jimmy supported Celtic throughout his life.

But the main stumbling block to understanding is the word “RA” (pronounced “rah”) which I had never heard until I worked in Dublin for a while in the early 1990s.

If you are in Ireland (and certain parts of Glasgow) you do not need to specify “Irish” before RA: it is taken for granted.

When I worked in Dublin, one of my workmates was a girl who had been brought up in the notorious border town of Dundalk. I say ‘notorious’ from a UK point of view… Because it was near the border with ‘The North’, a reportedly large number of high-up IRA people lived in and near to small market town.

I went there once during the later stages of the most recent of The Troubles to see what it was like and succeeded in not speaking to anyone even when buying food in shops (because I have an English accent).

Dundalk was a very sleepy little place where you could fantasise that nothing ever happened.

The reason I went was because the girl in Dublin had told me a true story about her childhood in Dundalk. She swore it was true and I believe her.

At her primary school in Dundalk, she told me they used to have knitting classes.

They used to mainly knit black woollen balaclavas.

They used to knit lots and lots of them over a long period. Well, throughout her time there.

The children were never told why. It was only when they grew up they realised.

1 Comment

Filed under Ireland, Sport, Terrorism

A very Irish police officer encounters and gives advice to Tofu Love Frogs

Al Mandolino, resident musician at the always-quirky weekly Pear Shaped comedy club in London, read my blog yesterday about Ireland and e-mailed me:

It’s jogged a fond memory from when I toured Ireland in a punk folk band called Tofu Love Frogs.

One summer’s night after a particularly riotous gig in Dublin I was driving an old VW camper full of ‘colourful characters’ through the city centre. Our drummer in the passenger seat was being very loud and animated with bongos, hanging out of his window and shouting stuff.

We stopped at a red light.

A motorbike drew up along my side.

The Garda officer stood up on it and his helmeted head filled my open window, inching into the van, sniffing.

“Have you been drinking?” he inquired.

“No,” was all I could manage.

“Good,” he said. “If you do, don’t let him sit in the front. He draws attention to you.”

Then he left.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ireland

Ireland: land of comedy, corruption and persuasive terrorism

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

I am back in the UK after a week in Kerry in south west Ireland.

My friend acquired five small pieces of flat grey slate to use as coffee cup coasters. They were confiscated at Kerry Airport on the way back home lest we fashion them on the plane as Stone Age axe heads and attack the cabin crew.

This is partly understandable and a good use of lateral thinking, though a tad fantastically paranoid and I did wonder if some of the massive amounts of cocaine smuggled in through Kerry had trickled down to the security lady who was evidently so proud to wear her overly-neat uniform.

Yes. Mieow. Indeed.

Still, we could indeed have turned out to be the Coffee Cup Coaster Terrorists.

There was no negotiating possible with the security lady which was odd, as chatting things over to sort out problems tends to be a national pastime and to work wonders.

I was told that, a few years ago, in the Iveragh Peninsula, where we stayed, there had been an attempt by the IRA to wield more local influence in Kray Twins like ways – a bit of protection money here, a bit of a percentage there. But this was nipped fairly quickly in the bud by “some people” having a chat with the RA lads and making it clear this was not acceptable.  Quite who “some people” were was unclear but, clearly, they had well-honed and persuasive negotiating skills.

Likewise the late lamented roguish Irish politician Charlie Haughey who was Taoiseach three times. I was told that once, when he was not Taoiseach, he needed a bit of money and his luxury yacht sank in suspicious circumstances.

The circumstances were so suspicious that the insurance company refused to pay out – until Charlie had a little chat with them and pointed out that this was Ireland and, if they gave him any trouble, they themselves might encounter similarly annoying obstacles to their interests when he became Taoiseach again.

They paid out.

It’s good to talk.

As I mentioned in a blog before, Charlie was that very Irish thing: a lovable rogue and his passing must have been much lamented by the tabloid press and by stand-up comedians and pub humorists across the country.

During his reign as leader, Charlie’s Fianna Fail party was known as “the party of the brown envelope”.

Of course, wagging tongues do not necessarily tell or even imply the truth and innocent people can be sullied. Charlie’s successor as Fianna Fail leader and as Taoiseach was Bertie Ahern, a much-respected Taoiseach untouched by scandal – he was known as the ‘Teflon Taoiseach’.

He came to power in the same year as Tony Blair and the two of them succeeded where many others had failed – getting a peace deal in Northern Ireland.

It’s good to talk.

Historic and highly admirable stuff but, oddly, Bertie had been an accountant before entering politics and then Minister for Finance before becoming Taoiseach.

I say “oddly” because, it later turned out, he had no bank account until December 1993. (He was Minister for Finance 1991-1994 and became Taoiseach in 1997 when he was aged 45.)

There’s no law which says you have to have a bank account but, given such facts, stand-up comedians and unfounded speculation can run amuck.

Later, in court, Bertie’s former girlfriend testified that he once drove her to a bank in Dublin’s O’Connell Street so she could withdraw £50,000 sterling in cash for him. A businessman involved with Bertie told of emptying a briefcase containing £28,000 onto a desk and Bertie put the cash into a safe, without counting it. And, indeed, without giving a receipt.

Comedy gold.

Recently, when both former Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness and former Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana ran for the post of President of the Irish Republic, McGuinness came third and Dana sixth out of the seven contenders.

This was said to be because fewer people could remember Dana’s hits.

Ireland. Land of comedy, corruption and persuasive terrorism.

1 Comment

Filed under Ireland, Politics, Terrorism