This is a poster for a London gig by comedian Joe Lycett. It features an irrelevant photo of comedian James Acaster. I saw it in Tottenham Court Road tube station maybe a couple of months ago.
I am not convinced it is a particularly good marketing strategy.
I emailed the photo to someone I know last night saying: “I don’t think I sent this to you when I saw it at Tottenham Court Road station the other week…”
I got a reply this morning: “We saw it together”.
Coincidentally (this is true) there was an ex-rugby player on breakfast TV when I read this reply talking about getting early onset dementia… He can’t remember playing in the World Cup a few years ago, which was the highlight of his career.
Fortunately I do remember I always had a rubbish factual memory. So no change there. It’s one reason in school that I was shit at languages and particularly bad at science. I once did not come bottom in Chemistry. Once.
I was good at English (I was interested) and at British Constitution (I could waffle).
I remember keeping a diary on a trip to South East Asia in 1989 and, on returning home and reading it maybe a week later, I had forgotten most of the details – Oh yes! That happened!
My friend Lynn, who has known me for 47 years, says I will live appallingly long because I seldom worry about things which happened in the past; I just accept them, forget them, unless they’re vital, and move on.
This is mostly true. But I am not sure that is a good thing.
Neither the forgetting nor the living appallingly long.
This morning, a Comment was left on that blog. I reprint it here without comment by me and without anything cut out, though with some additional paragraphing to make it easier to read…
Much has been said about Maurizio Tosi. Little that Maurizio Tosi as well as a cultured archaeologist among the five best known in the world was a technician rich in intuition. Furthermore, he was extremely astute and had a network of distributed intelligence informants who only did the story good. Marlene Dietrich and prof. Franco Malosso von Rosenfranz, had been equally educated in history as in music by dr. Bechstein Giuseppe Becce.The Vicentine composer of German Cinema had been a pupil of Ferdinand von Richthofen, thus quickly maturing on the story of Monika, the daughter of Hans Ertl, inventor and fellow cameraman of Becce, as well as avenger of the murder of Che Guevara, who later fell very young in an ambush of the spies of Klaus Barbie. In the GDR first, in South America and RFT later, both Prof. Franco von Rosenfranz who is prof. Maurizio Tosi, came from very similar experiences even though they were aware that one and the other could be mutually respectful rivals. Also very different in specialness.
Later, however, they discover themselves linked by the same affinities. Tosi had survived unscathed more than a few traps. Equally Franco Malosso. Between 1992 and 2002 Tosi began to secretly take an interest in the events of his land (Verona). More precisely to the true story of Romeo and Juliet by Luigi Da Porto originated in the district of Arcugnano. In 1307 Tosi ascertained that the thirteen-year-old girl had then migrated to Verona from the Emilei. The story was brought forward and magically made famous all over the world thanks to an Englishman of Sicilian origin who had previously escaped from prison, John Florio (Shakespeare) from Messina because he was a heretic. A legacy told of 2 lovers who tell of a swim they started from the basin of the amphitheater to the beach of “Monticello delle Capra”, the hill on which, 200 years later, the architect Palladio built the villa “La Rotonda” in the style of a Pagan temple dedicated to the God Janus. Its terraces had recently been cleaned up after a reclamation.
The research started by the Vicenza academic prof. Renato Cevese continued to be studied in depth by Prof. Tosi. However, they remained interrupted under threat and a staff member was reprimanded after a brief kidnapping of him. The cause of everything were illegal constructions built near the top of the Amphitheater. It was here that the money paid for the institutional massacre of the Italian judge Paolo Borsellino was invested. Between 1997 and 2002 when the bulldozers destroyed the remains of a centuries-old underground canalization. these works became a beast for the amphitheater. However, in order not to jeopardize operations of undercover agents, the protests for those works were abruptly stopped. Later they were definitively accepted so that the situation normalized. In 2014, with greater impetus, new works resumed thanks also to the funding of local sponsors. The terraces of the theater were repaired and new blocks were replaced with those looted in 2002 (they had been used to form a retaining wall to hold back the washout of the hill excavated to house the foundations of the illegal villas).
The professor was murdered for refusing to ask the sponsors of the amphitheater for the sum of 5 million euros demanded by the hidden Italian institutional mafia. The elimination of him had become a priority for the leaders of the Mafia Dome since the Tosi in retaliation to the request of the 5 million euros, had begun to investigate the realization of the Borgo Berga Court. On the court together with the DESPAR Logistics area owned by the massacre Matteo Messina Denaro, the journalist Marco Milioni argued that there was a Mafia investigation (Ndrangheda). National Liberation Front of the Veneto and then recklessly asked for the demolition of the new illegal court that invaded the view of the “Rotonda”. Tosi also feared the exit of Vicenza from UNESCO.
This concept was best expressed by him through public conferences. At that point, an ecologist informing the staff warned that Tosi would soon be murdered by a member of the criminal gang of kidnappers of the Magliana (a criminal structure used by the Italian government for kidnapping for the purpose of etortion and murder). Shortly afterwards, to avoid inconvenient witnesses, the ecologist who had informed the professor was also shot and killed. A Mossad agent who had mediated for a settlement solution in this institutional extortion also disappeared. Tosi’s death was an immense loss for the international community. In depth and execution, it is comparable to that of the Italian political statesman Aldo Moro, killed by his party comrades. This type of executions are part of those among the most ferocious and shameless extreme criminal operations organized by politics within the Italian government passed under control with the USA after 10 July 1943. Operations in reality never advocated by the massacre of the entire American community.
Before and after these events there were at least 9 murders linked to the attempt by mafias to take over the amphitheater. The Conservator of the English landscape in the Amphitheater was also the victim of as many attacks: Franco von Rosenfranz who, however, although seriously injured, escaped death. The most serious intimidation attack occurred during a show trial against him to cover up the extortion. During the battle spent in defense of the surrounding Amphitheater, his 3-year-old son disappeared. Inside the amphitheater, on the anniversary of the death of prof. Maurizio Tosi, without fuss as for his desire, a bust dedicated to him was inaugurated in memory of his tireless work that the eminent scholar courageously brought forward to the extreme sacrifice. Maurizio Tosi was a victim of the Mafia. . On social media, young Italians who were functional supporters of the mafia extortion defamed him, mocking him. Also in the media cavea of the Amphitheater, near the sculpture carved in the rock depicting the ancient winged canine deity (Winged Lion of the ancient Veneti) Veneti friends have dedicated a stele to him.
Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.
I got an email from him:
“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back.
“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.
“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”
So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.
And I have only just transcribed it.
I got severely side-tracked.
The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…
Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia
NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.
JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.
NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.
JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?
NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.
JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.
NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing.
JOHN: And the comedy?
NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.
JOHN: I want to go there.
NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey.
JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.
NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.
JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?
NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.
JOHN: With what?
NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.
JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.
NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”
JOHN: So Bobcat is better?
NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.
NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.
JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?
NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.
JOHN: So why Bobcat…?
NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.
NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…
JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?
NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.
JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…
NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?
This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)
NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.
JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?
NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.
JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?
NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.
JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.
NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.
NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.
JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?
NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.
JOHN: You seem happy.
NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.
JOHN: You’re on them?
Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London
NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.
After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy –analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.
JOHN: Because of Perth?
NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.
JOHN: Why was it long overdue?
NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.
But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.
It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.
So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.
JOHN: And you are OK now?
NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.
JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.
NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.
JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.
NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectionedimmediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.
He usually plays Peter Cook but, because of his Edinburgh commitment can’t on this occasion.
JOHN: So you can’t be in the Pete & Dud show in London…
JONATHAN: No. but I’m thrilled because Kev Orkian, who plays Dudley Moore, has taken the reins of producer, which is lovely, because it’s a play I dearly love.
JOHN: You’re getting typed as an interpreter of comedy icons – Peter Cook AND John Cleese.
JONATHAN: How I got interested in the world of entertainment all came from seeing John Cleese and Peter Cook on a park bench doing the ‘interesting facts’ sketch at The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979.
I was a little boy and I saw Peter just reeling out this stuff and I thought: That’s what I want to do! Instead of asking for an Action Man that Christmas, I wanted a book of scripts.
JOHN: You co-wrote Goodbye: The (After) Life of Cook & Moore.
JONATHAN: Yes. Some young reviewer wrote: “Fans of Cook and Moore will enjoy hearing the classic lines re-deployed…” Well, we wrote the whole fucking thing. Every bloody line in that is ours.
JONATHAN: Yes. I got stuck on about Page 30. I didn’t know where I was going with it. It didn’t seem to have a structure. Then I re-met Clive Greenwood at a party. He has this incredible knowledge of post-War comedy and he came on board and started to write it with me. He was the more logical one and I was typically like Cook, totally rambling and going off into spirals of imagination.
JOHN: It is set when Pete and Dud are dead.
JONATHAN: Yes. The whole thing is NOT a series of Pete n Dud sketches. Not one. It’s our interpretation of how they are forced to become their characters after they’re dead by a Divine Force that is ‘judging’ them for their Derek & Clive routines. Peter has had to wait seven years for Dudley to turn up and he is running a bar in the afterlife
JOHN: Why did you think: I wanna do a play about two dead comics after they have died?
JONATHAN: My father had died and I no longer had a father figure. Peter became a sort of father figure to me, because I loved his humour so much. I had this idea about all these comics kept in a Prisoner of War camp in heaven in the afterlife.
I can’t be Peter this time because I’m in Edinburgh doing the Fawlty Towers dinners at the Carlton Hilton on the North Bridge twice daily – 48 shows throughout the Fringe. That ends on 27th August and the last two performances of The (After) Life are on the 30th and 31st August, so I’m going back to London to watch those – and very proudly so.
‘”The only one that does the original scripts.”
Our ‘official’ Fawlty Towers show – sanctioned by John Cleese – is the only one that does the original scripts – so, for the first time in 40 years, people can hear those live.
JOHN: As an actor, you must be frustrated at having to copy someone else’s interpretation so closely?
JONATHAN: No, I’m not, actually. When John Cleese put the Australian show together, he said he didn’t want a carbon copy of himself; so I have a very Cleesian performance, but with my own twist on it.
JOHN: Which is?
JONATHAN: (LAUGHS) I’m not absolutely sure! There’s a lot of improvisation involved, because it’s a dinner show.
JOHN: With the audience sitting as if they are in the Fawlty Towers dining room…?
JONATHAN: Yes. We have to improvise round the tables with my own words and we put the script on top of that.
JOHN: What else do you have in the pipeline?
JONATHAN: One of the biggest things is an initiative I helped set up (with Andrew Eborn) called Canned Laughter. A lot of comedians and people who drink have this false laughter or they play games so we don’t know what lies behind. So I opened up an initiative with Equity with the slogan
IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK
The nervous energy which performers have is anxiety – and that’s where the problems start… Depression and all those things that lurk underneath and I’ve been through them all and, coming out the other side of booze, you start to realise where you have been and what you’ve come to and what you have to do to stop other people going down the same path.
Jonathan’s drinking days are behind him…
JOHN: How long have you been off the booze?
JONATHAN: 5½ years. And off sugars. I used to be: I’ll do every pill in the world! I’ll do every cigarette in the world! I’d do every drug in the world! I’d go to every club in the world!
JOHN: And now you have taken up knitting cardigans?
JONATHAN: (LAUGHS) No! My revolution and my rebellion comes in my writing, I think.
JOHN: You are writing other things?
JONATHAN: I am writing, but I am terrified. I am going to eventually do an hour’s stand-up on anxiety and about my childhood. I don’t give a fuck if people know now. I was abused. That’s why I wear blue chakra round my neck – because I was orally abused twice. at different times, I was in a school which had a paedophile headmaster and…
JOHN: What’s a blue chakra for?
Jonathan’s blue chakra with its healing sodalite stones…
JONATHAN: The blue chakra is the throat chakra, which is about the art of communication. This is a stone called sodalite and it actually gives… whether you believe it or not; a lot of people don’t and that’s fine… but I need something to believe in because of my past so I can’t help but believe in it and I’m happy to believe in it. As mad as it gets, that’s what I have to believe in, because they tried to hang me twice… Once when I was in my prep school and once in my senior school.
JOHN: Who tried to hang you?
JONATHAN: The kids. Y’know. Just brutal kids. Really brutal kids. There is a huge court case going on about my old school and paedophilia. There were boys who had it far worse than me.
There was one guy who forced me orally to do what I had to do. I think he was probably being abused himself. I think the kids who were being abused were picking on other kids who weren’t being abused. It was horrendous. Just horrible, horrible, horrible.
That’s another reason why I’ve done Canned Laughter.
JOHN: Peter Cook drank a lot.
JONATHAN: A director once said to me – after I got sober: “The reason why you can play Peter so well is because you were both on similar paths of self-destruction.”
Peter Cook (left) and Jonathan Hansler: very parallel people
We are very parallel. Very parallel people. That sense of loneliness. I was sent away to a boarding school at 9 years old like Peter. My parents went to the Middle East; his parents were in Gibraltar. He had asthma and, in those days, they didn’t have inhalers, so he was injected with ephedrine which sent you to the ceiling. He must have been floating around on the ceiling every night. No wonder his mind became the mind it did because he was being given these strange drugs to stop his asthma.
JOHN: Presumably talking about what happened to you at school is, to an extent, cathartic.
JONATHAN: I’ve got to a point where I don’t give a shit. I also want to explain why I’ve been maybe so awkward over previous years.
“…the anxiety it takes to play Basil Fawlty…”
Why is it – and it’s a stigma – that people say: “Performers are difficult to work with”? Have they ever asked why? God knows what happened to them earlier in life. And they still have to keep their teeth smiling and their tits up in this industry and bow down and cow down to all these people who… Y’know?… It’s wrong. People should know each other more and understand each other more and, by understanding each other, we grow together and we become real.
JOHN: I know comedians rather than actors but, to an extent, it IS true that all comedians are mad. You wouldn’t want to do it otherwise. There has to be something in you that needs the fulfilment of applause and acceptance.
JONATHAN: People say: “Oh, you’re so lucky to be playing Basil Fawlty…” But do you know the anxiety it takes to play Basil Fawlty?”
Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project
So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…
“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”
“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”
“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”
“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”
“And these shows lead to?” I asked.
“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”
Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)
“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”
“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”
“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.
“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”
“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”
“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”
“At what age?” I asked.
“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”
“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.
Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea
“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”
“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”
“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”
“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”
“Of course you can,” he told me.
“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”
“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.
“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.
“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”
“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”
“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”
“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.
“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”
“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”
“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”
“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.
“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.
“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.
“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”
“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”
Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”
“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”
“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”
“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”
“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”
“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.
“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”
I have received another missive from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith. She lives on a boat on a river in Vancouver. This is what she says:
A psychiatrist from Imperial College in London named Dr Nutt was on the CBC radio today, extolling the therapeutic benefits of LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca and ketamine (not all at once though) to treat depression and to combat suicidal thoughts.
I agree with him that it’s tragic that doctors are not allowed to prescribe these drugs (except for experimental use) when they could be used to prevent suicide.
They were outlawed because they were the only drugs to have a political effect (like making people not feel like engaging in war).
There are some contraindications against hallucinogens – for example in young people and in people predisposed to schizophrenia.
On Vancouver Island, some beaches had to be closed because wolves were attacking dogs.
On a different beach there were guns fired in a dispute over clam licences.
I don’t recommend taking drugs on the beach until the wolf population diminishes and the shootouts die down.
In fact it’s never a good idea to take drugs on a beach. Better to take them on stage in a busy strip club or somewhere near a hospital.
One of my neighbours, the sturgeon fisherman, became concerned because he noticed I was filling up bleach bottles with water from a hose. He thought I was going to drink it. He wanted to give me some plastic jugs of store-bought water and I had a job to convince him that I prefer the water from the hose. My hose is attached to a spigot that is attached to a pipe that is attached to the water main that delivers fresh water from the nearby glaciers on Mount Seymour. It’s probably the best water in the world other than drinking straight from a stream.
Hoses are an important subject of discussion out here.
I don’t mind that.
One of my best friends was called The Hose Guy.
Last night I discovered a Mongolian man singing at the bus stop. After I asked him if he was singing Mongolian songs (as he seemed to be doing) he asked, in surprise, in halting English, whether I was going to Mongolia.
I said: “No. I’m going to Montreal.”
I asked him if there were lots of redheads in Mongolia and he said no. They have lots of grass and lots of sheep. He put his hands on his head to mimic a sheep’s ears because it was hard for me to understand his accent.
“You are full of ideas and projects,” I told him. “What do you do in your ‘day job’?”
“It is probably,” he told me, “60% or 70% writing jokes for brands for Twitter and Facebook and then 15% I do stuff for clubs and stuff – helping them out with their social media – helping them, basically, build a community around what they’re doing.”
“Do you work from home?” I asked.
“It depends on the job,” he told me, “but I have an office at home. I have psychological problems which mean I am so used to living in one room that I have put the bed in the kitchen along with a cupboard where I keep my stuff in. It’s a one-bedroom flat. So, in the room that is meant to be a bedroom, I have put a desk in the middle and do my work in there.”
“Why?” I asked.
Simon edits his prestigious Ask The Industry podcast at home
“I just like having all my stuff in one room so, when I cross the corridor, I feel like I am travelling to work. A girl who came there was a little taken aback.
“She asked me Why have you put your bed in the kitchen? and I told her Because I like all my stuff in one room. She asked me: Doesn’t that get confusing? I told her: It’s more comfortable for me.Why would it be confusing?”
“Does this one-room thing,” I asked, “go back to your student days?”
“Well,” Simon told me, “I lived at home until I was at university. I lived in one room at uni and then I moved back to my parents’ house and, when I moved in with my girlfriend, we lived in one of the rooms in a one-bedroom flat because her mum was living in the living room… It’s a long story… And then I moved back to my parents’ place and then I moved out and now I just like being in one room. I’m sure I will slowly edge back into having a bedroom separately.”
“Anyway,” I said, “why are you starting an LGBT night? You are not gay. What do you know about such things?”
“I am,” he explained, “running it with Tom Mayhew, the gay comedian. I put myself down as an ally for LGBT stuff but, no, I can’t properly relate to it, cos I’m not in that and never really been in that. For a long time, I was pansexual.”
“You are attracted to woodland creatures and play a flute?” (Photo by Viktoria DeRoy)
I asked: “You are attracted to woodland creatures and play a flute?”
“No,” Simon said, “you are attracted to someone personality-wise. You can see their sexual attractiveness but you very rarely find them sexually appealing until you’ve got to know them.
“That was how I defined my sexuality for about four or five years but, in the last three months of last year, I met two girls who I immediately found sexually appealing which was weird, because I hadn’t found that for ages. So that was interesting. I am straight, but it’s kinda complicated. I find men attractive, but I’ve never found them sexually appealing. It’s kinda weird like that.”
I asked: “You mean you find men aesthetically attractive?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I dunno. I’ve got a weird relationship with my gender at the moment. I’ve got a lot of polyamorous friends and a lot of kink friends and all of them say regular comedy nights are very heteronormative and very geared towards straight people.”
“So,” I asked, “that is why you’re starting this monthly LGBT night?”
Simon’s comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe
“It’s more because I realised I was bored of the comedy circuit. It’s awful at the moment. There are a lot of straight white men talking about Tinder and their failed dating lives. I’ve got a lot of friends who are in LGBT or another minority group who don’t get booked as often as they maybe should. Why not? And does it mean they don’t get to develop as much as other acts who get more stage time?… How many clubs have you been to in the last two weeks where they’ve had a person overtly talking about their sexuality who wasn’t straight? I just thought I would put on a new gig where I would actively look for new voices I had not heard.”
“But,” I suggested, “is having gay people talking about being gay in an LGBT night not restricting them in their own niche pigeonhole?”
“Everyone,” suggested Simon, “gets pigeonholed at some point when they get to a certain level.”
“So,” I said, “you are going to run these Sunday night LGBT shows every month?”
“We are going to do the first four monthly nights as a charity thing and then, after that, depending on how it goes, we would run them as a monthly pro gig (i.e. paying the acts).”
“They are themed?” I asked.
“Yes. The themes we have down for the four shows are… January – New Years… February – Anti-Valentines… March – Anti Steak and Blowjob Day… And, for April, we will probably do April Fools.”
“Anti steak and blowjobs?” I asked.
Simon Caine strikes me as a glass half full man
“Yes,” said Simon. “Some men got together and said they hated Valentine’s Day because it was ‘for women’ and they wanted ‘a day for men’ so they started a steakandblowjobs website for men. Ours would be an Anti Steak & Blowjob Day night.”
“Ah,” I said. “And, given that you are always full of new ideas…beyond the monthly Queer As Jokes nights… any other projects?”
“I have,” said Simon, “briefly talked to a friend of mine – a black comedian – about starting a black gig later in the year. Obviously, I would not be performing in that.”
If Tim Rendle is anything to go by, then fuck knows.
He has been a painter, barman and baby sitter, web designer, magician and spy hole fitter. He has sold windows and doors, installed security systems, flipped burgers, busked with a drum and his first ever self-employed job was as a car washer when he was nine.
There is also a bit of controversy, because the Lion’s Den is a pay-to-play club. Acts have to pay to appear on his comedy night and there is no quality control at all.
“So,” I said when I met him, “pay-to-play. Terrible idea. Why do comics have to pay to perform? Why can’t you just make money from punters paying on the door to get in?”
Johnny Vegas (left) with Tim at the Den
“It’s really hard,” he told me, “to get an audience for open mic nights. We have an open door policy. We don’t require videos or CDs in advance for acts to perform. I’m happy to have first-timers and, as a result, on the circuit now, some of the biggest names did their teeth-grinding at the Lion’s Den and the Comedy Car Crash.”
“You are getting money out of comedians who can’t afford it,” I said.
“If you want to be a swimmer,” Tim replied, “you go to swimming classes. If you want to be a gymnast, you go to gymnast classes. All of them charge more than we do. It’s a spot. It’s a stage to work material out on. It’s not a bad thing. We’re not… what’s the word…”
“Exploiting?” I suggested.
“Yeah, that’s the word,” said Tim. “We are not exploiting anyone. They can get a spot anywhere else if they want.”
I told him: “I saw an act a few weeks ago at the Lion’s Den and I thought he might be slightly… deluded?”
“Yes,” said Tim, “But he has a right to play, same as anyone else. The club is a massive part of my life. I’ve never been so loyal to any thing or person. I’ve been doing it for ten years now, which is a quarter of my life.”
“There is a community of Amish down there?” I asked.
Hutterian women return from working in the fields at sunset. (Photograph by Rainer Mueller)
“Yeah. When I was 1½, we moved from Lincoln to this Amish commune where my grandparents lived. My mum was brought up in a different commune in Shropshire. I stayed there until I was five, then came out into the real world, which was an eye-opener.”
“Did the Amish start to your life scar you?”
“No. I think it gave me a really good set of morals. Maybe a bit too unrealistic in the real world.”
“Being too honest?”
“Yeah. It’s just how honest, isn’t it? Knowing when not to be honest. Or knowing when to shut up. It’s the tree that grew inside me, so I do try to be nice and honest.”
“What did you want to be when you were aged 16?”
“I’m not sure. I didn’t have the happiest of family lives. When I was 16, basically, I wanted to get the hell away from home as soon as possible, so I joined the Army. I was accepted by them, but they said I had to do my GCSE exams.
“Then, on the way to sit my second GCSE, I got run over. I was riding my motorbike to school and a car smashed into my leg. That upset the Army. They said: We don’t want you any more. That was a bit sad, because it meant I had to stay around home a bit more.
“Then, a couple of years later, I got run over again. That time, I put my face through a car – the window of a car.”
“Because the driver was an idiot. He signalled left but did a U-turn. I tried to overtake him, he cut me off, so I went through his windscreen. My girlfriend went under the car.”
“She was OK?”
“She bruised her ankle and got a bit of petrol inside her. I ripped my neck open, got 35 stitches plus a few in my chin. I did pass out through lack of blood. That was just the start of it, really. Then the Crohn’s Disease kicked in just after that second crash and I started to think: Why the fuck does God hate me so much?”
“What does Crohn’s Disease do?” I asked.
Tim developed Crohn’s Disease when he was younger
“Fucks your life,” replied Tim. “Makes you skinny.”
“So you had accidents and disease rather than a career start?” I asked.
“I don’t think I’ve had a career ever. I wasn’t able to think about the future. Every time I did, I got gazumped by Fate at the last minute.
“We had moved down to Hastings when I was 5 and, when I was about 20, I was being hassled by my mum to get a job. I was getting so much nagging by my mum to get a job and I saw an ad to be a stripogram and my mum said Go on, then! so I did.
“It was the weirdest job interview I’ve ever had – having to take my clothes off and bend over in front of people who then told me: You’re gonna have to shave your arse. Women don’t like it and there are times when you need to bend over.”
“Can you make a good living as a stripogram around Hastings?” I asked.
“At the time – 1994-ish – yeah. £11 per minute.”
“An anecdote?” I asked.
“Loads. I was getting ready in a police station and they had sectioned off a toilet just for me to get ready.”
“This,” I asked, “was to pull a surprise on a police lady?”
“Yeah. I was actually technically sexually assaulted by that woman in front of about 150 police people.”
“Any tricks of the trade?” I asked.
“Basically,” explained Tim, “when male strippers warm up, they have to… eh… punish… erm…”
“Fluff?” I suggested.
“Yeah. Fluff. But, with my bad back from the car crashes, there was no way I’m going to bend down there. So I just had to punish it a bit.”
“A bit of slap and tickle?” I suggested.
The police station – lots of slap, a little tickle and elastic bands
“Yeah. More slap than tickle. And then you get an elastic band and you tie it off. Halfway through doing it in the police station toilet, a policeman opened the door. It was a weird situation with me halfway through slapping myself into position. He asked: Are you going to be long? I told him: I am trying, sir; I’m trying.”
“What’s the elastic band thing?” I asked.
“You tie yourself off,” explained Tim. “Once you have achieved a good… eh… state of being, you tie it off to preserve that state of being.”
“Keeping the blood in…” I said.
“Yeah,” said Tim. “It just makes it took great inside a g-string or banged against a tea towel.”
“But you gave all that glamour up,” I said, “for what?”
“Many years later, I moved to Colchester and did a full-time 2-year engineering course. I wanted to take that further and do industrial design.”
“You were still interested in erections?” I asked.
“No. I wanted to be an inventor, basically, because that’s the way my mind works. I’ve got an engineering mind, but I find engineering very boring – working out how much force a bridge can take is really boring. I wanted to make things and make the world a better place. I did the degree and found out they are just painting the wheel a different colour.
“But, while I was doing the degree, a friend I was staying with suggested I try his job out and that’s when I started working with people who have learning disabilities and in mental health. I became a support assistant.”
“I couldn’t do that,” I said. “Too depressing.”
“No,” Tim said, “not at all. It was one of the best jobs I ever did. I found the learning disabilities not particularly challenging. I tended to veer more towards the challenging behaviour and that led to the mental health work.”
“What do you mean by ‘challenging behaviour’?” I asked.
Where mental health meets comedy and kick boxing
“Getting beaten up, basically. They were quite angry and violent people. A lot of the job was pacifying behaviour and basically being a target.”
“Trying to avoid them beating you up?”
“Yeah. Which I was pretty good at.”
“Because you are good at psychology?”
“Good at psychology and because I used to do kick boxing. There was nothing that I had not had worse.”
“So,” I said, “you are the ideal comedy promoter. You deal with mad people and can kick them.”
“I’ve had a few hairy situations. We have only ever had two violent incidents in ten years at the Lion’s Den.
“I once walked into a situation where six people were trying to pull an act off an audience member who he was beating the crap out of. They couldn’t get him off. I walked up and just managed to put my hand across his face and pull him backwards, which separated them instantly.”
“What was the problem with the act?”
“It was an act just assassinating every woman in the audience – being really horrible. Nasty. It wasn’t comedy.”
“And is the act still around?”
“I’ve not seen him since and I think he’s lucky, because the police were after him.”
Tim Rendle has had an interesting life, which continues.
There is a video on YouTube of Darius Davies introducing a performance by Sweet Steve at the Lion’s Den.
As per several of my blogs last week, madness reigns and financial damage to performers comes ever closer as the Edinburgh Fringe approaches because of a tussle between the Freestival and the late-to-arrive PBH Free Fringe organisation, both claiming to have rights to programme the Cowgatehead venue.
Today, there is a meeting to try to sort it out after a compromise was suggested by the Freestival – although, in correspondence last week with critic Bruce Dessau, Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH of the Free Fringe) said: “Such a meeting is not on the cards. There is no compromise deal on the table… There is no meeting.”
So someone somewhere either has to be telling porkie pies or is delusional.
I merely report the facts as a detached observer with a raised eyebrow.
But – surprising as it may be to some – there are other people in Edinburgh during August in addition to comedians and, indeed, some of them actually live there. Lucky them.
I have been going to Edinburgh every year since I was an embryo. When I was a kid, we used to go up every year to visit my father’s aunt who lived there. My mother also had a cousin living there. And, later, my father’s sister lived there.
I also – again surprising as it may be to some – know people other than comedians.
And psychotic interludes are not restricted to comedians.
Take my chum Sue Blackwell (not her real name).
“Have you ever wanted to be a performer?” I asked her on Skype yesterday.
“No,” she told me. “I was in three AmDram plays in the 1990s. I wanted to just try it. The minister at the local church was a very flamboyant character and held the rehearsals in his manse. It was fun. It was an experience.
“I did enjoy it but, at the end of the third one, I became ill. That’s when it started. They held a barn dance after the third one and I went feeling I was alright. The next day, I was telling people I had been hypnotised. It was a quick as that.”
“Did someone,” I asked Sue, “spike your drink?”
“Well, that was what the psychiatrist asked me, but I don’t think so.”
“Had you,” I asked, “had any psychotic incidents before this?”
“No. But I was in a marriage that was particularly bad and abusive and I had probably earned it after 20 years of what was going on. I think I had probably decided to do the AmDram to distract myself.”
“How long did these psychotic incidents last?”
“I was away from work for three months.”
“This was,” I asked, “hallucination stuff?”
“Voices,” Sue told me. “The first voice I heard was a man’s voice. It’s hard to describe. Eventually, I went to see a psychologist. Then I said: I want to see a psychiatrist.”
“Why did you want to change from a psychologist to a psychiatrist?”
“There was no rational rhyme or reason to my thought processes. But I did see the psychiatrist and I took a newspaper with me. I could no more have read that paper than fly to the moon, but I wanted to appear normal. I wasn’t thinking rationally. My daughter was with me and I was telling the psychiatrist this story about feeling different after the barn dance and she said: You’ve been odd for ages, mum.
“Odd? Me? I said. And so it went on and eventually I left my home and went to stay with my daughter. I had this man’s voice in my head and it was really scary. I was still telling friends I had been hypnotised and some of them believed me. It felt like I had walked into the barn dance that evening OK but, looking back now, I probably wasn’t OK.”
“What were the voices like?” I asked. “Was it like listening to me now, in reality? Sometimes, when you dream, other people talk to you in the dream and…”
“It was an actual man’s voice,” explained Sue. “Lots of things I do remember, but I can’t remember the nature that it took. It was very unpleasant to me. It must have been me. It didn’t tell me to kill my husband – it only approached that once. But I was very frightened of the voice.
“It went on because it was not treated and, eventually, I went for treatment and they put me on amitriptyline and the voice dampened down. Then I went back to where I was living with my daughter and then it all started again, except it was a woman’s voice, which was softer. It wasn’t so harsh. There wasn’t the aggression in it.
“Eventually, I went to live with a gay friend of mine. I couldn’t talk about it by this time. I disassociated myself to cope. It was like a big egg. I was outside of it and I was not in contact with what had happened to me. Every time I did attempt to talk about it, my whole body would shake. I had been living in a place where I was scared of the person I was living with.”
“Your husband?” I asked.
“Yes. So I went to live with my gay friend and never went back and my gay friend was just amazing. He said: You need a bloody good scream, dear. So he took me out – but trying to find a place to scream in a city… We were driving around and eventually went up Arthur’s Seat but there were people parked in cars and we thought: We can’t do it here. People will call the police. So we drove down to the Blackford Hill in the south of Edinburgh and drove up to the Observatory car park and it was dusk and we walked round to look at the panorama of Edinburgh, where I know you like to go, and I just screamed my head off.
“We had also both been screaming while driving there. We went out a couple of times and screamed from the top of Blackford Hill and my gay friend was probably right. It helped on some level. Eventually, it got better.”
“Did the problem go away as quickly as it had started?”
“No. I went and saw another psychiatrist and I was barely… I can only remember bits of it. Going into the mental health unit. I accidentally went next door, which was a solicitor’s and I thought they were doing that to trick me. I was OK when I was talking to somebody. I told the psychiatrist: There’s a tiny part of my mind… I probably sound normal… rational… But inside I’m not. He gave me Seroxat.”
“Yes, I know. But for me it worked. It started to dampen down the voices.”
“What were the voices telling you?”
“Every notice I saw… My anxiety was through the roof… I was getting panic attacks and God knows what. I would see a notice for a jumble sale and I would think it was somebody targeting me.”
“What for?” I asked. “To get jumble?”
“Not necessarily. Any old notice.”
“You thought they were criticising you?” I asked.
“Or something. It was all linked. I said to the psychiatrist I’m a schizophrenic and he said Oh no. that’s a totally different thing. He said: If you want a diagnosis, I would say you were very, very deeply depressed. But I had been functioning in the depression. I can look back now and think I was almost becoming manic. I couldn’t cram enough into my life.”
“To cram so much into your life you would not be aware of your depression?”
“Probably. I didn’t feel depressed but I suppose I was distancing myself from myself. Also another big thing was that I’d had these mental ‘absences’. If I went into the bathroom when I was living with my daughter, I might go into a… you know sometimes people are… just not ‘here’ for a minute. Then my daughter would say: Mum! Mum! and I had a sense of being pulled back from this other place, wherever it was, and I would feel a sense of almost anger.”
“At being pulled back?”
“Yeah. It was happening a lot. It was a deep ‘away’. I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t just absent-mindedness. It was like going to a safe place.”
“But this was 15-20 years ago and you’re OK now.”
“Maybe that long ago. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I don’t put myself under huge stress now. It’s a difficult thing, mental illness. Because it’s all on the inside. It doesn’t show.”
Your brain or your mind just becomes detached from everything else and you can’t make it work any more. I was a bit like that for a while. I had a couple of wibbly times when I was in my teens and my twenties and my thirties – I’ve been wibbly quite a lot. It’s the kind of thing that, when it gets bad, you would sit there and, if somebody came and just punched you in the face, you would just sit there and let them punch you in the face and, inside your head, you’d be going: “He’s going to punch me in the face”.
In The Bell Jar, I think Sylvia Plath’s description is pretty fucking good.
Anyway, this night after that – and there were a couple of other incidents – I don’t know… I had a bit of a moment and I wanted to sort of feel something. So I got on my bike .
A motor bike?
No. Push bike. Dressed in black, of course. No surprise there.
And I cycled down to Shepherd’s Bush Green and Shepherd’s Bush roundabout.
That’s the big roundabout with almost a motorway spur going up to Westway.
Correct. And I cycled round it the wrong way, into the headlights of cars.
And this is a serious roundabout. It’s almost a motorway spur.
I had no lights or anything on my bike and they all swerved and everything. It was about one o’clock in the morning. The cars were going a bit faster and I think I just wanted to see if I could be frightened or panicky or that something would click and I’d go Oh, good grief! I’ve come out of it now and it’s all marvellous!
And what happened was it was a white van man who screeched to a halt in front of me: “What the fuck? Wah! Wah! Wah!”