Category Archives: Performance

Why you should always seek out and watch really bad live comedy shows

“Saw my first really terrible show yesterday. What a relief after so much brilliance.”

That is what Claire Smith, esteemed comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge, posted on her Facebook page this morning.

She is at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As a result, I really want to see that show if it ever plays London.

You can seldom learn much from watching perfection. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes (and your own).

If you are interested in the creative process, which I am, then to see what does NOT work in a show is far more educational and interesting than to see something with no flaws which just flows.

I seldom seek out long-established, very successful acts because what is the point of being entertained by a well-oiled, flawless piece of work which can be – and is – repeated perfectly night after night, performance after performance?

Uniformity is the enemy of originality.

So I prefer to see newish acts (but with some experience) which are still developing as well as good acts which are very professional but are not yet famous in a general everyone-in-the-queue-at-the-bus-stop-knows-them way. 

When success hits, acts do not need to have gone for the lowest common denominator. But they need to have found some common denominator of some kind which will appeal to a mass audience.

So, to an extent, there is a smoothing-over, blandifying factor involved.

If you see a very good, solid, professional act who has NOT yet had mainstream success, there is probably some interesting edge which has not yet been knocked off. 

And acts with enough experience to be watchable but which can still be variable and unpredictable (because they are still trying out new ideas and approaches) will have multiple jagged edges some of which may or may not work or which may half-work.

Sometimes, a show is bad because a good performer has had the balls to try out something truly original which does not quite (yet) work.

If you watch a truly truly bad show (and they are as rare as a police station without corruption) you can learn.

I have no urge (and no ability) to be a comedy performer, but the creation of the on-stage character and the performance interests me and – to repeat in a sledgehammer way a previous sentence – You can seldom learn much from watching perfection. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes (and your own).

Don’t bother telling me that posting this blog was a mistake.

It is too obvious a punchline.

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How Edinburgh Fringe virgin Michael Livesley is coping or not with the chaos

It is performer Michael Livesley’s first Edinburgh Fringe.

In London last month, he talked to me about his show for a blog before the true madness all started.

He is now staying in Leith, the port part of Edinburgh.

So how is he faring?

Well…. Here he is with an update…


THE FIRST DAY

My first Fringe arrives with all the promise of a funeral in January. I have to say that I have dreaded this moment for months. Sleepless nights, flirtations with Kalms abuse and the nagging self doubt which plagues all who entertain the notion of becoming a part of the world’s biggest Arts Festival have become my constant companions… and now the day is finally here. 

“Here I am in Leith. Bowed and unbroken…”

Here I am in Leith. Bowed and unbroken, in the very heart of Irvine Welsh territory.

My landlord informs me “Leith is no’ Edinburgh and Edinburgh is no’ Leith”. 

To the untrained eye, this is not apparent and I soon learn that the red Tennents’ ’T’ is ubiquitous in both and a universal symbol for serious drinking comparable with the Green Cross symbol for a pharmacy.

For almost two decades I have locked myself away, literally digging my grave with my own teeth. After losing half of my body weight, some 10 stones/140lbs, I am now attempting to turn decades of anxiety and addiction and ultimate redemption into a Fringe show. Losing the weight was easier.

I have brought flyers, posters, my coffee machine plus a party pack of Kalms with me. I have also learned my script to the letter, which I have quickly realised is far too rigid and straitjacketing – an apt simile as it is mental health and its attendant obesity which brought me here. 

I have a lot to learn, which is why I am here. My hope being that I emerge on August 25th battle-hardened and ready for the next chapter next year. 

Like my body weight, tonight I intend to throw half of my script away and just talk. We shall see what happens…

THE FIRST WEEKEND

Michael Livesley – “It has been a steep learning curve”

It has seen a steep learning curve. My show is free and everybody else seems incredibly skilled at hustling. Yet I often don’t ask for money at the end of my shows. The pride which was thumped into me during my childhood in Lancashire making my tongue recoil like a lipstick into my head at the mere suggestion of asking anyone for what I wrongly interpret as ‘charity’.

On Saturday night, not far from the Free Sisters venue I’m performing in, I stopped a lady with a two-tone pink and black hairdo from being assaulted by a man who I later realised was her boyfriend. She spoke to me in broken English yet, when her phone rang, she answered with a thick Scots “Hullo hen…”

She did not want me to call ‘the Polis’ so I put her in a cab and she left the scene.

On Monday morning, as I stared dolefully from my Leith window, I noticed a suited and booted businessman yelling orders into his iPhone whilst sipping his frappuccino with a bandaged nose and two black eyes. No doubt a souvenir from a lively ‘transaction’ with an associate over the weekend.

After my gig on Sunday night, I ended up being dragged into a bar somewhere in Leith and playing a piano accompaniment for a chap who I swear was Den Hegarty from Darts as he rambled incomprehensible poetry into the mic. I had only gone out to buy a Sunday Post newspaper.

The sheer amount of waste paper here astonishes me, and as I sheltered in a grotty doorway on Cowgate during a Hoots Monsoon I watched rivers of it run in the gutters and sang…

“I’m just sitting watching flyers in the rain.
Pretty flyers down the drain…”

…to myself.

An apt metaphor for the dreams which can be dashed here.

I once recall reading a piece in which Kate Copstick referred to the ‘horror’ and ‘terror’ of the Fringe. 

Seconded. 

It is the biggest test of will and ego I have ever encountered. As my ‘show’ has worn on, it is apparent that its sheer Northern-ness is going over the audiences’ heads. Up to now I have rewritten half of it, and it seems to work better. Half the Man – Half the Show.

TUESDAY, WEEK 1

Half the Man is really hitting its stride now. The Fringe is a crucible in which shows are forged like no other. But, as Kate Copstick said, until you’ve faced its ‘fear and terror’ you can’t assess what it is that you actually ‘do’.

WEDNESDAY, WEEK 1

It’s almost 12 months since I ate sugar in any form, but reet about now I could saw some fucker’s head off for a box of French Fancies! The Fringe in a nutshell!

Great show tonight. Really getting there now, about 50 people in. I think the venue holds about 120. I’ve made a decent whack every night. I got about £120 out of the bucket tonight.

SATURDAY, WEEK 1

Well, tonight’s show was certainly an ‘experience’! A packed house, good.

But the first two rows were pissed-up nobheads who had obviously been out on the booze all day and heckled and shouted their heads off throughout. The worst bit being their laughter whilst I was talking about me mum dying. 

Still, at least I didn’t jump offstage and kick the fuck out of the baldy bellend lad leading em all. 

After disrupting the show and ruining it for everyone they then, of course, fucked off just before the end so as to not put any money in the bucket. 

I felt bad for those there to hear the show as there were many and, like all who go through this, I feel I could have handled it much better. 

Hey-ho! All part of the experience.

Here in the photo I am staring oot the baldy bellend…


ADDENDUM

After reading Michael’s reference to him in this blog, Den Hegarty contacted me to say: “Sadly, not me – though the speaking incomprehensibly bit sounds the part…”


 

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Polly Trope: Late Night Ceremony plus a 14-year-old Edinburgh Fringe zombie

Polly Trope first appeared in this blog in 2014, when she was publicising her book Cured Meat – Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway.

Polly Trope back in 2015 (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

This year – indeed, next week – she is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for six days (12th-17th August) … as part of a collective known as Berlingeles.

Their show at Surgeon’s Hall is called Late Night Ceremony. Their blurb reads:

“This group showcase raises a fist with one hand and holds a glass with the other against the fact that the world we live in is a complete disaster. Borders close in, rents rise, intimacy dissolves. One person’s normal is another person’s crazy. Who gets to tell their story and who must remain silent? Embodied performance, experimental music, storytelling and a secret midnight ritual.”

I thought: What is that all about?

So I talked to Polly Trope at her home in Berlin via FaceTime.

She flies into Edinburgh tomorrow.


JOHN: So, Berlingeles. Is that a pun on Berlin Girls?

POLLY: No, it’s actually a putting-together of Berlin and Los Angeles…

JOHN: Doh!

POLLY: …because half of us are coming from Los Angeles and half from Berlin.

JOHN: There are four people involved.

Brian Felsen rehearses for the show in Polly’s living room

POLLY: There used to be more. Some had to drop out. It was always supposed to be a group show. I put together some of the artists I’d been seeing on stage because I’ve been going between Berlin and Los Angeles all the time.

JOHN: Why the travelling?

POLLY: Because I fell in love with someone from Los Angeles. He is actually doing more of the going back-and-forth than I am. The pendulum is supposed to come to a halt somewhere but (LAUGHS) it is proving quite complicated to organise.

JOHN: The listing for the show on the Fringe website says: 

WARNINGS AND ADDITIONAL INFO: 

SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE 

One member of your cast a 14-year-old. Is that a problem?

POLLY: I think for that particular 14-year-old it’s alright. He’s not in the scenes of a sexual nature, but I think he’s seen such scenes before. He has been in the world of ‘horror performance’ and stage performance for quite some time. He can close his eyes when I’m performing.

JOHN: ‘Horror performance’? What is that?

14-year-old Anatol Felsen in his make-up

POLLY: Zombie stuff. In Los Angeles it’s very popular. His mother is a zombie performance artist and he has always been involved in plays his mother has done. Every month or two he will be in a show. He puts on his make-up and he does ‘horror theatre’ in Hollywood and people come because every week is Hallowe’en in Hollywood. He loves doing it and he is going to do something based on that in our Fringe show. It is going to be the first time he is doing something on his own.

JOHN: What’s the short elevator pitch for your show?

POLLY: It’s a group showcase about a lot of different types of late-night rituals. We have a seance. We have a ritual to overcome heartbreak. We have a ritual to save the world.

JOHN: And you have a 14-year-old zombie…

POLLY: …and we have me, who is going to talk about the ritual of the one-night stand.

JOHN: So it is multiple rituals.

POLLY: Yes. We have one ritual that is actually happening AT midnight, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

JOHN: I have a vivid imagination…

“People are going to come forward and be y’know… ritualised”

POLLY: It is going to be interactive and people are going to come forward and have themselves be… y’know… ritualised or… eh… ritually treated.

The midnight ritual is the one ritual where the audience takes part and the audience will be cleansed.

JOHN: Well, everyone is going to be hoping the midnight ritual is the one-night stand ritual.

POLLY: Erm, well… I don’t know if they would hope that.

JOHN: But it’s all Art… It’s performance art.

POLLY: Absolutely. Each of us has a slightly different speciality. Brian Felsen is a composer, so he is going to compose live, performing a ritual with polyphonic chant, DJ looping and tribal drumming;. Mine is more storytelling. The 14-year-old…

JOHN: … is doing the zombie stuff…

POLLY: Yes. Anatol Felsen (Brian’s son). He’s performing a musical work and monologue channelling Borges.

Darling Fitch will perform (Photograph by Jon Alloway)

And Darling Fitch is a performance artist who is going to perform a ritual in noise – electronic noises and electronic music as well as elements of the queer culture and other things that I can’t talk about because they are secret. It’s a hopeful harsh noise poetry pop opera about the end of the world.

JOHN: Will the show have a life after the Fringe? Will you tour it?

POLLY: These particular people have just come together for the Edinburgh Fringe. I would love it to keep going, though. We are trying to set up more venues and gigs for us, maybe in the United States. If we did it in Berlin or Los Angeles, though, there would be more local performers

JOHN: Since the last blog about you in 2015, what have you been doing? Is there another book in the works?

POLLY: Yes. I wrote a second book maybe a year-and-a-half ago, which was supposed to be the sequel to my first book Cured Meat.

JOHN: The title?

POLLY: So far, it’s been called Why Don’t You Kill Me?

I wanted to write a sequel to Cured Meat but to go more into depth about the whole sex work experience… Cured Meat is very much about mental health and the drugs aspect of the story and the sex work comes in at the last minute. So I wrote a second book. Also, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, I felt that people were talking about women’s issues more. So I wrote this big long second book about my experiences with sex work. And then, after it was all done, I realised what I actually needed to do was to stick my first and my second book together.

So I’ve been working on that. It was not a very easy thing, but I’m really happy because it’s all done. Now I just have to make and market it.

Polly Trope in her living room… being mysterious

JOHN: Previously, when we have talked for my blog, you didn’t want your face shown in pictures. But you are going to be live on stage in Edinburgh and you are going to be talking about sex work…

POLLY: Yes.

JOHN: Is there a problem there?

POLLY: Kind of… It’s a slow progress for me to bring my whole identities together. It’s kinda slow but things are coming together in terms of who I represent for myself and things I want people to know about me and things I don’t want people to know about me. It depends very much how comfortable I feel talking about this.

I feel much more comfortable now talking about sex work than I did five years ago when it was still a more recent experience… I guess… It’s kind of moving towards… more transparency, I guess.

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Good advice for performers going to the Edinburgh Fringe this – or any – year

Performers will expose themselves at the Edinburgh Fringe (Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph via unSplash)

After yesterday’s blog, I got an email from a comedy performer I know. It read:


I am finally getting on with the job of writing my show after making reams of notes for months. Hopefully two months gives me enough time to write and learn it, though I intend the thing to be shaped up in Edinburgh more than here in isolation.


The Edinburgh Fringe is in August.

This was my advice to him, her or them.

Who knows what the correct PC form of address is any more?

Not me.


Don’t repeat any of that to Kate Copstick, doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers.

She gets annoyed at PRs or managers asking her not to review an act in the first few days of the Fringe because the performance needs time to ‘bed in’.

She says if the show isn’t perfect on Day One, it shouldn’t be brought to Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh is not part of an ongoing process. It is the aim.

If you do one bad gig at the Fringe, the word may well get round and, if a reviewer is in that day, the review will be online for as long as your career survives (which may not be long if you perform half-prepared shows) and beyond. 

In two – five – seven years time – it will say in print that you are a half-cocked performer – unreliable – or shit. Doing one bad Work in Progress gig to thirty people in a pub in Scunthorpe is arguably throwaway. Doing one bad gig to five people in Edinburgh could be a disaster because they will go home and badmouth you in totally different, widespread parts of the country.

And one or two or three of those unknown five punters in Edinburgh may well be reviewers or TV researchers or comedy bookers who will remember your half-prepared act forever.

If they are just ordinary punters, you are still up shit creek because you have an audience who are such comedy fans they came to the Fringe and now they will be badmouthing you to other comedy fans in Norwich or Plymouth or London or wherever.

The other bad news is you must never ever cancel any show in Edinburgh. If there is only one person in the audience, play full-throttle to that one person because they may change your life. If you perform a half-ready show, it may damage your prospects; if you cancel, it may destroy your prospects.

Charlie Chuck, unknown, at his first Edinburgh Fringe run was not getting audiences and was thinking of going home in mid-run. I advised him not to.

He stayed.

One night after that, he had an audience of only three. 

Unknown to him, two of them were on the production team of a forthcoming, not-yet-made Reeves & Mortimer TV show. As a result, he became a regular on two of their series.

Once, when I was a TV researcher looking for acts, I turned up at a (free) show. I had seen the act before and it was interesting, but I had never seen them do a full show. I was the only punter to turn up. The act cancelled the show because, she said, “it won’t be worth you watching me with only you in the audience”. I would never ever risk using that act who has – inevitably – now faded away.

Anyway…

Edinburgh is not somewhere to hone an act. It is the real thing from Day One.


This morning, I checked with Copstick that it was OK to paraphrase her view in a blog. This is her reply and expanded view.


Ignore her opinion at your professional peril

I think if you are taking stand-up to Edinburgh you have no place mumbling about previews and looking for wriggle-room from audiences or critics on the basis that it is your first show of the run. You are a person in a space talking to other people in the same space. for money (either from ticket sales or from money in a bucket). 

It is not Phantom of the Fucking Opera on Ice. If the mic fails, you talk a little louder. Spot fails, turn on the overheads. Sound spill – be funnier than the sound spill.

If you purport to be a professional and are happy to take money from people then – SPOILER ALERT – you will have many ‘first nights’. 

It is up to you (as a professional which means you do it for money) that you learn to cope with the horror and terror of it all without making the audience feel that it is up to them to make sure it goes well.

First Night should just be a statement of fact, not a cover-all excuse.

And don’t get me started on ‘Work In Progress’ shows performed to 2,000 people at a time in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre for the same money for which you could see five comics who might do something that might surprise you. Even if it is not as polished as it might be on a first night.

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Advice to stand-up comedians on how not to utterly mess up their stage acts

I am not a performer.

I am an audience member.

So I am well-placed to tell stand-up comics when they are annoying the audience and destroying their own act.

Lighting is vitally important in a comedy club.

New/inexperienced stand-up comedians understandably want to see the faces and the facial reactions of their audience.

But performers can be dazzled by the light or lights aimed at their faces, so the inexperienced tend to move their eyes – and thus part or all of their heads – out of the centre of the light.

This means they can see the audience slightly better but it also means the audience inevitably see the performer’s face less sharply lit.

Communication is all about people.

People are interested in people.

If you are writing an autobiography or a biography or a novel, it is almost always not the facts which are gripping; it is the people involved, their thoughts and their emotions.

This next bit actually IS relevant.

If you wrote about the physical causes and facts of an avalanche on a mountainside, it would not be especially interesting to a general readership. If you write about what happened when two people were caught in an avalanche, it IS interesting.

People are interested in people.

This next bit is relevant too…

Years ago, I read some research on violence in movies. The researchers were able to pinpoint where on the screen a viewer’s eyes were focussed.

In an action sequence, you might assume the audience would be watching the action. 

They are not. They are watching the RE-action.

If someone is punched or shot, the viewer’s eyes are not watching the punch land or the bullet hit… The viewer is watching the face of the victim.

There may be special effects blood spurting out from the bullet impact; the victim may be throwing his arms up in the air; but the audience are not looking at that. The audience are watching the face of the victim.

They are not watching the action. They are watching the RE-action.

When it gets down to basics, people are interested in people and people’s emotions.

It is exactly the same in comedy performance.

Being told a joke by a stand-up comic on-stage is, of course, about the greater or lesser effect of the material and the delivery. But, by-and-large, stand-ups do what the name suggests. They stand up, tell a joke and that is it. 

What are the audience looking at?

They are not looking at the stage backcloth; they are not looking at the comic’s costume; they are not looking at the comic’s hands, though they may be aware of them peripherally. They are looking at the face of the comedian telling the joke. They are looking at the performer’s face and at the eyes.

If the performer is moving around in-and-out of the main light, the constantly-changing visual information – or lack of it in dimly-lit shadows – starts to distract from and overwhelm the spoken words. One vivid picture IS worth a thousand words.

The audience, by and large, HAS to see the performer’s face clearly. Which means a bright light shining directly at the performer’s face.

The reverse of that is… If the performer can see the audience clearly, he or she is standing in the wrong place and being badly lit.

If the audience can’t see the stand-up comic’s face clearly, he or she might as well play a tape recording on an empty stage. The audience have not paid to come and see a chair or a curtain or a bit of wall while listening to disembodied words coming out of the gloom.

They have come to see a stand-up comic delivering lines. 

They have come to see a person.

The clue is in the word SEE.

My advice to new stand-up comics is…

The more YOU can see the audience, the less THEY are probably seeing of you.

If you are dazzled, you will be dazzling. If you are in the gloom, you are dim.

STAND IN THE FUCKING SPOTLIGHT!

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Peculiar – Comic Jo Burke disappeared for 3 years, found true love and a show

The last time performer/writer Jo Burke appeared in this blog was in September 2015. There is a reason for that gap of over three years.


Three years absent and three books published

JOHN: So you have three children’s books here which you wrote. There is Standing on Custard

JO: That’s the first one. It’s a book of funny verse – for up to 10 year olds – and it’s really good for small ones because it’s rhyming. Then A Squirrel’s Tail is a whole story rather than verse. A really lovely story about inclusivity and diversity about a squirrel born without his tail. And then Molly, Chip and The Chair is for slightly older children: when they’re moving on to reading adult-style books.

JOHN: Why’s it called Standing on Custard?

JO: The book has lots of useful facts. So one interesting fact is that you can actually stand on custard.

JOHN: Eh?

JO: You get two tins of Ambrosia, you put them on the floor and you stand on them. (LAUGHS) No… It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid. You have to make it with cornflour and lots of it. What a non-Newtonian fluid does is, instead of like most fluids and liquids, it becomes harder the more pressure, the more weight you put on it.

JOHN: The books are beautifully illustrated.

JO: My talented husband Philip Price.

JOHN: You gave up comedy for three years.

JO: I didn’t intend to. My last show – the last time we had a chat – was 2015 and that was my I Scream show and I’d written a book about that as well. It was about online dating. 

“Most successful show… I was quite annoyed”

That was my most successful show so far and it was me as me. Before that, I had been doing character-based comedy. I was delighted that the one with me as me was the most successful. But also quite annoyed, because I had trained for many many years to be an actress. And the show I did as me was the most successful. 

I think I just felt like I’d plateaued a bit: that I didn’t have much else to say. I had sort of fallen… not out of love with it because it was fantastic… but I felt that, if I were to come back with something else, it would have to be as good and I didn’t want to rush into the next thing. I had kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh Fringe thing. I had done about six Edinburghs in a row by that point. Six shows up to 2015 and, in two of those years, I did two shows each year, which was ridiculous.

Initially, I thought I might take a year off. But, I got back to London from Edinburgh in the September and, in the October I met the man who is now my husband. It was ironic that whole I Scream book and show had been about my disastrous love life. Then, lo and behold…!

JOHN: So you were only doing comedy to cover gaps in your acting.

JO: I had always done acting and ads and whatever and, up until that point as well, I also had a  mortgage-paying job which most performers have – a horrible office job three days a week which was not playing to any of my strengths and just to pay the bills. I had started to feel quite unhappy there and I thought: You know what? It’s time to move on. So I did. 

What I needed then was a revenue stream. So I thought: Actually, now I’ve met Phil, who is an artist… I had already written this book years and years ago for a friend’s daughter. And I said to Phil: “Do you think you’d be interested in doing the artwork for this book?” 

So that was our first project. We have released a book a year, basically; we are just finishing off a new one.

JOHN: You said you needed a revenue stream – to make money – so you started writing books… That is not a way to make money!

JO: The books are really popular in Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, America. I sell them online and at a stall in Greenwich Market and I sell hundreds of them a month and we sell prints and artwork as well. I do a maximum of about three days there and it’s great because I can work it round castings – I just shot a commercial for IKEA in Italy for four days.

JOHN: And next Saturday (6th April), you are back on stage at the Museum of Comedy in London with a new show called Peculiar. Is it you as yourself or is it character comedy?

JO: It’s me again.

Jo Burke no longer screaming; just as creative

JOHN: A follow-up to I Scream?

JO: No, that’s why to have the space of three years between the two shows was good. I don’t really feel like that person I was any more. Straight after I Scream, I met Phil. I feel so far removed from that (previous) person and all of that angst and heartache and stuff. Everything changed. It was like a cathartic thing. I released the I Scream book and did that show then, all-of-a-sudden, the love of my life walked in the door.

JOHN: Is happiness good creatively, though? I heard Charles Aznavour interviewed and he was asked why he sang sad songs. He said they were more interesting because, when people are happy, there’s not a lot you can say. People are happy in the same way but, when people are sad, they are sad for all sorts of different. specific reasons.

JO: Yeah. Also happy people can be a bit annoying to be around sometimes. I spent a huge chunk of my life being single and being around happy couples and I know the annoyance of it. (LAUGHS) Nobody’s interested in you if you’re happy and I don’t really write when I’m happy. I have always written when I’m annoyed. When you are happy, it’s quite dull creatively, I think.

JOHN: So when you got happy it must have screwed-up your creativity for the last three years?

JO: No. I never stopped writing. I made notes all the time in those three years and I did the children’s books. The children’s books are a gentler… they’re still funny, but it’s a gentler humour and a different audience. But I still always had dark, evil thoughts that I would set aside for future shows.

So when I decided to do this new show, Peculiar, I started looking back through all my notes and maybe I had written the equivalent of a show a year anyway, so Peculiar is really the best of all of that.

“It’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd”

JOHN: What’s the elevator pitch for Peculiar? Is it angry?

JO: No, but it’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd from nail varnishes to medication to marriage to eBay.

JOHN: So observational comedy.

JO: Yes, but not really. It’s… Jo Burke calls out the absurdity surrounding our every day life. She shoots down the lazy marketing we are perpetually bombarded with, ridiculous products and Amazon reviews plus a fair few things in between.

JOHN: Last time we talked, you wanted to do a show about working class life.

JO: Well, that’s always a bugbear of mine. I’m always slightly peeved at the fact there are fewer and fewer working class voices. There are sketches I’ve written just for bizarre funny’s sake, but a good 90% of what I do is with a reason, a message behind it. 

JOHN: To get your message out? But you’re not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

JO: Part of the reason I’m doing Peculiar at the Brighton Fringe in May but I am not doing Edinburgh is that I priced it all out and I would love to go to Edinburgh – I absolutely love it – but, you know, I am still paying for the seven years I did before!

Why would I go to the Edinburgh Fringe? Because I love it. But that is not a good enough reason. It has not been a stepping stone for me so far and I can’t really afford to keep trying. I’m taking another tack now. I’m not really doing stand-up spots on other people’s gigs. It’s time-consuming and means travelling all around and I prefer doing my own shows. 

I did consider doing a children’s show in Edinburgh. Standing on Custard would make an amazing children’s show but… Well, it’s all very well signing books and making children laugh but it’s a whole different ball game when you can make a whole room of adults laugh.

JOHN: The lure of the applause?

JO: I was missing the feel-good. Also, because everything is so politically dark and horrible at the moment, I think if you have a skill – to make kids or adults laugh – now is definitely the time to be doing it.

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What happened when award-winning Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week

Becky possibly possessed by a dead actress.

When Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Becky Fury told me she was going to Berlin for a week and offered to share her insights with me, I leapt at the chance and said Yes.

Though it is always a risky strategy saying Yes to anyone who has won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

I have just received this missive from Becky which is more a thesis on support of the arts but is worth reading for the unexpected (at least by me) twist in it…


I woke up in Berlin yesterday. 

I meant to. It was not some happy, drunken accident.

I woke up in an arts space which calls itself the new Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) and I put my coat on – the wrong way round, I was informed. But the coat served its function that way for a few more hours, so maybe it was not the coat that was the wrong way round but the perspective of how the coat should be on that was inside out.

Facade of Kunsthaus Tacheles at Oranienburger Straße, Berlin

‘Tacheles’ is a word – רעדן ניט בולשיט – meaning ‘speak no bullshit’ in Yiddish. So I had broken the only rule of the space before breakfast.

The old Tacheles grew out of the rubble of the Second World War, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a space in East Berlin.

It was named in Yiddish as a memorial to its pre-War Jewish inhabitants who had never returned.

The new space is beginning to be like the old one but the artists there are having to deal with just making the space habitable rather than being able to create art. Putting into place the basic blocks of the artistic ecosystem which develops in a space which, like a rainforest or peak bog, has taken years to evolve. In the same way that you can’t just make a rainforest from scratch, you can’t do that with a creative space.

These spaces should be protected as important habitats to protect cultural biodiversity.

PROTECT THE PUNK is unlikely to be taken up as a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund. But something needs to happen. The eviction of the Freespace ADM in Amsterdam (Becky blogged about it here last year) was halted by the UN, who said that the space was a protected reservation.

If the World Wildlife Fund can’t do it, maybe one of the charities that allows you to indirectly adopt a child could run an adoption campaign for alternative artists. You could get updates on how well your alternative artist is doing, if it has been successfully released into the wild and how global re-population is doing. 

The British government used to run a similar scheme. It was called the dole.

If you have an issue with people claiming the dole, then throw away most of your favourite music because those artists were funded and had the space to do what they were doing because they were at some point in their career scamming the dole.

A staircase inside the Kunsthaus Tacheles building in Berlin (Photograph by Shaun7777777 on Wikipedia)

However, really, the most important fundraising needs to go into  protecting spaces where this art is created. Pop stars would do well to think less about the Rainforest or Africa and more about cultural reservations in the developed world, because it is in these places that the sounds and styles that go into the creation of commercially manufactured music are poached.

The commercial stylists and producers and ‘creative team’ are essentially poachers that go into these wild raw spaces and poach ideas. They return with skins and trophies that go into creating the latest look for whoever is being pushed to the top of what is left of the singles chart. Without these spaces, they wouldn’t have a career. They would do well to encourage people to save them.

Really, the important issue is the space. The individuals there can support themselves in lieu of the government doing it. The government never does anything that shows foresight beyond preserving their next term. It needs a charity which deals with protecting habitats like the RSPB.

 We need a  Royal Society for the Protection of Artistic Birds. 

Birds and Blokes.

I am using birds as the collective noun.

These artistic birds are endangered and they need to have their habitat protected otherwise the diversity will decrease and all the beautiful, wild, exotic, interesting species will die off and we will just be left with the equivalent of pigeons and seagulls – less sensitive, aggressive species that can survive in the barren cultural climate and environment that we have manufactured. 

I am not suggesting that Rentokil should be called in to deal with infestations of pop stars. 

I would just like to see pop stars on the list alongside rats and wasps on the side of the Rentokil van. 

If Rentokil could turn up at a Justin Beiber concert and trap him in a big net, I would pay for an overpriced stadium ticket to see that gig.


When I received that missive from Becky, I asked her if she had any photos she had taken of herself at the Kunsthaus Tacheles. She replied:


A Becky selfie on a train in Berlin

I didn’t take any there. I do have one of me on a tube train.

And one (above) that makes me look like maybe I was possessed by one of the former inhabitants of the Tacheles – a minor Hammer horror actress that died there… on stage in a dance interpretation of the Communist Manifesto.

I left some photos with the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid and didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.

I told you when I left for Berlin that I would see where it might lead me… Back to Berlin Airport, apparently, and then back to London.

Anyway. Now I can learn lines for my next show or just fanny about on Facebook in London. So that’s what I’m doing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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