Category Archives: political correctness

ECCENTRIVIA: Man killed by own cock, penile routing and Mother’s Day

In my last blog, I mentioned that a 9-year-old of my acquaintance in London had adopted a kākāpō called Ralph in New Zealand. These are quirky, large, flightless, nocturnal parrots, not all called Ralph. They have a reported lifespan of up to 100 years. Over that period, they learn a trick or too.

My blog mention got this comment from a reader:

“I was in New Zealand a few years ago and took a bus tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound on the South Island. Somewhere along the winding and mountainous journey, the bus pulled up for a moment and a kākāpō strode up to the door and the bus driver fed him while tourists took photos. I don’t know how the kākāpō trained the bus driver to do this, but I am convinced that they are smart birds.”

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In other bird-related news, this blog’s occasional Vancouver-based correspondent, Anna Smith, sent me a report from the CTV Network in Canada about a man who was killed by his own cock in Southern India.

It seems a rooster fitted with a knife for an illegal cockfight in the Karimnagar district of Telangana state “inflicted serious injuries to the man’s groin as it tried to escape”. The cock was briefly held by local police before it was sent to a poultry farm.

According to CTV, “Specially-bred roosters have 7.5-centimetre (three-inch) knives or blades tethered to their legs and punters bet on who will win the gruesome fight. Thousands of roosters die each year in the battles which, despite the efforts of animal rights groups, attract large crowds.”

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On a peripherally-related subject, Andy Dunlop – President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation (also featured in my previous blog) contacted me with a story from the Welwyn & Hatfield Times about a man in Southern England who creates penis-shaped running routes to raise money for testicular cancer.

It seems Adam Linsell, an air conditioning engineer, wanted to get back into shape after Christmas and chose to start running routes in the shape of penises.

Some of Adam’s runs are fairly long (nearly 7km) while others are on the short side (around 4km). The Welwyn & Hatfield Times helpfully reports that “cold weather doesn’t put Adam off or cause the runs to shrink in size”.

Andy Dunlop bike ride route: sadly neither penis nor America

Adam is quoted as saying: “I’m chuckling to myself as I go along passing people who have no idea what I’m up to!… I uploaded the pics onto Welwyn Garden City Unhinged and they’ve currently had 4,000 shares, 3,000 likes and 2,000 comments.” 

Inspired by Adam, Egg-Throwing supremo Andy Dunlop tried to re-plan his bike ride routes across the North Yorks Moors to emulate his hero, but “only managed a bad map of America.”

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Meanwhile at home, in the last week, I have been bombarded by a barrage of spam/scam phone calls.

These included a pre-recorded phone call from 0118 348 2605 (a Reading number) telling me my British Telecom landline was about to be cut off and asking me to press key 1 on my telephone.

I have no BT landline.

On another day, two calls from different numbers told me that I was under investigation for tax fraud by HMRC (the taxman) and told me to press 1 or the police would arrest me.

On yet another day, I had a text message from HSBC bank to my mobile phone checking if I had authorised a payment of £240 to Mr C Jones and telling me to click on a link to security.hs-online-authpayee.com if the payment was not legit.

I have no HSBC bank account and I imagine that clicking the link would probably have connected me with some vastly expensive premium phone line in some far-flung country.

The (I hope) final scam was a pre-recorded call to my mobile phone from the National Insurance Office (surreally via a mobile phone number 44 7836 703246) saying I should phone them back immediately by pressing 1.

I do not recommend phoning that number, because of the potential ‘vastly expensive premium phone line in some far-flung country’ factor. But there seems to be some as-yet-inexplicable love of Button 1 by scammers.

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I also got a (I think) perfectly legitimate email from London’s Natural History Museum asking me if I wanted to opt out of receiving “Mother’s Day themed emails” from them – presumably on the basis that, if your mother has died, being reminded of the fact would upset you.

A worthy thought but, methinks, an email asking if you want to opt out of emails about Mother’s Day would equally remind you of the bereavement and be equally upsetting.

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Filed under Birds, Eccentrics, political correctness, scams

ECCENTRIVIA – Political correctness, Facebook hoes, midgets and the NHS

Yesterday, my Yorkshire-born friend Lynn stumbled on this story in The Week from last month, which both of us had missed. She says: “I had to read it three times and I’m still not sure I get it. Whoever the morons are, they surely can’t be Yorkshire folk.

To be clear, the concept of the three wise monkeys became popular in 17th century Japan, before spreading to the West. It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where monkeys are considered sacred and perceived as helpers for divine figures. They are “vehicles of delight”.

I always think people who censor monkeys for being racist should look at themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me to say “political correctness gone mad”… but I will.

That was yesterday.

Today, Lynn spotted this piece in Computer Active magazine about Facebook’s algorithm getting similarly censorious.

I told her: “Eat your heart out for any publican trying to make a living by running the Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.”

Afterwards, I Googled to see if there actually IS a Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.

Sadly there is not, but Google told me there is a Blythe Black Cock Inn. Arguably worse in Facebook terms, but un-censored by them.

I feel the good people of Plymouth Hoe have cause to be aggrieved about being picked-on by a US algorithm.

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Meanwhile, in other perhaps equally dodgy news, I got an email telling me that the admirable Vaudevisuals Press, whose slogan is “Celebrating the Eccentric Performing Arts”, have published a book on Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville.

“…both the Dark and the Dazzling sides”

It covers the period from 1890 when Ike Rose “started living the legendary life of a top vaudeville & burlesque producer” to 1957, when Billy Barty founded his “advocacy group” the Little People of America.

Ike Rose, apparently, was “one of show biz history’s great impresarios, now forgotten but once in a league with names like Barnum and Ziegfeld as men who delivered full value for the price of a ticket.”

He seems to have rivalled Barnum is hype.

The book admits: “each component of the troupe’s name crumbles into dust by light of day.

“‘Rose’ was a pseudonym; the company held no Royal seal of approval; and the word ‘midget’ has passed out of use in polite society.”

The selling line for the book claims: ”Without pandering nor passing judgment, this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise, to re-invent, to reform American Theater.”

Rare indeed – apparently only 50 copies of the book are being published.

Tomorrow – well, tonight at 8.00pm in New York; tomorrow 1.00am in London – there is a free online Zoom conversation between author Trav S.D. (Donald Travis Stewart) and Vaudevisuals’ own Jim R.Moore.

As I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May last year (medical conditions) and am currently sleeping on the floor at night because my back is buggered, the possibility of my listening in on this Zoom call is iffy. But it sounds interesting.

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I have also, this morning, just received a letter from the NHS saying that I should ignore the other letter they enclose in the same envelope cancelling  a future appointment.

Obviously, in this main letter, they don’t mention when or with whom the appointment is because that is mentioned in the letter which they are telling me to ignore.
 
They say, in the first letter telling me to ignore the second letter, that they will send me a third letter rescheduling the appointment.
 
Regular readers of this blog will know we have been here before (see my blog of a fortnight ag0).
 
Life is but a surreal dream, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….

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Filed under Books, circus, Eccentrics, political correctness, Uncategorized

Andrew Doyle Part 2: “It’s no longer about Left and Right. That’s obsolete.”

In yesterday’s blog, writer/performer Andrew Doyle – who, for three years, co-wrote for the parody TV reporter character Jonathan Pie – talked about his new satire My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism, a faux children’s publication written in character by ‘Titania McGrath’ the ‘woke’ Feminist activist Andrew created for a parody Twitter account. He has described her as “a militant vegan who thinks she is a better poet than William Shakespeare”.

She is named after Titania, queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Andrew has said “it’s quite appropriate that she is named after the queen of the fairies” because “the people who promote this hyper inclusive culture are fantasists… all of this ‘woke culture’ is an utter fantasy world”.

Andrew Doyle and Titania McGrath – No Left or Right.


JOHN: So Titania McGrath is “an intersectional warrior queen”. I am a simple soul who can’t keep up. What does “intersectional” mean?

ANDREW: Intersectionality is a branch of Feminism that originated last century with a woman called Kimberlé Crenshaw who is a legal scholar.

There was a dispute in court between General Motors and some black female employees… General Motors’ defence in court was “We are not racist, because we can point to our black male employees. And, look, we’re not sexist because we’ve got all these white women employees.”

But, of course, black women fell through the gap. 

So Kimberlé Crenshaw created this analogy of being in the middle of an intersection – a crossroads – where you can be hit by the traffic from more than one direction – in terms of race AND in terms of gender. So a black woman can be subject to racism AND sexism whereas a white woman is only subject to sexism not racism.

As a visual image and an analogy, it is very helpful. But it has now morphed into this kind of religion – a theoretical religion that effectively ends up pitting minority groups against each other – and formulating a kind of hierarchy of grievance. 

And that’s not helpful for anyone.

When I talk about intersectionality, I’m talking about the current manifestation of it, not how it was originally intended.

JOHN: Is it another word for ‘woke’?

Andrew/TitaniaMcGrath’s 2019 book

ANDREW: The evolution of Woke is really interesting. In the various Black Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century, it had a very positive meaning which was simply to be alert to injustice, especially racialism. Then it was hijacked around 2010/2011 by certain types of very intolerant, illiberal, totalitarian type of Social Justice activists and it started to mean ALL of their causes: LGBT, women, trans, everything… and opposition to freedom of speech.

So to be ‘Woke’ became something completely different.

Then, what happened was that people like me started taking the piss out of the word Woke and I (as Titania McGrath) wrote a book Woke: A Guide to Social Justice and, through Jonathan Pie, we did a live tour where there was a whole section on Woke. So you had people ridiculing Woke.

And then the next evolution was when Guardian columnists and people on the Left who had always used the word to describe themselves started pretending they never had. They did this weird revisionist thing. They started saying “Woke is just a Right Wing fantasy. It’s a word that Right Wing people and conservatives have invented to mock Social Justice and to mock Equality.”

Afua Hirsch wrote a Guardian piece saying the word Woke is only used by Right Wing people. I remember replying on Twitter with some screenshots of lots of Guardian articles where they used Woke to describe themselves.

But because Woke has been ridiculed so much, they have moved away from the word and now what you are left with is just people on the Right and conservatives who use the word as a slur.

In a sense, that’s why the new Titania book doesn’t mention Woke in the title – It’s about ‘Intersectional Activism’.

JOHN: The Contents page of the book is very interesting. It’s very rare to see Torquemada and Nelson Mandela next to Hillary Clinton and Joseph Stalin.

ANDREW: The whole point of the book is that Titania is going through the Woke icons of history: all the people she respects. Not just the obvious Woke people – like Sam Smith, Brie Larson, Greta Thunberg – alongside historical figures like Emeline Pankhurst and Joseph Stalin.

I find it incredible when Leftists do these very contorted leaps of logic in order to try to justify Stalinism.

She also has Mary Whitehouse in there because I believe the Woke movement is the obvious intellectual heir to Mary Whitehouse in terms of their belief that popular culture needs to be censored otherwise the masses will be corrupted. It’s an identical view.

Torquemada, right-on trail-blazer of Cancel Culture?

Torquemada also makes sense, because he would burn heretics at the stake if they had the wrong ideas about the world. That is Cancel Culture. He is the pre-cursor to Cancel Culture. In particular, the Inquisition targeted scientists and people who were trying to make points that didn’t ally with their world view. Nowadays, of course, activists are trying to ‘de-colonise’ science because they believe science is a Western patriarchal, heterosexist construction and the phrase they use is “New ways of knowing”.

We talk about this ‘Post Truth’ Society. If you think about the way Donald Trump will deny something he said last week, when anyone can just go to YouTube and SEE and HEAR that he said it… It’s incredible. And that is exactly what is happening among the Leftist Identitarians.

A few weeks ago, CNN did a report from Kenosha, Wisconsin, saying “These are largely peaceful protests” and, in the background were burning buildings and burning cars.

JOHN: You identify as Left Wing…

ANDREW: I don’t identify as anything, really. Objectively speaking, a lot of my views particularly when it comes to the economy and the Welfare State are on the Left. I suppose I have more culturally conservative ideas about education and the Arts, but then so did George Orwell and no-one accused him of being a rabid Right Winger.

There are some good ideas on the Left, some good ideas on the Right. As long as you’re not enslaved to an ideology, you’ll be able to recognise them. If you ARE enslaved to an ideology, then you are not thinking for yourself. You’re taking your cues from an existing set of rules and I don’t trust that.

JOHN: I blame the French for Left and Right and making it seem like it’s about opposites. I always think of it as a circle.

ANDREW: A lot of my friends on the Left see the Woke movement as a bourgeois luxury. It’s no longer about Left and Right. That argument is obsolete. But people are stuck in this mindset of what Left and Right used to mean about 40 or 50 years ago.

Titania’s latest book… Coming next year will be Andrew’s own Culture War book

JOHN: Why did you stop co-writing Jonathan Pie? An argument?

ANDREW: No. I did it for three years. I don’t believe in doing things for too long. I don’t anticipate Titania McGrath going on for much longer. If it does, it’ll have to develop into something else.

JOHN: So what next that will be intellectually stimulating for you?

ANDREW: Well, at the moment, I’m writing a book about the Culture War. It will be out in Spring 2021. That’s a non-fiction book and it’s my big focus at the moment. Trying to encapsulate what I’ve been writing about for the last five years, really. But where we are now and where we go from here.

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Filed under political correctness, Politics, satire

Andrew Doyle on Titania McGrath’s new book, satire and annoying people

Andrew talked to me via Skype

Andrew Doyle is an interesting and controversial writer/performer.

He’s a stand-up comic in his own right. He co-wrote the Jonathan Pie character for three years. He currently writes political columns for Spiked internet magazine et al. And he writes and Tweets as the character Titania McGrath.

Until the coronavirus struck down live comedy, he also co-ran monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in London’s East End. They were billed as “The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy”.

For the last three nights, Comedy Unleashed has returned to the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. They were restricted under COVID rules to only having one-third of the venue’s capacity audience, so they ran a show on two consecutive nights. Both shows sold out well in advance – within a day of tickets being on sale – and they added a third night.

But I really wanted to talk to him about his recent Titania McGrath work: a faux children’s publication My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism.

I had seen the non-existent Titania McGrath (played by actress Alice Marshall) perform at Comedy Unleashed last year. A live tour was planned for March this year but, because of COVID, it has now been postponed until next March. Coronavirus allowing.

This is the first of a two-part blog…


JOHN: So My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism says its target audience is six month old to six-year-old females… They are going to have trouble reading it.

ANDREW: It points out in the opening chapter that Titania doesn’t believe in talking down to children. So she will use words like “intersectional” because she thinks here is an innate wisdom in childhood, which is why she’s such a great fan of Greta Thunberg. She says that, when she was a baby, her first words were: “Seize the means of production”. She believes babies have this innate politicised wisdom.

Of course, what it means is that kids can’t read the book. Although a copy was sent to a friend of mine recently and her husband assumed, from the design of the book, that it was for their 4-year-old daughter and gave it to her. She was delighted.

But then her mother had to explain to her that it wasn’t for her and, of course, it’s full of swearing, so… It’s marketed to look like a children’s book. It has all the accoutrements of children’s literature. But I hope in a way kids don’t get hold of it.

JOHN: Might bookshops put it on the wrong shelves?

“I thought they were in on the joke…”

ANDREW: A couple of weeks ago, an American bookstore posted a display of all their favourite books about diversity and inclusion and Titania McGrath’s first book Woke: A Guide to Social Justice was there, next to Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo and all the rest of them. At first, I thought they were in on the joke. But no. When they found out it was a satirical book, they took the Tweet down and presumably the display down and also took the book off their website so you can’t even buy it from that bookstore any more. They were obviously very angry about it

JOHN: One of the drawbacks of very sophisticated satire is that people may actually take it for real.

ANDREW: Even today, some people think Titania is real. There are all sorts of people out there who haven’t heard of her, which is great: the joke can keep going. I like getting into arguments as her with people who don’t know.

JOHN: You like getting into arguments generally?

ANDREW: Actually, I don’t, because I’m a very non-confrontational person. It’s something I avoid as much as possible in my life. But, through Titania, I’m not getting into an argument. I’m enacting a character. So that’s fine.

JOHN: Does that mean Jonathan Pie and Titania McGrath are ways to be aggressive and argumentative without putting yourself personally under pressure?

ANDREW: I suppose you’re really asking does that explain my attraction to the satirical genre? But I don’t think it does. I don’t think I’m looking for an outlet to be confrontational. It’s just a corollary of satire; you can’t avoid it. 

When you’re writing satire you are exposing what you perceive to be the follies of Society and, by doing so, you’re bound to make enemies – particularly because you tend to be having a go at people with some sort of cultural or political power.

I don’t think satire can exist without offending people. Unfortunately, it’s a by-product of what I do, but that does not equate to having a confrontational personality. I go out of my way to avoid conflict in real life.

JOHN: Your work isn’t a way of getting something out of your system?

ANDREW: Probably my stand-up does that more. Because you get to embody a version of yourself that doesn’t exist. Often I can exaggerate my worst features. My onstage persona is a lot more waspish and – yes – more confrontational. Maybe – possibly – that’s me enacting the type of person I wish I could be.

JOHN: How does Alice Marshall cope with this? She must get hassle for saying things as Titania McGrath that she didn’t write and maybe doesn’t believe.

ANDREW: I spoke to Alice about this a couple of days ago and what was interesting was that she told me she did NOT get any hassle. I get a lot of abuse online but I think she doesn’t because people recognise she’s an actor.

JOHN: Is what Titania says going to change anybody’s opinions?

ANDREW: It depends what you mean. I had one woman who claimed I had effectively de-radicalised her. That kind of thing is very gratifying.

Satire does believe it can make a difference, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. But does it make a difference or just annoy people more? That has always been a conflict in my head.

When I get emails from people thanking me for standing up to this current creeping authoritarianism, that’s really gratifying and a good way to offset the anger that Titania generates.

JOHN: If you can’t change people’s minds, would you be just as happy simply annoying people?

ANDREW: No. I DO try to change people’s minds. That’s why I write political articles and articles about culture. I’m not doing that just to get it off my chest. More than anything, I’m interested in discussion and persuading people of my view – and also refining my own view.

By putting my argument out there in the most persuasive way I can, people will come back at me with counter-arguments that either refine what I believe or make me realise where I’ve gone wrong. And that is a really positive thing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, satire

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 29 – NHS chaos, online cults, PC linguistics

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 28

Ariane X – ex Ariane Sherine – the palindrome queen

SUNDAY 2nd AUGUST

In my last diary blog, I mentioned that Ariane Sherine (newly aka Ariane X) said she had discovered that, since finding a new man in her life and becoming happy, she has been unable to write songs.

Inevitably, of course, as soon as I posted that, she wrote another song for her upcoming album, released on the (if you are British not American) palindromic 12.02.2021.

This is part of it:

When you’ve no money left
No love or hope or friends
And your heart it is closed
And you think that it’s the end
And you’re praying to God
Yeah to come and save your soul
Well I’ll save you instead
Bring you in out of the cold

Also last time, I mentioned Charles Aznavour’s observation that, when people are happy, they are all happy in much the same but, when people are sad, there are varied, specific reasons why, so ‘sad’ is more inspiring and more interesting.

Erudite performer and man about town Peter Stanford pointed out that Aznavour had perhaps read the first sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (or, on my Russian college course, Karenina):

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

All I really remember about Anna Karenina is some bloke tapping the wheels of a train and maybe that was only in the movie.

MONDAY 3rd AUGUST

NHS confusion continues.

Last week, my face-to-face appointment with the Kidney Man was changed to a telephone consultation but, having experienced this twice before, I disbelieved it.

On Friday, I checked with the Kidney Man’s secretary and it was indeed a face-to-face appointment.

When I arrived at the hospital at lunchtime today, the two security men checking arrivals (no visitors are allowed because of the COVID-19 restrictions) directed me to Reception just inside the door.

It was the same man on Reception as before – last time he said the entire Nephrology department had moved to another hospital – so I ignored him and went straight to Outpatients reception.

They directed me to the appropriate Consultation section’s Reception. The nurse on that Reception tried to find my details but couldn’t. Then the actual Receptionist arrived.

She told me all the face-to-face appointments had finished; there were only phone ones now. The nurse told the receptionist: “There’s no John Fleming on the list. In fact, there is no list. It may have been thrown away by accident.”

The receptionist said: “I will ask the doctor if he will see you.”

He said Yes.

The Kidney Man knew he was supposed to be seeing me masked-face-to-masked-face.

Apparently this is a micrograph showing a renal core biopsy (Photograph by Nephron via Wikipedia)

He told me I’m still “a mystery”. Nothing showed up on the last blood test. He may send me to see an Ear Nose & Throat man in case that throws up any irregularities. He also has a colleague who is “interested in calcium” so he might want to see me. And they might try a kidney biopsy, though that is unlikely.

“What is a biopsy?” I asked. Does it involve cutting me open?”

“We just stick a needle in your back, under local anaesthetic,” he replied, “and take a little bit of kidney out.”

My next face-to-face appointment with the Kidney Man is in two months, unless something bad were to show up on the blood test.

He sent me down one floor for a blood test. “They may be closed,” he told me. “If they are, just phone the number on the sheet and make an appointment.”

The Phlebotomy (Blood Test to you and me) Department was open.

I left the hospital and went to the National Express office at Golders Green to see how much a two-day coach trip to Edinburgh on 15th/16th August would cost. I want to see what the Edinburgh Fringe is like without the Edinburgh Fringe… and to see comedian Arthur Smith do his annual midnight tour of Edinburgh.

It was £76 return by coach. Much, much cheaper than a railfare.

Nobel Prizewinning Irish politician John Hume

TUESDAY 4th AUGUST

Irish politician John Hume died yesterday. He won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for his work trying to bring peace in Northern Ireland.

A BBC commentator said that, the first time Hulme met the IRA leadership face-to-face, he (Hume) said it was like meeting a cult. They were genuinely shocked to find out people genuinely had different views to them. Before then, they had only talked to themselves and their supporters. Anyone outside that circle who disagreed were not seen as people with genuinely different opinions – they were seen as evil.

I immediately thought: Corbynistas… Brexit… almost anyone on Twitter… To hold any opinion different to what you and ALL your friends have is not valid because it is not possible. If you disagree, you must be total evil, must be silenced.

Just me on that one, then?

There was an explosion in Beirut today – around 150 dead and over 4,000 injured. It turned out to be not a bomb but fertiliser. Of the kind used in bombs. Shit happened.

I was going to book an airfare to Edinburgh, after searching cheap price comparison websites. The cheapest return was £65 via Easyjet – cheaper than a coach and a journey time of only 90 minutes as opposed to 10 or 11 hours in a face mask.

My eternally un-named friend suggested looking on the actual EasyJet website. She was right.

It was £65 on the cheap price comparison websites and £55.98p on the EasyJet site itself. (Same flights.)

Arthur Smith was scuppered and scunnered by coronavirus

WEDNESDAY 5th AUGUST

Arthur Smith cancelled his tour of Edinburgh because of the Scottish government’s COVID restrictions on outdoor events. Shit happens.

THURSDAY 6th AUGUST

I got a letter saying my next face-to-face hospital appointment with the Kidney Man is on 19th Ocober. Inevitably, a few days before this, I will get an erroneous text saying it has been changed to a telephone appointment.

Talk of dabbicals, gangbangs, carjacks, bums and fags… (Photograph by Dmitry Ratushny via UnSplash)

FRIDAY 7th AUGUST

I spent the afternoon with my eternally un-named friend.

At one point, an arrangement went wrong. She said: “It’s a dabbical.”

We both looked at each other. Neither of us knew what the word should have been. I suggested it was a reasonable-sounding word so should be in common use.

Later, I was in conversation with someone totally different and it came up in conversation that, in the US, she had been told the British word ‘gangbang’ means ‘carjack’ over there.

Later still, I looked it up online and, as far as I could find, on both sides of the Atlantic, gangbang = gangbang and carjack = carjack. A very odd misunderstanding.

I do always wonder, though, what would happen if an Eastender from London said to someone in Kansas: “I want to bum a fag”.

Late night: my eternally un-named friend phoned to say: “Debacle…”

The offensiveness of phral and bhrātṛ

SATURDAY 8th AUGUST

Continuing with linguistic problems, in the new ultra-PC, non-binary world, a performer posted the following on Facebook:


QUESTION: I’ve been working very hard on replacing gendered collective terms like “dudes” & “guys” with “folks” whenever I address groups. I occasionally slip up. But I’m trying.

I was convinced that “pal” was non-gendered but I’ve just looked it up and it isn’t.

Its etymology is:
First recorded in 1675–85; from English Romani: “brother, mate,” variant of continental Romani phral, ultimately from Sanskrit bhrātṛ “brother”.

Does anyone know a non-gendered equivalent, please?

I’ve just found out that by using “pal” with a trans friend (who calls me “pal”), I’ve been unintentionally mis-gendering her and I don’t want to.

“Alright, friend?” feels odd.

There must be a non-gendered equivalent? Surely?

That said I’m struggling to think of a feminine version and the lack of that might be the reason I assumed it was non-gendered.

It’s two things:

a) Does this have the capacity to hurt someone?

b) Is it easily within my gift to avoid even the potential of causing that hurt and it cost me nothing more than the tiniest bit of thought?

If the answers to both of those questions are “Yes” then I’d feel like an utter arsehole if I didn’t at least try.

It’s my job as a decent human being to try to make extremely minor and trivial accommodations to avoid the possibility of hurting someone.


I may be revealing myself as an utter arsehole here but – admirably caring and commendably sensitive though his aim is – I think if someone is linguistically sophisticated enough to be offended by the 17th century Romani or ancient Sanskrit roots of perfectly commonplace 21st century English words, then they are probably intellectually resilient enough to cope with being called “pal”… although, frankly, I would be wary of using the word without care in Glasgow (where “cunt” is a genuinely commonly-used conversational term of affection).

… CONTINUED HERE

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John F is no more. He is transitioning.

It all started at St Pancras station…

So I was having tea with a chum at St Pancras station in London and somehow the subject of ‘transitioning’ and trans-gender came up. I can’t remember why and I can’t remember if I am supposed to type or say transgender or trans-gender or transexual or trans-sexual. I think at least one or more ways of typing or saying the words is guaranteed to offend at least one or more people.

“Actually, I was transgender when I was a teenager,” my chum told me.

“Did you have your willie cut off?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I never had one.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think there was any transing involved.”

“That’s very offensive,” she said.

“To you?” I asked.

“No, not to me,” she replied. “But to some people.”

“Trans-sexual I understand,” I said. “It involves adding bits on or taking bits off. And transvestite I understand. But trans-gender sounds like some Northern rail franchise.”

“That’s very offensive,” my chum said.

“Which?” I said. “Trans-sexual or transvestite or the Northern rail franchise?”

“All three,” she told me. “I hear Eddie Izzard no longer calls himself transvestite because some people find that offensive. Now he calls himself transgender.”

“Has he had his willie cut off?” I asked.

“Not that I know of.”

“Does he sometimes wear men’s clothes and sometimes wear women’s clothes?”

“Men’s and women’s clothes are constructs imposed by the patriarchy,” my friend said.

“I’m confused,” I said.

“You are transfixed,” my friend said.

“Do I need to have my willie cut off to be transgender?” I asked.

“No.”

“Are there hyphens involved if you type the word?” I asked.

“Depends what the word is,” my chum said.

“I would quite like to identify as a slightly overweight West Indian lady,” I said. “I like the accents. Very warm and cuddly.”

“People would find almost all of that offensive,” my chum said.

“That’s racist,” I said.

“No it isn’t,” my chum said.

“Not trans-anything?” I asked.

“Transgressive,” my chum suggested.

“Can I identify as Bobo the Clown,” I said.

“That might be OK,” my chum said. “But you might need to do a clown course.”

“No,” I said. “I mean a proper clown. Not just sitting staring at people until they do something.”

“Why are you so annoying?” my chum asked.

“Practice,” I suggested.

Anyway – long story short – John Fleming is dead.

I now want to be called Bobo The Clown.

I see a bright future ahead.

With the added bonus of hair.

John Fleming is dead. Bobo The Clown lives.

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Comic Scott Capurro on comedians who lie and Gordon Brown’s hot handshake

29 days ago – yes, 29 days ago – I chatted to American comedian Scott Capurro in London, after one of the Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club ‘new material’ nights. Then I got busy and/or distracted and/or just plain lazy. I have no excuse. But here it is, 29 days later…


SCOTT: It’s great to write new material. It’s really, really exciting. And I think the audience enjoys seeing us crush and then being crushed. They like to see us fail. It’s fun. And we enjoy watching each other fail on stage because the process of what we do – creating comedy – has to have an element of failure in it, otherwise it’s never going to work.

You will never find the joke in it unless you are able to tell it five or ten or twenty times on stage in front of somebody to find out where the humour is. We will famously rehearse something for days and think: This is perfect now; I’ll bring it in… and it doesn’t get a laugh. Not a whisper. Because to us it’s funny but, to a roomful of strangers who don’t know us, they don’t get it.  So you gotta make it accessible to a roomful of people who don’t know you – again and again and again.

It’s tough for comedians, because it’s hard to remember that what you do is difficult. Even though you know it’s a speciality and a very specific talent to take something like the stabbings on London Bridge and turn that into what has gotta be a joke. The only place where you can deal with it immediately after is on the comedy stage.

JOHN: So the relationship between the stand-up comic and the audience is…?

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

SCOTT: There has to be a moment where the audience remembers that the lights are pointed not at them, but at that solitary figure on that piece of the wood. And the problem I think with the current way we discourse through phones and iPads and so on is we don’t make eye contact.

I find myself now, when I’m talking to people in an audience, if they’re under the age of 25 and I make eye-contact with them, they are a little bit wary of me. And that can be difficult because, to them, a punchline sounds old-fashioned – something their bigoted uncle tells at a wedding when he’s drunk.

The focus of comedy has shifted a bit and my job now is to find a way to make what I do accessible to those people as well. There is no point blocking them out or saying they don’t get it or they’re ‘too woke’ or they’re ‘too PC’ or too ANYthing.

People are in a comedy club for a reason: they want to laugh. So you have to allow them the chance to do that.

JOHN: But that is, as you say, difficult…

SCOTT: And it SHOULD be a difficult struggle or else the audience is gonna know what’s gonna happen next. When I go see a comedian, what I find cynical is when I find them predictable or they seem lazy on stage and the audience knows where it’s going. What I think is great about live performance or really any performance I like is that I don’t want to know what’s round the corner.

Now, in this country and especially in comedy for some reason, it has become difficult sometimes to deal with certain subjects.

I was in Stoke at the weekend and told some jokes about Stoke terrorism.

JOHN: Stoke terrorism?

SCOTT: Well that guy who stabbed those people on London Bridge. I told some jokes and they got quiet, but it’s my job. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t do that.

JOHN: You started a podcast recently…

SCOTT: Scott Capurro Probes – I just talk to writers, comics, politicians – people that present their work publicly.

JOHN: Politicians? Like…?

“I got a real tingle from his handshake.” (Copyright: World Economic Forum)

SCOTT: I really want to interview Gordon Brown. I met him backstage at the Hay Festival. I had just met my (future) husband the year before and we were thinking of getting married. I think it was around 2009; Gordon Brown was Prime Minister at the time. He had some really handsome bodyguards.

I shook hands with him. He’s a really big guy. He’s very attractive in person. I found him extremely attractive to talk to. Just five minutes, but really funny, charming and affable and very self-deprecating. On camera, I don’t think his warmth comes across as much as it does in life.

We had shared a stage but not at the same time. A lot of the audience who had seen him in the afternoon stayed to watch me in the evening.

On stage in the afternoon, he had praised Tony Blair and I found out later the audience had not responded very well to that.

Not having seen that afternoon performance, I spoke about what a hero Tony Blair was to me. And the audience… I don’t think they turned on me, but they were not as receptive as I normally find an audience of Guardian readers to be. I was quite surprised by their response and then a woman who still writes for the Guardian wrote a SCATHING review of my performance. It upset me for years.

But people forget that, to gay men – even now – Tony Blair is a hugely iconic supportive figure, because he introduced marriage equality. That was a big deal for us. Huge. And he says it is still a shining moment of his legacy and he still thinks very proudly of it.

People also forget that, at a lot of Gay Pride functions, Tony Blair showed up as Prime Minister. That was a big deal to us. That had not happened before.

So, however smug or supercilious or middle class you want to be, watching me, thinking that you can judge me because I happen to be a supporter of Tony Blair, you can fuck off. That’s kind of what I told them that night.

I really admired Gordon Brown. I got a real tingle from his handshake. He held it for a while. I thought: This guy’s really hot. He’s gonna win! He’s gonna win!… And then it all went sour and here we are now.

JOHN: Are you doing a podcast because it allows you to be more serious? So you don’t have to do gag-gag-gag?

SCOTT: No. I just like chat. In comedy, I am very gag oriented. I am very jokey.

JOHN: You are very fast.

SCOTT: I don’t write set-ups. I tend to just tell punchlines for 25 or 30 minutes. When I first came over from the US and was playing the UK, I was very much nicer and, when I started breaking the mainstream, I felt I had to buffer. But I don’t buffer jokes now. I don’t at all. 

JOHN: Define ‘buffer’.

SCOTT: A set-up.

There’s a traditional joke set-up. You set the joke up. You do an example. And then you tell a punch.

My mother is tough. When I was a kid, she did this to me. And… PUNCH.

I understand that structure and it’s something audiences are very comfortable with. It’s familiar. But now I skip the first two parts. I just tell the punches.

Joan Rivers – Life in Progress at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe

I learned about ten years ago how to do it, watching Joan Rivers at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then I read an interview with her where she said: “I only pay comics for the punchlines; I never ask for the set-ups.”

I thought: That’s interesting. If you only told the punchlines in a set, I wonder how many you could squeeze in. That’s what the audience is here to hear. I mean, I don’t think they give a shit about my politics or my personal response to things.

JOHN: Don’t they?

SCOTT: I think, in Edinburgh, you can break that mould and do more personal stuff. It’s actually expected of you now in Edinburgh. They want a journey. They want you to be fingered or some sort of lie.

JOHN: Lie?

SCOTT: Yeah. 

JOHN: Explain?

SCOTT: Well, at least two shows that have done very well recently, I’ve been told by the premise-creators that they weren’t true… But, oh well. It’s a show anyway. Just a show.

JOHN: So they were telling a…

SCOTT: That’s all I’ll say about it.

JOHN: Comedians are paid to go on stage and tell lies…

SCOTT: They are. But if the show is based round something and you then talk about that thing seriously in public… (PAUSE) but it’s still just a story… I find that… (PAUSE) You know what, though? You are giving people what they want.

I mean, I saw a show in preview last year and, when the artist came off stage, the artist’s management said: “You didn’t put that thing in about your father dying…” And this artist said: “I didn’t think it was necessary.” And they said: “You need to put it back in if you want to get nominated.”

And I thought: That’s fine. Why not put it in? Why not write jokes about it? That’s our job… But then I thought: But you need to let the artist do their progression. I don’t want administrative staff stepping in and telling me what creativity is.

So that’s all.

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Ria Lina on Comedy Unleashed, non-PC audiences and the Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.

Ria was born in England.

Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.

At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.

Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.

And now she’s a comedian.

She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.

Now read on…


JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…

RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.

JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.

RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.

It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.

JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.

RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250… 

JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.

RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.

If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!

JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?

RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities. 

I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it. 

JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?

Ria Lina, BSc, PhD, MC and comedian

RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is. 

I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…

JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?

RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!

It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.

JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?

RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.

JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?

RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.

JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…

RIA: Yes. 

JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…

RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate, 

The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.

Ria Lina’s show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe

JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…

RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.

JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…

RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.

The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.

JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?

RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.

JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!

RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!

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

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

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


Noel Faulkner in London yesterday

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

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

JOHN: I thought you were from Killarney.

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

JOHN: So why are you going back?

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

JOHN: But you ran comedy clubs for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: That’s age.

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

JOHN: Paul Sinha has Parkinson’s Disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOEL: It’s in the genes.

JOHN: Do you have long-living relatives?

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

JOHN: Was he fairly compos mentis?

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

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

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

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

JOHN: 1984.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: In what way?

NOEL: That you’re gonna make it.

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

NOEL: No.

JOHN: Oh go on… A farewell rant.

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

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, political correctness

Lynn Ruth Miller on San Francisco filth, hot & cold US comedy and stifling PC

Lynn Ruth back performing in a changed city

London-based American comic and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller continues her three-week series of gigs in and around San Francisco and finds, after four years away, that the US has changed…


San Francisco was once a beautiful, sophisticated city where no man stepped out his front door unless he was dressed in shirt, tie and jacket.  Women wore hats, gloves and designer clothes always. Now it is not that way at all.  

The city feels overcrowded, noisy and filthy. Today, I walked from one end of the city to the other (you can actually do that here) and I saw homeless people who set up their own colonies cluttered with blankets, torches, heaters, empty cartons of food, pots, pans and the necessities of their lives.  

These people have no sanitation facilities and the odor that surrounds them is not very nice. They are very aggressive and taunt passers-by, insisting on money from them or just making them get out of their way.

I think of myself as a Socialist and I firmly believe we need to help those who cannot help themselves. But I was decidedly uncomfortable as I passed these clusters of filth and debris and my liberal philosophy was severely shaken. Perhaps my charitable concern for humanity is not so generous when I am faced with standards of living I never dreamed human beings lived in.

And that is what these upper middle class people I am with these days all insist. They say that many homeless people WANT to live that way. 

My darling dog-sitter Leo tells the story of a pan handler who was featured on Sixty Minutes (a TV news program) who made hundreds of dollars in his ragged clothes then went around the corner, shed his rags for conventional garb and drove to his luxury home not far away.  Could this really be?

I for one cannot believe that.  

When I saw these grey, battered human beings who were actually hard to distinguish from the litter they were sleeping in, huddled together reeking of marijuana and human waste, I could only believe that this American society with its emphasis on the need to be rich as a status symbol as well as a means of comfort and the unquenchable thirst for luxury – huge cars, expensive clothes, food that costs five times what it is worth – has created a huge underbelly of people who are trapped in the system and have no idea of how to get out.

A case in point is a man I knew casually before I left San Francisco four years ago. His is a successful reviewer and has always supported himself comfortably. For some reason he will not disclose, he was evicted from his flat and evidently it happened too quickly for him to locate a place to stay. He is desperate and, because he has never had to cope with this kind of hardship before, he has made a horrid pest of himself, calling people who hardly know him begging for a place to sleep.  

He gives the impression that he has no money at all, though the truth is he can feed himself and he can take care of himself.

BUT, if he wants a private place to live, he will have to pay well over $3,000 a month plus a deposit and, since he is a freelance writer, he is considered a bad risk.  

He is terrified to go to a shelter because, in San Francisco, they are known for their high crime rate and their incidence of robbery, rape and destruction. He is so paralyzed with self-pity that he cannot think clearly and makes himself such a pest that now no-one wants to help him.

When I was with him, I couldn’t wait to get away. He whines; he demands you  call everyone you know immediately; he complains that the place he has secured for the night at a ridiculous cost will be taken away from him.  He tries to shame you into buying him food when he has plenty of money to buy his own.

He is terrified. He reminds me of a squirrel who has plenty to eat but stores up as much food as possible for the lean winter ahead.

Once I was away from him, his obnoxious cloying and insistent behavior, I was able to put the situation into perspective. I realized that here is a typical middle class human being who never had to fight for survival suddenly put into a situation that he has never expected to encounter.   

And he is not alone in this expensive, unsympathetic, cold and demanding city.  

He is one step away from those people I saw huddled in the street defecating in gutters and taking food from dumpsters. His plight is not just heartbreaking. It is maddening that a society as wealthy as this one not only allows this to happen, but has created a perfect climate to reduce the middle class to live according to lower class standards they do not understand.  

They are desperate and cannot understand how they fell into this gutter of need with no way to fight the system.

All it takes is one thing – in his case an eviction, in others a job loss and in others an injury that debilitates them.

I like to think this cannot happen in the UK.

But I know without even asking that it does.

On a brighter note, the next night my friend Alan took me into Sacramento and I had the time of my life (again).   

I featured at The Sacramento Punchline with Turner Sparks.  

I met Turner when I was in Hanoi and he is a kind, outgoing comedian who makes his living not in comedy clubs but in men’s groups, wineries and other organizations looking for a laugh instead of a lecture. He is from Sacramento and, when he goes home to visit his folks, he puts on a comedy show at The Sacramento Punchline.

This comedy club is the poor sister of the San Francisco comedy club with the same name and the two men who were in the line up (no women of course) were polite but not particularly welcoming. After being enveloped like a long lost grandma in the burlesque community here, I was more aware of the comics’ coldness than I would have been if I had not been so spoiled by Jim Sweeny and Dottie Lux and their cast of caring, ego-boosting women.

Here is a description I found of the comedy scene in San Francisco and the United States in general:


It seems safe to say that we are in a second golden age for stand-up comedy – or, as has more often been said, a second comedy boom.

The first boom started in the 1980s when stand-up comedy went mainstream, making TV and movie stars of comedians like Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. But, as is true that with the economy, that boom was followed by a bust: essentially a stand-up recession as comedy clubs across the country closed during the 1990s and all but the biggest acts went dormant. 

Now, with the rise of the alternative comedy scene and the internet, stand-up comedy is booming and relevant once again, with podcasts, social media, YouTube, Netflix, and dozens of channel/website hybrids hungry for comedians’ original content and relevancy.


What that does not say is how the emphasis on political correctness has stifled content.  

In the San Francisco area, the biggest inhibitor is the need to tread carefully when making any remark at all about sexual identity. I hear stories of people being ostracized and ignored because they referred to a Tranny (and we have beautiful ones in the Bay area – eat your heart out Brighton) as ‘she’ instead of ‘they’.

I notice this hesitancy to touch controversial topics in every show I see here and the one in Sacramento was no different. The topics were all safe and, because they didn’t touch a nerve, they weren’t that funny either.  

The heart of comedy is the shock value of the punchline. I personally would hate to see that squelched in a misguided effort of trying to spare feelings.

The next day I returned to Burlingame and met my wonderful friend Brett to go to Oakland for Samson Koletar’s comedy show at the Spice Monkey.

Samson is an Indian-born comedian from Mumbai who is amazingly enterprising and has established the Spice Monkey as a comedy club with one show on Thursday and two each night on Fridays and Saturdays. He is also Jewish and tours the country in a show called You Are Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish featuring three other comedians from various origins: Italian, Vietnamese, African. His humor is gorgeous, intelligent and wry.  

This Thursday night I was booked in an all-male line up (as was the Sacramento show). No-one but Samson and I seemed to have any jokes. The audience was very small, no more than 20 people, but they wanted to laugh and that made it a lot easier on the performers.  

What surprised me as I sifted though my set to find jokes that would amuse them is how much my comedy has become British.

To people in the UK it seems very American, but to Americans it smacks of a foreign flavor they cannot quite identify. For example, the word ‘knickers’ here means trousers that are cut off at the knee. ‘Trainers’ are people not shoes. And ‘cunt’ is such a filthy word no-one dares use it any more than they would call a black person a… a… an ’N word’.

… CONTINUED HERE

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