Category Archives: Politics

One Brit’s eye view of living in the US on the day of the Mid-Term Elections

I know a man called Mick Deacon. Well, I don’t. That is not his real name. But he does come from East Anglia in the UK. At the moment, he is living in the working class heartland of Donald Trump’s America. On the day when the Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives, this what he told me in an email…


The decent people I know here are really afraid at what is going to happen to their country.

Trump is stirring up racism in such a huge way.

It is not just what he says that is so shocking. 

He is stirring up a subconscious OK for Racism trend here. 

The crime rate in this city, away from the tourist areas, is quite shocking. And the mental health problems are huge. Two days ago, I was on a bus which was a bit like a Beirut scenario. There was a woman going crazy at a man.

Coupled with easy access to guns, this is not a good mix. 

It is so easy to buy guns here it is ridiculous. There was a gun fair on last weekend. As casual as a church tea party.

I have never seen such noticeable mental health conditions as I’ve seen here. 

The people with mental health problems on the bus from hell I travel out to the sticks on are usually poor and female although I do see quite a few older white males in the same way. I feel afraid when trapped on a bus with them. Daily.

It’s the outward spontaneous loudness of their attacks that shocks me as an British person. You would very rarely see sudden outbursts like these in UK. I really have learned a lot about my culture: how tough we are, the whole stiff upper lip part of us.

With the poverty here, added to lack of help and easy access to guns, it is no surprise that people just get randomly shot for barely doing anything.

Apparently in this city, there are a lot of young, uneducated people with a family history of no moral values and that results in a high level of shootings – even in tourist areas. Recently, a gang of 8-17 year olds beat up a receptionist in what is thought to have been a gay hate crime started by an 8 year old. The guy ended up with a fractured orbital bone – that’s the bone of the eye socket – and loss of front teeth.

I knew it might be a challenge living here, but I was almost defeated last night. 

I did not sleep until 2.30am as my lovely new pal here was up until then coaching me what to do to keep myself safe in the house. It is a far cry from the market square in Norwich on a Saturday night – the nearest I got toviolence at home.

My new pal’s first bit of advice was to get some mace spray. In my lovely little British bubble world, I thought it was for cooking. No. It is to spray in someone’s face when they attack me!

These bus trips daily from the neighbourhood are a challenge. The guy I am renting my room off is a retired policeman and he tries to educate me/terrify me in how to – in his rather intimidating words – KEEP SAFE. 

His advice is: “Don’t speak to anyone… Be constantly vigilant… Don’t let anyone get to close to you… When you are in the house, don’t ever answer door without looking through window first to see who it is… If you don’t know them, say firmly WHAT DO YOU WANT? very hard… Any noise at night, call 911… Wherever you are, just be vigilant!” 

I am not really sure what that does to the brain – being on alert constantly.

The stark contrast to how the tourist and mid city is to my new suburban palace is immeasurable. It is like being on a Quentin Tarantino episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

I like to experience life to the full but this, however, is over even my bar!

At least I am currently still alive – despite the fact a car hit another car yesterday and I have no idea how they actually ended up where they did.

One ended up squashed alongside a parked vehicle in a side street and the other one ended up going down the pavement and getting embedded in someone’s stone staircase outside their house. 

I was in a cafe and the guy who was sat on the patio in front of the cafe suddenly ran for cover and there were two really large bangs. I thought they were gunshots.

Apparently the government make so much money from the sale of guns it will never stop. 

It is a bit like smoking in the UK but that is a much slower death.

Here, BANG! No warning. No panic. Dead.

In the UK, I am led to believe someone with a gun would wave it about for quite a period of time, instil fear in everyone for at least ten minutes, then not always do anything.

And here, in my experience, black people are way friendlier than white. I am not saying that I have not met some very nice white people, but they are usually younger than me or a lot older.

People around my age – early middle age – seem to have masses of anxiety and talk really loud about their needs and how tough a life they have if they can’t quite afford zillion dollar alterations to their house or haven’t got expensive clothes, meals etc.

Americans are aspirational.

Maybe they have to be to survive.

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Copstick on real life and death in Kenya

Continuing the diary extract blogs from nine days ago…

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

Among other things, it aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

These extracts from Copstick’s diary are heavily-edited for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

So this is part of what happened, in Kenya, a little over a week ago…


FRIDAY

The coach from Nairobi for Awendo leaves at 8.00am.

After Kisii, in really quite quiet rural areas, suddenly vast swathes of land are being dug up for huge roads. And, by the looks of it, huge highways are being built. No idea why. No-one here has any idea why other than the President’s obsession with his ‘legacy’. 

Yet again, the devastated remains of tiny roadside businesses can be seen along the way. The work means that sometimes the road (as was) disappears altogether into mud and dust. The plans for the road to be built and the destruction of businesses to make way for it give no suggestion as to how long the work will take. Arrival is not important here. This is not even travelling hopefully. It is just booking the ticket and cancelling everything else. 

We get to Awendo at about 5.30pm. Even the Kenyans are pissed off. Jayne is there with a local taxi.

We start seeing business people immediately. 

The evening funding goes pretty well. All individual businesses. Fish, fried fish, bananas, petrol. The last surprises me because of the new petrol tax. But they are selling in half litres to people with sugar cane squishers and there is still wriggle room for profit at that level. 

FYI thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, kerosene – which the very poorest of people use for light – is now more expensive than diesel. So the poorest children can no longer see to do homework or try to read books. But the fattest of Kenyans can drive the biggest of gas guzzlers. Our little old ladies who sell kerosene by the thimbleful so they and their neighbours can see in the hours of darkness are devastated. 

Colonialism and its legacy can be blamed for a lot, but the passing of new taxes that punish and extort only the poor, while destroying the smallest businesses and cutting off the route to starting new small businesses in the way this government is doing requires an active greed, a terrifying selfishness and an overwhelming lack of care for the poorest people. 

The only thing that talks in Kenya now is money. If you have none you are no-one. Maybe that is the legacy of colonialism. But the Kenyans who are now in power sure love and work very hard to keep it alive.

SUNDAY

I get up at 8.00am, marvelling at my ability to do so. The Kenyans are sniggering at how long I sleep. They have been up since 6.00am.

Big news is that a load of houses nearby were set fire to in the night. As a reprisal for the three young men who attacked and killed a male family member with pangas (machetes) in a neighbouring field. There was a ‘dispute’ over family land. This is the local way of settling it. The houses are still smouldering. 

MONDAY

I read a piece in one of the newspapers about how to be a successful stand-up comedian in Kenya. The instructions were: funny accents (make fun of other tribes and other nationalities, Nigerians being particularly fertile ground because they talk funny), make fun of poor people, uneducated people, people from rural areas and old people. Dress up in a parody of whatever group you are having a go at. Basically racism, sexism and punching down.

TUESDAY

We arrive back in Nairobi at 4.45am. It is cold and dark and the centre of town is a strange mix of hustlers and prostitutes at the end of their night’s work, drunk and slightly the worse for wear but really friendly… and market traders at the start of their day. 

We wait in a bunch for a matatu (privately owned minibus) and I end up sharing with four people and five huge sacks of oranges and sweet potatoes. 

Later, we meet Doris for something to eat. We will definitely be going to Mombasa on Friday so we have tickets to buy. 

There are a load of Glam ladies there and Doris wants me to meet with them to discuss the ongoing working relationship between us. Thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, it is incredibly difficult for Mama Biashara to set up tiny businesses the way we used to and turn people’s lives around. 

So Doris has developed this amazing network of businesswomen and women with a reasonable amount of money (many of them from the streets themselves) who need/want workers for all sorts of jobs. They now trust Mama Biashara and the people we get for them. So we are putting hundreds (maybe even thousands) of men and women into employment. 

Good wages, decent treatment, frequently accommodation and food come with the job, so ideal for Phoenix Project people who need to be relocated away from their abuser. 

Our ‘official stamp’ has come from the maker. Load of bollocks, if you ask me, but everyone has one if you are an organisation. And I am giving all the volunteers a certificate to show (a) Mama Biashara is legit and (b) they are legit. So we need The Stamp. 

WEDNESDAY

Vicky meets us at Majengo. Pretty much everywhere has a Majengo. An area on the outskirts where refugees or displaced people live. A slum amongst slums. 

There are three groups. We huddle in a small room and I ask if we can open the door – just because I am a fan of things like seeing what I am doing and breathing. But they are terrified we will be seen and attacked. So the door closes. 

One group is going to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot (boiled and grilled), one is a cleaning group and the third is a Phoenix Group. They had gone to a Maasai area because they were offered building work there. But the Maasai have turned on them. And the usual weapons of physical and sexual violence have been deployed, as ever, frequently towards children. The group want to go back to their own area. Which is unfortunately far away. But Mama provides fare and money to set up a group business once they are there. I also asked Vicky to keep me in touch with a view to adding coffee selling to the miraa business they are starting with. This leaves me pretty much out of money.

We go to Limuru and meet the lovely Vixen for a make up workshop for a dozen girls. I have brought loads of stuff from the UK. Does anyone fancy donating more make up? Hair straighteners? Decently powerful hairdryers? Brushes? 

Our make up businesses are doing amazingly well. In Kisumu, Mombasa, Kitale … around three hundred girls. 

The girls being trained today are young mums. Which means the babies are in the workshop too. So the small room is a cocktail of smells: cheap make-up, body odour, breast milk and baby poo.

Meanwhile I talk to Joy, who is a refugee from Narok where troubles are reaching a terrible pitch with daily killings, shootings, hospitals full of people with arrows poking out of every body part, house burnings and livestock slaughterings. Joy has no idea where the rest of her family is. They just ran from their burning house. She is staying with a local (Glam) lady for the moment but she needs a way of making a living.

Then we head off. To look for somewhere to eat. 

Two bites into a lump of dead something I lose a front tooth. A whole tooth. A whole front tooth. Gone. Out. All I can think of is NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE DENTIST and my world collapses in around me like a bubble gum bubble on an upturned face. 

I try not to panic. Or cry. But it is tough. The appalling combination of my greatest fear (dentist) and the hideous prospect of the quite honestly impossible costs involved take my breath away. I freeze. 

To be fair, the missing part is a crown that was put in thirty years ago. But it has broken off right along the gumline. I can feel my hands go numb. I am dizzy. I am in my own, personal hell. Genuinely, I wish my leg had broken and not my tooth.

I am having something of a panic attack just writing this so I am going to stop now.

… CONTINUED HERE … 


Mama Biashara is totally financed by individual donations and from sales in its London charity shop. You can donate here. Copstick receives no money. She covers all her own costs including travel to and accommodation in Kenya. 100% of everything donated goes to the charity’s work.

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Becky Fury celebrates the joys of an anarchist festival – but not vegans

Becky Fury – real name – has something to say

I received what follows from Becky Fury yesterday.

She is not to be confused with Becky Sharp, the heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair.

Becky Fury won a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016.

Becky Sharp did not.

Becky Fury’s Award was well-deserved.


I have just got off the plane after being at a festival in Holland. I was performing my show Political at the Dutch anarchist utopia ADM. I need a proper sleep. In my own bed and not in a makeshift hostel in the middle of a 24 hour festival.

The poster for Becky Fury’s Political show

The anarchist festival at ADM platforms international anarchist artists working in any alternative medium – for example, vegan junk food boutiques raising money for anarchist solidarity causes.

My favourite and most edgy this year was the seitan (wheat gluten) wrap stand that was raising money for the solidarity campaign to support some anarchist bank robbers.

Tag line: Better rob a bank than be a thief that owns one. 

There were a number of other insurrectionary installations and tongue-in-pierced-cheek institutions… 

Punk hairdressers God Shave The Queen.

A fetish wear salon where the primary material for the kinky creations was recycled bike inner tubes. It was called Eco Slut. (Not to be confused with, but can be used in conjunction with, The Ethical Slut, an old anarchist handbook about the now super-trending polyamory.)

Even a robot had an axe to grind

A circus without a traditional ring person but with the tag line: No Gods, No (Ring)masters.

Also more standard festival fare bands, poets and one political comic performance artist. Me. 

This was the 21st and possibly last year of the ADM festival and alternative arts showcase.

The ADM is an amazing autonomous artspace near Amsterdam which hosts several sub cultural festivals a year – or did for the past 21 years. 

The location is unfortunately now a prime dockside development area and ADM is threatened with eviction this year. On Christmas Day. 

One may wonder who would do such a cuntish act. 

My explanation is Scrooge Industries (or Industrie de Scroogen in Dutch ). One can only hope that Meester or Mrs Scroogen receives a visitation from the Ghost of Festivals Past who gives them a fat spliff of Amsterdam’s Cannabis Cup winning finest and they chill out and reconsider and join the party 

Unlikely supernatural intervention aside, there is a petition on the ADM website you can sign, if that’s your sort of thing. It is against the closure of the space. Not for it. Though there is probably a petition for that elsewhere.

The sub-header for the pro ADM petition is:

Without Subculture, There is No Culture

The ADM Petition: Without sub-culture, there is no culture

Artists need space to develop interesting work without economic restriction even if its only function is to provide creative detritus to fuel the industries of mainstream culture. 

As an example of this, I offer the 5 Euro For a 10 Inch Vegan Pizza stall at the festival. 

Veganism and moaning about vegans has been a staple of the punk movement and squat culture for years – only recently commodified and adopted by the mainstream as part of woke capitalism and priced accordingly. 

The over-priced products are voided of their revolutionary potential as they are way out of the reach of the proletariat and the vegan vanguard that lived in my squat and threw my milk in the bin after scrawling COW RAPE all over the fridge in permanent marker. 

Vegans have always been known with the prefix ‘fucking’ – but I always had more affection for the ‘fucking vegans’ when their virtue signalling went beyond taking photos of their over-priced and under-seasoned lunch on Instagram. Back in the days when Insta-gram meant having your drug dealer on speed dial and the only virtue signalling done was by the Land Rover used for hunt sabotaging and transporting the vegan burger stand to festivals to fund all this ethically sourced nonsense. 

Sorry not sorry if that offends any fucking vegans. 

If you choose to take offence, that is your choice. This is not the Oscars. Save me your acceptance speech. 

I digress. 

To err in a blog is human; to digress is divine

But this is John’s blog, so that is traditional and part of the idiosyncratic construct of the oeuvre.   

My point is that, without free space, we end with no culture or a battery culture. Without nurturing and protecting artists, we end up with the artistic equivalent of battery hens laying mass-produced low-grade products for market. 

One would hope there would be a revolution in the hen house – or should that be a coup?

One would hope the fashion for things organic and free range would extend to people but one imagines that there is a lack of imagination that will mean this is not the case.

It betrays a lack of joined-up thinking – but nowadays everyone writes on keyboards.

Anyway, I should have written this article before I left the sanctity of the artists’ utopia in Amsterdam.

I have performed at five arts festivals this year and that was by far the finest. 

I have included some pictures for you to enjoy. You have seen them here first before they end up in adverts and their creators end up in the gutter. 

Viva the revoloucion! 

No Pasaran!

And come see my show Political when it’s next in your town or the one you’re squatting in the way that creative industry professionals do when they take over a town for their creative industrial professional ends.

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Filed under Anarchy, Performance, Politics

The U.K. legal system, where you are presumed guilty until proven innocent

Yesterday’s Sunday Herald on Luke Mitchell

I was reading a piece in Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper yesterday. I have absolutely no idea about the true facts or the guilt or innocence in this case, but there is an undeniable truth when the imprisoned guy says:

“The court system and the police, they’re not separate bodies, they’re all part of the state. The justice system isn’t there to protect you, it’s to get the conviction.”

The UK court system is inherently corrupt. It is not designed to uncover innocence or guilt. The police investigate a case and find the person they believe or claim they believe is guilty. That person is then presumed guilty unless he or she can (via an expensive paid advocate) prove themselves innocent or apparently innocent. The court prosecutes the person on the presumption of guilt and a judge or jury decides which of two paid advocates has constructed a better case.

It is a contest and career-building exercise between two highly-paid, trained debaters. The accused person is presumed guilty until and unless proven innocent. It is illegal for any jury member to attempt to check any evidence other than what is presented in court.

The Stefan Kisko case – the clearest miscarriage of justice

The only evidence which can be considered is the evidence of two trainee debaters paid to hide anything which might throw doubt on their own version of events.

Hiding facts is as important as presenting them. Points are effectively awarded for presentation, style, skill and content. The verdict is about which advocate has been a better performer. It is a bit like competitive ice skating with people’s lives, often on thin ice. Or like politics.

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Filed under Crime, Legal system, Politics

Kate Copstick in Kenya on news you tend not to see reported on BBC TV

Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick flew to Nairobi last Wednesday to work with her Kenya-based charity Mama Biashara.

These are her first diary entries from there. I have edited them. Full versions on her Facebook page.


THURSDAY

The market is not busy and my chums there are variously exercised by 

  1. the new fuel tax – 16% – which is having catastrophic effects for them 
  2. the ghastly goings on in Kisumu (see below) 
  3. the riots/killings/house burnings in various areas across the country – all tribal related 
  4. the Chinese and the fact that Kenya is now up to and past its nipples in debt to them. Hence the 16% fuel tax to help Uhuru pay off the 122 billion Kenya shillings that he owes them (payable by 2021) 

The telly is on and the news is covering the hideous rape and murder of a seven months pregnant student in Kisumu. Who just happened to be having an affair with the Governor of Kisumu. After having an affair with his son. She got pregnant and eventually, for various reasons, she forwarded all their texts to his wife and was going to go public with all the gossip when she was kidnapped in a car belonging to said Governor, raped and stabbed multiple times by three goons. 

Now this is bad enough. But as we watch, Mama Bishara helper David voices the opinion of (as helper Felista confirms) “Kenyan men”. 

“She made her cross,” he says forcefully. “How can a woman have sex with a man and then another man and then go to another man? She has brought this on herself. This is what happens.” 

The man at the next table is nodding. 

FRIDAY

I fail miserably to get up early and do lots of sorting out. But I do some and then head off to town to meet Doris and a load of lady hawkers with problems. No one chooses to be a hawker. But 60% of the Nairobi population – SIXTY PER CENT – live in what the government choose to call ‘the informal sector’. Slums. Some worse than others. They cannot afford a shop, or a stall so they hawk.

Now that used to be difficult enough but the new Governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko, elected very much on a “man of the people” ticket, has turned out to be a man of very different people from the huddled masses he claimed to represent. 

Mike is a man of Big Business People.

So it frequently goes like this … 

I have a tiny stall at a roadside in my area. Two things can happen: the government demolishes it to make space for widening a road or making another highway and adding to the Chinese debt OR Mike’s men demolish it because we are not liking the look of the small businesses cluttering the roadsides with their thoughtless attempts at fending off starvation and keeping a roof over their family’s heads.

So, because I cannot trade up and get a formal stall or shop, I trade down and hawk… walking around with my wares (and my young children) or putting my stuff (and my young children) on a sack on a pavement. 

The best prices and highest demand are in the City Centre. Where Mike has just banned hawking. Cue the City Council goons scenting blood and prisons full of old ladies who have been selling carrots or tea at the roadside. 

We are meeting fifteen lady hawkers in town. We start to assemble at the top of Tom Mboya Street in a tiny area which has been deemed safe for hawkers as long as they pay an ‘informal fee’ to the City Council collectors. 

However, it seems that today is a ‘swoop’ day and shrieks from around the corner and a rush of running hawkers tells us the City Council have decided that the informal fee does not work right now and are arresting, confiscating and beating at will. So we run and reassemble across the road. 

I say run. The old lady on crutches goes as fast as she can, the two carrying toddlers waddle and the heavily pregnant girl trots. But, outside, the women are still frightened. So we go to a little cafe. We are safe inside.

… CONTINUED HERE

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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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Lynn Ruth Miller on US women comics, body taboo defiance, nice Trump voters

Lynn Ruth back in her San Francisco again

The last two blogs have been written by American comedian and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, returning to the US for three weeks of gigs. 

This was what happened on her first weekend back in San Francisco…


Saturday was a Thanksgiving dinner – because I will not be here for the real one – and two shows back-to-back that I thought I would love. 

And, indeed, it was all magnificent. 

We had turkey that tasted like turkey! I do not like to admit that food makes my world go round but it sure did today. Turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, veggies and peach cobbler for dessert.  

Still stuffed, I left for the Retzlaff Winery where I MC’d a show I helped establish ten years ago with Michelle Hemmenway. It has grown by leaps and bounds and  the place was filled with comedy lovers.  

I opened the show for an all-woman line-up and the sad thing was that the women were really not very sharp even though the admission was high enough for people to expect to hear the Bay Area’s finest.

This is not to say that Michelle has not booked some wonderful people but it was very mediocre. The headliner especially made me sad because her jokes were really marvellous, clever and well thought-out  but they were spaced so far apart she lost the rhythm of her set. 

I am very, very spoiled I guess. In London, the women are sharp if not sharper than the men. I have to say they are a challenge to me and I doubt I will ever be as funny and wonderful as they are. Someone like Tiff Stevenson makes me realize how much farther I need to go to be a great comedian.  

Not so in the Bay Area. These women keep the stereotype alive… that we are funny in our way but not great.

But we all CAN be exceptional if we give it the time and the attention it takes. 

Stand-up comedy is an art and cannot be mastered in a month, a year or even five years. It takes time.

All things that are worth it do.  

I left the winery to run into the city to do another show called Body Taboo Defiance.  

This was a burlesque show but Dottie Lux, the producer and originator of the show, wanted me to talk about my anorexia.  

I sang one song and told the story of the chocolate icebox cake and people came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes telling me how much they loved what I did. It was very gratifying.  

In fact, to my surprise, the entire night was brilliant for me because people were so accepting and so receptive to me… if only they had been that when I lived here.  

I guess that is the way it is in the world. No-one thinks much of the kid next door. It is the one out-of-towner that shimmers and glows.  

The rest of that show was unique in the extreme. 

It was all dance and naked burlesque with one man who wanted to be a woman, one woman who wanted to be a man, one black girl who wanted to be anything but what she was and Dottie Lux herself who stripped to the flesh and painted her body parts with blue paint she blotted on paper and pasted to a ladder.  

We saw bodies that were misshapen, flabby, solid and lean and what I loved about the show was that – because they all were naked we didn’t judge their looks – we judged the quality of the dance and the message their movement gave us.  

It was truly a thoughtful, interesting show that made us all question our own body image problems. The women in the show were brave and courageous and each beautiful in their own individual way.   

Sunday was catch-up day and, once again, I was struck by how far I have drifted from Bay Area values.  

Many of the lovely people I am with voted for Trump.  

One beautiful friend whose husband is physically falling apart and needs home care voted for Trump not realizing that her vote encouraged his administration to cut the very services she needs to keep her husband alive and comfortable.  

She is a wise and liberal woman in every way as are the others that I have met here who voted Republican. 

It is almost impossible for me to come to terms with their reasoning when I know them as superb people who are intelligent, socially-conscious, kind and loving human beings… not the idiots we in Britain assume are the clods who wanted Trump to be in the White House. 

Go figure.

I also met with two women who were in direct contrast with one another. 

One is a writer who has published a beautiful book but, to keep herself afloat in this very bloated economy, thinks she has to do PR for a product she doesn’t believe in and is in a relationship that is not satisfying to her.  

Her health is precarious and her fear of her future is immense. She got the flu and swears it made her lactose intolerant. You figure that one out. She feels locked into routines she never wanted and never planned to have to face in her late sixties.  

The other woman is truly happy, with a life she orchestrated and created bit by bit – a well-adjusted, artistic, creative mother who loves being a mother and enjoys the life she and her husband of ten years have created. He is a creative musician who has figured out how to channel his creativity into government-funded projects exposing families to music and all the pleasure it can bring.   

It is always a joy to be with her because she confirms my theory that happiness is something we each create for ourselves no matter what the circumstances.

… CONTINUED HERE

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