Category Archives: Psychology

Comic Lynn Ruth Miller at 85: two steel plates, three screws and a secret wish…

Stand-up storyteller, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has recently blogged here about her globe-trotting gigs. 

Later this week, she is performing in Manila and Jakarta then, next week, Beijing and Shanghai, followed by gigs in Singapore. As I post this, she is on her way to Cannes…

And last week she celebrated her 85th birthday with six parties in England. Here she tells what happened.


I made it! I am 85 years old with all my own teeth, both hips, both knees and most of my marbles. I am told that, from this day forward, I can expect my heart to falter, my sense of taste to diminish, my brain to slow and my bladder to empty without notice.  My bones will get thinner, I will get smaller and I will dry out.

But no matter! I can still have sex if I find someone who can still get it up and remember where to put it.

My skin is so loose I look like a brunette Shar Pei. I forgot my name two years ago and have more hair on my chin than on my foo-foo. To celebrate this, I have had a total of six cakes with candles and two pastries suitably decorated – at six birthday parties.  

I received hundreds of Facebook messages from people I swear I have never met who all have fond memories of the time I petted their little poodle or taught them how to survive reality. I received two dozen gorgeous cards and several witty notes telling me to live it up now before it’s too late. And I am grateful.

Time was when I celebrated birthday after birthday all alone.

The first of many 85th birthday cakes for Lynn Ruth Miller

My gala celebration began on Sunday 7th October when a fellow Stanford graduate, Karen, brought over her thirteen-year-old Vietnamese daughter Mae and we painted pretty pictures together. Then, to my surprise, the two of them disappeared into my kitchen and returned with a beautiful cake alit with several candles. I blew them all out (I still can, you know) and made a wish, which I won’t tell because I want it to come true. 

We finished the evening by knocking off a bottle of wine (Karen and I, not her daughter) bemoaning the state of the world.

The next night, after a rehearsal of Schminderella, (a pantomime I am in as the Fair Godbubba, to remind me that I am, after all, Jew-ish even though I have been a hopeless infidel for over 70 years), my very special friend Michael Ward talked his neighbor Barry into picking me up and driving me to Michael’s house for a late dinner.  

Lynn Ruth celebrating her birthday on a night in with the boys

Michael’s partner is Dimitry Devdariani a director, actor and exquisite human being from Georgia. We three have been friends since 2007 when Dimitry discovered me telling stories in C Venue at the Edinburgh Fringe.  

Michael had convinced Barry and his partner Roy to help him create a surprise party for me and, after much wine and even better conversation, I was ushered into the sitting room where there were balloons, sparkling lights and the loveliest orchid waiting for me.  

We enjoyed a gourmet dinner and finished with cheesecake (my favorite dessert) and a few candles which I blew out and I made the same wish that I made the night before. 

Both Michael and Dimitry assured me I looked exactly the same solid little number they first encountered when I was a young chick of 76, eleven years ago.

We see what we want to see don’t we?

I got home at three in the morning and fought off indigestion and a hangover.

Lynn Ruth also celebrated at the Phoenix Club in London…

The next night was The Big One at The Phoenix Artists’ Club. Stuart Saint and Peter Dunbar gave me the 7.00 pm slot to perform my Crazy Cabaret – a potpourri of my favorite songs from my shows.

I wore a glittery dress. I felt very sparkly. And sang my songs to a room filled with very dear friends, some I have known since 2005 when I started to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. 

At the end of the show, Stuart brought out a glorious cake with lots of candles that I managed to blow out after I made that same secret wish. My lungs stepped up to the plate and I did it all in one giant breath. It was beautiful night.

On Wednesday, my friend Stephen came over for dinner. I saved him some of my cake and some ice cream from Sunday and we celebrated us. No candles this time.  

But Thursday made up for that, because it was my REAL birthday and I celebrated it in Brighton. I gave a small speech at a health fair that hired me to do comedy the next night and then met my friends Liz, Zhanna, William and Jo for a festive dinner at Polpo’s, a late night Italian tapa kind of place.  

Liz presented me with two cream filled pastries in lieu of a cake and I was  showered with flowers, mugs, good books and chocolate. I returned to a private room booked for me at the Brighton Hilton. I was totally out of my element. I am used to hanging out on people’s couches. This was luxury I have always assumed was only for the affluent in this world. And it was mine to enjoy.

The next day I visited my wonderful friend Gail and we discussed the gender hysteria that is sweeping the UK and had lovely pastry and coffee.  We bemoaned the status of women literally going down the toilet in the USA.

Lynn Ruth Miller – stimulated, plated and screwed

Still stimulated and filled with self-righteousness I went over to my friend Annie’s for yet another cake and more conversation about the joys and pitfalls of crossing the 80 mark. Annie is 83 and has had a cochlear implant.

I am kept together with two steel plates, three screws, two hearing aids and a lot of determination. We both gave up logical thinking five years ago and are dealing with unexpected leakage, disappearing waistlines and, in Annie’s case, bright new teeth. I still have my originals.

That night I did a half hour of comedy at Fiddlers Elbow in Brighton to an international audience from the Health Fair who were into new age concepts of the body–mind connections and didn’t understand one word I said.  

Tea bagging, fisting and back doors are not part of that experience.

Saturday night was a special night for me because I went to Wimbledon to do a benefit for the Spear charity: a wonderful group who are trying to combat homelessness. No cake, but lots of wine and laughter, which is really just as effective.   

On Sunday, the magic Zoe Dobson came over with a beautiful jam-and-cream-filled cake and lots of special birthday wishes. 

That night, I also met Mark Allen to celebrate our birthdays together. We chose Ritorno, a new restaurant opened in Holborn that had run out of half their menu but had plenty of wine.  

I met Mark 35 years ago when he was the head usher at Stanford’s Lively Arts concerts and I was one of the ushers. We bonded then because we both love classical music and the two of us went to the San Francisco Opera together.  

Because our birthdays are three days apart (and 26 years… Mark just turned 59) we decided to celebrate together in London this year.

Mark told me I was a funny lady 35 years ago and insists I look exactly the same as when he first met me… Did I mention Mark walks with a white cane and a German Shepherd? 

We finished our meal with a brilliant Happy Birthday sparkler and I thought this was my Grande Finale to the 85 Birthday Bacchanal.

One of many celebratory climaxes for Lynn Ruth on her 85th

I was wrong.  

Yesterday night I took the train to Gravesend for dinner with my dear darling friend Richard Rycroft. He showed me the sight that made Gravesend famous: a statue of Pocahontas.

She actually met her death in a barge outside Richard’s balcony.  

I was stunned and very impressed.  

We went back to Richard’s place to view his modern toilet, one that really flushes (a new experience for Richard) and his spiffy state-of-the-art kitchen which is stocked with enough food to feed the entire town, should Brexit block food deliveries.

There, nestled between the bread-maker and the tea kettle, on top of the dishwasher and under several animal effigies that Richard keeps to remind him that we are all one race was ANOTHER CAKE. This one had a unicorn horn on it.  

We stuffed ourselves with ice cream, berries, cake and conversation. And thus ended eight glorious days to welcome my entering my 86th year.

Now that I am so fucking old, it occurs to me that I should share the conclusions that life has given me after all this living…  

The one thing I now know is how little I know.  

I have finally accepted that the only thing I can control is my own behavior. 

I am what I am… It is too late to bemoan my lack of looks, talent or financial status.  

This person I see in the mirror is what I have made, day by day, month by month and year by year. She is filled with imperfections, but she has survived.  

That, for me is very good news.

And No… I am not telling you my wish.  

I want it to come true.

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Filed under Age, Psychology

The late Jacqueline Pearce on the Actors Studio, Blake’s 7 & “crying and crying”

Actress Jacqueline Pearce died two days ago. So it goes. She is remembered, among other roles, for being the iconic main villain Servalan in BBC TV’s science fiction series Blake’s 7.

Yesterday’s blog was taken from the chat which I had with her in December 1980, as published in Starburst magazine in April 1981. The chat happened between Series 3 and Series 4 of Blake’s 7. This blog concludes that interview.


JOHN: Getting back to te way you approach roles. Between 1967 and 1971, you were in America. You joined the Actors Studio in New York, which is the home of Method Acting – Marlon Brando and so on. Why did you go to America?

JACQUELINE: I got divorced. I just wanted to get away. I joined the Actors Studio because I wasn’t working and so I was going crazy. I didn’t have a work permit. I knew I had to do something, so I went to the Actors Studio and auditioned and passed and was accepted, which meant I could work there. So it was a way of saving my sanity. 

JOHN: Did you learn anything useful?

JACQUELINE: I think one always does, even if it doesn’t seem to have much value at the time. I think Lee Strasberg (who runs the Actors Studio) tends to be a little bit of a dictator. His way is the only way and that’s it. It’s like religion. If you’re not Catholic, you won’t go to heaven. And, if you don’t do the Actors Studio, you won’t be a good actress. That’s rubbish..

JOHN: Just like being back in a convent?

JACQUELINE: Yes, it is.

JOHN: And you react against that?

JACQUELINE: Yes, I do. I always do react against it.

JOHN: Why did you not stay in America?

JACQUELINE: Well, I love New York passionately, but Los Angeles is like a planet all on its own. It’s hard enough to cope if you’re a man. It’s virtually impossible if you’re a woman. Also, I didn’t get a work permit from working with Strasberg. I just became a member of the Studio. It took about three years to get my work permit, by which time I was so homesick I just had to come home.

JOHN: Did you come back a Method actress?

Jacqueline as Servalan and Paul Darrow as Avon in Blake’s 7

JACQUELINE: I came back with an understanding of it, but not necessarily a way to work with it. I’m very instinctive in the way I work – You ask Paul Darrow! (Avon in Blake’s 7) I love working with him. We work together very, very well. Paul always knows what he’s doing in front of a camera; technically, he’s quite brilliant and I rely on him for that. He will make sure I’m in the light or not blocking myself. He lets me go completely intuitively and he responds to that. It’s like a wonderful marriage: very rare and wonderful when it happens.

JOHN: You have had to contend with two different actors playing the part of Travis.

JACQUELINE: That was very difficult.

JOHN: They were slightly different characters.

JACQUELINE: Totally different.

JOHN: It must have been very difficult to…

Jacqueline (Servalan) with Brian Croucher (Travis) in Blake’s 7

JACQUELINE: … adjust. Yes, it was. Steve (Greif), the first one, I could bounce off. Brian (Croucher) is a totally different type of actor. And the reason he had to go on being (a character called) Travis was that Terry Nation (the show’s originator) insisted on having that name.

But, instead of letting Brian find HIS Travis, they tried to make him follow Stephen’s. Fatal. He’s actually a wonderful actor. I’ve seen him do wonderful things. But Brian’s not really a heavy. He’s lightweight and cuddly. He’s not really menacing, which Stephen was.

JOHN: Menace is indefinable. Your character is sort of menacing.

JACQUELINE: I think it’s the danger of Servalan that makes her menacing: the opposites that are in present in her all the time. No-one ever feels totally relaxed around her except Avon.

JOHN: Avon has two facets to his character, too.

JACQUELINE: Well, we have always felt they were opposite sides of the same coin.

JOHN: He’s nice with nasty bits and you are nasty with nice bits?

JACQUELINE: That’s right, yes.

JOHN: Was that conscious?

JACQUELINE: No. In the third series, we got more and more to do together because we insisted on it. When we had the love scene: that brought in loads of fan letters. And, in another episode, I kissed him as well and the audiences loved it. They like people to relate.

JOHN: The new character Tarrant is a sort of Blake Mark II. The first Blake character didn’t seem to work out, because it’s difficult to get any humanity into a straight up-and-down hero.

Audience thinks: “I’m not quite so bad after all”

JACQUELINE: Impossible. No-one really likes a nice guy.

JOHN: Why do you think villains like you are more interesting than heroes like the original Blake?

JACQUELINE: The straight up-and-down characters tend to make most people resentful because they’re being good and, God knows, we are not. Whereas someone who is a villain is fallible and makes mistakes and is cheap and rotten and we all are that sometimes. So, seeing someone be that, an audience thinks: Oh, I’m not quite so bad after all. They can identify and empathise. Well, Servelan’s a bit over-the-top: there aren’t many people who go around like her. (LAUGHS) 

JOHN: You are maybe not a Hitler figure, but you are a sort of female Napoleon?

JACQUELINE: Yes, but I think if Servalan did get full power, full control, she would rule very fairly. I don’t think she’s into power for its own sake; I think power means something different for her. It might originally have been power for its own sake but, when she fell in love with Avon, she realised that the main power is love.

JOHN: Ah! You should be a scriptwriter.

JACQUELINE: It requires tremendous self-discipline, which I don’t have. What I would really like to do is produce.

JOHN: Why?

JACQUELINE: Because then I could pick the directors I wanted, the crew, the actors and the script.

JOHN: You would just produce?

JACQUELINE: I would act as well. But I would love to produce, even if it were just once – which it probably will be. I would love to do it on film. You know – go for broke. (LAUGHS)

A BBC TV fan photo signed by Jacqueline

JOHN: Why film rather than stage or TV?

JACQUELINE: Of all the media, I love film best. It is free-est. It uses the imagination in a way you can’t in theatre and don’t on telly. The options are enormous. Ideally, I would like to do films all the time.

JOHN: So what have you been doing since the last season of Blake’s 7?

JACQUELINE: I went straight off to America the day after we finished the show and spent some time in New York and Mississippi and then went out to Los Angeles and I saw Terry Nation when I was in Hollywood. He doesn’t want to be in England any more. You can understand. It takes so long to get anything done here. Anyway, I came back from there and I was offered a film which I turned down. It was vulgar, cheap and exploitative.

It was a science fiction film, of course – you can see how their minds work. My part consisted of sitting on a loo doing something extremely intimate and then I got murdered sitting on the loo and I could see no justification for this. I thought: No! I am not going to sit on a loo, dear! Awful film! I can’t even remember its name.

JOHN: And then?

“… I collapsed and was resting in hospital …”

JACQUELINE: Then I went into hospital. I collapsed and was resting in hospital for a while. Then I came out and I was going to do one of the first Hammer House of Horror (TV) films and I found I had a lump on my breast and had to go and have that taken out. I had never been ill before. I came out of hospital again and went off to do (the Tom Stoppard play) Night and Day and apparently anaesthetic stays in your system for about a month after you have had a general anaesthetic and I didn’t allow enough time and I’m quite highly-strung, as you may have noticed.

So I finished Night and Day, which is a very, very tough job, came back here, tried to keep going but I got to the state where all I could do was cry. The other Saturday morning, I was just sitting in a heap here crying and crying and crying. 

JOHN: Night and Day has the female lead on stage most of the time, doesn’t it?

JACQUELINE: Yes, it’s a huge part to carry, particularly when you’re not well. But now I feel absolutely wonderful.

JOHN: You have done Blake’s 7 for three years. There’s the obvious problem of being typecast.

JACQUELINE: Well, we will just have to see. I mean, I’ve always been typecast as a strong lady. I think being dark-haired you tend to get put into a category. If you are blonde, you play the wife and, if you’re dark, you play the mistress.

JOHN: I am surprised Blake’s 7 has developed such a following. The BBC scheduled it against Coronation Street.

JACQUELINE: I know. And one year we were put up against Charlie’s Angels, which had a very, very big following. But, last season, we averaged 10 million viewers a week, which is a lot of people.

JOHN: What happens if Blake’s 7 stops after the upcoming fourth season?

JACQUELINE: Well, the way it looks to me, it could go on forever, if they keep giving the public what the public seems to want and not trying to give them something they want the public to have, which is very different. There is no reason why it couldn’t go on forever.

(BLAKE’S 7 ENDED WITH SEASON 4)

 

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Filed under Acting, Psychology, Science fiction

Why has comedian Akin Omobitan started a podcast called IT DIES HERE?

JOHN: So you have started a podcast. Why not do a blog? – Or is that too old-fashioned?

AKIN: I did do a blog back in the day and someone did once call me a blogger and I really didn’t know how to take that.

JOHN: Are you sure it was a blogger he called you?

AKIN: Yes. You have a blog. How do you describe yourself?

JOHN: The former John Fleming. 

AKIN: I used to blog back in 2004. I had wanted to do a podcast for ages but never had an idea I thought would be ‘for people’. 

JOHN: And now you have. Why is it called It Dies Here?

AKIN: It is pretty much a celebration of idiocy, calamity, regret, stupidity, misfortune, mishaps. So, each week, I have a different guest and they bring a story, a situation or an event which plays in circles in their head because, in hindsight, they now know how they could have handled it differently and better. So, instead of it living in their head, they bring it to the podcast and it can die.

JOHN: Sounds like online therapy.

A couple of people have said: “Oh wow! This is like therapy!

AKIN: A couple of people have come on and said: Oh wow! This is like therapy! but none of them has agreed to pay for my services yet.

JOHN: Do you have a couch to lie on?

AKIN: I do. But, if I invited people to my home to lie on a couch, it might just lead to misinterpretations.

JOHN: People might queue.

AKIN: Well, since releasing the trailer and putting Episodes 1 and 2 online, people have got in touch with me asking to be on the podcast.

JOHN: Do you edit it?”

AKIN: No. Because of the time it takes. And because I think it’s good for the listener to get the full conversation.

JOHN: Are the guests all comedians?

AKIN: No. Coming up, we have a couple of comedians, a financial journalist, a DJ and a TV presenter.

JOHN: Despite having co-hosted 101 Grouchy Club podcasts, I am not really a podcast listener. I have a feeling there’s something else I could do – like watch two-thirds of an old British comedy movie on TV.

AKIN: Or you could listen to a podcast and hear about the demise of an individual who started his own business, was offered millions for it and a job in Silicon Valley and all of that crumbled.

JOHN: But will it have knob gags? Anyway… where is this new weekly podcast leading? To a ‘proper’ broadcast radio show?

AKIN: I don’t know. It’s a different way of expressing yourself creatively. I used to write; that was one method. Doing stand-up comedy is another method. I MC shows as well; that’s different. And the podcast is such a different platform.

JOHN: How?

AKIN: With a lot of my stand-up, it is scripted. I may go off on tangents and play around a bit, but the majority of it is premeditated… When you are MCing, you can have a chat with the audience, but there are lots of different people and you are not really having a conversation with them; you are just trying to make the room fizz… When you do a podcast, you sit one-on-one with someone and have a good in-depth conversation for around 45 minutes.

JOHN: I find listening to what people say is over-rated.

“…I had things which ran around in MY head…”

AKIN: Part of what inspired…

JOHN: What?

AKIN: Part of what inspired the podcast is that I had things which ran around in MY head much longer than they should have… You know when you are a teenager and you are just very broody and moody and miserable? And that can go from adolescence into adulthood. Break-ups, different careers, failures. I was fired from jobs on a number of occasions. There were lots of things I had to let go of and, in letting go of them, I realised that I myself was the main reason I was not happy.

When I realised that and took a bit more control of my own happiness, I became a happier, nicer person.

And, because I had this reference point of me being a moody, miserable, self-indulgent person, I never wanted to be that person again. It inspired me to drift away from that aspect of my personality and more towards embracing the good things of life.

JOHN: You are a Christian. Did you go through a period in your teens of not being a Christian?

AKIN: I wouldn’t describe myself as re-born. I think a big part of it, actually, is that, when you grow up in a Christian household, there are a lot of beliefs and belief systems which you adopt without really making a choice. I guess part of my ‘liberation’ was stepping away from a lot of things. 

I guess I stepped away from a lot of the formalities of Christianity and the closeness I had with my parents. I quit my job. A lot of things: friendships, relationships, even myself. Lots of things I just stepped away from entirely.

Akin will be appearing with Lew Fitz at the Edinburgh Fesival Fringe this August

And then, one-by-one, I started re-connecting to all of these things, but under my terms. My relationship with my family is great, but I no longer feel the need to pander to my parents’ wishes for my life. I have tailored my friendship circles, so it is people who I genuinely want to be friends with, as opposed to people who I have just known for a long time.

Even with my Faith, I would say I am a lot more liberal in my views and outlooks. I guess there are different ideals and morals and stuff which I agree with. I just connect with things very differently. I guess there’s just a certain amount of freedom now.

JOHN: So you are more liberal in accepting other people’s ideas and beliefs?

AKIN: Definitely. I would always have described myself as liberal but I think, until you step away from your ideas then re-connect to them as you want, you are not really living your Truth.

When I decided who I wanted to be and who I wanted to connect with, I then started thinking: Why do I?

So, as opposed to Oh! I just love everyone, man! I then started thinking Why do I believe that?

I guess a lot of my beliefs and ideologies now are bounded more in me personally, not just: Oh. Because I’m a Christian, this is why I love everyone… or Because I’m a black person, this is why I behave this way. I just separated myself from a lot of parts of my identity and found a way of re-connecting… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

AKIN: Maybe that sounds a bit hippyish and… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

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Filed under Christianity, Comedy, Podcasts, Psychology, Religion

How do you categorise a series of uncategorisable YouTube videos?

When the US chain Borders opened up its own-branded bookshops in the UK a few years ago, I found browsing there a frustrating experience because they had no category for BIOGRAPHY (or autobiography). Someone told me this was fairly standard in the US but certainly not in the UK, which seems to have an unquenchable appetite for biographies.

In the case of Borders UK (which collapsed in 2009), they bookshelved biographies according to subject. Which meant you had to sometimes guess what they thought the subject was. How do you categorise Brian Blessed? Eccentric? Actor? Mountaineer? Does the biography of Lawrence of Arabia go under Military, Middle East or Gay?

In the case of my chum Janey Godley, her autobiography Handstands in the Dark runs the gamut from child abuse to British gangsters to Scottish social history to drug culture, psychology and more. Sometimes Borders categorised it as ‘Comedy’ because she is best known as a comedian.

This week, my chum – journalist, songwriter, comedian Ariane Sherine – she too is difficult to categorise – started a series of YouTube videos called Ariane Sherine Eats Clean and Gets Lean. It is about losing weight.

Ariane talks about her eating and other problems on YouTube

It has some chance of being successful because it is the sort of thing that might appeal to housewives in mid-America, which I understand is where the viral hits come from – as well as from spotty teenagers in the US and elsewhere, who will appreciate the underwear sequences.

The first introductory ‘episode’ was rather different to what you might expect from a series of videos about losing weight. In Ariane’s own words: “It features my #MeToo story of being sexually assaulted hundreds of times and my struggles with depression, anxiety, OCD and weight gain.”

You could also throw in jaw-droppingly honest psychological insights.

The odd thing about this introductory video to her series is the YouTube category she put it under.

She categorised it as ‘Comedy’.

You can use multiple tags on a YouTube video, but can only define it as being in one Category.

These are the possible categories:

Autos & Vehicles
Comedy
Education
Film & Animation
Gaming
How to & Style
Music
News & Politics
Nonprofits & Activism
People & Blogs
Pets & Animals
Science & Technology
Sports
Travel & Events

Which is the correct category for a dark, autobiographical, psychological piece covering sexual assault, mental problems, eating disorders and suicide?

Ariane has tagged her Introduction video in multiple ways, but she has put it under the category ‘Comedy’ because she is currently primarily known for her humorous musical numbers.

Which I guess is right.

But unavoidably unsatisfying and confusing.

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Filed under Food, Internet, Psychology

The art of political war compared to a comedy club and Disney studio politics

I usually keep away from overt politics in this blog so, no doubt, I will regret posting this one…

Jonathan Pie’s initial comic success came courtesy of RT

A comedian I know was recently asked about the possibility of appearing in the UK-produced comedy series which Russian TV station RT  is apparently planning to screen next year. He said he would not appear on RT, which is financed by the Russian government. I think he was wrong. All publicity is good publicity and, if he is allowed control over his own material, I see no real problem.

But why RT, the former Russia Today – a current affairs channel akin to the BBC News channel – should be thinking of screening a comedy show is interesting.

I was also told that RT is especially interested in screening Right Wing satirists who find it tough to get on UK TV.

Why would RT be interested in Right Wing not Left Wing comedians?

Well, presumably for the same reason that, allegedly, the Russian state set up hundreds of Facebook accounts promoting Right Wing rallies supporting Donald Trump during the US Presidential elections.

The Daily Beast’s view of who was behind Right Wing posts

They supported the more Right Wing candidate against the (comparative to Trump) more liberal, anti-Right Hillary Clinton.

I was in TV promotions and marketing for 25-ish years and have always been interested in techniques of persuasion and how to sway beliefs and perceptions.

As well as in marketing, that is actually what Art does too: you try to take the audience – whether viewers, listeners or fiction readers – along with you.

Which is also relevant to the art of war in the 21st century.

Sun Tzu says in his influential book The Art of War that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” because the object of war should be not to destroy your enemy’s assets and power structure but to take them over intact.

In the modern world, you no longer need to physically take over your rival’s cities, economy and means of production. You do not need to actually take over your enemy’s assets and decision-making processes. What you want is the power to influence your opponent’s economic and political directions and decisions.

Undermining their strength and influence is equivalent to increasing your own.

Lest we forget, the reason Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (written in the 5th century BC) came back to prominence in the mid-1990s was that Disney company president Mike Ovitz recommended it or (in some versions of the story) allegedly gave copies to all his Hollywood executives as a training manual for navigating the corporate world. It was said that the only two books you needed to read to succeed in corporate politics were Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu’s view in the 5th century BC

Two of Sun Tzu’s oft-quoted and closely-linked insights include:

“You have to believe in yourself”
and
“The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

In the modern world, corporations are – it could be argued – equivalent to non-geographically specific states.

You do not need to fully take over a company to influence its direction. A large shareholding will give you a voice – or being able to influence the main shareholders may suffice.

In the modern world, it is pointless – it always has been – to primarily seek to influence the thoughts and beliefs of those who agree with your own views. They already agree with and believe what you believe. To change things, you need to influence the thoughts and beliefs of those who support/bolster your opponents.

There is no point only targeting the fans of your product, although you do have to remind them your product exists.

The important thing is the target (Photo: Christian Gidlöf)

Your aim is to sell a ‘belief’ in your product to people who are not yet convinced or who are actually actively resistant and opposed to your product. Or – and this is the point – you can undermine their existing beliefs in the product they currently buy, which will increase the comparative impact of your own product.

If that product is a political system, then you do not even have to convince your opponents that your beliefs are right. By undermining their confidence in their own political system, you can strengthen your own comparative position.

If you were to bizarrely and possibly unwisely transfer this to the situation of a stand-up comedy show featuring only two comics then, if you undermine the audience’s belief and confidence in one comic, you increase their (comparative) belief in the other comic. The MC can do this in his/her introduction of the other comic to the audience. Or one comic can undermine the other’s self-belief and thus performance.

In the case of the US, let us just imagine for a moment that the Russians wanted to install Donald Trump because they believed he would be more receptive to their overtures, reduce or remove economic sanctions related to Ukraine etc etc…

Well, they must be very disappointed because he has proved to be a rogue player.

It is a bit like the Kray Twins springing ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell from Dartmoor Prison in the 1960s and then finding that he actually was uncontrollably mad.

US cartoonist Ben Garrison’s view of the Washington ‘Swamp’

But – swings and roundabouts – Trump’s appeal is to Right Wing voters in the US and his constant harping-on about how the Washington Establishment and the ‘Fake News’ media are corrupt must relentlessly and effectively chip-chip-chip away at his loyal Right Wing voters’ belief in their own system.

That is something that no Left Wing politician could ever do.

If you undermine a building, it will collapse.

As for my comedian chum, I think he was wrong to refuse to appear on RT.

If they give him an unfettered, uncensored voice which he cannot get onto UK TV then, in terms of Art, that is a ‘win’ situation for him.

The fact that the financiers of RT may see comedy on existing British society as a way of undermining belief in the current system and appealing to the always-malleable 18-35 year old age group while appearing to be the voice of individual freedom of expression is a side issue.

Morality was never a necessity in Art.

And, of course, abroad, many took individually-seen videos of fake reporter Jonathan Pie as those of a real reporter whose off-camera personal views had been caught between recordings, thus showing the duplicity of Western reporting.

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How to perform a comedy show to an audience with dementia in a care home

Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project

So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…

“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”

“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”

“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”

“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”

“And these shows lead to?” I asked.

“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”

“What is limbic?” I asked.

Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)

“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”

“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”

“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.

“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”

“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”

“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”

“At what age?” I asked.

“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”

“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.

Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea

“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”

“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”

“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”

“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”

“Of course you can,” he told me.

“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”

“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.

“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.

“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”

“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”

“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”

“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.

October 2nd Benefit before the gig on 9th

“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”

“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”

“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”

“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.

“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.

“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.

“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”

“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”

Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”

“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”

“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”

“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”

“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.

“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”

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Physical effects of the Edinburgh Fringe on stand-up comics over a week later

I got home from four weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe exactly a week ago. The Fringe runs for 3½ weeks.

Usually I reckon it takes three days to recover from the bizarre eating patterns, general oddity and erratic hours of the Fringe.

In Edinburgh, I was seeing roughly 6-8 one-hour shows each day over 3½ weeks and, on three or four days, two of them consecutive, I saw 9 shows each day.

Now, a whole week after getting back, I am still having early-to-bed, late-to-rise days and feeling lethargic. Compared to past years, I thought this was unusual. But then I read a Facebook post with input from comedians.

All I was doing was seeing shows, writing a minor blog and talking to people. These comics were staging and publicising shows every day.

I am too lazy to check if it’s OK with each of them to use their words so – to quote a phrase – Fuck it – I will just anonymise them and quote them anyway. This is what they posted:


AAA – I still feel like a train has hit me. Is this normal over a week after Edinburgh?

BBB – Yes

CCC Hell yes! Totally annihilated and I was only there 12 days

AAA – Just put my trousers on back to front and feel I am moving through soup. Time contrarily is moving very fast whereas it was a snail’s pace up north.

DDD – My first day back at the swimming pool. I felt like I was going to drown

AAA – I went yesterday and it was like shark infested water, only they were doing the butterfly

EEE – You should be back on track soon. If you do have to make any calls, please stay on the line… Wishing you a speedy recovery… quicker than a Southern Rail train! Sorry, but this is how I express myself!

FFF – If it persists into October it is a worry. Otherwise bog standard.

GGG – Yes.

HHH – Completely. Same train

III – Same here. Horrible head-cold and sleeping for about 10 hours at a time where I’d normally wake up after 7.

AAA – No head colds or flus, just this feeling the world is spinning and I’m lying on the sofa watching Game of Thrones and Outlander all the time. Hang on! that’s exactly what I’m doing!

JJJ – It’s age!

KKK – Yes…..

LLL – PED is the scientific name for it (Post Ed. Depression)

MMM – Yes totally normal.

NNN – Yup me too. Exhausted. Teeny bit miserable. No energy to chase actual gigs which are ironically probably the only way to feel better.

OOO – Yes

PPP – Yes

QQQ – Nordic Walking! It will help gently re-energise you.

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