Category Archives: Psychology

Comic Laura Lexx – a comedian/writer who could be on the cusp of success…

The last time comic writer and performer Laura Lexx was in this blog was back in July 2015 when she was about to stage her first solo Edinburgh Fringe show.

Laura Lexx, when last espied in this blog in 2015…

This week, she will be starting the run of her fourth solo Fringe show Knee Jerk at the Gilded Balloon venue.

I think her career turned an important corner with her appearance on BBC TV’s Live at the Apollo show last Christmas. So I asked her about it.


“London is probably the place I gig least” (Photograph by Karla Gowlett)

JOHN: Success is strange in comedy…

LAURA: Yes, it’s weird. You look at someone and think: Well, they seem to be doing very well, yet no-one’s ever heard of them. But they’re doing a 110-date UK tour, so people HAVE heard of them, yet TV isn’t… it isn’t doing… Well we still have TV held up as ‘the thing’ and actually maybe it isn’t ‘the thing’ any more.

JOHN: People say the live comedy ‘circuit’ is dying.

LAURA: Shut up! No it isn’t! I gig six nights a week quite happily all round the country – there are loads of gigs everywhere; there just aren’t the big chains of gigs (like Jongleurs) any more. You have to know lots of individuals and get on with it. London is probably the place I gig least.

JOHN: Really? Why?

LAURA: It pays absolute dogshit. Apart from the Comedy Store, I don’t think I know a single other London club that pays more than £200 a night.

JOHN: Whereas, if you play, say, up North…?

LAURA: Yeah… £250, £240, £220.

JOHN: With accommodation?

LAURA: Sometimes, yeah.

JOHN: Transport?

LAURA: Not usually.

JOHN: Your Live at the Apollo appearance must have got you loads of online hits and a higher profile.

LAURA: Kinda. It did. But I got way more general public interest and followers from doing Ouch on BBC Sounds because of my set on mental health.

JOHN: Why?

LAURA: I think because all the stuff I did on mental health and more niche topics at the Apollo recording got edited-out of the final cut. You do 20 minutes and they edit it down to around 8. What was left was a funny but mainstream thing which didn’t have much shareable viability online.

Whereas the stuff I did on Ouch about not having children and climate change and eco-anxiety did have shareability online and I picked up thousands of followers from that.

JOHN: So a niche subject actually got you greater hits than a mainstream TV show.

LAURA: Yeah. I guess cos there’s less of it and you’re maybe saying something people haven’t heard before.

JOHN: And, of course, on the Apollo show, all the niche stuff was quite reasonably edited out. It’s a mainstream show and…

Live at the Apollo – the Christmas Special show, 2018, with (L-R) Gary Delaney, Sarah Millican, Laura Lexx and Ahir Shah

LAURA: Why reasonably, though? It was just as funny as the other stuff. It just happened to be on the night Ahir Shah also had a joke about anti-depressants and you couldn’t really have two comedians on (LAUGHS) the Christmas Special going on about anti-depressants. Which is OK. That’s up to the producers. It was not like they were censoring talk on mental health. We just both happened to cover it.

JOHN: It’s a very mainstream programme.

LAURA: But depression is mainstream. Lots of people have depression, so why not talk about it?

JOHN: It’s a bit depressing.

LAURA: Not if you’re doing it in comedy.

JOHN: I think you are maybe at a turning point in your career.

LAURA: Well, most of the general public have no idea who I am, so I can turn up at a comedy club at a weekend and be ‘surprisingly’ good. But now people in the industry know who I am, so I can do the things I want to do more easily and get booked in the gigs I want to be booked on. And pitching ideas is much easier now… And I think I’ve learned to be cleverer with that.

JOHN: How does one get to be a successful pitcher?

LAURA: Well, I haven’t had any success yet but I think what I’ve learned is to go to the Edinburgh Fringe already having written the stuff that people are going to want off the back of my show.

“Feminism, innit, John. It’s huge” (Photograph by Karla Gowlett)

Every time you do an Edinburgh Fringe show in August, you sit down in meetings in September and they say: “Oh, we liked that theme. We would like an outline for a thing on that theme”… and, by the time you have written that outline, they have changed jobs and gone somewhere else.

JOHN: Whereas, this year…?

LAURA: I have a big set-piece about netball and I have already written a show about netball.

JOHN: Why netball?

LAURA: Feminism, innit, John… It’s huge at the moment.

JOHN: Is it?

LAURA: Yes. The Netball World Cup.

JOHN: How do you make a netball show funny?

LAURA: Anything can be funny. You just need a vehicle to add funny characters to. So why not a netball team?

JOHN: So you have that eternal ambition of comics: to eventually write a sitcom?

LAURA: I’ve already done it. I’ve written one; I’m starting my second one; and I’m pitching a couple of… I have one entertainment magazine show project that I think might be on the verge of being optioned. And another idea I’m really only at the research end of, which is… (DETAILS CENSORED IN CASE SOMEONE STEALS THE IDEA!). I also have an idea for a podcast…

JOHN: There’s no money in them…

LAURA: No, but they’re really good for exposure and then you sell off the back of it. Podcasts are a massive way to boost your popularity. My idea is… (IDEA CENSORED AGAIN, TO PROTECT IT!)

JOHN: There’s a lot of politics around at the moment: Brexit and all. You told me your new Fringe show Knee Jerk is a bit political.

Knee Jerk – Laura road-tested her new comedy show before its Fringe run at the Gilded Balloon

LAURA: I’m not trying to be political like the ins-and-outs of politicians; I’m trying to be political in terms of people’s behaviour to each other, which is what I’m interested in. The general premise of the show is I want to deal with climate change and I feel climate change should be our priority as a species and as a nation and it feels like we are at what is hopefully more a death rattle than a resurgence of a lot of divisive stuff between the general public.

JOHN: Doesn’t everyone agree climate change is a bad thing?

LAURA: But who’s dealing with it properly? If a human army was invading, we would have a million measures in place. Here, we’re vaguely going: “Oh, we’ve asked this company to maybe try and do this by 2028… if they can…” And then we fail on all the targets.

JOHN: You are odd in that you’re a good stand-up AND a good MC. They are often different mindsets.

LAURA: Well, I think they’re two different jobs and I quite like them both.

JOHN: There is that cliché of a punter saying to an MC after the gig has finished: “You should try doing stand-up comedy yourself.”

LAURA: Oh God! That happened all the time! That’s why I stopped MCing as much as I was. For a while, I was MCing for maybe 80% of my gigs. I just maybe got a bit frustrated by not being able to do my act. I had all these new bits of material I wanted to get out of the box and play with and, as an MC, I couldn’t really. So I pared it back a bit and now I’m a lot happier and I think I’m a better MC for not doing it all the time.

I like gigging and writing stuff. I’m a club comic that has smashed Edinburgh too. (LAUGHS) So give me my own television show, already!… I might have a sandwich now. Do you want a sandwich?

…Laura’s new 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show…

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Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore – but still has views

Joe Wells is a political comedian. He has written for Have I Got News For You and performed as support act to Frankie Boyle and Alexei Sayle.

Joe Wells faces a bit of a career crisis…

His previous Edinburgh Fringe shows were Night of The Living Tories (2014), 10 Things I Hate About UKIP (2016) and I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative (2017).

But this August his show is entitled: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore!

So that’s a bit of a career crisis.

Between the ages of 8 and 15, he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He overcame it with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. When he was 15, he started writing about his experiences of OCD.

These writings went on to form the basis of his first book Touch and Go Joe.


JOHN: So… you have been doing previews of your new show before it hits Edinburgh…

JOE: Yes. In some of my previews, I’ve felt a bit self-conscious because, in part of the show, I am really quite earnest and I worry that is going to be a bit weird for the preview audiences. Though I know, in Edinburgh, they are going to be open to that. There is so much different stuff at the Edinburgh Fringe and people go there with such an open mind.

JOHN: Your show says what it’s about in the title: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore! Anything else?

JOE: One of the things I would like the show to be is a sort of defence of Comedy because, from all sides, it feels like it’s trendy to slag off Comedy. From the Left, people are saying Comedy is bullying and horrible. From the Right, they say Comedy has become too PC and comedians are just saying what people want to hear. 

I don’t think either of those things is true.

Comedy is great because it puts viewpoints in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear those viewpoints. That is what the Left should be striving for: getting people to hear from voices they don’t often hear.

But the Left has become quite insular: Let’s just talk amongst ourselves.

JOHN: Maybe Comedy audiences tend to be Left-leaning.

JOE: I want there to be Right Wing people in my audience so I can put forward my ideas of how I want the world to be. Why wouldn’t I want that?

French National Assembly: the original Left and Right Wingers

JOHN: There is this idea that defining politics as Left or Right is wrong. It’s just an accident of history – the way they sat in the French National Assembly. Thinking about Left and Right is misleading – it’s not a straight line: it’s a circle. If you take Left and Right to their extreme extremes, they both end up in the same place. A more sensible division might be Authoritarian and Libertarian.

JOE: But then, again, that becomes full circle. I want us to have a Welfare State; I want us to have… things which some people would see as Authoritarian. I think… yeah… I dunno. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The thing is comedians do not really know what they are talking about. I think that’s partly why I don’t want to do political stuff any more. I mean, I’m not a political theorist.

JOHN: But you do want to put your views out there, like all comedians… And all comedians are misfits. Different. If they were more like everyone else, then they wouldn’t be interesting to listen to. It’s because they can come up with a bizarre, unexpected angle – a different viewpoint on something. Michael McIntyre is arguably the most successful stand-up in Britain at the moment. And he is telling ordinary people about things they see every day – nothing new – but they haven’t seen those things from his viewpoint before.

JOE: I think he’s great, though I’m not queueing up to buy tickets. His routine about the bus stop is just a powerfully-written routine. Yes, to some extent, you have to be on the outside looking in.

JOHN: In a sense, if you do not have a character defect, maybe you cannot be a good comedian.

Joe Wells manages to fit into a bath…

JOE: I can’t think of many comedians who really properly ‘fit in’.

But, outside of comedy, I do know loads of people who I think do fit it. They know where they belong in things. Even though there are comedians who take their kids to school and lead a ‘normal’ life, they’re still a little bit… not so normal.

JOHN: Why did doing specifically political comedy attract you?

JOE: I talk about it in the show… I was an angry young man and a lot of that anger came from stuff that was not to do with politics. But at 18 or 19 I would go on protests – and shouting and being a political comedian and rallying against things was incredibly cathartic.

I am still a big Leftie and there’s still lots of injustices and things I want to change, but I’ve realised that the reason I fitted so neatly into being an angry political comedian was because I got to feel OK about being angry.

When we talk about mental health, people say: It’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel this or that. But you rarely hear people say: It’s OK to feel really angry about things which aren’t anyone’s fault. I can feel angry about things that happened in the past and there’s rarely an individual I can blame for stuff that’s happened in the past. But I can still feel that anger. And it’s valid. It’s OK to feel really angry.

I have felt angry a lot of my life.

JOHN: Because…?

JOE: Well the show has a ‘reveal’ – about whether or not I am autistic. I was assessed for autism in February this year. The reveal is whether they said I am… or not.

“Why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?” (Photograph by Ed Moore)

I did have those traits and I was different. I could not make friends and I didn’t fit in. I thought: Why can’t I fit in here at school? I feel I’m nice and I feel I’m a kind person. So why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?

I think that informed a lot of my life growing up. I don’t have many male friends. Most of my good friends are women. I would go to parties and see all the men would talk together. They’ve got some jigsaw pieces where they fit together and it works. There was something that was not working with me.

I have always had a real chip on my shoulder about football. I hated football fans.

But then I realised what it is is that my dad used to take me to football and it was so noisy. I hated all that shouting and noise. I found it overwhelming and horrible and I felt angry with the people making that noise. And, in my head, I created a story about that – Football fans are horrible!

But now I know lots of people who are into football and that’s fine… It’s not football fans I hate – It’s that noise. But I felt the anger and had to come up with a reason for why I felt that anger.

People need a narrative around why they feel a certain way and, if there’s no narrative…

One of the things I talk about in the show is that, in Comedy, everyone has their say.

“They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat…” (Photograph by Hannah Reding via UnSplash)

There are problems with diversity in Comedy – of course there are – but, moreso than in any other industry or art form, there are people from COMPLETELY different backgrounds, COMPLETELY different world views, seeing things in COMPLETELY different ways.

I would argue that Comedy is more neurodiverse than any other…

JOHN: Neurodiverse? What does that mean?

JOE: People think differently. There’s a book NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. The basic idea is we have bio-diversity and different animals all play their role. You need all those animals. They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat – but they all co-exist and are necessary. Same with cultural diversity.

And we also have neuro-diversity. Some people are more on the autistic side; others are good at social things and are very good at connecting to people emotionally; it’s all part of diversity.

The old way of looking at things is that there is this ‘good way’ of being and thinking, but actually the best way is for everyone to think and view things differently.

A lot of comics think about things differently and come at things from different angles and that’s part of how you write comedy – looking at things in a different way.

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Michael Livesley: “an outrageous talent” has a comedy show and slimming advice

“An outrageous talent,” is how Stephen Fry described him.

“Bellowing, manic chutzpah,” said Robin Ince.

“Brilliant! Berserk! Simply wonderful!” wrote the Guardian.

But now Michael Livesley is quite literally only Half The Man he was and that is the title of his first ever show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.

He has appeared in this blog a few times before, when he was staging Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Vivian Stanshall tribute shows with, among others, Neil Innes, Rick Wakeman and Stephen Fry .

Half The Man is totally different…

…Michael Palin (left) with the old-style Michael Livesley…


The new-look Michael Livesley – “It’s time for me to move on”

JOHN: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year… Why?

MICHAEL: It’s time for me to move on.

JOHN: The show is in the Comedy section But you’re not a stand-up comedian, are you?

MICHAEL: No.

JOHN: So what are you?

MICHAEL: I don’t know. I suppose the word Storyteller fits. I was a singer and then I ended-up getting into acting. I’m just talking about me life, really.

JOHN: The show is…?

MICHAEL: The line that sums it up is: Losing weight is a thermodynamic process. Eat less; move more. But it’s one that’s complicated by emotional baggage.

It’s not just about losing weight. It’s about what leads people to the psychology of locking themselves indoors and hiding away from society and filling the void – the dearth of having a social life or a life in general, filling that emotional void with food and drinking. Which is what I was doing.

JOHN: But with humour?

MICHAEL: It definitely has laughs!

JOHN: So you have lost a bit of weight…

MICHAEL: Yes, I started on the 20th of September 2018 when I was 23 stone 4lbs and, by January 2019, I’d lost five stone.

JOHN: And how much are you now, at the start of July 2019?

MICHAEL: 13 stone.

JOHN: And that’s the show?

MICHAEL: Well, I found out a lot about myself, not just by going through the process of losing weight but in the process of writing this show. I found out where my triggers were. Did you have breakfast this morning?

JOHN: Two boiled eggs. Two slices of toast.

MICHAEL: You see, in the past, I couldn’t have done that. I would have had to have 12 pieces of toast and 10 eggs. And it’s all down to this thing called the Scarcity and Abundancy Mentality.

People who have a Scarcity Mentality have… well… How many pies would you like?… ALL of them… How many pints of beer would you like?… How many have you GOT? I want to have them all because I don’t know when there’s going to be more.

Michael sings with Neil Innes at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre

It went back to all the poverty when I was growing up. Me nan had a saying: It’s like giving a donkey strawberries.

The donkey won’t stop eating strawberries and that’s kinda what I’m like. It’s not what I WAS like. It’s what I AM like.

So I changed me diet to this ketogenic diet which removes carbohydrates.

JOHN: Why?

MICHAEL: Because carbohydrate for me is… Once that chain reaction of glucose and sugar and everything within my body starts, it gives me a reward in the brain – a hormonal reward – it spikes insulin – whatever you want to say – that is addictive to me. That pleasure feeling is addictive to me.

That’s the physical addiction side of it.

But then there’s the attachment side of it. That goes on in a part of the brain I refer to as the pub-conscious. The attachment side of it is: Remember when that person split up with you, you had that big pizza and that big bottle of cola and aaah you felt good? Or: You remember when that person died, after the funeral you got really pissed and you were having a laugh with your mates?

All these things ‘leave a ring around the bath’ as they say. And you try to emulate these things like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations where she’s in her wedding dress and has the wedding cake. You try to surround yourself and build an artifice dedicated to the past. But the past has gone. 

Michael (left) and his friend Lee photographed in June 1993 (top image) and in a June 2019 re-staging of the same photo

So the day you realise the past is dead, that’s the day that things start to change. Because you realise that actually there is a life to lead. It’s about the hard work of recognising that. Letting go of the past. Letting go of all the emotional crutches that were sustaining you in a non-life.

All these shitty things happened to me in the past, but I’m still worthy of fulfilling the potential of living my life.

That’s what I realised.

German compound verbs seem to come up an awful lot when I’m writing. The one German word that describes all this is torschlusspanik – ‘gate shut panic’ – which means ‘time is running out’.

We call it a mid-life crisis.

That feeling is what happened to me. I got this torschlusspanik.

People like you were telling me I should be getting on with things. You know you’re capable of at least having a go at this stuff. Get on with it. What’s standing in your way? – Oh, well, I don’t want to stand out there being 24 stone because of all the criticism and all the public shaming.

Public humiliation forms a big component of fat people’s lives. And the name-calling and all the other shit you go through in life… which bit by bit by bit makes you retreat and shrink your world down to your basic ‘Sitting in a room surrounded by things that give you comfort in the hope that you can reignite that fire within your mind and within your emotional being’.

So that’s kind of the story. I lay on my side for so long that the hair on my left leg stopped growing. Honestly. Truly. I was so lazy, my hair couldn’t be arsed growing.

JOHN: But you weren’t just sitting in a room doing nothing. You were constantly going off on stage being jolly and singing and joking.

The old Michael (beer bottle in hand) with Rick Wakeman

MICHAEL: I was doing that every now and then but, in-between, I’d lock myself away and drink and drink and drink – just crazy fucking drinking.

JOHN: And you moved back from London to Lancashire. Was that linked?

MICHAEL: I suppose now, looking back, you could say that gave me the support that I needed and made me feel less anxious. Because anxiety and depression were completely and utterly ruining me life.

JOHN: And…?

MICHAEL: Charles Bukowski, the American poet, has this great poem called The Spark about how shit his life was but how he kept this spark and how he would have to blow on it to keep it alive and it was kinda keeping him alive. The poem ends with the great line: A spark can set a whole forest on fire. Just a spark. Save it.

My show is about me trying to do everything I could to give me the outward confidence to match what I believed I could potentially do to improve myself and improve the life of others.

It’s a modern phenomenon: eating all this crap and locking ourselves away. We didn’t used to have the option. You had to get off your arse and go out to work every day.

JOHN: You don’t want to lose any more weight, do you?

MICHAEL: Well, I could but I can’t. I’ve been on these monitors at the gym that tell your body fat and I’ve got no body fat to lose. I’ve got so much muscle now. I’ve never been that guy. I’ve become muscular by accident.

JOHN: What are you going to do after the Fringe?

MICHAEL: I’d like to tour the show. And I do the videos online. I’ve been doing videos talking about the process.

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My Comedy Taste. Part 2: Eccentrics, anarchy and performers’ mad minds

In 2017, oft-times comedy festival judge and linguistics expert Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy.

I posted Part 1 of this chat yesterday.

Here is Part 2…


LOUISETTE: So you don’t like actors trying to be stand-up comics…

JOHN: To an extent. I am also allergic to a lot of character comedy. I don’t like character acts in general, though I do like some. I think the closer the ‘character’ is to reality – to being like a real person – the less I like it. But, if it’s a cartoon character – Charlie Chuck is a perfect example –  I like it.

I adore Simon Munnery; he can be very surreal, but I didn’t like his early Alan Parker, Urban Warrior character – It was too close to reality for me.

LOUISETTE: You mean realistic.

JOHN: Yes. I have met people who really are pretty-much like that. When I was a researcher for TV shows, I got typed for finding eccentrics and bizarre acts. I would find genuinely different-thinking people who did odd things and usually lived in provincial suburbia, bored out of their skulls with the mundanity of their lives, unable to unleash their inner originality and unconventionality.

So, if I watch a performer pretending to be eccentric, I think: Why am I watching someone faking a ‘performance’ when I could be watching the real thing? You can see in their eyes that these performers are not the real thing. They are sane people trying to be, to varying extents, oddballs they are not.

Well, all good comedians are, of course, mad to an extent.

LOUISETTE: They are not all mad.

JOHN: They are all unconventional thinkers or they have some personality disorder. The good ones. And I think one of the reasons I like watching comedy is I like watching some of the bizarre characters which a lot of comedians genuinely are. I don’t like people pretending to be odd characters, but I like watching people who ARE… well, a bit odd. They are the good comics for me.

There is maybe a difference with pure gag-delivery acts like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine.

LOUISETTE: But, getting back to character acts…

JOHN: If someone does a character act, they are pretending to be someone else, which is what an actor does… rather than being themselves or some version of themselves, which is what a modern comedian does. So, if I can watch a comedian – let us not mention Lewis Schaffer – with bizarre character traits, I am happy. If I watch an actor pretending to be a bizarre character but not being themselves, I am not really that interested because I can go out and find the real nutter.

LOUISETTE: So what you are saying is you want the person to be the person and you want that person to be nuts. Is that because there is no danger in playing a character, no risk except that the audience might not like it? Whereas, if the person is being themselves and they get it wrong or they go off the rails, there is a risk?

JOHN: I suppose so – like watching a motor race because there is always the danger of a disastrous crash.

I may be like a Miss World contestant. 

LOUISETTE: I don’t think so.

JOHN: But you know how contestants in old-fashioned beauty contests were always asked their interests and they would say, “Oh! I’m interested in people”? 

Well, I AM interested in people and how their minds work.

Most of my blogs are not objective blogs. They have very little of me in them. That is not because I am hiding me. It is because I’m interested in finding out how the other person’s mind works and – because they are usually creative in some way – how their creative juices shape their performance pieces or their life – how their mind creates original end-results. Or – because I sometimes mention crime – how their slightly non-mainstream thoughts work. And, of course, if there are quirky anecdotes in it, that’s great. I am interested in the people and I am a sucker for quirky anecdotes.

LOUISETTE: You say you are interested in the creative process – the thing that makes that person tick both on and off stage – But how do you analyse that? How do you figure out from somebody’s performance – even if it’s very close to the real person – what that real person’s process is?

JOHN: I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I keep watching people perform. If I knew everything, there would be no point seeing any other act.

LOUISETTE: But what are you looking for?

JOHN: I dunno. I’m just interested in how everyone is different. Everyone is different; everyone is unique. There is no end to it, missus.

At a distance, people are similar but, up close, they are, like Charlie Chuck, unique

LOUISETTE: Infinitely different.

JOHN: Yes. It sounds wanky to say it out loud, but people are infinitely interesting, yes. At a distance, people are just a mass of similar heads but, in China, the Terracotta Warriors in Xian all have individual faces. 

LOUISETTE: How does that come into it?

JOHN: I have no idea. I’m making this up as I go along. But, if you read about identical twins, they are usually a bit the same but a lot different. I’m interested in individuality. It’s not nature OR nurture. It’s BOTH that creates infinite uniqueness.

LOUISETTE: I’m still interested in getting at this elementary, basic thing that you are looking for. You do not want things to be off-pat. You don’t want an act to be overly polished. But what about someone like Spencer Jones who has a very well-formed act.

JOHN: Yes, he is interesting because he IS an actor and he IS doing character comedy… so I should not like him, but I do… But, then, he is doing a cartoon character. In no way are you going to find that character working in Barclays Bank or walking along the high street. So I like him, I think, because he is a cartoon character. I think it is mostly tightly-scripted…

LOUISETTE: Yes, that’s why I am asking you…

JOHN: Maybe physical comedy and prop comedy is different. 

LOUISETTE: Is he prop comedy?

JOHN: I dunno. Martin Soan created The Naked Balloon Dance for The Greatest Show on Legs… The Balloon Dance has to be done exactly as it is choreographed.

The whole point is that you never see any naughty bits and therefore the balloons have to be… It looks chaotic, but, if it were actually done willy-nilly – if that’s an appropriate phrase – it would fall apart and would not be as funny.

LOUISETTE: You said it LOOKS chaotic. Do you enjoy that? What you are saying is that, if it looks chaotic but it actually isn’t…

JOHN: Maybe prop comedy and physical comedy are different to stand-up. I suppose with Spencer Jones, you are shocked by the use of the props; the… unexpectedness… This… this falls apart as an argument, doesn’t it? There must be something different…

I like pun comedy: Tim Vine, Milton Jones, Darren Walsh, Leo Kearse to an extent. They are very tightly pre-scripted or, at least, prepared. With puns, if they have a vast number of puns, they can move the order around but the flow, the pacing, the momentum has to be kept going so they need to be highly pre-prepared.

So that’s where my thing falls down. Verbally, pun shows and short gag-short gag-short gag shows like Milton Jones’ have to be very tightly choreographed and the prop comedy shows have to be very tightly choreographed physically.

I know from being involved in Tiswas – the ancient slapstick kids’ show – that, if you do something that appears to be anarchy, you have to organise it really, really well. You can’t perform anarchy in an anarchic way; you have to organise it in advance.

LOUISETTE: Like Phil EllisFunz & Gamez.

JOHN: Indeed. And I remember one Tiswas production meeting, after the show had been going for years, where the producer said: “We have to figure out some way to make things go wrong during the show.” Because they had been going for so many years, all likelihoods were covered-for in pre-production meetings. Everyone was very experienced, very professional and nothing really went wrong that threw everything off course. You could script-in things to go wrong, but nothing ever went genuinely disastrously wrong of its own accord.

LOUISETTE: Which you seem to like…

JOHN: I do like anarchy. I don’t especially want to see a Michael McIntyre show because it will be too smoothly professional. I do prefer shows that are up-and-down like a roller-coaster in an anarchic way. Though, if it involves immense detail like props or puns, then you can’t have real anarchy. The only way to have apparent anarchy with props and puns and tight gag-gag-gag routines is to prepare it all very carefully.

So I am… I am getting schizophrenic here, aren’t I…?

LOUISETTE: You are. But that’s good. I was discussing it with Frankie (Louisette’s son Frankie Brickman) and he asked me if it was unpredictability you like or feigned unpredictability.

JOHN: Maybe if they feign the unpredictability in a very professional way and I don’t spot the fact it’s feigned…

It’s not even unpredictability I like. It’s the cleverness. If it’s clever and a rollercoaster, I will forgive them the bits that don’t work for the bits that do work. 

… CONTINUED HERE

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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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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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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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