Category Archives: Racism

Two views of British & Italian comedy (+ racism, sexism & women with horns)

Luca Cupani: a man not likely to lose his bottle

Luca Cupani: a man not likely to lose his bottle

London-based Italian comic Giacinto Palmieri told me I should meet Luca Cupani from Bologna. So I did. Yesterday afternoon. With Giacinto.

Luca moved to London at the end of January this year to be a comedian.

“In Britain,” Luca told me, “comedy is a huge thing, so I looked for an Open Mic night online and I found this King Gong night at the Comedy Store. They gave me a spot at the end of February. They seemed to think I might be frightened, but I had never heard of the King Gong night or the Comedy Store.

“I would like to also be an actor, but it’s not that easy because of my accent and because, when they look for an Italian actor, they want someone who looks like an Italian, not like me. At Twickenham in November, I did an open audition for the new Star Wars movie…”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” I said, “but you do look a bit like an alien.”

“I thought,” said Luca, “if they chose Chewbacca and Yoda, they can’t be too fussy about looks. I queued at Twickenham Studios at five in the morning along with 15,000 other people for six hours and the audition was just entering a blue tent and exiting the other side in three seconds.”

“Why couldn’t they just look at pictures?” Giacinto asked him.

“I dunno,” shrugged Luca. “They just wanted to meet someone. But I thought: The Comedy Store can’t be worse than this.”

“And was it?” I asked.

Luca right have been crucified on his first UK gig

Luca took the risk of being crucified at his first UK gig

“There were about 400 people in the audience,” he replied, “and they were not nice and, listening to the comics on before me, I didn’t get half of the jokes because of the cultural references.

“Someone said something I didn’t understand and people laughed. Then someone said something I didn’t understand and they sent him off. I didn’t know what was the secret to stay on stage.

“When it was my turn in the second half, maybe I was helped because they were a little… I wouldn’t say drunk, but they…”

“I think you can say drunk,” I told him.

“Well for some reason,” said Luca, “they liked me. I started talking about everything. I would have sold my mother to stay on stage. I did not sell her, but I stayed on stage and I won the show, the King Gong. It was my first time and I was so scared and I survived and won.

“So they gave me another five minute spot in June that I did and that went not so bad. At the end the owner, Don Ward, told me I have funny bones. I had to look it up in the Urban Dictionary. He told me to keep doing it and I would have another spot in November but just five minutes again because he told me: Your English is not that good.

Luca’s first performance at the Comedy Store is on YouTube.

“I was improvising,” explained Luca. “I can’t write jokes in English so, if I want to find new material, I have to go on stage. In my room, I can’t find any joke. I need to be on stage and under pressure or under fear and I start saying something funny and people laugh and that gives me energy.”

“You’re a very good improviser,” Giacinto told him.

“I find it difficult to translate the jokes I say in Italian into English,” explained Luca, “and it is different the things that trigger laughter here. In Britain, I realised there are some subjects or topics you should not mention: if you talk about things like cancer.”

“Are cancer jokes OK in Italy?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Luca. “You can make a joke about anything.”

Giacinto disagreed: “Romina Puma (organiser of Il Puma Londinese Lab) always tells me it’s easier for her to talk about disability in London than it is in Italy. She tells me people here are more ready to mix comedy and tragedy. I don’t know the Italian comedy scene now. But it is true there is more sensitivity here about racism and sexism.”

Luca Cupani 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show

Luca’s upcoming improvised Fringe show

“I did some jokes about cancer at the Comedy Store,” Luca added. “They laughed. But, if you talk to other comedians, they say: Don’t say this; don’t say that.”

“You can,” I said, “make a joke about anything if you deliver it in the right way. What can you not say in Italy?”

“In Italy,” said Luca, “we don’t have something like stand-up comedy in the Anglo-Saxon way. It’s more like you have to portray a character maybe like Commedia dell’arte… You have to be the lazy postman or the rich businessman. You create this character like a stereotype and you do some jokes around this. In Britain, you are yourself and you talk about your vision of the world.

“In Britain, everyone who is black plays the race card; he talks about being black. Everyone who is Indian talks about being Indian. Women: We are women. But, if you are not one and you say a joke about them, you are sexist or racist. If you are a white man, you cannot talk about black people or make a joke about women.”

“But,” I asked, “in Italy you can talk about North Africans arriving in Sicily by boat?”

“If it is disrespectful, no,” said Luca. “But you can…”

“In Britain,” I said, “the Scots joke about the English, the English joke about the Welsh, people from the north of England joke about southerners…”

“Though not on stage now,” said Giacinto. “That’s more in the pubs. The butt of the jokes in Italy are the Carabinieri – the military police.”

Luca (left) and Giacinto pose for me in Camden yesterday while an attractive lady casually picks her nose behind them

Luca (left) and Giacinto pose for me in Camden yesterday while an attractive lady casually picks her nose behind them

“Yes,” agreed Luca.

“So,” I said, “in England, jokes about stupidity are about the Irish; in the US, they are about the Polish; in Ireland, I think they are about people from Kerry…”

“And,” said Giacinto, “in Italy they are about the Carabinieri. Yes.”

“So not about people from other areas?” I asked.

“Italian history,” said Giacinto, “is so localistic. People were for centuries closed inside very small communities. Probably the Carabinieri used to be from the South traditionally so maybe there is a bit of anti…”

“People from the South,” said Luca, “tend to represent people from the North as stubborn and Yes, they work but they’re not that smart. The South portrays themselves as We know how to live. We are smarter, brighter. In the North they are slow.”

“The impression I get,” I said, “is that people in the North of Italy think people in the South are animals and people in the South think people in the North are Germans.”

“Yes,” said Luca. “People in the North think they are like the Germans and are perfect, but they are not. Part of my family is from Sicily.”

“I have got myself off-subject,” I said. “Back to you, Luca. You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. You’ve never been to the Fringe before. Never been to Scotland before. And it’s an hour-long improvised show…”

“What ,” Giacinto asked me, “did you think of the preview of my Wagner show the other week?”

“I thought it was very good,” I said. “I didn’t have any misgivings about it because I thought: If the worst comes to the worst, there will be talk of women with horns on their heads.”

Giacinto’s Edinburgh Fringe poster

Giacinto: enthusiastic Wagner Fringe show

“Wagner,” suggested Luca, “helps you connect with your inner hero.”

“You are my personal hero,” said Giacinto, “because what you are doing – improvising an hour show – is crazy.”

“I would do a show about my sex life,” said Luca, “but basically nothing happens. I dated a woman who works in a bank and she just asked me about the Mafia for three or four hours.”

“One day,” said Giacinto, “I am going to do a show called All The Women Who Didn’t Sleep With Me (Abridged). The unabridged version would be too long.”

Your Wagner show,” I told Giacinto, “is actually ideal for the Fringe because it is a show performed by an enthusiast. In Edinburgh, the big thing is to latch on to a subject, then make it personal in some way.

“If the punters are sensible,” I continued, “even if they don’t give a shit about Wagner, they’ll think: Oh! Women with horns and a man with a sense of humour! That’s worth seeing! If someone’s an enthusiast, you know he’s going to be excited about the subject and will try everything to enthuse you and the hour is going to be interesting and, in this case, funny.”

“I know you don’t do reviews,” said Giacinto, “but, if you can manage to squeeze these words into your blog…”

“Did I not mention it before?” I asked.

“No,” said Giacinto, “you never mentioned my preview.”

“Oh fuck,” I said.

“But I’m still going to invite you to parties, don’t worry,” Giacinto told me.

“Parties?” asked Luca.

“John,” explained Giacinto, “says he doesn’t do reviews because he wants to be invited to parties by comedians.”

“You might have just managed to get into my blog,” I told him.

There is an award-winning short film featuring Luca Cupani on YouTube. (It is in Italian)

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Filed under Comedy, Italy, Racism

Black-white-not-quite-Pakistani-but-Zimbabwean-Scots comedian Sean Reid

The monthly Africa Comedy Show last night

Last night’s monthly African Comedy Show

Last night I went to the monthly African Comedy Night at the Golders Green Hippodrome in London. Well, it used to be the Hippodrome. Now it is the El Shaddai International Christian Centre.

I have the dimmest of memories of being bussed there as a schoolboy to see some Boy Scout ‘Gang Show’ (I was not a Boy Scout). Between then and the evangelical church, it was home to the BBC Concert Orchestra. I presume it is the evangelical church who have painted the wildly ornate interior blue and white. It is slightly odd.

The African Comedy Night has been running monthly for the last five years (though only two months in Golders Green). It gets an audience of around 400-500.

On the bill last night was Zimbabwean Glaswegian Sean Reid.

His father is from Glasgow; his mother is from Zimbabwe; he was born in Zimbabwe but left when he was six; then they moved to Mauritius, Nigeria and then to Glasgow when he was aged 12. His dad is a contractor for BP.

Sean is 32 now. I talked to him when he came offstage last night.

“Zimbabwe-Mauritius-Nigeria,” I said. “You were brought up as a British ex-pat.”

“Me and my friend have a term for it,” said Sean. “We call ourselves Afro-pean. But I think as long as you have enough time to get part of the culture, it’ll never leave you as such. I can still understand Shona though I understand more than I can speak, because I don’t get to speak it that often.

“I spent just as much time in Zimbabwe as I did in Nigeria and I feel just as influenced by Nigeria as Zimbabwe, if not a little bit more, because I was more aware.”

“And in Scotland?” I asked. Sean has a pure Scots accent.

“People think I’m Pakistani,” he told me. “because we’re not that culturally aware in Scotland.”

“Is there an African scene in Glasgow?” I asked.

Sean Reid performs at last night’s London show

Sean Reid on stage at yesterday’s comedy show in London

“There is a minor one,” said Sean. “It happens every now-and-again. The turn-out is quite good because there’s a lot more black people up there now.

“This year I’m putting on a gig for Black History Month in October, just to bring things a bit together, because black comedians aren’t really coming up to Scotland and it’s a shame because there IS a market for it but no-one’s really capitalising on it.”

“Is that market just in Glasgow though?” I asked.

“No,” replied Sean.

“There is an unexplained outbreak of Russians in rural Perthshire,” I said.

“It’s weird for us,” said Sean. “because there’s a lot of Poles and Ukranians about – Where the hell are all these white people coming from?”

“Edinburgh is unsettlingly white,” I said.

“Edinburgh is English,” said Sean. “they don’t speak anything that sounds like Scottish at all. If you go to Africa, everyone’s elocution is 20 times better than anyone here in the UK. I was in Zimbabwe last year. All ex-British Colonial places still have the grammar systems in place from when the Colonials left… so when they come here and hear the way people speak here now, they go: This is not English!”

“You were in Zimbabwe last year?” I asked. “Many comedy clubs in Zimbabwe?”

“It’s growing.,” said Sean, surprising me. “I missed it when I was there. I discovered (South African comedian) Trevor Noah this year and I’ve been speaking to some Zimbabwean comics and in September, when I’ve got two weeks off, I’m thinking of maybe going and doing a couple of things down there, just to see what the difference is. It’s just a buzz.

“Trevor Noah,” I pointed out, “is a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner.”

“He’s found the universal funny,” said Sean. “Trevor Noah: he’s my dude. Richard Pryor, Bernie Mac, Trevor Noah.”

Sean Reid, ex-rapper, relaxing in Glasgow

Sean Reid, ex-rapper, more into singing, relaxing in Glasgow

“You used to rap,” I said.

“I’ve stopped rapping and do more singing now,” explained Sean. “It’s got more universal appeal.”

“What’s the difference between music and comedy?” I asked.

“Comedy gives a different buzz. Music is like cocaine and comedy is like ketamine: they give you such different buzzes. I’m not saying I’ve ever done either. I’m just saying music and comedy are both fruit, but they are like different sorts of fruit.

“There’s something very empowering about telling a joke and people understanding where you’re coming from. There’s something totally different about singing a song and someone understanding where the lyric is coming from and having that story behind that line taking you all these different places.”

“You write your own songs?”

“Yes. I was a spoken word artist before everything. I like to play with words. I like to mess around with words.”

“That was why you were a rapper?”

“Yeah. Well, not such a good one, so that’s why I started singing. I was rapping and doing the comedy at the same time. It all kinda evolved at the same time. I’ve done (big Scottish rock festival) T In the Park on the T Break Stage – 3,000 applied and I was one of 16 who made it through in 2009.”

“Your music is online?”

“Yes, on Soundcloud. The best think to do, though, is find me on YouTube. Just hashtag Glitterballs. I’m a bit of a Richard Branson type. I’ve got dreams too. I’m going to be a multi-billionaire. I’ve got a couple of products. I’m going to tap into the Ann Summers market first: I’ve got Glitterballs and SmegFresh.”

“Smeg Fresh?” I asked.

“It’s like FemFresh but it’s for guys. I think a lot of ladies will buy it for the guys – ‘for the cheesiness of the penis’…”

There is an Infomercial on YouTube

“And then there’s GlitterBalls,” said Sean. “They’re just glittery balls. If you hashtag Glitterballs and see what happened when I went around Glasgow… some very interesting results.”

“Which were?”

“I dunno what you guys call ‘em. We call ‘em Jakies – a person who maybe likes too much booze, takes a bit o’ drugs. This one came and whacked his balls out – twice – on cue – because we missed it the first time – and showed us his arse. He’d just shaved his balls the night before.”

“You come down to London much?” I asked.

“This is my first time in two years, but I’m looking to do a lot more stuff because, now I’m single, I’ve got a lot more free time. I’m spending much of my time masturbating, but it chafes after a while so I’m looking for new advances in my enjoyment.

“For me, I just wanna get better at my craft and I want to get that universal laugh. Without that, you’ll crutch on things you know you’re comfortable with.”

“You can’t be seen as being a black comedian,” I said, “because then you’re too ghettoised and typecast.”

“Well, then I’ll be a Pakistani comedian,” laughed Sean.

Sean Reid in the Hippodrome last night

Sean Reid last night – everything except a one-legged lesbian

“You could be a black-white-Pakistani-Scots comedian,” I suggested. “If you could be a one-legged lesbian too, you would have the full set.”

“I’m only a lesbian when I have pussy in my mouth,” said Sean. “…No but I… Yeah, no… I’m sorry; you totally threw me with the lesbian comment… Eh…”

“Do people in England have any trouble understanding your Scottish accent?” I asked. “It seems totally clear to me.”

“No problem. But it’s really weird. A lot of people don’t seem to know there’s black people in Scotland and they’re really shocked when they hear a Scottish accent come out of my mouth. I don’t know people expect from me – which is an added bonus.

“I suppose it’s great for me in that I’m mixed-race and because I look in so many different ways, I can really take the piss out of anybody and people will allow me that little pleasure, especially if it’s something they can relate to… If it’s just straight racist, then a lynching might occur.”

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Filed under Africa, Comedy, Racism, Scotland, Zimbabwe

The early days of the Comedy Store and the alleged toilet habits of Irishmen

Tunnel Arts - Malcolm’s early management company

Malcolm Hardee’s early agenting company

In a couple of blogs this week, I quoted from a chat I had with performer Tony Green about the early days of alternative comedy in London. He remembers those days; I don’t really.

Around 1985/1986 I was a researcher on ITV show Game For a Laugh and was looking for bizarre acts. It was around that time I must have met the late Malcolm Hardee, who was agenting acts through his Tunnel Arts organisation (though the word organisation may be a slight exaggeration).

And I have a vague memory of Eddie Izzard standing in a doorway in the narrow alleyway housing the Raymond Revuebar in Soho trying to entice people into an upstairs room where he was running a comedy club. I do not remember the acts, I just remember it was rather small, brightly lit and desperate and I seem to remember the smell of seemingly irrelevant talcum powder.

“When the Comedy Store first started…” Tony Green told me, “…when anyone could go – it was Peter Rosengard’s idea – it would be a Saturday night and somebody would say:

What are you doing tonight?

I dunno really.

Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green back in the early days…(Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

You want a few free drinks? Well, there’s a place round the corner called The Comedy Store. They’ll give you a few free drinks if you get on stage and, if you do well, they may even book you and you’ll get more than a few free drinks and you’ll meet quite a lot of other comics.

Alexei Sayle was the compere. He became a writer after that. Probably gave up the ghost realising he couldn’t change the world because it’s not possible. It’s like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Tony Allen took over from Alexei and I was very happy when Tony was there because, if people gonged me off, Tony would say I’m not gonging him off because I like what he’s got to say, whereas Alexei wasn’t always quite so kind.

“You never knew what you might get on those Saturday nights. It could be quite riotous. We’d get some really nutty acts there – as far as I was concerned, the nuttier the better. Some of the people were terribly boring, but some weren’t.

Keith Allen was probably the best at that time. And there was Chris Lynam sticking a banger up his bum with The Greatest Show On Legs.

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel Club, Malcolm Hardee watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photograph by Geraint Lewis)

“My old friend Ian Hinchliffe had taken in a lodger – Captain Keano’s cousin.”

I should mention at this point that I never knowingly saw Captain Keano – a Covent Garden street performer friend of Eddie Izzard – but this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith last year told me in a blog:

“Captain Keano (Paul Keane) used to print his own money – headed The Bank of Entertainment – and give away the pound note sized currency instead of business cards. The notes had on them his phone number, a drawing of himself and the promise printed thereon: I WILL DO IT ALL – ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CALL. How innocent.”

“What did Captain Keano’s cousin do?” I asked Tony Green.

“I think his profession was that of horse-breaker,” Tony told me.

“What?” I asked.

Tony Green today remembers his early days

Tony Green today remembers tales of Irish toilets

“Breaking-in horses in Ireland,” replied Tony. “He had a very heavy Irish accent. He wasn’t always that easy to understand. A nice man, a very very heavy drinker, and as strong as an ox.

“Anyway, he needed somewhere to live and my friend Ian Hinchliffe, being the big-hearted man he was, said I’ve got a three-bedroomed place. You can come and stay with me – meaning for a few weeks.

“But, seven months later, Captain Keano’s cousin was still there.

“He was paying rent, but the problem was… I dunno… This will probably sound racist. It isn’t meant to be… There’s an Irish pub near where I live… Somebody once said to me: When you go to the toilet, why is there always shit and piss all over the floor?

“Well, a lot of Irish people I know won’t sit on the seat, because they’re afraid of getting diseases, thinking somebody sitting on that place before them may have had some kind of sexual disease. So they tend to stand on the toilet seat. Sometimes the shit – forgive me, faecal matter – would miss the toilet seat and go down the side of the toilet and very few men would actually pick it up.

“Keano’s cousin had this habit – When he went to the toilet, he would piss all over the floor and I think Ian put a sign above the toilet saying IF YOU MUST PISS – AND, OF COURSE, YOU MUST – WOULD YOU PLEASE DO IT HORIZONTALLY AS OPPOSED TO VERTICALLY.

“I’m not sure that made any sense, but he was actually saying: If you’re going to piss all over the floor, would you please wipe it up, because it’s driving me round the bend every time I myself go to the toilet. 

“After seven months Ian, possibly emulating the man’s Irish accent, told me: He’s the divil of a divil and I want him out.

“I said: What do you want me to do? Get some big, heavy team in to throw him out? He knows he’s got to go. It was supposed to be three weeks; it’s been seven months. You should never have offered it to him in the first place. That kind of hospitality is not always a good idea.

“So Ian was phoning me all the time and phoning Chris Lynam all the time.

“Eventually, Chris drove over there one night at three o’clock in the morning:

Where is he?

He’s asleep in that bedroom.

“So Chris went into the bedroom and packed Captain Keano’s cousin’s clothes into a suitcase. Chris is not the biggest of men, but he managed to throw this big horse-breaker out of the front door – he was half unconscious, from what I heard and still somewhat drunk.

“When he woke up in the morning, he was outside Ian’s front door. Ian told him he wasn’t letting him back in: he had to find somewhere else to live and he’d see him in the pub later that day. And Ian phoned up Chris to thank him for what he did.

“Next time I saw Chris – about two weeks later – I told him: That was a really good thing you did, Chris, because the man was driving Ian round the bend. But, the thing is, Chris, you’re not that big and he’s an ex-horse breaker…

“Chris looked at me in amazement and said: Did I do that?

“Chris had no recollection of doing it. I don’t know where Chris was that night in his headspace, but Ian was eternally grateful.”

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, Racism

Political comedy, racism and Jew jokes

Liam Lonergan. Is all racism a black and white issue?

A Liam Lonergan photo. Not everything is so black and white.

Yesterday’s blog was a continuation of a chat I had with Liam Lonergan for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

Earlier in our chat, we talked partly about my idea that British sitcoms which have lasted the test of time have often been set in tragic not comic situations.

Here is another extract:

__________

Liam: It’s sort of a rubbish question and I hate asking it but Is comedy actually important?

John: I guess it must be important because if there’s a totalitarian regime they don’t allow it. I somehow suspect there were not many Nazi comedy clubs – or, if there were, the jokes were all about Jews. So maybe they had some great Jewish jokes. Swings and roundabouts.

But totalitarian regimes are frightened of comedy and frightened of humour. If you made a joke about General Franco in Spain in the 1950s you would got arrested. Because I think you can change people’s opinions – slowly – with comedy. The trouble with a lot of political comedy, of course, is that comics are preaching to the converted. The left wing comedians who seem terribly popular are popular with left wing audiences. So they’re not actually doing anything at all.

Liam: Politics has merged into one now…

John: In the 1980s alternative comedy started because it was Mrs Thatcher. It took off because she was perceived as a right-wing, fairly authoritarian prime minister and the left-wingers had a field day. With the Conservatives (effectively) back in power, I don’t quite understand why that left-wing political comedy thing hasn’t come back again.

Liam: I think it’s easy to chuck something at something that’s made of lead – like Thatcher – but something that’s made of marshmallow, like Cameron… there’s no point chucking anything at it. It just moulds itself to accommodate the object that’s being flung at it.

Ben Elton used to be a political comic

Ben Elton – he used to be a political comic back in the 1980s

John: Maybe it was all done before in the 1980s and you can’t repeat… you can’t swim the same river twice or something. I dunno… Errr.. I have no idea where I’m going with this. Have you found out what your actual thesis is yet?

Liam: Well, I think you opened it up for me when you talked earlier about this comedy/tragedy thing. That’s something I’ve been really interested in for ages. So I think I might lean it towards that.

John: Well, American TV sitcoms like Cheers and all those shows, they’re written by committees and it’s gag, gag, gag, gag, gag and not really primarily personality based. David Croft’s BBC ensemble sitcoms, which are almost in a class of their own, were by-and-large written by two people: David Croft and someone else. They are by-and-large personality based. They’re not primarily gag based. Dad’s Army does have lots of gags in it but it’s actually personality based.

Most other British sitcoms that have lasted are personality-based in a tragic situation… Terry and June has not lasted; One Foot In The Grave has.

Liam: Do you think there’s any American comedy that has that vein – that sort of dark thread running through it – that you like?

John: I did like Maude. Have you ever seen Maude?

Liam: No.

John: It was with Bea Arthur. She went on to be in The Golden Girls as well. But Maude was sometimes wonderfully dark and she was an arguably sometimes unsympathetic central character. In Britain, it was transmitted as a half hour with one commercial break in the middle.

Bea Arthur as Maude with Bill Macy as husband Walter

Bea Arthur as Maude; Bill Macy as husband Walter

She’s a married late middle-aged woman and, in this one particular episode I remember, her husband’s long-lost chum who had been with him during the War was gonna turn up. He turns up at the end of Part One and he’s excited to meet his long-lost comrade and goes “Urghh!!” and falls on the floor behind the settee. Cut to commercial break. When you come back… he’s dead! So for the whole of the second half of the episode, the husband’s going: “Oh my god. I killed him! If I hadn’t arranged this today!… Oh my god, he had a heart attack…I killed my best friend!”

Bloody hell! This is an American sitcom! And Maude was sort of dark and had… It was more sort of vaguely Jewish humour.

Liam: With the American Office you’ve got to separate it from the British version. It’s a completely different sort of beast. The main character played by Steve Carrell is, in a more subtle way… he’s a dark character. The fact that he’s absolutely full of desperation and is in love with this idea of love but it’s never fulfilled.

John: Another British comedy set in an unfunny situation (that was funny) is Till Death Us Do Part. I saw a few episodes of the American version – All In The Family –  and it wasn’t as dark. He was not as dislikeable a character.

Also ‘dislikable’ is in the eye of the beholder.

Till Death Us Do Part was interesting because it was written by Johnny Speight and supposedly Alf Garnett was a character to be despised and frowned upon. But I always had a feeling that it reinforced people’s prejudices. People who were already bigoted wouldn’t be turned by the way his character was written. We’re talking about trying to change people’s attitudes. The whole point of that was to turn people’s attitudes so they realised what a bigot he was and I’m sure…

Liam: …it reinforced it.

John: Yes, absolutely reinforced the bigotry. I’m sure if you were that sort of person you would sit there and think: “Yeah, Alf’s quite right. That Liverpool yobbo son-in-law IS a wanker and Alf is the voice of reason.”

Liam: I think Jimmy Carr has used quotes… holding a mirror up to racism and laughing at racism rather than race. He’s laughing at the racism rather than race.

Love Thy Neighbour - top-rating comedy show

Love Thy Neighbour – a top-rating comedy show of the 1970s

John: I always thought Love Thy Neighbour – which has not lasted, because it wasn’t tragedy – was always very dodgy. I saw it when it first went out and I always thought: “I’m not sure I like this very much”. And Mind Your Language, which was set in a language school, was just full of stereotypes and I thought it…  was just about OK but it wasn’t really… It was just… There’s a difference between…

Liam: Like, cartoon racism?

John: There’s a difference between making fun of stereotypes and being too close to being racist. I think you can say (I’m Scottish myself) all Scots are drunks as a joke. And that’s fine. That’s actual comic social observation, taken to an extreme. There is a drinking problem in Scotland. So Scots are drunk and dour. The Irish are drunk and sing Tiddle-ee-aye music. The Welsh sing a lot in choirs. The English are either toffee-nosed or football hooligans.

Liam: Or sexually repressed.

John: Or sexually repressed. Yeah. Yeah. So there’s a difference between taking a slight tendency to an extreme simply to deliver a punchline and laugh about it… and saying people are to be despised or reviled because of something. That’s arguably the difference between Jewish jokes and jokes about Jews. It’s attitude.

If you’re abroad, the English are seen as two simultaneous stereotypes which are mutually exclusive but which run together. The English are either very snooty, upmarket public school people who look down on you and have a superiority complex – or they’re the dregs-of-society football hooligans. Both views have some basis in reality. And you can make jokes about both. But the first tends towards humour, which is acceptable, and the second tends towards xenophobia, which is not. It’s a fine line and it moves.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Racism

Journalist Garry Bushell talks about being accused of hating gay men

Yesterday’s now paraphrased blog

Yesterday’s original blog

Yesterday’s blog started as an I think interesting piece in which theatre producer David Johnson remembered Piers Morgan at the 1993 British Comedy Awards reacting to Julian Clary’s joke about “fisting” the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

David posted the original fascinating piece (now removed) on his own Facebook page last Monday. I asked his permission to quote it, which is why I did not post my own blog about it until yesterday.

After I had posted yesterday’s blog, very unusually, I added something to it – a further comment which David Johnson sent me. It said (I paraphrase) that it was the Sun’s thuggish columnist Garry Bushell who actually wrote the anti-Clary piece the day after the “fisting” joke incident and who then ran homophobic articles campaigning against Julian Clary, Graham Norton etc.

David said in this added section that he was pleased it was ultimately Garry Bushell not Julian Clary who became unemployable, that Bushell had hardly worked since 2007 and is an active UKIP member.

David has since asked me to remove yesterday’s blog. I have now re-posted the blog with David’s directly quoted words replaced by paraphrased words.

David wanted the blog removed in general, as I understand it, because I told him I was going to ask Garry Bushell questions as a follow-up and (in my view) to allow GB a full come-back. David was also angry because I would not immediately post in public a private message Garry Bushell sent me. Garry Bushell has now given me permission to print the message, though I have cut out one well-known entertainer’s name. The message read:

“I made my peace with Julian many years ago, John, even appearing on his TV show. I’m not sure how your claim of homophobia sits with my consistent support for talented gay artists, from Frankie Howerd and (another well-known entertainer) on. I am not an active member of UKIP and my column is still published nationally. Best wishes Garry”

David thinks I was unreasonable in not printing that immediately in a public forum without first asking Garry Bushell’s permission and, because of that, he has deleted his original Facebook post which was about Piers Morgan. He is also offended that I have allowed Garry Bushell to respond to various claims.

So here, alas without any counterbalancing arguments or facts from David, is what Garry Bushell answered in reply to some questions I asked him:

Q: Aren’t you ashamed of having destroyed Julian Clary’s career for two years? You wrote a piece trying to get Julian banned from live TV. He must hate you.

Journalist Garry Bushell

Journalist Garry Bushell says what he thinks??

A: All I did after Julian’s fisting gag was write an opinion piece reflecting the views of my editor (Kelvin MacKenzie). You have to put the incident in context. This happened shortly after Stan Boardman had been banned not just from live TV but from ITV completely for his Focke-Wulf gag. Des O’Connor’s live show was cancelled because of that row. It seemed that there was one rule for mainstream comedians and another for fashionable ones.

I did later appear on Julian’s TV show All Rise For Julian Clary in the 1990s. I wanted to bury the hatchet. I don’t know what Julian thinks of me, but I don’t hate him. Back at the start I felt that he was a single-entendre act who had been promoted beyond his abilities. I like him and his act a lot more now – I backed him to win Celebrity Big Brother in my column. He was the most entertaining housemate by far.

Q: You hate gays.

A: I don’t hate anyone because of their sexuality and never have done. I first fell out with gay activists over a tasteless joke in my column back in the 1980s and, because I’ve always loved feuds, I took it too far. One of the first people who came to my defence was Patrick Newley who wrote Mrs Shufflewick’s biography – now there was an act!

I’ve worked with gay people pretty much everywhere I’ve had a job, and championed gay acts for decades starting with Frankie Howerd (I was a lone voice in the press campaigning for his return to TV). I adore (the well-known entertainer mentioned in Garry Bushell’s message quoted above). I like Craig Hill. I supported Alan Carr when he first appeared on the scene. I loved Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady’s drag act) – I knew Paul’s boyfriend Brendan Murphy from back when we’d both been members of the International Socialists a long time ago. And, at the risk of the old ‘some of my best friends…’ cliché, I’m still mates with Dale Winton and have been since the mid-1990s.

Q: In your youth, you joined the International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party and wrote for Socialist Worker. I have always thought Hitler was a good Socialist and, after all, he did form the National Socialist Party and did everything in the name of ‘The People’…. So you were always a bit of a totalitarian?

A: I did join the IS and did write for Socialist Worker. But I think the threat to freedom now comes more from the far-Left than the far-Right, although in practice in power there is very little difference between them. It used to be rightwing Tories calling for things to be banned, now it’s the middle class Left. I find it extraordinary that the comrades are so happy to march arm-in-arm with women (and gay) hating clerical fascists.

Q: Now you are an ‘active’ member of UKIP…

A: I’m not an active member of anything.

Q: On talkSPORT Radio, you said homosexuality was a “perversion”.

A: I don’t recall the actual phrasing, but it was a dumb thing to say and I apologise for it. It’s no defence, but I had just come off the phone to my mate who is in Right Said Fred and I’d been winding him up about Fred getting punched by some Russian troglodyte.

Q: You were employed by the Sun as a ‘thug’ journalist. That’s your image, isn’t it? That’s why you get paid.

A: Am I a thug? I don’t think so. I’ve always liked acerbic humour, from Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers to Lily Savage, via Bernard Manning, and I think that if you don’t realise that you might not ‘get’ my column. Male working class humour tends to be abrasive.  My big mistake in the early days of writing the column was to caricature myself; the newspaper ‘Bushell’ was a comic exaggeration of my own views. I stopped doing that a long time ago.

Q: One of my Facebook Friends posted: Someone needs to dig up Bushell’s review of the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. The Sun gave him two pages to rant about how AIDS was a luvvies disease and how disgusting it was to see money raised for AIDS research when there was so little funding for proper diseases. It finished with his deathless advice on how to avoid contracting AIDS: “Don’t do drugs and don’t be gay.”

A: All I can remember about that is I used it to slip in a tasteless Jimmy Jones ode – Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, If you’d stuck with fanny You’d still be with us. I think it was over a spread, me versus Piers Morgan. I loved Queen and Freddie was one of the great rock front-men. I do think the early AIDS campaign was misleading but I genuinely regret writing this piece. If I could make amends for it, by doing a benefit gig or whatever I would happily do so, although no doubt some smartarse would then accuse me of chasing the pink pound.

Q: Do you hate women as much as perverts and pooftahs?

A: Love women, don’t know any perverts, although my old guitarist is a transvestite now – does that count?

Q: Did you ever encounter Jimmy Savile?

A: Yes. Horrible bastard, but cunning. You felt like you needed a wash after meeting him but were never quite sure why.

Q: How would you describe your novels?

A: Filthy.

Q: Do you want to create art with your writing?

A: No thanks. I want people to read it.

Q: In my blog yesterday, it was claimed you mounted “a relentless homophobic campaign against artists like Julian Clary and Graham Norton that lasted as long as Bushell was allowed air-time or column inches.” So it backfired on you, didn’t it? It destroyed your own Fleet Street career.

A: My column inches still pop up regularly and vigorously in the Daily Star Sunday, which last time I looked still outsells the Independent On Sunday.

Graham Norton’s late night Channel 4 show was filthy, so I couldn’t work out why BBC1 hired him – especially when they kept giving him flop early evening LE shows to host. He is however the smartest and funniest chat-show host in the country now – something I have been saying for years.

I don’t accept the charge of homophobia. And to suggest I relentlessly campaigned against Julian Clary and Graham Norton is untrue. I relentlessly campaigned against Ben Elton because I felt he was both an unfunny dick and a complete fake.

I’m a TV critic which means I criticise shows and stars who don’t float my boat. I moaned about Jo Brand for decades but as soon as she did something great, as she did with Getting On, I praised it to high heaven.

Tabloid readers like firm opinions. If I said everything was terrific no-one would read me.

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Filed under Gay, Journalism, Newspapers, Racism

Feared UK comedy critic Kate Copstick now has links with African criminals and has started dealing drugs in Kenya

(This piece was also published by India’s We Speak News and by the Huffington Post)

Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop yesterday

Early tomorrow morning Kate Copstick, doyenne of British comedy critics, flies to Africa for three weeks.

Yesterday in London, at her Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, I was talking to her about possibilities for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Every year, 100% of any money collected at the Awards show goes to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity, which helps poor people in Kenya – mostly women – start up their own small businesses.

I organise the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards but take no money of any kind for it and cover none of my expenses because, that way, comedians and others know there can be nothing financially dubious about it (always a possibility with anything connected to the late Malcolm).

100% of any money collected at the end of each Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is given (with no deductions) to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity which, similarly, deducts no money for its running costs.

Copstick takes no money of any kind in any way from Mama Biashara and covers none of her expenses. She pays for her flights to Kenya and any other expenses she incurs in running the charity she pays for herself.

“A little goes a long way,” she told me yesterday, “as long as you don’t start paying out expenses.”

“Because it’s a short and slippery slope?” I said.

“Yes,” said Copstick, “because, once you start, you may say Well, maybe we’ll take a few pennies just for a coffee or Well, the charity could pay for lunch with a possible donor… Next thing it’s OK, we’ll cover justifiable travel expenses. Then it’s I was a bit late so I had to get a taxi. And then, because it’s about Mindset, once you think it’s OK to take a little, it’s only a question of degree before you take bigger amounts. I think taking anything is wrong.

“Luckily enough for me, I own my flat, I had some money saved up and my vices were only alcohol, Class A drugs, very young men and older women… and I’d given up most of them. People can guess which ones I’ve not given up.

“So my outgoings – if you’ll pardon the expression – are minimal. As for the charity, we don’t have any big donors and there are no deductions. If someone spends £5 in this shop, that’s £5 going into the pot and it only takes five £5 and I’ve started a woman in a business in Kenya. That’s her life and her family’s life changed. They’re not rich, they’re never going to be rich, but they’re independent and there’s the psychological thing of self-respect.”

“What happens to the shop when you’re in Kenya?” I asked.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare,” replied Copstick. “Despite all the ‘friends’ who say I’ll do anything to help and Oh! It’s a lovely shop! they all disappear like snow off the proverbial dyke – the dry stone variety, not the kd laing variety – when I say I’m going to Kenya for three weeks. Would you do a couple of hours in the shop? They’re all bastards. You’re all cunts.

“So my sister comes in a bit and we’ve a couple of other volunteers but sometimes I have to put a big notice up on the door saying Terribly sorry. Opening hours will be incredibly irregular while I’m away spending vast amounts on prostitutes and rent boys.

“AND jailbirds,” Copstick added. “That was a new one, last time. I was persuaded slightly against my better judgment – but it’s all worked out well. There was a group of young men in their twenties who had recently been released from prison and, bad as the prison system is here, in Kenya it’s even worse.

“It’s pretty-well fucked-up here in Britain but, in Kenya, one rogue policeman can arrest you, put you in prison and then just ‘lose’ the paperwork so nobody even knows you’re there. And we’re not exactly talking the Kray Twins of Nairobi. One guy had been arrested for smoking dope. One guy had been arresting for attempting – but not succeeding in – pickpocketing.”

“So,” I asked, “people are getting thrown in prison for Dickensian crimes like stealing cheese off a wheelbarrow?”

“Absolutely,” said Copstick. “But these boys had been eventually released from prison and there were four groups of ex-cons that Mama Biashara funded. I’m quite excited. All the businesses are going well and I’ll be checking up on them when I go this time.

“With one of them – it’s really quite exciting, this – Mama Biashara has gone into drug dealing. I realise that the clean-cut readers of your blog won’t know what I’m talking about, but there is a herb called khat, well-known to Somalis. Anyone who has ever had a Somali taxi driver will have noticed the constantly-moving jaw and greenish teeth.”

“Have you ‘had’ many Somali taxi-drivers?” I asked.

“Many, many, many,” replied Copstick. “It’s a mild stimulant.”

“The herb?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Copstick. “It’s known as mira in Kenya and it’s entirely legal there and here in the UK. Over here, we get little stumpy stems which, by the time you’ve chewed them, you’re exhausted, so it doesn’t matter what stimulant effect the herb has. In Kenya, you get the fresh leaves and there’s a massive Somali population. They love it and the profit margin is astronomical. It’s a Friday evening thing. On the way home, the guys pick up a bottle of booze and a bunch of mira…”

“…and get half-khat,” I suggested.

“…and chomp away,” said Copstick. “I was amazed at the profit margin, so there’s a Mama Biashara group selling mira, a group selling chickens, a group selling goats.”

“There’s a bigger profit margin on cocaine,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Copstick, “there’s not much of it about it Kenya.”

“And they can’t afford heroin or cocaine,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Copstick. “In the slum areas – which is really all I know – glue is the thing. They have industrial strength glue which they sniff. I mean toxic. And, until very recently, they had something called chang’aa which is a home-brewed illicit alcohol fortified with ethyl alcohol. The main side-effects are blindness and death. When people there say I’ve got a blinding hangover, they literally mean a blinding hangover. It was recently outlawed, but…”

“So,” I interrupted, “you’ve been branching out from ladies to criminals. These young men – like the attempted pickpocket – What sentences had they served?”

“Most,” explained Copstick, “had been in prison for about 18 months without ever coming to court or without even being arraigned, because you just disappear into the system and, if you’re poor, you don’t have a lawyer and you can’t afford to bribe anybody. So that’s it. You’re scuppered. Unless you get picked up by some organisation who’re willing to help. It’s horrific there.”

In my blog back in September,” I reminded her, “you were talking about building a Mama Biashara centre out in Kenya.”

“We had the chance,” said Copstick, “but, after meeting the ex-crims and a couple of experiences where we came up against some local bureaucrats and a couple of rogue policemen who were dealing with gay rent boys, it was kind of brought home to me that, the minute I raise Mama Biashara’s head above the parapet, the 100% of money that goes to Kenya will, in fact, be going into official pockets all over the place. They’re lying, cheating, stealing bastards. That’s from the government right down to the lowest-of-the-low of officialdom.

“The local chiefs are actually pretty good to deal with because they live there among their people and understand their people. But I realised, if I had a centre, officials would say Oh! You’ve painted it the wrong colour! You need to pay us this amount or Oh! You didn’t have this certificate or that certificate! and they’re like blackmailers. If you pay once, you never stop paying.”

“So there won’t be a Mama Biashara centre?” I asked.

“No,” confirmed Copstick. “That would be wonderful. But the cost in backhanders would never stop. And it’s tragic. Because, to have that base, to have the clinic, to have the little peanut butter making place would be fabulous. But it’s one of the things you just have to accept: the whole system is too corrupt and, if you’re going to do good, you have to be a guerilla.

“And, when people know a white female is involved… Once they know you’re there, once they know where to get you, once they know where to come to frighten you… That’s the other thing I’ve had to accept. As much good as Mama Biashara does – and it does truckloads of good – unless I’m quite careful…

“If officials see that people are getting money from Mama Biashara… It happened once… Someone Mama Biashara gave money to… The week after I left, her landlord came up to her and said Hey! You got a mzungu – a white friend – So your rent is doubled!

“I have to be careful how I help people: that I don’t damage them by helping them, because no-one is safe. It’s just a different way. Everyone has a massive amount of bastard potential in a different way from here. No-one is your friend.”

“What’s it like here in the UK?” I asked.

“I think most people are on the make a bit here,” said Copstick. “People really don’t care here. People are not nice. People really do not want to help. They’re happy to say they want to help, but it’s very much a What’s in it for me? society where everybody already has something.

“OK – mixed metaphor coming up here – the gatekeepers of the safety net are not the nicest of people, but the safety net is there. Nobody is going to die of starvation here. I’m not going to say nobody’s going to be homeless, but there is a safety net here, if you want to use it.

“But, in Britain, there is an attitude. Not just Britain, but the white Western world. Black Africa is different.

“If the stuff in this shop had been made in Italy, people would go Ooh! £20? That’s so cheap! If I say Africa, they say, Oh, that’s very expensive, isn’t it? Like everyone in Africa should be living on beads and a packet of nuts.

“When I say to people Well, they have no water, they say Well, they’re used to it. There is a very definite mindset that somehow the black African doesn’t feel pain, doesn’t feel hunger, doesn’t feel thirst, doesn’t feel anything in the same way white people do.”

“Or,” I suggested, “that they feel those things, but they’re used to it.”

“Yes,” said Copstick, “That’s what people think here and so they think that makes it OK.”

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Comedy, Crime, Drugs, Kenya, Racism

The road to Hell – my defence of sexist, racist and (yes certainly) rape jokes

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Frankie Boyle’s autobiography

As I write this, comedian Frankie Boyle is still in the High Court. He is suing the Daily Mirror for libel after they called him a “racist”. His barrister says it is perfectly OK to call him “vile” but not a racist.

His barrister told the jury that, during his Channel 4 Tramadol Nights show, Frankie had told a joke which contained the word ‘nigger’. The thrust of his argument was that racist words do not necessarily mean racist thoughts. Frankie Boyle, his barrister said, was attacking racists in the joke. Context is everything.

Almost a fortnight ago, I wrote a blog headed In Defence of rape jokes though, in fact, it said that I do not like rape jokes, as I have known and worked with three women who were raped as children and, by and large, the people who tell rape jokes are bad comedians going for a cheap (shock) laugh.

I wrote: “Trying to ban rape jokes is like trying to put sticking plaster over a symptom to hide an unsightly abscess, not cure the problem. It is the wrong target. The aim, surely, should be trying to stop audiences laughing at rape jokes.”

My So It Goes blog was picked up and reprinted a week later by the Huffington Post (though dated by them as 4th October).

In response to that Huffington Post piece, I got this e-mail from the people at ‘Rape Is No Joke’ (whom I had not named):

___

Dear John Flemming, (sic)

I am writing to correct a number of inaccuracies in your article ‘In Defence of Rape Jokes’ regarding our campaign ‘Rape Is No Joke’.

We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes and we do not believe a ban on something will fundamentally tackle an issue.

We are not calling for the subject of rape to become a taboo that is never mentioned in comedy. We are against jokes that trivialise the issue and the victim (which the vast majority of jokes about rape do).

Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues as part of our campaign.

Our aim is to educate and tackle the, increasingly common, attitude that rape is something to be laughed at.

Obviously comedy isn’t the biggest offence facing women. However, comedy doesn’t exist in a bubble, it often reflects and has an effect on attitudes in wider society. Rape jokes add to the culture of dismissal and trivialising of rape that exists all too often in wider society. Whilst 80,000 women in the UK are raped every year, only 15% of them report it. Many of the other 85% are scared they won’t be believed or taken seriously. We want to start to tackle that culture. And we want to be able to enjoy comedy without misogyny.

We would be grateful if you could edit your article accordingly and remove the claims we want to ‘ban’ rape jokes.

Yours Sincerely,

_________

Now, far be it from me to criticise well-intentioned people, but this e-mail says: “We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes… Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues”

If that ain’t advocating a ban on rape jokes, then daffodils are fish.

Good intentions. Bad idea.

The problem with banning any joke about anything is that who defines what the subject or the object of a  joke is? No rape jokes would, presumably mean no jokes – or sarcastic comments – about some of the late Jimmy Savile’s appalling activities. And, as I said in my original blog, where does it end? If rape jokes are banned then, surely, you must also ban jokes about murder. And, if you ban jokes about certain subjects told live on stage then, logically, you have to ban those same jokes on television and ban them in books, magazines and newspapers. Pretty soon, you will be trying to avoid people reading unacceptable comments previously expressed by burning books.

Today, comedian Rowan Atkinson is in the papers attacking the Public Order Act and “the creeping culture of censoriousness” and the “new intolerance”.

Rowan Atkinson attacks – in the Daily Mail today

According to today’s Daily Mail – not a publication known for criticising the police – a 16-year-old boy was recently arrested under the Public Order Act for peacefully holding up a placard reading ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, on the grounds that it might insult Scientologists.

In 2005, the Daily Mail points out, an Oxford University student was arrested for saying to a policeman: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?” Thames Valley police said he had made “homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by”. And a 16-year-old from Newcastle who growled and said “Woof!” to a labrador within earshot of police was prosecuted and fined £200 (later over-turned on appeal).

If the policing of public morality is happening at this unimportant level to this ludicrousness, then how much more oppressive would be the policing of any ban on more serious things – like jokes about rape?

Frankie Boyle’s barrister has been saying in court that the comedian has been called “racist” for telling jokes which were actively aimed against racists.

In a comment on my Facebook page about the Frankie Boyle court case, comedian Richard Herring observes:

“In none of the examples I have seen is Boyle using the words in a context other than to highlight other’s racism. If he is racist for just using the word, then anyone saying, ‘saying the word Paki is racist‘ is racist. So presumably everyone involved in the court case can now be called racist.”

Rowan Atkinson said yesterday: ‘The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm… can be interpreted as insult.”

The same can be said of jokes about rape. In my original blog, I linked to a superb piece of comedy by Janey Godley in which she referred to the fact that she herself was repeatedly raped as a child. This could, very clearly, be labelled a ‘rape joke’ though, in fact, it is not in any way making a joke of rape.

Banning any jokes about anything is a bad idea. Trying to get comedy club owners to ban comedians who (they believe) tell or have told or may tell ‘rape jokes’ is not just a bad idea, it is actively dangerous. Where does the censorship end?

Freedom of speech includes the right to be offensive.

The road to totalitarianism – to a police state – is partially paved with the good intentions of well-meaning people.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system, Racism, Sex

British comedian Nik Coppin wins out-of-court settlement in Oz ‘racist’ case

Nik Coppin did not let Australia go to his head except in hats

Back in March, I blogged about a bizarre happening in Adelaide.

British comedian Nik Coppin was a guest on Peter Goers’ radio show on state broadcaster ABC. He was in the studio with Peter Goers.

Nik (who is half English and half West Indian) said he had chosen to support the Essendon Australian rules football team because the team (who play in black and red) were once nicknamed ‘the Blood-Stained Niggers’ and now have more aboriginal players and fans than any other AFL team.

Goers told him he was a racist and to “Get the fuck out of my studio!”

A few days later, in a list of things to see and things to avoid printed in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Mail newspaper in Australia, Peter Goers gave Nik Coppin “Minus Four Stars” as a “racist Fringe comedian”.

Nik took legal advice.

Last weekend, the Sunday Mail printed this in Peter Goers’ column:

Apology appeared in Australia’s Sunday Mail at the weekend

APOLOGY: On Sunday, March 4, in my column’s “What’s Not” section I referred to comedian Nik Coppin as “painfully unfunny racist Fringe comedian at the Austral Hotel: Minus four stars”. I acknowledge that my comments were false and made without foundation. In fact, I had not seen his show at the time I wrote my comments. I have no reason to believe that Nik Coppin is a racist or that his Fringe show contained racist material. I withdraw those comments without reservation and apologise for any hurt or embarrassment caused.

Yesterday, Nik told me what had happened.

This is what he said:

_______________________

Nik Coppin explains what happened….

The process involved in obtaining an apology and reparation for libellous and harmful comments printed in a newspaper is a very interesting one. In the eyes of the law, that which you feel would be perfectly reasonable to assume isn’t and that which you presume wouldn’t be, is.

The legal eagles certainly have a bewildering way of dealing with things.

A few people that I know and work with questioned whether it was worth it and warned that it could get very stressful, depending on how far I was willing to push it.

There is very little that I take too seriously, if I am honest. I mean, we’re all entertainers after all, right? Let’s just laugh it off and get some good ol’ fashioned PR out of it. But there surely must come a time in everybody’s existence on this here planet when you have to take a more solemn view of things and in some situations say to oneself, “Enough is enough”. You have to stand up and fight for what you believe is right.

In life, the press and certainly the world of comedy, all too often people take offence because they refuse to listen properly or shut off when they hear certain things said. This appears to be a natural reaction to things you might not want to hear, or that which touches a nerve, but it does not excuse what Mr Goers did and the Sunday Mail allowed to happen.

In my opinion, it was a vengeful and spiteful thing to do. Something you really would not expect from one of his years.

But, as laughable and nonsensical as this situation was, I had to take a more serious stance than to merely laugh off the bizarre and farcical comments. A half black man being accused of racism in possibly the most racist westernised country on the planet? My God, how ludicrous!

I should add, however, that I do not believe that Australians are racist. Well, not all of them anyway. I love visiting the place, doing the festivals, seeing the wildlife, having the banter and all the other delightful things that go along with being in such a beautiful country. But I think we all know that there are issues that need to be dealt with over there. The We’re too laid back to be racist or hate Aboriginals defence just isn’t good enough.

The amount of times I have heard white Australians say things like: “We give them money and offer them jobs, but they’re just lazy and want to get pissed all the time”.

Well, that says all you need to know about certain sentiments in a land where the indigenous population were slaughtered by the thousands and had their land, dignity, children and whatever else stolen from them.

I think any race that has suffered that and had their rights and entire way of life stripped away, has earned the right to ‘laze around’ and drink a few bevies if they choose to, don’t you?

I am not suggesting that they should attempt to ‘give back’ the country. Australia is predominately a white country but, in my opinion and many others, is black land. So those in privileged positions in Australia should be a bit more understanding and helpful in the future and support the Aboriginal as much as they can.

I mean, let’s face it, if you look at the table from the London 2012 Olympics and who won many of those medals for the UK and the US of A, maybe you could do a lot worse than support your black population, Australia. Then in a few years time maybe we Brits won’t be laughing at what little precious metal you took back ‘home’.

The thing about such a situation, though, is that – for one who earns his living as a comedian – the possibilities are many. I was considering writing a show about race and maybe religious issues and this story can underpin the whole thing.

So, while it was confusing, angering and frustrating having what I can only consider a foolish, arrogant Adelaidian ‘celebrity’ full of his own self-importance doing a childish, vindictive thing like calling me a “painfully unfunny racist” in a popular newspaper without even seeing my show or listening to me or doing his research properly… Was it worth it going through with the fight and standing up for what you believe in, in the face of a form of oppression?

Definitely.

And, to those who doubted whether it was the right thing to do, I say to you…

I would it again and again and again.

And so should you.

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BBC Radio women + a woman wearing only a lettuce at the Edinburgh Fringe

The BBC are giving away plastic pints

I woke up this morning to two things. One was the sound of comedian Janey Godley trying but failing to vomit in my toilet. I fear, dear reader, that you and I may hear more of this in the days to come.

The other thing was an e-mail which started:

Hi John,

 Just writing to say how much I enjoy reading your site. We at Lifeinsurancequotes.org recently published an article “8 Ways Funeral Homes Will Try To Rip You Off”, that we think is tailor-made for your readers.

Either their computerised spam system is totally out-of-control (surely not!) or I must be mis-targeting this blog.

I have little good advice on funeral homes.

Janey Godley once told me that, if you are going to murder someone, the best hiding place for the body is in a graveyard – the police will not look in a graveyard for a dead body and, if they are tipped-off, they will be wary of causing a public outcry by potentially digging up a body which may not be the missing victim.

That is my only funeral tip for today, but it may prove useful for Israeli comic Daphna Baram.

Whoever killed Jesus, it wasn’t Daphna

Yesterday, she told me: “There was a very drunken guy in the audience at my Frenemies show (it’s only on until Saturday) – Yuri from the Czech Republic. At some point during my set, the idea that I was Jewish – at least nominally – penetrated through the layers of beer in Yuri’s mind and he started heckling: You killed Jesus! You killed Jesus!

“I remembered I had a routine from my first Christmas as a comedian. Clearly this was a good moment for resurrection.

“In my most authoritative voice (I do authoritative well) and with, I regret to say, a certain degree of c-word usage, I informed Yuri that the whole 30 shekel story is highly non-credible as no Jew I’ve ever heard of would sell a hippy to the italian mafia for the equivalent of a fiver…

“He kept silent for a while but, in a later section about my military training in Israel, he started heckling again. I told the audience. I saw Yuri outside and invited him to the gig and thought Great! I’ve pulled!… But now all I can think about is where I am going to hide his body…

Well Daphna now knows, courtesy of Janey Godley, she can actually do this with little comeback.

But back to the Edinburgh Fringe proper…

Three Weeks – on the streets of Edinburgh now

In my first weekly column for Fringe magazine Three Weeks today, Mervyn Stutter criticises the BBC for putting on too many free shows at this year’s Fringe, to the detriment of hard-working performers who are already having a bad enough time with the big TV names and the Recession. You can read the Three Weeks piece by picking it up in Edinburgh or clicking here or you can download the whole issue here. I will post my golden words here on this blog in one week’s time (when the paper is no longer on the streets of Edinburgh).

I had another BBC-bashing angle punted to me last night, when I got chatting to someone who had better remain nameless. He works for a radio production company and has a lot of dealings with the BBC.

“It’s an odd thing,” he told me, “because, in America at the moment, there’s a huge flowering of female-driven comedy. You’ve got 30 Rock, Girls, the Mindy Kaling Project – loads and loads of female driven comedy – and people say part of the reason for this is the influx of women into US TV production. But, in Britain, we are not having that same increase in female-driven comedy.”

“Maybe because most producers here are male,” I suggested.

“Not now,” he corrected me. “Not in radio. Most of the level entry producers at the Beeb – the ones who comics new to radio would be working with – are female.

“At the BBC, there’s actually a big influx of women into radio production but, as yet, that doesn’t seem to be translating into a flowering of female comedy – certainly not at Radio 4 which has traditionally been a proving ground for comics before they get onto television. Radio 4 does not have many female-led, female-driven, female-written, female-fronted shows.

“That’s a generalisation, of course,” he said, “Jane Berthoud is top dog there and she’s tremendously supportive of women, but the increased number of female producers has not helped women in comedy.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he said. “All I’m saying is it’s an interesting area. There are now lots of female producers, which is good. Maybe the heterosexual ones are more interested in and more physically attracted to the male acts and therefore female comics are getting an even bummer deal that they were before.”

“You mean the female producers want to screw the male acts?” I said. “Now there’s a dangerous idea to say out loud. But surely, traditionally, there were more male producers and they would have wanted to cop off with female acts so there should have been lots of female shows around in the past. In theory, female comics should have always done better than men because there were more male producers. But that’s not the case.”

Possibly realising he was on dangerously non-PC ground, he continued: “It’s very difficult to un-pick because, statistically, if you looked at the number of shows made by men over all… Maybe there are more shows made with male stars because there are more men pushing to get in. Maybe sometimes there’s a lot of schmoozing and, rather than being about talent, it’s about who gets on with people and who people want to sit in a pub and chat and get drunk with.”

It is certainly an interesting idea and there must be something psychological going on beyond my fathoming.

Checkley & Bush’s Comedy Riot is just that

Last night, I was at a party thrown to celebrate ten years of the Funny Women organisation. Very hard-working. Very effective in raising the profile of female comedy, But still British TV and radio shows are generally skewed-away from female performers.

I left the party to see excellent character comedy from Checkley & Bush. They’re better than a lot of the under-experienced new male comics who pop up on TV and in radio.

And, earlier in the day, I had attended a ‘knittathon’ – a publicity stunt organised by Charmian Hughes at which the audience was invited to knit throughout her show to create something she could use in her climactic and erotic ‘Dance of the Seven Cardigans’… Charmian was listed at No 7 in the Chortle comedy website’s Ten Most Underrated Comics – the only woman in the list.

Lewis Schaffer, a masterclass in offending

No 8 in the list is American comic Lewis Schaffer, whom I had been chatting to even earlier in the day. There was a lot of chatting yesterday.

As I came out of Checkley & Bush’s show, I got a text message from Lewis which said simply:

I had 65 punters at tonight’s show. There were 40 walkouts.

I texted back:

Tell me more and I may blog about it.

He later told me what he had said.

“I can’t put that in my blog,” I told him. “You will get lynched.”

Perhaps being truly offensive is one thing women comics cannot get away with. As if to prove this, later I was walking down Niddry Street, and found comedian Bob Slayer standing in the street outside his Hive venue.

“I had to get naked in my show,” he told me. “I think it was the worst show I’ve ever done so I had to get naked. Jamie the sound guy sees my show every year and he told me: You failed on so many levels there, but it was definitely my favourite show. I had to get naked and there was a lady in the audience who turned up just wearing a lettuce.”

“Just a lettuce?” I asked.

“Just wearing a lettuce on her fanny,” said Bob.

Bob Slayer has his nipples tweaked

“She had nice tits,” a female staff member added, tweaking one of Bob’s nipples. Passers-by ignored it. This is the Edinburgh Fringe.

“The lady with the lettuce was a friend of Frank Sanazi’s,” said Bob.

“That might go some way to explaining it,” I said.

“Well,” said Bob, “Frank came and then that happened and then I had to get naked. It depends how you rate a show. It was the most avant-garde show I’ve ever managed to do. Apparently there was a reviewer for The Skinny in there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they made of it. I hope it was the guy who refused to get on stage. There’s no way I’m going to get a good review but I hope it was that guy because he HATED it.”

At the Fringe, being loved or being hated are good. Being ignored is bad. Oscar Wilde was born before his time.

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Edinburgh Fringe normality: bonking, flyering, bitches, bosoms, Charlie Chuck

Normal for Edinburgh yesterday

Yesterday, I blogged about a problem Giacinto Palmieri has in his autobiographical show Pagliaccio, which is “a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between comedians living together at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

His problem is that the two other people involved – a man and a woman –  are both in Edinburgh doing shows this year and the man – of whom Giacinto paints an unflattering portrait in the show – wants to come and see the show, not realising he is characterised in it.

Giacinto is not the only one with this type of problem. Another comedian this year includes in his show details of an Edinburgh Fringe love story with an American ‘journalist’ who is back in Edinburgh this year and whom he is now trying to avoid. The barely-disguised ‘journalist’ is actually a comedian and she is telling her side of the story in her own show.

In Edinburgh, that is normality.

Ever-discreet, I am not naming names, but both comics are Facebook friends of mine – and I bumped into one earlier today. If they read this and one or both would like to get more publicity for their show by talking about adding fact into comedy shows while avoiding mentioning the other person, I would be interested to hear. Edinburgh is all about publicity.

Or perhaps I am just getting old and gossipy.

You know you are getting really old when you can walk through Bristo Square during the Edinburgh Fringe and not get flyered for a comedy show. People see this fat bald man ambling along towards them looking like (I am told) a rather shabby bank manager who has just been sacked… and they assume I cannot possibly be interested in comedy shows. For some reason, I am the one who gets given any flyers for shows based on the Greek classics, family traumas and old age angst in North America.

Yesterday, though, I actually got flyered for a comedy show. The flyerer – a well-spoken Englishman of a certain age – followed me, falsely smelling an immediate ‘sale’.

Hennessy and her friends – A History of Violence

The flyer was for Hennessy & Friends’ A History of Violence which, according to a stapled-on piece of paper, The List has called One of the Top 5 sketch comedy shows at the Fringe.

“It’s a girl leaning on what appears to be two severed dead men’s heads,” I observed.

“That’s my daughter,” the flyerer said.

We got into conversation about why some Scots now really do pretty-much hate the English.

“I do feel genuine resentment towards me when they hear my English accent,” the flyerer said.

“I think it was Margaret Thatcher,” I said. “Before that, there was good-natured rivalry like you might find between Lancashire and Yorkshire…”

“I’m from Lancashire,” the man interrupted.

“Well you know then,” I responded. “It’s good-natured. And it used to be the same with Scotland-England. But I think people felt that Margaret Thatcher didn’t give a shit about Scotland. She figured – entirely reasonably – that there was no point sucking up to the Scots because it was not going to get Conservative MPs elected – that was a lost cause. So she ignored Scotland or worse. And, after that, there seemed to be a real animosity crept into the Scotland-England thing.”

“I lived up here in Edinburgh in the late 1980s,” the man told me. “Down near the Dudleys, down Leith way.”

“Before it became Yuppie?”

“Probably. I don’t know. We were looking for a house and couldn’t find one. They told us: We only sell villas in Edinburgh.

“And you pick up a distinct nastiness in the air?” I asked.

“No, no,” he said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say nasty. If I meet Scotsmen who’ve travelled, they’re a completely different kettle of fish. But I came across someone I don’t think had travelled the day we signed the contracts for selling our house in Edinburgh. Coming out of the Notary’s, my wife and I were talking and this guy heard our accents and, as he came up to us on the pavement, he just went:

Fee-fi-fo-fum…

“Not in an amiable way?” I asked.

“No, there was definitely a bit of sinister stuff there. My wife and I just looked at each other.”

“And your daughter is on this flyer.”

“My daughter’s name is Miranda Hennessy and I’m Gary, her father. She’s an actress but she’s got a comedy bone – you can always tell when someone’s got comedy in them. They’ve scrimped and saved to be able to put this on. They’ve done loads of promotion and got some good Guardian reviews ahead of coming up here.”

Daphna Baram struts her stuff

Edinburgh is all about publicity. Daphna Baram, the stand-up artist formerly known as ‘Miss D’ is performing a show called Half Past Bitch at Bob Slayer’s Fringe venue The Hive.

When she was promoting it on radio in London before she came up to Edinburgh, she tells me:

“The radio station told me they had a very strict policy about swear words and that we would be taken off air immediately if we as much as mentioned the actual name of the show. So we had to refer to the show as Half Past Itch which – as we did not neglect to remind our audience – actually sounded ruder than the show’s real title. We were told that saying ‘vagina’ or ‘chlamydia’ was borderline but ‘bitch’ was totally unacceptable.

“This,” Daphna told me, “led us to a discussion on air about one of your blogs that week, which was all about censorship in the Fringe Programme and I was quoting bits. It was good fun.

“Ironically, when I showed Bob Slayer the poster for Half Past Bitch, he suggested we print the word bitch’ three times its original size. (Note to readers: Bob Slayer had a small part in the movie Killer Bitch which I financed and which also had problems over the use of the word Bitch – with WH Smith’s and the big supermarket chains.)

“Bob,” Daphna told me today, “was totally right. People’s attention is transfixed on the word ‘bitch’ faster than on my spectacular cleavage.”

I saw both Half Past Bitch and Daphna’s cleavage this afternoon. Both were impressive.

And so was her show.

Charlie Chuck gets ahead with a duck for technical rehearsal

But by 5.26pm this afternoon (the exact time is relevant) I was having tea with Charlie Chuck at the SpaceUK venues’ launch. His Cirque du Charlie Chuck show starts tomorrow.

“Me latex suit gets here on Tuesday,” he told me. “It’s orange and blue. The technical rehearsal is at two o’clock today. It’s six o’clock now, so I’ve got 25 minutes to get there.”

In Edinburgh, that is normality.

And, in Edinburgh this is publicity:

Charlie Chuck will be appearing in the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Friday 24th August.

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