Category Archives: Romania

Romanian musical comic Dragos aka Titus and a theory of universal comedy

I blogged about Dragoş Moştenescu almost exactly a year ago – around four weeks after he arrived in the UK from Romania.

In Romania, he was a TV star, appearing in his own hit TV sitcom La Bloc for seven years and more than 700 episodes.

This coming weekend, he will be starring in his almost two-hour show All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.


JOHN: You have been in the UK for almost a year now…

DRAGOS: Yes. I came to London because – first – the language. And second because – no matter what your field of work – if your performance is good, then they will accept you here. Britain – especially London – is already a mix of cultures. I like it. I have decided to move here for good, with my wife and kids, maybe next year – my son and twin daughters – non-identical. One is blonde; one is brown-haired.

JOHN: The Leicester Square Theatre event on Saturday is a one-man show?

DRAGOS: Not quite. The Romanian comedian Radu Isac is opening for me… and Luca Cupani from Italy, who won the So You Think You’re Funny contest a couple of years ago.

JOHN: Why do you bill yourself as Titus and not Dragos?

DRAGOS: Titus is my middle name and I think, when British people see a poster, Titus is easier to pronounce and keep in mind and Dragos is more East European so I think is not so appropriate whether or not Brexit happens.

JOHN: I can’t think of any big-name Romanian musical comedians in Britain. So I guess that’s your Unique Selling Proposition.

TITUS: I would try to put being Romanian to one side. I doubt that being Romanian is a selling point.

JOHN: Well, it makes you stand out from the opposition.

TITUS: I am not really trying to compete with very well-known and very talented stand-up comedians in the UK. I do not do stand-up comedy. What I do is more of a one-man show where music is involved and live piano and non-verbal moments. Like a pantomime, more-or-less. Musical comedy and non-verbal.

JOHN: So your act can appeal to anyone…

Titus/Elton as you won’t be seeing him on Saturday – possibly

TITUS: Yes, this is why I keep everything on the stage to general topics – family, kids, money, iPhones or technical things which have taken over our lives lately. I speak about Count Dracula, who is an international icon.

JOHN: And you do some songs as Elton John, who is known internationally.

TITUS: I won’t be doing Elton John on Saturday. Well, maybe as an encore. But I am trying to show people how I can combine music and comedy more generally. If I am only known for doing Elton John, I will never make a name for myself properly. Elvis Presley impersonators only get known as Elvis Presley impersonators; people do not even remember the name of the performer.

JOHN: Your Leicester Square Theatre show is an attempt to get seen by influential people.

TITUS: Yes. My next step has to be to try to get an agent, which would ease things for me. You cannot thrive by yourself.

JOHN: I heard about one agent who said they would not represent a 26-year-old performer because she was too old. Agents tend to want young, inexperienced people so they can mould them and take credit for their success.

TITUS: Being older than 26 has its downsides and upsides. My 20 years of television and performance experience means I don’t need to build up my performance or act in the same way a 26 year-old has to.

JOHN: Do you own La Bloc, the Romanian TV sitcom?

TITUS: Yes. I was not only the producer and an actor in it, but I created it. I created it from a blank page to what it became. It ran daily Monday-Thursday for roughly seven months a year over seven years – over 700 episodes.

JOHN: That’s a lot of sevens and a lot of plot lines.

TITUS: Yes. I developed a team of about ten writers.

JOHN: Not seven?

TITUS: No.

JOHN: How does British comedy differ from Romanian comedy?

TITUS: What we do not have in the Balkans so intensely or so consistently is one-liners. Here in the UK there are a lot of one-liner comedians: punchline after punchline after punchline. Short jokes one after the other.

JOHN: At the Edinburgh Fringe, the successful shows in the last ten years or more have tended to be story-based. The comics have to fill an hour and that is very difficult with just gags, unless you are Jimmy Carr or Milton Jones or Tim Vine. 

TITUS: Yes. I went up to Edinburgh this year to see shows and there were several shows like this. They were doing a type of storytelling where you do not necessarily have to laugh every two or three minutes. They build you up a little bit, then there is a good section of laughs and they end with an idea.

JOHN: And they love a bit of autobiographical tragedy in comedy shows at the Fringe. There is the ‘dead dad’ moment…

TITUS: Dead dad moment?

JOHN: The audience tends to lose concentration after about 40 minutes, so you suddenly throw in some unexpected tragedy like your father died of cancer – it has to be true – and the audience is grabbed by the throat and pay attention again. Their emotions fall off a cliff and then you build them up again to an uplifting, happy ending.

Titus: “Comedy equals Truth plus Pain”

TITUS: Yes. Comedy equals Truth plus Pain.

JOHN: Truth plus Time?

TITUS: Truth plus Pain. What is Pain? It’s Truth and, if you can extract comedy from this, that is genuine, pristine comedy.

JOHN: I suppose the classic cliché comedy gag is someone slipping on a banana skin although, in the real world, that is not funny; it’s tragedy. So you are laughing at someone else’s troubles, from relief they are not yours.

TITUS: Exactly. In Henri Bergson’s book Laughter, he breaks the mechanism down to the basics and he explains how and why people laugh. He states there that punishment or accidents apply on human subjects and…

JOHN: I guess one reason why people laugh is the unexpected. A release of tension. Even if it is tragic, like slipping on a banana skin, they will laugh because it is unexpected. People laugh at one-liners for the same reason: because the punchline is unexpected.

TITUS: Yes, the book How To Be Funny Even If You’re Not is interesting. It mentions the Rule of Three.  

JOHN: And it does always tend to be better with three. Two or four don’t work. It’s all in the…

TITUS: …timing. 

JOHN: That is universal. But if, in Romania, there was no tradition of punchline-punchline-punchline comedy, what was.… In Italy, they had Commedia dell’arte… What was the tradition in Romania or the Balkans in general? Storytelling?

TITUS: More-or-less, yes. Monologues. Not necessarily told from your own perspective, which British and American stand-up routines are. In our monologues, you can talk about something that happened to another guy or it can be pure imagination and fiction.

JOHN: We had that sort of tradition in the Victorian and Edwardian music halls and in the 1930s – Stanley Holloway and others. There are storytelling nights cropping up in London now – Spark, Natural Born Storytellers and others. Have you seen any of those?

TITUS: No. But this is what I do in my show. A sort of storytelling. I come up with a kind of a theme, make a statement, a premise, build it up a little bit, then turn to music.

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Not often you stumble on a Romanian stand-up with a humdinger musical act

Dragoş in London’s Soho earlier today

Earlier in the week, I saw a Romanian act at Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Becky Fury’s always-interesting Democratik Republik of Kabaret gig in London.

She recommended I come and see him.

The aforementioned Romanian performs as ‘Titus’ because he thinks his real name – Dragoş Moştenescu – is a tad too complicated for us. He might have a point. I dunno. ‘Dragos’ is OK.

Anyway…

It is not often you stumble on a fairly-fluent English-speaking Romanian stand-up with a humdinger of a musical act. And one gigging most nights. So, obviously, I asked: “How long have you been in the UK?”

“Four weeks,” he replied. “I intend to develop a little bit my career here. It is difficult but, although I am not very young, I think I can do it, because I think I can rely on my combination between music and comedy. I must not be one of the millions of comedians who does only comedy. This mixture between comedy and music could be more interesting than the average.”

“Indeed,” I said. “Is there much of a comedy scene in Romania?”

Dragoş Moştenescu played Costel Jurca in TV’s La Bloc

“For the moment, not much. But I did one of the most important sitcoms in Romania – La Bloc. That means a block of flats. It ran over seven years with 500 episodes. I wrote and acted in it.”

“For the whole seven years?” I asked.

“Yes. I have been in comedy for twenty years. I had Issue of The Day first. It started in 1997. It was a 7-10 minute sketch of the day. We broadcast daily. Then I was in the sitcom for seven years. And now, since it ended, it is re-run over and over again because it still works so well.”

“Do you get residual payments for the re-runs?” I asked.

“Yes, but very, very low. In Romania, there are many hands involved when it comes to money.”

In fact, oddly, Dragoş rather under-sells himself. He is credited on-screen as co-creator of La Bloc. There was a movie of the series. He also created, wrote and performed in sitcom Nimeni nu-i perfect (Nobody’s Perfect); created, wrote and performed in the comedy drama Taxes, Pictures and Donuts and directed/performed in the stage play Portret La Minut (Minute Portrait). He even created and, for two years, starred as a superhero character in TV and print ads for the Profi food chain (400 shops in Romania).

And, in 2015, he was involved in an award-winning 3-episode documentary called 13 Shades of Romanian

“So now here you are in Britain,” I said. “You seem to have hit the ground running – gigs every night.”

“I had a contact with BBC last year.,” he told me. They said they were looking for new talent to put on a stage show with the music of Gary Barlow and Take That – Let It Shine – and I was called for casting and I think the performance was pretty good but they said my age was not very suitable because they were looking for someone aged 25, maximum 30.

“I asked Why didn’t you say so from the beginning? and they said Don’t worry. Although you haven’t been selected for the moment, maybe… And that gave me a little boost.

“So I came here to the UK again in March this year. I got my National Insurance number, so I can be proper with documents and everything.”

Dragoş is extraordinarily well-researched on the UK comedy scene – and focussed.

He showed me an Elton John tribute he performed seven years ago (most things linked to Dragoş involve seven-year spans).

“Is it on YouTube?” I asked.

“Yes. I have my own YouTube channel,” he said.

He is Big in Romania but has the guts to re-start in the UK. Working every night though currently mostly on free gigs.

Dragoş: Big in Romania; re-starting here

“I will keep on going to these open mic gigs,” he told me, “because I meet people, I see how my material works here and I can change things.”

When I saw him at the Democratik Republik of Kabaret, he was doing the Beatles’ Let It Be in a dizzying variety of different styles… and a song about Dracula.

“And I have non-verbal songs,” he told me. “I have Three Minutes of Classic Music. I begin to play classic music – Beethoven – but there is a mosquito bothering me and it’s a kind of pantomime, about me trying to get rid of the mosquito with some actions on the piano.”

There are several episodes of La Bloc on YouTube.

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“Britain’s Got Talent” – a farting fine is not full-blown enough to clear the air

The saga of my chum Mr Methane being falsely accused of humiliating the Romanian people by farting their national anthem on Britain’s Got Talent (which I mentioned in blogs here and then here) has, in theory,  come to a sudden end with the Romanian TV station involved, Antena3, being fined £10,000 lei (roughly £2,000) by CNA, the country’s National Audiovisual Council.

This followed complaints to the regulatory body by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the President’s Office and by Mr Methane himself.

It seems to me to be quite an insignificant fine for a TV station (which had basically stolen the Britain’s Got Talent footage without paying for it, let alone the fact they re-dubbed the sound to make political capital out of it).

Mr Methane is certainly not satisfied. He tells me:

“I don’t think the fine reflects the personal injustice I suffered at being misrepresented by seeming to make a political statement which I of course never made, which then infuriated Romanian citizens and caused them to have anger towards me.

“That issue still needs to be addressed by a full-blown apology from the television programme or even an invitation to perform the Blue Danube (the original tune farted in Britain’s Got Talent) live on their show so people can see and hear the truth. You have to be in the studio to smell it!

“I have sent my own complaint in to CNA and I’ll give them time to address it and get back to me but, if nothing satisfactory is received within the next few weeks, then I’ll be asking Equity to take the matter further as I think the current fine has been fast-tracked by the ruling political party and takes only their own narrow political issues into account with no regard to the very real wider human injustices that I have suffered.”

One of the most extraordinary things I find in the whole surreal saga is the speed with which the Romanian regulatory body acted. The programme was transmitted last Thursday evening; the decision and fine by the regulatory authority happened this Thursday. In Britain, our regulatory body Ofcom would have taken months.

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“Britain’s Got Talent” political farting scandal rumbles on in Romania

The saga of my chum Mr Methane – the world’s only professionally performing flatulist – outraging the Romanian nation by seeming to fart the Romanian national anthem on TV show Britain’s Got Talent – which I blogged about here two days ago – continues apace.

TalkbackThames, the producers and copyright holders of Britain’s Got Talent have confirmed that Antena3, the Romanian TV station which broadcast the doctored clip, did not have rights to the clip and Mr Methane has lodged an official complaint with the First Secretary at the Romanian Embassy in London.

This is Mr Methane’s e-mail to the embassy:

__________________________________________

From: B.O. Productions Ltd
Sent: Tuesday, 11 October 2011, 12:50
Subject: Complaint about Romanian TV show Stirea Zilei

Dear Mrs Bianca Mina,

I wish to register a complaint about one of your broadcasters Antena3 and, in particular, a Current Affairs programme called Stirea Zilei (News of the Day) hosted by Gabriela Vranceanu Firea.

On Thursday 6th October 2011, presenter Gabriela Vranceanu Firea was hosting a serious political debate which included former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. In this debate they used footage of my Britain’s Got Talent appearance but overdubbed the Blue Danube tune with the Romanian National Anthem: it appeared to viewers that I was farting to your national anthem. This upset Romanian citizens who wrote to me and left messages at YouTube before realising it was a fake.

I have checked with TalkbackThames, the production company that makes and owns Britain’s Got Talent and they say they did not license this footage to be used by Antena3.

I object to what Antena3 and Stirea Zilei did because I was used to make a political statement when in fact I do not know the political situation in Romania. The fake transmission enraged Romanian citizens and caused them see me as an object of hate when in fact I had not done anything and I was not involved in anyway.

I would like to think that the Romanian Government has some regulation of its media and that it can register my complaint and correct the injustice by getting the show to transmit a full blown apology for inciting hatred against me by using copyrighted footage without permission and altering it thereby creating a fake impression to viewers that was totally false.

You can see more information including footage of the show here.

https://thejohnfleming.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/farting-around-with-mr-methane-causes-national-outrage-in-romania/

Best wishes.

Paul Oldfield (Mr. Methane!)

__________________________________________

I was amused to see Mr Methane ask for a “a full blown” apology…

How apt. How very apt.

Mr M has now received a reply to his email from the Second Secretary at the Romanian Embassy in London:

__________________________________________

Dear Mr Oldfield,

The only regulator for the audio visual sector in Romania is the National Audiovisual Council of Romania known as CNA.

Their job is to ensure that Romania ’s TV and radio stations operate in an environment of free speech, responsibility and competitiveness. You can file a complaint by submitting a letter directly to the address:

CONSILIUL NATIONAL AL AUDIOVIZUALULUI — CNA
Bd. Libertatii Nr. 14, Sector 5
Bucuresti 050706
ROMÂNIA

Or using their e-mail address: cna@cna.ro

Or by Fax at 00 40 21 305 5356 or 00 40 21 305 5354

More details about the activities of CNA you can find on their website:

http://www.cna.ro/-English-.html

I hope this information will be useful, should you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us. For what is worth, I can assure you that the Romanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs already sent a complaint in this case.

Kindest regards,

Narcisa Nita

__________________________________________

I can but surmise the reason that the Romanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs has “already sent a complaint in this case” is that, I am told, the TV station in question – Antena3 – supports the opposition party in Romania and that they want to cause embarrassment and aggro to the station.

According to My Man in Bucharest (yes, I have one) one of the participants on the TV discussion show – “a quite well-known journalist and political commentator in Romania” – suggested after the Britain’s Got Talent clip was screened that, among other things, the Romanian government should sue the British show’s producers or Mr Methane himself for defaming Romania.

Now, perhaps, the Romanian government has the TV station in its sights.

The whole Stirea Zilei show is online here:
http://inregistrari.antena3.ro/view-06_Oct-2011-Stirea_Zilei-10.html
with the relevant clip 16 minutes 25 seconds into the show.

The relevant clip itself was posted on YouTube at:

which, one suspects, is where the TV station half-inched it from.

In the meantime, Mr Methane has complained to the National Audiovisual Council of Romania.

Watch this space. Mr Methane is not farting around in this case.

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“Britain’s Got Talent” – farting around causes national outrage in Romania

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

My chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing farteur, caused a bit of a stink when he appeared on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 and now he has innocently caused national outrage in Romania.

Last Thursday, viewers were happily watching the current affairs programme Stirea Zilei (News of the Day) on Antena3 TV. Presenter Gabriela Vranceanu Firea was hosting a serious political debate which included former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase who, not surprisingly was critical of the current ruling politicians.

Then, 16 minutes 25 seconds into the show, they screened footage of Mr Methane on Britain’s Got Talent, farting the Romanian national anthem. The whole Stirea Zilei show is online here:

http://inregistrari.antena3.ro/view-06_Oct-2011-Stirea_Zilei-10.html

The relevant clip was also posted on YouTube:

Angry Romanians enraged that Mr Methane had insulted their nation complained to the TV station, complained to YouTube and contacted Mr Methane direct by e-mail demanding an apology before realising that they had, in fact, been duped.

The TV channel had over-dubbed the sound of a farted Romanian national anthem.

Quite whom they employed to do this complicated task remains a mystery; one suspects a clever videotape editor with a lot of time on his hands.

Reaction included a message from one Dragos B. Baia Mare saying: “My country Romania was humiliated… The people who lead us have allowed my country Romania to be mocked. Try to live dignified and decent. Romanians Awake!”

A more informed but anonymous viewer who had checked the original Britain’s Got Talent clip on YouTube wrote (and I can only go here by what Google Translate tells me):

“To run a movie with a performance of a candidate reprehensible in a contest, with background music is changed intentionally demeaning to every novel that has followed this issue. Especially with how serious it is attitude, not all citizens can check if the original movie in the background was the national anthem or not, the intent to mislead a substantial mass of viewers, is obvious. Last but not least, the use of national anthem for such purposes and to get the audience and to provoke discussion, must be punished.”

I have to agree (I think).

One Romanian who watched the TV show in Bucharest told me: “It felt frustrating and kinda humiliating to see and hear the national anthem being played through the ass.”

A bemused Mr. Methane says: “I’m no stranger to controversy and I don’t mind taking the blame for my own ‘colon coughs’ but, in this case, my botty bugle was not involved. I had been set up and what would really upset me is if this footage has been licensed to be used in this way by TalkbackThames, the UK copyright holder and producer of Britain’s Got Talent

“I suspect that the Romanian TV channel may have just  gone ahead and used it without their and ITV’s permission. Either way, it’s pain in the arse. I think I deserve an apology from one of them or maybe both. If they want to insult the Romanian national anthem and seek a confrontation with outraged Romanian citizens everywhere, they should take responsibility for their own farting around and not try to pass it off as mine“.

You can see the original Britain’s Got Talent clip without the Romanian national anthem here:

(FOOTNOTE: There was an update and continuation of this blog story two days later here.)

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