Category Archives: Surreal

Phil Jarvis, Consignia and the value of not publicising a Fringe comedy show

The Edinburgh Fringe finished yesterday.

Fringe performers Phil Jarvis and Consignia have occasionally turned up in this blog. I think you might call them – eh – erm – unconventional, even by Fringe comedy standards. In 2016, they won an Alternative New Comedian of the Year award.

I once attended one of their late shows in Edinburgh at around 1.00am in the morning. When it ended after an hour, they decided they would immediately repeat it in its entirety, which they did. It ended around 3.00am.

At the Edinburgh Fringe last year, they staged as the final show in their run, one in which they did not turn up, because they were on a train back to London. I think they may have publicised the fact they would not be there. Maybe they didn’t. No-one knows if any audience turned up.

Consignia are named after the failed re-branding of the UK Post Office in 2001-2002 – which BBC News at the time described as “The most ruinous decision since the biblical scam that saw Esau swap his birthright for a bowl of stew.”

That referred to the Post Office’s choice of name, not the comedy group who have not yet, as far as I know, featured on BBC News, although they may have appeared on Crimewatch.

A random promotion image for Consignia’s Lemondale show featured a hole in the road

This year, Consignia were, again, performing a run of shows – titled Lemondale – at the Edinburgh Fringe and Phil Jarvis revealed to me that their marketing strategy, ever original, was: “We are not promoting the run until it’s finished.”

That did not altogether happen. See below..

Consignia’s membership varies much like the vivid events in a surreal dream. This year, in theory, they were: Andy Barr, Alexander Bennett, Phil Jarvis, Sean Morley, Mark Dean Quinn, Alwin Solanky and Nathan Willcock.

They billed their show as: “about potholes, lemons and lost utopian ideals. A late night/early morning fever dream for fans of concrete.”

These hour-long daily shows started at 1.45am in the morning.

A couple of days ago, lamenting the lack of any reviews, Phil Jarvis said he would write his own review of the show. I suggested he write about the overall Fringe experience. 

Now he has done. Mea culpa.


Phil, promoting the movie Kes in Lemondale

Our show this year was called Lemondale. We were in the Banshee Labryrinth’s Cinema Room. It was what is called a ‘ghost show’: a show that is not listed in the main Fringe guide. We did not make any flyers or posters this year, so relied on people just turning up, possibly thinking that a film was on. The Banshee Labryrinth had great footfall through the night and had shows running throughout the evening, so people (we hoped) would pop in after seeing the shows before us.

By July, I had co-written two full shows that had both been canned as Consignia member Nathan Willcock sensibly took up the offer of paid work instead of going to Edinburgh. 

Originally, the show was going to be about the history of a fictional New Town told by a monorail that falls into eventual decline. 

But Mark Dean Quinn came to visit me before Fringe and we chatted over some ideas. In effect, Mark became the director of Lemondale.

I had spent about three hours in a queue at Stansted Airport for a Ryanair flight and that became the starting point –  how you cope with the boredom of waiting in an airport. 

The day of the only preview we did in London, Mark delivered a two page script that was the backbone to the show.

Consignia’s Lemondale – Don’t ask who or why

I started trolling a bit too much on Facebook’s Edinburgh Fringe Performers’ Forum. Eventually, I got myself banned from the forum. So I decided to set up my own Facebook forum with the same name. It would prove quite handy.

I get quite bored of having to repeat the same show each night, so we started to add things. 

For example, Alwin Solanky, an integral member of Consignia, failed to turn up on time for the first show. So we added the fact Alwin hadn’t turned up into the show. With Alwin in the room, we would get the audience to chant ‘Where is Alwin?”. 

Eventually, Alwin would get to the stage, don a bird mask, and then be pelted with bread that had been handed out to the audience. 

Sean Morley became a member of Consignia halfway through the run, so we decided to change the show more. 

We made it an ASMR experience. 

(An Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine, creating ‘low-grade euphoria’.) 

We started whispering and shushing the audience whenever they laughed and amplifying ourselves eating fruit and downing beer slowly. 

Actor Danny Dyer made some comments

We also had a menu screen behind us: from the DVD Danny Dyer’s Football Foul-Ups. Every now and then, Danny Dyer would interject with some comment that would somehow seem fitting in the bread-filled mess.

No journalists seemed up for coming to the show so late at night.

So Nathan Willcock (made head of our shoestring PR) approached the online blog The Mumble who said he wanted £25 to come and review it. Nathan said we would try and fund the £25 after the show but The Mumble didn’t seem happy with that idea and said he wouldn’t come. You can’t even buy a journalist these days!

We seemed to be getting about 20 to 25 people in every night for this 1.45am show. 

The Edinburgh Fringe Forum provided an interesting opportunity when a presenter from BBC Radio Leeds asked if anyone from Yorkshire wanted to appear on his show. 

Sean Morley lives in Sheffield, so he ended up delivering an ASMR interview on a lunch time show on BBC Radio Leeds.

Consigbnia’s final Lemondale show (Photo by Sean Morley)

I am not sure if this brought any curious people from Leeds to Edinburgh for a show at 1.45am but, when we brought the show back for a final time on the last Saturday of the Fringe, we had a packed room.

I have learnt that you do not need to go in the Fringe guide or even flyer to get people in to your show. 

Oddly, the time of our show worked in our favour and the location of a great venue was probably what really made it work for us. 

Also, having Nathan Willcock in control of our Social Media helped – with such gems as reTweeting the fact that the Consignia Twitter page is now blocked by poet Pam Ayers.


Next year’s Edinburgh Fringe show from Consignia is claimed to be entitled Welcome to Dungeness.

Next year – The Dungeness B nuclear power station in Kent

Dungeness is a piece of coastline in Kent with one working nuclear power station and one abandoned nuclear power station. The Guardian has called Dungeness “the desert of England, though experts observe that, lacking both the dearth of water and the extreme differential in night and day temperatures, it fulfils none of the desert criteria.”

Phil Jarvis says that his next planned solo project is to create “a coffee table book on UK motorway service stations at night time”.

I pointed out to him that there is already a book – Food On The Move: the Extraordinary World of the Motorway Service Area – written by David Lawrence, a “writer, broadcaster, educator and collector who holds a doctorate in motorway service area history, design and culture.”

Phil’s response?

“Looks good, but I would do mine at night time.”

He is a man with a mission and the determination to carry it through.

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There is much more to Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers than just surreal comedy

Having a hearty breakfast with Mr Twonkey

I met up with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey over breakfast to talk about his show Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein but, initially, we got sidetracked by the three gigs he recently played at the Prague Fringe – in the Museum of Alchemists.


JOHN: What is the museum like?

PAUL: It’s a lovely place. It’s got a lot of… not waxworks… fibreglass dummies of alchemists.

JOHN: I like Prague.

Mr Twonkey was a cover star at the Prague Fringe

PAUL: Oh, it’s a beautiful place. we always give money to the Infant Jesus of Prague. They change its clothes every day; it has different jackets and stuff. The more money we gave, the busier the show got. 

JOHN: Did he bleed more if you gave him more money?

PAUL: He doesn’t bleed, but he smiles. He is in a little glass box in a little church just over the Charles Bridge. He is small, but he has big fluffy coats and very flamboyant clothing. 

JOHN: It’s not a small statue of Liberace, is it?

PAUL: It does look like Liberace, but it’s Jesus. It’s one of those things like his eyes are following you round the room.

JOHN: His stigmata are following you round the room?

PAUL: Yeah. But the more money you give him, the more people come, you know?

JOHN: Anyway, you are performing your Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein at the Bill Murray venue in London next Thursday. Is that the same show you did in Brighton?

PAUL: Slightly but not totally different. It’s finding its feet. I have different terms for my shows now. The current show is an Arrival show. But I also do Gateway shows.

JOHN: What are they?

PAUL: A Gateway show is where you find a way in or a way out. With creative ideas, I find sometimes you get trapped. You get a formula for doing something and then, over time, that formula becomes stale, so you feel trapped by it. A Gateway show shows you don’t actually have to do it like that.

In another show, Mr Twonkey spent Christmas in the Jungle

You experiment with a new format and, if that works then, after that, you can have an Arrival show which I think is the most exciting type but it’s also potentially The End. In which case you need another Gateway show. Unless I have two Arrival shows, which is what I’m thinking.

I wonder if that’s possible.

JOHN: Maybe Liechtenstein will have a fire escape.

PAUL: Yeah. That would be great: if I could have two Arrival shows. 

JOHN: …and a fire escape show, like West Side Story.

PAUL: It makes sense in my head, but…

JOHN: So what you did before feels a bit stale to you now?

PAUL: Well, my first three shows – Twonkey’s Cottage, Twonkey’s Castle and Twonkey’s Kingdom – were like a trilogy and the idea was I was only going to do that. I was telling the story of the mythical character Twonkey. But the trouble was no-one understood what I was going on about; no-one was following the story. In some respects, you had to have seen the show before to fully understand the threads in the other show.

JOHN: What was the over-all narrative of the three shows?

PAUL: It was following the journey of Twonkey, who was an accountant… well, a dragon, really… Basically, a dragon who moved from a castle and got more and more powerful. He started off in a cottage, then had his own castle, then had his own kingdom. 

Mr Twonkey had a colourful and successful Blue Cadabra

Then I broke away. I killed Twonkey off after the third show. So the dragon died and I became Mr Twonkey. I became the essence of Twonkey. What I realised was that Twonkey was not a dragon but a state of mind. That freed it up. I had a Gateway show – Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra – which I had quite a bit of success with.

After that, I did a series of shows in that kind of formula…

JOHN: How many?

PAUL: Eh… How many were there?…Two?

JOHN: You’re not quite sure?

PAUL: No. I did Twonkey’s Private Restaurant, which was an extension of Cadabra. In Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, there was a log flume park. Then Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel was the one I got the Malcolm Hardee Award for. That was a Gateway show, because that was the first time I introduced the idea of an interwoven narrative throughout the over-all piece. 

I have carried on with that since and the new show – Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein – probably has the most clear narrative I’ve had.

JOHN: And you are doing that at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: Are you playing Fringe By The Sea in North Berwick while you’re up in Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, but not as Twonkey. I’m doing my band stuff. Paul Vickers and The Leg.

JOHN: Your band is active again?

PAUL: Yes. We are recording an album at the end of June.

Paul Vickers (right) and The Leg: part of a body parts boom

JOHN: Why are they called The Leg?

PAUL: There was a boom in Scotland of bands named after body parts. There was Wounded Knee; there was Withered Hand; and so there was The Leg. There was also Frightened Rabbit.

JOHN: That’s a body part?

PAUL: No. Not a body part. But it fits in somehow.

JOHN: Fringe By The Sea sounds good.

PAUL: Yes, an odd mix of acts. The Sugarhill Gang. Mica Paris. Lewis Schaffer, David Steel and Roy Hattersley.

JOHN: David Steel and Roy Hattersley? The politicians?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: They’re singing…?

PAUL: No. Sitting in chairs and speaking to people.

JOHN: Roy Hattersley should join your band.

PAUL: Well, he had the reputation of spitting a lot… on Spitting Image… My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: As a prop for your Twonkey show?

PAUL: She says it is. Though I haven’t got anything with a seagull in my act at the moment. 

Paul/Twonkey has been known to use occasional props

JOHN: She makes your props.

PAUL: Some, yes. And Grant Pringle makes the bigger ones.

JOHN: Is he related to the Pringles crisp dynasty?

PAUL: No. I think he is related to Pringle The Slayer.

JOHN: Who?

PAUL: Pringle The Slayer was a Borders Reiver. He had people locked up in a tower near Galashiels. I wrote a piece about Pringle The Slayer for Border Life magazine. I used to write for that. We interviewed David Steel for that too. Local interest. I also did Border X-Files, which was about  aliens and ghosts.

JOHN: That was a separate magazine from the one David Steel was in?

PAUL: No. It was all local interest. There was a lot of going to manor houses and talking to rich old ladies and there were photos of horses and green fields. It was the most successful thing we did after the music magazine failed. When BritPop deflated, the music magazine went down and we went into local publishing. But then the band took off and we were alright.

JOHN: What was the music magazine called?

PAUL: Sun Zoom Spark, named after a Captain Beefheart song.

JOHN: Ah. How are you enjoying your baked beans?

PAUL: They’re very nice.

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Waiting for Guido with aerial artist Avi

Becky Fury, Geoff Steel and Johnathan Richardson are Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre

On Monday night, Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury is presenting a show called Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre in London. It is billed as:

“Fusing comic improvisation from world class performers, a little sprinkling of circus performance and an improvised musical score. This is Jesus and the Easter bunny waiting for the return of the enigmatic and insurrectionary battery chicken, Guido. In a basic story structure inspired by Waiting for Godot, Dada and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, we present an evening of entertainment, theatrical innovation and carefully curated chaos.”

Johnathan Richardson, Becky Fury, Geoff Steel in rehearsal

As well as comics Trevor Lock, Johnathan Richardson, Geoff Steel and Becky, there is music by a house band featuring Bang Crosby and aerial acts from “contortionist and rope and hoop expert” Avital Hannah.

Aerial acts? I thought. Aerial acts? So I went to the National Centre for Circus Arts in London to see Becky and Avital talk through and swing through what might be happening on Monday.


JOHN: So what is Waiting For Guido?

BECKY: It’s basically a cabaret show with some theatrical comedy vignettes. A contemporary freakshow inspired by Principa Discordia and the Dogme manifesto. This one’s more Catme but I always have to be so extra. Everything’s not so much falling into place but descending in beautiful yet bizarre shapes and landing elegantly in place.

JOHN: What’s the narrative?

BECKY: Waiting.

JOHN: What is Avi doing? Just hanging around?

AVI: Hanging from the rafters.

BECKY: She will be mirroring some of the characters in the show. Everyone has a character. It’s a hybrid cabaret comedy circus show.

Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

JOHN: Why did you decide being an aerial artist was a good career choice?

AVI: I kind of decided on a whim… I had gone to college to study law, psychology, philosophy and critical thinking. I thought: There’s a future for me as an aerial artist because I’m highly-strung and not very good at letting go. And I thought: If I go to circus school then I can do what I want but I still get a qualification.

JOHN: Did the glamour of circus attract you?

AVI: No.

JOHN: So what was the attraction?

AVI: The ownership of my own body.

JOHN: Define that.

AVI: It was really positive for reclaiming my body as a woman. I had often felt it was ‘owned’ by other people. I’m definitely in control of it now. It will always be more useful to me than anyone else. Before circus, that had not necessarily always been apparent.

JOHN: ‘Being in control of your own body’ sounds like it might overlap into hatred of men.

AVI: Well, to some extent I think it’s a feminist answer but I think it’s just as a human I have my right to own my own body and this has enabled me to do so.

JOHN: Where is the career in being an aerial artist outside a circus? You can’t play the upstairs room of a suburban pub.

Waiting For Guido in rehearsal

AVI: No, but there’s corporate gigs, the corporate circuit at Christmas time, charity gigs, Council things and it’s more integrated into theatre and dance than it used to be. There are circus shows in the West End. There’s TV and film stuff. It’s quite broad; you’ve just gotta know where to look.

JOHN: Corporate gigs?

AVI: Making posh people’s parties look cooler. If you can get someone to hang off the ceiling, it looks good.

JOHN: Is there a career path?

AVI: I’m interested in the production side. I’m really interested in production management and directing, producing.

JOHN: How do you two know each other?

BECKY: From festivals. The DIY culture. The Unfairground stage at the Glastonbury Festival.

JOHN: There is a lot of twirling involved in what you do.

AVI: I find it easier to learn things on the left. It’s generally easier to rotate one way. I generally spin to the right but there are certain tricks that require me to spin to the left and that’s fine; it’s just a different type of training.

JOHN: Is that something to do with the left side of your brain controlling the right side of the body and vice versa?

AVI: I don’t know, but there are certain things you can do to make them talk to each other a bit better.

JOHN: Such as?”

Becky shoots Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

AVI: Stand up and stand on one leg with your eyes closed and then try standing on the other leg. You will be better doing it on one side than the other. Then open your eyes and bring your thumb towards them until it’s uncomfortable to see it and do that three times. Keep your thumb really steady while doing it. Then try standing on one leg again. It should be way more even between left and right. It tricks your brain somehow.

BECKY: It must realign everything into a balance because you have to focus on the thumb straight-on rather than left and right sides and one of your eyes being lazy.

AVI: I don’t know. It seems to work.

JOHN: Have you got public liability insurance if you fall on someone?

AVI: Only if I’m performing. Not in normal life.

BECKY: Everyone should have it. A friend of mine was performing at a Secret Policeman’s Ball show. He threw rice during the show and someone slipped on a grain of rice in their stiletto shoe and broke their ankle. Luckily he had public liability insurance, because they sued him.

JOHN: Why are your powdering your ear?

AVI: I always put make-up on my ear lobes before a show. You don’t want red ears when you go upside down. Blood goes to them when you are upside down.

JOHN: Ah… Why are you in Becky’s show? It’s basically a comedy show.

AVI: It’s different. I wanna see what happens.

JOHN: Yes indeed.

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The black cat in my dream this morning

I have mentioned in blogs before that, unfortunately, I do not remember my dreams. Perhaps once every nine months or so, if I am woken up while having the dream itself.

John Ward with an Onion Wanging trophy

This morning was such an occasion.

During the week, mad inventor John Ward told me that he was going to be on a Saturday morning BBC Radio 4 cookery show called Kitchen Cabinet, talking about the annual competitive event he runs in which cabbages are hurled along a field by newly-built Roman siege engine catapults. The BBC show had been recorded in Lincolnshire at Burghley House, built by Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, William Cecil, in in the 16th century.

All that is true.

In my dream this morning, I was somehow involved in the live radio transmission of a comedy variety show.

There was a man inside a tent on the right of the room where the show was taking place. He was attaching bells to his costume but he was not going to be ready in time for the broadcast. So I had to push him on stage, as he was, only half-dressed for his radio performance.

Drinkers shouldn’t mess with sleeping black cats in dreams

The man’s act seemed to mostly involve drinking or not drinking some coffee but, because he was unprepared, he went over to a black cat which was curled up sleeping on a soft leather stool by the stage.

Unceremoniously woken up, the cat bit its teeth into the performer’s right shoulder, so the man pulled the cat up by its tail and bit into the tail with his own teeth.

After this, there were quite a few long silences on the recording, but I kept reassuring people: “Oh! It’s OK, we can edit it out. We can edit it out.”

When I woke up, briefly, I thought…

This may not be a surreal dream…

This may be a flash forward…

…to something real that is…

actually going to happen…

in the future.

On reflection, though…

it seems unlikely.

On the other hand, cabbage hurling, onion wanging and Donald Trump as US President at one time seemed equally unlikely events and they actually came to pass.

Life is but a dream and reality sometimes a nightmare.

 

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Phil Jarvis of Consignia: “Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.”

Pay attention now. Concentrate.

Last Sunday, I went to Lottie Bowater’s Depresstival event at The Others venue in Stoke Newington to chat to Phil Jarvis of Consignia about a gig they are performing this coming Sunday at the Bill Murray venue in Islington.

Phil had been to Highgate Cemetery the previous day.

Consignia – named after a failed attempt at re-branding by the Royal Mail – are always interesting. I went to see one of their late-night shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and, at the end, they decided to repeat the whole show. So their one-hour show turned into a two-hour show.

“So,” I said to Phil, “this show on Sunday at the Bill Murray. You told me it’s about neo-liberalism. What on earth is that?”

Phil performing at Depresstival last Sunday

PHIL: Privatise everything. Privatise the whole lot. That’s what neo-liberalism is about

ME: The whole lot of what?

PHIL: Eh… Jobs.

ME: Jobs ARE privatised, aren’t they? Unless they’re public sector jobs?

PHIL: Well, I dunno, I mean, it’s dismantling of the state.

(AT THIS POINT, COMIC ALEXANDER BENNETT ARRIVED)

ME (TO ALEXANDER): Your scarf only starts halfway up.

PHIL: It’s the Euan Blair way.

ME (TO PHIL): Alexander is going to play Tony Blair’s son on Sunday?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME (TO PHIL): You went to Highgate Cemetery yesterday. Why?

PHIL: To look at dead Marxists.

ME: So neo-liberalism is privatising everything?

PHIL: Yes. There’s lots of job insecurity. There are competing Santas because Santa is dead.

ME: It is a Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: Did I know this?

PHIL: I don’t know. It’s a Christmas show about neo-liberalism. Santa is dead and Euan Blair has made sure there’s lots of competing Santas.

ME: So who is performing in this show?

PHIL: Consignia.

ME: Consignia changes occasionally. Is Andy Barr in it?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: But Alexander is not in Consignia.

PHIL: Yes he is. Everyone is in Consignia. You are in Consignia. The whole world is in Consignia.

ME: Could we privatise a percentage of them?

PHIL: That is what the show is about – About fighting back against that.

ME: You said it was about privatising things.

PHIL: No. And it’s coming together quite nicely.

ME: You mean it is organised? Well, that is no use. Consignia has a style to maintain. I was slightly worried you had sold out when I read on social media the word ‘script’…

PHIL: There is always a script. But it is just a guide.

ME: It was unsettling when I saw that Edinburgh show where you did it twice and the second time was pretty much the same as the first time. I thought: “There surely can’t be a script!”

PHIL: Exactly. That is how it is. A script is a prompt. It’s not something you have to religiously stick to.

ME: Like Christmas?… So, this Christmas show on Sunday, is it going to be in Edinburgh next August?

PHIL: No. It’s a special show with lots of our friends in it.

ME: Oh dear. Such as?

PHIL: Seán Morley. It’s all the talent.

ME: I have gone off the idea now. It’s the word “talent”.

PHIL: It’s gonna be a spectacle.

ALEXANDER: It’s all good people, but they’ve not abandoned what Consignia is.

ME: What is Consignia?

ALEXANDER: Phil.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you going to take your clothes off in it?”

PHIL: I’ve reined that in now. I think the way to go is to put more clothes on.

ME: I am rapidly going off this show. It has a script and you are not going to get your kit off.

ALEXANDER: I haven’t had a drink since yesterday morning.

ME: That’s hardly giving up drink…

ALEXANDER: I wasn’t claiming that. I was just telling you how long it had been.

PHIL (TO ME): Are you coming to the show on Sunday?

ME: Yes. I am seeing the Consignia show, then seeing Matt Price & Martha McBrier’s storytelling show at the Bill Murray, half an hour after you finish.

PHIL: Oh, we had better clean up for them. I am doing Dinner For One again, within the Christmas show.

ME: Your shows have a tendency to over-run – by about 60 to 90 minutes.

Phil with part of the 12-page Christmas script

PHIL: Well, the script is only 12 pages long.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of bits in the script that say something happens and then, in brackets, THIS GOES ON FOR FIVE MINUTES.

PHIL (TO ME): So, although you might slag us off for having a script, we are true to who we are.

ME: Your last show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a non-show, wasn’t it?

PHIL: Yeah. I had to go for a job interview.

ME: It was a gig with no performers but with an audience.

PHIL: Yeah. We can still get people in without us being there. We are making the system work for us.

ME: Well, it is a way to avoid losing money in Edinburgh. You get an audience for your show but you are not there, so it doesn’t cost you anything and you can’t lose money. It’s a win.

PHIL: It is a win.

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): You should say who else is in the show.

ME: Who else is in the show?

PHIL: Seán Morley.

ME: Again? The Seán Morley Twins?

PHIL: Ben Target, Euan Blair, Adam Larter, Nathan Willcock, of course. Lottie Bowater. Helen Duff. She’s very good. Have you seen her?

ME: I saw her at Juliette Burton’s boyfriend’s birthday. She wasn’t performing. She was eating. But she ate very well.

PHIL: Cassie Atkinson is in it. We’ve got half the comedy scene.

ALEXANDER: The crème de la crème.

ME: You are going to have no-one in the audience. They will all be on stage.

PHIL: That’s the plan. But tickets are selling. Tickets have sold.

ME: So Adam Larter is in your Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes. He is directing it. We have three different directors.

ALEXANDER: Andy Barr is the director…

PHIL: …in Consignia.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you a director?”

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): Well, you are the main driving force behind all of this.

PHIL: I am the project manager of it. We basically have a show about neo-liberalism which mirrors neo-liberalism, because it has lots of competing… eh… sort of things… going on within the actual show.

ME: Structured.

PHIL: Structured.

ME: So it has 12 pages with three directors.

PHIL: Joz can be in it if he wants.

(JOZ NORRIS WAS SITTING ACROSS THE ROOM)

JOZ: I’ll be there.

PHIL: We have to have some punters in the audience.

ME: I’ll be there.

JOZ: I could play a hat stand.

PHIL: Who else is in it? There’s Cassie Atkinson.

ME: Again?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in it.

ME: The Seán Morley Triplets and the Cassie Atkinson Twins?

PHIL: Mark Dean Quinn’s in it. Alwin Solanky. Michael Brunström is in it. He is playing Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The show is basically about dead Marxists come to save Christmas from neo-liberalism. That’s the basic thrust of it.

Phil with one of the Karl Marx Twins (Photo by Adam Larter)

ME: And this is why you went to Highgate Cemetary yesterday? To see Karl Marx’s grave?

ALEXANDER: There are two Karl Marx graves there.

ME: What? Like all the people in your show? There are two of them?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in the show.

ME: So have they divided him up?

PHIL: Seán Morley?

ME: Karl Marx. Are there two graves in different places?

PHIL: Yes there are. They’ve got the original grave, when he wasn’t famous. And then, in the 1950s, the Communist Party of Great Britain got some money together and made a bigger thing for him.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: Jeremy Beadle is in the show. George Michael is in the show. And Kat Bond. She is also in the new the new WeBuyAnyCar.com advert. She’s in the advert with Mark Silcox about building a statue to Philip Schofield.

ME: You are joking.

PHIL: No. Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.

ME: So, this show on Sunday at the Bill Murray. You told me it’s about neo-liberalism. What on earth is that?

Phil performing at Depresstival last Sunday

PHIL: Privatise everything. Privatise the whole lot. That’s what neo-liberalism is about

ME: The whole lot of what?

PHIL: Eh… Jobs.

ME: Jobs ARE privatised, aren’t they? Unless they’re public sector jobs?

PHIL: Well, I dunno, I mean, it’s dismantling of the state.

(AT THIS POINT, COMIC ALEXANDER BENNETT ARRIVED)

ME (TO ALEXANDER): Your scarf only starts halfway up.

PHIL: It’s the Euan Blair way.

ME (TO PHIL): Alexander is going to play Tony Blair’s son on Sunday?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME (TO PHIL): You went to Highgate Cemetery yesterday. Why?

PHIL: To look at dead Marxists.

ME: So neo-liberalism is privatising everything?

PHIL: Yes. There’s lots of job insecurity. There are competing Santas because Santa is dead.

ME: It is a Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: Did I know this?

PHIL: I don’t know. It’s a Christmas show about neo-liberalism. Santa is dead and Euan Blair has made sure there’s lots of competing Santas.

ME: So who is performing in this show?

PHIL: Consignia.

ME: Consignia changes occasionally. Is Andy Barr in it?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: But Alexander is not in Consignia.

PHIL: Yes he is. Everyone is in Consignia. You are in Consignia. The whole world is in Consignia.

ME: Could we privatise a percentage of them?

PHIL: That is what the show is about – About fighting back against that.

ME: You said it was about privatising things.

PHIL: No. And it’s coming together quite nicely.

ME: You mean it is organised? Well, that is no use. Consignia has a style to maintain. I was slightly worried you had sold out when I read on social media the word ‘script’…

PHIL: There is always a script. But it is just a guide.

ME: It was unsettling when I saw that Edinburgh show where you did it twice and the second time was pretty much the same as the first time. I thought: “There surely can’t be a script!”

PHIL: Exactly. That is how it is. A script is a prompt. It’s not something you have to religiously stick to.

ME: Like Christmas?… So, this Christmas show on Sunday, is it going to be in Edinburgh next August?

PHIL: No. It’s a special show with lots of our friends in it.

ME: Oh dear. Such as?

PHIL: Seán Morley. It’s all the talent.

ME: I have gone off the idea now. It’s the word “talent”.

PHIL: It’s gonna be a spectacle.

ALEXANDER: It’s all good people, but they’ve not abandoned what Consignia is.

ME: What is Consignia?

ALEXANDER: Phil.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you going to take your clothes off in it?”

PHIL: I’ve reined that in now. I think the way to go is to put more clothes on.

ME: I am rapidly going off this show. It has a script and you are not going to get your kit off.

ALEXANDER: I haven’t had a drink since yesterday morning.

ME: That’s hardly giving up drink…

ALEXANDER: I wasn’t claiming that. I was just telling you how long it had been.

PHIL (TO ME): Are you coming to the show on Sunday?

ME: Yes. I am seeing the Consignia show, then seeing Matt Price & Martha McBrier’s storytelling show at the Bill Murray, half an hour after you finish.

PHIL: Oh, we had better clean up for them. I am doing Dinner For One again, within the Christmas show.

ME: Your shows have a tendency to over-run – by about 60 to 90 minutes.

Phil with part of the 12-page Christmas script

PHIL: Well, the script is only 12 pages long.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of bits in the script that say something happens and then, in brackets, THIS GOES ON FOR FIVE MINUTES.

PHIL (TO ME): So, although you might slag us off for having a script, we are true to who we are.

ME: Your last show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a non-show, wasn’t it?

PHIL: Yeah. I had to go for a job interview.

ME: It was a gig with no performers but with an audience.

PHIL: Yeah. We can still get people in without us being there. We are making the system work for us.

ME: Well, it is a way to avoid losing money in Edinburgh. You get an audience for your show but you are not there, so it doesn’t cost you anything and you can’t lose money. It’s a win.

PHIL: It is a win.

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): You should say who else is in the show.

ME: Who else is in the show?

PHIL: Seán Morley.

ME: Again? The Seán Morley Twins?

PHIL: Ben Target, Euan Blair, Adam Larter, Nathan Willcock, of course. Lottie Bowater. Helen Duff. She’s very good. Have you seen her?

ME: I saw her at Juliette Burton’s boyfriend’s birthday. She wasn’t performing. She was eating. But she ate very well.

PHIL: Cassie Atkinson is in it. We’ve got half the comedy scene.

ALEXANDER: The crème de la crème.

ME: You are going to have no-one in the audience. They will all be on stage.

PHIL: That’s the plan. But tickets are selling. Tickets have sold.

ME: So Adam Larter is in your Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes. He is directing it. We have three different directors.

ALEXANDER: Andy Barr is the director…

PHIL: …in Consignia.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you a director?”

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): Well, you are the main driving force behind all of this.

PHIL: I am the project manager of it. We basically have a show about neo-liberalism which mirrors neo-liberalism, because it has lots of competing… eh… sort of things… going on within the actual show.

ME: Structured.

PHIL: Structured.

ME: So it has 12 pages with three directors.

PHIL: Joz can be in it if he wants.

(JOZ NORRIS WAS SITTING ACROSS THE ROOM)

JOZ: I’ll be there.

PHIL: We have to have some punters in the audience.

ME: I’ll be there.

JOZ: I could play a hat stand.

PHIL: Who else is in it? There’s Cassie Atkinson.

ME: Again?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in it.

ME: The Seán Morley Triplets and the Cassie Atkinson Twins?

PHIL: Mark Dean Quinn’s in it. Alwin Solanky. Michael Brunström is in it. He is playing Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The show is basically about dead Marxists come to save Christmas from neo-liberalism. That’s the basic thrust of it.

Phil with one of the Karl Marx Twins (Photo by Adam Larter)

ME: And this is why you went to Highgate Cemetary yesterday? To see Karl Marx’s grave?

ALEXANDER: There are two Karl Marx graves there.

ME: What? Like all the people in your show? There are two of them?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in the show.

ME: So have they divided him up?

PHIL: Seán Morley?

ME: Karl Marx. Are there two graves in different places?

PHIL: Yes there are. They’ve got the original grave, when he wasn’t famous. And then, in the 1950s, the Communist Party of Great Britain got some money together and made a bigger thing for him.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: Jeremy Beadle is in the show. George Michael is in the show. And Kat Bond. She is also in the new the new WeBuyAnyCar.com advert. She’s in the advert with Mark Silcox about building a statue to Philip Schofield.

ME: You are joking.

PHIL: No. Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.

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Harvey Weinstein, Lewis Schaffer, an iPhone and Becky Fury’s fanny print

James Harris (with microphone) talks to his guests at the wedding party in Hackney this afternoon

This afternoon, I was at comic James Harris’ wedding party in Hackney. He got married yesterday to Ke Zuo.

I was sitting talking to Hannah George and to Toby Williams, the comic who used to perform as character Dr George Ryegold. I was suggesting to them that, when the inevitable movie of the sudden downfall of film producer Harvey Weinstein is made, Lewis Schaffer should play the part of Weinstein.

The Hackney wedding party included a non-hackneyed show.

Not because of Lewis Schaffer’s sexual proclivities (Brian Simpson, the English character actor who plays the role of Lewis Schaffer is gay) but because he would be able to play the New York Jewish character to a tee – ironic, given that Brian Simpson is neither Jewish nor a New Yorker.

Imagine my surprise then, dear reader, when my left nipple began to be tickled by the vibrations of an incoming text message on my iPhone.

The message was from a comedy promoter. It said:


Where are you? Sounds like fun.

And why do you keep saying Lewis Schaffer’s name in vain interspersed with Harvey Weinstein?

Intrigued.


The iPhone in my shirt’s breast pocket must have phoned the comedy promoter of its own accord by pressing itself against my erect nipple… Yes, the party was that exciting.

I sent a message back. It said:


Oops! You can’t trust mobile phones.


I put the phone back in my breast pocket.

A little later, it tickled my nipple again.

Janey Godley’s iPhone told her I had left a 10 second message

It was a text message from comic Janey Godley, in Aberdeen to perform two shows with Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond. It said:


John did you leave a message?


I had not phoned her. But her iPhone told her I had left a 10 second audio message on her phone.

Mysterious cyberspace keyboard not sent by me to Aberdeen

And I also seemed to have sent her a photograph of a keyboard.

A little later, I got an email from comic Becky Fury, the winner of last year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award who has taken to calling herself a double Malcolm Hardee Award winner because of a dubious event in a London pub.

Becky Fury’s new weekly show project

Becky’s email was inviting me on Tuesday to a new weekly show she is organising in Victoria Park, London. The show is called the Demokratik Republik of Kabaret but she has inexplicably abbreviated that not to DRK but to DPRK, the abbreviation for North Korea.

As the weekly comedy night is new, she wants acts who want to perform to get in touch with her.

Her message said:


Anyone who wants to come down and try new or experimental material in a lovely venue please email Demokratik Republik of Kabaret with a submission – PeoplesCabaret@gmail.com


Becky Fury – a woman in search of the bizarre and original

I am not a performer so I think Becky assumed I would not be interested in this message and that is why she included a story for me.

To hold my attention.

I do to know if the story is true or not.

I seem to live in a world in which comics pretend to be doctors. Or not.

And English character actors pretend to be Jewish New York comics. Or not.

And iPhones phone each other without asking permission from the people who own them.

Becky Fury’s message read:


I went to see
Betty Grumble sex clown
(Not available for children’s parties)
And she gave me a paint print of her fanny
(If you think that’s bad you should see the one
Coco the clown did with his anal beads
That’ll be the last time he gets booked to play that village fete)
So I put a picture of it on Facebook
(The paint print of the fanny
Not the anal bead one
Coco’s management have taken out an injunction on that)
I put on Facebook ‘I went to see Betty Grumble Sex Clown and she presented me with this paint print of her fanny’
The next day this comedian comes up to me and says
‘I just went to see Betty Grumble
and she gave me a paint print of her fanny…
And she signed it’ I didn’t believe him
So I said
‘Where did she stick the pen?’
He didn’t know
So I said ‘Betty Grumble didn’t give you a paint print of her fanny, did she?
You didn’t get a signed paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny, did you? You didn’t get an unsigned paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny. You didn’t get any paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny. You’re just saying that because you are jealous Betty Grumble chose to give me a paint print of her fanny
And I was angry
And a man on the way home said ‘What’s wrong?’
I put on Facebook ‘I got given a paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny and this guy came to me and said ‘Well, I got a signed paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny and I said ‘You didn’t get a signed paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny, you didn’t get any paint print of Betty Grumble’s Fanny’
And the man said
‘Jesus you’re angry about who’s been given a paint print of a clown’s fanny
That is ridiculous
You’re meant to be a comedian
Do you not think that’s funny?’
And I thought ‘Yes, ridiculous. Ridiculous one-upmanship. Hilarious.
When I get home I’m going to put a post on Facebook saying
Marcel Marceau mimed/handed me a card which said ‘You are the best comedian in the world’
And a Malcolm Hardee Award made out of modelling balloons
And then Coco the clown gave me a necklace made of his anal beads


That is the message that Becky Fury sent me.

I think I will go and lie down now. It has been a long day.

Sex clown Betty Grumble’s alleged fanny print as photographed by Becky Fury, cunning stuntress

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 24: The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winners 2017

The late, out-standing comic Malcolm Hardee.

The final increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show took place in the ballroom of Edinburgh’s Counting House.

The winners chosen by the five judges earlier in the day, with awards presented by critic Kate Copstick and Malcolm’s sister Clare Hardee during the show, were:

MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY
Terry Alderton for his successful self-reinvention and, well, for originality

MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD
Mark Dean Quinn for his simple yet successful subversion of the star system of comedy reviews by putting other people’s quotes and stars on his own flyers.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD
Rob Kemp, currently performing in the Elvis Dead.

The Awards Show, compered by Molotov Cocktail street anarchist and comic Becky Fury, concluded with the increasingly prestigious annual Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship supervised by Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation and John Deptford, Vice President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Italian comic Luca Cupani is now officially the 2017 Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion, having previously represented British comedy in Canada.

I have to add, with some humility, that I was also the recipient of a surprise prize for my work on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards over the last ten years: 16 cans of Red Bull, bought by the three female members of the judging panel for supervisory services rendered.

Earlier in the day, World Egg Throwing President Andy Dunlop revealed to me that there has been a recent outbreak of exploding intestines across the UK.

“There is methane produced inside the human body,” former-fireman Andy explained, “and when you have surgery using laser scalpels, that is enough to ignite it and there have been a number of fatalities in operating theatres in which intestines exploded into the room.”

Vice President John Deptford, who (this is true) left for Peru four hours after the Awards Show finished, took 7 seconds of video footage of the two hour show.

Brevity can be a virtue.

Context is King.

The ballroom of The Counting House was left with some unfortunate egg stains, indelible memories and an inexplicable smell of paraffin.

You had to be there.

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