Category Archives: Terrorism

The writer behind Stuart Leigh – the world’s No 1 Stewart Lee tribute act

Stewart Lee wins a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Yesterday, I had a meal with comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly in Soho. He sniffled. I coughed. We both had colds.

Last week, I saw an invitation-only try-out of Mark’s hour-long show Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act, which he is in the process of writing.

He first tried it out in Claire Dowie’s Living Room Theatre then, a few days later, at Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club – the performance I saw.

“What you saw last week,” Mark told me yesterday, “was a rough version of one of several series of texts. I’ve got nearly four hours to choose from. It was maybe 30% different from the first performance at Claire Dowie’s – and I performed it differently.”

Mark’s brief description of Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act is:

An all-night garage. 

A man attempts to make a purchase.

What could go wrong?

The monologue is delivered by a character who thinks of himself as The World’s No 1 Stewart Lee Tribute Act and who interacts with the man behind the counter, through the glass, at the garage.

“How did you describe the show to Stewart Lee?” I asked Mark.

“I haven’t particularly,” he replied. “I invited him to the gigs and he said he was worried, if he came, that people might be looking at him to see his reaction rather than looking at the piece. And he did not want to be seen as, in any way, approving or colluding because it would look wrong for both of us – he would look smug and it would undermine the idea of me as an outsider. I offered to send him a script – either a rough script or the finished script. He decided not to read it because, if there was anything in it he didn’t like or which would upset him, he would rather not know.”

The next try-out (possibly in July) may open with Vivienne Soan playing avant-garde saxophone in the style of Evan Parker, whom Stewart Lee likes: “There’s room in my piece to have a busker in the garage forecourt,” says Mark.

“My intention is to move it into a much more performance art type of thing. I’m probably going to make it a bit more poetic, with internal rhyming. Obviously, comics have scripts, but it’s disguised text; it’s written to be spoken as conversational monologue. I am going to make no attempt at all to disguise the fact my script is textual; I would highlight the fact it is.

“The next stage will probably involve an environmental soundtrack of late-night garage sounds treated to make them sound a bit dreamy and trippy – not intrusive, but they’d be there – probably some live music, a lot of visuals and the text broken up and done in a quite substantially different way. And the stage set will probably be projected – it’s a photograph of me at a garage in a hoodie with my back to the camera walking into a circle of light.

“I’m playing with the idea of having a disguised series of foot pedals linked to the microphone with different effects on and I can press the pedals. But I have to decide how funny I want it to be because I don’t think anyone’s ever performed treated voice comedy. And there’s a good reason for that. If you concentrate on jokes, you want the voice to be clear and audible. So the idea of doing jokes with echo and reverb is a bit alien.”

Reaction to the two try-outs has been varied, Mark tells me.

“There are a handful of people who think it’s absolutely brilliant. And there are a handful of people who absolutely hate it. I mean really really dislike it.

“My old double-act partner Paul Brightwell loathes it. We used to perform as Cheap and Nasty – I was Mr Nasty.

“Paul tends not to like anything I do and then gradually warms to it, though not always. He is one of two or three people who think it’s a complete waste of time in every sense, that there’s nothing happening, there’s nothing of interest, there’s a passable impression of Stewart Lee’s style, there are a few jokes about comedy which are amusing but there’s no substance to it, there’s nothing happening… What point is it I am trying to make? Why don’t I just fuck off? That kind of stuff.

“I’m quite happy that some people hate it, as long as some people really like it. Those people who said it was really boring said so in terms that implied they were really infuriated by it, which is quite good.

“Other people have actually got it, though one person who saw the show actually asked me: Why do you hate Stewart Lee? – I said: No! No! He’s a friend!

“When you perform, obviously, people assume the character speaks for you, which is not the case at all. My piece doesn’t have to be about Stewart Lee. It could be about a tribute act for a fictional act. It’s about identity, about someone who is alienated struggling to find some sense of identity and a way in the world. But it’s also about what, to me, is the nightmare of post-modernism, which I think we’ve already entered. It is very difficult to find an argument that galvanises any more, because everything is immediately presented with its opposite or is presented with a counter argument. It’s very, very difficult to find arguments out of any situation and everything repeats so, in a way, Stewart Lee is the comic de nos jours. Stewart Lee’s act is very, very useful.

“It seems to me it’s also about the solipsism of digital culture. I refer to the Chortle comedy website. The important bit about the Chortle reference is the line …and, through the medium of ill-informed comedy criticism, I have managed to gather together a network of like-minded individuals in low-paid jobs at all-night garages the length and breadth of Britain.

“That, to me, is the important image, because it is just true. Everywhere around Britain, there are these people on low-paid jobs, really bored out of their minds in all-night garages. The all-night garage is the symbol of a certain type of labour, a certain type of situation. To me, it just spells alienation in all sorts of ways. You are stuck behind this glass, often in a very small space, and the only people you talk to are very often stoned or drunk.”

“Watching your play,” I told Mark. “was very odd. I somehow lost all my critical faculties. I was listening to the writing and watching the delivery, which so mesmerised me I ended up having no opinion on what I was actually watching except that it was very densely and well written.”

“Well,” said Mark, “I know what I want the effect on the audience to be. I want it to be quite hypnotic and dreamlike and for the audience to enter a sort-of trance-like state. That again is why using Stewart Lee’s act is quite good, because he does all that repetition stuff anyway… So feeling ‘mesmerised’ is good.

“One thing I accidentally missed out when I performed it last week – and it really needs to be in – is that, at one point, the character says to the guy in the garage who is going to be his manager, So you see what I’m offering is an overview of Stewart Lee’s style done in the style of Stewart Lee and then there’s talk about the existentialism involved in it. Then he says: I’m not suffering from an identity crisis, I’m suffering from a lack of bookings.

“That’s kind of the heart of it.

“The idea for that line was lifted from a TV programme about a guy who has that collecting mania where you can’t throw anything out and he’s taken it to the most amazing extent imaginable. He inherited quite a large house and every single room is piled up to the lintels. He was actually having to crawl on top to get in. They brought in this psychiatrist to help him and you could see this psychiatrist gradually having to admit defeat. It was utterly dysfunctional. And eventually the guy tells the psychiatrist: My problem is not psychological. my problem is a lack of storage space.

“To me that was a moment of comedy and tragedy simultaneously. That’s one of the things that’s going on in my piece.”

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“Ooh! Ah! Up The RA!”… Is the RA the Royal Academy?… Ooh! Ah! No, Missus

A report in The Scotsman today headlined

‘OOH AH UP THE RA’ FOOTBALL CHANT OUTLAWED BY CROWN

says:

“Celtic fans have been warned by police that singing ‘Ooh ah up the ’RA’ at games will lead to arrests and prosecutions, following advice from the Crown Office. However, Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan said “no other chant or song, sung en masse by the Celtic fans” would currently be subject to criminal proceedings.”

This report is, I suspect, totally incomprehensible to a reader brought up anywhere other than in Scotland or Ireland.

For one thing, of course, the Yanks in their eccentric colonial way call football ‘soccer’ (as do the southern and Republican Irish). For another, probably only people in the British Isles know that Celtic has predominantly Catholic supporters – although, oddly, my admirably perverse Protestant Uncle Jimmy supported Celtic throughout his life.

But the main stumbling block to understanding is the word “RA” (pronounced “rah”) which I had never heard until I worked in Dublin for a while in the early 1990s.

If you are in Ireland (and certain parts of Glasgow) you do not need to specify “Irish” before RA: it is taken for granted.

When I worked in Dublin, one of my workmates was a girl who had been brought up in the notorious border town of Dundalk. I say ‘notorious’ from a UK point of view… Because it was near the border with ‘The North’, a reportedly large number of high-up IRA people lived in and near to small market town.

I went there once during the later stages of the most recent of The Troubles to see what it was like and succeeded in not speaking to anyone even when buying food in shops (because I have an English accent).

Dundalk was a very sleepy little place where you could fantasise that nothing ever happened.

The reason I went was because the girl in Dublin had told me a true story about her childhood in Dundalk. She swore it was true and I believe her.

At her primary school in Dundalk, she told me they used to have knitting classes.

They used to mainly knit black woollen balaclavas.

They used to knit lots and lots of them over a long period. Well, throughout her time there.

The children were never told why. It was only when they grew up they realised.

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Ireland: land of comedy, corruption and persuasive terrorism

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

I am back in the UK after a week in Kerry in south west Ireland.

My friend acquired five small pieces of flat grey slate to use as coffee cup coasters. They were confiscated at Kerry Airport on the way back home lest we fashion them on the plane as Stone Age axe heads and attack the cabin crew.

This is partly understandable and a good use of lateral thinking, though a tad fantastically paranoid and I did wonder if some of the massive amounts of cocaine smuggled in through Kerry had trickled down to the security lady who was evidently so proud to wear her overly-neat uniform.

Yes. Mieow. Indeed.

Still, we could indeed have turned out to be the Coffee Cup Coaster Terrorists.

There was no negotiating possible with the security lady which was odd, as chatting things over to sort out problems tends to be a national pastime and to work wonders.

I was told that, a few years ago, in the Iveragh Peninsula, where we stayed, there had been an attempt by the IRA to wield more local influence in Kray Twins like ways – a bit of protection money here, a bit of a percentage there. But this was nipped fairly quickly in the bud by “some people” having a chat with the RA lads and making it clear this was not acceptable.  Quite who “some people” were was unclear but, clearly, they had well-honed and persuasive negotiating skills.

Likewise the late lamented roguish Irish politician Charlie Haughey who was Taoiseach three times. I was told that once, when he was not Taoiseach, he needed a bit of money and his luxury yacht sank in suspicious circumstances.

The circumstances were so suspicious that the insurance company refused to pay out – until Charlie had a little chat with them and pointed out that this was Ireland and, if they gave him any trouble, they themselves might encounter similarly annoying obstacles to their interests when he became Taoiseach again.

They paid out.

It’s good to talk.

As I mentioned in a blog before, Charlie was that very Irish thing: a lovable rogue and his passing must have been much lamented by the tabloid press and by stand-up comedians and pub humorists across the country.

During his reign as leader, Charlie’s Fianna Fail party was known as “the party of the brown envelope”.

Of course, wagging tongues do not necessarily tell or even imply the truth and innocent people can be sullied. Charlie’s successor as Fianna Fail leader and as Taoiseach was Bertie Ahern, a much-respected Taoiseach untouched by scandal – he was known as the ‘Teflon Taoiseach’.

He came to power in the same year as Tony Blair and the two of them succeeded where many others had failed – getting a peace deal in Northern Ireland.

It’s good to talk.

Historic and highly admirable stuff but, oddly, Bertie had been an accountant before entering politics and then Minister for Finance before becoming Taoiseach.

I say “oddly” because, it later turned out, he had no bank account until December 1993. (He was Minister for Finance 1991-1994 and became Taoiseach in 1997 when he was aged 45.)

There’s no law which says you have to have a bank account but, given such facts, stand-up comedians and unfounded speculation can run amuck.

Later, in court, Bertie’s former girlfriend testified that he once drove her to a bank in Dublin’s O’Connell Street so she could withdraw £50,000 sterling in cash for him. A businessman involved with Bertie told of emptying a briefcase containing £28,000 onto a desk and Bertie put the cash into a safe, without counting it. And, indeed, without giving a receipt.

Comedy gold.

Recently, when both former Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness and former Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana ran for the post of President of the Irish Republic, McGuinness came third and Dana sixth out of the seven contenders.

This was said to be because fewer people could remember Dana’s hits.

Ireland. Land of comedy, corruption and persuasive terrorism.

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Despite the attacks on 9/11, the Yanks are still living on another planet

After yesterday, more diary extracts. Well, diary and e-mail. This time from 2001, just over a week after the Al-Qaeda 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Monday 17th September 2001

I got an e-mail from someone I know, a Londoner with American parents:

Thankfully all my friends and family are accounted for but it took until late on Friday/ early hours of Saturday morning to get the OK from everyone I know and care about in New York and Washington. 

My Aunt is a medic and has been working flat-out to cope with the casualties and fatalities that arrive at the medical centres/ hospitals around New York. She will need post traumatic stress counselling, as will all the rescue workers and medical staff. 

I did hope that the events of last week would prompt my sisters who haven’t been speaking to one another for the past 15 months to make their peace – they haven’t. 

I replied:

It’s difficult to comprehend what effect this must have on Americans. They have never had foreigners attack them on their own soil nor been in many wars whereas, in Britain, we have been at constant war somewhere since at least 1939 and any of us could have had our legs blown off in the last 30 years by an IRA wastebin bomb while doing our shopping.

I think they’re still a bit on another planet. When a few hundred US body bags have come back from Afghanistan, they’re liable to turn insular again. It’s a sad reflection on my superficiality but the thought did flit through my mind “Well, this may help the Irish problem in the medium term because the Americans may be less prone to see the IRA as jolly little green freedom fighters.”

Tuesday 18th September 2001

A British Moslem friend of mine, who has worked in the US, spoke to her former boss in Washington this afternoon. She said he sounded angry and told her there was real anger in the US following the attacks on New York and Washington last week. Another friend of hers – a Moslem Brit in the US – said it was dangerous for her to return to the US because Moslems were being attacked. Such is American ignorance that a Sikh was killed in a racial attack.

I watched the David Letterman TV show, transmitted from New York. He gave a ten-minute opening monologue about the World Trade Center bombing, then interviewed US TV newsman Dan Rather who was there as The Man Who Knows The Real Situation.

The perspective given was that the Baddies are mad, insane and neither cause-and-effect nor logic enter into it. There is no point trying to understand their motive because there is none. They are just Pure Evil with no cause except that the Baddies see the Americans have more money and a better life than they do, so the only trigger is Envy.

Letterman asked Rather – apparently seriously – why something could not have been done in retribution last Saturday (the New York attack was on Tuesday).

When the Independent newspaper wrote a column saying to the Americans “Welcome to the real world” they got it wrong.

The Yanks are still living on another planet.

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