Category Archives: US

The decline and possible fall of San Francisco, as seen by Lynn Ruth Miller

Lynn Ruth Miller back where she once was

The uniquely-talented American comedian and writer Lynn Ruth Miller has been on her travels again. This time she returns (almost) home…


I finally arrived in San Francisco at 10:30 the ‘next’ morning. I had gone more than a day with no sleep but, somehow, as soon as I landed in that familiar airport, I felt in sync with my surroundings.

My first night in the Bay Area is always spent reminding lots of people that I have arrived in the place that was once my home. I never felt very important while I lived here and never believed I made any kind of an impact, even though I had two television shows on their public access TV station and wrote for the local newspaper and a regional magazine.  

California is one of the most liberal states in the Union, yet there is that American sub-context to all that we do: wealthy white men are in charge of us all. Everyone else is a lesser being and when any ordinary bloke earns a job promotion, accolades in his field or even a seat on the bus, he owes it to that hidden aristocracy that is in charge of all we receive and even what we dare to think.

That sense that no-one really matters in the bigger picture except those in the privileged class permeates the culture.  

But, at my friend Leo’s house, I was treated like the most important human being on the planet and, of course, I ate that up.  

Leo, his wife Carol and I always talk about the disintegration of San Francisco, because this once noble city filled with glamorous, sophisticated people has become a dumping ground for the homeless. Tents, sleeping bags, cardboard boxes and even RVs clutter the streets and empty lots. 

San Francisco is no longer a safe city. If you walk alone on its streets you are targets for robbery, bullying, even murder. People are hungry and desperate here. And conditions get worse every time I return.  

A homeless camp in Oakland in May 2017, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle (Photograph by Santiago Mejia)

According to Leo, the homeless have set up encampments and the city is doing nothing to help them. They have become a scourge on the population and people are moving out of the city in droves. That is hard to believe when I see the traffic that clogs the highways. It seems to be bumper-to-bumper traffic at every hour of the day. So SOME people are still here.

Whenever Leo discusses the multitude of freeloaders who do nothing but take as much as they can from the state and do not want to work or even seek proper shelter even if you offer it to them, I think of my dear friend Brett.  

Brett has miraculously reinvented himself. He has recovered from both drug and alcohol addiction, earned a degree in business in his forties and, with much perseverance, has climbed the employment ladder from the bottom. Now in his early fifties, he has qualified for a middle management job in San Francisco. His salary is right in line with what he should be earning. He had achieved his goal.

Yet he cannot afford to rent a flat of his own. He lives in a 10ft by 10ft room in a house he shares with two other men. The house is an hour’s commute from his work.

If people in well-paying jobs cannot afford decent housing, how on earth can we expect someone who is a clerk in a hardware store or who works in a bakery to be able to take care of his basic needs much less put a roof over his head?  

(Photo: Jp Valery, UnSplash)

Surely, a society as wealthy as this one can manage to give its citizens shelter, food, and a sense of dignity. To me, these are inalienable human rights.

The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, has been trying to get legislation through that will create affordable housing but has failed. The city’s Board of Supervisors refuse to ease the antiquated regulations that make every building permit outrageously expensive and so complicated that nothing can get done. Hard-working people like Brett are destined to receive salaries that cannot possibly cover their basic cost of living.

Leo also is very disturbed by the deluge of illegal immigrants who come over here and claim medical and housing benefits for themselves and their children, when ordinary hard-working folk have to struggle just to keep a roof over their heads.  

Sound familiar to British readers? It doesn’t seem to be Eastern Europeans milking the system over here. It is Mexicans and pretty much all people of color.   

Leo is talking about a law passed in California that gives low-income adults between the ages of 19 and 25 living in California illegally the right to be included in California’s Medicaid program, the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

However, these costs to the state are balanced by what is saved in police protection, medical emergencies and jail maintenance.  

Illegal immigrants are people who do work for far less than minimum wage and are excluded from nearly all social services. It is greedy employers who hire these people because they do not want to pay a fair salary for the jobs they want done. They are causing this exploitation of hungry, desperate people willing to work for any wage just to have money for food.

I get the sense that Californians are very angry, especially in the Bay Area.  

They see the prices of everything going up and up; wages going down and down; housing prices and rents soaring sky high; and their streets are littered with homeless colonies where people are defecating in the streets, belligerently demanding money from pedestrians and defacing the neighborhoods residents once all loved.

Those who are comfortably housed and comparatively well-to-do believe that homeless people are either drug addicts or lazy sloths who milk the welfare system when they could easily earn enough money to feed and house themselves.

San Francisco, city of unexpected contrasts (Photograph by Simon Zhu via UnSplash)

Yet every statistic insists that the majority of homeless people living in those tent cities on San Francisco’s streets are there because they lost their job and could not find another or the job they have does not give them enough money for both food and a roof over their heads.

Still, the city of San Francisco has a magic all is own.  

Now that I am a visitor, I do not feel the despair that longtime residents feel.

I understand why tourists love the place. The free jazz on North Beach; the charming cable cars; the ocean and the Bay; the beautiful Victorian homes…

All of it is but a thin façade that hides furious, disillusioned and hopeless people failing to make a comfortable life there.

For way too many of my friends, this magic isn’t enough to offset the cost of living.  So many of them are moving to places like Austin, Texas… Ashville, North Carolina… and even Boise Idaho.  

The beautiful weather and the gorgeous landscape is not enough to make up for the rampant crime on the streets and the outrageous cost of a loaf of bread.

… CONTINUED HERE

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It’s Trump country seen through the cataract-dimmed eyes of a comedian

She’s off on her travels again!

85-year-old London-based US storytelling comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller.

She has just returned from a week working in New York and having meetings in Washington DC.

I have just received this from her…


Here is my new view of Trump country seen through the cataract-dimmed eyes of the elderly…

I landed in J.F.Kennedy Airport where I was being picked up by Val, a Russian man whom I had never met.

Suddenly there he was: a zaftig Russian man with a bouquet of flowers waving at me. The trip to my hotel with him was not just eventful, it was a lesson in pessimistic politics.

Val evidently has been studying historic trends since he came to the United States thirty years ago and he alone has figured out the source of world’s problems. No one else in the universe knows the answer to all the unrest we are experiencing. But he does.

It is those damn Russians causing all the trouble.

No one dares admit this, but all these little countries that SAY they are independent, are not. They are ruled by Russia. In fact, it turns out that the Soviet Union still exists and controls us all. Every world power is in collusion with the KGB.

Angela Merkel? A Russian ally. Theresa May? A Soviet cipher.  Jeremy Corbyn? Trained by the KGB.  

“Have you seen what is happening in Venezuela?” said my omniscient driver. ”Well, thirty years ago, they swore they were a peaceful country, immune to Islamic forces and look what is happening there today. And what about Sri Lanka? Who do you think instigated that attack on that church there? Right! The KGB.”

Notre Dame? Syria? Islam itself? Even Israel! All Russian controlled.

And would I mind if he stopped and got his wife some tea?

By the time I got to my hotel I was so depressed, I thought I would have been better served to simply jump out of the moving cab and throw myself into the traffic. It is a matter of moments before the Russians invade Britain and confiscate the EU because who do you think instigated Brexit? Right. Those damn Russians. My mother would have commiserated with Val. It was back in 1957 when the Asian Flu swept American that my mother swore it was the Russians infecting us all. Nothing could convince her that the virus had no nationality.

I wandered around the streets of New York the next day trying to revive old memories of the time I lived here in 1965. I lived next door to the United Nations Building then and spent my time going to matinees in the afternoon and writing freelance stories no magazine wanted at night. The face of the city has changed since then. It is busier, louder, angrier, more crowded and far more impersonal than it was when I was here. People shove you and push you. They are on their way to somewhere important and evidently they are all late. My toes and shoulders were impediments they are determined to demolish.  

That night was my first comedy show at Dangerfield’s. The first thing I noticed when I arrived there was that everyone spoke with my accent. I now realize that I must stop blaming my inadequate hearing aids for squishing sound together into unintelligible speech. Evidently, I have not learned to decipher an English accent. It could be because there are at least twenty different dialects spoken in London, all purporting to be the King’s English, whatever that is.  

In New York, everyone talks just like I do and I understood every word. At Dangerfield’s, a man named Quentin hosted the show. I realized then how very different New York comedy is from what we do in London. First of all, the host chats with the audience in a very different way than our British MC’s do. He does not ask anyone’s name or what they do for a living.  

Instead, he asks random questions and riffs a bit before he goes into his own set. There were only three comedians besides me and the host and each had a fairly long set. Each one got up on stage and told involved stories with no set ups, no punches and very few big laughs. All three had a least ten years experience so they knew what they were doing and the audience responded to them, even though I did not.  

The format of the evening was very different from the shows I do in the UK.

There was no interval. They had a man named Joey doing a long set in the middle of the show and he was evidently the headliner because he had TV credits. His comedy reminded me a bit of Ken Dodd’s. It went on and on and on. He had lots to say about young men and the unpredictable and embarrassing reaction of their dicks. I found this fascinating. It is obviously a guy thing. I do not remember my vagina surprising me like that. Of course, now, the poor thing is dead. 

My set seemed like an encore for the show. I finished the evening with a ten minute set.  To my surprise, I did very well despite a sharp difference in my style of comedy compared to the others on the bill. Everyone stopped to chat with me and tell me how wonderful I am, which was very gratifying.  

The next evening, I was booked as the headliner at a Comedians Over Sixty event at Stand UP NY, one of the major clubs in the city. There were nine comedians on the bill, all experienced. Each one did 10+ minutes of the kind of comedy I was used to hearing when I did the clubs in California.  

They had short set-up-punchlines peppered with funny stories. Again, this MC was not anything like those in the UK. He was more in the style of the MCs at The Punchline in San Francisco. He did his own comedy set to warm us up and then reappeared throughout the show to introduce each new comedian. Once again, there was no interval and all I could think of was OMG, these people will not be drunk enough to laugh at nothing when I get up there. 

The comedians that night were sharp and funny. Most memorable for me was a guy named Joe who did brilliant comedy about his autistic son, Theo. He made us laugh and at the same time, he endeared himself to us all. I knew I could not possibly follow anything that professional and profound. Thank goodness there were three more comedians before it was my turn.  

I did about 25 minutes and got a standing ovation. Both managers have invited me back. The audience all wanted pictures with me and who am I to say no?  Sadly, I am so short I came up to everyone’s waistline so all you can see in those photos is the top of my head. You cannot have everything.  

I am writing a memoir,  so I went to Washington DC to discuss it.

Diane Nine, the agent, is from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan just outside Detroit. It felt very comfortable to be with someone who talks like I do and has a Midwestern background. 

Just as people in the UK from the north have a different mind-set from those in the south and London is unique in its attitudes, so it is in the United States.  

The Southern personality is directly opposed to the rushing, killer attitude in New York City. Midwesterners are very hospitable and kind. They will bring you a casserole if you move next door and will be there to help you find the right stores and supplies. They will invite you over for backyard barbecues and treat you like family… as long as you do not want an abortion, are not gay and you are the right color.  And should you knock on their door unexpectedly, you would be shot. Guns are standard household equipment.  

Diane Nine has been involved in politics all her life. She worked for Jimmy Carter in the White House and met both Clintons. She said that Hilary Clinton was a charming, gracious woman, not at all the bitch the press painted her to be and that Jimmy Carter used to take her to church with him when she was his intern. He was and still is a very religious man. The Obamas actually live in her neighborhood now that they have left The White House. Her mother’s best friend was Helen Thomas, the Washington correspondent who was banned from that press corps because of her offensive remarks about Israel and Jews. 

For lunch the next day we met Lora who works for the Department of Agriculture. She is part of a team that monitors plant imports and plant diseases.  She was saying that they work with the EU on imports and, when Britain leaves the EU, there will have to be a whole new set of standards for agricultural products shipped between the UK and US; just one more complication caused by our Brexit upheaval. 

Life never stops, does it?

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One Brit’s eye view of living in the US on the day of the Mid-Term Elections

I know a man called Mick Deacon. Well, I don’t. That is not his real name. But he does come from East Anglia in the UK. At the moment, he is living in the working class heartland of Donald Trump’s America. On the day when the Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives, this what he told me in an email…


The decent people I know here are really afraid at what is going to happen to their country.

Trump is stirring up racism in such a huge way.

It is not just what he says that is so shocking. 

He is stirring up a subconscious OK for Racism trend here. 

The crime rate in this city, away from the tourist areas, is quite shocking. And the mental health problems are huge. Two days ago, I was on a bus which was a bit like a Beirut scenario. There was a woman going crazy at a man.

Coupled with easy access to guns, this is not a good mix. 

It is so easy to buy guns here it is ridiculous. There was a gun fair on last weekend. As casual as a church tea party.

I have never seen such noticeable mental health conditions as I’ve seen here. 

The people with mental health problems on the bus from hell I travel out to the sticks on are usually poor and female although I do see quite a few older white males in the same way. I feel afraid when trapped on a bus with them. Daily.

It’s the outward spontaneous loudness of their attacks that shocks me as an British person. You would very rarely see sudden outbursts like these in UK. I really have learned a lot about my culture: how tough we are, the whole stiff upper lip part of us.

With the poverty here, added to lack of help and easy access to guns, it is no surprise that people just get randomly shot for barely doing anything.

Apparently in this city, there are a lot of young, uneducated people with a family history of no moral values and that results in a high level of shootings – even in tourist areas. Recently, a gang of 8-17 year olds beat up a receptionist in what is thought to have been a gay hate crime started by an 8 year old. The guy ended up with a fractured orbital bone – that’s the bone of the eye socket – and loss of front teeth.

I knew it might be a challenge living here, but I was almost defeated last night. 

I did not sleep until 2.30am as my lovely new pal here was up until then coaching me what to do to keep myself safe in the house. It is a far cry from the market square in Norwich on a Saturday night – the nearest I got toviolence at home.

My new pal’s first bit of advice was to get some mace spray. In my lovely little British bubble world, I thought it was for cooking. No. It is to spray in someone’s face when they attack me!

These bus trips daily from the neighbourhood are a challenge. The guy I am renting my room off is a retired policeman and he tries to educate me/terrify me in how to – in his rather intimidating words – KEEP SAFE. 

His advice is: “Don’t speak to anyone… Be constantly vigilant… Don’t let anyone get to close to you… When you are in the house, don’t ever answer door without looking through window first to see who it is… If you don’t know them, say firmly WHAT DO YOU WANT? very hard… Any noise at night, call 911… Wherever you are, just be vigilant!” 

I am not really sure what that does to the brain – being on alert constantly.

The stark contrast to how the tourist and mid city is to my new suburban palace is immeasurable. It is like being on a Quentin Tarantino episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

I like to experience life to the full but this, however, is over even my bar!

At least I am currently still alive – despite the fact a car hit another car yesterday and I have no idea how they actually ended up where they did.

One ended up squashed alongside a parked vehicle in a side street and the other one ended up going down the pavement and getting embedded in someone’s stone staircase outside their house. 

I was in a cafe and the guy who was sat on the patio in front of the cafe suddenly ran for cover and there were two really large bangs. I thought they were gunshots.

Apparently the government make so much money from the sale of guns it will never stop. 

It is a bit like smoking in the UK but that is a much slower death.

Here, BANG! No warning. No panic. Dead.

In the UK, I am led to believe someone with a gun would wave it about for quite a period of time, instil fear in everyone for at least ten minutes, then not always do anything.

And here, in my experience, black people are way friendlier than white. I am not saying that I have not met some very nice white people, but they are usually younger than me or a lot older.

People around my age – early middle age – seem to have masses of anxiety and talk really loud about their needs and how tough a life they have if they can’t quite afford zillion dollar alterations to their house or haven’t got expensive clothes, meals etc.

Americans are aspirational.

Maybe they have to be to survive.

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Scott Capurro is going back to Australia despite what happened last time…

Publicity for Scott Capurro’s show Yuletide Queer

Publicity for Scott Capurro’s stage show Yuletide Queer

I have been getting a flurry of automated emails about comedian Scott Capurro’s shows in California.

So, because I think of him as being London-based, I FaceTimed him a couple of days ago in San Francisco.

“I produced a show here,” he told me, “so I’m on this thing called Eventbrite and they send out a reminder every day of the show.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I’ve had this apartment here for 25 years,” he told me. “My husband, Edson, likes it here; my family’s here; and I’m trying to decide where we should live. London is easier for me in a lot of ways. I own a home there whereas, a renter in San Francisco has fewer rights. Also, there’s so much work in London and I can work all the time. Here, I’m on a local radio show in San Francisco. I’ve been on it for 17 years; I come on once a week.”

“What sort of show is it?” I asked.

“It’s morning radio in America. So it’s Hey! Puppies! Kitties! Let’s talk about celebrities! It’s like Italian girls in the 1950s: all we talk about is celebrities and our pets. Seriously. I love these people, but we are penned-in on what we can talk about, especially me.”

“It must be difficult for you to be squeaky-clean?” I asked.

“No.” Scott told me, “I do morning TV in Britain all the time. I do The Wright Stuff a lot. I love it and I really like Matthew because he likes comics. I’ve been doing that for eight years and I know I sometimes push it, but I’ve never been in trouble, really.

Scott Capurro - a regular on The Wright stuff on UK TV

Scott Capurro – a regular on UK Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff

“Also, I started on radio in college. I kind of understand the limits of it and I can be clean if necessary. When performers perform live, the expectations are different. I was really into stand-up as a kid and I would hear rumours that these comics I saw on TV were – Oh! If you see them live! Oh my God! It’s so shocking and different! My mother would say: Oh my God! Red Foxx! The things he says about women, live! He seems so nice! and that really intrigued me. The idea that, when you perform live, it’s like Jekyll & Hyde: you are someone else.”

“So,” I said, “at the moment, you are doing radio and live stage shows in California.”

“I do my own stage show,” said Scott. “An hour or an hour-and-a-half in different venues. And I make more money per show doing that here, but the production stuff is a lot of work. I work less often and make more money here but it’s harder work than in Britain.

“In a way, if you’re a comic in London, you can be lazy and make a decent living. You just show up and do your 20 minutes. You are not expected to do anything other than hit a home run when you’re on stage.

“I have been playing the (London) Comedy Store more the last two years and it’s so hard to fail at the Store. I mean, you’re only on stage really for 18-20 minutes and people walk in there assuming they are seeing the best. So they’re on your side although, if you fuck up and lose them, it’s impossible to get them back because you’re only on stage for 18-20 minutes. It’s a bit tenuous if you mess up, but messing up there is almost impossible on a weekend.”

“It’s maybe easy for you,” I suggested, “because you are so professional.”

“It’s not easy,” said Scott. “But it’s hard to fail. If they hire you, it’s usually because you’ve been doing it for a while and can do 20 minutes without failing. And I also play a lot at The Top Secret Comedy Club on Drury Lane, where my husband runs the bar – it’s like an Edinburgh venue but well-run and clean. The guy who runs it – Mark Rothman – is a performer so he can get big names at the weekends.”

“Is Edson with you in San Francisco?” I asked.

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

“He’s in Brazil, with his family, but I’m going there in January, then we come back here and then I go to Australia from February 22nd to March 5th.

“Then I’m doing a solo show on March 25th at Blackfriars in Glasgow and hosting and appearing in other Glasgow Comedy Festival shows over that weekend. After that, I’m going to Berlin for a week. I did one show there two months ago and they’re bringing me back for a week. April 18th to the 23rd.”

“So you’re all over the world,” I said. “Do you go to Australia a lot?”

“I was banned from there 14 years ago.”

“You can probably see the excitement on my face,” I said. “Why were you banned?”

“In the 1990s, I had been going to Australia for a while and really liked it. then my management made me stop, because the trip is really long and they didn’t want me there that long.

“But I was invited back in 2001, so I went, and I was really excited because, at that time, Ross Noble was going over a lot and Stephen K Amos. I thought: Oh this will be fun because I’ll see my friends and maybe I can start spending time in Australia, because it’s pretty and it’s nice during the winter and it might be a good outlet for me writing good stuff. I could get established in Australia.

Scott Capurro: "Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal?"

“Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal?” Scott asked them.

“So I arrive in Melbourne and they say: Oh, we want you to do a live TV spot right away! OK, fine. It was a live programme called Rove, which is like their Tonight show or Jonathan Ross. There was going to be an interview, which they cut but there was also stand-up too and I said: Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal? – They said: No, we don’t want to see it. We’re fine.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“Yeah,” replied Scott. “So I sent them the script. I was just going to do the first seven minutes from my Holocaust, Schmolocaust show…”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“So,” said Scott, “I objectified Jesus and jacked-off to Jesus a bit, but I didn’t get my cock out. I just did the hand motion.”

“Were you jet-lagged from the journey?” I asked.

“I was terribly jet-lagged because I had come from England, but also I had been to a party with the TV executives right before the taping of the show. I showed one of the execs this joke and he said: You’ll be fine. It’s after the watershed.”

“And what happened?” I asked.

“They got 300 calls, which was a lot for them and they freaked out and they went to the press and it became this huge thing where they tried to pull my stage show from the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Cardinal of Melbourne had me banned… Yeah… It became this thing where, apparently, I had made jokes about raping the Virgin Mary – which I didn’t… I mean, if I’d had them, I might have, but I didn’t have those jokes, so… It became a myth is what I mean.

“Now there is a word over there – Don’t pull a ‘Capurro’ on us on TV – Don’t go out there and do something you didn’t say you were going to do. Don’t fuck us. Apparently some people got fired. Anyway, I never got invited back.”

“It all seems a bit unfair,” I said, “if they saw your stuff on paper before the show was transmitted.”

“But did they even read it?” Scott asked. “Did they even look at it? Who the fuck knows?

Scott capurro: "“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided to run with it"

“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided…”

“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided to run with it to get press for the show and didn’t care about me. And, I think, because my management wasn’t in Australia and wasn’t there to help me, I was left to my own devices. I tried to fix it myself and I think I might have fucked it up even more.

“Soon after that, Australia went through the roof economically and everyone wanted to play there and I’m like: I fucked it up! I fucked it up!

“Then a couple of writers from Australia contacted me and said: You should come back. But I couldn’t find anyone who would produce me. Then the Comedy Store said they would, but it took three years to get a date. Now I’m going over to Sydney for two weeks to play the Store and we will see. They might hate me.”

“Well,” I told him, “the good news is you are bound to get interviewed again after that back story.”

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Filed under Australia, Censorship, Comedy, Radio, Television, US

Theatre producer Calvin Wynter died. Here he gives his own view of himself.

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter(1959-2015)

After yesterday’s blog about the death of Calvin Wynter last Thursday, I thought it might be interesting to post his own view of himself. He ran a fringe/off-Broadway theatrical promotion and production company called Inbrook in New York City.

Below is his own description of himself as part of that company.

Below that is an excerpt from a blog I wrote about him three years ago in November 2012 in which, again, he speaks about himself.


INBROOK

As Chairman & CEO of Inbrook, Calvin Wynter seeks to provide effective oversight and management of the company.

Calvin is an accredited promoter for Adelaide Fringe and The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He is a judge and industry panelist for The Boston Comedy Festival, New York Comedy Competition and The New York Underground Comedy Festival. Calvin is a regular panelist on the Midtown International Theatre Festival symposiums.

His theatre experience includes being Managing Partner & Artistic Director at 45 Bleecker Theatre. His team renovated, owned and operated 45 Bleecker Theatre that included two Off­Broadway Theatres The Green Room Theatre (150 seats), Bleecker Street Theatre (320 seats) with café and art gallery at 45 Bleecker Street in New York City. Calvin was Artistic Director & Managing Partner for The Green Room Venue. His organization restored, owned and operated this landmark 300 year old former church. The Green Room Venue (100 seats, 60 seats and 40 seats with two in performance space bars, café, art gallery and VIP lounge.) was located at 37 Guthrie Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. Calvin as Managing Director renovated and launched commercial productions at Gene Frankel Theatre (72 seats with lounge) at 24 Bond Street in New York City.

Previously, Calvin was a Managing Director of Corporate Finance at Lehman Brothers, a Vice President at Merrill Lynch in Equity Trading, and was Senior Managing Partner at the investment firm Scarborough & Company, Inc.

His social activism is chronicled in Black Corona the non­fiction best­seller. Calvin serves on the board of the Bleecker Street Opera as the Artistic Advisor.

Calvin studied acting with John Strasberg, member of the Strasberg family, well known for coaching such luminaries as Al Pacino and Marilyn Monroe.

Calvin Wynter graduated with an A.B. from Colgate University, was an exchange student at Université de Genève, attended Georgetown University, received a Regents & Bronx High School of Science diploma and graduated from Joseph Pulitzer Middle School Honors Program.


Calvin Wynter (bottom left) looks at the Green Room venue in Edinburgh, 2007

Calvin Wynter (bottom left) looks at the Green Room venue on Edinburgh’s Cowgate in 2007

SO IT GOES BLOG – 27th November 2012

I think I first met US promoter/publicist Calvin Wynter at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007, when he was involved in opening the new Green Room Venue, but he had been going there since 2004.

Yesterday, he told me: “I went to school in Geneva for a year and I had no idea the Edinburgh Fringe existed. My parents were avid theatre-goers and we were travelling to Europe almost every summer, but they had no idea the Edinburgh Fringe existed. When I was made aware that Edinburgh was the place to go then, in 2004, I went over with five shows. All sold out, were critically-acclaimed and one won the Richard Pryor Award. The following year, Richard Pryor’s daughter went over with us with six other shows.

“Now we’ve taken 135 shows to Edinburgh and we’ve done 250 shows worldwide. We’ve been at 50 festivals worldwide and toured 120 cities.”

And now, through his company Inbrook (of which I am an alleged creative consultant) he is staging his very own Fringe Festival – the Brooklyn Fringe, running 12th-21st July next year in New York.

“Are you getting any money from the local council?” I asked.

“This is the American Dream,” said Calvin. “You go out. You focus on being the best. And you are able to create something that serves the public need. It’s a team of performers and creatives that also – almost all of us – have backgrounds in the financial industry. We do it in such a way that it’s self-sufficient. We can’t depend on government. Arts funding has been cut throughout the United States. We are not dependent on public funding or donations or grants. As we see government and foundation funding evaporate… we just create a business model that works for all.”

“Your background is Wall Street,” I said.

“I retired 12 years ago, when I was 40 years old. I don’t need the money. I want to be creative. I want to help artists to grow.

“I was a performer as a child. Even when I was a baby, I was in a commercial for milk. But, when it came time for career selection, I ended up going to Wall Street and, just before I left Wall Street, I found out that I had – without my knowledge – been hiring actors, dancers, comedians. Every member of my staff was in not only one but the three major unions in the United States. Even in the case of members of staff from Britain, they were in British Equity.

“I had been unconsciously surrounding myself  with performers. So it was natural when one said You should pursue this that I went, in less than 90 days, from taking three acting classes to being in one off-Broadway show, in rehearsals for another, doing indie films at the weekend and setting up a production company that would go on to be nominated for a Drama Desk Award in less than 18 months. I leased a theatre – the Gene Frankel Theatre – renovated it, started putting on productions.”

“You were an actor?” I asked.

“I was an actor, a singer and dancer. I’ve just got back from producing a show in Amsterdam, scouting theatres in Berlin for touring and being taken to Prague to consult on a musical that was in a 1,000 seat theatre.”

“So you are an actor, singer and dancer who turned producer, promoter and publicist?”

“In one instance,” said Calvin, “we were even involved in producing a show in a car. Two actors in the fronts seats, two audience members in the back. Whether it’s an elevator, a boiler room, a toilet or a 1,000 seat theater we want to see Art.”

“And a businessman,” I added.

“Brooklyn Fringe venue registration applications are due by Monday, 28 January 2013,” Calvin told me.

“And a salesman,” I added.

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Six degrees of separation from Lou Reed

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter was getting medical results in yesterday’s blog

Yesterday’s blog ended with New York theatre producer Calvin Wynter saying: “They called me on Friday which means I think I may have cancer. I don’t know. So far, everything that’s thought to have been cancerous was not – like the polyps I got from my colonoscopy. I had three polyps. No cancer. So who knows? Maybe the third time isn’t so good but, y’know look – I’ve had a shaved head before.”

Calvin has now to come back to say: “My jawbone lesion is benign… Yay!”

In a blog during the Edinburgh Fringe, I mentioned rock star Lou Reed, as portrayed  in the show Transformer. The Fringe show was performed as if in Max’s Kansas City club, New York, in the 1970s. I asked him if he had ever seen Lou Reed perform live:

Calvin Wynter in 1977

Calvin Wynter in 1977

“I was a teenager going to Bronx Science,” Calvin told me, “living in Queens and spending most of my waking hours in Manhattan. Max’s Kansas City was always an allure. You could drink at 18 in NYC at the time and I was 17 with a very good fake ID. So, when I heard the musicians’ musician, Lou Reed, was playing that night at Max’s, I thought: School work be damned! and, ID in hand, two subway tokens and a few bucks in my pocket, I went to see live what I had heard on vinyl so many times before that the grooves were worn out and I had had to buy a second album of Transformer.

Lou Reed's Transformer album

Lou Reed’s Transformer album, released 1972

“In performance, Lou Reed was dark and foreboding which captured the energy of New York City of the 1970s. His beat combined with superb lyrics strung together shards of life, glittering dark and sharp. There was very little movement in his performance, but I and the rest of the audience were moved and moving. Lou Reed was simply so good! You were cheek to jowl, but Lou made you feel like you were in your own bubble and only he could pierce it and touch you. By the way, the steak at Max’s Kansas City was great!”

I also, almost inevitably, asked New York-born, UK-based comedian Lewis Schaffer.

Lou Reed in 1986 (Photo Steven Toole

Lou Reed performs in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 1986 (Photograph by Steven Toole)

“No, I missed Lou Reed,” he told me. “One summer I lived around the corner across from Andy Warhol’s studio on Broadway and I went into Max’s once but the Velvet Underground were long gone. Weirdly, the drummer from the Velvets – Billy Yule – lived on the corner of the very leafy street in Great Neck I grew up on… in a run-down house with a small fish pond in the yard which I envied as a child. I thought the place was haunted.”

Six degrees of separation, indeed.

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And does that sardonic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green? Well, yes.

David Mills at the Soho Theatre Bar this week

David at the Soho Theatre Bar last week

Shortly after chatting with American comic David Mills in London, I met my eternally-un-named friend, who is a fan of David’s sophistication.

For some reason, I said to her – it may have been some after-effect of the flu – “And did that dark Satanic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green?”

“Not Satanic,” she corrected me. “Sardonic.” And she is, of course, right.

“Americans!” I said to David when we met at Soho Theatre. “So appallingly upbeat, so depressingly, eternally optimistic.”

“Don’t tar me with that brush!” David shot back.

Have I mentioned before in this blog that I have a shit memory? And there is now the continuing post-flu vagueness to add to my innate vagueness.

“Have I never done a full blog on you before?” I asked David.

“No,” he told me. “I have sort-of flitted in and out your blogs. I have been a bit player in your cyber life…”

“When did you come to the UK?” I asked.

“2000… The point is I am not 22. I had other lives prior to the one I have at the moment. I was the only person who said I was going to leave the US if George Bush got elected who actually did.”

“So was that your reason for coming here?” I asked.

“No. I came over in a different career in a whole different world and just stayed.”

“What was your career before?”

“Different.”

“And it was what?” I asked.

“Too tedious to get into,” replied David. “So I’m not going to. It was literally another life. I was a different type of person. Do you know how long it’s taken me to put that behind me?”

“How often I have heard you say that,” I told him. “What were you into? Business? Sex? Espionage? Butter-sculpting? International drug-running?”

“None of those things,” said David. “It was super-uninteresting.”

“You are an international man of mystery,” I said.

“I’m not going into it,” said David.

“I can keep this going for hours,” I told him.

“I was doing something else,” said David, “and had a breakdown and stopped doing that.”

“You had a breakdown?”

“No. I was being hyperbolic… Alright, I went off the grid and lived in Lewisham.”

“You did?”

David Mills

David is not a Lewisham man

“No,” said David. “Of course not. That is ridiculous. I certainly did not live in Lewisham. Anyway, I had been an actor and cabaret act and stand-up in San Francisco in the 1990s and then moved to New York to be a big star and was a huge failure and then stopped performing and got a professional job and that brought me to London and I did that career for about eight or ten years.”

“And that career was?” I asked.

“The other one,” said David. “But finally I decided I needed to get back on stage, because I was having a breakdown – a ten-year-long breakdown. So I got back on stage and the rest is herstory.”

“So,” I said, “you left the US, the place where all showbiz people dream of ending up…”

“I would like to have a career over there,” said David, “but it’s a weird, weird place. Super weird. Super fundamentalist. And, in terms of unspoken rules… You put a foot wrong in the US and they come at you.”

“But,” I said, “you’re talking about the middle, aren’t you? The coasts are more European. The East Coast, anyway.”

“Yes and no,” said David. “Compared to the middle, yes. But there are plenty of restrictions in comedy on what you can and can’t talk about. There’s a lot of consensus in the US. They talk about being divided. The truth is there’s tons of consensus. Anyone who has been there two weeks… they have all signed-up to this American vision. You can be in Britain for generations and you’re still not British.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “I think the opposite. You go down the East End in London and the son of some West Indian immigrant couple is talking like Hello, luv, ‘ow are you? to people and he’s become British after one generation. In America, there’s the Italian areas, the Swedish town, the German town, the Jewish thing…”

“There is that,” admitted David. “But they all believe the same shit. And, in the US too, no-one retains their accent. They become an amalgam of American. If they’re in New York for two weeks, they’re saying: I’m a Noo Yoiker! Here, when do you ever really become a Londoner?”

“That’s not true,” I argued. “Almost no-one in London was actually born in London.”

“Tell that to an East Ender,” said David.

“They’re all from the Indian sub-continent!” I told him.

“The point is.” said David. “The point is, let’s focus, John. I have a show happening here at the Soho Theatre from the 3rd to the 7th February. Me. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas. Me and my band.”

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas with edge

“Your band?”

“Yeah. Rock band. The Memes.”

“How many Memes are there?” I asked.

“Two.”

“Male?” I asked.

“One of them. I don’t see what gender has to do with it. There’s a guitar and a keyboard. We’re very stripped down.”

“That was my next question,” I said. “And this is what? A sophisticated 1950s Monte Carlo style cabaret show?”

“More 1970s scuzzy New York basement,” said David. “Because that’s me.”

“But you are Mr Sophisticated West Coast American,” I argued.

“There’s going to be sophistication,” said David. “Don’t worry. But I’m mixing it up. I’m sort-of bored with cabaret land. There will be some of that, but it’s gonna have an edge.”

“What sort of an edge?”

“Rock ’n’ roll.”

“You’re going to be wearing a leather jacket?”

“No. I’m going to look dynamite, don’t worry. The suit is the act, let’s be honest.”

“It’s a great act,” I said.

“It’s a great suit,” said David.

“And you are going to sing?”

“My version of singing. And jokes. Don’t worry.”

“Why is it called Don’t Get Any Ideas?” I asked.

“It’s a threat. I’ve got edge. Take a look at me. I’ve got edge.”

“When you started off in the US,” I asked, “were you always this sophisticated on-stage guy?”

Dave Allen - influencial in the US?

Dave Allen was influencial in the US?

“I always liked Dave Allen’s style,” explained David.

“Dave Allen?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, a stool and a suit. That sort-of says it…”

“You saw Dave Allen in the US?”

“When I was growing up, they showed his old British shows on PBS. I was influenced by him. And people like Paul Lynde, who was a big US homo in the 1970s. He was like – I don’t want to say Kenneth  Williams, but… He had this sort of bitchy kind of homo humour that was not overt but was certainly there. And I liked Stephen Colbert a lot. He didn’t wink with the jokes. He just told them in character and the audience had to get the fact he was joking. In the 1990s, he was around being funny as an actor.”

“This Soho Theatre show Don’t Get Any Ideas is going to be your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

David Mills - A view of life off-kilter

David Mills – always looking for an original angle – in Soho

“Edinburgh will be a version of this. I’m a topical comic, not political, so the topics change. Let’s focus, John. My show here at the Soho Theatre from this Tuesday coming to Saturday. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas.”

“Your mysterious previous career was not selling double-glazing?”

“No.”

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“How do you sleep at night?” I asked character comedian Matt Roper two days ago in Buenos Aires

Matt Roper as himself in Edinburgh

Matt Roper as himself at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

On 10th January, I got an e-mail from British comedian Matt Roper. It said:

“Albuquerque, New Mexico? Or Tuscon, Arizona? I’m at truck stop in New Mexico and I can get to either place to get to where I need to be. But I can only choose one. Your thoughts?”

“The Wikipedia entry on Albuquerque,” I told him, “has sections on Freight Service and Sanitation. If the only thing they can write about Albuquerque to make it sound interesting is its sanitary arrangements, the town has not a lot going for it.

“As for Tucson, Wikipedia says: The Arizona Daily Wildcat is the University of Arizona’s student newspaper and the Aztec News is the Pima Community College student newspaper. The New Vision is the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and the Arizona Jewish Post is the newspaper of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. You can’t go wrong. It has everything.”

Matt decided to go to Tucson and, on the Greyhound bus trip, he got talking to a bounty hunter. But that’s another story.

When I talked to him two days ago, Matt was in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“I flew into New York and managed to do everything by train up until Texas and then I ended up doing car shares and Greyhound buses,” he told me. “I really like them, because you really meet the real characters on the buses.”

“Who’s the most bizarre person you met?” I asked him.

“Maybe the bounty hunter. Maybe the pimp’s nephew. There was the 18-stone Baptist preacher who tried to convert me to Southern Baptism. And the guy who coached Bobby Fischer, the chess champion. I think that guy is living in abject poverty in New York; he’s in his seventies, drinking quite heavily. He never received any money. Bobby Fischer went on to make loads and loads and he never gave the guy any.”

“But now you’re in Buenos Aires,” I said. “I’m green with envy. You’re just basically meandering around the world.”

“I’m always writing and trying stuff out, doing gigs here and there,” said Matt.

He performs as the rather greasy, slightly lecherous but strangely charming Spanish lounge lizard singer Wilfredo.

An EP of Wilfredo has just been released

An audio EP of Wilfredo’s songs was recently released

An EP of his songs The Wonderful World of Wilfredo has just been released on iTunes and a documentary film Wilfredo Comes To Town is doing the festival rounds.

“I got connected with some local comics and ended up doing a gig here last night,” Matt told me on Skype. “It was interesting doing a Spanish character in Buenos Aires. I felt as if I was being fed to the lions. But it went well. It’s been really inspirational.

Matt (left) with comic Gregorio Rossello in Buenos Aires this week

Matt Roper (left) with Argentinian comic Gregorio Rossello in Buenos Aires this week

“The Argentinian comedy scene isn’t huge, but I met some local comedians. There’s a group of four young Argentinian comics who flyer every weekend. Their work ethic is so inspirational. They hire this little room above a pub like we do in London – 60 capacity. They flyer all day and night on a Friday and Saturday and do three shows a night every weekend – a 10.00pm, 01.00am and 03.00am show – because no-one goes to bed here till gone dawn.

“I have a blessed life. I support myself with writing commissions and gigs.”

“Yes,” I said, “You write these promo scripts, which is sort-of like what I used to do. But I had to go to places like Salford. You get to travel the world and work via the internet.”

“You’ve been to Tibet,” said Matt. “I haven’t been to Tibet. I’ve never seen the Potala Palace.”

“You’ve come to my home,” I said. “You’ve seen the picture.”

“I’ve seen the Dalai Lama,” Matt said.

“I’ve only seen him talk at Wembley,” I said. “You’ve been more exotic.”

“I was an English teacher in China for six months when I was about 27,” said Matt, “teaching adults. I used to wind them up. I would play Odd One Out with them. I’d put the names of four towns on the board and get them to pick which one didn’t belong, say: Lhasa, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen. Beijing! they’d say – Why? – Capital city! – Good, but wrong. It’s Lhasa, cos Lhasa’s the only one that’s not in China! They’d go ballistic. I’d been with the Tibetan community in exile at Dharamsala in northern India.”

“Have you seen the Iguassu waterfalls yet?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “I fly out of Buenos Aires in five hours. Basically, I’ve come all the way to Argentina, rented an apartment out in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, miles away from anywhere, and mostly what I’ve done is sit here and written, drunk a few bottles of wine and taken a taxi into town every now and then. It’s ridiculous.”

“So you haven’t seen the pampas,” I said. “You haven’t seen men on horseback with large balls. None of that?”

Matt with his two constant anti-cockroach friends

“Say hello to my leetle friendz” Matt with his cockroach killers

“None of that,” agreed Matt. “But I’ve seen cockroaches. I don’t mind insects and I love animals, but cockroaches! Buenos Aires is one of the great cockroach cities of the world. You can see them all weaving in-and-out of the human traffic on the pavements. But there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not because the place is dirty. It’s the heat and… I just can’t fucking cope with cockroaches. I don’t want to cook. I lose my appetite.”

“How do you sleep at night?” I asked.

“I just leave the light on. They don’t like lights and they don’t like noise. So I usually keep some music on.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you want to go to Buenos Aires?”

“Because I had to leave the States cos my visa was up and I’ve always wanted to come to Buenos Aires. But I’m going back to the States now… LA and New York… I have to leave the apartment in 35 minutes. Cockroaches can survive nuclear holocausts, you know.”

“And you’re back in Britain in May?”

“Yes. And then I’m doing a tour of Central Europe in June with your Facebook friend Alex Frackleton, because he’s keen to get back into stand-up. We play Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Prague, two dates at an arts festival in the Czech Republic and I’m hoping to play Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One club in Leipzig as well.”

“I saw the first show there,” I said. “It was full. They had to turn people away. Alex Frackleton told me there was a story about you and him meeting up in Prague.”

Matt Roper, Alex Frackleton and Czech friend

Matt Roper and Alex Frackleton with their unknown Czech friend

“Yes, we went to the big Gay Pride event in Prague,” said Matt, “and were photographed with an enormous transvestite. Alex was looking up: Can we have a photograph? – We’re not gay! We’re comedians! – We’re not gay! We’re comedians!

“Why might you play Leipzig?” I asked.

“Because it’s Martin Soan and because it’s close to Prague and because my dental technician is in Berlin. She’s the woman who makes Wilfredo’s teeth.”

Yes, dear reader, Matt Roper wears specially-constructed teeth when he performs as Wilfredo.

“Have you got two sets for safety?” I asked Matt.

“Yes, I always keep one set in my pocket, just in case the first set fly out and break. You gotta have spare teeth, John!”

“No embarrassing questions at Customs yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Matt. “But, when I got to Buenos Aires, I unzipped my bag and the owners of the apartment saw this pair of big teeth and a black wig. Because I don’t speak much Spanish and they didn’t speak English, there was nothing said. Just this silence.”

“I always think travelling makes people better people,” I said. “But has it made you a better comedian?”

“I think the States has given me tons of material,” said Matt. “Not so much Argentina. I think Argentina is more similar to Britain than the States is. It seems to me that Argentinians enjoy nothing more than to see somebody fail. Like the British. They’re very pessimistic. Whereas, in the States, they love to see people succeed. They nurture success and I find that quite attractive. All this Have a nice day! stuff wound me up at first. Have the best day of your life, sir! But, after a while, with everybody saying it, it’s actually quite nice. It’s better than calling somebody a cunt.”

“In Glasgow, calling someone a cunt is a term of affection,” I said, “according to Janey Godley and Jerry Sadowitz.”

“I don’t know Janey that well,” laughed Matt, “but we were both on the Nicholas Parsons show together in Edinburgh and, when she looked across at Wilfredo, she said: Fucking hell! 25 years ago I would have fucking married you!

“Me, half my family is Irish Catholic. My dad’s family is Liverpool, which is naturally like a Celtic city.  All the religious suppression, all the guilt is good for comedy. I think that’s why Liverpool is such a great comedy city. And Glasgow. From that religious suppression comes a lot of humour. How else are they going to get through the day?”

An extract from the documentary Wilfredo Comes To Town in which Matt’s character sings Moon River is on YouTube.

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Greek comedian Katerina Vrana – she’s not cheesy, just getting feta and better

The show

Scotland, England, Australia, Greece and America?

I missed Katerina Vrana’s show Feta With The Queen at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, but I caught up with it a couple of weeks ago in London.

Katerina is a British-based Greek actress/comedian with a pure English accent who has a lot of hair and a lot of potential. Feta With The Queen is about her experiences as a Greek living in the UK and was a flawless comedy show with a flawless performance by a comedian who had a good script and total audience control.

Shortly after that London show, she flew to Greece to perform Feta With The Queen there and, last week, she flew to Melbourne for Australian shows until 17th December.

I talked to her yesterday, after her jet lag had abated. It was lunchtime in London and half past midnight in Melbourne, where she had just returned to her flat after her show.

“How long did it take to write the show?” I asked.

“About a year,” she told me. “It actually started in Greek, not English. I did it in Athens in Greek, though it was a slightly different show. And then I wanted to see if bits would work in the UK, so I started working on it in English in Spring 2012.”

“And it changed from the first Greek version?” I asked.

“It’s complicated,” said Katerina, “because stand-up is such a new form in Greece that they sometimes don’t know the conventions and how it works. So the simplest way was a very simple format of We do this… But, in the UK, they do this… And that would make them laugh. I obviously developed it for Edinburgh.”

“I somehow imagined,” I said, “that the Greeks invented stand-up comedy. They invented everything else in performance.”

“You would think so,” agreed Katerina, “But, like everything else, they probably invented it 3,000 years ago and haven’t touched it since.”

“Was Aristotle not doing knob gags?” I asked.

“Ooh loads,” laughed Katerina. “It was political satire with loads of knob gags. And a lot of sexism, which we do very well as a culture.”

“The British do that very well too,” I said.

“You’d be surprised how much behind us you are.”

“That’s not a phrase I want to hear…” I said.

Kateina Angel 7

Would you refuse to give feta sponsorship to this performer?

“Last year,” said Katerina, putting me back on track, “I tried to get sponsorship from feta companies in Greece and one of them was extremely positive but, after they’d said Yes, a week later, they got back in touch and said: We’ve just had a meeting and we’re not sure what stand-up comedy is, so we’re saying No.

“A friend of mine brought the CEO of that company to see my show last week in Greece and he said Well, we clearly need to sponsor this girl. So hopefully, next year, I’ll be able to get some sponsorship, because I’d like to go to New Zealand and possibly Montreal, though I’m not totally sure.”

“But, anyway,” I said, “after trying the planned Edinburgh show out in Greece in January, you also previewed it in Melbourne in Spring this year.”

“Yes, I thought the best way to preview it for the Edinburgh Fringe was to take it to another festival where I could work on it and perform the whole show as often as possible instead of doing one preview a month in London – and also to see if it had any resonance to people who aren’t Greek and aren’t British. Can it stand on its own if the people don’t live in the UK but have an understanding of the UK? If you are not Greek or British, does the show work? And it did.”

“And now,” I said, “having performed an early version in Greece and previewed it in Melbourne, then run it successfully through the Edinburgh Fringe, you have just played the finished Edinburgh version in Greece again…”

“People had sent me messages from Greece,” explained Katerina, “saying We want to see the show that got all the 5-star reviews in Edinburgh. So it’s the same Edinburgh show you saw in London with a couple of Greek swear words thrown in.”

“How did it go down?”

“It went really well,” said Katerina. “I had to add an extra show because they sold out. Greeks take forever to book. There was a very slow trickle of advance booking then, the day before I performed, all three shows booked out. So, on Sunday, I did two shows back-to-back.”

“And it being in English was not a problem for the audience?”

“No. But it’s not enough to be able to simply understand English. I tend to speak fast sometimes and I didn’t want to compromise by slowing down, though I did slow down some things in the end… Greeks tell you immediately if they don’t like something and someone did shout out: Speak slower! and I said (in a posh English accent) I’m terribly sorry.”

“Did you have to change the actual content for a non-British audience?”

“No, I did add a couple of Greek swear words instead of English because they were more natural in that context. But only tiny little tweaks like that. No massive changes. I wanted to take the show I did at the Edinburgh Fringe to Greece.”

“Did you revert to a Greek accent?” I asked.

“No. If I’m talking to people in Greece in everyday situations, I do revert to a Greek accent but, when I’m talking to myself on stage, it’s easy to keep my British accent.”

“So, in a sense,” I said, “when you’re on stage, you’re not talking to the audience, you are monologuing in your head.”

“More or less,” agreed Katerina. “I’m basically opening the door so you can look inside my head.”

“And you might take this same Feta With The Queen show back to the Edinburgh Fringe again next year?”

“Yes – Maybe… Well, in whatever form it might have taken by then, because I’m going to keep working at it. I want to include more nationalities and I lived in India for a year and a half and I’d like to bring that in a bit.”

“In India,” I said, “with your English accent, they presumably thought you were British?”

An Indian guru - not a Greek comedy performer

Same hair; different approach: Indian guru, not Greek comic

“No,” said Katerina, “they didn’t know what to do with me because, to them, I didn’t look white enough to be British and my hair confused everyone. They kept saying Haha. Your hair is like Sai Baba.

“Who?”

“A guru in south India who died in 2011 with a lot of hair. I actually tried to see if I could get little parts in Bollywood films when I was in India, but they said I didn’t look foreign enough. That’s plagued me a lot in my acting career: I never look ‘enough’ of the thing I want to go for. I routinely get turned down for Greek parts because I don’t look Greek enough.”

“What does a Greek woman look like in theory?” I asked.

Penelope Cruz.

“She’s Spanish.”

“Yes. That’s what they think we look like… Like Salma Hayek.”

“She’s Mexican.”

“Yes. I get that a lot, especially in the US. Not so much in the UK, because so many Brits go on holiday to Greece that they know what Greeks look like.”

“So where do Americans think you come from?”

“They can’t even hazard a guess.”

“I suppose,” I said, “to seem Greek in America, you would have to be bald and suck a lollipop like Kojak. But ‘bald’ would maybe not be a good look for you.”

“I would lose half of my material,” said Katerina.

“Your show would presumably play well to Americans?” I asked. “You’re talking about British and Greek culture, but that can be understood even by people who have not actually lived in either country.”

“Yes,” replied Katerina. “But, at the moment, I’m concentrating on one continent at a time!”

“So what else in happening in Australia?” I asked.

Katerina performs her show in Thessaloniki  (Photograph by Sofia Camplioni)

Katerina performs first version of Feta show in Thessaloniki (Photograph by Sofia Camplioni)

“I’ve got some meetings with a couple of producers – I’m talking about bringing over some Greek acts and touring them in Australia, because there’s such a massive Greek population here.

“In Greece in the summer, as soon as May hits and the heat goes up in June/July, everything stops. Theatres close down; everything closes down unless you’re doing something outdoors – and stand-up does not work well outdoors because there are too many distractions.

“So comedians don’t work in Greece from May to October and therefore June/July would be a good time to take Greek comedians over to Australia because it’s autumn there. There’s such a demand in Australia for new comedy and new voices.”

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What a comic should do if an audience member throws her artificial leg at you

Lewis Schaffer + part entourage Alex Mason & Heather Stevens

Lewis Schaffer (centre) last night with Alex Mason and Heather Stevens, part of his increasing entourage of helpers

Sometimes comedians have people walk out of their shows.

Comedian Lewis Schaffer’s shows tend to take matters to quirky excess and things happen which are scarcely credible.

As I arrived last night for his twice-weekly Free Until Famous show at the Source Below in Soho, he was still at the door greeting people on the way in when out came three French people who had decided to leave… He had not even started the show!

When I went into the venue, there were another three French people in there and, when Lewis Schaffer did start his comedy monologue, it was obvious only one of them could understand English.

They left during the interval but, before they left, yet another three French people arrived to see the show which, by now, was halfway through. As far as I could guess, none of the latest three bemused-looking French people understood any English and, after about 15 minutes, they left.

Even for Lewis Schaffer, it is a rare thing to have nine French people walking out of his show.

The language problem I can gloss over. But why they were all travelling in groups of three simply mystifies me.

After the show, Lewis Schaffer and I and two of his increasing entourage of helpers went with comedian Joel Sanders to eat at a falafel cafe in Old Compton Street.

I always find the best way to write daily blogs is to get other people to do the work, so I asked Lewis Schaffer to chat to Joel Sanders and get something for today’s blog while I ignored what they said and chatted to the Alex Mason/Heather Stevens section of Lewis Schaffer’s increasing entourage of helpers.

Lewis Schaffer (left) ‘interviews’ Joel Sanders for my blog last night

Lewis Schaffer (left) ‘ blog interviews’ Joel Sanders last night

“You told me an amazing story on my weekly radio show…” said Lewis Schaffer to Joel Sanders, remembering the first golden rule when one comedian talks to another – Always publicise yourself.

“Your weekly radio show?” asked Joel Sanders.

Nunhead American Radio,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “Every Monday on Resonance FM… What I wanna know is… What I… What I wanna know…” he continued, trying to think of something he might actually want to know about anyone else. “You’ve been around America a lot, Joel. Did you see the dark side of America?”

“It was like Deliverance,” Joel told him.

“Did you fear for your life?” asked Lewis Schaffer, becoming more enthusiastic. “Did they ask you to squeal like a pig?”

“They didn’t quite get to that stage,” Joel replied.

“Have you ever squealed like a pig?’ asked Lewis Schaffer even more enthusiastically.

“Not in the context of comedy,” shrugged Joel.

“So what happened in Johnson City, Tennessee?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Where IS Johnson City, Tennessee?”

“In the mountains,” explained Joel, “about a mile from the North Carolina border.”

“Is it a coal mining area?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I don’t know what they do there,” said Joel, “except I do know they have a Dukes of Hazzard festival there once a year. You know, the South is beautiful. The mountains are beautiful, but that is also where the shit happens. The most beautiful parts of America are also the most dangerous parts.”

At this point, I interrupted: “I heard the words Beautiful and America,” I said. “That’s no use for my blog. Get on to something eccentric involving bestiality.”

“So what about the woman’s leg?” Lewis Schaffer asked Joel.

“Are we going to get a train?” asked Joel.

“No,” I said, “not until you tell me an interesting story about a woman’s leg. You’re my blog for tomorrow.”

Lewis Schaffer entourage member Heather Stevens reacts to Lewis Schaffer

Entourage member Heather Stevens reacts to a Schafferism

“Don’t mention the squealing like a pig,” Lewis Schaffer told Joel.

“It was in Hot Springs, Arkansas,” Joel began. “It was in a venue which had once been a sex club and they had converted it to a comedy club, but it still had the poles for the pole dancing. This was in the year 2000. It was strange. There were two shows that night: an early show and a late show. What do you want to know?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I wasn’t listening to what you and Brian were talking about.”

“Who?” asked Joel.

“Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Is this funnier than the Johnson City, Tennessee story?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes,” said Joel. “So, that night in Hot Springs, Arkansas, there was an early show and a late show and, at the end of the early show, about four people left but all the rest stayed for the late show.”

“I had nine French people walk out tonight,” lamented Lewis Schaffer.

“I know,” said Joel.

“We were there,” I told Lewis Schaffer.

“The French don’t like me,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They hate me. The French hate me.”

“So,” said Joel, resuming his story, “almost all of the first audience stayed in the club and a few new people came along and we started the late show. It was basically the same audience watching the same comedians.”

“Why did they stay?” I asked.

“That was what they did there,” said Joel. “There was nothing else to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas… It was Bill Clinton’s boyhood home: the best barbecue I’ve ever had… Anyway, there was a woman sitting at the front of the audience. She’d been a bit of a pain in the early show. But, by the late show, she’s completely drunk – totally pissed – and, about ten minutes into my set, she took her leg off.”

“She took her leg off?” I asked.

Joel Sanders holds the false leg on stage

Joel Sanders holds the artificial leg on stage

“She just detached it,” explained Joel. “There was no cue for her to do this. No trigger words. She had been interrupting and I had been responding and she was just playing a game of one-upmanship. And she won, because she removed her leg and hurled it onto the stage as if to say: Well… deal with that!

“And did you?” I asked.

“Well, I tried,” said Joel. “The first thing was I refused to give it back. She started screaming I need to go to the bathroom! and I told her to detach her vagina, give it to her husband and he could take it for her.”

“Surely she could have hopped to the toilet?” I asked.

“Well no,” explained Joel. “By this point, she had taken both her legs off and both legs were now on the stage. So I had this woman sitting at the front of the audience – just a body with arms… and I was standing on stage holding these legs.”

“I think that’s enough for the blog,” I said. “Leave them wanting more.”

In case you should think this story has been made up, the incident on stage in Hot Springs, Arkansas, was captured on video and is posted on YouTube:

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Filed under Comedy, Disability, Humor, Humour, US