Category Archives: Writing

“The Beef of the Three Sausages” – a new original story by 11-year-old Lily

Back in December 2020, there was a review posted in this blog of a new movie based on the traditional pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. It was written by Lily, the then 9-year-old daughter of writer-performer hyphenate Ariane Sherine.

The multi-talented Lily, now 11-years-old, has been writing fiction since then and this is her latest piece:

THE BEEF OF THE THREE SAUSAGES

Once upon a time, there were three sausages: the planet-loving vegan, the intelligent pork, and the beef, who would rave about the strength of cows but was not too strong himself – especially emotionally. 

Every day, the plant-based sausage would brag, “We are simply SO good for the climate! If the whole human population ate only us then the world would never need to fear for the well-being of our planet!” 

And the pork sausage, pig-like as ever, would boast, “Us pigs and boars are the brainiest of the lot – and I’m not telling a porky!” And then laugh at his own ever-so-smart witticism.

As much as the beef sausage attempted to prove that he, and indeed all cows, was equally as remarkable as the other two, all he could manage was a feeble, “We are very strong!” This only earned him guffaws and taunting, and him being a gentle soul, it was simply too much for him to cope with. 

Too much for him to cope with in many senses – for the other two bangers went so much further than calling him a cow. They would hit him with sharp utensils, typically a fork, but one day, it was a knife that hit his flesh. 

It was plunged in by the vegan, who felt no guilt about this whatsoever – despite how strongly he felt about the fossil fuels entering the atmosphere, the beef sausage’s soul leaving the planet did not weigh him down at all. 

A week passed, and suddenly he found that he would start to absent-mindedly pluck the leaves from hedges he walked by, and was even about to order a taxi without specifically asking  for an electric one! But of course, he paid little notice to this – simply intrusive thoughts. 

Perhaps, though, a little more peculiar, was that the pork sausage would continuously somehow get the simplest of equations drastically wrong! When he would ask to be ‘tested’ on his maths (which was only a request for compliments in truth) the vegan sausage would roll his eyes and  say drolly, “55 x 4.” And the pork would reply, “215!” 

Additionally, he began to question famous theories, like finding fault in one of the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence. Of course, he paid little notice to this – for the sharpest minds would often have intrusive thoughts, and it was simply a sign of creativity, surely. 

But a month later, the vegan would pull up plants, do crazy protests that climate change was a pack of lies, think thoughts that they should buy a diesel car. The most peculiar thing was that he had the strongest feeling that these thoughts were not truly his, as if he was a puppet with dictated beliefs. 

Similarly, the pig would forget his times tables, put down its own species and almost WORSHIP cows, as much as the vegan would lead protests about the ‘dangerous fantasies’ scientists were enforcing into people’s minds. Both felt like they were somehow being controlled. 

It was only when the trees became beef sausages and the pigs suddenly died that they realised they were being haunted by the cow they’d killed. 

And such mental anguish was felt by the vegan sausage, who had committed the crime, that they burnt away the world they had tried so hard to save just 6 weeks ago.

THE END

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Dan Harary (Part 2): Seinfeld, sex and party night at the Playboy Mansion…

In yesterday’s blog, I chatted to US publicity guru Dan Harary, who is publishing four books between now and next Spring.

Last month saw the publication of Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters

…Dan with Steven Spielberg, Amber Smith, Ann-Margret, Dr Ruth and Jack Black…

The chat continues here…


“I was 24, no car, no money, no proper job, no connections…”

JOHN: You were allegedly Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘very first fan’ in 1981…

DAN: That is absolutely true. In 1981, I had been in LA for about six months. I was 24, no car, no money, no proper job, no connections. I was a gofer for a video company, which meant I had to run for sandwiches and coffee, clean people’s offices and my biggest job was to get my bosses’ cars washed: Jaguars, Mercedes, BMWs… They were all millionaires; I was penniless.

One day I went to the car wash. There were only two people there: me and Jerry Seinfeld. I had seen him the year before, in 1980, in Manhattan and he had been so remarkably funny. 

So, at the car wash, I turn and say: “Jerry Seinfeld?”

“Yeah?”

“My name is Dan. I’m your biggest fan.”

He goes: “Gee. I didn’t know I had any fans.”

We shook hands and I said: “I saw you in New York last year. What are you doing now?”

“Well, tonight I am gonna make my debut on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

And that night…

JOHN: …he became a star.

DAN: …he became a star. Yeah. But the funny part of that story, really, is the second half… 

I said: “You and I are about the same age; we both came here from the East Coast; but I don’t have any friends here. Could you and I be friends?”

And he looked at me like this… (ODDLY)… and he says: “Weeell, I don’t give out my phone number, but here’s my business manager’s card”… He gave me the card. Nothing happened…

So, cut to 12 years later… 1993.

Jerry Seinfeld and Dan Harary in 1993…

I’m at a TV Convention in San Francisco. Seinfeld, the TV show, was now very, very popular. Sony Pictures were selling Seinfeld into syndication. 

I’m walking through this TV Convention. Jerry’s there. 

I went up to him and said: “Jerry…”

“Yes?”

“My name is Dan.”

We shook hands again.

I said: “I met you in 1981 at the Sunset Car Wash. It was the day you made your debut on The Tonight Show.

He looked at me and said: “I remember you. You wanted to be my friend.”

He pulls his hand out from my hand. He turns and he walks away.

As we’d first met in West Hollywood, he probably thought I was gay. Who knows.

“…women I’ve loved, lost or chased…”

JOHN: But you’re not gay. Your second book Carrots: A Sex Odyssey is coming out this September and it is…

DAN: …the history of women I’ve loved, lost or chased or never had the courage to love at all and there’s quite a few of them.

JOHN: In the blurb, it mentions you had a 20-year long sex addiction “later in life”. What took you so long?

DAN: I was very shy when I was young, even though I had the long hair and I played the drums and I worked with Bruce Springsteen and KISS and Fleetwood Mac – I did lighting and stage work at The Sunshine Inn. I was a straight-A student in school but, with women, with girls, I was very very shy. 

I was with my wife from the age of 25 to 36. We had two kids. When I got divorced at 36…  I was no longer shy…

From 36 to 56 I became a sex addict. I went wild for quite a while but now I’m glad that period of my life is behind me. 

JOHN: You worked at the Playboy Channel for three years and Playboy Channel events were held in Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion West.

Hugh Hefner and Dan Harary at the Playboy Mansion in 1984

DAN: Most of the times I was there was for events during the day. I think I met Hefner three times; he was very nice. I did go to a few parties there at night. I wasn’t there when people were making love in the pool. I didn’t see naked people, but I saw some interesting things at night. 

The Halloween parties that he had! Celebrities were there and gorgeous 18/19 year-old girls with almost no clothes on. At one of those parties, I had my drink and I’m like the grandfather next to these young girls. They’re like my daughter’s age. 

I’m looking around thinking: For a straight man, this is heaven! There’s a table of shrimp and lobster and steak. And on other table is free alcohol: every possible drink. Garry Shandling and Matt Dillon are there I remember… James Caan. And then the girls! Every girl was drop-dead gorgeous and some were there with their mothers! 

I met this one girl of 19 and her mom was like 40 and they were both equally beautiful.

Dan and Playboy Playmate Kym Malin, 1985

I was single at that time but I was so overwhelmed that, after two hours, I actually said to myself: I have to leave! 

It was too much.

It was just too much.

JOHN: Surely you owed it to yourself to stay?

DAN: I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. First of all, these girls wanted millionaire, movie star boyfriends. I’m not a millionaire and I’m not a movie star.

A lot of women I’ve met in my life want to use me, OK. Can you help me do my PR? I’ve had actress women, models use me. I like pretty girls and they like to torture me! But that one night at the Halloween party I actually had to leave. It was like being a kid in a candy store but you have diabetes.

JOHN: You must have unfulfilled ambitions? You were a drummer in lots of bands…

DAN: When I was a Senior in high school, a friend of mine who was friends with Bruce Springsteen told me: “Dan, Bruce is looking for a new drummer. Why don’t you consider trying out for him?”

Now I did not like his music at that time. I was into The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Beatles, The Stones. 

Years later, I came to love quite a few of his songs. Independence Day is one of my favourite songs. But, at the time, he wasn’t famous and I had no connection with his music. So I told my friend: “It’s not for me.”

Had I auditioned, you never know… I had a beautiful drum set, I was a very good drummer, I had met Bruce the year before. He would have known who I was. But, you know, I didn’t even drive? I was 16. Bruce was seven years older than me. If we had gone to a bar, I wouldn’t have been able to play. I was 16. Under-age.

That’s the closest I ever got to becoming a famous drummer.

New York’s Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca…

JOHN: Your third book is Inside The Cutting Room: A Backstage Look at New York’s Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca. It’s published in Spring next year and it’s about the music business…

DAN: The backstory is my best friend from childhood – Steve Walter.  We met in 1968. He and I grew up together. We were in bands together. We worked at The Sunshine Inn together. When I was 24, I went to LA; he went to Manhattan.

He owns The Cutting Room club. My lifelong best friend.

He opened The Cutting Room 25 years ago. A lot of very very famous musicians, rock bands have played there over the years.

JOHN: Lady Gaga was discovered there?

DAN: Absolutely correct. March 2006.

In March 2006, there was The Songwriters of New York Talent Showcase and 19-year old Stefani Germanotta played on my friend’s stage along with about a dozen other young performers.

There was a woman in the audience named Wendy Starland who, when she saw Stefani perform, called a record producer friend and said: “I just discovered the next Big Thing.”

Wendy took Stefani to meet this guy who heard her stuff, said, “You’re the new John Lennon. You’re a good songwriter,” signed her up and, the next time she played The Cutting Room that Fall, they introduced her as Lady Gaga.

JOHN: On your personal website, you describe yourself as “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. The domain name is danhararyauthor.com – danhararyAUTHOR not danhararyPR or just danharary… I know you have your business site www.asburypr.com but danhararyAUTHOR.com implies that writing is personally more important than other things?

“…the new Woody Allen. I was gonna write sitcoms…”

DAN: In Eighth Grade, I was writing short stories and my English teacher loved them; she told me I was a talented writer. I came to LA to be a comedy writer for television. I wanted to be the new Woody Allen. I was gonna write sitcoms. I came close with Seinfeld in 1992. I came close but didn’t sell my script. I came close three times; it didn’t happen. Along the way, I fell in love, got married, had kids. 

I’m a good writer. A lot of publicity, as you know, is writing. So my sitcom comedy writing ambitions veered off to PR. And that’s how I made a living for 40 years. It’s just how it happened. I told my mother: “At the age of 66, I’ve now finally fulfilled my dream of being an author.”

JOHN: So now we get to your fourth book… the one about the UFOs…

DAN: Yes…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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The opening of James Joyce’s novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”…

James Joyce in Zurich, 1916

Today, 16th June, is Bloomsday – the day on which James Joyce‘s Ulysses (1922) is set.

Joyce’s earlier novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) was on the syllabus at my school so I had to read it.

And I loved it. 

So, for no reason other than the fact this is Bloomsday – and to be quirky – and as an act of self-indulgence – and the not minor fact it is apparently out of copyright – here is the opening of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man… like all Joyce’s work, best read in your mind in an Irish accent…


The first edition of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, published by B. W. Huebsch in 1916

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth.

When you wet the bed, first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor’s hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:

Tralala lala,
Tralala tralaladdy,
Tralala lala,
Tralala lala.

Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.

Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.

The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen’s father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:

—O, Stephen will apologise.

Dante said:

—O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.—

Pull out his eyes,
Apologise,
Apologise,
Pull out his eyes.

Apologise,
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
Apologise.

The wide playgrounds were swarming with boys. All were shouting and the prefects urged them on with strong cries. The evening air was pale and chilly and after every charge and thud of the footballers the greasy leather orb flew like a heavy bird through the grey light. He kept on the fringe of his line, out of sight of his prefect, out of the reach of the rude feet, feigning to run now and then. He felt his body small and weak amid the throng of the players and his eyes were weak and watery. Rody Kickham was not like that: he would be captain of the third line all the fellows said.

Rody Kickham was a decent fellow but Nasty Roche was a stink. Rody Kickham had greaves in his number and a hamper in the refectory. Nasty Roche had big hands. He called the Friday pudding dog-in-the-blanket. And one day he had asked:

—What is your name?

Stephen had answered: Stephen Dedalus.

Then Nasty Roche had said:

—What kind of a name is that?

And when Stephen had not been able to answer Nasty Roche had asked:

—What is your father?

Stephen had answered:

—A gentleman.

Then Nasty Roche had asked:

—Is he a magistrate?

He crept about from point to point on the fringe of his line, making little runs now and then. But his hands were bluish with cold. He kept his hands in the side pockets of his belted grey suit. That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt. One day a fellow said to Cantwell:

—I’d give you such a belt in a second.

Cantwell had answered:

—Go and fight your match. Give Cecil Thunder a belt. I’d like to see you. He’d give you a toe in the rump for yourself.

That was not a nice expression. His mother had told him not to speak with the rough boys in the college. Nice mother! The first day in the hall of the castle when she had said goodbye she had put up her veil double to her nose to kiss him: and her nose and eyes were red. But he had pretended not to see that she was going to cry. She was a nice mother but she was not so nice when she cried. And his father had given him two five-shilling pieces for pocket money. And his father had told him if he wanted anything to write home to him and, whatever he did, never to peach on a fellow. Then at the door of the castle the rector had shaken hands with his father and mother, his soutane fluttering in the breeze, and the car had driven off with his father and mother on it. They had cried to him from the car, waving their hands:

—Goodbye, Stephen, goodbye!

—Goodbye, Stephen, goodbye!


…and here is Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy from the climax of Ulysses

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Ross Smith on his book about the reality of working in the creative industries…

Amazon.co.uk divides its books into various categories. At the weekend, I got an email from writer Ross Smith telling me that, just four days after publication, his new book See You at the Premiere: Life at the Arse End of Showbiz was in the Number 1 position in the ‘Hot New Releases’ of two of those categories – Playwriting and Screenwriting. It is now on sale on every Amazon site in 190 countries worldwide. I obviously chatted to Ross in – not-so-obviously – St James’s Park in London. We chatted in early November. I have only just pulled my finger out. Look, I’ve had plumbing problems…


“The first interview I’ve done in 25 years”

ROSS: This is the first interview I’ve done in 25 years. The last one was with Time Out. I used to write a BBC Radio 2 show called Steve Wright at the Movies. My producer Barry Littlechild was very forceful; you didn’t argue with Barry and he forced me into doing that interview.

JOHN: Why the 25-year gap?

ROSS: I stopped doing interviews after the movie Revenge of BillyThe Kid because I had a couple of bad experiences.

JOHN: But you have interviewed people yourself.

ROSS: I did nearly 300 interviews back in the day.

JOHN: At college, I studied radio, TV, journalism and advertising. The one that was most satisfying was radio, because you have total control over the result. But I went into television  because there’s no money in radio.

ROSS: Radio is notoriously badly-paid. I used to write for Radio 4’s Week Ending; for a while as a staff writer.

JOHN: You’ve done it all.

ROSS: (LAUGHS) Everyone’s written for Week Ending. This is what the book is about. I could make myself sound like Steven Spielberg but to do that I’d have to cut out all the heartache and all the projects that didn’t happen and all the debt I got into. All the awful experiences I had just to get to the next one.

There were gazillions of things that didn’t happen and I had to pay my bills at the end of the month. A couple of times I failed and I had to get kicked out of my home.

An exposé of life in the Arts end of showbiz

JOHN: The book originally had a different sub-title.

ROSS: Yes. The original sub-title was Memoirs From the Fag End of Showbiz…

We know what ‘Fag End’ means in Britain, but our American friends have got a different meaning. So I thought: OK, how about Life at the Arse End of Showbiz? And now I prefer Life at the Arse End of Showbiz. It sounds more funny, more resigned, whereas Memoirs From the Fag End sounds more like I’m really bitter, which I’m not.

I didn’t want to write a book about me per se, because I’m a nobody, although I’ve got a few credits. 

JOHN: More than a few!

ROSS: Yeah, but I’ve never been able to monetise my career… Indeed, that’s one of the key things about the book. I am in the area where 95-99% freelance creative people are.

You can be creative and go work for the BBC and have a job for life, going from project to project. But 95-99% of us are in this area where we’re not necessarily hugely successful and earning loads of money but we’re not complete arseholes. We’re stuck in the middle and that voice never gets heard. 

The only people who get interviewed by the broadsheets and the Graham Nortons of this world are people who are ‘successful’. And that gives a one-dimensional view of the Arts – acting, writing, whatever. As a result, the punters – the public – think Oh! Everyone in showbiz is earning a fortune! And it’s just not true.

My book is about the sort of guy who plays the waiter in one scene in a film. Looking at his career. 

That is the career, frankly, that most young creative people are going to have. They are not going to be the next Benedict Cumberbatch. They are going to be that waiter and try to make a living.

It is not a How To book per se; it’s more. It’s basically about all the shite that young people who have aspirations to be creative do not want to hear but need to hear if they want to monetise their talent and – far more important than that – maintain the monetisation of their talent.

It is all about the importance of agents, the importance of hustling, the importance of just keeping the fuck going.

This is a spade (Photograph via Pixabay)

There’s no bullshit in my book. I call a spade a spade. If you really wanna know how difficult it is – and all the pitfalls – read this book, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about how difficult it is to establish and maintain a freelance career. It goes a long way to explaining why so many freelance creative people haven’t got a pot to piss in.

JOHN: You wrote the movie Revenge of Billy The Kid under the pen name Richard Mathews. It has built a big cult following over the years.

ROSS: It’s un-fucking-blievable that film. We had never made a film before and no-one in the British film industry would give us a break and, in those days…

JOHN: When?

ROSS: 1988. It’s all in the book. The only wannabe movies that got made then would be like Privileged which was produced by students, but it was executive produced by John Schlesinger – an icon of British cinema – he godfathered the project and made sure ‘the kids’ did a good job. We had nothing like that.

Director Jim Groom, his business partner Tim Tennison and I wrote four scripts together. One was turned into a movie; the rest just didn’t happen. In the book, I talk about the ones that did NOT happen as much as the one that did. The one that did was Revenge of BillyThe Kid.

“Old MacDonald had a farm… and on that farm he HAD a goat…” – Ooh, missus!

Jim had lots of experience in editing commercials and trailers. Tim had been a First Assistant Director on many films – Little Shop of Horrors, Wetherby, Dance With a Stranger. I had written comedy sketches for TV and stuff like that. But no-one would give us a break.

It was a very anarchic production every step of the way. About 20 of us worked on the film and our average age was about 24. We went away for four weeks to Wales and Cornwall to shoot.

It’s something people love or hate. If you go to IMDB and scroll down the headlines of the reviews, it will go from ‘The Greatest Film I’ve Ever Seen’ to ‘Utter Dogshit’. There is nothing in the middle. Which is what we wanted.

The News of the World gave it its first ever No Stars review.

I suppose I turned my back on the film industry in the mid-Noughties. I gave up because of all the shit, although I had a very good production rate. I wrote 30 scripts and got 4 movies made out of it. My fourth film came out – The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby – in 2006. It took sixteen years to get made. (Ross again used the pen name Richard Mathews.)

Invasion of the Cathode Rays, in which Ross played a robot

JOHN: Talent has to meet luck…

ROSS: Yes. In 1995, my friends and I took a midnight show to the Edinburgh Fringe Invasion of the Cathode Rays. It was set in the 1950s and was a parody of public health warnings, TV commercials. We were getting about 20 people a night in the audience. It was great fun, a great show, but we didn’t find our audiences. Fair enough. Classic Fringe story.

My second Fringe show – a two-person sort-of family show called One Small Step (written under the pen name David Hastings) – was the story of two people in an attic who discover all this ephemera from the 1960s and they start telling the story of the space race.

They hold a beach ball up and say: “Sputnik!” It’s that sort of play. The on-stage budget – costumes, sets, props – was £136.

One Small Step – 2 actors, 60 characters and 35,000 people.

The two actors played about 60 characters, including Laika the dog.

We were on at the Assembly Rooms at 5.00pm in the afternoon and got about 20-40 people daily for the first week. We had websites and fanzines writing wonderful things, but the mainstream press didn’t give a shit about us. Unless a show has ‘someone off the telly’, they’re not interested. That’s not a reflection on journalists; it’s a reflection on their readers.

But one day a guy called Malcolm Jack, a critic for The Scotsman, came to see it. There were 8 people in the audience that day. He wrote a 5-star review. The review was published on a Saturday morning. By 3.00pm in the afternoon, even the actors’ friends couldn’t get tickets. On the Sunday, it sold out again.

His review ended with the line: ”It’s hard to imagine a play fuelled by a more profound and spellbinding sense of sheer wonder”… Remember this is a play with two guys walking around on a stage with buckets on their head pretending they’re spacemen! It’s just two actors sitting around with junk on a stage; they play Also Spruce Zarathustra, the 2001 theme, on a stylophone!

Next thing we know…

The Sunday Times – 5-star review. 

Daily Telegraph: “One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”

The whole run sells out.

It gets a 10-week UK tour the next year. 

At the next year’s Fringe, the Assembly Rooms puts it in a bigger venue. The whole run sells out.

The British Council come on board: “We want to take you on a world tour starting in Sydney, Australia, for three weeks. It’ll take 11 months and end up in China.”

It was the world’s most-toured British play of 2010 – 22 countries in 11 months.

And all that started from that one review.

JOHN: Talent has to meet luck…

ROSS: Yup. It has been seen now by around 35,000 people worldwide – it toured America in 2019.

JOHN: So you made pots of money…

ROSS: Over-all, over the whole journey of all those shows over about two-and-a-half years, I only made £5,500. But the point is – as William Goldman famously wrote -“Nobody knows anything”.

Nobody KNOWS what is going to work and what isn’t.

You might think: Oh, come on, Ross! It’s been seen by 35,000 people! You’re getting your royalties and being flown all over the world!

No. This is the REAL reality. I went to see it in Washington, but I had to pay £600 for my flight and my own accommodation.

This is the world where most of us are. And that’s what this book is about. Readers who want to get into the Arts may not want to hear this, but it’s going to be the world they may (if they are lucky) enter.

They are NOT going to be the next Michael Caine. They might be the next Ross Smith. (LAUGHS) And, if so, good luck to you!

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Njambi McGrath: “I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do…”

Njambi’s book Through The Leopard’s Gaze

JOHN: So, Njambi McGrath, you are very busy at the moment. 

NJAMBI:  Well, lockdown gave me the space to write.

Before that, I was travelling loads to do comedy gigs but all the way through lockdown I didn’t have to travel anywhere so I could literally write all day.

When my first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze was published I had done so much research I didn’t want the richness of what I discovered to be wasted.

So I decided to write my second book last year as fiction and use the research in that. 

I wrote that new book last year and I’m writing another one this year.

Both novels are set in Kenya. I wanted both of them to reflect everything.  The chaos and how people tried to make sense of life before independence and everything.

Njambi at a book signing, with many more still to come…

Last year’s novel is called The Residence of the Ministry of Works. It’s about people living in a compound in Kenya. No-one even knows how they found their way there. Is it a Ministry? No. It was something the British created and, when they left, it… it is like a slum.

When they arrived, the British found systems that were intact and it’s like Lego. If you kick it, then it goes in all directions. The British kicked the existing system and caused chaos.

JOHN: And the new book this year is…?

NJAMBI: Rinsing Mukami’s Soul – it’s more focussed. I think I’m on the final draft now. The ‘Rinsing’ is because of all the things she does and encounters; her soul needs rinsing.

JOHN: So, with the long-drawn-out lockdown, the enforced isolation and the book-writing, have you lost your urge to go on stage and do live stand-up?

NJAMBI: No. It’s like a drug. Every time I’m on stage I am: Oooh! I wanna do this again! I performed at The Comedy Store a couple of weeks ago and a couple of other venues this week. I’ve done enough gigs since lockdown finished to forget how many I’ve done.

JOHN: And you went up to the whittled-down Edinburgh Fringe in August…

NJAMBI: Yes, I was invited to Edinburgh and offered a 98-seater at the Pleasance to do a 3-day run of my show Accidental Coconut, the show I did in 2019. 

JOHN: What was Edinburgh like this year?

NJAMBI: I had very good, full-house audiences. People were hungry to laugh after the lockdown.

The week before that, I had been up to Edinburgh to record my radio show over two nights. The audiences were the same then – amazing. What a way to come out of lockdown hibernation!

The Sunday Times loved Njambi’s new radio show.

JOHN: Your radio show… That’s your BBC Radio 4 series of four, which starts this week?

NJAMBI: Yes, it’s based on Accidental Coconut but it’s called Njambi McGrath: Becoming Njambi. It starts this Wednesday, the 22nd of September, for four weeks at 11.00pm on Wednesdays.

JOHN: Why is it not called Accidental Coconut?

NJAMBI: Because Radio 4 said: “If you use that term on radio, referring to yourself, other people may think it’s OK to use that derogatory term.”

JOHN: Why was it called Accidental Coconut in the first place?

NJAMBI: Because when I had been doing an Edinburgh show in a previous year – African in New York – I said that, when I got to America, I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because I was an ‘accidental coconut’ – because, obviously, we don’t learn that history in Kenya.

And then I thought: Oh my God! That’s a really great title! – It reflects exactly what we are. We are not taught about our history.

JOHN: How did black New Yorkers react when you opened your mouth and they realised you were British?

NJAMBI: The first time I was in a lecture hall, I put my hand up and spoke and everybody went: Whooaaaa! How come you’re not speaking with the black people’s accent in America?

JOHN: Did they think either (a) she’s just a foreigner or (b) she’s English so she must be posh? She must know the Queen?

NJAMBI: Well, they were even more confused because I said: “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan”.

JOHN: And their reaction was…?

NJAMBI: Well, after my university days, when Barack Obama was still President, I was in Florida and said, “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan,” and their reaction was “Where is Kenya?”

JOHN: Whaaat?

“I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because…”

NJAMBI: I said: “That is where your President is from. And one woman asked: “George W Bush?” 

Everyone around the world was talking about this new American President and she hadn’t even noticed they had got a new president and he was black. If she hadn’t looked so confused, I would have thought it was a joke.

JOHN: You are also performing Accidental Coconut at Soho Theatre in London next month. (4th-9th October) 

NJAMBI: Yes, it actually overlaps with the radio series.

JOHN: And what comes after your Soho Theatre run?

NJAMBI: I’ll be finishing my new book Rinsing Mukami’s Soul and I have a new stage show as well. I was working on a draft of it in early 2020 and was going to take it to Edinburgh that August, but then the pandemic happened and the Fringe didn’t. So it will now be my 2022 show.

JOHN: Titled…?

NJAMBI: Black Black.

JOHN: Why?

NJAMBI: Because, the night before I got married, my mother-in-law came to me and I thought she was going to say something like: “Welcome to my family”. But she whispered to me: “The day I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black…”

JOHN: So books, live stage stuff, radio… and a TV series of your first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze…?

NJAMBI: Well, we are waiting on that. You know how long these things take. It was optioned during lockdown.

Njambi and I chatted at London’s Soho Theatre

I have got to a point in my life where I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do.

For a long time, I didn’t think I had the skill. 

I was working in IT; I didn’t think I was good at it. I couldn’t sing. There were so many things I couldn’t do, so I thought I was useless.

Then I discovered I can make people laugh.

Then I discovered I could write.

Oh my God!

Now I’m like a ferret on a treadmill because I want to write as many shows as possible because I discovered I can actually do something when I thought I could do nothing. So I have been doing all these things as well as co-writing a TV sitcom and I’ve been writing some drama as well…

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You will not be paid for what you write “of course”… a not abnormal phone call

Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward has a varied life. For the last six years, as well as all his other surreal duties, he has written a weekly Ward’s World column of around 1,200 words for the Spalding Guardian newspaper.

John Ward toiling over his weekly Ward’s World column for the Spalding Guardian…

Last week, his column was about telephone scammers.

Today, I got an email from John about reaction to that column:


Following on from my Ward’s World column last week about scammers ringing to tell people that their internet will be closed in 24 hours unless… blah… blah… “but give me your card details and I can sort it” tosh… I have heard of two ‘near misses’ and one who sadly fell for it – all being elderly, which comes as no surprise I suppose.

But the best reaction so far is…

My phone rings on Monday morning…

I am speaking to Andrew, who informs me he represents something called the Lincolnshire Rural Crime Prevention and Awareness Forum. He said he had read my piece online and was quite impressed with it.

He pointed out that the ‘Forum’ bit in the long convoluted title might be changed to ‘Panel’ (as in wooden maybe?) as this was to be brought up in their next meeting of minds.

However, while he thought my column was written ‘tongue in cheek’ (I begged to differ on that), he also thought it would be ideal – subject to my agreement – to reproduce in a new free quarterly county magazine that is in the throes of being put together before being sent to print.

So far so good.

However, the more we chatted, the more it seemed that he would not be ‘terribly’ happy to include the segment mentioning Argos, as this was ‘advertising’ plus, due to the length, it would have to be cut down “of course”.

I pointed out that the Spalding Guardian didn’t have any problems with printing it.

Plus, Andrew said, they could not pay me “of course” as I would be “donating it” for their use “of course”.

I asked him in return if he knew the date when slave labour was abolished or are they still pursuing this line of employment?

The term “of course” was beginning to grate a bit by now I must confess. But, if nothing else, I feel sure, if he gives up what he is doing now, a career at the BBC awaits him… based on some of the ordeals I have suffered with assorted individuals employed there over many years.

By now I was wondering if he was going to ask me for my bank card details but the next bit was quite something.

Would I object to it appearing without my name?

I responded with “Why not go the whole hog and reproduce Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens but leave out the author’s name… You would be on safe ground there as he is now dead.”

Andrew’s pause was acceptable…

… before he asked: “Who is dead?”

After another of his acceptable pauses, he said he thought I was being flippant.

John often gets unusual telephone calls…

So I pointed out that, if I read it right, he/they wanted me to ‘donate’ my writing efforts, for him or A.N.Other to edit as they saw fit, leave out assorted ‘segments’ that didn’t pass their standards plus I was not even going to get a mention, credit-wise, as the original author!

I asked him how much he would like me to donate to their cause and I bade him farewell with an old Russian sounding greeting – with the second word being “off”…

Of course.

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To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

My chum Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter is astonishingly creative. It is perhaps not surprising that she is very literate as her mother has been a columnist for multiple broadsheet newspapers and has written books while her father also writes for a prominent broadsheet newspaper.

But she is also very musically and visually talented – again, something in the genes.

Last week, she got a new painting set as an early 10th birthday present and did this:

Admittedly it is based on an image she saw online. But the original has different colour tones, the blossoms on the tree are different and there are no blossoms coming off the tree. The original is a daytime image. Hers is, she says, “around six o’clock in the evening”.

She recently asked people she knows to write honest essays about her for her 10th birthday next week. So she can know what people think of her.

Last night, her mother showed me some of the essay she has written about her daughter. It included the sentence: “I’m so pleased you’re following in the footsteps of your father and I and expressing yourself creatively.”

The following text exchange then followed:


JOHN

I am always a bit vague on this but should it be “your father and me”?

‘You’ is subject; ‘following’ is verb; ‘footsteps’ = object?

But fuck knows how your father and I/me fits in. Clearly I need remedial education.

Genuinely flummoxed.

ARIANE

I have no idea but I asked a friend who didn’t know either – and he is a linguist! 😂


ARIANE: Hi – need grammar help! I want to say that I’m pleased she’s following in my and her dad’s footsteps, but how do I word it? 

“I’m so pleased that you’re following in the footsteps of myself and your father”?

or “of your father and I”?

or “of your father and me”?

FRIEND: I’m struggling too. Whichever way you say it, it sounds stiff and unidiomatic, which indicates to me that it needs rephrasing. Is it possible to mention her father and you in the previous sentence and then say: “I’m so pleased that you’re following in our footsteps”? Sorry I can’t be more helpful.


JOHN (to ARIANE)

The only person who’s going to know is your daughter and we can’t ask her!

Maybe “I’m so pleased that you’re expressing yourself creatively” – to disguise the fact that you, your friend and I are utterly illiterate!

ARIANE

Ha ha! Yes maybe 😂🤣

ME

It’s a sobering fact that you are a multi-titled broadsheet columnist with multiple books out… I was paid by Random House (the world’s biggest publisher) to edit a bestselling book… and your friend was a university lecturer possibly with academic publications to his name…

…and none of us knows how to write a basic English sentence!

ARIANE

Ha ha! To be fair, it’s a VERY difficult sentence! xxx

ME

Hah! Says you!

ARIANE

I don’t think my friend had stuff published in journals. His wife did, and she had a PhD. But he’s no slouch either! 

JOHN

My excuse is that I was mostly educated in Essex.

What’s your excuse?

I bet your daughter knows. She’s already got better vocabulary than we do.

ARIANE

She is amazing. 🥰 

JOHN

I’m off to bed now.

(LONG GAP)

JOHN

…talk about sleepless nights!

I was dozing off and “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and I” started swirling in my head!

The problem is it’s about the possession of the footsteps, not about subject-verb-object. So maybe both “I” AND “me” are wrong.

The actual thing being communicated is “you’re following in your father’s footsteps and in my footsteps”.

So I guess it should be “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and of mine”

But that and “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and mine” both sound ridiculous, so can’t sensibly be used.

I think it’s a balance between being grammatically correct and sounding right.

So it’s a case, as your friend said, of rephrasing … or of just tossing a coin about I and me.

ARIANE

Ha ha! Thanks for email, just read it. I think I‘ll stick with father and I… it’ll do.

JOHN

Yeah. Like I say. To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

I’m off to sleep now… I hope.

Unless I’m visited by the ghost of Dr Johnson.

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Christmas in Cambodia with former comic and addict Chris Dangerfield

The always-controversial businessman and former comedian Chris Dangerfield has not cropped up in this blog for a while.

He now lives in Cambodia. Things have turned out OK for him.

When the weather is suitable, he wears $2,000 suits and $600 shoes. We spoke via Skype.

As always, blogs involving Chris are not for the faint-hearted reader.


JOHN: Here we are in the middle of a world-wide economic calamity. Are you still running your lock-picking business?

CHRIS: Yeah. Internet businesses are doing very well.

JOHN: When did you move to Cambodia?

CHRIS: Three or four years ago this March, I think. But I really don’t know. I’ve lost count.

JOHN: Why did you move to Cambodia?

CHRIS: I used to come out here to get clean. To Thailand. To get off the heroin. I used to come out here, cold turkey and stay clean while I was here but, every time I went back to London, I wouldn’t last long. I started associating my life in England with drug use and a sort of melancholy. It’s cold and grey and England’s changing in dramatic ways that I don’t support in any way.

JOHN: So why did you not move to Thailand?

CHRIS: That was the initial plan. But the visa there is not so simple. With me owning a business in Britain. You’re right. Patong, Thailand, is in many ways my spiritual home… but the phrase I’ve used before is I didn’t want to marry my mistress. Wherever you live is your life and I want Patong to be a holiday for me. I didn’t want to live there.

JOHN: It always struck me as a tad odd you went to Thailand and lived in a brothel to get off heroin.

Chris chose Cambodia instead of Thailand

CHRIS: It was very difficult to get heroin in that part of Thailand. Really. Compared to ice and weed and all the other stuff. So I didn’t have a hook-up for heroin in Patong. Also, I had an affair with a Thai madam who, when I met her, was a street-walking prostitute but, as our relationship developed over the years, she ended up running two of her own massage shops.

JOHN: Your business acumen helped her?

CHRIS: Not at all. She’s an incredible woman. But part of going out to Thailand to get clean was knowing that she would be there and she loved me and she would help me. I knew she would. I had never met a woman like her before. All the women in my life had been psychotic and awful… Well… I had a part to play in that. The common denominator was me…

…though also they WERE all mental.

Anyway, about five or six years ago, after about five weeks of the acute period phase of withdrawal, I just started writing this novel for the lack of anything better to do because I didn’t have the strength to go out. I was shuffling about like a zombie.

So I just started writing down what I’d gone through during that very intense withdrawal. I didn’t have any methadone or Subutex or anything. A couple of Xanax here and there, but…

Anyway, after that I kept doing bits and bobs and bits and bobs of writing and I was talking to Will Self about the novel and, when I finally got it near finished last year – about 110,000-120,000 words – I asked Will: “Look, what do I need? A copy editor? A proof reader?” 

He introduced me to a friend of his called Nick Papadimitriou, who wrote a very successful novel called Scarp.

And me and him got on like a house on fire. We were chatting about it for the year leading up to a couple of months ago and I gave him the manuscript and there’s a lot of work needs doing on it but I’m kinda hopeful it will be out in around March 2021. It just keeps taking longer because Nick wants it to be as good as it can be and, because I want people to read it, he wins… I’m very, very proud of it. 

The working title was Thai Style Cold Turkey, but I think maybe it’s going to be called Pharmakon Patong.

JOHN: It’s a bad time to be publishing books, isn’t it?

CHRIS: I think there’s not been a better time to be a writer.

“There’s not been a better time to be a writer.”

Amazon Direct Publishing is the way to go at the moment. It’s unlikely you’re gonna sell hundreds and thousands of novels and get rich. It does happen, but not often. When you self-publish through Amazon, your novel is available 48 hours after uploading it and it’s available as a paperback or a Kindle. And you get 70% of the cover price – not 7½% which you get with traditional publishing. 

So you publish the novel, do as much marketing as you can, do podcasts, build up a social media presence which I’ve kinda got – I’ve got 20,000 YouTube followers, 6,000 Twitter followers and ten years of stand-up gave me a little bit of a reputation out there – and you might sell 50 copies a month… which isn’t gonna make you rich…

But, on YouTube, I have told 400+ hours of stories. At the moment, I do two streams daily on my YouTube channel.

So, after this novel, I’m going to transcribe all those and I’ve probably got about five books of short stories. So I can put all them out there. And they might all sell 50 a month.

So I might be selling 300 copies of different books a month.

300 x £7 is not bad coming in monthly.

Then I do another novel. And another novel. And, if you can get two novels or two books of shorts out a year and create a little bit of interest in you then, in five years, it wouldn’t be unreasonable, to be earning a few grand a month from writing.

JOHN: Where did you get this business brain? Your parents?

CHRIS: (LAUGHS) No. Unless you include a failed Amway period by my old man. He was buying loads of really stupid cleaning products and pyramid selling them.

“… because it turned out quite nice…”

JOHN: But you ARE quite entrepreneurial.

CHRIS: It was noticed very early at school sports day – I used to go down the old cash & carry and sell sherbet dib-dabs and make a few quid. My grandad once gave me a sheep’s skull. Not covered in meat. Just bone. But I set a little stall up in my front garden and people could touch it for 2 pence. I mean, like, I’m Thatcher’s Child. I was like 10 years old in 1982.

JOHN: So you have this upcoming book to promote…What’s the elevator pitch?

CHRIS: At the start, a man is at Heathrow Airport. He’s decided to get clean and go to Thailand. And the end of the novel he is on an aeroplane going back to England. So it’s seven odd weeks. True story. There’s very little creativity there. It’s just what happened.

JOHN: So the moral is you should never leave your own home country?

CHRIS: No, the moral is you SHOULD because it turned out quite nice. BUT there’s two stories running simultaneously. There’s one in Thailand – which is written in the first person present. There’s also one about my childhood, which is written in the first person past. And they kind of interlink.

One of the problems I’ve had with the editor is he keeps talking about the architectonic of the story.

JOHN: Architectonic?

CHRIS: Architectonic.

JOHN: May the Lord protect us.

CHRIS: Yes, I’ve had to Google it regularly, too… But here’s the point… Much like my stand-up, I tend to start telling my story, then remind myself of something else, then go into that story then, while I’m telling that story, I’ll go into something else… so it’s kind of like fractular. 

JOHN: Fractular?

CHRIS: Fractular. Now, that’s OK so long as, at some point, you come back to the first story and second story and round it all up. That’s fine.

But what he’s been saying is sometimes it’s just confusing. He says he knows there’s an element of it reflecting what I’m going through in the novel, which is kind of cool… If the form of the novel reflects the content, then you’re on to something. But he says sometimes it just gets in the way of the storytelling. So that needs looking at.

JOHN: So back to the elevator pitch. What’s the novel about?

CHRIS: I set out to write a novel about addiction and withdrawal but I think it’s a story about love.

JOHN: Love of whom or what?

CHRIS: Just love as an idea and what happens when there’s not a lot about.

JOHN: You’ve got to love something. It’s a verb that needs an object.

CHRIS: Right. So when you don’t have a lot of love in your life, you end up doing what goes on in this novel.

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Filed under Books, Cambodia, Drugs, Thailand, Writing

Why “TENET” was incomprehensible…

Christopher Nolan: a great movie director (Photograph by Photo Georges Biard)

I saw TENET last night.

Christopher Nolan is a great movie director.

The Dark Knight was a wonderful piece of movie-making: direction, script, acting.

Dunkirk was amazing on a big screen with a good sound system.

TENET looks all of its $200million budget.

But it is bollocks.

Like Inception – which was also unecessarily impenetrable – he should have gone back to an earlier, simpler version of the script – perhaps Draft 2 or Draft 3. It was probably a great idea back then.

Although I hope it didn’t include the thrown-in-quite-late bit in TENET‘s plot which echoes the six Infinity Stones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and JRR Tolkien’s twenty Rings of Power. Maybe that was detritus left over from some discarded earlier version of the plot.

It is all very well to make intelligent or even mindless pure entertainment films which, with modern home technology, can benefit from being watched and re-watched several times, seeing more in them each time.

However, if the movie’s plot details are not intriguingly intricate but actually just bloody incomprehensible for stretches, then there is something wrong with the script.

And the problem with TENET is not just the labyrinthine impenetrability of the final script – It is the soundtrack.

Here you have the labyrinthine impenetrability of a script plus occasional added mumbling.

Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie (The Dark Knight Rises) had the main villain mumbling through a mask. But this time it is not just one person but loads of people mumbling semi-incomprehensibly through masks and over radios and phones and, at points, having to compete with very distracting overly-complicated music which interferes with the clarity of what’s being said.

And I saw TENET in a bleedin’ IMAX!

There was a fair amount of occasional unclear muttering in TENET, but I think that was mostly because of the sound mix at those points, not the acting.

I swear Christopher Nolan probably heard everything clearly in his super duper sound mixing suite but he should maybe do what Stanley Kubrick allegedly did – go round suburban cinemas with a light meter (though there’s nothing wrong with Tenet’s visuals) and hear the soundtrack through less good speakers.

Even in IMAX, there was unclear mumbling going on.

This morning, someone who saw TENET last week in a different cinema told me: “I thought I needed a hearing aid after watching it. Couldn’t hear all the vocals. Really spoilt it – or was it done on purpose so you have to watch it more than once?”

“It was like doing The Times crossword puzzle every day”

On the good side, Kenneth Branagh was wonderful, possibly deserving of a Best Supporting Actor (or Person) Oscar nomination.

This was maybe because Branagh rarely – or relatively rarely – had to be heard through a mask, a phone or sheets of glass.

So he could be (usually but not always) clearly heard.

Clarity should be one of the main tenets – yes, tenets – of film-making – clarity of script, clarity of diction, clarity of… well, everything.

In an interview in Total Film Kenneth Branagh said he constantly had to re-read the script in order to work out the storyline: “It was like doing The Times crossword puzzle every day.”

Robert Pattinson told Esquire that, during filming: “There were months at a time where I’m like: I actually, honestly have no idea if I’m even vaguely understanding what’s happening“.

If even your cast have trouble understanding what the hell is going on, pity the poor audience, especially if they can’t hear some of the muffled dialogue.

If you wanna write a novel, write a novel. But a movie ain’t a novel.

Apparently, Christopher Nolan developed the ideas and plot of TENET over the course of twenty years and had been working on this version of the script for about six or seven years. Well, that is part of the problem.

I remember, years ago – last century – having a conversation with a fellow TV researcher about good interviewees. We agreed that the best interviewee to explain something clearly to a general audience was not an expert but a fan. If you know too much about a subject, you can’t communicate it simply and comprehensibly. You know too much. If you are a fan, you know what the key features are and why a stranger to the subject could get hooked.

In the first two or three drafts of a script, there is the raw enthusiasm for the concept.

After six or seven or twenty years into it, you are fiddling with the detail, not communicating the raw originality.

My advice. If you have been refining something for twenty years, maybe go back to the original script which had the passion and simplify your 200th draft, don’t make it even more complicated.

And, when you sound-mix, counter-intuitively, listen to it on worse speakers.

Clarity in all things.

Give the punters half a chance.

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Angelo Marcos on why comics are like lawyers and jokes are like whodunnits

Angelo Marcos is a stand-up comedian and actor. He has written two short story collections and two novels. His fifth book, the crime thriller Victim Mentality, is out now.


JOHN: So what’s it about?

ANGELO: Well, I’ve written other psychological thrillers and they were quite dark, so this one was meant to be a lighter book, but (LAUGHS) it didn’t turn out that way. 

JOHN: Part of it is written in the First Person and part of it in the Third Person. 

ANGELO: Yes. The First Person is from the point-of-view of a stand-up comedian. 

JOHN: Everyone says a first novel tends to be autobiographical but, with you, the fifth book is autobiographical?

ANGELO: This is the most personal book I’ve written.

JOHN: You did Law and Psychology at university.

Angelo Marcos (Photo copyright Remy Hunter)

ANGELO: Yes, I studied Law and while I did that, I was also performing stand-up and doing acting, but then I found I didn’t have any money. So then I worked a bit – various things – a bank, offices, a supermarket. I worked for a market research company which was basically just other actors, with everyone sitting around trying to do as little work as possible, waiting for their agent to phone.

Then I re-trained – basically a Post-Graduate three-year Psychology course in one-and-a-half years. And I was writing during that time as well.

JOHN: So originally you wanted to be a lawyer, which is a very level-headed thing to aspire to… but you also had this mad stand-up comedy gene?

ANGELO: I went to university because everyone was going and I thought – Well – Law – OK. But, from the beginning, I was also doing stand-up. I was at the University of London, so it was easy enough to find gigs. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the degree that thought: OK, I DEFINITELY not only do not want to be a lawyer and I don’t want to work in Law. Let’s just get famous instead!

JOHN: Why didn’t you want to be in Law?

ANGELO: I found the analytical side of it fascinating, but I liked the kind-of absurd analytical side of it. I liked the fact you could pretty-much make words mean whatever you wanted them to mean.

I love stories. In criminal law, the cases were fascinating. So I elected to do subjects like Moral Philosophy, Law & Terrorism and other things kind-of affiliated with law, but not the core subject. I dunno. I just found Law itself a bit dry. It’s a really good degree to have. It’s a really good set of skills to have. But I prefer using them in other ways.

Lawyers and comics have much in common

JOHN: Barristers and comedians have in common the fact they both stand up and tell lies to create an effect on an audience.

ANGELO: That’s very true. Although lawyers get paid more, until you get to Michael McIntyre. But there IS that element of performance. 

When you are heckled as a stand-up, there are no holds barred. You HAVE to win. And I guess it’s similar in a court situation. If you are a barrister and someone questions one of your points or if you have a witness who is particularly hostile, I imagine the switch that goes on in the brain is the same: I have to win now!… In the same way that, as a stand-up, you don’t want to lose credibility, you don’t want to ‘lose’ the audience.

JOHN: And you have to persuade the audience that your story is credible and real, even if it might be a lie.

ANGELO: That’s true. You are saying: This is a scenario you need to buy into. This is what happened that night. Whether it’s true or not is a different thing. You have to sell that to the jury or the audience… I’m not saying that all lawyers do this. I’m not saying that no lawyers are interested in truth.

JOHN: I am. They are interested in winning and getting paid though, of course, they get paid whether they win or lose.

ANGELO: What I am saying is that, in my experience, it is entirely possible to be a successful lawyer and not be interested in truth.

JOHN: Being a lawyer in court and being a stand-up comedian are both about telling a story, which is what being a writer is also about…

ANGELO: Yeah. Absolutely. I do a lot of different things – stand-up, acting, writing – and I think the link is they all involve stories.

JOHN: And an interest in structure where the story has to build up to an interesting climax…

ANGELO: I think with the build-up to the punchline of a joke… the mechanism of that is the same when you are writing the twist in a novel crime thriller or a short story. In all three, you are giving the audience or the reader only the information you want them to have. Enough to follow you, but not enough to work out what the twist or what the joke is going o be.

Whether it’s a surprise punchline or the revelation that: “It was the babysitter all along!” – it’s a similar mechanism. I loved The Usual Suspects because it’s so clever and it totally tricked me.

JOHN: Like an optical illusion.

ANGELO: When I was doing Psychology, one of the lecturers explained the mechanism behind optical illusions and he was saying no matter how much you know about how they work, as a human being, every time you look at these pictures you will see the illusion first.

That’s where I got the premise for Victim Mentality: that it doesn’t matter how much you know, we are all wired in a certain way and that makes us all victims. You can try and look at the picture and not see the illusion, but you always WILL see the illusion.

“…the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book”

I suppose a lot of the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book. That sense of going to a gig that’s just not set up for comedy. There are a lot of hostile environments that you walk into at the open mic level, which is where the comedian in my book is.

He has been doing it for a while, struggling, and he’s also trying to get into acting. At the start of the story, his agent books an interview with him and an incarcerated criminal so he can get into character for the role. When they meet, it becomes obvious there’s quite a lot of similarities between them.

The premise of the book is that we are all victims of our own minds. The guy in jail is saying: “You are looking at me as if I am some kind of special case. You are trying to understand why I would do the things I do. But, essentially, we are all wired in certain ways; we all have certain life experiences that cause us to act the way we do.”

There is tragedy in the comedian’s past and in the criminal’s past.

I don’t go so far as to question Free Will, but it’s a case of Are you doing this because you are wired to do it or because it’s fun or whatever? Are you a victim of your own brain just like everyone else?

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Filed under Acting, Comedy, Legal system, Psychology, Writing