Performer Lynn Ruth Miller tastes life in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

Lynn Ruth Miller concludes her 4-blog jaunt around SouthEast Asia…


I was in Singapore to open for Jinx Yeo, a young man who has become a hit in Asia. Wherever I go in this part of the world, the bookers know and respect him. He lived in London for a short time hoping to make a profitable career but his mother died and he returned to Singapore. Here he is a name and does corporate gigs as well as conventional stand-up performances.

The show was held at The Merry Lion. The place had been refurbished since I was there last. It used to be a very plain, no-frills place that looked more like an upstairs meeting room with a bar, but now it is painted with caricatures of comedians on the wall and a cute little lion to decorate the stage. The lighting has improved, as well.  

All this is thanks to Aidan Killian who took over direct management of the place several months ago. The Merry Lion now looks like a proper comedy club and since it does performances every night it will soon become the major club in Singapore. It is the place for both local and traveling comedians to get a good audience, proper payment and have a good, well-supported show.  

“Audience was large but anxious to laugh”

I opened for Jinx and did a 30-minute set. The audience was large but anxious to laugh and the response was wonderful. I stayed to hear Jinx because I love his comedy.  

The thing I have to remember is that comedy is artistry with words and Jinx is performing in his second language, while I  am using my native tongue. That anyone can get laughs in a foreign tongue is amazing to me, yet I know many comedians do this: Eddie Izzard, Des Bishop to name two 

I returned the next evening to do my solo show I Never Said I Was Nice and there were about 30 people there, most of them ex-pats. I did the show to ecstatic response, which was not easy because the first act was filled with novice comedians who, nice as they are as people, had not mastered the art of stand-up enough to connect with this audience.   

The exciting thing for me was that I was able to pick up a totally dead and very tired audience and make them laugh.

I got up at 6:30am the next day because Gary Tan, my wonderful friend, fellow comedian and taxi driver, wanted to be sure I caught the plane to Kuala Lumpur.

My plane was late (of course it was) and when I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport I was met by Neal Kang, a 19-year-old Communication student whose brother Nat is a comedian and who had conned him into waiting several hours at the airport until I finally arrived. 

Neal goes to an international school. He and his family only speak English at home although he can also speak Malay. His parents are both Chinese but each one speaks a different dialect. Actually, his father is Indian but he was abandoned as a child and a Chinese couple adopted him.

“They have no sex education… No-one knows how to use a condom” (Photograph by Tim J)

Neal filled me in on the inadequate educational system in Kuala Lumpur  “They have no sex education,” he said.  “No-one knows how to use a condom.”

At 15? They are doing it? And using condoms? And this is a Muslim country ruled by Sharia Law?  

One of the required subjects is Morals (?) and, unless you pass it, you cannot get out of high school    

In ‘Morals’, they teach you the basic rules of politeness that our parents taught us in Western countries. 

The laws appear very restrictive but they do not seem to limit people’s lives. For example, you can only divorce if the man approves.  

Many couples separate and do not divorce unless the woman finds someone else and wants to marry him. In that case, they have to pay the first husband money to get him to approve the divorce.  

If the man wants to remarry, he can initiate a divorce with no problem.  

Abortion is illegal but still people do it.  

Being gay is illegal but there is a very large gay population in Kuala Lumpur.  

If you are a Muslim, you must abide by Sharia law but, if you are not, you need not worry.  

The Chinese in Malaysia are considered the wealthy faction of the population and the Indians are suspect.  

I do a joke where I say, “I say something no black person ever says: The policeman is my friend.  When I did my set at the Crack House in Kuala Lumpur, I changed ‘black’ to ‘brown’. It got a huge laugh. 

Kuala Lumpur traffic (Photo by Timothy Tan via UnSplash)

The traffic in Kuala Lumpur is horrid but not as bad as Jakarta.

Still, it took two hours to get from the airport to my hotel and I had just enough time to unpack, grab some food and get dressed for the gig that night.  

Neal’s brother Nat picked me up along with Prakash, the MC for the evening and an amazing performer.   

That night, a huge contingent from Starbucks Coffee came to the show and drank a lot of liquid that was not coffee. The entire audience was one of the best I have ever seen and the four comedians (all men) who made up the first act were unbelievably funny. Every comedian was spot on. I thought: Thank God there is an interval because I could never follow that much laughter.

I did 45 minutes in the second half and it went down to thunderous applause.  Afterwards, all the comedians stayed to drink, dance and chat. It was lovely to see how they all form a very close supportive community.

The next day I met a magnificent, seasoned cabaret performer, Joanne Kam. It was her birthday but SHE took ME to lunch. She has been performing for over thirty years so she initiated the comedy cabaret scene in Kuala Lumpur.  

She is a single mother but has managed to create a very respected and well-paid niche for herself in her part of the world. She must have had huge and daunting blocks to overcome: a woman performing in a male-dominated culture. But she has obviously won her game. She puts on her own shows and packs houses with hundreds of patrons. She is amazing and more important a very kind, giving human being. I never felt any sense of competition with either Joanne or any of the comedians I worked with in Kuala Lumpur and the standard there is exceptionally high. 

After Joanne dropped me off at my hotel, I met Jai and Mark, (with their one-year-old Elezer), a couple I met in London two years ago. We have kept in touch and they also were with me when I did the Merry Lion in Singapore.  

I am beginning to have friends I look forward to seeing again in every country I visit and that makes these trips even more exciting and rewarding.

I Never Said I Was Nice…

And then it was time for the grand finale of my trip to Southeast Asia.  

I did I Never Said I Was Nice – my one hour show – as the second half of the show at the Crack House and it was a hit. Thank goodness for that.  

After the show, all the comedians went out with me for a late dinner and wonderful talk about the meaning of being human, what love is about and why we do comedy. I have to say this comes pretty close to being THE most exciting evening of my life (so far, of course.)  

Wherever we live, whatever we believe, we all share similar goals and aspirations.  

I had a friend from St Petersburg who once told me: “Everybody needs a place to live, to stay warm and eat delicious.”

I guess that says it all.  

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Lynn Ruth Miller on comedy in Singapore, London and Edinburgh

In immediately preceding blogs, she wrote about performing comedy in Cambodia, then in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi and Jakarta. Now London-based American Lynn Ruth Miller continues in Part 3 of a 4-part blog…


My next stop was Singapore.

The comedy scene there is not a good one in which to polish your craft. The open mike opportunities are sparse and, unlike London or even San Francisco, the only audiences at these events are other comedians and that is no way to judge if your comedy has a broad appeal.  

When I had been doing comedy for seven years I had already been elevated to paying gigs and could improve by listening to the reaction I got from larger more diverse audiences  

In Singapore, they have only two outlets.  

Umar Rana runs Masala and he always has international headliners. He is very good at employing locals, but his shows are only once a week and he cannot have the same person week after week. That means there is little opportunity to practice your craft with a real audience. There are too many comedians and too few slots to fill.  

The Merry Lion began two years ago and is not as established. I was very interested to see if it had improved. It had been a very basic room with few comforts or amenities when I last performed there. 

The result of this paucity of opportunity – only two outlets – is that the ‘big’ names here are not that effective in the larger international scene. 

Here they are local headliners; in European venues throughout the world they are mediocre at best.  

Comedians in Singapore who feel they have an edge want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to get reviews and make an international name for themselves.  

I find that appalling because they do not understand the true nature of what the Edinburgh Fringe has become.  

It will cost them an inordinate amount of money. The cost of getting a show listed and advertising it – even if they are part of the Free Fringe or Free Festival – is very high. 

They will be paying twice as much for food and three times as much for lodging as they would anywhere else in the world. The reviews they receive for the most part will be by amateur reviewers hired for no pay by the reviewing outlets who do not understand the challenges of doing comedy in your second language. 

They may very well fill the house in Edinburgh (although I have my doubts about that) but, when they launch their career internationally, it founders because they are simply not sharp  or experienced enough.  

And that is not because they are not funny.

It is because, despite what people think, it takes years and years to polish a set so it has universal appeal.  

I have been doing this for 16 years and I have a natural talent for comedy. Yet, I am still far from there… and I have had plenty of opportunities to practice and to work on my delivery.

People in this part of Asia do not have those outlets. 

Furthermore, standup comedy has become a business. You have to have a name that people recognize if you are to be booked at the major clubs who make a profit from their shows.  

That becomes a Catch-22 situation because you cannot get that name unless you have the opportunity to perform and those chances are given to people who are already established.  

I always tell comedians that they have to truly love doing what we do for its own sake. This is easy enough for me to say because I am on a pension and only have myself to support. If you have a family and expensive tastes, I do not know what to advise. It is true that money can get you pretty far in the field but then even kids with rich daddies (and I see far too many of them on the scene) grind to a halt.   

Stand up comedy has changed my own life for the better. I am not sure even now if this is an individual thing because my previous life was such an unflushed toilet or something I can say will happen to anyone who devotes himself to it. 

…CONTINUED HERE
IN SINGAPORE and KUALA LUMPUR

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Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi and Jakarta

In yesterday’s blog, she was in Cambodia.

But comedienne Lynn Ruth Miller didn’t stop there.

Here she continues in Part 2 of a 4-part blog…

Lynn Ruth in Hanoi


My next stop was Bangkok.

This was the third time I had been there so I knew the comedians and bookers.  

The show I was doing was with a man named Delfin Solomon whom I absolutely love: a charming man, a would-be film maker and also a comedian of sorts.  

This time the show was co-produced by Matthew Wharf whom I love, but I can never understand a word he says. He thinks it is my hearing (which is admittedly horrid) but that is not the problem. He is from Australia with an accent so broad he says words I simply cannot decipher.  

The last time I was in Bangkok, he introduced me to a beginning comedian whose name I thought was Wine. It turned out his name was Wayne and we have been in touch ever since.

I am beginning to know the streets and how to navigate Bangkok but it is an unbelievably crowded city filled with cars, motorbikes, tourists and vendors. The air is fetid and very pungent. The buildings are very tall and modern and have very little charm. The city is not clean but it has an energy and an excitement about it.

The hotel I stayed in was alright but not as user-friendly as the pretty little place in Phnom Penh. The air conditioner was right above the bed so it blew cold air on you as you slept and the sink faucet was locked into the cold setting. 

I performed at Jonathan Samson’s room in an old hotel off Khao San Road. This is the busiest section of town packed with students and tourists, backpackers and hostels. 

Afterwards, we all made potato pancakes for everyone hardy enough to stay awake to eat. Then, at two in the morning, Wayne and I wandered the neighborhood still filled with drinkers and partiers. He explained that nothing on the main streets of Bangkok closes until 0200am and many do not close at all. 

The next night was Lady Laughs. The lineup was all women and, of the four women in the lineup, one was a man. Who knew?  

“Of four women in the lineup, one was a man…”

The MC was Chrissy Inhulsen, originally from Georgia in the US. She spoke in a sweet Southern drawl that made her jokes even funnier. She told us all that she taught children of consenting age… and, in discussing why men do not pull out, she explained: “Gentlemen are SO forgetful.”  

And indeed they are.

Wayne took me to the airport the next day and I was on my way to Vietnam to apologize for what the Americans did to them.  

When I got to the arrival area in Saigon, I needed a photo and $25 American Dollars. Once through immigration, Quynh was there to meet me. She is the best thing about Saigon to me. I met her last time and could not wait to see her again. She is an artist and entrepreneur. She is also a delight. Last time, I was the feature for another comedian but this time I was to be the headliner. 

The MC was a prince from Sheffield (yes, they have them there) – Joe Zalias, a former cage fighter and fireman, now a full-time comedian and far funnier than I will ever be.  

Nick Ross, the man who organizes and books these shows was in town this time as well.  

I did my long show and it was a surprisingly strong hit. People all came up afterwards to tell me how much they loved the show. One man, Michael, told me that he had lost his grandfather not long ago and that he would have loved me. Then he told me a bit of his story. He is gay with a Vietnamese partner and they have a child with a surrogate mother who is also their best friend. She is about to give them another baby. 

I am struck with how determined gay people are to create family when I believe that priority is fading with heterosexual couples. 

Heterosexual people seem to be drifting away from marriage and children in alarming numbers. In fact, in England, marriage between men and women is at an all time low.  

I have a dear friend who commented: “I have no problem with gay marriage. If they want to ruin their lives….” 

This, I think, is a heterosexual view these days.  

How times change. The only thing I ever wanted in my life was marriage and children. Those dreams never came true though I have to say that, from this perspective, that is the best thing that ever happened to me.  

Nick, Quynh, Joe and I went out for drinks after the show and managed to get back to our hotel by 0300am. We had to get up by 0700 to get to the airport because we had a show in Hanoi that night.  

I managed to get us early boarding because I look like I am about to evaporate.  

Dan Dockery sent a driver to pick us up at the airport and he was there to meet us at our flat.

Dan Dockery, Lynn Ruth and Joe Zalias in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is cooler than Saigon and, for me, that was a blessed relief.  

We went out for a late lunch of a rice noodle crepe filled with egg or duck or chicken (I was not sure which) and then home to get ready for the show that night. 

Stand Up Hanoi holds its shows upstairs at the Standing Bar, a perfect-sized room with a good stage and nice lighting. There is a veranda where you can sit and still see the show – and a balcony.  

We were all a success and we drank to our wonderful performance for a couple hours afterwards as comedians tend to do.   

The next morning, at an ungodly hour, Joe and I boarded the same plane. He went to Kuala Lumpur and I continued on to Jakarta.  

I love Jakarta because of Eamonn Sadler. He is the man who books the shows and when I am there I perform at The American Embassy. I am always a little put off by the strict security. They even inspect under the hood of the car to make sure there are no explosives. 

I did my show to anyone who was NOT celebrating Thanksgiving. Evidently that is a big cause for celebration in Jakarta and not just for Americans… any excuse to eat turkey. The show was a hit thank goodness and we all went out to drink to its success (again and again and again).  

The next day I was supposed to do a storytelling show but there were no takers so I spent the day repairing my brand new iPhone 8 and then going to a great movie The Good Liar with Helen Mirren who looks really good for her age.  REALLY good. I wanted to rush home and look up cheap Botox repairs.

The cinema was in a huge, elaborate shopping center abounding in every name brand I have ever heard about. I asked Ava, Eamonn’s partner, how these huge malls could survive in a country where there is so much poverty and she said it is the sheer number of people here that make it possible.

There are 270,630,000 people in Indonesia and all you need is a small percentage of that number to buy these items to make the brand a success. A friend of hers manufactures the tags for zippers and that family is a billionaire family because every zipper in the whole world uses that tag.  

And so it was I got a valuable lesson in world economics and merchandising before I left Jakarta.

…CONTINUED HERE
…IN SINGAPORE…

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86-year-old comedienne Lynn Ruth Miller casts an eye over Cambodia

Lynn Ruth: branching out in SE Asia

The irrepressible and apparently indefatigable British-based American comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller recently returned from another of her globetrotting trips. Here she is, in Part 1 of a 4-part jaunt…


This was my third time in Asia but my second time in Cambodia.  The anticipation and excitement in this trip was getting to see people I have grown to love.

The man who books me in Cambodia is a prince. His name is Dan Riley and he is a kind, thoughtful man and a devoted father to his 8-year-old daughter whom he calls The Curley Girly. When I saw her last, she was six years old, shy and very quiet. This year, however, she has developed attitude. She is as tall as I am (which isn’t that difficult to achieve) and locked to her mobile phone.  

This visit, Dan has an assistant, JB, who helps him get people to the comedy shows he produces, run the shows and take care of the visiting comedians.  

In Cambodia, especially, comedians come to do shows from all over the area.  Dan works closely with Nick Ross in Saigon, Don Dockery in Hanoi, Eamonn Sandler in Jakarta (all British), Umar Rana in Singapore and Matthew Wharf in Bangkok plus various others in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Pakistan, and beyond to create tours for international comedians with big names and little nothings like me.

I have grown inordinately fond of all these men and now, instead of coming here to this part of the world only for comedy, I return because I want to see them all again and find out how they are.

You cannot just enter most of these countries without a visa – tourism is a money-making operation these days.  

In Cambodia, you must pay $35 American dollars to get a visitor’s visa. American money has become an international currency in this part of the world and in Cambodia and Vietnam you can often pay for products in that currency and receive your change in the country’s currency.  

JB was waiting for me at the airport and we took a cab to the same hotel I stayed in the last time: The House Boutique Eco Hotel.  

The “charming” House Boutique Eco Hotel, Phnom Penh

It is a charming hotel with a big swimming pool, a rustic bar and lovely, understated rooms, nothing like the Hilton or the Ramada. The rooms are small but adequate with a sink in front of the shower and toilet rooms with air conditioners that sometimes work and showers that eventually give you hot water if you wait long enough. You cannot drink the tap water in most of these countries. The hotels give you a ration of bottled water and a fully equipped fridge filled with beer that you pay for. 

Phnom Penh is a crowded city. The roads are clogged with cars, bumper to bumper and they are all lined with open shops where people sell anything and everything. The air is thick and pungent and the humidity makes it almost suffocating for me. Evidently, you get used to it if you live here.  

The saving grace here is the people.  

Cambodians are smiling, welcoming human beings and it is sad to me that the expats are all living lives far more luxurious than they would in more Westernized countries. But the natives are very poor and work long hours to earn enough to feed their families. There is no such thing as disposable income for them.  

Everyone you meet has an interesting story because they have all decided to leave the place where they were born for more opportunities and different lifestyles. 

JB is British and so is his wife, but they have lived all over the world. Many of the expats here teach English at various levels and his wife teaches in a university.  Dan Riley does promotion for a casino. Running a comedy club is a not very lucrative sideline for both Dan and JB though both have hopes of doing comedy eventually on a professional level. 

The Box Office venue, Phnom Penh

I arrived on a Friday evening and my show was the next day at The Box Office, the same place I was in the last time. It is upstairs in a small bar. The show is in a small room that Dan and JB pack with people. The overflow watch the show on a video downstairs.    

The host this time was Paul Glew, a very funny competent performer who has lived in Phnom Penh for a long time. Usually the line-ups are all male but not this time. Dan had also booked a local woman and Francesca Flores, a female comedian who is now living in Saigon but who will be joining the Peace Corps in Guatemala in 2020. Women are finally getting noticed in this all-male, very white profession.  

The house was filled to overflowing and included a lovely, well-behaved dog, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of us, probably because the dog only drank (bottled) water.  

I performed the entire last half this time, which was also a wonderful experience for me because, the first time I was there, I featured for Gina Yashere (always an honor). This time I was the headliner… so I had graduated to a higher level!!!   

I had a late afternoon plane back to Bangkok the next day, so Dan kept me company for a bit before JB took me to the airport. The waiting area at the gate was very crowded and London has spoiled me. 

I expect people to stand up and offer me their seats when I appear, now that I am of a certain age – much as they once swooned with admiration when I was younger.  

Evidently, in Cambodia it is only the children who get special consideration.  

However, as I stood there trying to create sufficient guilt to get someone to notice that I was standing, a woman got up, gave me her seat and then said something I could not understand to someone I assume was her husband.  

He took out his phone and showed me text in English that said: “How old?”  

I typed in “86” and everyone oh-ed and ah-ed and whispered to one another.  

I felt like a museum piece. 

…CONTINUED HERE
…IN BANGKOK, SAIGON, HANOI and JAKARTA…

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Dragos, “the David Jason of Romania”, on comedy styles and the revolution…

Dragoş Moştenescu first appeared in this blog back in 2017 and in 2018,

When I try to explain who Dragos is, I tend to say he is the Romanian equivalent of UK TV star David Jason with a touch of Elton John. In other words, he is indescribable – in a good sense! We are talking an international level of top entertainer here.

On Sunday (15th December) he is performing his full-length stage show All Aboard for Christmas! in London, so we met up at the Soho Theatre Bar for a chat. Towards the end, we got interrupted by another performer…


JOHN: You’ve already performed All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So now you are going to stage it…

DRAGOS: …every three or four months. My next aim – which turns out to be not that easy – is to find an agent – I don’t expect to be ‘big overnight’! – Someone to provide work at least constantly. Perhaps not daily but maybe weekly. What I do is very suitable for let’s say private parties – playing the piano; my Elton John thing. ..

JOHN: Corporate gigs you would be ideal for.

DRAGOS: Exactly. I am realistic.

JOHN: What would be a good step for you?

DRAGOS: A three minute song on a morning TV show. Three minute songs on radio shows. Three minutes here and there.

JOHN: You are more of an hour-long solo show performer but you can also do 5 and 10 minute spots…

DRAGOS: Yes. If you have 5 minutes of material, it is very difficult to extend it to 10 or 20 minutes; but, when you have 60 minutes, it is easier to extract 5, 10 and 20 minute routines. But they are different styles.

JOHN: (I NAME ANOTHER PERFORMER) does great one-hour shows and, in fact, I’ve seen (THE OTHER PERFORMER) do brilliant two-hour solo shows, but they are never going to be on BBC TV on Live at the Apollo, because The Apollo wants gag-gag-gag, punchline-punchline-punchline.

Five-minute acts tend to be full of quick gag punchlines.

DRAGOS: Exactly. It is very difficult to catch the audience within five minutes and keep them. You need to use one-liners and I respect that and salute it. But, when you are doing a 60-minute show, you cannot have the audience punched every minute. You have to bring people into the story… A beginning, a punchline or two or three and sections and an end and maybe you draw a conclusion from the story. The pace has to be different.

The trend is for stand-ups which I am not… entirely.

What I want now is not even money. I want people to be aware I can bring an hour of ‘light’ entertainment and people will go home more content, more relaxed and re-charged like a battery for work the next day.

JOHN: You must have had to learn what sense of humour British audiences want. 

DRAGOS: When I came here, I didn’t use any of my Romanian routines. When I first started in Britain, one routine I had was about people lacking money and being in a shopping mall where money was flying around but it didn’t work with the audiences. People were laughing reluctantly. They didn’t relate. 

Someone told me: “Everybody in the world needs more money but it is not an issue for us. We are not that poor. Not comedy audiences. They can put food on their tables. They can travel around the country or even the world. So people do not personally relate to being poor in comedy routines.”

But the rent in London is not low and audiences can personally identify with that. So I have a song about it and, at the end, I have sometimes had standing ovations. Especially if there are a lot of young people in the audience. They identify – Shared house, high rent, poor living conditions.

Dragoş created, wrote, produced and starred in Romania’s first television sitcom after the Revolution – La Bloc

JOHN: What is the sense of humour in Romania?

DRAGOS:
We still tend to laugh about what British people used to laugh about 20 or 30 years ago – the disabled, drunken people, less-minded guys…

JOHN: Punching down.

DRAGOS: Exactly.

JOHN: And now, in Britain, we punch up not down.

DRAGOS: Yes. But, on the internet, I have seen shows from 20 or 30 years ago and it was the same here in Britain. People laughed at different things then.

JOHN: Did Romanian TV charge after Ceausescu was overthrown?

DRAGOS: Under Ceausescu, there were only three hours of television per night.

JOHN: And that was mostly about what Ceausescu had done that day.

DRAGOS: Yes. And occasional Romanian movies. And, once a week we had an international – specifically American – film. That is why Romanians speak English with an American accent. The only foreign languages we heard were French, a bit of Russian and a lot of American.

JOHN: And television after Ceausescu…?

DRAGOS:
He fled with his helicopter and his entourage on 22nd December 1989 and landed at a cabin in the mountains. But he was captured and he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day.

JOHN: And, after that, television changed…?

DRAGOS: The revolution caught them unprepared. They had no regulations about what you could show on TV. They transmitted an uncensored Romanian film with nudity at 8 o’clock at night and…

(…AT THIS POINT, PERFORMER NARIN OZ ARRIVED IN THE SOHO THEATRE BAR…)

JOHN: (TO NARIN) Do you know Dragos? You should go and see his show at the Hen & Chickens on Sunday.

NARIN: I can’t. I’m filming in a horror movie. I play Death. I’m the villain.

JOHN: That’s typecasting. It’s the evil eyes. Dragos is the David Jason of Romania. Ask him something.

Narin Oz unexpectedly arrived during my chat with Dragos at the Soho Theatre Bar in London

NARIN: What’s your background?

DRAGOS: I graduated in engineering from the University of Timișoara, where the Romanian revolution started. in 1989.

JOHN: You were there?

DRAGOS: Yes. I was there in the beginning. Things expanded dramatically. Within four days, there was blood on the streets. We didn’t have weapons. We had the mentality at that time to go out bare-handed and, as they say, bare-chested. But I wasn’t that crazy. When things changed and became quite serious, I ran. I ran and I was kind of a prisoner in the students’ area.

Nothing was working. Not the public transportation, not the trains, not nothing. I was blocked up to about the 24th December. The spark was on 18th December and rolled over and smashed all the country, but it ended up in Bucharest within two or three days on 21st of December and, on 22nd, Ceausescu fled, then was killed on 25th. They call us religious people, but we killed our leader on Christmas Day: come on!

NARIN: So your show is about Romania…

DRAGOS: No. Not at all. I just put all that in brackets – what I just said.

NARIN: Those are very big brackets. Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

JOHN: It’s not a comedy show as such. It has comedy but with lots of music. It’s like an old-time variety show but solo.

DRAGOS: Though I think, when you walk away, you have some ideas and a conclusion maybe?

NARIN: Are you singing?

DRAGOS: Yes. Singing and playing the piano and comedy.

JOHN: Songs you have written yourself.

DRAGOS: Ten songs written especially for the show.

JOHN: And a bit of Elton John.

“A serious piece of music… an impersonation of Elton John.”

DRAGOS: Yes. That is a more serious piece of music. I do an impersonation of Elton John. (HE SHOWS A VIDEO ON HIS PHONE)

NARIN: You’re a bit of a legend.

JOHN: He is. Twenty years daily on television. Multiple series. And he wrote and produced and starred in this sitcom which…

DRAGOS: That was the first sitcom ever in Romania because, before 1989 and the overthrow of Ceausescu, we didn’t have such entertainment there. Then, after ten years of importing Seinfeld and Married With Children, we started our own sitcom on Pro TV – a private one, like ITV here. It lasted for ten years and 524 episodes.

JOHN: Produced and written by you…

DRAGOS: Well, there was a whole team of writers…

JOHN: But mainly you…

DRAGOS: Yes, because I created the idea; so I was like the head writer; I would re-touch and revise a little bit and I also acted in it.

NARIN: So, why did you come here? You were known there. You had everything.

DRAGOS: Yes, but I felt I needed somewhere to go and something to do NEXT. When you become very comfortable within your situation, that can lead to lack of inspirational creativity.

I have built up this new stage show and now I am struggling to get it going because I am in-between worlds.

Romanians in Britain would come to see me but, when they find out the show is in English… Not many have perfect English, especially the guys who just come here to work, to get some money to build something back in Romania. In London, there are doctors, lawyers and others who have been here about ten years and speak good English, but…

NARIN: Why don’t you do a Romanian language show?

DRAGOS: I have. But it’s not what I came here for. When I address things in English, I have to have a British audience. And the non-Romanian, English-speaking audience do not know me at the moment. I’m not complaining.  This is the normal way to do it. To build a new audience. 

NARIN: You could do, say, a 4-day run with two shows in Romanian and two in English.

DRAGOS: I could, but doing the same show in English and in Romanian doesn’t work. The topics are slightly different. With the Romanian shows I have to be very specific with Romanian references and culture. Every other month, we have a 2-hour Romanian show with various acts.

But I want to move on, move up.

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Comic Nathan Lang: “Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian”

Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.

I got an email from him:

“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back. 

“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.

“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”

So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.

And I have only just transcribed it.

I got severely side-tracked.

The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…


Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia

NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.

JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.

NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.

JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?

NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.

JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.

NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing. 

JOHN: And the comedy?

NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.

JOHN: I want to go there.

NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey. 

JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.

NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.

JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.

JOHN: With what?

NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.

JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.

NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”

JOHN: So Bobcat is better?

NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.

JOHN: Biblical?

NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.

JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?

NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.

JOHN: So why Bobcat…?

NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…

JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?

NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.

JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…

NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?

This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.

JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?

NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.

JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?

NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.

JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.

NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.

JOHN: Caracal?

NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.

JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.

JOHN: You seem happy.

NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.

JOHN: You’re on them?

Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London

NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.

After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.

JOHN: Because of Perth?

NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.

JOHN: Why was it long overdue?

NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.

But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.

It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.

So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.

JOHN: And you are OK now?

NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.

JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.

NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.

JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.

NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectioned immediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.

JOHN: Why did you come back to the UK?

NATHAN: Our careers.

JOHN: What is Shelley?

NATHAN: A trainee psychotherapist.

JOHN: That’s useful.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology, UK

Ria Lina on Comedy Unleashed, non-PC audiences and the Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.

Ria was born in England.

Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.

At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.

Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.

And now she’s a comedian.

She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.

Now read on…


JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…

RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.

JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.

RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.

It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.

JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.

RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250… 

JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.

RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.

If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!

JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?

RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities. 

I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it. 

JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?

Ria Lina, BSc, PhD, MC and comedian

RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is. 

I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…

JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?

RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!

It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.

JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?

RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.

JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?

RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.

JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…

RIA: Yes. 

JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…

RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate, 

The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.

Ria Lina’s show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe

JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…

RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.

JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…

RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.

The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.

JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?

RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.

JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!

RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics