25 Years of Shooting Comedians and the recent new devaluation of artistic talent

Rich Hardcastle has photographed comedians for 25 years.

Now he has a Kickstarter campaign to publish a large-format coffee-table book of 110 extraordinary photos and text: 25 Years of Shooting Comedians. Ricky Gervais has written a foreword for it and says: “Rich has a way of making even a rainy day spent standing in a muddy field look glamorous and important.”

Fellow photographer Idil Sukan recently wrote on Facebook about Rich Hardcastle:

“His photos of comedians are completely amazing. His work was the only reason I thought there was hope for the industry instead of just wacky head scratching photos of needy boys wearing red shirts. His photos are beautiful and touching and always stand out, always.

“He, like all of us comedy photographers, has done so much work under such high pressure circumstances, not always been paid at full rates, been messed around by producers, but regardless, consistently, always produced incredible work that supported comedians, sold tickets, made fans happy. The comedy photography industry really only opened up because of him, because he was taking risks and doing things differently.”

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Photograph: Rich Hardcastle)

Some comedians are in the National Portrait Gallery because of Rich Hardcastle – Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Phill Jupitus et al.

“25 years as a photographer,” I said to Rich when we met. “Ever since you were at Edinburgh College of Art. So you had decided back then you wanted to be a professional photographer?”

“Well, I wanted to photograph rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do Terry O’Neill type shots: beautifully-framed shots showing the real person behind the facade. This was back in the day when celebrity meant something.”

“But you didn’t,” I asked, “want to be an ad agency photographer shooting pack shots and well-lit plates of food?”

“No. though I’d love to be in advertising now, because of the money…”

“Of course,” I said.

“Though there is not,” he added, “as much as there used to be.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“No. There’s no real money in photography. In terms of me in comedy, I think I’m the Ramones. I’ve influenced loads of people. I started something, but I haven’t made any money from it and I don’t even have the revenue from T-shirt sales.”

“So why, 25 years ago,” I asked, “did you start shooting comedians and not rock stars?”

“They were there, they were easy to get to and I liked comedy. I love the comedy industry. They’ve been very good to me and a lot of my success has been through things that happened in the comedy industry.”

“Why a book now?” I asked.

Director Terry Gilliam, as photographed by Rich Hardcastle

“25 years. I was there for 25 years, documenting that world opening up. I want it to be a big, beautiful, important book. It’s a snapshot of a generation of British comedy.”

“Surely anyone,” I prompted, “can photograph comedians? You just get them to open their mouths and wave their hands about in a zany way.”

“But I wanted to photograph them like rock stars,” explained Rich. “To try to make them look cool.”

“So what did you decide to do instead of wacky comedy shots?”

“Photograph them like I would a musician or a movie star. Nice, cool portraits of people who happen to be comedians.”

“There must have been,” I suggested, “no money in photographing people who were, at that time, relative nonentities.”

“I was an art student when I started (in the early 1990s); then I started photographing other things – editorial stuff like GQ; but I kept photographing comedians – maybe 90% was not commissioned. I did it because I was interested. No, there was not really any money in it.”

“There’s little money in anything creative now,” I said. “It started with music being free, then books, then videos. People expect all the creative stuff to be free or dirt cheap.”

Greg Davies (Photo by Rich Hardcastle)

“I used to do posters for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,”  said Rich. “The greatest thing was when people would steal the posters because they were such lovely images. It changed around the time digital cameras took off and people were using almost snapshot photos of themselves. Russell Howard had a poster which was just him standing in a Vietnamese street market or sitting on a wall or something, obviously when he was on tour.

“Things changed around then. It looked like a bit of a movement, but it wasn’t. It was just someone’s tour manager taking a photo and thinking: Oh, we don’t have to pay a photographer to do this and you can take like 3,000 on one card – so one of ‘em’s going to be good. Phil Nichols said to me: The problem is what you do is now considered ‘Art’ and people now baulk at the idea of having to pay someone to come up with a concept and shoot it.”

I suggested: “Maybe all creative things are undervalued now. Everyone thinks they can write novels because they can type on their computer and self-publish a paperback book. And anyone can take a free photograph now because they have a smartphone.”

“This is the thing,” said Rich, “you can take 6,000 photos on your phone and print one up that might look good. But I can do it with one shot.”

“Everyone thinks they can be an artist,” I said.

“Yes,” Rich agreed. “The creative arts have been de-valued.”

“To create a music album,” I said, “you used to have to rent Abbey Road Studios for a month and pay George Martin to produce it. Now I can record something for free on GarageBand on my iPhone and upload it onto iTunes for people to hear worldwide.”

“In a way, though,” said Rich, “it’s quite nice because bands are finding the only way they can make money is to play live, which is what they are supposed to do and sort-of great. Rather than a manufactured pop band who have never actually played live selling out the O2…”

“But then,” I said, “anyone can write a novel, self-publish it and call themselves a novelist…”

“…And that devalues the word ‘novelist’,” agreed Rich. “Brooklyn Beckham is a ‘photographer’ and has a book out and a show.”

“Have you seen it and do you want to be quoted?” I asked.

Rich Hardcastle (Photo by Sarah M Lee)

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rich, “because, if he’s serious about wanting to be a photographer and he actually develops any talent over the years, then that’s fucked him. That book and that whole launch has fucked his career because people are going to think he’s a joke and real, creative people are not going to want to be associated with him. Which is a real shame.

“It’s like the Australian actor Guy Pearce. It has taken a long, long time for people to forget he was in Neighbours. Now it’s ‘Guy Pearce, Hollywood actor’ whereas, at the start of his career, it was ‘that guy who used to be in Neighbours’.”

Malcolm Hardee,” I told Rich, “used to say that any normal person who practises juggling for 10 hours a day, every day, for 3 years, can become a very good juggler. Because it’s a skill not a talent, but…”

“That’s what I hate about jugglers,” said Rich. “I think: You’re doing the same thing that every other juggler does. Yes, you are standing on a chair and the things you’re juggling are on fire, but you are still just juggling.”

“But,” I continued, “Malcolm said, without talent, you could practise forever and never became a great comedian because performing comedy has a large element of talent involved; it’s not just a skill… It’s the same with photography, I think. To be a great photographer, you need talent not just skill. It’s an art.”

“Yes,” said Rich. “You can take 3,000 photos on a camera and call yourself a photographer, but you are not. You’re just like a monkey taking 6,000 photos and one of them could be a good composition by accident.”

Stewart Lee, photographed by Rich Hardcastle

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Photographs

I was burgled by a small dead comedian

“Last night I went to sleep about 0230 & woke about 0530”

It is very rare that I remember my dreams – which is a pity – I usually only remember when I get woken up during a dream – and I usually bung together details in blogs as a way to not forget them, though why I would want not to forget them I don’t know. I suppose because they are so rare.

Last night I went to sleep about 0230 and woke up about 0530 in the middle of a dream.

I was in a rented house which was rather darkly-lit.

There had been some sort of break-in.

The burglar appeared and we got into a fight. I got the better of him and, when he fell on the floor, I stamped on him.

He was some sort of rectangular battery-powered 4-inch long plastic case which also managed to look like a human. He was a pink plastic rectangular case. When I stamped on him, the flat pink plastic top of his rectangular pink plastic case broke off slightly. The edges separated slightly from the main torso/case.

At this point or soon after (it is difficult to tell in dreams) a female friend was there and we started talking about the burglary perpetrated by the pink plastic rectangular humanoid lying inactive on the floor.

While I was talking to my female friend, I realised I had not searched the rest of the house to see if there was anyone else – another burglar – still lurking.

As I was saying to my female friend, “Maybe I should take a lo…,” I saw, behind her, through the glass panels in two doors in the rather darkly-lit house, a figure come scurrying down the stairs. It was diminutive comedian Charlie Drake.

Diminutive comedian Charlie Drake came scurrying down

I ran out into the hall to cut off his route of escape to the back door of the house and he swerved to avoid me, colliding with and bouncing off my female friend.

He fell onto the floor of the darkly-lit house and…

I woke up.

Dreams – and life – can be frustrating when you do not know what happens next.

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Dick pic etiquette, virtual flashing, the Scottish comedian and sausage & eggs

The Record‘s front page. I have obscured the face.

At the Grouchy Club both three months ago and two months ago, there was gossip about a Scottish male comedian who had allegedly sent offensive unsolicited text messages and photos – ‘dick pics’ – to various younger female comedians. The story was not discussed at this month’s Grouchy Club, but resurfaced as a front-page story in the Scottish Daily Record and was then picked up by the English Daily Mirror and the English Sun last Saturday.

Unconnected to the above, I know other female comedians who have received ‘dick pics’ from male comics.

It gives new meaning to the phrase ‘stand-up comedians’.

So I thought: Who do I know who is likely to talk about this subject ON the record?

Well, obviously, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Becky Fury.

We met at a Pret a Manger branch in London’s Soho. The glamour never stops.

Her right shoulder was hurting. It was a boxing injury. She is left-handed.

Quite why she had been boxing may well be the subject for a future blog, but she does not want to talk about it now and… I am just saying… Don’t mess with Becky Fury.

“Have you ever heard of women sending men unsolicited pictures of their nether regions?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied.

“With dick pics,” I prompted, “some women have said to me – well, one woman in particular has said to me: Oh, it’s a just a bloke being a bloke. It’s not rape; it’s not mass murder. I think men may actually, bizarrely, treat it more seriously than women. Well, not more seriously than rape or murder. But I certainly do treat it seriously. It might be my Presbyterian upbringing. I see it as outrageous. But women – some women – do see it as just One of these things you have to suffer.

Becky Fury seen via a Pret a Manger tea stirrer

“Well,” said Becky. “it’s virtual flashing. So it’s a mild sexual assault.”

“Why is it mild?” I asked.

“Because flashing is quite quaint… Well, no-one does it any more, do they? It’s a quaint sex crime now. You don’t get old men hiding in the bushes wearing dirty old macs showing their willy to old ladies.”

“Or, more seriously, to 10-year-old girls,” I said.

“Or to 10-year old girls,”agreed Becky. “But it doesn’t happen any more. Things have moved on. If you have sex crimes on a scale, then flashing is a mild one – compared to rape, for example. I am used to dealing with smutty boys.“

“This has happened to you?”

“Yes. I’ve been asked if I wanted to be sent a dick pic.”

“As a sampler?” I asked. “As a precursor to…”

“A precursor to more dick pics,” replied Becky. “It never really goes anywhere. Men just like to send pictures of their penises.”

“I don’t,” I said. “But you have, in the past, encouraged dick pic sending?”

“Well, I have agreed. There is dick pic etiquette. It’s like anything. If someone really wants to send a picture of their penis, just ask first – May I send you a dick pic? Then you will get a Yes or No and, if No, then you say: OK. That’s absolutely fine. Have a lovely day.”

“So,” I asked, “if I send you a dick pic request in half an hour, what will make you decide one way or the other?”

“Well, that’s the question,” said Becky. “Am I interested in seeing a picture of your erect penis? If Yes, then I tell you and you can send me the picture. If No, then that’s a No.”

“Could negotiations take place?” I asked. “Like You don’t want to see an erect penis but could we compromise on flaccid?

Becky with her 2016 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

“Well, you have to ask. It’s all about consent. Like anything else that has a sexual element, consent is vital.”

“But is there a negotiation process?” I persisted. “Could you start with erect and work your way down?”

“That could be involved,” said Becky. “Everything is open to negotiation.”

“If you were a tough negotiator,” I asked, “could it come down to me sending you a photo of a vague bump shape in the trousers?”

“Yes,” said Becky. “If you wanted to send that, you could. But you should still ask first. Because, once you step across that consent barrier, then it starts becoming virtual flashing.”

“You are going to hate the reaction you get to this blog,” I suggested. “Hundreds of solicitations. How many pictures does consent cover anyway? One picture? Twelve?”

“It’s a grey area – internet exchanges with people. Apparently it’s very common on Tinder. I have a way of dealing with it. When I received an unsolicited dick pic, I said: Do you want to see mine? They presumed they were going to see a picture of my private parts, but I found a picture of the thickest, fattest dick on the internet and sent that back to them.”

“How do you find the thickest, fattest dick on the internet?” I asked.

“You Google the phrase ‘Boris Johnson’,” Becky explained.

Becky Fury, comic stirrer with a negotiator’s eye

“So,” I said, “you have received unsolicited dick pics from people you knew and people you didn’t know?”

“I have never received an unsolicited dick pic from someone that I knew. When a dick pic is sent unsolicited, it’s not going to be from someone you know particularly well. Normally, sending dick pics involves not having very much respect for the other person. Like I said, it has this element of being an assault.

“If you’re involved in a smutty exchange, a sexualised conversation, with somebody on the internet – somebody you haven’t fucked – and they want to send you a dick pic, then they should ask permission. It’s not necessarily something you want to receive unexpectedly first thing in the morning over breakfast.”

“When you are having your sausage and eggs,” I suggested.

“Precisely,” agreed Becky.

“Why do men send dick pics anyway?” I asked. “Is it a form of advertising? Forthcoming attraction! Coming soon!

“I dunno what the psychology is,” said Becky. “But I really don’t want to receive any more.”

Personally, if you send a dick pic, I think it is a true selfie – You really are a dick.

Becky’s 2016 Edinburgh Fringe comedy show image. She returns this year with an updated version.

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Ban for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival – Why?

Anna Smith – as ever, thinking blue sky (Photograph by Elaine Ayres)

I have said it before and I will say it again.

Yes I will.

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, leads an interesting life, sometimes on the boat where she lives in Vancouver.

Yesterday morning, I got this email from her:

“Guess what. I just got banned for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival.”

“Why?” I asked.

This was her reply:


I applied for the volunteer massage work which I had happily done in 2112 and 2013. I enjoy giving massages and it is interesting meeting musicians, even the ones I already know. I have never had any complaint about my massages, ever.

This morning, I received a letter from one of the festival co-ordinators stating:

There is a lifetime ban on you volunteering for the festival from an incident that occurred in 2013. I trust you know what it is in regards to. I’m sorry for not communicating earlier, but the info has just caught up with me. Cheers.

In fact, I don’t know what it is in regards to. It is upsetting but also hysterically funny that this supposedly peaceable music festival has banned me for an incident that I am not even aware of.

I remember massaging a huge, very polite mariachi singer who kept his clean white underpants on and a guitarist whose back was fucked from too much driving.

I massaged the teenaged daughter of a protective blues singer and the daughter talked to me about her school.

I ran into violinist Ben Mink and Dennis Nichol, a bass player who had played at The Zanzibar in Toronto who remembered me as ‘Nurse Annie’ (Anna’s stage persona as an exotic dancer).

None of these people were unhappy to see me.

And I got to hear Lucinda Williams sing Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

It surely could not be because I took a photo of the lady with cucumber on her face or wrote about the hula hoop theft in a comedy blog, could it?

Dressed as a nurse, I stripped for lesbians, but my strip show at The Penthouse was just a month ago, so it could not have been that.

And (unlike Malcolm Hardee) I have never driven any tractors, naked, through any other performers’ tents.

I feel dissatisfied just being banned for life from volunteering at the Vancouver Folk Festival. I wish they could ban me for life from volunteering for anything.

Especially now that summer is here and soon men will be falling in the river again. And dogs.

I have just woken up. It is very peaceful on the river except for a couple of crows causing a little ruckus from the treetops.

Anna’s exotic dancer alter ego – ‘Nurse Annie’

Very late last night, when I was downtown, I met a little old lady as we were waiting for a streetlight to change. She was pushing a walker and was elegantly dressed in a light blue jacket with a long matching blue coloured scarf. She had curly white hair and I almost had to stop her from heading into a busy street before the lights changed to green.

“I’m 94 years old!” she cried cheerfully. “I would give you a hug but I’ve run out.”

She fumbled with a small green purse.

“I had a thousand when I set off this morning,” she told me, “but I’ve given them all away. I give them to everybody. They are only this big… about two inches…”

I heard a skateboarder rumbling towards us, so I stood closer to her.

“We have to be careful,” I said. “They don’t realise the damage they could cause to people our age.”

“It’s true,” said the old lady. “But they are nice, the young people. When I tell them to stop, they always do and they are so sweet about it.”

“I’m 94 years old,” she repeated. “I’m not supposed to be out this late, but I was giving out hugs. People need them, you know. They say Vancouver is the loneliest city in Canada. I’ve had grown men crying in my arms.”

I walked her to her bus stop and waited there with her.

A fire engine drove past and she waved excitedly to the firemen.

Firemen outside the Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver this week

“Oh,” I said. “You wave to firemen? I do that too. I waved to some this afternoon, outside the Balmoral Hotel.”

“I wave to firemen and to the police,” she told me. “And ambulances too.”

Then her bus arrived and she boarded it. She greeted its driver enthusiastically.

I plan on staying home today, thank goodness, so I don’t expect to face the cruel world of folk festivals or anything. I think I may do some gardening when it cools down.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Sex, Vancouver

Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Surreal

How to write, structure and maintain a TV soap opera like Coronation Street

Many moons ago, I used to work a lot for Granada TV in Manchester, home of Coronation Street which, since its birth in 1960, has been the UK’s regular ratings-topper.

I never worked in the Drama Department at Granada – mostly I was in Promotions with slight forays into Children’s/Light Entertainment.

But I remember having conversations with two Coronation Street producers at different times about the structure of the soap and they both, pretty much, ran it along similar lines.

The first, crucial pillar to build a soap on is a central location.

In Coronation Street, the BBC’s EastEnders and ITV’s Emmerdale this is a pub – the Rover’s Return, the Queen Vic and The Woolpack.

River City in Scotland and Fair City in the Republic of Ireland have also taken the pub to their soapy hearts.

The pub allows you to have a central core cast – a small staff and ‘regulars’ who live locally – and a logical reason why new characters bringing new plots will enter and leave the ongoing storyline.

ATV’s ancient soap Crossroads used a variation of this by having the central setting as a motel.

In the case of Coronation Street, there was (certainly when I worked at Granada) a formula which went roughly like this…

DRAMATIC STORYLINES

  • one main storyline peaking
  • one main storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next main storyline
  • one subsidiary storyline peaking
  • one subsidiary storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next subsidiary storyline

COMIC STORYLINES (as with dramatic storylines)

  • one peaking
  • one winding down
  • one building

I have always thought that EastEnders fails in ignoring or vastly underplaying the possibility of comic storylines. When Coronation Street is on a roll, it can be one of the funniest shows on TV.

I confess shamefacedly that I have not actually watched Coronation Street lately (well, it HAS been going since 1960, now five times a week, and even I have a partial life).

But another interesting insight from one of the producers at Granada TV was that Coronation Street (certainly in its perceived golden era) was also slightly out-dated. It appeared to be a fairly socially-realistic tableau of life in a Northern English town, slightly dramatised. But it was always 10-20 years out-of-date. It showed what people (even people in the North) THOUGHT life was currently like, but it had an element of nostalgia.

This was in-built from the start. The initial ‘three old ladies in the snug’ of the 1960s – Era Sharples and her two cronies) is what people thought Northern life was like but, in fact, that was a vision from the early 1950s or 1940s or even 1930s. So modern storylines were being imposed on a slightly nostalgised (not quite romanticised!) vision of the North.

In other countries where pubs are not a tradition, of course, you have to find another central location.

But, in my opinion, if you lessen the humour and harden the gritty realism, you may maintain ratings figures in the short or medium term, but you are gambling. And if your spoken lines sound like written lines (as they often do in EastEnders) then you are a titanic success sailing close to an iceberg.

But what do I know?

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“Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons” after throat-slitting at the Grouchy Club

Yesterday, performer Samantha Pressdee posted in Facebook: “Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons, all in the name of feminism, is where last night’s Grouchy Club wound up.”

Critic Kate Copstick and I run The Grouchy Club. This was originally conceived by me as a one-hour chat show for the Edinburgh Fringe where I would not have to do any advance work – boring things like booking guests and thinking up subjects – and would not have to do anything on the day because the guests would be the audience and the audience would be comedy industry people self-obsessed enough to witter on for at least 55 minutes while I sat back and listened to the audience gossip and self-promote and Copstick got irate about something and ranted and raved.

It is the reverse of a normal show.

At the Grouchy Club, the audience performs and I do nothing.

Job done.

Copstick and I are back at the Edinburgh Fringe this year 14th-27th August with a daily 2.15pm Grouchy Club show. It is not listed in the main Fringe Programme because heaven forfend that I should have to fork out money or that ‘real people’ should turn up. It IS listed in the Laughing Horse Free Festival programme because that does not cost me money. Our shows are genuinely free – No collection bucket. Free to enter. Free to leave. Free to say what you like. May contain nuts.

It does not get vast audiences but does OK by Fringe standards and, as I said in a recent blog, at the Edinburgh Fringe, what is important is not the number of bums-on-seats you get but whose buttocks they are.

This original Fringe idea turned into a monthly Grouchy Club in London and a weekly podcast which I stopped in February this year after 100 editions but which may re-start around Fringe time, as Copstick likes to hear the sound of her own voice.

The latest monthly live London Grouchy Club was two days ago. It is always the second Tuesday of the month. Why? I have forgotten. I am old, bald and my grip on reality is loosening.

Anyway, semi-regular (in attendance, not in bowel movements) Siân Doughty observed yesterday on Facebook: “It was an eventful evening and the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday in years”.

I billed it in advance as being about “the General Election; the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe; advice on writing, structure, performance and how to get publicity and reviews… Plus an insider’s description of the London Bridge terror attack… a 10 min excerpt from an upcoming Fringe show… and slanderous gossip.

Copstick – Her bark is worse than her bites

“Kate Copstick will be on painkillers,” I continued, “and have jet lag from Kenya. I will probably have had a tooth extracted a few brief hours before. Copstick will almost certainly be bad-tempered. I will gibber and dribble. Usually, we end up talking about dubious sexual practices and who the cunts are in comedy. And there are free biscuits.”

When it came to it, almost none of this happened except that Joe Palermo did describe being in the middle of the London Bridge terrorist attack (with a description of slit throats and all) Edinburgh Fringe/Eurovision Song Contest podcaster Ewan Spence had some unprintable gossip and there were free biscuits. Copstick was the healthiest I have seen her in about two years (but then, inevitably, she went in to hospital yesterday) and I still retain my tooth, at least for the moment.

At around 9.00pm, as often happens, everyone decamped to the nearby Wetherspoons pub and I went home, thus missing the bit Samantha Pressdee mentioned: “Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons, all in the name of feminism.”

Samantha is one of the studio psychics on and an occasional presenter for Psychic TV. Last night, she did a TED style talk on Maslow’s Pyramid and the Law of Attraction. But that is too up-market for this blog. I asked her to expand on the tit-grabbing. And she has:

“The tit-grabbing was a great relief to me,” she says, “as, earlier in the evening, I had found myself sandwiched between Noel Faulkner, former owner of the recently gazumped Comedy Cafe and David Gersch, new promoter of what was the Comedy Cafe. Noel (in effect) threatened he would set the comedy Illuminati onto Gersch.

“This time I had remembered to bring a bottle to the Grouchy Club. I was glad of a drink, having lugged my fat bin bags around London in the heat that day. The bin bags  contained some clothes and bedding that will shortly be off to Aleppo in Syria via the Mama Biashara collection point.

Samantha reads Gersch’s uncertain future in the cards

“With the threat of Illuminati forces in the air, I thought I should channel some positive energy so brought out my tarot cards. I began reading for Gersch who was wearing a a baseball cap backwards embroidered with his catchphrase CLASSIC GERSCH. Noel wished the death card on the 25 year old. And it was the first card to come up.

Are the Illuminati real? I wondered. Noel, as if psychic himself, nodded and explained they have a secret way of winking.

“He calmed down a bit after a beer and the angel cards brought some laughter to the room. The angels suggest Noel and Gersch take it outside when they both pulled the ‘fresh air’ card. They left the party early (but separately).

“Comedian Siân Doughty was given confirmation from the angels that her decision to opt out of our Prosecco drinking was the right one. Her calm energy had a taming affect on our debauchery but, still, she did not escape a tit grab later.

“Copstick is a well of a wisdom – we learned the most wonderful cure for a hangover. Which, like most of the best things in life, involves nudity.

Joe’s story, reported in the Evening Standard

“I made a new feminist friend called Sarah – on her arrival she lobbed a bag of bras across the room that are bound for Kenya, via Mama Biashara.

“She and I bonded over our mutual hatred of another feminist and found we both support The English Collective of Prostitutes in their bid to decriminalise sex work.

“When we went to Wetherspoons, we discussed the virtues of Chris Dangerfield and the problems with third-wave feminism before the conversation moved on to the wonders of tea tree oil. We shared our experience of using this magic potion as a natural cure for vaginal thrush.

“Socially conscious Sarah interjected: What if a woman is not privileged enough to own a douching kit?

“Copstick immediately swung in her seat, both legs erected up in the air, and jiggled. The Wetherspoon community, of course, did not bat an eyelid but it may have been too much for sweet Simba, a street musician I had befriended on my fag break. He was considering entertaining us at the next Grouchy Club on July 11th but, after the demonstration of how to achieve a healthy vagina using the upside-down method, he made his excuses and vanished into the night.

“What an adventure!

“Earlier, the angel cards had verified that John gives trustworthy guidance and Copstick is loved by many, bringing joy to those whose tits she touches.”

Samantha added to me:

“If the blog goes up, could you link to my Edinburgh Fringe crowdfunder at the end? I am offering my Tarot readings as a perk! Perhaps at the bottom it could say: Would you like a psychic reading from Sammie? As a mystic she regularly appears on Psychic TV, has featured in It’s Fate and has over 200 5 star ratings. For a £25 donation to her Edinburgh fund, you can get a 20-30 minute reading in person or on the phone.

The appealing Samantha’s Edinburgh crowdfunding video

I told her No – it is too blatantly commercial for this blog, because the whole point is to plug me and the Grouchy Club.

If she is psychic, I wouldn’t need to tell her this and she wouldn’t need to tell anyone anything.

I asked if she had any pictures of the tit-grabbing.

She said No.

Life is a never-ending frustration.

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