Tag Archives: Alan Partridge

A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 2 – Comedy, characters, dreams…

Robert Wringham is not his real name…

Yesterday’s blog finished with:

ROBERT: So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

Now read on…


JOHN: I am not in any way a performer. No talent; no interest in doing it. There is a different mindset between performers and writers, isn’t there? I’m not remotely a performer. I can’t ad-lib fluently in spoken speech, whereas I can write I think fluently quite quickly.

ROBERT: I don’t want to be truly me performing on stage; I want to be a character. I think I can just about hold my own in terms of fast thoughts, but what I can’t do is play the character at the same time. However, in Stern Plastic Owl and my other books, I think I CAN do that.

JOHN: So, when you were a stand-up, it was character comedy…

ROBERT: Not like Alan Partridge. It’s like what I said about ‘Robert Wringham’ and the doppelgänger. I want this clear line between the real me and what I’m showing, otherwise it’s not actually a creative act. I don’t want to go out there and just talk. I want to have a character and that was why I was not very good as a performer. I couldn’t really do that.

The way I’ve found round that problem is to do these books. 

JOHN: By and large, I don’t like character comedy because, in television, I got typed as a finder of bizarre and/or eccentric ‘real people’. So I know there are loads of eccentric or even just slightly unusual people out there – well, most people are slightly unusual – and they are really interesting. So why should I watch someone pretending to be eccentric or unusual when they are not? – They are just analysing someone who isn’t themselves and fabricating a character to hide behind.

Charlie Chuck is not a subtle character study of a real type…

The closer a character act is to being real, the less I’m interested. The more ‘cartoony’ they are, the more I’m interested. Charlie Chuck springs to mind. Charlie Chuck (real name Dave Kear) is not a subtle character study of a real type of person.

ROBERT: One of my favourite comics is Harry Hill (real name Matthew Hall) and a lot of people don’t really think of him as a character comic although he is. You could not be like that in real life. I assume Matthew Hall at home is going to be nothing like Harry Hill.

JOHN: Yes, he’s a cartoon character – in a good way. I think really good straight stand-up comedians on stage are themselves, but slightly heightened versions of themselves. And then there are the OTT cartoony-type ones. But stand-up ‘character comedy’ tends to be just wannabe actors showing off their abilities, not performers who inherently have that odd ‘comedian’ gene.

I also don’t particularly like slow-speaking comedians. If I pay to see Jerry Sadowitz, I’m getting value for money in the words-per-minute, but slow comedians, by-and-large, I think: Just get on with it! I never liked Jack Benny. Too slow. Although, oddly, I liked George Burns.

ROBERT: To me, ‘slow’ is the ultimate cool because it’s the opposite of… When you’re nervous on stage, you go fast. A slow-speaking comedian instills a certain confidence in the room. You think: Oh! This guy knows what he’s doing! He’s going to slowly reveal the routine. It’s also very funny: almost as if they don’t care what the audience thinks.

JOHN: I guess maybe George Burns felt more Jewish to me, which I like. Jack Benny was maybe less ‘American Jewish’ humour.

ROBERT: My partner is Jewish and Jewish is a big part of our shared life. In my secret mind, ‘Robert Wringham’ is Jewish, though I don’t tend to talk about it on the page. My favourite humorists are all Jewish. 

JOHN: S.J. Perelman?

ROBERT: Yeah. Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, Jon Ronson.

JOHN: So what’s next for you after Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: I’m working on my novel. It’s almost done.

JOHN: Tell me it really IS about sitting in a bathtub and it’s called Rub-a-Dub-Dub

ROBERT: Yes! It is!

JOHN: A lucky guess on my part. What’s the plot?

ROBERT: I think ‘plot’ is old hat. So, instead of going wide with a plot, go deep. It’s about the conscious state you have when you’re in the bath. You’re nostalgic. You’re thinking back. There’s this time machine effect. You’re thinking back to you childhood. So that’s what my guy in the book does. He’s remembering things, thinking of his worries, thinking on his body. There’s a lot of stuff about the body in it.

There is something called phenomenological writing, which is just the real nitty-gritty of what surrounds you. You’d be surprised how you can make that interesting.

JOHN: As I speak to you, I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun sitting in front of a station/cathedral. What is phenomenological writing?

“I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun…”

ROBERT: It’s really old. It’s a French thing. For example, Georges Perec did one where it was all in one building, but it was into the nitty-gritties. So he’d be talking about the design on the carpet for ages and going into the shagpile of this single room or the individual books in the bookcase and what they were. And it would all be in the service of something: like This is the character of the person who lives there. But it would be really deep into the nitty-gritty.

You would think: That can’t possibly be fun to read. But, actually, it’s really entertaining and interesting. What I’m doing and what Georges Perec did is playing it for laughs.

JOHN: I remember reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and wondering why she went into such detailed descriptions of people’s houses… until I realised the descriptions were actually also descriptions of each householder’s personality. The houses personified their occupants. 

This blog bit is just pure self-indulgence…

You were talking about dreams earlier on. I’m interested because I have an unidentified medical problem. I used to sleep soundly and deeply and never remembered my dreams. But now I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since June 2020 – I wake up literally every hour and, of course, sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream. I always wanted to remember my dreams because I assumed they would be surreal but they’re not. The dreams I have are very realistic not surrealistic. They have narrative storylines running through them. I am disappointed. You sound like you have better dreams.  

ROBERT: Mine aren’t stories at all. If I do something very repetitive during the day – like doing the washing-up – that’ll end up in my dream. Repetitive things go in. Embarrassingly dull.

JOHN: I don’t seem to have nightmares. Do you?

ROBERT: No. And, if I do write things down in my notebook, it’s always things like Stern Plastic Owl. I DID once write down Stoat: Hospital with a colon between the two words. I can’t even begin to imagine what that means. 

JOHN: I can only dream of having dreams which are that weird.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Eccentrics, Performance

The problems of advertising farting and a very strange sighting of Noddy Holder

Mr Methane on The Gadget Show with cameramen Rob Shaw & Mark Tredinnick of Mediadoghire.

Mr Methane prepares to perform on The Gadget Show with cameramen Rob Shaw and Mark Tredinnick of Mediadoghire.

“According to some factoids that ran during my recent appearance on Channel 5’s Gadget Show, the average person passes wind 15 times a day,” Mr Methane told me last night.

I was staying overnight with the world’s only professionally-performing farter at his home in Macclesfield, north west England.

“I had to road-test these anti-flatulance underwear pants on The Gadget Show,” he told me. “they were called My Shreddies. They’re quite trendy: they look like Calvin Klein underpants.”

“Who wears them?” I asked.

“The marketing people aren’t going for the traditional person who might be ‘going off’ (in farting terms) all over the place because their arse muscles have packed up. They’re trying to attract a normal person who is going out on a date and doesn’t want to fart in case it ruins the romance. They can pass wind in confidence. There will be no smell.”

“And they stop the sound of the farting?” I ask.

“No,” admitted Mr Methane.

“So what,” I asked, “is the fart-combatting element in the underpants?”

An image from the My Shreddies homepage

Image from My Shreddies homepage aims to appeal to buyers

“Some kind of charcoal,” said Mr Methane. “I think if you’ve ‘gone off’ in them a few times, once you wash them, it reactivates the odour-eating properties. The My Shreddies people seemed to be over-awed by the amount of publicity they got from me being on The Gadget Show. They got in touch with me and had some promotional ideas. They were going to make a pair for me in purple and were going to have a picture of me on a train – because I used to be an engine driver. I asked for a very economical fee. But they said I was a bit beyond their budget. It is a classic example of the way people put no value into farting.”

“So you farted and parted,” I said.

“We did,” said Mr Methane. “A few years ago, some company wanted me to do a viral ad for some charcoal biscuits which, again, were anti-flatulence.”

“Did you eat them or stick them somewhere?” I asked.

“You ate them,” said Mr Methane, “and they obviously did something in your intestines. I’m not sure what. Anyway, this guy wanted to do a viral ad so I said: Give us £1,000. That’s not a lot of money for a viral ad. They said they were a small firm, but £1,000 is only £20 a week for a year. If they can’t put away £20 a week for a year, they don’t deserve to be in business. So that didn’t happen either and I’m still open to offers. I think, in terms of doing a viral ad, you’ve only got one chance. Once my bottom is endorsing a particular product, that’s it.”

“British Gas should approach you,” I suggested.

How to use The Palm Bomber

Instructions on how to use The Palm Bomber in reality

“The only thing I have done as a viral ad,” said Mr Methane, “ended up a real bum deal. It was for the Palm Bomber. You know like when people used to fart in their hands at school and throw it at their mates?”

“I think,” I said, “maybe this only happened at schools in Macclesfield.”

“It’s obviously happened in America too,” said Mr Methane. “He’s an American, but his father came from Manchester in England. He spent a load of money making this Palm Bomber thing like a medical pump. Basically, you break wind, you suck up the fart into this rubber surgical container and then you go up to your friend and you ‘palm bomb’ – you squeeze out the fart into his face. It’s on YouTube. (He turned to his computer.) Here it is. Here’s the selling line:

It is the world’s first and only product that is designed specifically to capture, store and re-release your farts. A patent-pending vacuum-funnel system which easily allows you to capture your farts anytime anywhere with minimal gas leakage.

“This guy had gone to China to get these things made and then had a shitload shipped from China to the US.

“I did an advert for him on YouTube. I did it as a favour. It was one of those mad moments. He said I can’t afford any money, but my dad’s got a paper for ex-patriots in America and I’ll put an advert for you in his paper and blah blah, but he never put it in. It’s just a classic case of people taking the piss.”

“I’m surprised,” I said, “that you haven’t been picked up for some ad campaign.”

“Years ago,” said Mr Methane, “I did a Christmas gig for Saatchi & Saatchi and my manager Barrie kept in touch with one of the big cheeses there and said: I want you to get Mr Methane an advert. You remember that series of Fosters lager ads? – He who drinks Australian thinks Australian. Barrie had this idea of me going into a bar, farting and it empties the bar and then I get my pint of Fosters and the slogan is: He who thinks Australian stinks Australian.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t use it,” I said then, changing the subject: “You haven’t issued a Christmas CD for ages.”

Mr Methane’s Christmas CD

Mr Methane’s professionally produced CD

“The bottom’s dropped out of the market,” said Mr Methane. “It has to be MP3s now. And Barrie’s a perfectionist. The amount of time that we put into the orchestration of the songs… the actual production costs are quite high. On the last one, a lot of the guitar work was done by a very famous producer who worked with Britney Spears; he did it under a pseudonym. And, on the track Fucking Hell, My Arse Smells (to the tune of Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells), we got the fiddle-player out of Steeleye Span. He happened to be visiting Barrie who told him he had a country music track and he needed country fiddle on it. I don’t know if, even now, he knows he’s on the album.”

“So no planned albums?” I asked.

“No, but my personal fart greetings are going well.”

“Ring tones?” I asked.

“No, I do a video and send it to them. I’ve done three this last week. I did one for a guy who’s retiring from a big American symphony orchestra. It’s going to be a gift to him from the horn section. I do a trumpet piece from Brahms’ Concerto for Something-or-other No 1.”

“And,” I said, “you have a prestigious gig coming up that we can’t talk about because you had to sign a confidentiality agreement. What do we say in my blog?”

“Say it’s for ‘old money’,” suggested Mr Methane. “The British aristocracy.”

“We can’t mention,” I said, “the family name, the location or why this is so jaw-dropping, except you did the same thing 16 years ago.”

Mr Methane sits on his toilet last night wearing an Alan Partridge mask - It seemed like a good idea at the time

Mr Methane sits on his toilet wearing an Alan Partridge mask last night – Don’t ask me why.

“I’m a sort-of semi-regular customer of the British aristocracy,” said Mr Methane. “You’ve been there yourself.”

“I suppose I can say I went with you to a house in Central London 16 years ago.” I said.

“You went to a large, private house,” suggested Mr Methane.

“Well,” I said, “it was quite a small place, but I think it cost £20 million.”

“You can say,” suggested Mr Methane, “it’s not yer new money Simon Cowell classes, not yer footballers or yer Piers Morgans; it’s the aristocratic backbone of Britain. People who know what made Britain great.”

“Any more TV?” I asked.

“I’ve was asked to do that Come Dine With Me TV show. I thought at first it was the celebrity edition, but then it turned out it was just a normal one and they were looking for fruitcakes. They wanted someone from Macclesfield who was a little bit different. When I found out it wasn’t the celebrity one and I wasn’t going to have dinner with Keith Chegwin, I lost interest. They said: For some reason, we’ve got a dearth of applicants from Macclesfield and we don’t know why.

“Who does live in Macclesfield?” I asked.

“Apart from one or two Manchester United players,” said Mr Methane, “there’s Christine & Neil Hamilton – they live at Alderley Edge. And Tim Healey off Auf Wiedersehen, Pet drinks at a pub in Fulshaw Cross. Mike Yarwood used to live in Prestbury. And Noddy Holder lives in Prestbury.”

Noddy Holder in 1981 (Photograph by Andrew King

Noddy Holder in 1981 (Photograph by Andrew King)

“Noddy Holder???” I asked, “I assumed he lived in some London mansion on the back of royalties from Merry Christmas Everybody.”

“No, he lives in Prestbury, because you sometimes see him in Sainsbury’s supermarket doing his shopping. My mate saw him last year at the Senior Citizens Hall on Duke Street, going to a jumble sale.”

“Are you sure this wasn’t a Noddy Holder lookalike?” I asked.

“No. He was at the jumble sale at Senior Citizens Hall.”

“What was he wearing?”

“My mate reckoned he might have been looking for stacker boots.’

“What did he look like?”

“Like Noddy Holder, but a bit older.”

ADDENDUM

Four days after this widely-read blog appeared, Mr Methane got an e-mail from the Palm Bomber, saying:

I won’t get into details – we’ll call it miscommunication – but the bottom line is that I did not fulfill my end of the agreement, and I’d like to make up for it. I’ve attached the last draft of the print advertisement I’d sent to you – is it still OK to print in the UJ newspaper?
 
Also, just so you know – we did run a couple Mr. Methane videos and links to your website in the Union Jack Blab (the online newsletter)…hopefully brought some viewers/fans your way.  I’ll forward you the emails shortly…
 
I didn’t intend to take the piss out of you, I think you are a genuine person and I fancy myself the same.  Hope you’re happy with what we’re doing.

The Palm Bomber’s print advertisement is below:

MrMethaneAd-Rev1

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At what point does ‘being famous’ start? Take these three comedians… Please.

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer publicising his Leicester Square Theatre show

Is American comedian Lewis Schaffer famous? He has been performing his free show – Free Until Famous – for so long that it has become the longest-running solo comedy show in London.

He usually starts his shows by saying they will be free until he is famous.

In a fortnight, he begins an eight-week run of his new show – Lewis Schaffer’s American Guide to England – at the Leicester Square Theatre (every Sunday) at £10 per ticket. Does this, as mind-reader Doug Segal has suggested, mean that Lewis Schaffer is now famous because he is charging admission? And will his ongoing Free Until Famous shows affect or enhance audiences for his paid shows?

Who knows but, last night, he lost the shirt off his back.

Lewis Schaffer performing in London last night

Lewis Schaffer performing semi-naked in London last night

A woman in the audience told him she was disappointed he was wearing clothes because she had seen the publicity for his Leicester Square shows (in which he is seen, naked, under an American flag) and thought that was the show she had come to see.

So he took his shirt off and did half his show half naked,

I am not sure if this is a sign of successful publicity or fame or desperation or not.

Scór Encore with Aindrias de Staic (left)

Scór Encore with the newly respectable Aindrias de Staic (left)

Yesterday, I also got a publicity blurb from Irish broadcaster RTÉ which informed me that Aindrias de Staic is one of the judges on the new talent show Scór Encore starting on their TG4 channel this Sunday.

Just a few years ago, Aindrias was performing an autobiographical Edinburgh Fringe show called Around The World on 80 Quid. He had done exactly what it said in the title. When I contacted him yesterday, he told me: “You could say I’ve been appearing on all sides of the globe lately…

Aindrias de Staic - his normal look

Aindrias de Staic – his more well-known, for-him-normal look

“Last Friday, I was appearing in the UK premiere of Songs for Amy at the Glasgow Film Festival. This week I’m in Toronto, appearing in the first ever Spoken Word Symposium at the Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto – don’t forget to say I’m performing my ‘unique brand of gaelic-hiphop’ – and this coming weekend I’m back on Irish screens as a judge on Scór Encore.

“Having been up before the judge myself many times, it will be an interesting turn-around for this Galway boy to sit in a judge’s chair. I’ll tell you more soon.”

But does all this big screen/stage/small screen work mean he is famous?

At a certain level, it must mean that.

But, as yet, people are not selling or buying Aindrias de Staic face masks or costumes.

You too can buy a Mr Methane costume

Buy your own Methane costume

My chum Mr Methane – the Farter of Alternative Comedy – told me yesterday that ‘officially-licensed Mr Methane costumes’ are currently on sale at the very reasonable asking price of £14.95 – a saving of £15.04. And, for only £1.99 extra, you can also buy “a realistic-looking silver glitter microphone with a black handle” to “complete the desired look”.

Does the fact a company wants to buy a licence to sell copies of your costume to the public mean you are famous?

Mr Methane told me that it set him wondering how many other UK comics market their image via costumes. Sasha Baron Cohen’s ‘mankini’ costume seems to be out there for around £5 but, says Mr Methane, “generally people’s marketing seems to be mostly via those likelife celebrity masks as opposed to a fully-blown costume.

Alan Partridge, as work by Mr Methane

Alan Partridge mask as worn by Mr Methane

“I myself,” confided Mr Methane, “own an Alan Partiridge mask. It was on offer in a local charity shop, unused and still bagged for 50p, so my sister bought it for me with the idea that I could annoy everyone on Christmas Day with Alan Partridge impressions.”

I think everyone in the UK would admit Alan Partridge is famous.

But he does not exist. What about fame?

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Kevin Bishop – consolidating a career combining comedy and ‘proper’ acting

Kevin Bishop seems to be consolidating his showbiz career by overlapping comedy and ‘proper’ acting rather well, without getting any distracting Russell Brand front page coverage.

Channel 4’s Star Stories got him attention in 2006 and The Kevin Bishop Show got him even more profile in 2008-2009. But he had already paid his dues. He started his showbiz career in that by-now almost classic training ground of BBC TV kids’ series Grange Hill and his first movie role had been as Jim Hawkins in Muppet Treasure Island back in 1996, when he was only 16 years old.

This week, he started filming a new comedy movie May I Kill U? about the recent London riots and, two nights ago, I was at the first recording of his new BBC Radio series Les Kelly’s Britain, produced by Bill Dare and written by Bill Dare & Julian Dutton

The show was interesting for several reasons.

One interesting thing was that, during the recording, there were two heckles from the audience, which I hope stay in after the edit. I have to admit I have not seen that many radio recordings, but I think I can say that heckles are not that common and Kevin dealt with them so smoothly that I actually wondered if they had been set-up… though I think they were genuine.

Unusually, Kevin did not use a stand microphone. He had one of those little headset mikes with a thin strip coming down the cheek of the type that Madonna and other singers have so they can strut freely around the stage.

This allowed him to wander the stage and to come down into the audience while the other four performers used traditional stand mikes.

The show was notable for excellent casting of the four supporting actors and for two spot-on Scots accents from them, one of which got laughs from me and from the cast themselves just for the accent itself – it was a rather oily Gordon Brown accent – you had to be there.

The show’s producer/co-writer Bill Dare has a long pedigree in comedy – including The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Dead Ringers, The Now Show and ITV’s Spitting Image 1990-1993. He is also, to me rather startlingly, the son of actor Peter Jones who, to my generation, was star of The Rag Trade and, to a later generation, was the voice of The Book in the original BBC Radio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

There is a slight problem with Les Kelly’s Britain in that the basic comedy situation is that a show is being presented by a radio host who lacks self-awareness and Alan Partridge has explored and carved out that territory already.

So, although Les Kelly is a distinct character, it is a dodgy creative proposition.

The publicity says Les Kelly is like “the love child of Jeremy Kyle and Jeremy Clarkson” and “the natural heir to classic comic creations Alan Partridge, The Pub Landlord and Count Arthur Strong” which is fair enough, though the inclusion of Count Arthur Strong mystifies me.

The show sounds as if it might be slightly un-original but, in fact, that is misleading. The Les Kelly script, superbly delivered by all five performers when I saw it, has some genuinely wonderful surreal moments and occasional dark humour – it managed to fit in a joke about the wartime bombing of Dresden, though one of the re-takes at the end was, according to Bill Dare, “in case we need to cut the cancer joke”.

I hope they keep it in and that Les Kelly’s Britain prospers.

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