Tag Archives: alternative

Comic Becky Fury wants to ‘go out with’ another comedian – against my advice

Becky Fury laughing

More Red Army Faction than Royal Air Force

“Fury is your real name?” I asked stand-up comic Becky Fury.

“Yes.”

“Middle name?”

“Anne.”

“So Rebecca Anne Fury? RAF. Like the Royal Air Force.”

“No,” she said. “Like the Red Army Faction.”

In August, Becky Fury won this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. She had posted her Edinburgh Fringe show flyer on the dating site Tinder as a commendably lateral thinking way of increasing her audience numbers. She also printed on her flyer that she was a nominee for the ‘Last Minute Comedy Award’.

The used-to-be Perrier Awards were sponsored this year by lastminute.com. So this claim was impressive and, on the night I saw her show, four Canadians had been lured in on the basis she was, they told me, “up for the big Edinburgh comedy award”. But Becky had, in fact, been nominated a while ago in a contest run by the small club based in Hitchin called Last Minute Comedy – totally unconnected to last minute.com. It was an admirably truthful yet misleading cunning stunt.

Becky with her Cunning Stunt Award

Becky with her increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

“So,” I said to her, “as a result of winning an increasingly Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award, you must now be inundated with phone calls from Los Angeles and Las Vegas?”

She laughed.

“When I started doing comedy,” she told me, “I met Tony Allen. And him and Malcolm Hardee never got on at all.”

“Because,” I asked, “they had different versions of how the phrase ‘alternative comedy’ was first coined?”

“Yes. So, since I got the Malcolm Hardee Award, Tony Allen ’s not speaking to me.”

“Why?” I asked. “It’s not your fault you got it.”

“I think he thinks I should have turned it down and maintained my… I think he’s feeling a bit unjustly forgotten.”

“Well, that’s true enough,” I said. “He may or may not have invented the phrase ‘alternative comedy’, but he was important in inventing the concept.”

“He was,” agreed Becky, “and I think Malcolm Hardee deserves credit for being an amazing, anarchic comedy promoter but also Tony didn’t really like Malcolm Hardee because he thinks that Malcolm sold out.”

Becky Fury - tousled hair

“Idea was it should be a revolutionary force for social change”

“How did he sell out?”

“By not being completely pure and truthful to what Tony thought alternative comedy should be.”

“Which was?”

“That it should be political. His idea was it should be a revolutionary force for social change.”

“Whereas,” I agreed, “Malcolm thought it should be a load of bollocks – literally.”

“Yes,” laughed Becky. “Anarchic fun.”

“Where did you meet Tony Allen?” I asked.

“At an anarchist book fair and I went to one of his workshops at the beginning of my stand-up comedy career. He mentored me. He sort-of took me on as his sort-of daughter for quite a few years.”

“And didn’t take advantage?” I asked.

“No. He looked after me because I was not in a very good way. He was my surrogate dad figure and he played that role wonderfully. He was really good.”

“And eventually…?”

“Relationships and friendships,” said Becky, “run a course. I’m moving my boat up to near where he lives in Ladbroke Grove, so we will probably see more of each other again.”

“You live on a boat?”

beckyfury_meditates

Wanting a genuinely interesting alternative life

“It’s the freedom and, if you’re going to create interesting art, your art is your life, so it’s difficult to create genuinely interesting alternative work if you don’t live a genuinely interesting alternative life.”

“You want to be a free spirit,” I said.

“I want to be happy.”

“Are you?”

“I live on a boat and I work very little and I have a very nice life. I try not to hurt anybody or cause anyone any stress. People should be what they want to be. I am a free spirit. But why do I live on a boat? Because it’s cheaper. I used to live in a squat, but you can’t do that any more.”

“For how long?” I asked.

“Five years. It was very beautiful experience.”

“Just the one squat?”

“Lots of them. We had one in Shadwell that had a circus space in it. A trapeze. A yoga space. The council was going to give it to us, but we had to fill in loads of paperwork and we couldn’t be bothered. Now I think maybe it would have been worth the effort. The council actually offered us a £3 million property. I think it had been an old dairy. They owned it. They said: If you want to turn this into a housing co-op, fill in the correct paperwork and we’re open to the idea. Now it is a traffic wardens’ storage space.”

Becky Fury V-sign

She was a nice middle class girl who went to a private school.

“Living in a squat,” I said, “suggests an urge to rebel.”

“I went to a private school and could see my life was too narrow and wasn’t interesting enough. I thought I needed to expand my horizons and my life experiences and go a bit crazy in order to create more interesting art. You don’t create interesting art if you’re a nice middle class girl who goes to a private school.”

“You occasionally,” I said, “lapse into poems on stage.”

“I am a poet. I don’t want to be a poet. But I do more paid poetry gigs than paid comedy gigs at the moment. I would like to think my life was poetry, hence the fact I live on a boat. Is that really pretentious?”

“Potentially in print it might be,” I said. “All sorts of things people say change their tone when they’re printed.”

“You lose the intonation,” said Becky.

“Yes,” I said. “How long have you been doing comedy?”

“About five years, but I was quite depressed when I first started. I suppose it was maybe a way of not killing myself. I was just going round doing open mic gigs as a way of keeping myself sane.”

“Surely a wrong choice of career in that case,” I suggested.

“Yes,” laughed Becky, “I don’t think you can say that about comedy: that it’s a way of keeping yourself sane.”

Becky Fury’s eye

“I wasn’t happy and I was taking quite a lot of drugs”

“This was in your drug period?” I asked.

“Yes. I wasn’t very happy and I was taking quite a lot of drugs. So I was going around self-harming on the open mic circuit, doing lots of horrible gigs as an alternative to taking hard drugs and cutting myself.”

“Which you used to do?”

“No. All the cool kids cut themselves, but I’m quite lightweight when it comes to self-harm.”

“Just doing open mic gigs and going with unsuitable men?” I suggested.

“Yes. I need to find a comedian to go out with so I can re-sharpen my comic brain.”

“That’s a terrible idea,” I advised her. “Never go out with a comedian. They’re all mad.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Becky replied. “I don’t care how mad they are. It’s about my career development.”

“But you will also be competing against each other.”

“That’s fine. I will win.”

“Have you been out with a comic before?”

Becky Fury - Cyclops photo

“He said it was not a good idea because he was too mental”

“Yes. Years ago. A long time ago.”

“How many comics?”

“Two. I was very young.”

“You told me earlier that, when you were about 19, you met (COMEDIAN 1) and he helped you.”

“He was a lovely man. He was about 40. He said I was too young for him to go out with. He said it was not a good idea because he was too mental.”

“Well,” I agreed, “he’s spot-on there.”

“He said: You don’t want to waste the best years of your life dealing with me.”

“That’s surprisingly sensible of him,” I told her.

“Exactly,” said Becky. “Isn’t that nice? So he just carried on being a lunatic and left me to get on with my own shit.”

“How did he help you?” I asked.

“By not going out with me.”

“Did he help you professionally?”

“No. Except maybe by not going out with me.”

“This is before you went to university,” I said. “You did drama at university, so you must have wanted to be an actress?”

“No. I’ve always been into comedy. When I first went to comedy clubs, I used to do a bit of chatting up the performers”.

“Only chatting up?”

“And sleeping with them occasionally. I was young.”

“And the attraction was?”

Becky Fury - staring

“I found out they were all completely mental”

“Women always sleep with comedians, don’t they? That’s one of the reasons why guys like doing comedy. Because it gets the girls. And it got me when I was young and impressionable and when I thought that, offstage, they were like they were onstage.”

“But then…” I prompted.

“Then I found out they were all completely mental.”

“How long did it take you to realise that?”

“Pretty quickly.”

“But, after that, you chose (COMEDIAN 1) despite the fact you knew they were all mental.”

“Well, I never really went out with him. I had a thing with him. And I had a thing with (COMEDIAN 2) and then I didn’t go out with any more comedians for ages. I decided I should probably go out with sensible people my own age instead. Well, I went with junkies. I wanted people more sensible and mentally stable than comedians, so I started going out with junkies.”

“A wise observation,” I laughed.

“But now,” Becky continued, “I do need to go out with a comedian again. I need to sharpen up my comedic abilities. That’s why I contacted you: so I can get hold of a comedian to shag. Basically, this is a personal ad.”

“How can they get in touch with you?” I asked.

“They can probably find my Edinburgh Fringe flyer on Tinder,” said Becky.

Becky Fury - 2016 Flyer top

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Drugs

Promoter Adam Taffler: a man with some seriously alternative ambitions

Adam Taffler in London last week

Adam Taffler: man of many bright ideas

So, last week, I met up with admirably creative promoter and entrepreneur Adam Taffler. His company Adamotions has, in the past, been involved in creating Comedy in Cemeteries, Red Bastard masterclasses and Shhh Dating (speed dating without speaking).

“I went on an Enlightenment Intensive,” he told me.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You sit opposite someone for three days and they say Tell me who you are? and you speak for five minutes, then they ring a bell and you switch over.”

“How does that last three days?” I asked.

“You do eight sessions of 5 minutes, then you have a little break, then another eight 5-minute sessions and then maybe have a little walk. You don’t talk outside of this thing. Some people pop and have an enlightenment experience, where they experience themselves and the world as unity. But, even if you don’t get that, you travel somewhere quite interesting because you are asking this question: What is the truest thing I can say about myself right now? 

“By the end, after three days, even if you don’t have an enlightenment experience, things feel really weird. I walked into the kitchen and felt like I was coming down off acid. The bench was wobbling. It was a good thing they weren’t serving pizza.”

“Where was this happening?” I asked.

“At a Retreat Centre in Devon.”

“Strange things happen in Devon,” I observed.

“It’s great out there,” said Adam.

“Are you going to start promoting these things yourself?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. But I am doing some dinosaur bone-making workshops next week.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because I met a guy in Amsterdam.”

“Why does Amsterdam not surprise me as a location?” I asked.

“I went there to look at property with him,” Adam continued. “I was looking for somewhere to open a hot tub venture, because I did a hot tub venture in London last year. It was fantastic. Just a pop-up. It needs a home.”

“What was the point of the hot tub venture?” I asked.

Hot tubs held their attraction for Adam Taffler

Adam’s hot tubs last year were a hot ticket near the swans

“To give people an experience of… Well… actually, I started it as a restaurant and called it The Supper Tub. The idea was you sit in a hot tub and get delicious food. But the thing is people don’t really want to eat in a hot tub.

“What they want want to do is drink. So I set up this deck in Hackney Wick, by the canal. You sit there, music playing, swans and ducks swimming by and the waiter is bringing you cocktails. It was really lovely. I did it for six months. But it needed more of a home. So I went over to Amsterdam. It’s a really happening city. The whole north of Amsterdam is opening up like Hackney opened up ten years ago.”

“I wouldn’t,” I said, “think Amsterdam could open up any more. When I lived there briefly in the mid-1990s, everything was going on. There was hardcore sex, gun-running, hard drugs, drug-smuggling, diamond smuggling, everything you can imagine but it was basically a dull city. It was bankers and businessmen living in suburbia. And I was living off Haarlemmerstraat, near the middle of town.”

“That’s the thing,” said Adam. “You legalise everything and people just relax with it.”

“But you couldn’t find a hot tub location there?” I asked.

“No. So I asked the guy I was with: What else do you do? And he said: I make dinosaur bones.”

The skeleton of an idea: dinosaur bone making workshops

The skeleton of an idea: dinosaur bone making workshops

“Is there much demand,” I asked, “for artificial dinosaur bones?”

“More than you would think,” replied Adam. “He builds them for museums and stuff.”

“Are you telling me museums have fake dinosaur bones in them?”

“Some of them. But really he does workshops where kids can come along and build a whole velociraptor skeleton. That was the thing I was most inspired by.”

“What,” I asked, “do you do with a velociraptor skeleton once you’ve built it?”

“You can leave it there. Or the kids can take their bones home. Kids like to make stuff like that. Together, it looks pretty cool.”

“I imagine so,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Adam. “We are going to do some dino-skulls with adults. I’m just going to try it out. We’re going to have music with it.”

“You surely,” I asked, “have to take acid for this to work at its best?”

“Probably,” laughed Adam. “And then become one with the dinosaur. Have the Unity Experience and start stalking the bars of North London.”

“What have you really got me here to plug?” I asked.

Clowning in Nature with Dr Brown.”

“Where is it this year?”

“We’re going to Wales and doing nine days with him just outside Cardiff. He always wants to do longer and deeper. Ooh-err. That’s your type of sentence, isn’t it? We’ve got some pretty cool guest teachers lined up as well, but I can’t mention them yet. We’re doing a puppetry one as well with Iestyn Evans. He’s done stuff for CBeebies and Star Wars.

A previous Clowning In Nature group

Out of Clowning in Nature cometh Puppetry in Nature

Puppetry in Nature?”

“Yeah. Within Arts, you get an established orthodoxy about how you do things and the inspiration which took people to arrive at that orthodoxy is really good. That’s a really interesting place. But the place of orthodoxy can be quite staid.

“So the idea of Clowning in Nature and Puppetry in Nature is that we wanna take people into that space and discover something new. We want to see where the inspiration is coming from. We are not just teaching people This is how you do A, B, and C – We are opening up to new inspiration.”

“How long is Puppetry in Nature?” I asked.

“It’s a 7-day thing.”

“Does Puppetry in Nature not face a problem of wetness?” I asked. “Isn’t puppetry outside in the Welsh weather doomed to sogginess?”

Puppetry in The Lake is the really wet bit,” Adam replied. “We do a lot of stuff inside; we just do a few things outside. We have amazing farmhouses and yurts and saunas and food.”

“We love a good yurt,” I said.

“Would you like to live in a yurt?” Adam asked me. “How big is your garden?”

“Definitely yurt-sized,” I told him.

A yurt in Mongolia, not my back garden

I do love a yurt: this one is in Mongolia, not my back garden

“John,” Adam told me, “I am taking my hot tubs to some festivals this summer. You can come and we will put you up in a yurt. We will revere you as a god and you can have a whole hot tub to yourself. You can be yourself: just tell people some bad jokes every now and then.”

“When is this happening?” I asked.

“June. July. There is a great one called Wildfire. It’s an analogue festival – you have to give your phone in at the door.”

“I can’t do that,” I said. “I would need therapy. But yurts are always good news.”

“When I sold my first business,” said Adam, “a health food business called Of The Earth – I took a break and I joined the Nomadic Academy for Fools with Jonathan Kay and, after a year of that, I decided what I wanted to do was, with a couple of friends, buy a barge in the middle of the Thames, moored opposite the Houses of Parliament – a big lighter barge about 60 feet long, maybe 16 feet wide.

“We wanted to convert it into a home and venue and maybe, to be honest, a super-cool shag-pad. We did plans and the peak of it was probably in November 2010 or 2011 – we called it The November Project.

“I managed to get a yurt and loaded it on a dinghy and stuck it on the barge. I had twelve people from around the country – thinkers and improvisers – and we did foolish improvisations to work out what the boat was going to look like and how we were going to fund it and it was one of the most brilliant and wild things I’ve done – just having a yurt in the water so close to Parliament was just wonderful.”

“Did they not,” I asked, “object to alternative-thinking people being that close to Parliament in a floating yurt?”

“I think they were fine with it,” Adam told me. “But there were some dynamic issues between people which meant it didn’t really work. There is one guy who is still trying to do it.”

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh in 2011

Adam Taffler, juggling spaghetti for me at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, in 2011

“Have you performed yourself recently?” I asked.

“There was a character called Colonel Shirley Bickerstaff – a trans-gender geriatric colonel. I was really inspired by Nina Conti – the ventriloquism. I decided he would have a vagina in a box and would come out and sing this very beautiful song about falling in love with the vagina in the box. It was a love song. I did a few shows. It was pretty good. That’s it, really.”

And it was.

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Comedy legend John Dowie: changed by Spike Milligan’s Bed-Sitting Room

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie is difficult to describe. Wikipedia’s current attempt is: “a British comedian, musician and writer. He began performing stand-up comedy in 1969.”

His own website describes him as: “Not working. Not writing. Not performing. Not Twittering. Not on Facebook. Not on Radio. Not on TV. Not doing game shows, chat shows, list shows, grumpy-old whatever shows. Not doing quiz shows. Not doing adverts. Not doing voice-overs for insurance companies/banks/supermarkets/dodgy yogurts.”

The synopsis of his up-coming autobiography starts: “If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake.”

I know John Dowie because he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology of comedians’ (often dark) short stories which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee.

The book that was not suspended

A foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb

John’s was the story of a Northern comedian who has a foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb. The Daily Mirror called it: “a wrist-slashingly brutal account of a Bernard Manning-esque comic who plans blood-thirsty revenge. Disturbing? Very.” The Chortle website called it a “breathlessly entertaining yarn”.

Now he is crowdfunding his new book The Freewheeling John Dowie.

“How long are you crowdfunding for?” I asked him.

“They reckon the average book takes about six weeks or two months.”

“Have you started writing it?”

“I’ve already written it!”

“So the crowdfunding is just for the physical creation of it?”

“Yes, you have to reach a funding target for the printing process to begin.”

“So what have you been doing,” I asked, “since the triumph that was Sit-Down Comedy?”

“I have been riding my bicycle.”

“Where?”

“France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Ireland which is horrible, Wales, up and down England.”

“I like Ireland,” I said.

“Bad roads,” said John Dowie.

“And you are publishing your autobiography by crowdfunding…?”

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunder

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunding and bicycling

“Well, it’s not actually an autobiography,” John corrected me. “It’s like an autobiography, but with the boring bits cut out. There is no stuff like Birmingham is an industrial town in the heart of the Midlands. It’s got autobiographical elements. But, if you are a nobody such as I, then the only way you can tell a story about yourself is if it is a story that stands in its own right.”

“So how do you want The Freewheeling John Dowie described?” I asked. “A bicycling autobiography?”

“Yeah,” said John. “Well, if you ride a bike and you’re in a quiet piece of the world, what do you do? Your mind is free to wander and, as it wanders, you find yourself going from place to place in your mind that you were not expecting to go.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to write your autobiography now?”

“I’m 65 and I’ve been retired for 15 years,” explained John. “And, if you’re 65, you’re fucked. So I thought: If I’m fucked, I’d better spend my time working because I’m of more use as a fucked-up performer than I am as a fucked-up retiree.”

“You were born in 1950?” I asked.

“Yes. Just in time to miss Elvis Presley and just in time to get the Beatles.”

“Did you approach a ‘proper’ publisher for the book?” I asked.

“No… Well, I think Unbound are more proper than publishers, because they care about the things they make. A friend of mine has a client who’s a comedian who went to a voice-over studio to record her book and was regaled by the engineers with all the comedians who came in to read the books they ‘wrote’ but had never even read yet – and finding mistakes in their own books – Ooh! My mother isn’t called Dorothy! Those are books done by ‘proper’ publishers.”

John Dowie - a living legend from the early alternate days

John Dowie – a living legend from the early alternate days

“Is there what they call a ‘narrative arc’ in your cycling autobiography?” I asked.

“Well, it begins and ends with a Spike Milligan story.”

“I met him once,” I said. “I think he must have got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.”

“I think,” John said, “that he got more crotchety as he got older. When I met him, he was very decent to me. I was hanging around backstage after one of his shows. He was touring a play which he wrote with John AntrobusThe Bed-Sitting Room. People talk about taking LSD for the first time and how it changed their life. Watching The Bed-Sitting Room changed my life. It was like a door had opened.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I had not experienced anything like it before. Live comedy. I was 15 or 16.”

“So you didn’t know what you wanted to be?”

“No.”

“And you decided to be Spike Milligan?”

“Yeah. That’s more or less it, yeah. I became Spike Milligan for a period. Apart from the talented bits, obviously.”

“What happened when you stopped being Spike Milligan?”

“I got my friends back.”

“Why? Because you were rude as Spike Milligan?”

“No. Just not funny.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

Naked Noolies and I Don’t Want To Be Your Amputee

“And then, I said, “you became one of the living legends of the original Alternative Comedy circuit.”

“Well,” said John, “I’m living. That’s halfway there.”

“But you are,” I said, “one of the originators of Alternative Comedy.”

“I don’t think so,” said John. “I don’t think I’m one of them and it’s not as if it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there. I was coincidental more than anything. It wasn’t as if anybody saw me and thought: Oh, let’s start a movement. I considered myself to be in the same field as Ivor Cutler and Ron Geesin.”

“Wow!” I said. “Ron Geesin! I had forgotten him!”

“Yes,” said John. “He was great. He was a John Peel discovery. Ron played Mother’s Club in Birmingham where John Peel’s Birmingham audience used to go religiously to see the acts John Peel played on the radio. Ron Geesin came on and did his first number on the piano and the place went fucking barmy and Ron Geesin said to the audience: Listen, nobody is THAT good.”

Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

AOK Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

At this point, farteur Mr Methane, who was sitting with us, piped up: “Weren’t you involved with Tony Wilson years ago?” he asked. “On Factory Records.”

“Yeah,” said John. “The first one. The first Factory Records release. FAC- 2… FAC- 1 was the poster. I was on the same record as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the Durutti Column. It was a double EP.”

“Ah!” I said.

Then he said to me: “It’s all very good if you know everything about comedy, John, but, if you don’t know about pop music…”

“Why should people crowdfund your autobiography?” I asked.

“Because I’m fuckin’ fantastic,” he replied.

I tend to agree.

If you want to crowd fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-freewheeling-john-dowie

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Malcolm Hardee, The Tunnel Club, the tap-dancing Swede and Madame Poulet

GrouchyClub11With co-host Kate Copstick’s internet links in Kenya still problematic, this week’s Grouchy Club podcast is an 8-minute audio clip of me talking in 1995 to the late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

At the time, we were writing his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake by recording our chats.

This one was about how he started his legendary – some might say infamous – comedy club The Tunnel. The full 8-minute audio extract is online. This is a short extract from that audio extract.


Malcolm Hardee on stage at The Tunnel (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Malcolm Hardee on stage at The Tunnel Club in the 1980s (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Malcolm
The Tunnel became known – but I don’t know why – for its hard audience. It was like the Glasgow Empire of the South. I think possibly for where it was in South East London – who don’t suffer fools gladly to say the least. It got known for its heckling. At which point I can just put down my heckling stories, which we can just mention on the tape as Jim Tavare, Noel James, Jo Brand, tropical fish…

John
Tropical fish?

Malcolm
Tropical fish. That was a good heckle.

John
What’s tropical fish?

Malcolm
This double act whose names have got lost in the mists of time. Part of their act was wearing Red Indian headdresses. They started up and put their headdresses on and were about to beat the bongos and then one of the regular hecklers in the audience shouted out: Oy, Malcolm! You’ve got a couple of tropical fish on stage!

John
There’s a quote on one of the posters at Up The Creek – HOW LONG WOULD HITLER SURVIVE THE TUNNEL? (RADIO 4) – Is that true?

Malcolm
It was. That was on some Kaleidoscope nonsense.

John
So what did they say?

Malcolm
They’d been to this famous Open Spot. It was where people were trying out material or perhaps had not been on stage before. It always amazed me how many people were keen to do this. I still get – to this day – at least ten calls a week from people. There was Madame Poulet. I’ll just say that and it’ll all link up (in the book).

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography

John
What was the best Open Spot at The Tunnel?

Malcolm
Best or worst?

John
Both.

Malcolm
The best Open Spot was Phil Cool.

John
That was his first time?

Malcolm
He must have done the clubs, but that was his first ‘alternative’ London gig and it was from there that he got discovered and got his TV series and went on to where he is today. The worst, I think was the tap-dancing Swede.

John
What was that act?

Malcolm
He was Swedish and he had the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He decided he had a tap-dancing act but, unfortunately, the stage at The Tunnel was fully carpeted; it was about the only place that was.

So he’s come on and he has the tails on and the whole thing and he’s immaculate and he’s got this backing tape and he started tap-dancing but, of course, no-one could hear him and he’s doing all the smiling things and, in the end, they just shouted out Cab for the Swede! and he went off.

And, to this day, people shout out – when another act is going down particularly badly – Bring back the Swede!


Malcolm Hardee at The Tunnel Club

Malcolm Hardee at The Tunnel Club in the 1980s… (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm expanded on his reference to the open spot Madame Poulet and Her Singing Chicken in his book I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. He says:


I booked Madame Poulet over the phone and, when she arrived, she tried to convince me she was Madame Edith and that Madame Poulet would arrive later. She left the ‘chicken’ under a cloth in my office. I lifted the cloth when Madame Edith wasn’t there and it was a fake chicken made out of chicken feathers, some of which were painted pink for no apparent reason. It was like the Barbara Cartland of the Chicken World.

When she did her act, she had a little triangular screen about waist height on stage, so she could kneel down behind it.

That night, I announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen. Will you please welcome Madame Poulet and her Singing Chicken……”

And Madame Edith walked on having disguised herself as Madame Poulet by wearing a hat with a black veil over her face. She went and knelt behind the screen, the chicken appeared over the top and Madame Poulet started singing Je Ne Regret Rien completely straight in her own voice with the chicken miming to it.

This went on for about five minutes and then about ten blokes at the back of the audience, as one, all went:

“Cluck-Cluck…..Cluck-Cluck…..Cluck off!”

Madame Poulet got up, almost flew off the stage, left the club without saying a word, and I’ve never seen her since.

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Comic Joz Norris is vague on counties & studied Russian as English Literature

Joz Norris (left) met John Ryan at the Soho Theatre

Joz Norris (left) chatted to John Ryan at the Soho Theatre Bar

Yesterday, because of a recent blog-jam, I posted the second part of a chat I had with comedian John Ryan two weeks ago. We talked at the Soho Theatre in London and, straight after him, I chatted with comic Joz Norris.

In fact, they overlapped and John Ryan did part of my work for me.

“How long have you been doing comedy?” John Ryan asked Joz.

“I’ve only been doing it for about three years,” Joz told him. “Mainly things like Pull The Other One and Weirdos and ACMS and Lost Cabaret – the more alt nights – I think ‘alternative’ is a weird word.

“I started off doing stand-up as myself but got bored with what I was saying cos I think I was copying other people I’d seen. So then, last year, I did characters just to try to force myself to do something I liked. And, since then, I’ve gone back to being me now I know what I want to perform. It’s more like actual stand-up this year, but trying to do it in a way that is more interesting for me at least.”

“Do you have a day job?” John Ryan asked.

“I work in a bakery,” Joz told him. “I’m a barista in a little artisan bakery. It’s just down the road from where I live and you get free bread. You get a lot of free coffee and you can just chat to people. I play games with the babies, because it’s mostly mums that come in. If babies work out there is a pattern, they start to really enjoy it. One baby dropped its spoon, I picked it up and gave it back to him and that was half an hour of fun: he just kept dropping it and I got £1 from the mum for entertaining the baby.”

After John Ryan left, I asked Joz, perhaps less interestingly: “Where were you born?”

Joz Norris grew up in a small English village

Joz perhaps grew up in a small English village called Petworth

“I grew up in Petworth,” he replied. “It’s a tiny village in… is it Sussex?”

“You don’t know which county you were brought up in?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he said. “People always say Where are you from? and I don’t really feel tied to anywhere. But there is this little village of Petworth which is now all antique shops. Very sad. It used to be a proper little village. A Postman Pat type village. It had things like a butcher and a librarian. Now everything is an antique shop.”

“Is it near somewhere more interesting?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Joz. Then he thought. “Oh! Bigner. Bigner Park. I think there was something like a Roman dig there. That’s not antiques, though. That’s archaeological.”

“Why do all these antique buyers want to come to Petworth?” I asked.

“I have no idea.”

“You went to university?”

“UEA in Norwich.”

“What did you study?”

“English Literature. I didn’t know what to do. Well, I knew I wanted to write, so I thought: Oh – I’ll study English. That’s writing.

“So you studied Chaucer?” I asked.

“Never did Chaucer,” said Joz. “Studied Bulgakov. I did a lot on Bulgakov.”

Mikhail Bulgakov - not known for his English literature output

Mikhail Bulgakov – not known for his English

“Is he known for his English literature?” I asked.

“You’re right,” said Joz. “It was a bit of a left field choice. But I got to the third year in the course and you could do a dissertation on anything you wanted. I had read Bulgakov when I was 15 because I got into anything with creatures in it.”

“And,” I asked, “the UEA people never spotted Bulgakov did not write in English?”

Well,” replied Joz, “I said Can I do this? and they said they only had one expert on Russian in the entire teaching staff and she was on maternity leave. So they got me someone who knew a bit about German literature because they thought that was the closest to Russian and she shepherded me through it. But most of it, I was just teaching her stuff – Oh, this is another thing about Russia – Oh, cool, great. I didn’t know that – Mostly I could just write what I wanted. It was brilliant.”

“You can read Russian?” I asked.

“No,” said Joz. “I read it all in translation.”

“I did two years of Russian at school,” I said. “I’m shit at languages. I got confused between similar sounding words for a young girl, a country cottage and porridge.”

“Though,” said Joz, “there’s not many situations where they’re all gonna be used in the same context.”

“Goldilocks,” I suggested.

“Mmm…” said Joz.

Joz and I had a cop of tea in Soho Theatre

Joz and I enjoyed a large cup of tea at the Soho Theatre Bar

“So,” I said, “having caused confusion in the UEA English Literature Department, you thought you would carry on in comedy?”

“I did acting and writing all through my teens,” explained Joz, “and thought I would be a serious writer. Then I met John Kearns when we were at UEA and he and another guy (John Brittain, last heard of in this blog co-writing Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho) ran a local comedy club and when I wrote a sitcom for the local student radio station they said: Come and do a spot at the club.”

“So now you’ve been performing comedy for three years.”

“Yes, three years in London, after university.”

“If you went from being yourself on stage to doing characters and then back to yourself, it implies you’re still trying to find yourself on stage.”

“I think when you start out, you think Who do I like? I’ll do sort-of what they do. I grew up watching sitcoms a lot: Alan Partridge and Marion and Geoff and Peep Show. Lots of comic actors. For a while I was trying to do things I’d see people I’d admired do, then realised I was doing that and found it a bit boring and thought doing a character that was not me would be a route to doing whatever I wanted.”

“Last year,” I said, “you did a character show at the Free Festival in Edinburgh called Joz Norris Has Gone Missing…” (There is a promo on YouTube.)

“And I’m going up this year doing a pay show, which is a daunting thing – at the Underbelly.”

“Where did you get the money?”

“It’s not me. Live Nation – who usually do music – I think they promote Aerosmith at the moment – are branching out into comedy. I was kind of wary of it. There’s a weird leap you have to make in your head between getting people in off the street to see free comedy and suddenly saying Pay me £8 or £10 of your money just to come in.”

“And the show is called?”

Joz (centre) rehearses his Awkward Prophet show

Joz (dress) rehearses Awkward Prophet

Awkward Prophet. (There is a promo on YouTube.) It’s mainly about relationships and girls and love. Obviously, that has been done a lot, but I’m doing it more from this attitude of being a weird, slightly alien asexual man-child thing who doesn’t get anything.

“I’ve always been disastrous in relationships by not understanding how they’re supposed to work so i thought If I can actually find a way to talk about it which I think is still optimistic and feels like I’m saying something I want to say, then…”

“… then you might pull?” I suggested.

“Yes, I might start being successful. And also it feels like I’ve found a way of talking about myself on stage that is more naturally me and maybe different-ish for the audience.”

That was the conversation Joz and I had at the Soho Theatre a fortnight ago.

Last night, I asked him if there were any updates.

“I went to Tesco today,” he told me, “to buy a packet of McCoy crisps as a snack during the interval of a gig… When I got back to the venue, the MC put them on a plate and passed them round the audience. It was very disappointing.”

“Any new work?” I asked.

“I’ve been cast as the villain in a TV sitcom pilot called Film School written by Matt Silver which is filming a teaser later in June and it marks a break from the ‘naive idiot’ parts I usually play. This time I get to scowl and look threatening and shout abuse at the protagonists, which is a dream come true.

“Also, I’ve been cast as Bertie in a kids’ magic and puppetry show called Bertie & Boo about a brother and sister who learned magic from their grandparents and now they can make scarves change colour and the like. I think I got the part because of my colourful jacket, as I can’t actually do any magic… but they’ve told me we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

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The early days of UK Alternative Comedy… with Alvin Stardust?

Vivienne and Martin Soan breakfast in Leipzig

Vivienne and Martin Soan breakfast in Leipzig

Yet more memories of the early days of British alternative comedy, this time from Vivienne and Martin Soan who run the Pull The Other One comedy club in London and Leipzig.

People say if you can remember the 1960s, you were not there.

Perhaps the same can be said for the early days of alternative comedy in the 1980s.

“He was a black cab driver,” Martin began.

“An Afro-American?” I asked.

“No, he was the driver of a black cab,” said Martin with, I thought, a hint of weariness.

“Anyway,” said Vivienne, “what he used to do was drop off comedians as fares. That is how he got to know all the clubs and then he started doing open spots himself.”

“He came on stage,” said Martin, “and all he had was a glove…”

“He was naked?” I asked.

“He used to come on stage,” said Martin with, I thought, a hint of weariness, “fully-clothed and wearing a glove. It was a pastiche of sorts of…”

Alvin Stardust and his glove in the glory days

Alvin Stardust & his glove – or maybe it was Michael Jackson

“…Alvin Stardust,” said Vivienne.

“…Michael Jackson, I think you’ll find,” said Martin.

“Anyway,” said Vivienne, “he had a glove with studs all over it.”

“Rhinestones,” said Martin. “Rhinestones. He didn’t really have an act but he had rhinestones and, at some point, he would get a CD played and he did some sort of naff Michael Jackson…”

“He just used to stand and stare at people,” said Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “He was bad. Every now and again, depending on where he was in London, he used to drop off his fare, run into a comedy club and say Can I do an open spot? Very often, they’d tell him to Fuck off! because they’d seen his act before. But me and Vivienne were doing this gig…”

“No,” said Vivienne, “I don’t think you were there, Martin…”

“Oh no,” said Martin. “I wasn’t.”

“I told you about it,” said Vivienne. “It was a feminist gig at the time of Women Only and I was playing with a band called Sax Machine in a pub called something like The Pied Bull in Camden”

“Islington,” said Martin.

A black cab racing through London with no sign of a glove

A black cab racing through London with no sign of any glove

“Angel,” said Vivienne. “It was very well known. All the people in there were women, but some of them looked like blokes.

“Oh! I was playing with a band called the Nine Bent Bob Notes or something like that. And suddenly this guy stormed in and he looked slightly confused as his eyes went round the room and he felt there was something different but couldn’t quite work out what. He got onto the stage, got his glove out and practically got lynched by all these women shouting Get off! Get off! He shot one look at me – because he knew me – pleading with his eyes but, like Judas, I turned away. He literally got dragged out by his feet.”

“He stopped performing,” said Martin, “and we all forgot about him – he was a flash in the history of alternative comedy. But, years later, I was coming out of somewhere and – a very rare occasion – I had some cash and flagged down this black cab in fast-moving traffic. It screeched to a halt and the cabbie yelled Jump in! Jump in!

”I warned him: I’m going South of the River.

Brilliant! he shouted. You don’t remember me, do yah!… I’m The Glove! I’m The Glove!

“He took me all the way home, god bless ‘im,” said Martin. “I asked him: Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?

Nah, he said.

How much do I owe you?

For you, nothing. Just remember… Tell them – You got in a cab with The Glove! You got in a cab with The Glove! and he screeched off down the road. I’ve never seen him again.”

“And all that,” I said, “had nothing to do with Alvin Stardust.”

“Well, it was Alvin Stardust’s glove,’ said Vivienne.

… MORE ABOUT THE GLOVE IN MY NEXT BLOG HERE

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How to start & run a successful comedy club – by Ivor Dembina (who knows)

Liam Lonergan: man of comedy

Liam Lonergan: laughing is a serious business

In yesterday’s blog I ran an extract from a chat Liam Lonergan had with comedian and club owner Ivor Dembina for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

In this further extract, they talk about running comedy clubs.

Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club in London celebrates its 20th anniversary next month.

______________________________________________

Ivor Dembina

Ivor Dembina – club owner and promoter

Ivor Dembina: At the moment you have a lot of these free gigs. There’s a reason for that. Most people are not going to local live comedy clubs because they’ve been persuaded the only stuff worth seeing is the stuff that’s been on TV. And, as soon as anyone half decent turns up who has a bit of talent, they disappear off the face of the earth…

Liam Lonergan: …onto TV.

Ivor: Yeah. They get signed by an agent and you don’t see them on the club circuit anymore. So the quality of the clubs goes down. So, this is a bit of a drag. But someone goes to a landlord and says: “Look, you have got an empty room up there on a Tuesday night.”

And the landlord says “Yeah I have.”

So you go: “Would you want me to fill it?”

The landlord says: “Yeah. What you gonna do?”

“I’ll put on a free show. I’ll get fifteen comedy acts and they’ll all bring at least one mate. So that’s thirty people. Maybe another ten people will wander in. So I’ll get you forty drinkers. You give me £50 and I’ll organise it.”

So the landlord thinks: “£50… forty drinkers… I’ll ‘ave some of that”.

The landlord don’t give a fuck about the quality of the show. All he cares is that there’s forty people drinking his beer in an otherwise empty room. And that’s why you’ve got all these… There’s no quality control… And any comedian who is any good will soon get depressed by that arrangement. The most each of the fifteen acts can do is five minutes. You never develop. You never get any real critical feedback. The audience aren’t a real audience because 70% of the audience are either other comics or their friends. So no-one’s going to come up to you and say: “Actually. That wasn’t really very good mate”.

The thing about a comedy club is you have to build it.

Anyone – any cunt – you can put this in your thing – any cunt can fill a comedy room. For one night.

But can you fill it so they will come back next week? And will they still be coming back in six weeks’ time?

The answer is… That’s harder.

Not only have you got to have consistently interesting and good quality entertainment but you’ve got to the have the audience leaving thinking: I’m coming back here.

And now people have so many entertainment choices that how often do you go to the same place every week? Also the idea of local entertainment – We always go down to Ivor’s or to Andy’s or to Liam’s on a Tuesday night – that has been kind of eroded by the internet, by TV, by going abroad.

People think: “Where can we go?”

Well, they can go down to the West End or spend Saturday night in Rayleigh or Portsmouth. That, Ah, this is a bit local has gone.

Also what is interesting is that somewhere in the history of this the idea came up that you have to see comedy accompanied by alcohol. There’s now a myth that, in order to enjoy comedy, you have to have a drink. It’s bullshit.

In a way that came about because, in the early days, if you were gonna put comedy on you needed a room and the people who had lots of free rooms were the pubs. So, there was a quid pro quo. You take the money on the door, pay the acts and make a few quid for yourself and they’d sell their beer. So the association between alcohol and comedy got embedded very early on.

But it’s nonsense! You don’t need to be pissed to have a laugh. It’s absolute rubbish. Of course brewers recognised this, so then they reinforced the (mythical) link with all these sponsorship deals and of course the final apotheosis was the Fosters Award.

Liam: So you reckon, even before all the agencies and producers came in and tarnished it all – well, not tarnished it but corporatised it – you think the brewers were…

Ivor: The idea that the more you drink the funnier it will seem is just bullshit. But I’m not blaming the brewers. We collaborated in it. That was the deal. I mean at the Hampstead Comedy Club, my club, it’s still it’s the same. I get the room free because I’m gonna bring in sixty or seventy people who are gonna drink beer. That’s the deal, y’know?

Liam: I was talking to Bob Slayer about his Heroes of Fringe and the percentage of ticket prices that he shares with performers. At the Hampstead Comedy Club… You don’t actually have to answer this, if you don’t want to…

Ivor at his Hampstead Comedy Club in January

Ivor at Hampstead Comedy Club in January

Ivor: I don’t mind. I don’t care who knows. I pay guarantees. I’ll tell you exactly what the economics are. I have three acts whom I pay £80 each. There’s a compere – who I admit is usually me but if I isn’t it’d be someone else – and I pay them £100. So that’s £340. I pay a door person £60. So that’s £400. I pay the booker £30-£40 a show. So I have costs. The costs of the show are around £450. There is a £10 ticket price. So I have to sell 45 tickets to break even.

Liam: What’s the capacity?

Ivor: Well, it’s just gone down, as it happens. My capacity is now gonna be sixty five. So I’m risking £450 to make £200. So, I’m not doing it to get rich.

Liam: Lewis Schaffer told me, “It’s all still about paying off the Inland Revenue and paying off the mortgage,” but then Bob Slayer said, “If he wanted to do that he could be a salesman and he’d be a very good salesman.”

Ivor: It’s true. But you can get lucky. I mean, over the years certain people they found themselves with a room of, say, two hundred people in a location where people will go and and they’ve kept going. In the past, some promoters have made serious money but not now I don’t think.

Liam: What’s the criteria for booking acts? Or is it just people that you’ve seen and you’ve thought were…

Ivor: Well, when you’re running a club, it’s not the acts. It’s the venue. Do the punters enjoy going there? Obviously you’ve got to put on the best possible entertainment that you can but once people start going to see the acts rather than specifically coming to your venue, the club is finished. You want them to go to your club because:

Oh, Tuesday night we go down the club. They usually have something good down there. Let’s go down the club.

That was the ethos on which the comedy circuit was built.

It is now crumbling away for the various reasons that I’ve described.

… CONTINUED HERE

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