Tag Archives: America

American comedian Lewis Schaffer on the superiority complex of the English

Lewis Schaffer finds himself alone amid clowns

I was clearing out files and photos on my computer last night and stumbled upon a piece of wisdom from UK-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer which I had cut out of some previous blog back in the mists of time.

I am not sure if is about xenophobia or national insecurities or neither or both.

At first, I thought Ooh. That might be interesting because of the nationalistic rivalries revealed during the Euro 2012 football tournament.

Then I thought: Well, I suppose ‘twas ever thus and f’rever will be, so it is always relevant and worthwhile posting for that reason.

Then I thought: Well, it will fill up today’s blog space quickly and I have to get out of the house.

So this is what Lewis Schaffer said to me a few months ago:

_____

English people look down on Australians and New Zealanders. They are seen as cuddly because they are weak – like Irish people. English people look down on Irish people because they think they are weaker.

It’s not the case that every country looks down on everyone else.

Some countries you look up to because you’re afraid of them. You think, “Wow! They’re better than us!”

America, for example.

Or is that true?

Do the English look up to America or down on America? I don’t know.

English people look down on everybody who comes from any other country because they are not English. English people look down on Americans, because they look down on everybody, because the English are so arrogant, even more than the French.

French people think that France is the greatest country in the world, but they think what makes it not great is the dirty foreigners.

On the other hand, English people think that England is great and the only thing that stops England being great is other English people.

An Englishman thinks: “If it wasn’t for the other English people – if it was just me – this country would be unbelievably great!”

The average English person thinks: “If I was in charge of the NHS or in charge of football, the NHS would be great and we’d win every game.”

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Filed under Comedy, England, Racism

A glimpse back ten years ago to Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland’s Golden Jubilee

Concorde flypast of Buckingham Palace on 4th June 2002

In those less cyberspaced days before I blogged, I occasionally kept notes in diaries. These are extracts from 2002, when Queen Elizabeth II (or, if you are being very Scottish, Queen Elizabeth I) was celebrating her Golden Jubilee.

Saturday 1st June 2002

I went to see comedian Charlie Chuck at home in Leicestershire. In the local pub in the evening, there was a noisy disco – people wearing St George’s flag clothes amid Union Flag bunting.

Sunday 2nd June 2002

Actor Mike Wattam told me that, in the Vietnam War, the Vietcong hung prisoners upside down with bags on their heads. The bags had rats inside. The prisoners’ blood rushed to their heads. The frightened and hungry rats ate the prisoners’ faces.

On my way home, I drove through a street party in Radlett, Hertfordshire. Union flags and St George’s flags flying, bunting, trestle tables with food, lots of children excited at a licence to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

Monday 3rd June 2002

Extracts from an Instant Message with a friend in Washington DC:

Her: I met a twat hack from the Washington Post last night. Complete arrogant tosser.

Me: You have a way with words. What was wrong with him?

Her: I told him : “At least you’re consistent, as all the bars and restaurants you recommend tend to be crap.”

Me: Bunting, St George’s flags and Union flags aplenty here.

Her: He told me: “Oh, I only recommend places that I think readers will like, not places I like.”  Critics don’t do that!  It’s egocentric that brand of journalism.

Me: It’s normal!

Her: Really?

Me: Like TV producers looking down on punters and making programmes they wouldn’t themselves watch.

Her: So film critics don’t recommend movies they like, but that they think other people will like?

Me: I think tabloid journos probably do that.

Her: Well I still think it’s wrong.  He recommends very expensive very bland places where he gets free drinks.

Me: It is wrong

Her: The place I went to last night he said was the most disgusting skanky place in DC. It’s actually a really nice private house with eclectic decorations (you would love it), full of interesting people. But he is so goddamn arrogant because people in DC cannot go out without consulting his reviews. You would really like it. He started to insult me because he thought I was stupid (I mentioned I had friends in the Independent Media who are Socialists)

Me: What’s the Independent Media?

Her: dc.indymedia.org Free press. I told him I’d rather live in a society where people get free healthcare and education and he left the room.

Me: In the US, “Liberal” means Communist, so “Socialist” must mean “In League With the Devil”… Americans!

Her: I think Socialism means Communism here.  He said he’d read Marx and I told him he obviously didn’t know what Socialism actually is. I think he got pissed off when he realised I was more intelligent than him.

Me: I should tell him kibbutzes are Socialism in action. Communism, indeed. Ironic that right-wingers in the US support Israeli kibbutzes.

Tuesday 4th June 2002

Live Jubilee coverage all over the TV. Somehow it seems bigger than the Silver Jubilee.

Wednesday 5th June 2002

I talked to someone who has dealings with prisoners. She says prison letters all have the same smell. Slightly musty, slightly medical.

She told me about an old woman of 78 who reads newspapers then, unsteady on her feet, moves around her home by touching the walls for support. She leaves black finger marks everywhere – which she can’t see because of her bad eyesight.

‘Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner’ Charles Bronson, has been inside for 28 years. This week he was given a TV set for the first time and, for the past three days, he has been totally docile – watching episodes of the children’s series Teletubbies.

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In the cyber world of viral publicity, BBC America sent me an e-mail today

Today, I was invited to go to a media show next week – MediaPro 2011 – and all they really wanted to know in cyberspace was my e-mail address and Twitter name.

Why?

I have no idea.

I have a friend who works for a major charity. Coincidentally, today she sent me an e-mail asking:

“Do you like Twitter?”

My answer was:

“I don’t really understand it – possibly because I do not have a smart phone.”

And I do not understand it, though I use it slightly for self-publicity.

It could cope with it a bit more once I understood the use of the hash sign.

But there is the problem of people actually seeing any message in the Twittersphere.

A comedian I know who also uses it for publicity sends any message mid-morning, late afternoon and near midnight to try to get it read.

It seems very popular with celebs and performers. I can’t imagine why they talk to each other on it, though.

My comedian chum Janey Godley Tweets extravagantly and swears it is useful if, for example, she goes to a new city – people will tell her useful information.

It has immediacy, which something like Facebook does not necessarily have. But coming with that is transience – if you Tweet a message at 10.30am, someone following 800 people may not see it if they don’t look until 3.00pm.

It is in that (what I think is an) odd area where, instead of talking to one person on the phone or in an e-mail, you talk to multiple people and (for reasons I cannot begin to fathom) you are having a conversation with one person which anyone is invited to listen in on.

As far as I can see, if you want to Tweet some one specific person, you might as well text ‘em.

I told my Charity friend:

“You might take a look at Google+ for work… Google+ seems to me to have a more up-market clientele than Facebook.”

(Nothing personal to my Facebook Friends).

The best proven way to get publicity, though, is to be included in my daily blog.

Bizarrely, BBC America would seem to agree. Today, I got an e-mail from someone at BBC America:

_______

Hi,

I work for BBC America, the U.S. cable television channel. I came across your blog and wanted to reach out, because BBC America is premiering a new series, WHITECHAPEL, on WED OCT 26 that I think would be interesting to you and your readers.

WHITECHAPEL is set in modern-day East London where a copycat killer is terrorizing London – and it’ll take everything these police officers have to keep history from repeating. The force is faced with the brutal and bloody history of their streets, from echoes of the 19th century & Jack the Ripper to the infamous 1960s crime twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Can these officers “solve the unsolvable and catch the most famous serial killer that ever lived”?

WHITECHAPEL is from the producers of the Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey and starring Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5, Cambridge Spies), Phil Davis (Sherlock, Bleak House) and Steve Pemberton (The League of Gentlemen, Viva Blackpool).

Don’t miss WHITECHAPEL every Wednesday at 10/9c starting Oct 26 only on BBC America. Can’t find BBC America on your cable dial? Use the Channel Finder in the top-navigation bar on bbcamerica.com.

PLUS:
• Watch the extended trailer now: http://bbca.me/WhitechapelTrail
• Get an exclusive look Inside the Making Of… WHITECHAPEL: http://bbca.me/MakingWhitechapel
• Watch a special advance sneak peek of the series premiere: http://bbca.me/WhitechapelPeek

Cheers!

_______

Now, I will plug anything for anyone if it sounds interesting – as the above proves – for a bit more profile, but why me?

I may bullshit, but I am a minor little blogger in the grand cyber scheme of things.

I know BBC America will have sent out hundreds of e-mails. But why to me?

I am not  complaining in any way. Far from it. I am delighted, but…

Why me?

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Filed under Ad industry, Internet, PR

Cut out the music industry middle-men, think small and make big money

I got a Facebook message from Ben Peel in Bradford, saying:

“I would love you to go check out my home-made video from my debut single here. It will sure make you smile. I have currently just released my debut album – which can be previewed here. ”

I don’t know Ben Peel nor his band The Wool City Folk Club, but his video and songs are interesting.

Quite soon some unknown person is going to achieve worldwide fame and become a millionaire through YouTube clips and subsequent audio or video downloads. Maybe the Arctic Monkeys have already done it, but only on a limited scale.

Perhaps in a couple of years time, Ben Peel will be a multi-millionaire.

Or maybe not.

The world is changing fast but no-one knows what the fuck is going on or what they’re supposed to be doing.

Shortly before Apple announced their new iCloud service, I wrote a blog in which I mentioned the on-going death of the traditional record industry – by which I meant vinyl, tapes, CDs and DVDs sold in shops.

The blog resulted in some interesting feedback.

Hyphenate creative Bob Slayer (he’s a comedian-promoter-rock group manager) reacted:

“It is at worst a myth and at best very misleading to say that the record industry is dying – there is more demand for music then ever. What has happened over the last ten years is that the music industry has completely reinvented itself. The X-Factor has had an effect and a smaller number of pop artists are selling a high number of records. They still operate in a similar way to the traditional industry.

“But everywhere else has radically changed so that the artist (and their management) can play a much more hands-on role in controlling their own careers.”

Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farter, who knows a thing or two about self-promotion and has made his own music CDs produced by former Jethro Tull drummer Barrie Barlow, tells me:

“Large record labels no longer have the money to keep well-known acts on retainers or publishing contracts like they used to and have pressed the ejector seat. New and well-known acts are not as a rule getting huge piles of money thrown at them to go away and make an album. The Stone Roses’ great rock ’n’ roll heist, where they made one decent album then got a shed load of money advanced to make another and did sweet FA, just would not happen in today’s economic climate – or at least it would be highly unlikely.”

We have entered the entrance hall of an iTunes world of downloads with megastars and small self-producing, self-promoting unknowns where good middle-ranking performers and groups will potentially be squeezed out. It is much like comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the big TV names and unknowns on the Free Fringe and Free Festival pull in crowds, but it is increasingly tough for very good, experienced middle-rankers with no TV exposure.

Ben Peel, just starting out in the music business, says:

“The digital realm does not have time for people who are solely musicians. You have to evolve into some type of super musician / marketing guru to be able make an impact amongst people. I have to be 50% musician, 50% marketing and branding. The digital realm is creating a new generation of musician: one-man machines cutting out the middle-men. The downside is that the middle-men had collateral – and contacts.”

Self-promotion ability is vital, though Ben thinks e-mails are outdated in publicity terms.

“I do a gig… and send an email out… I get ten people there…. I do a gig and throw out a 30 second YouTube short… one a week on the run-up to a gig…. I get two hundred people to attend and the exposure of the viral promoting and people re posting is priceless…. You cannot buy ‘word of mouth’ promoting …. you can only inspire it through something quirky/ original/ funny/ catchy etc.”

Bob Slayer manages not only the wonderful Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock but also internet phenomenon Devvo and tells me:

“At his height, Devvo was achieving over a million hits on every YouTube clip we put online. We had no control over who was viewing them but, as they were mostly passed around between friends, he found his natural audience. Devvo is not really understood outside the UK, so that massive following came largely from the UK and predominantly in the north. It meant that, he could easily sell-out medium sized venues anywhere north of Birmingham and strangely also in Wales but, for example, we struggled to sell tickets in Brighton.”

Financially-shrewd Mr Methane has so far failed to dramatically ‘monetise’ the more than ten million worldwide hits on just one of several YouTube clips of his Britain’s Got Talent TV appearance. but he sold shedloads of CDs and DVDs via his website after appearances on shock jock Howard Stern’s American radio and TV shows because small local radio stations across the US then started playing his tracks. They were small local stations, but there were a lot of them.

Only Bo Burnham, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award, who straddles music and comedy like Mr Methane and started as an online phenomenon, seems to have got close to turning YouTube clips into more mainstream success and music downloads.

The fact Mr Methane made a lot of money online, sitting at home in Britain, after very specifically local US radio exposure is interesting, though.

At the bottom of his e-mails, Ben Peel has a signature:

“Dwarves are like tents… a lot easier to get out of the bag than they are to put back in.”

Yes indeed. And that is very true with new technology. But it made me remember something else.

Years ago, I attended a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain meeting where the speaker’s message was “The way to make money is not to think big but to think small.”

He suggested that one way to make money was to create a weekly five or ten minute audio insert which could be run within local US radio shows. If anyone could come up with an idea, made in Britain, which would be of interest to Americans on a weekly basis, you could sell it to local US stations at a very low price.

If you tried to sell the mighty PBS network a weekly half hour show for £2,000 it was unlikely they would buy it.

But any small local US radio station could afford to pay £5 for a weekly five or ten minute insert. If you could sell that same insert to 499 other small local US radio stations (not competing against each other because they are small purely local stations), you would be grossing £2,500 per week for creating a five or ten minute item. And you could distribute it down a telephone line.

If you could persuade the stations to buy it for £10 – around $15 – still throwaway money – then, of course, you would be making £5,000 per week.

The trick was to price low and sell in volume.

That was before iTunes, which became successful by that very same model of micro-pricing. It was worth buying a single music track if it only cost 79c in the US or 79p in the UK. If iTunes had priced a single music track at £1.60 in the UK, they would almost certainly have sold less than half as many units, so would have grossed less money.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume.

Modern technology allows ordinary bands to record, mix, cut and put their own tracks on iTunes alongside music industry giants. It also allows people in New Zealand to listen to and watch Ben Pool on YouTube just as easily as people in Bradford can see him play a live gig.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume. Think worldwide.

Just as some comedians are looking into e-publishing, bypassing traditional publishers, Ben Pool in Bradford and local bands in South East London can now expand beyond selling their own CDs after gigs and could reach a worldwide paying audience of millions with no music industry middle-men.

Last year, I wrote a blog titled Britain’s Got Talent in Pubs about an astonishing regular pub gig I saw in South East London featuring Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles.

A week ago, I saw Paul Astles perform again, this time with his seven-man band Shedload of Love in their monthly gig at The Duke pub on Creek Road, Deptford, not far from Malcolm Hardee’s old Up The Creek comedy club. They also play the Wickham Arms in Brockley every month. They are astonishingly good. Formed in 2004, they recently recorded an album at Jools Holland’s studio in Greenwich.

Both the Paul Astles bands are world-class, playing mostly locally but, if promoted on the internet, they could garner a worldwide following with no music industry middle-men.

There are, of course, as with anything involving creativity and cyberspace, those big words IF and COULD.

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Filed under Comedy, Internet, Music, PR, Radio, Rock music

What is success? Global fame, Simon Cowell or a big fish in a small pond?

Yesterday, 20-year-old American comedian Bo Burnham started a two-week tour of England. He has his first album out, has been commissioned to write a movie, MTV recently ordered a television pilot from him and, in January this year, he finished Number One in Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown in the US – a public vote on the twenty greatest Comedy Central performances. But he is still mostly unknown in the UK, despite being that new phenomenon ‘an internet sensation’ and winning the much-publicised Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe.

I wrote a blog a while ago about Ken Dodd which started off “Morecambe and Wise were not famous” and mentioned, as an aside, that “fame is relative and mostly regional

One response was from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing farter. He has performed all over the place and, at various times, been fairly famous in Sweden and in Japan because of his television appearances there. Far more famous than in Britain, where farting in peaktime is still frowned on.

He responded to my blog by saying: “I always find it interesting when I go abroad and do a TV show with a person who is that country’s Steve Wright or Jonathan Woss – a big fish in a small pond but none-the-less raking it in. My problem has always been that awareness of Mr Methane is spread globally rather than condensed in a certain geographical area which makes it harder to get bums on seats and make some serious money.”

The Scots comedienne Janey Godley has had a Top Ten bestselling hardback and paperback book in the UK and regularly (I have seen the figures) gets over 500,000 worldwide hits per week on her widely-posted blog. But if she were to play a theatre in, say, Cleethorpes in England or Peoria in the US, she would not necessarily sell out the venue’s tickets in the first half hour they went on sale, because she has had relatively little English TV exposure and her fame and fanbase is spread worldwide not concentrated locally.

To be a big ‘live’ star in a country, you still have to be on that country’s television screens fairly regularly. A massive internet following may not be enough for you to make shedloads of money on tour. I would lay bets that some amiable but relatively talentless British stand-up comedian who appears on a BBC3 panel show will make better box office money on a UK tour than the equally amiable and immeasurably more talented Bo Burnham who is, indeed, that legendary beast ‘an internet sensation’.

In 2009, Mr Methane was on Britain’s Got Talent. Several clips of that appearance have been posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing, one of those clips

has had over ten million hits. But those ten million plus people are spread across the globe, so how does Mr Methane, in that awful American phrase, ‘monetise’ the awareness of his existence? He can market products online, which I know he does very successfully but, if he were playing a live venue in Peoria, would he fill the auditorium?

The result is that, as Mr Methane observes, you can often make more money and be more ‘successful’ by being a big fish in a small pond rather than being an internationally recognised performer. Financially, it is usually still better to have 10 million fans in the UK than 30 million fans worldwide.

iTunes, YouTube and other online phenomena are still in their infancy and may well change all that and Bo Burnham may be one of the trailblazers.

The now-dying record business created international stars selling millions of discs worldwide who could tour on the back of that success. But without television exposure and with only a few exceptions, that has not yet happened for comedy acts. You still need local TV exposure.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Internet, Television, Theatre

Why Roman Polanski’s glamorous rape-excusing friends should be ashamed

I once had to make a television trailer for a documentary on the Waffen-SS. It was very difficult to cut together any pictures that did not make the SS look glamorous because most of the footage was actually shot by the Nazi regime itself, therefore it had a Triumph of the Will style about it. Wonderful angled shots of smart, black-uniformed men marching down steps in formation. The Nazis tended not to film the Waffen-SS butchering men, women and children. Bad for the image.

Let’s be honest, Hitler’s Third Reich made good films and had a great sense of visual style in the design of their uniforms, their architecture and the staging of big-scale live events. But that doesn’t mean that The Holocaust was a minor matter and that Adolf Hitler “should be forgiven this one sin”.

I always find that, if you take an opinion or an event – especially on moral questions – and re-position it into an extreme situation, then that clarifies the opinion or event. My extreme situation is Nazi Germany.

If an argument works put into the context of Nazi Germany, then it probably works in general. Which brings us to Roman Polanski.

His glamorous showbiz chums sit around saying that he should be ‘let off’ the sex abuse charges on which he was found guilty in the US – and on which he jumped bail – in 1977. They say that he should be forgiven his trespasses because (a) he is famous, (b) he is or was a good film director, (c) he had a bad time in the War and (d) it all happened a good few years ago.

I admire Polanski’s earlier films.

But he drugged, raped and buggered a 13 year old girl. This is no small matter and the facts are not in dispute.

If Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact the Holocaust was a long time ago and he had had a difficult childhood would not quite merit ignoring what was done and letting him off with a slap on the head and “Don’t do it again, you naughty boy,” said in a disapproving tone.

I recently mentioned in passing on my Facebook page that when IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with attempted rape, was initially refused bail, one reason the judge gave for not giving him bail was the fact that Roman Polanski had done a runner on a rape charge.

Someone pointed out to me that the girl victim in the Polanski case “has been trying to drop charges for the last ten years… She has said that all of the publicity for this incident has hurt her more than the actual crime itself… She’s suffered enough; let it drop.”

Well, if Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact that the Holocaust was a long time ago and the people who suffered would be upset by a trial would not affect what crimes had been intentionally committed.

Raping a 13 year old is not right. Buggering a 13 year old is not right. And, equally, jumping bail to avoid a jail sentence for drugging, raping and buggering a 13 year old girl is not something to be ignored just because you used to be a good movie director and it happened a while ago.

The fact Polanski’s original trial judge in 1977 was running for public office, desperate for self-publicity and sounds like he changed his mind on giving Polanski a custodial sentence does not enter into it. I imagine some of the judges at the Nuremberg Trials were scumbags; it does not mean that Nazis found living in freedom 30 years later should not be tried.

My bottom line is that, if you drug, rape and bugger a 13 year old girl and then flee abroad to escape a custodial sentence, you deserve to be imprisoned for a considerable time. The fact glamorous showbiz names champion Roman Polanski and, in effect, say he should be pardoned for artistic merit nauseates me. Hitler was a painter and commissioned good movies. I don’t think his artistic merit or the artistic merit of Leni_Riefenstahl enters into it.

You can read the 37 page transcript of the Grand Jury proceedings against Roman Polanski in 1977 HERE.

According to the girl’s testimony, after giving her champagne and a Quaalude, Polanski sat down beside her and kissed her, despite demands that he “keep away.” He eventually, she said, “started to have intercourse with me.” Later, he asked the 13 year old: “Would you want me to go in through your back?” before he “put his penis in my butt.”

Asked why she did not more forcefully resist 43 year old Polanski, the teenager, who was 13 at the time of the rape, said: “Because I was afraid of him.”

The girl sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. In 1993 Polanski agreed to settle with her and according to the Los Angeles Times he agreed to give her half a million dollars. Reportedly, she was still trying to get part of this money from him in 1996 but she and her lawyers later confirmed the financial settlement was completed.

The girl publicly forgave Polanski in 1997, twenty years after the rape and buggery.

In 2009, Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, argued that Polanski “should be forgiven this one sin.”

I say fuck him.

Details of what was in Polanski’s 111 page Polish Secret Service file are HERE.

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Variety is not dead in Britain – not with the Royal wedding of William and Kate AND Pull The Other One

I saw a repeat of The Story of Variety with Michael Grade on BBC TV recently. The argument was that variety is dead. Michael Grade (unusually) was wrong. Two things yesterday proved this to me: the Royal Wedding and a monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, home of Only Fools and Horses – no connection with the Royal Wedding.

At school, I took British Constitution for ‘A’ Level so i am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. If left to my own devices yesterday, I might have switched on BBC1 to see the RAF fly-past at the Royal Wedding and perhaps I would have watched the drive back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace in case anyone got assassinated.

As it was, I was with a friend who is a feminist republican. (Note, if you are an American reader, a republican is almost the opposite of what you might think: more left wing than right wing).

Of course, like almost all British republicans, she is obsessed with reading about and watching the Royals and following the soap opera and I had to sit through the whole thing on TV.

We had recently sat through Lindsay Anderson’s surreal movie If…. together and yesterday, when it got to the marriage bit where camp-looking churchmen in kitsch golden dresses were intoning sleep-inducing words and the congregation was awash with politicians, Royals, the upper classes and Elton John, I half expected Malcolm McDowell to appear high up in the Abbey among the gargoyles desperately firing an AK-47 at the congregation who would flood out the doors of the Abbey into Parliament Square where mortar bombs would explode.

Perhaps my mind wandered a little.

But men intoning the word of God in funny costumes always stimulates the surreal nodes in my brain.

My friend did make the interesting point that, apart from Kate Middleton, the colourful service was an entirely male affair apart from two nuns sitting to one side dressed in drab grey among the men in bright colours and the presumably-repeatedly-buggered choirboys in white surplices. It looked to me like the two nuns had been hired from Central Casting. One was unnecessarily tall and the other was unnecessarily small. It was like watching that classic comedy sketch where John Cleese is upper class and Ronnie Corbett is working class.

I am Sister Superior; I am taller than her and nearer to God… and I am Sister Inferior; I know my place.

Even when they sat down, the tall one was twice the height as the small one – that never normally happens. I began to fantasise about special effects and trapdoors in the pews.

The real pisser for me, though, was that the BBC TV director managed to miss the shot of the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flying down the length of The Mall. That was the only reason I was watching the thing – other than the possibility of visually interesting assassinations – and it was almost as bad as ITN missing the Royal Kiss on the balcony when Charles married Di.

Everything else was so impeccably stage-managed, I couldn’t understand why they missed the shot. I particularly loved the trees and random greenery inside Westminster Abbey though I found the chandeliers distracting. I don’t remember chandeliers inside the Abbey. Did they come with the trees as part of a special offer from B&Q?

The Royal Wedding guests included Elton John, an invisible Posh & Becks and the distractingly visible two nuns.

In the evening, I went to the monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, which similarly attracts performers who come along to see the show but not to participate. This month it was writer Mark Kelly, actor Stephen Frost and surreal performer Chris Lynam. As I have said before, you know it is a good venue if other performers come to see the shows.

Pull The Other One is not a normal comedy show in that its performers are almost entirely speciality acts not stand-up comedians. If you need a break from reality, I recommend Pull The Other One as a good place to go. And the compering is usually as odd as the acts.

With Vivienne Soan on tour in Holland, the always energetic Holly Burn – the Miss Marmite of Comedy as I like to think of her – compered with Charmian Hughes and the latter performed an Egyptian sand dance in honour of the Royal wedding. Don’t ask, I don’t know, but it was very funny.

Martin Soan, Holly Burn and massed wind-up puppets performed Riverdance.

The extraordinarily larger-than-life Bob Slayer surprisingly did balloon modelling and unsurprisingly drank a pint of beer in one gulp.

Juggler Mat Ricardo (to be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe this August in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show) still has some of the best spesh act patter around.

Magician David Don’t – who had variable success last month when he used blind-folded members of the audience throwing darts at each other – unusually succeeded in an escapology act involving a giant Royal Mail bag, although it’s the last time I want to see a banker with no clothes on and a Union flag coming out of his groin.

Earl Okin did wonderful musical things with his mouth.

And, to round off the evening Matthew Robins, with ukulele and accordion accompaniment, performed a shadow puppet story about murder and mutilation and a visit to the zoo. It is rare to see a shadow puppet show about someone getting his fingers cut off with pliers, his sister hanging from a rope and the audience spontaneously singing along to “I wanted you to love me, but a snake bit my hand…”

But it is more interesting than watching the Archbishop of Canterbury with his grey wild-man-of-the-desert hair wearing a gold dress and a funny pointy party hat in Westminster Abbey.

Pull the Other One – on the last Friday of every month – is never ever predictable and Stephen Frost, keen to appear, lamented to me the fact it is fully booked with performers until November.

Most interesting line of the evening – of the whole day, in fact – came from Earl Okin, who pointed out what a historic Wedding Day this was…

Because it was exactly 66 years ago to the day when Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun.

“It doesn’t bode well,” Earl said.

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At the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, two comedy debates, two bizarre live events and a two-hour variety show

Forgive me while I amiably meander in almost – but not quite – the same way as preparations for the Edinburgh Fringe meander – well, OK, they meander increasingly manically as the year progresses. Preparations for the annual August adrenaline fest normally start around December or January…

As background for what is coming, remember that, in the wonderful world of showbiz, TV shows always take precedence over live stage shows. One year, not so long ago, well after the Edinburgh Fringe Programme deadline had passed, comedian John Oliver was offered a regular spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the US so, quite rightly, he decamped Stateside. He had been due to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe in his show with Andy Zaltzman in the August and was billed in the printed Programme to appear but Andy successfully carried it off as a solo show. So it all turned out well.

Pity the poor Edinburgh Fringe staff at this time of year, though – indeed, pity them at any time of year.

The Fringe this year does not start until the first week in August, but the deadline for entry into the Fringe Programme was nine days ago and yesterday afternoon at 5.00pm was the final deadline for making changes to any of the entries. The Programme is published in June.

As we are talking of Fringe performers here, chaos must have reigned all over the UK yesterday. I got phone calls from two comedians changing their show titles and wording and asking me what I thought. One of those calls was from American comedian Lewis Schaffer who, last year, managed to incorrectly bill his 7.00pm show in the Programme as a 17.00 show. What can you expect from a nation that calls mathematics “math” instead of “maths”?

Lewis reckons that it is Europe’s fault for confusingly listing 5 o’clock as 17 o’clock.

Last year, however, he miraculously managed to get a second timeslot at 7.00pm for part of his Fringe run to compensate and did two shows a day and then, when he lost the venue for the extra slot, he waited outside the venue at the appropriate time, picked up people who thought he was performing inside and dragged them off like some latter-day Pied Piper for a performance outside in another street.

Lewis is a New York Jew and he did those performance in a street opposite the main Edinburgh Mosque. I think he claimed to me at the time that this location was coincidental (and it was never referred to in his show) but I have never been too sure, as he is that rare thing: an American with a hyper-active sense of irony.

Anyway, this year it was me who had to change one show I’m putting on.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy have been around since 2005 and, in varying ways, there have been stage shows since then in London or Edinburgh.

This year, there is going to be a two-hour Awards show – well, maybe ten minutes of actually awarding Awards in the middle of a two-hour comedy variety show – at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 26th August.

Until yesterday, it was going to be preceded by four nights of comedy debates – chaired by me on the Monday/Tuesday and by Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy critics, on the Wednesday/Thursday.

At the last minute, though, a TV show to which Kate was already committed switched its recording days so she now has to be in London on the Wednesday/Thursday (and possibly also the Tuesday). She can’t do her two Malcolm Hardee Debate shows and can’t switch her two dates with mine.

So, at the last minute yesterday, I changed the Wednesday/Thursday show and its venue (don’t ask about the venue change – private grief).

Now, in the final full week of the Fringe, 22nd-26th August 2011, there will be Malcolm Hardee debates on the Monday/Tuesday evenings at The Hive, a bizarre event which I have always wanted to stage on the Wednesday/Thursday evenings in the Grassmarket and a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday night at The Counting House.

Alright, it means bugger all to you and I didn’t say what the bizarre event is.

But to me, this blog posting counts as a promotional pre-launch. You insert in people’s brains the vague idea that something is happening in the future, then say nothing about it for a while and then plug it increasingly nearer the time.

You have been warned.

More will follow.

Eventually.

Unless it all changes.

We are talking, here, after all, about the Edinburgh Fringe.

Kate Copstick should be appearing in the Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd August. But who knows?

Any profits from the debates and from the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards show on Friday 26th August will certainly go to her Mama Biashara charity.

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The fickle finger of fate, fame and mortality, featuring comedy, cancer, Libyans and a nuclear explosion

Yesterday I had tea in London with David Kirk Traylor. widely known for his character Mr Zed

Born in the US, he has lived in Rome for many years. He has starred in eight television series, seen in 35 countries worldwide. He has done command performances for the Pope and the President of the United States and had a top 40 hit record in Europe. He has dubbed and voiced literally hundreds of films, cartoons, CD ROMs and computer & arcade games including an Indiana Jones game for Lucas Arts. His success became such an international phenomenon that he was the subject of a special report on CNN. I booked him on Jack Dee’s Saturday Night on peaktime ITV in 1996, yet he remains ‘unknown’ in the UK.

So it goes.

He told me two of his friends died of cancer around 25 years ago. Their cancer was caused by the radiation cloud from the 1986 nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. The radiation cloud was blown over Rome and they died about a year later. The Italian government lied about the cloud and no-one knew the danger. Several hundred people are thought to have died.

So it goes.

I remember reading about a man who was mending his bicycle in his living room just before Christmas 1988. He lived in a small, quiet Scottish town I knew slightly when I was growing up because, when I was a child, my parents had friends who lived there. The man who was mending his bike died in his living room and neither he nor his house were seen again. Nor the bicycle. They disintegrated. Nothing was left of them. A jumbo jet fell on them. They lived in Lockerbie.

So it goes.

The then-apartheid South African foreign minister Pik Botha was supposed to be on the jumbo jet, but got an earlier flight.

The Four Tops singing group had been due to fly on the jumbo jet, but had been late getting out of a recording session and overslept.

Johnny Rotten, formerly of the Sex Pistols, had been due to fly on the jumbo jet, but missed the flight.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of bombing the jumbo jet in 1988, was released from his Scots prison in 2009 because he had terminal cancer and had about three months to live. He returned to Libya to die. He is still alive now, in 2011.

BBC TV News has just reported that Human Rights Watch claim, in the last week in Libya, at least 233 people have died in the ongoing demonstrations.

So it goes.

A friend of mine, whom I have known for 36 years, now has cancer.

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Britain is full of immigrants

Allegedly, the USA is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ where any immigrant can arrive with nothing and create a new life for himself or herself with unlimited potential. But you cannot become President if you were not born in the USA.

What’s that all about?

I have a British friend whose parents were Indian – they arrived and settled here in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. She told me (and I admit I was surprised) that she had never experienced any racial discrimination in the UK. She never encountered it until she lived in the USA.

It does seem to me – in a vast generalisation – that the US is a land of separated peoples. They define themselves as Irish-American or Swedish-American or African-American and they tend to retain their original nationalities in social clubs and by living together in areas, sometimes ghettos.

In Britain, after a couple of generations, people define themselves as British.

People talk about Britain having a 2,000 year history – since the Romans invaded. But that’s bollocks. The Romans didn’t even control the whole of Great Britain – the main island of the British Isles. They invaded and controlled what is now England, the lower part of Great Britain; for a very brief time they controlled parts of what is now Lowland Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall is south of the current border); they never fully managed to control Wales; and, as many have, they pretty-much gave up at the very thought of controlling Ireland.

Last century, actor Gordon Jackson was the definitive Scotsman. He played the butler Hudson in the original ITV series of Upstairs, Downstairs and, whenever movie-makers wanted a Scotsman in their film, he was their first call. He epitomised Scottishness.

Occasionally I used to work with one of his sons. When he (the son) reached his 40th birthday, he told me that, the older he got, the more Scottish he felt.

“Where were you born?” I asked.

“Hampstead.”

Hampstead is in North London. But then, if you are the son of Gordon Jackson, you are going to feel Scottish. His mother was Scots too and, though brought up in London, they had a holiday home in Pitlochry.

I remember standing in an office in the London Weekend TV tower looking out at a misty, drizzly South Bank and Westminster scene and saying to this Son of Gordon Jackson:

“Now that is dreich.”

“Definitively dreich,” he replied.

Dreich is a Scots Gaelic word which is virtually impossible to define in English. You have to see what it describes if you want to understand it.

There is an interesting theory that the Welsh – or, at least, the people in the middle of Wales, the mountainous parts, the parts that ironically get at bit uppity about being called British and insist on keeping the Welsh language afloat – are actually the only remnants of the original British, pushed back into that western bump of Great Britain by successive invaders from the south, east and north of the island.

The original British were killed-off or bred out of existence perhaps 1,500 years ago.

Basically, everyone in Britain is an immigrant except, possibly, the forefathers of a few Welsh people.

In the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the point is often forgotten that King Arthur was killed. The invaders, in reality, won. The losers possibly fled West.

My surname is Fleming so, at some point, my forebears came from Flanders/Belgium/Holland. But, despite an uncalled-for English accent, I am Scottish. The Scots and Irish are allegedly Celtic but, to my eyes, are clearly Scandinavian – pale skin, light hair, sometimes freckles. I used to have dark brown hair and a ginger beard. That’s Scandinavian.

The Welsh are said, like the Scots and Irish, to be Celtic; but the Welsh are in generalised physical terms nothing like the Scots and Irish – they tend to have dark hair, for one thing.

The Celts, again in very general terms, came from Central Europe. So they are sort-of German though, when I worked in the Czech Republic, the locals reckoned the Celts had actually come from what is now the Czech area of Central Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon English are from what is now Germany – the result of invasions by the Angles and the Saxons.

A Danish TV director I know, who worked with both me and Son of Gordon Jackson, told me he once drove round Yorkshire and recognised most of the names of the towns and villages: they were either recognisable Danish names or bastardisations of Danish names.

Hardly surprising, given that Denmark ruled most of England for so long.

To be a racist, you need to be ignorant of history. To talk of “racial purity” anywhere requires a deep ignorance of history. To talk of “racial purity” in the UK requires a remarkable level of crass stupidity.

I am old enough to remember TV documentaries about the last Yiddish language newspaper closing in the East End of London. Some of the street signs there – around Brick Lane – used to be in Yiddish; now they are in Bengali. Limehouse in East London used to be a Chinese area. Now there’s a little Chinese area in Soho (artificially created, it has to be said, by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone). Everything is constantly changing.

The English language has thrived on constant new inputs from foreign languages; it is constantly changing. The ‘British people’ (whatever that means) have thrived on constant new cultural inputs and there is constant, vibrant change. Britain is constantly being re-born. Unlike the USA, we seem to have integrated and assimilated our immigrants over time. Admittedly we have had longer.

Britain, depending on how you define it, didn’t even exist until 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I of England) or 1707 (when the Act of Union was signed). The flag which the British Army flew at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 in support of their Hanoverian monarch was not the current Union flag. The current so-called ‘Union Jack’ did not exist until 1801 when another Act of Parliament united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland.

If/when either Northern Ireland or Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom and becomes independent, then the flag will have to change again.

No-one in Britain is, when it comes down to it, actually British. We are all immigrants. The British are long-dead, except perhaps for a few distant relatives in Machynlleth.

What “Britain” means is a moveable feast.

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