Tag Archives: Ariane Sherine

Jeremy Corbyn & my beard and the link to Martin Soan’s new free comedy club.

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming?

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming? A combination?

I am probably going to be Jeremy Corbyn. In a music video for Ariane Sherine’s Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

The London Evening Standard’s opinion is that this “steamy tribute” to the great man is “one of the most stirring”. But that “most of the verses are too graphic to be printed in a family newspaper”. The song includes the stirring lines:

One poke from the leader
And you’ll be in Labour

I was conned into saying I would appear in this video, to be shot in July, on the basis it would include “topless” scenes. Alas, these turned out to be not Ariane Sherine topless but the Jeremy Corbyn clone – me – and, because of this, I have been trying to slim down to something more approaching Jezza than Dumbo.

It has also meant I have kept my beard, which I had intended to shave off.

Now, though, the video shoot is going to be in September not July. So I was going to chop off my beard and re-grow it during the Edinburgh Fringe in August. (This has the added bonus I could get up later in the mornings).

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan's hair

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan’s hair on stage in 2013

My eternally un-named friend then suggested I should get Martin Soan to cut it off or, at least, cut one half of it – perhaps the left half – and half my shirt and possibly half my trousers.

Thus it is going to happen on the opening night of his new comedy club this Friday night. There is a bit of ‘previous’ here. In 2013, comedian Stephen Frost cut off half Martin Soan’s hair on stage at Pull The Other One.

For over ten years, Martin and his wife Vivienne have run the very successfully bizarre Pull The Other One monthly comedy club in Nunhead (Peckham to you and me, but don’t say that to the natives). Now they are also going to be running another monthly comedy night in Nunhead called It’s Got Bells On.

“So,” I asked him, “you’re going to do this new one monthly and carry on doing Pull The Other One monthly? What’s the difference going to be?”

“Well,” said Martin, “It’s Got Bells On is free and Pull The Other One is pay-to-enter.”

Martin Soan promoting new night It’s Got Bells On

Martin Soan promotes his new It’s Got Bells On

“Why is It’s Got Bells On free?” I asked.

“Because I’m very lucky. Someone who is really into comedy is sponsoring me. He wants to remain anonymous. He’s fronting the cash for it – not a lot of cash, but it means I can pay the acts and have a bit for myself as well. Basically, everyone will get expenses.”

I asked: “When you say ‘free’ it will have a bucket at the end for voluntary audience donations?”

“Yeah. But there will also be 30 tickets behind the bar which you can buy for £1 each in advance to guarantee a seat.”

“So it’s the Bob Slayer ‘Pay What You Want’ model from the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Is there any difference in the type of act or the headliners at the two clubs?”

“I don’t know what you call headliners now. I’m moving against ‘celebrity’ because it muddies the water yet again. Comedy should be whether you like it or not – nothing to do with whether people have been on TV or not. But everything still hinges on whether they are ‘famous’ or not.”

“Your Pull The Other One shows,” I said, “are usually full up and the format, as I understand it, is that they are all variety acts plus one stand-up comedian who is usually a ‘Name’.”

“That’s the way it works out normally, “ said Martin, “but it’s not a rule. Variety is the key. I wanted to put on a free night and now I’ve had this glorious offer of it being funded by an anonymous sponsor.”

Dr Brown and an audience member at PTOO

“I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic” (Photo of Dr Brown at Pull The Other One)

“Why did free-to-enter shows attract you?” I asked.

“With it being free,” explained Martin, “we don’t have to fulfil any audience expectations. Acts can be more free with the type of material they do. I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic – as it used to be. I am going to feature a slot a bit like The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green). I have Brian Sewer to fulfil that role in the first week. He’s an art critic.”

“Ah,” I said, “a piss-take on Brian Sewell? Who is doing that?”

“Ed At Last.”

“So the idea with It’s Got Bells On,” I asked, “is that you would not have one big name?”

“Well,” said Martin, “if Stewart Lee wanted to try out 10 minutes of new material, he would be just the same as anyone else on the bill. He would get 10 minutes and his expenses.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

Stewart Lee (left) and Martin Soan, backstage at P.T.O.O.

“I’ve got Stewart Lee booked on at Pull The Other One on the 9th September and I must be getting two e-mails a day saying Can I get tickets? Can I get tickets!

“I’m getting frustrated by this celebrity-bound comedy and the way comedy is being used yet again.”

“It seems now,” I suggested, “that people will pay to see an act they have seen on TV, but lots of venues are doing free shows with unknown acts who do not get paid to perform.”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “It’s not that I disagree with free venues, but I think people need to get paid for what they do.

“Now venues are starting to refuse to pay artists, basically. We have gone backwards. I remember the days in the 1980s when bands used to have to pay to play. I was involved with bands through my wife Vivienne. There was one particular pub which was absolutely notorious. They charged all the bands something like £50 to use the PA.”

“In the 1980s?” I asked.

Vivienne and Martin Soan

Vivienne and Martin Soan – Campaigning comedy couple

“Yeah. And the band would get some percentage of any tickets. But, basically, very few people bought tickets. You were allowed two guests and the audience was just other bands. So the poor band that went on last played to no-one.

“I got quite political about it and helped start an organisation called Community Music and basically the practice was stamped out over a few years.

“Now with comedy, though, that seems to be happening again. Venues not paying the acts.

“There are very few venues where you have to pay to play but, nonetheless, considering it’s such a small business compared to bands – it’s just people coming along alone or with props – they just need a microphone and the overheads are cheaper – the venues are not passing the profits on to the performers. I know the overheads of venues are high. But, if they didn’t have this comedy going on in their pub, then they would be down on their takings. At one place I ran a comedy night, on my average night, the bar was taking maybe an extra £3,000.

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now."

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now.”

“I know the business from all sides now. The first guy who ran the Old Nun’s Head where Pull The Other One ran shows – Daniel – was very open about how he made his money and how much he needed to get. He was dead straightforward, put his cards on the table and I knew exactly where I was, which I appreciated. That enabled me to project a plan to make the club viable. And the new guy running the Old Nun’s Head is very straightforward too.”

“So you will be running monthly pay-to-enter Pull The Other One shows at the Ivy House in Nunhead… and monthly ‘free’ It’s Got Bells On at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead.”

“Yes.”

“Any more shows in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, in November. Bartushka, who is from Berlin but you saw her in Leipzig, wants to work with us over there.”

“Remind me of her act?” I asked.

“She is…” Martin started. “She… It is very difficult to categorise her. She is cabaret-inspired, very charismatic…”

“Much like Pull The Other One,” I suggested. “And, I guess, It’s Got Bells On.”

I may revise my opinion after I get half my beard, hair, shirt and possibly trousers chopped off on Friday.

It’s Got Bells On - free comedy

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Sketchy comedian Will Franken admits: “I am unable to create in moderation”

Will Franken

Will – raising the dead – using sketch comedy

It is that time of year when comedians are preparing their shows for the Edinburgh Fringe in August and are looking for free venues in which to perform previews. One such is the performance area at the back of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s charity shop Mama Biashara in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

Next Friday and Saturday evening, Italian comics Romina Puma and Giacinto Palmieri are previewing early versions of their Edinburgh shows. And the following weekend – on the afternoon of Sunday 8th May, American comic Will Franken is hosting his third 4-hour comedy workshop at Mama Biashara. This one is titled:

RAISING THE DEAD: USING SKETCH COMEDY TO BREATHE LIFE INTO STAND-UP

“Who is this aimed at?” I asked Will.

“Anybody who wants to do something different,” he told me. “And anybody who wants to get to the essence of a sketch quicker. I think people are prone to take a course from me because they’re tired of doing the same things. I think the problem is there is so much regularity in comedy.

“I think a lot of sketches go on far too long. They don’t know a clever way out. They don’t know the Monty Python approach of Don’t beat them over the head with a sledgehammer punchline, just find a nice segue into something else. Brevity!”

“You’re very keen on characters,” I said.

“Love characters,” he replied.

“Hiding behind them?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so. A couple of years ago, Fest magazine wrote about me: He’s a rare breed of character comedian. He has no love for his characters.

“The trouble is it’s hard for me to love a character long enough to let them live past five minutes. Usually I kill them off after 2 or 3 minutes and I’m onto the next character. It’s a very Monty Python type approach.”

“You’re not interested in sitcoms?” I asked.

“I’m more geared to sketch than sitcom. I think with sitcom you have to have a great love for your characters. I’ve always envied people like David Renwick who created One Foot in The Grave. The love he must have had for Victor Meldrew to be able to carry that through so many series! And Father Ted. They’re great examples of sitcoms. I never liked Monty Python when they had recurring characters.”

Comedy performer and writer Ariane Sherine was sitting with us. She has written for the sitcoms My Family and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps as well as various children’s shows including The Story of Tracy Beaker. I asked her what she thought.

“I quite like to inhabit a character in a sitcom,” she said, “and see how they develop and change. You can’t really do that with sketch. Though in, say, The Fast Show, they re-visit the same characters. It’s effectively the same sketch each week. It depends what you like – whether you like to feel that you are growing and developing this character and seeing them change or more likely seeing them not learn from their mistakes. Or you like the diversity of being able to have any type of situation in any location and it doesn’t matter about continuity.”

I said: “I never really liked Vic Reeves Big Night Out because they just seemed to be doing the same sketch over and over again.”

“I much prefer,” said Will, “their actual sketch shows like The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer.”

“So you wouldn’t have a recurring or developing character?” I asked.

Alan Bennett in 1973 (Photograph by Allan Warren)

Playwright Alan Bennett photographed in 1973 by Allan Warren

“I do have a character now,” admitted Will, “that I can see possibly going on for a long time. He’s in my Edinburgh Fringe show this year. He’s a Yorkshireman and I’ve been slowly perfecting the accent, listening to Alan Bennett nightly. I’ve just got into Alan Bennett’s stuff. He’s amazing.”

“And your character?” I asked.

“He’s working on a children’s story called Little Jo about a half-pig, half-rabbit who lives in water and, in order to stay alive, he’s gotta spin round and round, spitting out water from both mouths for all eternity.

“That’s the beginning of this year’s show. And then there’s this whole story about how his relatives don’t die and so he murders all of his descendants so they don’t have to live the life that his Nan’s Nan had, who grew up to be 500 years old… Cos that’s no life for a child: to be 500 years old. So I slaughtered all of them and that’s why no-one brings me cake on me birthday… and somewhere sandwiched in the middle of all that is going to be my regular sketch weirdness.”

“Have you done sketch group comedy?” I asked.

“I did once and they said too many of my bits were racist! It was in North Carolina and I had a bit where Whitney Houston has a mental breakdown during a recording of The Greatest Love of All. She’s singing nonsense lyrics: I believe Jeremiah Crenshaw destroyed the world in 1962…

“…and the studio engineer interrupts her to say the lyrics don’t make sense and she says: What the fuck you know, muthafucka? In North Carolina, they said it was too racist, so I could never get my ideas past the group.

“Before that, when I was 16, I had two friends in Missouri and we wrote a little sketch revue for about 20 friends at the coffee shop. But they didn’t want to do it for a living and I did. Sometimes I regret that I don’t have a group. I think it would be nice, but I think I’ve passed that stage now where I could fit into any group.

“It’s like if you’ve been single for a long time, it’s hard to have a wife because you gotta adjust and compromise and I don’t think I’m able to do that.

“You could,” I suggested, “try a sex commune?”

“Possibly. But then I’d get jealous. I have such low self-esteem it’d be like: Whaat? I think free love is very selfish. I’m only into monogamy, unless I don’t like the girl, when I’m into one-night stands. I vacillate between misogyny and monogamy.”

I asked: “You think free love is very selfish?”

“Yeah. I dated a Hare Krishna girl one time and she was seeing somebody else. The guy was away in a hospital, selling his body for medication and medical experiments. I didn’t know this for a whole month… and then he came back. So I associate free love with hippie girls in long broomstick skirts and deceit.”

“You do a podcast, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah, I had a very highly successful… I hate to use the word Podcast… I call them Albums. At one point, I had 50,000 listeners. I used to do them pretty regularly and then I started drinking and doing drugs and now I’ve been sober for two years and it’s scarier to put the headphones on and start recording again without the drugs.”

“When did you start doing them?”

“2006. They’re like my live shows: there can be five of me going at once.”

Will Franken

Will Franken randomly approaches podcasts like a symphony

“What’s the podcast called?”

Things We Did Before Reality.”

“So,” I said, “you have been doing this for the last ten years and I have not noticed? How many episodes have I missed?”

“About 25. They’re very insane. I don’t smoke pot any more, but you can put your headphones on, smoke a joint and go off into cuckoo land with it.”

“Is it weekly?”

“God no. When I first started, they were almost every two weeks.”

“And now they’re what? Monthly? Regularly?”

“I approach them like a symphony,” said Will. “The thing is I’m such a perfectionist.”

“Indecision or perfection?” I asked.

“I think it’s perfectionism.”

“So they are released randomly?” I asked.

“Very randomly, yeah.”

“And you’ve just done one?”

“Yeah. This one’s not been published yet but this is my first one in about a year and a half. Maybe within the week it will be published. Before that, I hadn’t done one in more than four years. They’re mostly about 30 minutes long. There’s one called Side Two of Abbey Road where I use all the songs on Side 2 of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album to tell my life story.

“It’s like a one-man sketch thing. You sit with the headphones on all day and you hear playbacks of yourself doing a Yorkshire accent, a Scottish accent, talking to yourself on a train and you really lose your mind by the end of the day. I just woke up this morning chain-smoking and resenting having to go get food. I don’t want a shower, I don’t want to leave the house. The phone rings, I don’t want to answer it. I am unable to create in moderation.”


WILL’S SKETCH COMEDY WORKSHOP IS ORGANISED BY ARLENE GREENHOUSE PROMOTIONS – greenhouse effect@btinternet.com

 

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Ariane Sherine tells backstage tales of comedy amid rampant multi-tasking

ArianeSherine_AdventuresStandUpComicYesterday, ‘new’ musical comic Ariane Sherine sent out to her subscribers the first edition of her weekly e-mail Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic. The comedy industry website Chortle will be running monthly highlights from it.

“So,” I asked Ariane, “Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic will end up as a book?”

“I hope so,” she told me. “It’s so much fun to do a gig and write it up, even if it’s been a bad gig. It’s quite cathartic.”

“Except,” I said, “you will be hated by all the other stand-up comics, because you will grass them up.”

“No,” she laughed. “I’m not going to mention people’s names or dates or places or gig names. Anybody who was at the gig will know what happened, but it’s no different from posting on Facebook saying: Did a gig here and blah-di-blah. I will anonymise it.”

It is a rare thing for someone who has been working as a musical stand-up comic for only three weeks to get a regular piece on the Chortle website. It is also very unusual to get booked for a paid gig after being seen in the first week; and another paid gig after being seen in the second week. But Ariane does have a bit of previous.

She was a stand-up act 13 years ago for around six months. Back then she got into the Laughing Horse New Act Final but quit stand-up before the event to focus on comedy writing for TV shows, including BBC1’s My Family, BBC2’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Channel 4’s Countdown.

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric - do not try this at home

Beautiful Filth – Ariane’s 2014 album as ‘The Lovely Electric’

She has also written regularly for The Guardian, as well as The Sunday Times, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, NME and Esquire, appeared on BBC1’s Breakfast, BBC London News, ITV1’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show, Radio 4’s iPM and Sunday, released a 2014 album of songs called Beautiful Filth and duetted with Tim Minchin at London’s Palace Theatre.

It is also very rare for a ‘new’ comic to have recent quotes like “Quite brilliant” (critic Kate Copstick)… “If she’s not a huge success, it’ll be an absolute travesty” (Charlie Brooker)… She could be a female Tom Lehrer.

Which is why she was on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast last week.

Afterwards, I asked Ariane something I had forgotten to ask her on the podcast (a vivid reflection of my limitations):

“Why go back on the comedy circuit after 13 years?”

“Because it’s the truest form of comedy,” she told me. “People can’t fake laughter – not belly laughter. And you get instant feedback on your work. Whereas, if you write for telly, you might only get feedback on your work from the producer and the script editor.

“What you’re saying on stage is: I find this funny. I think this is funny. And then the audience has the most visceral emotional reaction to what you’ve said. They say: Yes, I agree. This is funny. I am laughing. And that’s wonderful. It just makes you feel so… loved.”

“So,” I said, “performing comedy gives validation to insecure people.”

“Yes,” said Ariane. “I would agree with that.”

“Punters,” I said, “think all comedians must be extroverts to get up there on stage, but almost all the comedians I know want to hide in a cave. There’s that dichotomy between wanting to hide away and getting up on stage and exposing yourself to potential rejection. Actors can hide behind a character, but comedians are more exposed.”

“Yes,” said Ariane. “Unless they’re character comedians.”

Richard Dawkins publicising the Atheist Bus Campaign which Ariane created in 2009

Richard Dawkins helped publicise the Atheist Bus Campaign which Ariane successfully created in 2009

“In 2009,” I prompted, “ you compiled The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas – with contributions from 42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers. And now you see The Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic as a book. You are also simultaneously writing two other books at the moment?”

“Yes.”

“What are they about?”

“One is a funny look at trying to lose a load of weight. Another is a book about mental illness – which is a novel.”

“Any particular mental illness?” I asked.

“Pure O.”

“Isn’t that,” I asked, “an Agatha Christie detective?”

“No,” laughed Ariane. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s about the intrusive thoughts that people get which they can’t shake. Pure O is meant to denote only the Obsession part of OCD. So people with Pure O don’t carry out compulsions to the same extent. They don’t take action. They just get very, very upset by the thoughts in their head.”

“Why are you writing a novel about that?” I asked. “Is it autobiographical?”

“Not entirely autobiographical, no. But I’m very familiar with the thought processes.”

“Because?”

“Because I have OCD.”

“I just assume,” I said, “that OCD is arranging all your books and albums in alphabetical order.”

“No, I think that’s an unhelpful portrayal by the media.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s when you have a thought that really scares you and you place too much importance on that thought. So you might think: I’m going to walk down this bridge and throw myself off it. And instead of doing the normal thing and walking down the bridge anyway, you avoid bridges. Or you will only walk down the bridge while holding somebody’s hand. That kind of thing.

“You take action because of this awful thought in your head and, when people are perfectionists and do arrange everything in order, it’s because they think something terrible will happen if they don’t do that. When people clean or wash their hands repeatedly, it’s because they think they’re going to get a terrible disease or contract a terrible virus and die.”

“So why do this as a novel and not something more autobiographical?”

“Because I think it will reach a lot more people as a novel.”

In her first week back on the comedy circuit, Ariane sang about Jeremy Corbyn and Adolf Hitler.

To sign up for Ariane’s weekly email Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic, send a message to ariane.sherine@gmail.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.

 

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New age of Alternative Musical Comedy

Eight years of ignorance on my part - Musical Comedy Awards

Eight years of talent show ignorance from me

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a Quarter Final of this year’s Musical Comedy Awards, which had 12 contestants performing. The Semi-Finals and Final are yet to come.

The Awards have been running eight years and I had not been aware of them. Which demonstrates what I know about anything.

I had seen two previous Musical Comedy Awards heats and now this Quarter Final and the strangest thing to me was that there was not one duff, sub-standard act in any of them. Genuinely surprised me.

As well as seeing these three Musical Comedy Awards shows in the last few weeks I have seen three other talent shows and it just reminds me how impossible it is to spot at an early stage who will succeed in years to come.

Some average or below-average acts develop quickly or slowly into wonderful acts. Some really talented, stand-out acts never get anywhere. You might as well toss a coin.

So the old cliché that “everyone who took part is a winner” is sort-of true.

Getting to the knock-out stage of any serious competition is something. After that, the rest is persistence and/or pure luck. No-one can really spot who will succeed.

Some brilliant performers self-destruct. A lot of them. I have seen it happen. Repeatedly. It is in the nature of talent. Often, average acts succeed because they are simply more persistent and more reliable.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, of course, are no exception to this You Can Never Be Certain rule.

But our ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid Award’ is, I suspect, likely to have a very high success rate. The winners so far have been:

2010 – Bo Burnham 

2011 – Benet Brandreth (both as legal eagle and performer)

2012 – Trevor Noah

2013 – (no award given)

2014 – Luisa Omielan

2015 – Laurence Owen

A couple of weeks ago, I saw (again) Laurence Owen’s marvellous Cinemusical show and – my God! – we were absolutely right to give him the award.

Musical Comedy may be a rising genre. Let us hope so. There certainly needs to be something to liven up samey comedy club shows which have mostly become a procession of perfectly acceptable but unexceptional comedy clones spouting perfectly acceptable but unexceptional straight stand-up material. Or open mic shows with wildly variable acts mostly performing to other performers and no genuine audience.

Alternative Musical Comedy’s day may be coming. There is a video for Laurence Owen’s superb song Empowered on YouTube.

As is a video of journalist and ’new’ act Ariane Sherine’s Hitler Moustache – a song with which she wowed the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Live audience last week on only her sixth live performance (if you ignore her brief period treading the boards 13 years ago).

This could be the dawning of the age of Alternative Musical Comedy.

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The surrealism of real life, comedy shows, football and 888,246 poppies

Why does no-one tell you that getting old is painful? When you are younger, you kind of get the idea that old people move as if they are in some type of special slow motion CGI effect because their muscles are seizing up or something. But often it is because they are in pain and the anticipation of the pain of movement slows them down.

More about my right heel later.

Reality is very surreal

Blood-red poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Blood-red poppies pour out into the Tower of London’s moat

A couple of days ago, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to the Tower of London where the moat is being filled with ceramic poppies – one for every British serviceman and servicewoman killed in World War One.

By 11.00am on the 11th day of the 11th month this year – that is 11 on 11/11, if you are an American – there will be over 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat. I thought more died but, then, the population of the UK in 1914-1918 was that much smaller.

The ceramic poppy heads arrive in boxes and volunteers unpack them, attach them to metal stems and use mallets to bash them into the grass and earth in the moat.

I know. Ceramic poppy heads being hit by mallets. Who would have thought.

You can buy the ceramic poppies from the moat for £25 each. At least you could. Apparently they have now all been sold.

Last night, around 7.00pm, as I travelled in a tube between Oxford Circus and Bank, a woman dressed as rabbit got into the train. She had long white ears and a full-body rabbit costume. This is true. And no-one treated this as odd. It is London. It is a Friday night. It was not odd.

I was in the tube train because I had just been to a meeting in Soho about, in January, marking the 10th anniversary of the death of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

Showman Adam Taffler – a man with a luxuriant moustache – is organising an event. I suggested that we should announce a couple of famous people were going to have sex live on stage.

In (I think it must have been) the 1960s, Oz magazine editor Richard Neville and his girlfriend allegedly hired the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road and had sex live in front of an audience of their friends. Apparently it was strangely un-erotic and slightly awkward.

Yesterday morning, journalist and writer of songs Ariane Sherine, about whom I blogged four days ago, asked me if I wanted to appear as the Pope in her next music video. I once appeared (mute) as Julius Caesar, being stabbed in some educational programme on Sky TV.

I know. An educational programme on Sky TV. Who would have thought.

Performance at a club for the surreally distinguished

At a private members club for the surreally distinguished…

I was on my way – last night in the tube train – to Sophie Parkin’s members-only club Vout-O-Reenee’s which calls itself a club “for the surrealistically distinguished”.

It is hidden under a church near the Tower of London. I went there to see a fascinatingly surreal show by Guy Combes – another man with a luxuriant moustache.

The show was called Auntie Rene’s Memory Box Is The Smallest Museum in The World. After the show, I told Guy I had seen him perform as Moonfish Rhumba at Pear Shaped comedy club. He seemed surprised I was that old. I think he may have been drinking.

Before the show, my eternally-un-named friend and I had talked to comedy performer Jody Kamali who was in the audience. Neither I nor Jody could actually describe to her what “type of act” he did on stage. This is arguably a good thing. If it is impossible to describe, it must be original – if a tad difficult to promote.

Jody Kamali’s extremely likeable wife is Russian. She has a strong Bristol/West of England accent, but has only been in the UK (London) for two years. She told me she picks up accents if she is with people and once spoke in an Irish accent for several weeks.

On the train back home to Elstree, I sat next to an interesting man who was a fan of Chelsea football club and who proceeded to tell me all the great players they had had since 1994 and (admittedly after I asked) the cost of normal and season tickets at Chelsea and other football clubs. I think he too may have been drinking.

Apparently Arsenal are the villains in football ticket prices.

I was interested to listen to what he said in much the same way I used to listen to the Stock Market Prices (sadly no longer done) on BBC Radio 4 and the Coastal Shipping Forecast (which I think Radio 4 may still do).

Listening to the Stock Market prices and the list of coastal areas with staccato abbreviated forthcoming weather details used to allow me to enjoy the abstract pleasure of words without the distraction of meanings. It was like hearing a good actor or actress saying: “Bat random daytime origami lukewarm” – comforting words not encumbered by any distracting meaning.

The man on the train who told me about the price of football seats also told me that today he and his girlfriend are going to see the ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London. I told him there were big crowds. Which there were.

When I got home, I switched on the BBC TV News and there was an item about the possibility of people who had lost legs and arms growing new limbs. For some unexplained reason, an expert said he believed that, in 25 years time, it would be possible for a person to re-grow a missing leg but he or she would still have to be given an artificial foot.

My right heel has been distracting me recently

My right heel has been distracting me recently

The heel and sometimes sole of my right foot has been causing me extreme pain for about a fortnight. If I press on it with my fingers, there is no pain. If I walk, there is usually but not always pain. Last night, after sitting on a chair watching Guy Combes’ show and putting no pressure on my foot, the heel was extremely painful when I stood up.

In the mornings, after lying horizontal for eight hours and putting no pressure at all on my feet, when I stand up there is extreme pressure pain on the sole of my right heel. But, as I say, if I press my fingers or any object against the heel, there is no pain. It is very strange. Occasionally, when I walk, I have to stop myself from hobbling.

This morning, around 4.00am, I was woken up by severe cramp in my right leg. There was a big knot inside my leg. Agony and, in the agony of the cramp, too far down to reach and rub it. I just had to try to keep still through the shooting pain until it went. It happens every few months.

The muscles inside my left shoulder are still occasionally painful from when I tripped over and fell on the night-time cobbles of Edinburgh during the Fringe in August.

You may have correctly deduced I had no specific subject for my blog this morning.

I still think announcing that a famous couple will have sex live on stage during a Malcolm Hardee commemorative 10th anniversary show in January would get people in and he would have liked it.

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Ariane Sherine on why she gave up comedy and turned to Beautiful Filth

Ariane Sherine yesterday

Ariane Sherine was at Soho Theatre yesterday

Yesterday, the Guardian ran an online piece by Ariane Sherine, one of their regular writers. It was headlined:

I’D BEEN UNEMPLOYED FOR A YEAR… SO I FORMED A BAND, OF COURSE

and the subtitle was:

What’s a 34-year-old single mum on benefits meant to do when all else fails? Pursue the most unrealistic career path imaginable!

So, of course, yesterday I had a chat with Ariane.

“I did nine months on the comedy circuit in 2002/2003,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s just the most amazing thing to make a crowd of people laugh,” she told me. “I always think comedy is the truest art form because people can’t fake laughter. Anybody can clap after a performance out of politeness, but people don’t tend to laugh out of politeness. Not real, proper belly laughs. It feels wonderful and it feels like a validation of your own personality. If you think something’s funny and other people think it’s funny too, then they identify with you and it’s amazing, it’s wonderful and I loved it.”

“It’s like being hugged on stage?” I asked.

“I don’t know about a hug. It’s certainly warm.”

“But you stopped,” I said.

Arine Sheine was worried by a website

Ariane Sherine: worried by website

“I stopped comedy because I was so scared Steve Bennett might give me a terrible review on his Chortle website. I gave it up because I was scriptwriting and thought I don’t want producers to Google me, find this hypothetical Chortle review and think: Oh, she’s not funny.

“I still wanted that validation through my writing. I started writing for sitcoms. I wrote for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and My Family and material for Countdown. But you don’t really get credit for that: it’s never really your own because, on sitcoms, you have script editors who may ask you to do eight re-writes based on their notes and, by the end of it, it’s not your script any more. I have no particular wish to go back into scriptwriting, but I do really miss comedy.”

“So why not go back to it again?”

“Because the circuit is a harsh, cruel place,” Ariane laughed.

“So you’ve been sitting around doing nothing…” I said.

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric - do not try this at home

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric – smutty, maybe nutty

“I’m looking after my three-year-old daughter half the time,” replied Ariane, “and, the rest of the time, I’m always working on projects. I’ve been working on this album since January.

“Ah yes!” I said. “It’s you and a friend, you call yourself The Lovely Electric and the album is called Beautiful Filth. Out today.”

“And it’s available on iTunes and from Spotify,” said Ariane. “I wanted to do comedy songs because I missed doing stand-up.”

Tracks on her Beautiful Filth album include:

Don’t Have Sex With a Goat
Thank You For Not Smelling of Fish
I Think His Penis Died

The opening lyrics to the track Cum Face are:

You are so beautiful
I’d watch you at the IMAX
I love the way you look
Except for when you climax
You flare your nostrils out
And, for what it’s worth
You scrunch your cheeks up
Like a hamster giving birth

I don’t want to see your cum face
I don’t want to watch you come
I don’t want to see your cum face
So let’s do it up the bum
I don’t want to see your cum face
I’d rather watch my mum
I don’t want to see your cum face
So let’s do it up the bum

There is a video for the song Hitler Moustache on YouTube.

“My politics are very left-leaning,” Ariane told me, “and I think a lot of people I like might not like the album, because it’s very smutty.”

“So,” I said, “you decided to record a pop album whose lyrics are untransmittable on radio. Why? That’s no way to make money.”

“Well, you never know,” said Ariane. “Tim Minchin is pretty successful. But it is true Beautiful Filth is an album about sex. We don’t have any clean songs on it.”

“But why,” I asked,” write an album about sex in such a way that it can’t be widely disseminated?”

“Because it’s funny and the humour I enjoy is really rude. Think of Monty Python – The Penis Song. (There is a version on YouTube.)

Charlie Brooker reacts to Ariane’s Hitler Moustache

Charlie Brooker reacts to the Hitler Moustache

“How come Charlie Brooker is in your Hitler Moustache music video?” I asked.

“I met him when I was working in telly,” explained Ariane, “He’s the loveliest bloke. He has just helped me so much. He gave me my start in journalism because the Guardian asked him: Do you know any good comedy writers who could add a bit of levity to the comment pages? and he suggested me. So he’s basically responsible for my whole journalistic career. Then he gave me a quote for my last book, he gave me a quote for this album, he wrote for The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, which was a book I edited, got me a job on Big Brother – writing the website stuff.”

“So why do you want to be a singer-songwriter now?”

“Because it’s fun and because I did a music degree. It culminated in work experience at the NME.”

“And you started writing at the NME?”

“Yes. Then I was runner-up in the BBC New Sitcom Writers Award. I started writing for Children’s BBC and other places. I’ve always been a writer in one form or another. But then I had a nervous breakdown in 2010.”

Ariane wrote about her feelings

The Guardian piece

“That,” I said, “was well before your daughter – who is now three – was born.”

“Yeah. I wrote a Guardian piece about it. Basically a load of really horrible things happened. I had had a very violent, disturbed childhood, so I got depressed in my teens – started cutting myself and became anorexic – and was put on a load of anti-depressants that didn’t help.

“I was pregnant when I was 24 and my boyfriend turned violent and hit me in the face and caused my ear to bleed and then he suffocated me and it was horrible. So that happened and then I kind of picked myself up from that after about a year but was still very depressed. I was 24.”

“You’re 34 now.”

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

“Yes. I was 24 and carried on writing for telly and then the Atheist Bus Campaign came out of a piece I had written for the Guardian. I got lots of threats when I did that. Random strangers. Religious people who didn’t like the campaign. I really, genuinely felt a bit… and I couldn’t work for… I didn’t feel able to do anything in public for over three years. My Guardian pieces stopped in August 2010 and it was only in December 2013 that I started writing again. It was a big chunk of time to lose, but…”

“What made you start again?” I asked.

“I was put on some anti-depressants that were Tricyclics, so they were different from the SSRIs that I was taking before.”

“SSRIs?” I asked.

“Things like Prozac and Seroxat. But now I’m on this amazing one. It’s amazing and it has just made life worth living again.”

“There was,” I said, “an act I knew called the Amazing Mr Smith who was given Seroxat. Last year, he took it for two nights and then killed himself by jumping off a cliff.”

“Sometimes they can make you a lot worse before they make you better,” said Ariane. “When you read the leaflet and you read This medication might induce suicidal thoughts you think Well why am I taking it?”

“But you’re OK now?” I asked.

“Well, I’m on three different medications now: anti-psychotic ones, anti-convulsant and anti-depressant.”

“Anti-psychotic is different from anti-depressant,” I said.

“It’s a horrible thing,” said Ariane. “I was convinced people were trying to kill me. I was convinced the government and MI5 were out to kill me.”

“As you were working for the Guardian,” I said, “maybe they were.”

“I remember the caretaker in my block of flats,” said Ariane, “was scrubbing the walls outside and I was convinced he was doing it to spy on me. When you get to that state that you’re convinced everybody’s out to get you, you can’t walk down the road because you’re scared and I desperately needed help and I got put on these anti-psychotics, but they alone didn’t make everything better.

“Then I got pregnant and I couldn’t be put on anything else. So I spent my pregnancy planning my suicide.”

“How were you going to kill yourself?”

“Helium.”

“You were going to laugh yourself to death?” I asked.

“I’m glad I can laugh about it now,” said Ariane.

“I’m interested in comedians,” I said, “because they’re all mad as hatters.”

“Well,” said Ariane, “for years I was so terrified of letting people know I was struggling with mental illness but, as soon as I did, there were all these journalists and comedians who told me: I’ve had the same thing. It was amazing,

“I think these pills I’m on have actually given me courage I would not have had ordinarily. So I don’t see it as brave to come out as mentally ill – it’s just these pills I’m on. There’s no way I would ever have been able to do it without the pills.”

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Music, Psychology, Television, Writing