Tag Archives: art gallery

Is there life after stand-up comedy? There is huge potential, it seems.

Next Monday, the movie Huge premieres in London, with a general release on 8th July. It is directed by comedy actor Ben Miller and co-scripted by Simon Godley.

Simon Godley is interesting because he used to play the stand-up comedy circuit but is now a dentist to many top British comedians. Well, he was always a dentist when he himself was a comedian, but now he has a trendy Notting Hill surgery, also runs an art gallery at the same address and acts occasionally.

Huge first premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. It is about a struggling comedy double act and their ambitions to be the new Morecambe and Wise. Written (in alphabetical order) by Jez Butterworth, Simon Godley and Ben Miller, it was originally a stage play at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993 and seen as an in-joke about the Fringe but it has also been called “a more universal meditation on the dark heart of comedy”,

The stage play was set in a squat and had only two characters, played by Ben Miller and Simon Godley.

“The most appealing thing about it first of all,” says Ben Miller, “was that it had two characters and one setting. It seemed a cheap film to make. But, of course, by the time we started filming it had fifty actors and umpteen locations and wasn’t cheap at all.”

In the movie, the roles that Ben Miller and Simon Godley played on stage are now taken by Johnny Harris and Noel Clarke.

Simon Godley suggested that every other comic in the film should be played by a real one.  So, for one scene set at a comedy awards (surprisingly not the Malcolm Hardee Awards), Jo Brand, Alan Davies, Harry Hill, Eddie Izzard and Frank Skinner play themselves.

“If your dentist asked a favour, would you dare turn him down?” Ben Miller says.

And then there’s also Stephen K Amos, Ronni Ancona, David Baddiel, Ninia Benjamin, Kevin Bishop, Jack Dee, Hattie Hayridge, Mark Lamarr, Rory McGrath, Sean Mayo, Alistair McGowan, Sally Phillips and Nick Revell all playing themselves plus Simon Day playing a character strangely called Noel Faulkner.

Simon Godley’s celebrity dentist status brought to my mind what happened to Jonathan Meres after he left stand-up comedy.

He used to play the comedy circuit under the name Johnny Immaterial. His opening line was:

“Hello. The name’s immaterial,.. Johnny Immaterial.”

He used to make me laugh mightily though, it has to be said, often more from his charisma and delivery than from the material. It was an act without its own catchphrase but, when Johnny Immaterial intoned “Ooooh, nooo, matron!” in Kenneth Williams‘ unmistakable nasal twang, you could forgive him anything.

He disappeared from the circuit, as I heard it at the time, when he found a good woman in Edinburgh. Anything is possible in Edinburgh.

He was Perrier Award-nominated in 1993 for a show called My Booze Hell By Little Johnny Cartilage, the same year Simon Godley and Ben Miller performed Huge at the Edinburgh Fringe but he played his last stand-up gig in 1994 after, as I understand it, he became disenchanted with the business.

Johnny Immaterial reverted to being Jonathan Meres and became a very highly successful children’s author, publishing his first book in 1998; he has also written extensively for children’s television and, like Simon Godley, kept his performing skills up-to-scratch with various acting roles.

So, yes, there is life after stand-up comedy – it generally pays better and it may lead on to even better things.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Movies, Theatre

Give me The Daily Mail not the cultural snobbery of The Guardian and The Independent

I was at the Tate Britain art gallery this afternoon, which is obviously replacing the Groucho Club as the in-place to meet media types. On the steps outside, a BBC News crew was interviewing someone. Inside, a film crew was shooting footage for some Channel 4 arts programme. And, when my friend and I were looking at a Damien Hirst painting of spots, we got asked our opinions on modern art in general and Damien Hirst in particular by a reporter for the Mail on Sunday.

He told me that, usually, he had to apologise for being a Mail reporter which doesn’t surprise me as the very name Daily Mail is like a blue rag to a left wing bull.

And why?

Perverse, pseudo-intellectual liberal airheads with superiority complexes, that’s why.

It’s not reverse snobbery.

It’s simple, straight, uncomplicated and very nasty snobbery.

In January this year, the Daily Mail’s average net daily circulation was 2,136,568.

The Guardian’s circulation in the same period was 279,308.

The Independent’s was 185,035.

The Mail on Sunday’s average circulation? – 1,958,083.

The Observer? – 314,164.

The Independent on Sunday? – 152,561

So why deride the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday?

Because ordinary people read them. People who did not go to Oxbridge and do not live in Islington. The sort of ordinary people the Oxbridge Islington wankers look down on. The sort of ordinary people the Oxbridge Islington wankers make increasingly crass TV shows for. They wouldn’t be caught dead watching the TV programmes they make because they think they are better than that.

And the ratings are falling for these entertainment shows.

Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor are made by people who understand popular culture. Increasingly, though, TV entertainment shows are made by people who don’t; they are made by people with superiority complexes and a contempt for their audiences.

They are made by people who look down on Daily Mail readers as mental and cultural inferiors.

But who is out of step with reality? Who is out of step with what the majority of people in this country think?

From the circulation figures, people who write for and read the Guardian and the Independent.

(More on this topic HERE.)

4 Comments

Filed under Art, Newspapers, Television

Even average run-of-the-mill advertisements today are a bloody sight better than Van Gogh ever was – and funnier

I was talking to comedian Martin Soan‘s daughter Sydney yesterday.

She is writing what sounds like a fascinating university dissertation on Humour in Graphic Art and I told her I don’t think her father is actually a comedian at all – he is a performance artist with humour in everything he does. Art ain’t just Tracey Emin’s unmade bed in a Saatchi gallery.

A famous English comedienne once wisely told me that, because of the money involved, the best creatives go into the ad industry, the second best go into television and the third-rate go into PR for the publishing industry because there’s no money into it.

People complain about advertising hoardings in the street but they wouldn’t complain about a new art gallery which has free entry and, every day, changes the art it displays. That’s what ads are. You drive down the road or you walk down the street or you take a tube train anywhere in London and you’re travelling through an ever-changing art gallery. Some of the most creative people in the country are creating continually visually and verbally exciting works of often high originality, displaying them across the country at roadsides, on buses, in trains and stations… and these very creative and usually very costly visual works are constantly being changed for something new and equally visually stimulating and original.

In the Renaissance, art was sponsored by people who had the most money – the Church and the Medicis. The same applies today. The ad industry, using commercial businesses‘ money is sponsoring sometimes great, though always transient, art. I still remember some of the images in a famously surreal Benson & Hedges ad campaign of long ago. They were a bloody sight better than Van Gogh’s awful pictures of sunflowers or dodgy-looking chairs. And I remember the Benson & Hedges cinema ads. Particlarly one shot in the desert with a lizard and an isolated luxury house with a swimming pool.

People complain about ads between TV programmes but they don’t complain about the quality of up-market art films on TV or in the cinema. Per minute of screen time, an ad very often costs more than a mega-budget movie. And often both are directed and designed by the same people.

The ad industry attracts, most often, the brightest, best, most creative visual talents in the country because that’s where the money is. The best graphic artists, the best photographers, the best directors, make-up artists, designers and cinematographers earn their living from the ad industry. The highly-regarded British film industry is built on the financial cashlow provided by our ad industry which supports and stimulates the talents of the best creatives.

Capitalism?

It’s bloody great for Art and ‘twas ever thus.

But what I don’t understand is this…

It seems to me that US ads are concerned with selling the qualities of the product – all those dull shampoo ads telling you the scientific reasons why the product supposedly works.

It feels like UK ads are more concerned with making jokes, adding surreal images, linking the product to a general but very vague happy feeling. What are those Guinness ads about? They’re not about the quality of the beer – not when you are watching Peruvians doing odd things in Andean villages. What are the Marks & Spencer ads about at Christmas? Not about the products they sell; this year it’s all about Peter Kay and Twiggy prancing around very entertainingly.

US ads have a tendency towards the hard-sell. UK ads seem to be soft-sell sometimes to the point of the joke or the surreal image overwhelming the product. The artists seem to have taken over the asylum.

What’s that all about?

Is it because, as American comic Lewis Schaffer currently says in his act, the British like to define themselves by their humour – or, as Colonials like him would say, humor?

All countries believe they have a sense of humour/humor but Britain, suggests Lewis, is the only country that actually thinks its strongest defining factor is its humour. Even Margaret Thatcher had to try to appear to have a sense of humour to soften her image. Being seen as ‘strong’ is not enough in a British leader; he/she has to be seen to have a sense of humour.

President Obama has to show humour too, for PR reasons. But Americans do not see humor as their best characteristic.

The Americans arguably like to see their best quality as being go-getting and full of energy. The French define themselves by their food or as great philosophers. The Germans are efficient. But the British think their single main national defining characteristic is their humour.

To an extent, you can get the feel of a country by watching the type of ads they create. In UK ads, humour often seems more important than products’ qualities.

For sure, any day, I’d rather watch Peter Kay dancing in a Marks & Spencer TV ad than hear about the quality of their beans or sprouts – or look at another badly-drawn bunch of sunflowers by Van Gogh.

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, Books, Comedy, Consumer Affairs, Movies, PR, Television