Tag Archives: Arthur Smith

What was heard and was not heard at comic Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby R.I.P

I was asked to speak at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday.

Chris was… umm… an audio comic. He created sound effects with his mouth…. The Trooping The Colour ceremony… Aerial combat in the Battle of Britain, including the sound of Spitfires scrambling on the ground and an aerial battle with German bombers… Formula 1 motor races.

It was an interesting funeral service. While it was happening, there was the faint sound of bagpipes far in the distance outside – despite the fact the service took place in highly-built-up Brockley in South East London. At the climax of the service, there was the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. And, during a reading by his brother, the brother’s mobile telephone rang – he could not find where the phone was for about 15 seconds and it kept ringing as he searched for it.

If I were of a less cynical disposition, I might have thought Chris was still lurking and larking about.

The theoretical duration of my speech was unknown until it happened – modern crematoria are a conveyor belt of farewells – so I wrote a 4-minute one assuming it might end up having to be cut to 2 minutes. The vicar had started looking at the clock by the time he got to me, so I cut the speech back to maybe 90 seconds on the day. This is the full 4-minute version:

* * * * * *

I’ve been asked to say something about what Chris was like as a comedy performer.

Usually, when you are a comedy performer, it is a bad thing to finish your act to complete silence and no laughter. But I saw this happen to Chris twice.

What happened was that he finished doing his act and the audience just stared at him in silence for about three seconds – which is a long time. But then there was a sudden eruption of clapping, cheers and whoops.

They had just been stunned into silence and could barely believe what they’d just seen – and heard.

And that’s what Chris did – he stunned people.

When news of his death got around, there was a Twitter exchange between the comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili.

Robin tweeted – “If comedians don’t make it onto TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it.”

Omid replied – “Chris Luby has done no TV (that’s not actually true) but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy” – Omid said – “It’s heroic lunacy.”

Apparently Chris was not a man to go on long car journeys with because, at every turn, you would get the sound of a Spitfire banking or diving as if it were attacking a Messerschmitt and every time you changed gear he would add in loud and slightly terrifying sound effects.

But, whenever people tell me of long car journeys with Chris and their urge to throttle him, they – oddly – tell it in a very warm-hearted way. They found it oddly endearing.

Arthur Smith told me:

“Chris was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner on car journeys to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like…. But he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world” - Arthur Smith said – “and I hope he’s enjoying the molecules in the stars.”

Comedian Adam Wide said his favourite visual image was…

“when we were organising a treasure hunt for a computer firm all over the village of Beaulieu, Chris was dressed as a RAF pilot (with a sound system) standing at a bus-stop doing his full Battle of Britain routine while apparently waiting for a Spitfire to arrive at the bus stop.”

When Chris died, the actors’ trade union Equity Tweeted:

“We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one-man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.”

Indeed it was.

Like Chris. Once seen. Never forgotten.

I also got a message from a man called John Hawes. He said:

“I was 13 years old when I met Chris Luby. He was a cadet and I was treated to the first of many of Chris’s famous shows.

“That was in 1979.

“I haven’t seen him in 25 years and it brings a tear to my eye knowing he has been entertaining people over the years and to read the wonderful stories of Chris and his adventures. He was a special man and will be missed.”

I think he affected a lot of people like that.

I know Chris’s sound effects were unforgettable. But my main memory of Chris, oddly. is not the sounds he made but his eyes. His eyes always seemed to be sparkling. They were very bright and sparkly. And that’s bright in every sense. They lit up and he WAS bright. Very intelligent. And I guess very sensitive.

I always think that, if you die and just one person cries, you have done something right in your life. You have not lived in vain. And, I think when people heard Chris had died there were a good few tears being shed.

The other side of that is that I suspect there will be a lot of laughter in heaven tonight. The angels, quite frankly, are going to be pissing themselves over Trooping the Colour.

I don’t know what angels laughing sounds like. But I used to know a man who could have done a realistic impression of what they sound like. And I’m very sad he’s not still here to do that or to do the sound of the RAF fly-past he so richly deserves.

Rest in Peace, Chris – though it will probably be interrupted by the sound of the Queen reviewing Trooping The Colour.

* * * *

When comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, Chris Luby spoke or, rather, made noises in his honour. He performed the sound of a flypast by an RAF jet. Here is a 53 second audio extract from that 2005 funeral service which is just as much of a tribute to Chris Luby himself.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Death

Memories by other comedians of comic impressionist and eccentric Chris Luby

Chris Luby - the forces’ favourite

Chris Luby swapped between Army and Air Force acts

Comedian Chris Luby died in London on Saturday. He fell down a staircase at home when (it is said) he was drunk.

In January 2005, his friend, mentor and occasional manager/agent Malcolm Hardee drowned when he fell into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. Malcolm, too, was drunk at the time.

It is a very British thing.

Chris and Malcolm ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Greenland Dock.

Chris’ comic stage act was to use his mouth and considerable lung power to perform audio recreations of Trooping The Colour, Formula 1 races and bombing raids/aerial combat in World War II. The act usually went well though, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show in 1998, Chris’ act was not much appreciated by some sections of the audience and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler yelled out: “Do a glider!”

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All are now dead. So it goes.

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All now dead.

In its 2005 report of Malcolm Hardee’s death by drowning, the London Evening Standard wrote:

His business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. “His death will leave a huge hole,” said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. “He ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium, which was the most extraordinary club ever.

“It set people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy.”

Now both Malcolm and Chris are dead. So it goes.

In a possibly frightening illustration that nothing is private nor forgotten by Google in this Cyber Age, I can tell you that, on 24th September 2010, comedian Alan Davies Tweeted:

Chris Luby did the Spitfire, the Lancaster and various marching bands. Did many gigs with that fella. Bonkers…

Yesterday, Alan Tweeted about Chris: He could name 6 of anything.

Malcolm Hardee is still remembered in the comedy industry and by media people, though not yet by the Great British public.

A Twitter conversation between comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili on 28th September 2012 went:

ROBIN INCE: If comedians don’t make it to TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it (true of all I suppose).

OMID DJALILI: Chris Luby has done no TV but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy, it’s heroic lunacy.

ROBIN  INCE: I never had a lift with him because I had been warned of those long air shows all the way up the M1.

This refers to Chris’ habit of doing his aeroplane impersonation act on long journeys (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog).

Comedian Charmian Hughes said yesterday:

I will never forget the time I had Chris and Malcolm in the back of my car on the way back from a gig in Birmingham. They were so distracting that, at the roundabout at Hammersmith flyover, I pranged another car. Luckily Malcolm was a brilliant witness and pointed out that it was the other car’s fault, which it was. But I would have anticipated him if they hadn’t been so noisy! Farewell Chris, a kind, sweet, generous, often annoying, and noisome man.

Malcolm and Chris’ friend Steven Taylor aka ‘Steve From Up North’ says:

One of my favourite memories was on the way back from a gig in, I think, Blackburn. There was Chris, myself, Malcolm Hardee and Jo Brand. Chris was annoying us all – doing the noises of the gear changes and the engine. Suddenly, Jo said to him: “Chris, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll open that door and push you out and you can do the sound effect of your body bouncing down a motorway!” He was a great guy and true eccentric.

Brian Damage remembers:

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Hardee comedy intermingled with Luby quiz nights.

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Malcolm Hardee’s comedy nights mixed with Chris Luby’s quiz nights.

We had a three hour car journey with Chris a few years ago. To keep us entertained he did a quiz… all the way to the gig. We were exhausted by the time we got there. On the way home, he did another quiz – with exactly the same questions. Apart from his quizzes, he was one of my favourite people.

Promoter Kev Wright says:

I was proud to get Chris Luby on at our Cracking Night Out at The Hackney Empire. I must have told him it started at 7 and he turned up on time… But he told me it was the second time he had been there that day as he had already been knocking on the stage door at 7 in the morning, as thats the time he thought we meant! The cleaner had told him to go away and he came back across London twelve hours later for 7 in the evening.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he also performed on a comedy bus.

Brian Crane remembers: Ah, the comedy bus with Malcolm as the naked conductor and Chris Luby on the mic as announcer… a classic night, never to be forgotten.

I booked Chris on TV shows with ‘mad inventor’ John Ward at least a couple of times. Yesterday, John told me:

Oddly, I was bringing Chris to mind only the other day as we live in a flight path for the RAF Memorial Flight and they often fly their Spitfire over our place on the way to gigs and I thought how smashing it would be to get him to come up to see us this summer – I thought I would take him up to the base at RAF Coningsby and introduce him.

Chris Luby - once met, never forgotten

ATTEN-SHUN! – Chris Luby – A very loud act

I met Chris twice when he was doing his act on Prove It (presented by Chris Tarrant) for TVS light years ago – once for the pilot and once for the actual show. The first time, I recall being in the canteen in the TVS studios with my lunch and, as I was sorting myself out, I thought I heard an army battalion in the distance or at least in the building but – No – I suddenly found myself in the World of Chris Luby. He had moved towards me sideways so that I did not see him speaking or, for that matter, doing his act of impersonating sounds that you don’t normally associate with a single person on his own.

His Spitfire impression was a masterpiece as he talked through the process involved in getting the plane into the air – starting the engine from cold, the warming-up before take-off, then climbing up to 5,000 feet or so, levelling off and then spotting the ‘Hun’, going into battle and, after shooting one down in flames, his descent and landing.

The second time we met on Prove It, once again, the TVS canteen was his stage as that week’s guests were sitting down having a bite to eat at lunchtime and, having not seen him perform in the rehearsals, they were baffled as they sat there training their ears to fathom out where the noise was coming from. It was just Chris creating the sound of a WW2 Spitfire all on his own. But to see four full-grown adults standing against a window and opening it to look for a plane that seemed to be rather close – in fact even overhead – It was a classic moment.

When he appeared on the show that second time, he had broken his leg. He lurched on to the studio floor dressed in a Coldstream Guardsman’s uniform plus busby with his leg all done up – but he was still brilliant despite this minor upset. He was a real trouper or should that be trooper?… R.I.P. and I hope he keeps ‘em laughing in the ‘hanger in the sky’.

Yesterday, comedians were Twittering.

Ian Stone suggested: There should be a marching band at his funeral.

Andy Smart thought: It’ll be a lot noisier where ever he’s gone!

Even the trade union Equity Tweeted:

We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.

Arthur Smith told me last night:

He was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: “I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like….” but he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world. I hope he is enjoying the molecules in the stars.

Jenny Eclair Tweeted:

Oh please can all the mad, bad, bonkers and wonderful old timers from the old days of alternative comedy stop dying?

and, when I asked her about Chris Luby last night, she told me:

I just remember when Malcolm offered me out-of-town gigs asking if Chris would be in the same car and taking the train rather than be trapped with him doing Spitfires in my ear!

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy

What they actually said when anarchic comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005 (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Today is the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday.

He would have been 64.

He drowned in Greenland Dock, by the River Thames in London on 31st January 2005.

He was newly 55.

This is what was said about him in print immediately after he died (the videos are more recent):

Charles De Gaulle

French President General De Gaulle

CHORTLE comedy website, 2nd February 2005

The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. Hardee was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club, where most of today’s biggest names died in front of the aggressive crowd. As a performer, he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. One year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. Jools Holland said: “It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.” Stewart Lee called him “South London’s king of comedy – a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution.” And Robert Newman called him “a hilarious, anarchic legend; a millennial Falstaff.”

BBC NEWS ONLINE, 2nd February 2005

Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: “There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into showbusiness.”

EFESTIVALS, 2nd February 2005

He’ll probably be best remembered at Glastonbury for responding to calls to “get yer knob out”, or just getting it out anyway. If you never had the privilege to see it, it wasn’t as crude as it sounds… Oh, perhaps it was, but Malcolm was always very funny.

THE GUARDIAN, 3rd February 2005

Hardee, 55, was a legend among the comedy fraternity – a “comedian’s comedian”, says Phill Jupitus. He hosted two comedy clubs which spawned literally dozens of now household names. He never really reaped huge financial benefits himself, though, and was best known to the wider world as a member of the naked balloon dancers The Greatest Show on Legs. His trademark was getting his (impressive) testicles out and playing the harmonica.

THE STAGE, 3rd February 2005

The son of a tugboat man, he turned to comedy after numerous brushes with the law and stints in detention centres. He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers.

EVENING STANDARD, London, 3rd February 2005

A veteran comedian who launched the careers of stars including Paul Merton, Harry Enfield and Vic Reeves as well as Jo Brand and Jerry Sadowitz. He went on to form his own venue, the Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel in 1984 and followed that with Up The Creek. Both venues were where thousands of comedians took their first step into the spotlight. He acted alongside Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the Comic Strip movies. Mr Hardee once served a term in prison for theft. In his 1996 autobiography, he wrote of playing bridge in jail with former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3rd February 2005

He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet minister’s Rolls-Royce. He had been jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins and for escaping custody, but the title of his 1996 autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Mr Hardee alleged that he had taken the huge cake after being refused permission to perform at the ceremony and then donated it to a nearby residential home. He also wrote of playing bridge in jail with the former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

The autobiography

INDEPENDENT, 4th February 2005

He was one of the founding fathers of alternative comedy, Venerated in the business, he helped revive the fortunes of British comedy in the late Seventies – bringing a freshness and audacity that chimed with the punk spirit of the times. He was not averse to urinating over persistent hecklers. Those who worked with him paid tribute yesterday.

Mark Steel said: “For my generation of comics there were two ways of looking at him. He created the Tunnel Club which, after the Comedy Store, was the most influential gig in London. But then there was another side that you cannot document which was his crude presence. This amazing, nihilistic, debauchery. If you took anything seriously he could be a hard bloke to deal with. He simply destroyed pomposity. He just didn’t care. Unusually for a comic, he didn’t seem to have any ego.”

THE GUARDIAN, 4th February 2005

He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour, Jools Holland. In 1987, he stood for parliament in the Greenwich by-election, as a candidate for the Rainbow Alliance Beer, Fags and Skittles party, polling 174 votes. On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the River Thames where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

INDEPENDENT, 5th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years. Almost every significant new comedian was agented, managed or promoted by him, or passed through one of his clubs.

His impression of President Charles de Gaulle using no props other than his own spectacles atop his semi-flaccid penis was unsettlingly realistic. But Hardee’s other claim to fame was that he had the biggest bollocks in show business. He said that, at puberty, they did not drop, they abseiled. Everything about Hardee was larger-than-life – except his bank balance, because he did not care about money; instead he took an almost schoolboy delight in pranks, wheezes and escapades.

Yet Hardee’s influence remained almost totally unknown outside the comedy and media worlds. At one BBC party in the 1990s, a Head of Television Comedy was heard to say: “He’s not going to get on television because he keeps taking his willy out.”

NEW YORK SUN, 7th February 2005

A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a “balloon dance” stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty. He was also celebrated for a bizarre juggling act performed in the dark and with nothing visible apart from his genitals, daubed with fluorescent paint. Fans would greet his arrival on stage with cries of “Get yer knob out”. He was said to be huge in Germany and Sweden.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Glastonbury

THE TIMES, London, 7th February 2005

A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: “To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has.” Whatever Hardee did in the world of comedy — dance, compere, steal things or drive vehicles through other people’s shows — he preferred to do it naked. He brought silliness, anarchy and a lot of nudity to a business that is becoming increasingly self-referential and corporate. The world of stand-up comedy is left with a gaping, tractor-shaped hole in it. Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His crimes were orchestrated with scant regard to not getting caught or even, sometimes, making any money. His autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, implicated his fellow comic Ricky Grover in a bungled heist, the sum proceeds of which were four ham sandwiches. Similarly his comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it. A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted. There was no comedy area Hardee was unwilling to explore.

THE SCOTSMAN, 8th February 2005

Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster, Malcolm Hardee’s sad early death robs the world of comedy of a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed “the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy”.

TIME OUT, 9th February 2005

One of the great characters in the comedy business. Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue. He played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. His scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come. But, above all, he’ll be remembered as a good bloke. He’s an impossible act to follow.

THE STAGE, 10th February 2005

Widely regarded among the stand-up fraternity as one of the godfathers of alternative comedy. Although he never leapt to the front rank of fame himself, he helped launch and nurture the careers of literally thousands of stand-up comedians. But much more than that, Hardee was a larger than life character whose ribald, sometimes vulgar behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary. Hardee was taught at, and expelled from, three south east London schools before drifting into petty crime and spending time in numerous detention centres for, among other things, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to his Sunday school piano, one of which he escaped from disguised as a monk.

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

Malcolm Hardee (on the left)

INDEPENDENT, 19th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt, He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

THE STAGE, 3rd March 2005

Malcolm’s death sent tremors of shock through the world of London comedians. No one was hugely surprised, given his wild and fearless ways but some of us who knew him felt a pang of regret that we hadn’t cherished him more vigorously in life. Every death is a reminder of our own mortality and Malcolm was the first of a generation of comics to get a booking at the big gig beyond the veil. Everything about Malcolm apart from his stand-up act was original. Although he was not a writer, he was a genius at dreaming up scams and schemes. He was a mythomaniac, the ultimate PR man, a world-class huckster and a man who trailed laughter and amazement in his wake. Like a shabby Oscar Wilde he put his genius not into his work but his life.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

R.I.P. Malcolm Gerrard Hardee, comedian, agent, manager and club-owner: born London 5 January 1950; married Jane Kintrea Matthews (one son, one daughter previously with Pip Hazelton); died London 31 January 2005.

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given in his memory at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Last month I slept with Arthur Smith; last week I talked to new comic Archie Williams Maddocks; both write plays

Arthur Smith: man, myth and playwright

Arthur Smith: man, myth and playwright

Last month I slept with comedian Arthur Smith.

Oh, alright, we stayed in different rooms in the same house on different storeys after I saw him perform at the Comedy Lounge in Totnes. He left before breakfast.

No depth is too deep for me to plumb for a shallow, eye-catching headline.

But the point is… on the bill with Arthur at the Comedy Lounge was a young comedian called Archie Williams Maddocks who showed remarkably good stage presence and audience control. I wondered why, so I had a chat with him in London last week. He is 25.

“I did my first gig just over a year ago,” he told me, but I’ve been going properly – trying to gig every week – for about ten months and I’ve only started gigging three or four times a week since June of this year – about four months.”

“Why do you want to be a comic?” I asked him. “You don’t appear to be mad.”

“It’s a problem, isn’t it?” laughed Archie. “I’m not unhappy. I’m not crazy… I was doing an improvised play and someone came up to me afterwards and said The way your mind works is very quick: maybe you should try stand-up comedy. I had always liked comedy but never thought about trying it… It looked like a horrible life to me.”

“It is,” I said.

“Well,” said Archie, “I thought I’d give it a try and, when the first wave of laughter hit me, it was like Fuck! That’s amazing! It’s like a drug. I’m addicted to it now.”

“But you didn’t want to be a comedian before that?”

“I’m a playwright by trade,” Archie told me. “In the summer, I had something on at the Royal Court Theatre as part of their Open Court season.

The new Bush Theatre, London

The Bush Theatre is to be the site of a Brixton funeral parlour

“And I’ve just been commissioned by the Bush Theatre to write a play about gentrification in Brixton seen through the eyes of guys in a West Indian funeral parlour. It’s all about the idea that Brixton was once a very West Indian area and it’s becoming gentrified and the West Indian community which was there has moved out to other places like Barnet and the shops serving the diminishing West Indian community no longer really have a purpose. So my play questions the role of tradition and whether you should re-invent yourself, which means losing a bit of what you established in the first place.”

“Is this going to be totally straight or with laughs?” I asked.

“The first three-quarters is going to be funny and then…”

“… then you undercut the audience’s expectation?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Archie. “I find with a play, if you make it funny and accessible, they’re going to warm to it more quickly. If it’s a serious drama the whole time, you can’t help like feeling you’ve just been beaten up. It’s hard work watching a drama for two hours, so I want there to be laughs – not massive ones, but little titters here and there and quite big laughs.”

“Will you be acting in it?”

“No. The whole idea of playwriting in the first place was to be in the plays but the more I write them the less I want to be in my own plays, because I think I would get too controlling. I kinda just want to create them and I’m getting all my performance needs from doing comedy. I’ve always loved people looking at me, watching me and enjoying what I’m doing or hating what I’m doing – as long as I get a reaction from them.”

“Isn’t there a problem about people doing something with your play that you didn’t intend?” I asked.

“It’s kind of like you’ve made a baby, but then you’ve given it up for adoption and you watch someone else raise it. You think it’s going to come out one way and it doesn’t and it can be a bit of a shock but, at the same time, it can be amazing. So far, I’ve been lucky and directors have kept in constant contact.

“I’m also working on a play that’s going to be put on in London and in New York at the same time. It’s about the relationship between Africans and Caribbeans here in London and black Americans. This notion of blackness in two different spectrums and the dichotomy between that.

“It’s going to be about a West Indian woman meeting a black American man in America and it’s going to be about their different attitudes and perceptions towards race. Two black people from two different countries talking about race in America is almost like a black person and a white person talking about race in England. I think it’s quite an interesting dichotomy to explore.”

“How many plays have you written now?”

“Nine. Well, including short plays, I’ve written about eighteen.”

“And you’re 25.”

Yes.”

“You always wanted to write?”

Archie Williams Maddocks in his 15-year-old dreams

Archie Williams Maddocks, as seen in his 15-year-old dreams

“No. Until 15, I wanted to be a wrestler.”

“An American wrestler?”

“Yeah.”

“Because they’re macho and showbizzy?”

“Yeah, pretty much. And because you get to say the most ridiculous things.”

“Did you have a wrestling name you were going to use?”

“I was going to be The Dominator… or Half Man Half Amazing.”

“So when did you lose your ambition to be a wrestler?”

“When I properly figured out it wasn’t real. I figured I wanted to do something more serious than this. I wanted to act and follow in my father’s footsteps.”

“Your father’s an actor.”

“Yes.”

“So,” I said to Archie, “you’re very serious about writing plays and you think you will be able to continue doing that as well as doing a little bit of acting and doing stand-up comedy?”

“Well,” replied Archie, “I’ve started to put the acting on hold a little bit, because I’ve grown to love comedy so much that I want it really, really badly: I want to be out there every night. Comedy and playwriting sort of go hand-in-hand: it’s two different forms of writing.

“If you’re doing comedy, you’re out to make people laugh and to forget themselves and their troubles whereas, as a playwright, you’re out to make people think and evoke questions and loads of reaction. But I think you can do both at the same time.

“For me, the comedy brain works very quickly; it’s off-the-cuff and instinct. Whereas my playwriting brain I let cultivate ideas over time so the ideas I have are fully-formed when I come to them and I can write them out in two or three weeks.

Archie Williams Maddocks, no longer an aspiring wrestler

Archie Williams Maddocks is no longer an aspiring wrestler

“What I’m doing now is four days a week of playwriting, three days a week of comedy writing and trying to gig every night. Yesterday I was in Wincanton in Somerset; tonight I’m in Brighton; over the next few weeks, I’m going to be in Stockton-on-Tees, Newcastle, Leeds. That’s what you gotta do. You gotta get out there.”

“How would you describe your comedy?”

“I’m an observational storyteller, an anecdotalist.”

“Totally scripted?”

“I try to do a bit of improvisation in every gig and I try to do something new at every gig. There’s no set script. There’s beats and units in my mind where I know what I want to come next, so there’s a flow to it. But I never end up saying it the same way two nights in a row.”

“Are you going to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?”

“With a comedy show. I would never take a play up there at the moment. Far too expensive.”

“Yes,” I said, “The cost of hiring a venue – and the free venues don’t really put on plays.”

“And,” said Archie, “in Edinburgh, if you have a choice between seeing a play that you pay for and a free play, what are you going to see? You’re going to see a play that you pay for because you think it will be better quality. Whereas, in comedy, ‘free’ is the way it’s going at the moment – ‘free’ is not taken as being rubbish any more.”

“Your father is an actor?” I asked.

“Both my parents are actors,” replied Archie. “My mum, Mary Maddocks, is an actress: she was in The Rocky Horror Show when it was in the West End; and my dad is Don Warrington (of TV’s Rising Damp etc).

“The main thing I get from both of them is they understand the art of performance and the need to perform. It’s not something you choose to do. It’s something that you can’t not do. I’d rather be poor and do something I enjoy than be rich and have to go into work every day at something I don’t like and be miserable. I’d rather live outside in the cold literally – I hope I don’t, but…”

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Theatre

Comic Arthur Smith and critic Copstick talk comedy & hard core pornography

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the first show, the guests were comedian Arthur Smith and doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (who hates being called Kate). This is a short extract:

_____________________________________________________

ARTHUR: A naked man is funny whereas, with a naked woman, there are different things going on.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why?

ARTHUR: Well… because of the evil that is Man.

COPSTICK: A round of applause, please. The feminist contingent has arrived.

ARTHUR: Well, I do consider myself a feminist. When I arrived at university in 1974, there was a woman setting up The Women’s Liberation Society. You only had to think about it. Men had been oppressing women for thousands of years and she was absolutely right.

I always thought that the feminist ethos would continue more. For example, the ‘Ms’ thing. Fair enough. Why does a woman have to announce her marital status on a form by being Miss or Mrs? Men don’t have to. So I just assumed Ms would become standard, but it didn’t.

I assumed that the Feminist revolution, for want of a better word, would continue, but then Lad Culture suddenly appeared, courtesy of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel amongst others. And porn was alright.

COPSTICK: Porn IS alright!

ARTHUR: Yeah, but… I’m not suggesting porn should be illegal, but it’s another area of controversy.

COPSTICK: Have you ever been on a porn set?

ARTHUR: I was asked… Victoria Coren

COPSTICK: Oh, that’s not a proper porn set. That’s middle-class girls playing at making porn.

JOHN: Copstick has proper porn sets.

ARTHUR: I’ve always had this joke about balancing a tray on the end of me knob. It’s an idea that perhaps I could learn to do.

COPSTICK: I was only asking because I have spent quite a long while within the porn industry.

ARTHUR: Have you?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

ARTHUR: I didn’t know that.

COPSTICK: Oh yes.

JOHN: She owns the Erotic Review.

COPSTICK: But I’m not talking about the Erotic Review. I’m talking about hard core porn. Proper hard core, you know? Every industry has its sleazy end. I know nothing about the illegal stuff. I’m talking about… The mainstream porn industry is where the one group of people who can turn up on a set with a list of what they will do and what they won’t do is the women. And that list is adhered to.

A very good friend of mine does everything. She does things probably none of the lovely people here could even imagine.

JOHN: Such as?

COPSTICK: Have you ever seen a cream pie?

ARTHUR: Oh, I’ve heard of that one. There’s a woman I know who’s actually quite well-known who said Ooh, I’ve seen this lovely profiterole. I’ve got me eye on it. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but… she… she doesn’t eat it. Let’s put it like that.

COPSTICK: My friend does double-anal, she does double-pussy, she does cream pie, she does everything.

ARTHUR: With profiteroles?

COPSTICK: Well, there’s somebody there balancing them on a tray on his dick.

JOHN: And then?

ARTHUR: Is this comedy or porn?

COPSTICK: Oh, it’s porn.

ARTHUR: It sounds quite funny, doesn’t it?

COPSTICK: She’ll do all these things, but she doesn’t like anyone playing with her nipples. So, on her list of things the guys are not allowed to do, none of them are allowed to go anywhere near her nipples, no matter what else they are doing… And, if they do, she can stop the scene. The women are not downtrodden in porn… I haven’t convinced you, Arthur?

JOHN: Few people know you’re in the erotic industry.

COPSTICK: I thought we were talking about Arthur.

JOHN: Few people know you were in the erotic industry, Arthur.

ARTHUR: Mr Knobbo? He never really caught on.

JOHN: There was a lot of nudity surrounding Malcolm Hardee in the 1980s for no reason I could figure out except The Roman In Britain was getting publicity.

ARTHUR: Well, like I said, naked men are funny.

JOHN: Why?

ARTHUR: Kate will tell you.

COPSTICK: It is the danglies. Little squishy things that dangle are quite funny.

ARTHUR: Well, the testicles and penis are slightly silly things. The rest of your body doesn’t have things hanging off. You look at them and you think What the hell are…

COPSTICK: One wonders what Mother Nature was thinking… And there are an increasing number of chaps in really quite middle-of-the-road comedy shows who, at the end of the show, just randomly get their knobs out.

If I was male and I was going to get my knob out, I would want to know that people were going to have to gasp Whoaaah! but none of them are. Maybe it’s just a comedian thing. They’re all…

ARTHUR: All comedians have small knobs?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Sex

At the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday: nudity, farting and a hysterectomy

Today, my new temporary Edinburgh flatmate inventor mad John Ward arrives. He invents arguably useless or useful things like the bra warmer and the personal snow-making back pack. He also designed the physical trophies which are the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards.

Yesterday, Mr Methane’s window show entertained not just audiences but passers-by

Yesterday, Mr Methane’s Edinburgh show in the window of Bob’s Bookshop entertained not just audiences but passers-by

My previous temporary Edinburgh flatmate Mr Methane left yesterday, although he is returning on Friday specifically to perform at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

I will miss Mr Methane’s daily interesting facts which included not just surprising tales of touring with the semi-punk band the Macc Lads but also the fact that John Paul Jones – not the Led Zeppelin rock star but the 18th century US hero - led the only US attack on mainland Britain, by attacking Whitehaven in Cumbria and St Mary’s Isle near Kirkcudbright, Scotland, in 1778.

Mr Methane is very well-read for a man who farts professionally.

There is a distinctly literary lifestyle in my flat at the moment.

Comedy entrepreneur Neale Welch has a Fringe Odyssey

Comedy entrepreneur Neale Welch had a big Fringe Odyssey

Also staying here is Neale Welch from London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre. His audio company Just The Greatest has put up some money to cover part of the costs of the Malcolm Hardee Awards (though not any of my personal expenses lest I appear to be benefitting personally). For this, he gets to sleep on a sofa that is shorter than he is. No-one said life is fair.

I came back unexpectedly yesterday afternoon to find him reading Homer’s Odyssey.

He told me he had discovered Edinburgh is a great place for second-hand bookshops and that he had walked into one shop and asked if they had a copy of The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

The owner of the shop had replied:

“Would you want a copy of that book in Greek, Latin or English?”

And, sure enough, the shop did, indeed, have copies of The History of the Peloponnesian War in all three languages.

“Which one did you buy?” I asked Neale.

“The English language one,” he told me.

Frankly, I was saddened and rather disappointed in him.

Shortly afterwards, I bumped into Nick Awde at the Pleasance Dome, who started talking about Adrienne Truscott and her much-discussed show Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! which she performs naked from the waist down.

This coming Friday, Adrienne is a guest on my Fringe show Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! So It Goes – John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show. She will be discussing the joys and pitfalls of performing nude on stage with Martin Soan of The Greatest Show On Legs, who created the Naked Balloon Dance.

Nick Awde heads the Fringe review team for The Stage newspaper.

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s show split then united opinion

“Adrienne’s show split arty people and comedy people,” Nick mused yesterday, “At the very beginning of the Fringe, the comedy people were pushing her show away saying No, that’s performance art… and the performance art people were saying No, it’s comedy. Now they both claim it as their own.”

And now it is impossible to get tickets for Adrienne’s show.

In theory, you can turn up and entry is free; you pay to get out. But all the £5 pay-in-advance-to-guarantee-a-seat tickets have been bought and there is no space left. So an extra show has been added – tomorrow night at 11.00pm.

She has also been nominated for a Total Theatre Award.

Total Theatre “celebrates and supports a wide spectrum of contemporary theatre and performance” but I suspect Adrienne may get nominated for some pure comedy awards too.

While I was chatting with Nick Awde, he told me he always reads my blogs from the bottom upwards because, he claims, I usually get to any ‘meaty bits’ at the end. So this next bit  is hidden in the middle to confuse him.

I had a chat with Canadian comic Tanyalee Davis, who performed her first Edinburgh Fringe show in 2003 and who was last heard of in this blog transporting critic Kate Copstick to her trial. Tanyalee is currently appearing on the Channel 4 hidden-camera TV series I’m Spazticus.

“I come over to the UK on alternate months,” she told me.

“I always come over in December and this last December I had a 7-week tour booked but, after a couple of days, I developed a blood clot in my groin and then it all just went tits-up from there.

“It started when I got back with a guy I was dating 18 years ago. We only dated for 2 years, then I was married to somebody else for 13. So we were back together again. I went back on birth control because I was in a new relationship, I got a blood clot and then that caused all these problems. But him and I are together still, thank goodness, ten months on.

“The blood clot led to three months of having eight blood transfusions and ended up with me losing my box – my cooch, my meat locker – I got about 16 different ways of saying fanny.

“I was in four different countries for the whole medical shebang. It started in the UK. I flew to America, then Canada, then I got cleared to fly on a family holiday in Mexico and then I started hemorrhaging. I got there Friday, I started bleeding Saturday, I was hemorrhaging Sunday, then I ended up having a hysterectomy the next week because they were like We don’t know  what to do with you… Too many blood transfusions and, because I had the blood clot, they couldn’t do surgery because I could have died on the operating table.

Tanyalee turned tragedy into Fringe comedy

Tanyalee turned tragedy into Fringe comedy

“So now it’s a comedy show and the interesting thing is trying to find the humour in… I mean, I nearly died… I had 8 blood transfusions and nearly died on a couple of occasions and making that funny is…”

“I always tell comedians,” I said to Tanyalee, “that, if anything goes wrong in your life, it’s not a tragedy, it’s the script for your next Edinburgh Fringe show. It’s God giving you a 60-minute show.”

“Yeah, I lost my box,” said Tanyalee, “but I gained a show. I’ve been wanting to do a new show for a couple of years – I haven’t done a solo show since 2007 – but I didn’t want to do straight stand-up. So, when this whole shit went down, I thought Boom! Now I got a show! – It’s Big Trouble in Little ‘Gina.”

“Are you as ambitious since you nearly died?” I asked. “Or has that changed your perspective? I remember sitting watching my father die and thinking: Nothing really matters. Only love and friendship.

“Well,” said Tanyalee. “I just gotta enjoy my time while I’m here, because you never know when it’s gonna get yanked away from you. I have such a fun life normally, so being held up in the hospital and not being able to be on stage for three months… That was the worst thing.”

“Really?” I asked. “Not getting the applause?”

“No,” said Tanyalee. “It’s because it’s such an endorphin release and it’s therapy being on stage. I’m a raging bitch when I haven’t been on stage for a while.”

The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and Edinburgh – my favourite city in the world – has been called the Athens of the North. But it is also a tough wee town on the quiet.

As well as Fringe people getting beaten up in the street – I refer you to previous blogs both this year and last – it is the home of Trainspotting and (being Scotland) heavy drinking. I can say that as a shamefully teetotal Scots.

Last night, at around 1.30am in the morning, on my way to Arthur Smith’s legendary annual tour of the Royal Mile, I bumped into comedian Eric cycling home.

“A mother and daughter just fell down in the street in front of me,” he said. “just fell down.”

Arthur Smith’s tour of the Royal Mile was as bizarre as normal. NOTE: Arthur is on my first Fringe chat show tomorrow afternoon.

Arthur Smith, alien, in the Royal Mile last night

Arthur Smith, alien, spouted poetry in the Royal Mile late last night

The tour involved occasional mass wailing by the group of about 30 people trailing down the Royal Mile with him. We were instructed by Arthur to do this in the fashion of North Koreans being told their leader had died.

There was also a shouted conversation with some people in the top storey flat of one of the buildings in the Royal Mile who played a Leonard Cohen song and threw plastic milk bottles out of their window… a £10 challenge for any man or woman to take their top off and sing the Proclaimers’ song 500 Miles… a demonstration of strange rickshaw driving… and a Lithuanian couple who were persuaded to sing in Lithuanian on the steps of St Giles Cathedral. It ended with Arthur disrobing and turning into a sparkly-costumed alien.

Among the crowd were comics Carey Marx, Phil Nichol and, recovering from a street attack in Leith, Scotsman journalist Clare Smith.

Bob Slayer (right) in his sponsored underpants

Bob Slayer’s (right) face-off in his underpants

Afterwards, I walked to Bob’s Bookshop to see if Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem was still in full swing. When I opened the door, I was confronted by a fully-dressed man standing face-to-face with Bob who was in his underpants. This is unusual. To see Bob wearing clothes.

Alas, I arrived a few minutes before 3.00am and, as soon as I arrived, Bob told the audience to shout “tonight’s catchphrase” at me and the show stopped. I have no idea what they shouted, but they seemed to be laughing as they shouted it. I would like to think the show stopped because my arrival climaxed the show. In fact, it was due to licensing laws.

I then walked home.

About two minutes later, on the other side of the road, three girls were walking along singing. One fell over.

As I got to my flat, on the opposite pavement, a man still holding a mobile phone to his ear was picking himself up off the ground.

That’s Edinburgh.

Comedy, performance art, tragedy and people so pissed or drugged out of their heads that they fall over in the street.

Sometimes these categories overlap.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Health

A masterclass in how to perform good comedy – even at the Edinburgh Fringe

John Robertson - a man with outstanding hair

John Robertson, a man in Dark Room with outstanding hair

Life continues as normal at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I got a text message from Australian comedian John Robertson of The Dark Room saying simply:

“Crowd-surfed a dwarf at last night’s Spank! Life is good.”

The Scotsman gave a 4-star review to Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II ending with the line: “If you were hoping to find a Nazi themed Las Vegas style cabaret show with occasional nudity and a touch of the Nuremberg Rally then look no further.”

A while ago, I got an e-mail from Neil Dagley aka Flange Krammer, saying:

“I’m writing a spoof Edinburgh Fringe review site for the 2013 Festival.  The idea is that Golf Monthly has sent a team of reviewers to the Fringe– it’s supposed to be a wry commentary on the hundreds of totally unqualified reviewers who descend upon Edinburgh to pass judgement on the participants.

I’ve got several established comedians on board to write as guest reviewers (under golf related pseudonyms). Do you think it could be a possible candidate for a Malcolm Hardee Award, or is it a bit too subtle!”

Golf Planet - comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Golf Planet – comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Yesterday, I got a follow-up email from Neil, telling me that the established publication Golf Monthly had demanded that he change the name of his spoof review site to Golf Planet and comedian Sean Hughes had retweeted Golf Planet’s 2 golf ball review of his show Penguins, saying:Best written review so far.”

The review partly reads: “Dressed all in black, Hughes deliberately evoked thoughts of the great Gary Player… However, Hughes kept getting side-tracked by completely un-golf-related stories about his youth, which frankly left a sour after-taste following the promising start.”

I then bumped into uber-promoter/manager Brett Vincent of GetComedy who showed me the extraordinary way his printed Edinburgh brochure comes alive on an iPhone/Android phone with the Blipper app.

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

It works something like a QR code reader except you just point your phone at a picture/page in the GetComedy brochure – or at a flyer or a poster in the street – and it comes alive on your phone plus it allows you to buy tickets and see videos of the act performing.

It can show you the act before you buy the ticket.

Brett seems to be the first entertainment company in the UK to use Blipper. Other users include Justin Bieber, Heinz, JLS, The Wanted, The Gadget Show and Oyster Card.

“I just phoned Blipper up,” Brett told me, “and asked Do you fancy doing it for comedy? – I think they fancied the free comedy tickets as part of the deal. I just thought it was something different. You can go and blip all the posters, every image, watch the videos. I find out who blips it, what age group they are and if they’ve made a booking via the app. I can also find out which page you blipped in the brochure, which person you looked at and, hopefully, one day I’ll find out who you are.”

“How does it know who I am?” I asked.

“There’s a certain amount of things your iPhone can tell people because of your iOS settings,” explained Brett. “At the moment, only a few things. Your age group, your sex and sometimes your country.”

If only everything at the Fringe were so efficient.

C Venues – long-known for having such bad signage that people are constantly having to ask under-trained staff where a particular performance room actually is – managed to out-do themselves yesterday.

Their staff now appear not to know where their own outlying venue buildings are. They don’t know left from right And they don’t know the difference between the George IV Bridge and South Bridge (despite the fact South Bridge is a 5-second walk from their front door).

Lynn Ruth Miller - Grade A show; dodgy C venue

Lynn Ruth Miller – Grade A show; dodgy C venue

As a result, I arrived 3 minutes late for the wonderful Lynn Ruth Miller’s equally wonderful show Granny’s Gone Wild.

When I did arrive at the venue, of course, I had to ask two members of staff on different storeys where the actual performance room was.

Despite the fact the sound techie missed cues and the microphone only worked 50% of the time, Lynn Ruth Miller’s show – as always – was a joy for the audience particularly those, it seemed, in their 20s. A wonderful concoction of jokes and songs, it occasionally mixed in some sadness and certainly two 20-something girls in the audience were wiping away tears during one particular song.

The equally wunnerful Charmian Hughes’ show Odd One In managed to tell the true story of her youthful loves including a future Church of England bishop and recently disgraced government minister Chris Huhne. Sadly, this year, she did not do the Sand Dance.

But my evening was rounded-off with Scots comedian Brian Higgins’ show From Beer to Paternity at the Jekyll & Hyde venue – an L-shaped room with dodgy sight-lines which I have always thought was very difficult to perform in.

Brian Higgins - From Beer To Paternity last night

Brian Higgins – he went From Beer To Paternity last night

I had never heard of Brian Higgins, which just shows how much I know about comedy.

I went to see him on the recommendation of fellow Scot Alex Frackleton in Prague (of whom more, I think, in an upcoming blog).

Brian had managed to fill the basement venue to standing and awkward-sitting capacity and gave a masterclass in how to perform comedy to a mainstream mixed audience.

The word to bear in mind here is Mainstream.

We are not talking of alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers here.

We are talking about normal people.

Alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers are not normal people.

With some audience members from multiple ethnic origins, Brian trod a very fine PC line which some alternative comedy clubs might have been slightly (but only very slightly) unsettled by – and the same with some of the gags about women.

But this was not the world of Guardian-reading uber-PCers.

It was ordinary men, women and foreign students from Taiwan.

And they LOVED it. They loved every gag about themselves. And the couples loved it. And they all loved it. And Brian did, pretty much, seem to be hitting laughs every 10 seconds with no faltering – a laugh-rate few Guardian-rated comedians could even come close to.

He also managed to pull the rug from under the audience with a totally unexpected tragic story which had them in total, silent, rapt attention. That, he admitted, was the reason for performing this Fringe show. That one story. A story that had a sharper political knife-thrust than most trendy ‘political’ comics could ever muster.

I was sitting there thinking: He surely can’t end with this? How is he going to get the mood up again after this? He’s got them in a state of near-shock. How can he get them laughing again without seeming to be bad taste?

But he managed it through sheer professionalism.

He is a vastly experienced comic at the top of his game.

Njambi McGrath performs in Edinburgh last night

Njambi McGrath performing last night

He even interrupted the flow of his act about ten minutes in by giving a ten-minute spot to Kenyan comic Njambi McGrath who established “I am from Africa,” but then performed spot-on totally British social material with some very funny back-references to Africa. I particularly liked a joke about Oxfam which only an African could make. She is a potentially major comedian.

Anyone wanting to become a comedian should go watch Brian Higgins and try to deconstruct what is going on. You can’t beat total audience control with a seemingly casual persona.

And Njambi McGrath is one to watch.

From tomorrow, she is going to be one third of the cast in an 8-night run of a show called The Equal Opportunities Act 2010 Presents…

It promises “a Nigerian perspective from Nigeria, gold-digging stories from Kenya and dirty filthy knob jokes from Essex”

I will be there.

What is interesting is that – with the exception of the C Venues show where staff did not know where their own venues were and the microphone did not work – all the shows I have mentioned have been free shows – Charmian Hughes, Brian Higgins and the upcoming Equal Opportunities show.

I have a feeling that free shows may increasingly start winning the major comedy prizes in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, tonight at 2.00 in the morning, I will be outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle awaiting Arthur Smith’s legendary night-time tour of the Royal Mile.

He will also be on my Fringe chat show on Monday.

Both those events are free too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

At the Edinburgh Fringe, physical attacks on comedians and on a critic

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to comedy magician David Don’t.

Her Edinburgh Fringe show Charmian Hughes: Odd One In includes tales of kissing disgraced government minister Chris Huhn. It is part of the PBH Free Fringe.

David’s show David Don’t: The Delusionist (unbilled in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme) is one of Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe shows within the Laughing Horse Free Festival - whom PBH of the Free Fringe sees as bitter competitors.

I met Charmian and David at the Pleasance Dome shortly after she had collected him at Waverley station, off a train from London.

It is David’s first Fringe and he is only performing for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week – at Bob’s Bookshop. He was also keen to promote his new website.

“It’s been put together,” he told me, “by the fantastic new web designer (and comedian) Harriet Bowden…”

“She’s not called that any more,” said Charmian.

“Oh no,” said David, “she’s Lyndon Grady.”

“She’s designed me a new website too,” added Charmian. “Harriet went to a numerologist, who told her great success would only come by changing her name. So she has changed her name to Lyndon Grady. Isn’t that the name of the person who married Catherine Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or was that Lytton Strachey? Anyway, everyone loves magic, except for me. A magician says what he’s going to do – like a dustman says what he’s going to do – and does it. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

“Except,” I pointed out, “that, when David says he’s going to do a trick, it often doesn’t work.”

“I never set out to fail,” said David Don’t.

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

“I almost lost David once, through his magic,” Charmian continued. “It was when he was doing escapology from a postman’s sack at Pull The Other One. He was handcuffed and tied up in the bag and was failing to get out. One of the people in the audience said: Let’s put him on a bus.

“I don’t do magic at home any more,” David told me. “Charmian looks at me and doesn’t ask How did you do that? She asks Why did you do that? I think she’d rather find me wanking off to a porn mag than playing with a pack of cards. I don’t leave packs of cards round the house any more.”

“But do you lea…” I started to ask.

“Don’t go there…” said Charmian. “Barry Lyndon… That’s who I was thinking of. Have you noticed that Sean Hughes’ Edinburgh show is called Penguins but there is no image of a penguin on his poster? And I am Charmian Hughes. There is no penguin in my show title, but I have a picture of a penguin on my poster. That’s not planned. It’s a random serendipity of the universe.”

“When do the actual penguins arrive for your show?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” replied Charmian.

“And on Wednesday,” I said, “Andy Zapp and Ivor Dembina have a gorilla arriving to appear in their show for the rest of their run. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“No,” said Charmian.

My secret view revealed

Non-secret launch party for book last night

Then the three of us went off to the launch of the new Secret Edinburgh book (my non-humorous piece is on page 179) at Bob’s Bookshop.

On my third day here, I saw Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show and the two performers in it asked me not to name them in my resultant blog. So I did not.

They were Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose – the comedy double act Ellis & Rose.

The reason I can name them now is that other, arguably less amiable, sources have.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show has currently received three 1-star reviews and one 3-star review.

“We feel that the 3-star review in The Skinny has ruined it,” Richard Rose told me outside Bob’s Bookshop last night. “That 3-star review is getting in the way of us doing one of the Shit of The Fringe competitions. We might ignore the 3-stars.”

The 1-star reviews came from Broadway Baby, London Is Funny and the Chortle website with Three Weeks still to publish its review.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

STAR Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

“We fear it might be more than one star,” Gareth Ellis told me.

“As well as Jimmy Savile,” I said, “I saw your own show at The Hive and it was all over the place, but I thought you were both TV presenter material. Very loveable and amiable and jolly; just no linear script.”

“There IS a script,” said Richard. “This is what irritates us slightly. It’s all written down and we play around with it.”

“But not a linear script,” I suggested.

“That’s not what we do,” argued Richard. “We’re fun and, today, we had a cracking show, but this heckler blundered into the room in the last five minutes.”

“He stumbled in and sat down at the back of the room,” explained Gareth. “He had a bottle of vodka in his hand – a big one – and it was half empty and he just shouted out: Yer mum!

Yer mum!” agreed Richard, “and I said Sir, it seems like an odd time, about three minutes before the end, to start heckling and that got a laugh. And then it came to the point in our show where Gareth says I’m feeling sexy! and the guy shouted out You’re not sexy – You’re shit! and Gareth just exploded… in character.”

Ellis (left) & Rose walk the Edinburgh streets alone last night

Ellis (left) & Rose walk Edinburgh’s mean streets last night

Gareth said: “I told him You will feel the wrath of my sex! and slammed a chair down on the floor.”

“And you started humping the chair,” said Richard. “And people were applauding. People loved it.”

“He kept going on and I kept putting him down,” said Gareth. “And then the show finished, we got changed, went outside and the heckler was waiting for us. He said: You’re them two cunts who do that Savile thing! and took a swing at me. I managed to dodge it and he managed to land a slap on Richard and then we legged it.”

“For about two hours afterwards, it was really funny,” said Richard. “Fucking hell! I can’t believe we provoked that much reaction! But then it seemed to be less funny and we were quite shaken and now we’re just befuddled and a bit drunk.”

Two minutes after talking to Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, I was inside Bob’s Bookshop, talking to Scotsman newspaper reporter and reviewer Claire Smith.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

“A couple of nights ago,” she told me, “I was walking home and I was very, very tired. I went to Tesco to buy some avocados and there were a whole load of guys running round from one side of the road to the other on Great Junction Street in Leith, throwing eggs at people’s houses, trying to hit the windows.

“Then one of them ran along behind me and whacked me really hard on the back of my head with his hand. So I’ve got this huge bump on the back of my head and I have concussion.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” I asked.

“No,” Claire told me, “I went to see Bob Slayer. “I needed medical advice and I thought Bob’s an ex-jockey who’s fallen off loads of horses. So, in between seeing shows, I thought I’d pop in and see what he said. He’s got a very calm, helpful side to him. It’s ‘Quiet Bob’ and I sometimes pop in hoping to catch Quiet Bob. I really like Quiet Bob.

“It was just before his own show started; he was dealing with a load of Phil Kay’s books which had just arrived; and there were all sorts of admin things going on to do with the bar at Bob’s Bookshop. But, when I told him what had happened, he sat down and chatted to me about it, which was very sweet. But what happened after I got hit was…”

“You went down?” I asked.

“No,” said Claire, “which is strange, because I fall over all the time. I just didn’t fall over when someone tried to make me fall over.

“I shouted something – I don’t know – You’re an arsehole! Fuck off! What are you doing? – they were across the street now, a big gang of them. And then this huge guy came and stood next to me. He was like a knight in shining armour.

Stuart - Claire’s knight in shining armour

Stuart – knight in shining armour

“He started speaking really slowly and really quietly and it was frightening because the gang of guys carried on shouting and they followed us for a bit.

“The big guy told me My bus isn’t for half an hour, so I’m going to walk you home and he walked me round the corner and then they started throwing eggs after us which were hitting the wall beside us and hitting the pavement in front of us.

“The big guy said to me: If they catch us, just run away. He said: You might need a brandy. So we went to a pub and I asked What do you do for a living? and he said I’m the most hated person in Edinburgh.

What do you mean? I asked.

I’m a traffic warden, he told me.

“He’s an ex-Army guy called Stuart. He had been shot twice – in Kosovo and somewhere else. He showed me his bullet holes in the pub.”

“Where were they?” I asked.

“They were both in his back,” Claire told me. “It was odd. Because Matt Price is staying at my house during the Fringe and I was thinking This is the sort of thing that happens to Matt. We have been invaded by the story-telling gods.”

Lewis Schaffer consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

As I left the Secret Edinburgh book launch at Bob’s Bookshop, I picked up one of the daily Broadway Baby review sheets with, on the front, a review of actor Brian Blessed’s one-man show Shout: The Life of Brian.

Oh, I didn’t know he was doing a show, I thought to myself.

On my way home, at around 1.30am in the morning, I bumped into Arthur Smith in a kebab shop.

He is guest on the first of my Edinburgh Fringe chat shows next Monday. The show finishes at 4.30pm and, at 5.00pm, Arthur is getting on a train back to London. The audience will be invited to accompany him to Waverley station.

“Are you still doing my chat show next Monday?” I asked him. It is always worth checking everything in Edinburgh.

“Of course,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to people waving me off at the station.”

When I got back to my flat, I found a series of Tweets:

Broadway Baby - send in the cunning comedy clones

Broadway Baby – send in the cunning stunt clones

Broadway Baby ‏- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This isn’t us folks. Someone’s copying BB! pic.twitter.com/YWPV32QCJK

Sean Brightman ‏- That is very funny.

Broadway Baby ‏- We are bemused and baffled by the effort someone’s put into this!

Sean Brightman - Well, the clue may be in the reviews methinks. And if it is who I think it is, he should win an award.

Broadway Baby - Best publicity stunt this year? Writing your own audience reviews happens. Printing an entire edition? That’s a first!

Sean Brightman - Yep, it should be in the running for a @thejohnfleming Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt award.

I looked up the Fringe Programme to check if Brian Blessed really was performing a show called Shout: The Life of Brian. It was not in the Fringe Programme. According to the Broadway Baby review, it was supposedly being performed at the Underbelly’s DistendedBelly venue.

Then I read the rave review on the sheet of Barry Fearn’s show Barry on Arthur’s Seat – 6 stars - “A phenomenal show. Better than life itself”and went to bed.

Reality, fantasy, a few laughs and occasional random violence.

Welcome to the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Crime, Edinburgh

Comedian Barry Ferns, climber of dead Edinburgh Fringe volcanoes, bakes well

Barry Ferns, comedian and caterer

Barry Ferns, comedian, caterer and oft climber of volcanoes

On Friday, comedian Barry Ferns cooked me a baked potato at his home in Maida Vale, London. If this comedy lark does not work out for him, he could always re-start his career in catering.

“I always wanted to be a stand-up,” he told me. “One of my earliest memories is one Christmas when I got a radio/tape player that you could record things on and I got one of those really tall, giant joke books – 1001 Jokes – and I read jokes out of that into the tape recorder under the duvet, because my parents used to put me to bed really early, at about 5.00pm.

“When I was at school, I was always the class wannabe clown. I remember one time I made a silly joke and the whole class, as one, just went Oh, Barry! and Mr Powell, my history teacher, just looked at me with sadness in his eyes and said: Why do you do it to yourself, Barry?… Which is maybe what the comedy industry’s been trying to tell me for the last 17 years.

“It’s funny the career paths you fall into. You never quite know where you’re going to end up. I started in comedy as a cleaner at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I think class has got a lot to do with the jobs I ended up doing.

“I’ve got 32 cousins. My dad’s got 5 brothers and my dad’s got 5 sisters. My dad’s a printer. My brother cleans cars. I went to university, but no-one else in my direct family had ever gone to university. I think because of that, I didn’t expect to go into a good job. So I finished university and went to work in a pork pie factory for a year. I ended up in Burger King and various other things, then I started to realise Oh, I could get that job or that job.

“In the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to make films, purely because I want to make my own pilot of a show that Carlton TV wanted to pick up. I had a script, it was optioned, but it didn’t happen and Carlton TV was taken over. Somebody else tried to make it with David Sant directing. But it didn’t get made; didn’t get made; didn’t get made. Then, after I went bankrupt – performing at the Edinburgh Fringe made me bankrupt in 2007, the year I changed my name to Lionel Richie – in 2008 I thought Right. I’m going to learn how to make it myself, so I spent two years learning how to make film, editing, those kind of skills and that’s how I earn money now.”

Testing Mrs Patterson screened in LA

Barry’s short film Testing Mrs Patterson, as screened in LA

Barry’s 5-minute film Testing Mrs Patterson was screened at the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival in 2012.

“It seems like any industry’s about connections and people you know,” Barry suggested to me.

“I think,” I said, “people tend to approach things from the wrong viewpoint. Performers think How can little old me push my career by approaching this Big important media person? But that seemingly big person sees himself or herself as a small cog in a larger machine and is trying to push his or her own career. So you have to approach them from the viewpoint of What can I do to help this media person develop his or her career?

“That’s the way I think of agents,” replied Barry. “How can I help them to earn money? Likewise, it’s why a lot of people won’t take risks nowadays; they don’t want to jeopardise their own career.”

“Risk-taking is complicated,” I said, “because everyone assumes TV and radio people won’t risk doing original ideas. But that’s only half true. They won’t take too much risk. But they don’t want to be seen to be doing what’s been done before either, because that doesn’t help their career. So they want to be seen to be making new, cutting-edge stuff because, if they produce the next new wave thing, they will get kudos and a better, higher job. But, at the same time and utterly in conflict with that, they don’t want to risk making something totally original which might turn out to be a disaster.”

Barry and I were eating baked potatoes at his home, because he wanted to talk to me about my memories of the Edinburgh Fringe. Unfortunately for him, I can barely remember what I did last week.

Last year, he created a downloadable Audio Tour of Edinburgh with Fringe stories about various locations. This year, he will be doing the same, but there will also be similar segments in Arthur Smith’s BBC Radio 4 Extra show – which is why, in the past few weeks, he has been gathering stories from the like of me, comedian Simon Munnery and critic Kate Copstick.

I suspect he will also use some of the stories in his three Edinburgh Fringe shows this year – Barry On Arthur’s Seat (he is foolishly going to climb to the top of Edinburgh’s extinct volcano every day to perform this show)… Tales From The Fringe (another daily show)… and This Arthur’s Seat Gala Belongs to Lionel Richie (a one-off show on 17th August atop the aforementioned extinct volcano). Last year, his shows were well-reviewed.

Barry aka Lionel atop Arthur’s Seat

Barry F aka Lionel R atop Arthur’s Seat

“The best thing for a show in Edinburgh,” I said, “is to get a 1-star review AND a 5-star review. That has to mean it is interesting.”

“Well, in 2001,” Barry told me, “I took a show up to Edinburgh called Doreen and it got every star in reviews – 1-2-3-4-and-5. Some people absolutely loved it. But so many people walked out. It was at the Gilded Balloon. We had a sign on the door – HATE THE SHOW? WHY NOT TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS HOW MUCH YOU DISLIKED IT.

“Somebody who ended up being a really well-known producer and director came three times. And Count Arthur Strong came three times as well. He absolutely loved it. But other people absolutely hated it. The show ended as the audience filed out with us with our trousers round our ankles, apologising to them for being pathetic human beings… We’re so sorry… We’re so sorry…. with our hands covering our crotches.”

“You should bring it back,” I said. “I would go see it.”

Barry certainly gets 5 stars from me for his baked potato. But I hope he does not have to fall back on catering.

I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, though, that I will have to climb Arthur’s Seat this year.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

Wannabe policeman is illegally ripping off London comedy show posters

(This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post)

The bike, after the attack by the representative of The Law

The bike, after the attack by the representative of ‘The Law’

In joke-telling, there is ‘The Rule of Three’.

Sometimes, this spills over into real life and overlaps with the saying ‘It never rains but it pours’.

In my blog three days ago, I mentioned that comedian Martin Soan had broken a rib in a bicycle accident and that a comedian who double-booked himself for two simultaneous shows had caused problems for Martin’s Pull The Other One comedy club in January.

In the last year, Pull The Other one has featured top comedy acts like Omid Djalili, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith.

On Friday, as an end-of-year thankyou to locals, Pull The Other One staged a free comedy show in Nunhead, Peckham. As normal, Martin and Vivienne Soan publicised it widely locally – as they have done for over five years – with flyers and posters. Some of the posters were on bicycles which were ridden round the area.

The show was a success – despite what appear to be illegal actions by a local wanna policeman.

To save money on paying the police, England and Wales are now blessed with cheaper “Community Support Officers” to back-up the ‘real’ police. I suspect (with no evidence, m’lud) that these are often wanna policemen and wannabe policewomen with over-developed superiority complexes.

“It seems we now have a special constable,” Martin Soan told me yesterday, “who has taken it upon himself to tear down our posters and most disturbingly rip them off our bikes… I’m not sure that’s within his powers or even if it’s legal.”

I would have thought it was most definitely not legal. This guardian of ‘The Law’ appears to have decided to remove a piece of private property attached to a private vehicle without the owner’s permission which I would think, in legal terms, must be pure vandalism and damaging private property – perhaps even theft.

“This bloke,” says Martin, “rides around on a bike with a ‘Comunity Warden’ sticker on it…. Am I within my rights to rip that off?… Or deface a Sainsbury’s lorry?… Or paint over shop signs?… He also told me that he would remove my bike if I put a poster on it again.”

The offensive poster for free comedy show

The offensive poster for a free comedy show

Martin’s wife Vivienne, who co-runs Pull The Other One, says: “The community policeman has systematically taken down all our publicity, telling us that we are making money from free advertising at the council’s expense. He says we are no longer allowed to put our poster on local notice boards and even took down a poster from British Rail property on which we have placed posters over the last five years!”

To my mind, this seems to be, again, a case of the ‘Community’ wannabe policeman damaging private property which stands on private land and removing property without the owner’s permission.

An interesting mindset for a guardian of ‘The Law’.

“Mind you,” Vivienne told me yesterday, “it has saved Martin a job, as he usually takes down all the posters the day after the show. And Martin’s rib is obviously greatly improved, as he wants to punch the guy in the face !!!!!”

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Police