Tag Archives: Arthur Smith

How a non-comedy fan got turned on to UK comedy by one man and a TV show

Sandra Smith outside soho Theatre yesterday

Sandra Smith – not originally a comedy fan

I was first aware of Sandra Smith when she turned up every day at a week of chat shows which I chaired at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Since then, she has been turning up at all sorts of comedy shows. Yesterday I said to her:

“You told me you ‘discovered’ comedy two or three years ago. How can you suddenly have discovered comedy?”

“When I was growing up,” she told me, “I didn’t like comedy at all, because I grew up in a time when everyone wanted to tell you a joke and I found it excruciating. I just wished they wouldn’t.”

“Why was people telling you a joke excruciating?”

“Because I felt I would have to ‘get’ it and I would have to laugh, because they’d be embarrassed if I didn’t. It was just a nightmare. I didn’t like comedy and, even today, I’d prefer a drama over a comedy film.

“So I didn’t engage with people like – I guess they were stand-up comedians – Bob Monkhouse and Bob Hope and all that sort of thing. I just thought: What are they doing?

“So,” I asked, “how did you start to get interested in comedy?”

“It was after I had been with a friend to see Paul O’Grady recording a TV show on the South Bank and Pat Monahan was doing the warm-up. I didn’t know anything about warm-ups, but I thought Pat was really good with the people.

“I was not going to go again, because it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, but then I was told Jo Brand was going to be hosting the Paul O’Grady show, so I went along again. Then I watched a Graham Norton Show being recorded.

Show Me The Funny with Pat Monahan second from left

ITV Show Me The Funny with Pat Monahan second from left

“And then I saw Show Me The Funny on ITV, which I liked. I think I am the only person in the world who did.”

“Why on earth,” I asked, “did you like it?”

“Because it was all very new to me and I thought: Oh! There’s that bloke from Paul O’Grady (Patrick Monahan) on it. Comedians were starting to come into my awareness a bit.”

Show Me The Funny,” I said, “was a terrible dog’s dinner of a format.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Sandra told me. “I was seeing all these comedians and I thought they were all new. I thought Pat was new. I hadn’t got a clue. I would have loved it more if there had been more stand-up instead of all the chitter-chatter, but I liked the exchanges between the comedians. I enjoyed it.”

“You say you wanted more stand-up in it,” I pointed out, “yet you said you hated jokes.”

“Yes, but it was different, somehow. I was getting to like it, because it’s not really just jokes nowadays, is it? It’s more observational stuff. It’s different.

Billy Connolly with Janey Godley

Scots Billy Connolly and Janey Godley

“Before that, I had seen Billy Connolly and I hadn’t realised that he was a stand-up. I thought he was just a great storyteller and I thought: How does he do that? I loved that.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re the perfect audience for modern comedy, because it used to be short gags but now it’s mostly storytelling… So you were getting to like it…”

“Yes,” explained Sandra. “And then Pat Monahan came to Brighton where I live and, because it was someone I knew of, I went with a friend to see him at the Komedia. I hadn’t been there before. It was great.

“Then I was up in London one day and saw that Pat was on at the 99 Club and it was quite a big deal for me to walk into a comedy club by myself. And from then on, I started to like comedy and saw more. It was like opening a door and seeing this different world.

“I like performance – I always have. In my early years, my mum used to take me to the Theatre Royal in Brighton and we’d sit in the gods. I wasn’t particularly engaged with that; I just went along; I went to the cinema a lot; and a friend would take me up to London for ballet and music and her mum was in the theatre as a dancer. But not comedy before I saw Pat.”

“And then you went up to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes. I went up for two weeks in 2013. I just loved it. I had a fabulous time. I went to your show that year (John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show) because I had been reading your blog.”

“How had you stumbled on my blog?”

“I can’t remember, but I started reading it and it just seemed interesting. Then I saw you were doing a show and, as is my wont, I just booked a ticket for every day.”

Kate Copstick co-hosted that show most days,” I said. “Did you know of Copstick?”

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick at my 2013 Fringe chat show

“Yes. Because she was a judge on Show Me The Funny. But I went to your show because there were going to be people there I had never seen before. I had never heard of Arthur Smith.”

“How on earth had you avoided Arthur Smith?” I asked. “He’s ubiquitous.”

“By not watching comedy. My daughter knew about him because she’d heard him on the radio.”

“And you like him now because…?”

“Because he’s just an engaging bloke. I saw him singing Leonard Cohen. And I saw Sol Bernstein a few weeks ago. I loved him.”

“Did you think he was really an American comedian?” I asked.

“I wasn’t sure.”

I told Sandra: “I saw him play a Monkey Business show a few weeks ago and I think about 80% of the audience thought he was real.”

“I did,” admitted Sandra, “watching it. I wasn’t sure. Then I thought: Perhaps he’s not. It was just delightful at the time.”

“Do you think Lewis Schaffer is a character act?” I asked.

“I don’t know what to make of him. I’ve only seen him twice. Is he really as insecure as he seems? Or is that put on?”

I answered her, but let us not go yet again into the psychology and/or performance art of Lewis Schaffer.

Sandra said of Lewis Schaffer: “I thought maybe he was a totally different person away from the stage. I will have to see him again. I can’t get a handle on his act. I think it’s probably different every time. Somebody walked out of the first show I saw him in. That was great. It was wonderful. I think it was the Madeleine McCann joke she objected to. She had given a sort-of warning sound Ooooaarghh! and then it was Oh! This is too much! and she stamped out. It was funny, because she walked out and, somehow, her jacket got caught on the door and landed on the floor and she didn’t come back for it: one of the staff did.”

“Who else do you like now?” I asked.

“I liked seeing Dr Brown because watching it was exciting because I didn’t know what he would do next – It was like Red Bastard, who I’ve seen three times. And I like the fellah who stands upside down on his head – Terry Alderton.”

“So you like a bit of bizarre,” I said.

Sandra Smith - fan of the bizarre

Sandra Smith – fan of the bizarre – at Soho Theatre yesterday

“Yes. Oh yes. And I like Luisa Omielan. She’s just funny and uplifting. And Janey Godley. Every time I go into one of her shows, I feel very welcome – it’s a real rush of Oh! I feel welcome! But, at the same time, she can be a tartar.”

“Have you read her autobiography?”

“Yes. Oh yes. It’s not the sort of book I would normally read, but I couldn’t put it down. It’s amazing. She’s a natural storyteller. I like storytelling.”

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The most entertaining British funeral of the last 115 years – an audio recording

Funeral wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

Some of the wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s odd 2005 funeral

Whose are the greatest British funerals of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Well, there is Queen Victoria’s in 1901, Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965 and Princess Diana’s in 1997.

But, for sheer entertainment value in the last 115 years, surely not one can compare with the funeral of comedian Malcolm Hardee on 17th February 2005. He drowned, drunk, aged 55.

The printed invitation to and running order for the religious service in St Alfege’s church, Greenwich, was headed:

YOU LUCKY BASTARD!

The invitation to & running order for Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The invitation to Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The Daily Telegraph ran a news item on the funeral the following day (yes, it printed a review of the funeral) which was headlined: Funeral at Which the Mourners’ Tears Were Caused by Laughter.

The review said: “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

The Sun also ran a review of the funeral, headlined Dead Funny – Comic Mal’s Wacky Send-Off pointing out that “instead of a wreath on his coffin, pals placed a lifebelt and an L-plate. in church, the congregation leapt to their feet and applauded as if he was taking to the stage one last time. they included comics Vic Reeves, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Phill Jupitus, David Baddiel, Jerry Sadowitz and Keith Allen.”

In the ten years since Malcolm’s death, his funeral has been oft-talked about but never repeated. Well, one doesn’t with funerals.

More wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

More sentimental wreaths at the  funeral

As comedy critic Kate Copstick is still stranded in Kenya with a non-functional computer and a dodgy mobile phone, the Grouchy Club Podcast this week has posted the uncut audio of Malcolm’s funeral service. It includes tributes by Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith and lasts 75 extraordinary minutes – especially extraordinary because the laughter, cheers and applause are happening during a church service. The running order is:

Vicar intro
Hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Arthur Smith
Steve Bowditch
Vicar
Hymn: For Those in Peril on The Sea
Frank Hardee (Malcolm’s son)
Stewart Lee
Vicar
Jools Holland
Arthur Smith
Jo Brand
Arthur Smith
Al Richardson
Arthur Smith & Vicar
Owen O’Neill
Alessandro Bernardi
Vicar
Quotations from, among others, Deke De Core, Steve Frost, Alex Hardee, Clare Hardee, Chris Luby, Martin Potter, ‘Sir Ralph’, Arthur Smith, Martin Soan and Paul ‘Wizo’ Wiseman
Hymn: Jerusalem
Blessing
Coffin out (worth listening to)

This year, the three annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards given in his memory…

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

The Awards for comic originality, best cunning stunt and for ‘act most likely to make a million quid’

…will be announced and presented during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – two hours of bizarre and original variety – in the Ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 28th August, 2300-0100.

The judges this year are:

Marissa Burgess
Kate Copstick
John Fleming
Jay Richardson
Claire Smith

Comperes Miss Behave and Janey Godley will host the bizarre and original variety acts and the World Egg Throwing Federation will supervise the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships featuring star comedy names.

The 75 minute audio recording of Malcolm Hardee’s funeral is on Podomatic and iTunes.

On YouTube, there is a 10-minute video tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren:

 

 

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An impossible ball and a granny flat plus Steve Coogan as Reggie Kray

A man was asleep in a train in a London tube

A man was asleep in a train in a London tube

Ah! The perils of long chats with people which I then have to transcribe before I can write a blog. Especially if I have to go out earlier than I thought today.

So I have to think of a shorter blog…

A few nights ago, in the middle of the night, asleep in bed, I heard a strange sound in the ceiling.

The sound of a solid ball running on wood across the floor of the loft above my head. It rolled from the front of my bedroom ceiling towards the back.

My loft does not have a flat floor. It has beams with gaps between. It is impossible for a hard, spherical object to roll across the floor because there is no floor. And the beams and gaps between have got fluffy soft fibrous insulation over six inches thick on top of them. Nothing can roll anywhere. And the sound I heard cannot have been something rolling across the tiles of my roof from front to back, because it would have had to roll uphill and against the overlapping of the tiles.

Albert Einstein in a sphere

One spherical object seen at one relative point in some time

It was a real sound I heard. Some spherical object rolling on wood.

But it must have been a dream.

I normally do not remember my dreams at all, which is a pity.

But I have been remembering them a tiny bit more recently.

Last night, this might have been a result of me waking up because my already damaged left shoulder is still sore from tripping over a kerb in darkness during Arthur Smith’s midnight tour of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in August and falling awkwardly on the cobbles.

Or because I keep getting cramp in my legs at night.

Or because the sole of my right foot is in pain.

Or because last night I only had five hours sleep.

Two men were at the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Two men were at the May Fair Hotel yesterday

In any case, I woke up this morning thinking I must remember to blog about the two comedians who are standing for political elections – one in Britain and one abroad. Then I remembered I had been dreaming. Then I thought maybe I was only dreaming I was dreaming and in fact it was true. Then I realised it actually really was a dream but wondered why I had dreamt of that. Then I remembered comedian Eddie Izzard has talked about running for Mayor of London and that the late Malcolm Hardee had run for Parliament 1978.

Malcolm’s manifesto commitments included a cable car for pensioners to the top of Greenwich Hill… Bringing proper fog back to London for old times’ sake… Re-launching the Cutty Sark… And concreting-over the River Thames so people could travel about more easily.

He got more votes than the Communist Party and the National Front.

Since then, a cable car has been built across the Thames.

So it can only be a matter of time before the concrete mixers arrive.

On the train home late last night, I remember two people were talking.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky (left) with Reggie Kray and Reggie’s wife Frances

They were talking about performing as a pantomime horse over the Christmas period and arguing over whether it was better to be the front half or the rear end.

Yesterday, I also had tea with Micky Fawcett, a former associate of gangsters The Kray Twins, at the May Fair Hotel. Micky said he thought Steve Coogan would make a very good Reggie Kray in a movie.

Over the Christmas period, Italian comedian Luca Cupani told me he had been looking for a new flat. He had seen one advertised but had decided not to make contact. I thought he should. The ad read:

AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION CLAPHAM COMMON
CLAPHAM, WEST LONDON

Luca flats ad

A flat was offered for rental in London with no internet access

Shared bedroom small flat with limited space for a flatmate M/F.

NO TV, landline, internet, just radios. Has suited ambitious but impecunious students/workers prepared to share partitioned bedroom with a granny.

Nearest tube Clapham Common / bus 35/37/137/345

Everything above was real.

I think.

Who can tell?

Not me.

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A story about the National Health Service in the UK and a bit of pain

Arthur Smith encouraged singing over ‘dead’ man in Royal Mile

Arthur Smith on Royal Mile tour with prone punter (not me)

Well, I have four as-yet un-transcribed blog-chats to post, but someone has persuaded me to blog about myself today, so you can blame him.

I went to the physiotherapist this morning. A second visit. 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. I mentioned it in a blog last month.

I blame comic Arthur Smith.

It was during his night-time tour of the Royal Mile and it was at about one o’clock in the morning. I tripped over a kerb amid a crowd of people and fell flat forwards without putting my hands out. I guess I fell on my shoulder.

The problem goes back to when I was hit by a large truck while standing on a pavement in Borehamwood in 1991. The corner/edge of the large container behind the cab of the truck went into my left shoulder, pulverising (apparently that’s medical speak for turning-to-powder) my collar bone in two places. I was thrown backwards, twisting, and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a little brick wall maybe six or eight inches high. The base of my spine twisted slightly, but I did not know that until a few years later.

I was kept in hospital for about a week.

Because of my head injury, I was in theory under the supervision of the ‘head injuries’ department (they kept me in to see if I had any brain damage) but, because of my broken shoulder, I was kept in the broken bones ward.

Each morning, the Consultant in the broken bones ward would do his ‘rounds’ with his students and chat to the patient in each bed – except me. One day, I heard him explain to his students that “Mr Fleming” was under the care of the ‘head injures’ department (not his words) so I was not his patient.

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

X-ray of broken shoulder at the time – pulverised, they said

No-one came to see me from the ‘head injuries’ department because I was in the bones ward. The bones ward had very attentive nurses but I was not seen by any doctors there. Until, after a week, late one afternoon, a very exhausted-looking younger doctor came and saw me. He was from the ‘head’ department, asked me how I was and told the ‘bones’ ward they could discharge me.

Apparently, I later learned, I should have had physiotherapy for a few weeks or months after my release but (possibly because I fell between the responsibilities of two departments and was a ‘head’ not a ‘bone’ injury case), I never did. I never heard from the hospital again.

At home, in bed at night, to stop myself rolling over onto my broken shoulder, I would lie with my left arm out at right-angles to my torso and, eventually, the broken bones re-merged themselves. Someone told me this had been the wrong thing for me to do because, instead of mending naturally, the left shoulder – stuck out at right angles to the body for eight hours of sleep – foreshortened the mend slightly and the two parts of the broken bone merged one-on-top-of-the-other instead of in a straight line. And messed-up the muscles in the shoulder.

But who knows if that is true?

It was just ‘someone’.

I did seem to have the results of concussion for about nine months: I kept thinking I was better and was not. I would come home and stare at the wall, unable to construct thoughts in my brain nor to read. It was as if my brain de-focussed after about two lines of a newspaper column. I still cannot read books (though, oddly, I can write them).

After (I think it was) about a year, my shoulder still gave me pain for about two-thirds of my waking hours. It was as if someone were sticking the point of a knife into me all he time. My GP doctor said it would be like that for the rest of my life and discussed what drugs I could take.

Miracle oil Wan Hua Oil

I don’t know what it is, but it worked in 1991

Instead, I went to a Chinese doctor – knowing that Chinese medicine is very slow because it tries to cure the cause not the symptoms. The Chinese doctor gave me Wan Hua oil to rub on and, within two weeks, the pain was gone.

The effect of the oil could not have been psychological, because it never entered my head there would be a fast result with Chinese medicine.

That was thirteen years ago.

If I put any prolonged weight on my left shoulder, it will still give me a bit of pain, so I avoid that. Most of the time there is absolutely no problem. But, since I fell on the cobbles of Edinburgh in August, there is some pain when I put on or take off a jacket or a pullover: presumably it is just a muscular pain as I put my arm through an unusually odd angle.

The physiotherapist this morning told me that there was nothing really wrong with the shoulder broken in 1991: the bones would have mended. Logically, he is right. But I know there is a problem in my shoulder. And I know there is pain.

I have been given exercises to do.

Doctors know best, eh?

I have much worse pain in the heel and on the sole of my right foot, but the NHS physiotherapist is only allowed to look at one problem at a time, not two.

This blog’s valued reader Sandra Smith has suggested the heel problem may be Plantar Fasciitis. I think, from the symptoms, she is probably right. It may take a year to mend.

I have started rubbing on the Chinese oil again: on my shoulder and on my foot.

It seems to be difficult to get Wan Hua Oil in the UK, so I have asked comedian Chris Dangerfield for a decent Chinese pharmacy, preferably in Soho.

This may be a mistake on my part.

But he knows about such things.

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Getting drunk at the Edinburgh Fringe and singing over a dead man’s body

The latest news (maybe) from Broadway Baby

The latest Fringe news (maybe) from Broadway Baby

My left shoulder is in middling agony if I move it. It is comedian Arthur Smith’s fault. More about that later.

This morning, I booked the Ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 28th August next year from 11.00pm to 1.00am… for the increasingly prestigious annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. Next year is the tenth anniversary of the death by drowning of Malcolm, the godfather of British Alternative Comedy.

He was known, among many things, for his outrageous publicity stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday in Edinburgh, it was good to see a special Broadway Baby review sheet about Fringe award winners.

Notable was Barry Ferns, who was listed on the front and who got a 6-star front page review for his show The Barry Experience. There was also a large photo of Barry on the back of the sheet, standing atop Arthur’s Seat. Also on the back sheet were reviews of sundry Fringe shows including:

  • Erection
  • Oxford English Dictionary: 2014 Edition
  • Laserdroids of Bangkok
  • The Elephant Nan
  • Rosencrantz & Guildenstern in Bed

You should be aware that, last year, Barry won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for a series of stunts including producing and distributing fake versions of Broadway Baby.

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

At The Grouchy Club, I was an innocent bystander to sex talk

Yesterday, the final Saturday of the Fringe, had a varied collection of other very interesting highlights including the penultimate Grouchy Club show at which my co-host Kate Copstick described to a Tesco Clubcard executive and his credit agency partner how she taught the sex workers of Nairobi about ‘soapy tit wanks’ and the use of fizzy drinks in penile erection plus she had tales of wild orgies in Radlett, Hertfordshire (the next village to where I live in Borehamwood/Elstree). Alas, the descriptions are too vivid for me to transcribe without breaking into tears and uncontrollable twitching.

This was followed by me being part of an alleged audience who were going to repeatedly sing the words “Neil Young” in a raucous way for a forthcoming music album. Alas, it never happened and, instead, Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt nominee Mark Dean Quinn appeared performing a one-hour act (possibly inspired by Andy Kaufman) in which he said very little but stared a lot at the audience.

Mark Dean Quinn - the Kaufman of ballooning

Mark Dean Quinn – arguably the Andy Kaufman of ballooning

It also involved (apparently by osmosis) the audience blowing up balloons to create male-genitalia-like hats. This went well until one young man was encouraged by his chum to get up out of his seat and immediately fell unconscious in a faint onto the floor.

He was tall, thin, pale-skinned and ginger haired. He had been previously blowing up a balloon but, at the time of his fall, was not. He was revived and Mark Dean Quinn quickly retrieved the balloons from his audience and changed the direction of his show.

If you can call it a show. It depends on your definition.

I certainly enjoyed it.

At any rate, all the donations received at the end of the show are now going to be given to an asthma charity.

It was a day of falling-downs and medical problems.

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin

Wilfredo comforts injured Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her with a rose

Later, I met up with the still physically and possibly mentally damaged Kate Copstick.

She had a hip replacement a couple of months ago (uninsured) after she fell off the platform on which her slum house stands in Kenya – and broke her elbow about a week ago after being accidentally bowled over by a couple of drunk gents in an Edinburgh street. She is still wearing a sling and goes “Ouch!” on a distractingly regular basis.

She blames the physical damage from both the Kenyan fall which smashed her hip and the Edinburgh fall which smashed her elbow on her being stone-cold sober. She reckons, if she had been drunk, she would have fallen in a more floppy, less damaging way.

Wilfredo handed out roses to his last fans last night

Wilfredo handed out roses last night

She and I were both in the basement of the Tron pub last night to see comic music act Wilfredo record his next album. References to Copstick seemed to pepper the show, the audience (heavily made-up of comics) adored the great man himself and I felt lucky to escape without Wilfredo’s spittle speckling me.

Afterwards, Wilfredo’s godfather Matt Roper told me: “I have to hear it back before I decide whether it will be released as an album. If it works, we’ll get it out by November.”

Which brings us to me lying face-down in the Royal Mile at about 2.30am this morning.

Arthur Smith was doing his annual free Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile last night from 2.00am which I guess attracted 50-80 people. That is a lot when you are one crowded bundle of people rolling down the Royal Mile following a man with surreality on his mind.

Arthur (left) and the stripped man in a waste bin

Arthur (left) & the stripped man in a waste bin in Royal Mile

There was a lack of the total nudity and urination which characterised his event in the later years of last century, but it still involved various pranks such as Arthur’s partner Beth doing the splits, Wally (as in Where’s Wally?) being chased out of his hiding place and legging it off up the Royal Mile, a man being persuaded to climb into a rubbish bin wearing only his pants, the assembled throng singing Jerusalem with obscene lyrics to bemused customers at a pizza stand, constant verbal attacks on the integrity of a local French restaurant and singing a song involving the word ‘cunt’ over the body of an apparently dead man on the pavement.

Arthur Smith encouraged singing over ‘dead’ man in Royal Mile

Arthur Smith led the singing over a ‘dead’ man in Royal Mile

At one point, shortly after singing the song involving the word ‘cunt’ over an apparently dead man lying on the pavement (one of Arthur’s many pre-arranged stunts),  I tripped and fell flat on my front on the pavement (no arms out, just a straight fall onto my front). People just ignored this for a brief moment and looked at me, presumably thinking it was another stunt. But then I was helped up. This getting-up worried me slightly because, as I went down, a shooting pain similar to cramp had shot up my left leg. Fortunately, though, I was OK.

Until this morning, when I found I had searing, shooting pain if I tried to move my left shoulder. The shoulder which never mended properly after being smashed when I got hit by a truck in 1991.

There is nothing broken, as far as I know. Presumably it is just bruised muscle.

But it makes me think Copstick has a point.

I was sober when I fell.

I do not drink, really, except at funerals and marriages, when it would seem rude not to.

If you are drunk, falling is less dangerous.

I think perhaps I should start to drink.

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Namedropping in Soho: How I got no blog from Arthur Smith & Barry Cryer

The Big Four’s Edinburgh Fringe 2014 brochure, as launched

Big Four’s Edinburgh Fringe brochure had a very noisy launch

I went to the launch of the Big Four venues’ Edinburgh Fringe brochure last night. It was held downstairs at the Soho Theatre in London.

Amid the noise and sweat, I bumped into comedian Arthur Smith.

He claimed (you can never be too sure with Arthur) that he had bumped into Gilded Balloon venue owner Karen Koren just a few minutes before and she had asked him to go on stage and introduce the launch, but he was a bit vague about what was actually being launched.

“I don’t want to be over-prepared,” Arthur told me, “so, even though I appear to be going on stage to introduce this event we’re at – whatever it is – I don’t know where I’m performing at the Fringe or when – but I do know I AM on.”

In fact, he is performing for ten days (15h-24th August) at the Pleasance Courtyard.

“I must arrange to do a blog with you,” I said. “I have a blog-jam at the moment. Too many blogs recorded and not yet posted. But you’re worth it.”

“I’m going upstairs to have a fag,” he said. (Note to US readers: a fag = a cigarette)

This seemed like a good idea at the time. Go and stand outside the Soho Theatre and talk to Arthur Smith briefly while he smokes a cigarette. He has a quick fag. I get a quick blog. Arthur is always quotable.

“What are you doing at the Fringe?” I asked.

Old grey eyes is back at the Fringe

“Have there been lawyers’ letters?” – “A number of them.”

“I’m reprising my Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen, Volume 2 show from last year,” said Arthur. “Which is a bit lazy in a way: I’ve never done that before. On the other hand,  I enjoyed doing it.”

“Did Leonard Cohen enjoy you doing it?” I asked.

“I can’t say too much about that,” said Arthur. “You’ll have to come to the show. I’m sorry, I can’t comment further on this.”

“Have there been lawyers’ letters?”

“A number of them.”

“Really?”

“No. Well, I have had a letter from a lawyer, but he’s a friend of mine. He sent me a birthday card.”

“So, what are you doing at the moment?”

“I’ve just come back from four days rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate. And I’m doing a bit of a tour here and there. I’m around the country doing a one-man show, I’m reprising Leonard Cohen and I’m re-training as a carpenter.”

AAAHHHH! I thought. Here is a jolly light-hearted blog about Arthur Smith rambling around the countryside with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.

But it was not to be.

At this point, comedy promoter Hils Jago of Amused Moose walked up, heading towards the launch.

The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. People he knows will pass by.

“Come and be in John’s blog,” offered Arthur.

“I’m fine,” said Hils Jago. “I’m quite happy being out of John’s blog.”

“I am thinking of getting people to pay me not to be in it,” I said.

“I’ll give you £5 if it can just last another two minutes,” said Arthur. “I’ve finished me fag.”

“Already?” I asked.

“I only ever smoke half.”

The throbbing downstairs launch at Soho Theatre yesterday

Sweaty downstairs launch – London’s Soho Theatre yesterday

Then comedy writer Barry Cryer walked up. He had escaped from the throng downstairs, possibly to get some air.

“It’s John’s blog,” explained Arthur.

“My increasingly prestigious blog,” I corrected him.

“It’s John’s increasingly prestigious blog,” said Arthur without much enthusiasm, “Barry, I want to ask you a bit about this launch do. They’ve asked me to say something.”

“I don’t know what the score is,” said Barry. “All I know is the volume downstairs  is already astonishing.”

“It’s the Big Four,” explained Hils.

“The Free Fringe?” Arthur said, feigning ignorance.

“Well, there are now four free fringes,” I said innocently. “The Free Fringe, the Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Pay-What-You-Want and the Freestival.”

“I’m going to start one up with Barry Cryer,” said Arthur. “The Old Men in The Meadows free show, every afternoon.”

“We could do an operatic one,” suggested Barry. “The Free Faustival.”

At this point, comedy actress Sally Phillips walked up on her way to a meeting.

When Barry met Arthur met Sally yesterday in Soho

When Barry met Sally with Arthur Smith yesterday in Soho

To repeat. The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. 

Arthur and Sally chatted.

“Are you doing the Gilded Balloon again this year?” I asked Barry.

“Yes,” he said. “Been doing that for eleven years, but Ronnie Golden and I are going up together separately this year. So I‘m performing with Colin Sell from the radio show. We’re going to have a piano on the stage (at the Gilded Balloon).”

“A grand?”

“No, an upright. A concert grand would take up the whole of the stage in the Wine Bar.”

“Are you going to be tinkling the ivories yourself?”

“No, no. I can just about sing, but…”

Barry then told me a story from which I will extract the comedian’s name, in case it is misunderstood.

Barry Cryer, comedy storyteller, yesterday

Barry yesterday revealed he has not met two Popes

“(Name of comedian),” said Barry, “who I was with the other day – one of my oldest friends – Two friends of his came to see me do a gig with Ronnie Golden and told (name of comedian): We didn’t know Barry could sing! And (name of comedian) said Of course he can. He used to be black!

I laughed.

“I must tell Brian that,” Barry mused.

Is Lewis Schaffer here?” I thought.

“Sally – Barry,” Arthur interrupted. “Barry. Do you know Sally?”

“I know and respect her,” said Barry.

“There’s no-one,” said Arthur, “that Barry hasn’t met…”

“With the exception of two Popes,” said Barry.

“Which two?” asked Arthur. “Oh yeah, Constantine and…”

“I want to ask Sally what she thinks,” said Barry. “There’s a spirited debate downstairs. Do you like women being described as actors rather than actresses?”

“I don’t care,” said Sally. “It just seems a bit pointless.”

Maureen Lipman and I had a real up-and-down argument,” explained Barry. “She said Of course we’re actors! and I said You do the same job in the same way, but do you call a waitress a waiter?

“Yeah,” said Arthur, “but you don’t call a traffic warden a traffic wardeness.”

After my Edinburgh Fringe chat show in 2013, Arthur Smith left Edinburgh (Photo by  Brian Higgins)

Immediately after my chat show in 2013, Arthur fled Edinburgh a broken man (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Are comedy women comediennes?” I asked. “Janey Godley calls herself a comedienne and she’s from Glasgow, so it’s not an affectation.”

“I try to avoid…” started Sally.

“I’m with Maureen,” muttered Arthur.

“We did a Comic Relief together years ago…” said Barry.

“Yes,” said Sally.

“…with Mel Smith,” continued Barry. “We were supposed to be comedy writers sitting round a table. You were there and he was supposed to be the producer of EastEnders and we had no lines. He just kept looking at us going Ideas! Ideas! Ideas! It was a running gag. So we had to get someone to keep us going through the afternoon. So Danny Baker was there…”

“Barry,” said Arthur, “Sally’s come to meet someone…”

“It’s like Tourette’s with me,” said Barry. “So I got the mobile out. I said I”ve gotta leave. I’m doing the warm-up for Eminem tonight. So that became the running gag. Baz has to leave. He’s doing the warm-up for Eminem. Mel said: Baz, what do you do before Eminem comes on? And Danny Baker said (in a posh English accent) Are there any motherfuckers here from Northampton?

Arthur said: “Poor Sally’s just…”

And, at that point, the merry throng broke up.

I lament the loss of a blog about Arthur Smith rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.

And – Did I mention? – The moral is Never stand outside Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. 

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Reactions to Phil Klein’s comments that comedians have no honesty or integrity

Phil Klein in Leicester Square in May 2012

Phil Klein in Leicester Square in May 2012

In my blog yesterday, I quoted comedian Phil Klein saying, among other things, that “the world of comedy is fucking boring… you pretend you’re mates with other comedians, when the truth is you are trying to get one over each other all the time and you want them to fuck up and die on their arse so that you can feel better about yourselves… most of the people in comedy have no honesty or integrity at all… and that is why I want nothing to do with it, after I finish the three remaining gigs I have left.”

There was some reaction to this…

Someone called ‘Mike’ commented on my blog: “This reads like a guy reacting to a beautiful woman spurning his advances. I didn’t want that ugly bitch anyway!

Phil Klein also referred to a May 2005 review of his act by the Chortle comedy website.

In a Facebook posting, Darren Richman advised Phil: “8 years after the review? Jeez, time to move on.”

In another Facebook comment, influential writer Dave Cohen, wrote: “What I don’t understand about this guy is that he displays self-delusion, insecurity, paranoia and bitterness – the classic skills required to be a successful stand-up. Give it another go mate, you’re 80% of the way there.”

Comedian Jeff Mirza Facebooked: “This guy’s is a schmuck. The pain I’ve suffered to be in this business, the racism of the early days, the poisonous reviewers, the self hating members of the ‘community’ who said no, the timewasters, the ‘promoters’ who gave me rubber cheques… It’s only the public, the audiences with their laughter and smiles that have kept me going. Don’t go in the business if you don’t love yourself (a bit) or what you do.”

Anonymous ‘John in Cheshire’ commented: “I tend to be in agreement with Mr Klein’s sentiments, only to add that the BBC is guilty of promoting third-rate comedians as though they are doing something useful for the rest of us. The key to being a comedian in the UK at the moment appears to be: make a friend with perhaps Arthur Smith, demonstrate your socialism in your routines, be snide and vindictive towards normal non-socialists and suck up to Muslims and immigrants in general. The fact that they have no originality or inherent truth in their routines is neither here nor there, that can be fixed with canned laughter.”

James Cook suggested to Phil: “You’ll find all these problems go away the funnier you get.”

Albion Gray, son of late ‘Alberts’ performer Tony Gray wrote of Phil’s original comments: “I agree with him!”

And someone whom I know but who prefers to remain anonymous e-mailed me: “I experienced a bit of this when I overheard some of the comedians at (he named a well-known London venue) standing in the little cove next to the stage. (A named comedian) slow-clapped a first-timer. He was a big lump with long, greasy hair and a shoulder bag. I can’t remember what his act was – a bit of Michael Redmond weirdness mixed with Spudgun from the program Bottom. But (the named comedian) – the ‘banner name’ for the evening – slow-clapped him off when the audience’s response went from 3 to 0. (The named comedian) was next and he leased the crowd; he took ownership as all the best comedians do. It seemed like bad sportmanship to do that to the sad sack who was before him though.”

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