Tag Archives: asperger’s

Why Britain’s Got Talent finalist Robert White has such wide appeal

 In a blog here at the end of April, musical comedian and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Robert White explained why he had entered Britain’s Got Talent this year.

After winning most public votes from viewers in his semi-final appearance, he is now through to the live Sunday night final tomorrow on ITV1.

It seemed the right time to ask him why he seems to have such a wide appeal.

So I asked him…

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JOHN: After your song on the semi-final, your mother now definitely knows you are gay.

ROBERT: Yes and gay comedians have been my idols since I was young. There’s a sort of gay sense of humour you have if you’re camp or an outsider. I know Britain’s Got Talent has a massive gay following, a massive musical theatre following.

My song had a particular gay slant to it. We all have a particular relationship with our parents and I think it was maybe a song that other gay people found an empathy with.

JOHN: You said you had gay idols. For example…?

ROBERT: One of the people I looked up to and look up to is a guy called Mark Bunyan, who I think was the first openly gay performer at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you listen to the sort of songs he did then, they are about the same sort of level – or tamer – than the stuff I’ve done on Britain’s Got Talent.

JOHN: You write songs with intricate lyrics. But you are dyslexic. That must be a bit of a problem.

ROBERT: Well, since I was a kid, it has been easier to make stuff up than to read it. I can read and write music and lyrics but, by the time you’ve sat down and got the end of the line, you could have played most of it by ear anyway.

JOHN: Any creative genes in your family?

ROBERT: My granddad – Samuel Thomas – was from Wales and he was a massive part of my life. A lot of my comedy comes from him. He was from Bleinavon – he was eccentric and intelligent; he was self-taught; he was told he could have been a teacher but he wanted to go and spend time down the pits with his brothers. His father was a band leader and he himself played the euphonium and the cornet. All my music comes from him. He was this crazy, eccentric musical genius: a brilliant man.

I’m regularly in Neath: there’s a lovely comedy festival there. I do gigs in Cardiff, Aberystwyth, all over.

One thing I remember about doing my first gig in Wales was when I first got heckled. The words were nasty, but the accent itself just reminded me of my granddad. So I sort-of can’t be effectively heckled in Wales because it just reminds me of this lovely Welsh voice that used to tell me stories when I was a child.

JOHN: But now you’re a Londoner…

ROBERT: Well, I have adopted London. At the moment, I live in Mile End, but I’ve lived all over London – Brixton, Kilburn, Willesden Green, North, South, East, West. London has done for me what it has done for a lot of people. It has made me who I am. I was born in Sussex – born in Crawley, brought up in Horsham – but made in London..

I had a police escort when I was born. My dad was on his way to Crawley Hospital with my pregnant mother, could not find the entrance, stopped by the side of the road, was spotted by a policeman and I got a police escort to the hospital.

JOHN: That sounds a suitably bizarre entrance to the world for a gay, dyslexic, Aspergic, quarter-Welsh, web-toed performer.

ROBERT: Things which used to be classed as disabilities are now accepted and I think that’s very positive.

500-1,000 years ago, people who were left-handed were being called witches and branded as outcasts.

20 years ago, I was allowed to be dyslexic at primary school, but I was not allowed to be dyslexic at secondary school because they did not have the funding for it.

Now these things are accepted. By highlighting them, what I would like to do is make them be seen as normal. They are not exceptional; they are just different.

JOHN: Which brings us to the fact you have web toes…

ROBERT: When people ask me about my web toes, I try to ‘duck’ the question. My nan had webbed toes as well. Quite a lot of people have it. Anne Boleyn had a sixth finger and it may or may not have been webbed.

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Filed under autism, Comedy, dyslexia, Gay, Music, Talent, Wales

Pioneer Approaches to people with learning disabilities and differences

Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour generic

Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour runs 2 hours

I went to see the monthly feel-good show Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour last night. Also in the audience was Ali Jones, who runs Pioneer Approaches which arranges “creative training, consultancy, workshops, projects and activities”. Their blurb says: “We offer specialist and innovative creative support with an emphasis on music and drama in leisure, personal development, life skills and employment.”

A few weeks ago, I went to a fascinating Asperger’s day in Stevenage, organised by Ali and Pioneer Approaches.

“Who is involved in your company?” I asked her. “The word ‘disabled’ is not right?”

The Stevenage Asperger’s show

The Stevenage Asperger’s Syndrome  event I saw

“We say we work with and for people with learning disabilities and/or differences. A lot of what I do is working with people who have autism. You can have autism AND a learning disability. The people with more complex autism tend to have a learning disability as well, but the autism is what will alter the way they perceive situations or they might have sensory differences associated with it.”

“Did you,” I asked, “get involved in this sort of area because you knew someone with problems?”

“I’ve had friends in the past – autism, Down’s Syndrome.”

“It’s very arts-based,” I said. “Were your parents arty?”

Ali Jones with Johnny Awsum after the Happy Hour show

Ali Jones with Jonny Awsum after the Happy Hour show

“No. My mum came from a very well-to-do Swiss family and my dad was the opposite.

“He was a mechanic, left school far too young.

‘And then he became very seriously disabled with multiple sclerosis – the progressive form of it. It’s not a death sentence but, for him, it was a VERY extreme form. I was in my early teens when it happened.

“I went to Dr Challoner’s High School for Girls in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, but I didn’t fit in. I didn’t work hard. They were terribly posh, all girls. I had a few friends there, but never many at all. I don’t think an all-girls school was right for me. I maybe tended to not fit in so well, so I tended to have a lot of so-called outsider friends. I was probably one myself.”

“Why?” I asked. “You’re very sociable.”

pioneerApproaches“I am quite sociable,” Ali agreed, “but I think maybe my family were a bit different. They were very private and a little bit old-fashioned. We would always look a bit like we’d come from another era. I’ve always been used to being a bit different. I got used to looking out for people and caring for them.”

“You lived in Mexico for a while.” I said. “Why? Was it the mescaline?”

“We did get offered peyote,” said Ali, “and nearly took it up but it didn’t come about. It’s good to say yes to interesting experiences.”

Ali met her musician husband Carlton when she was 14 and he was 16. They have been together ever since.

“My husband was like me,” she said. “A bit of a waster at school. He’d gone to the Royal Grammar and all his friends had done really well but he went to night school and became… He’s fluent in Spanish and he thought: Why not do Latin American Studies?

“Why Mexico, though?” I asked. “It’s hot food, hot climate and diarrhea.”

“There was a bit of all of those,” agreed Ali. “But we love Mexican food and loved living there. If it hadn’t been for family, I’d still be out there. But my dad was alive and disabled and needing me at that time. I speak Spanish but I’m much better at Mexican Spanish because it’s all slow and lazy.”

Lazy is not a word I associate with Ali Jones

Lazy is not a word I associate with Ali Jones

“Lazy is not a word I associate with you,” I said. “You have this very taxing, busy job with Pioneer Approaches and you also sing in two bands.”

“Yes,’ said Ali. “A singer/songwriter.”

“That,” I suggested, “must have been what you wanted to be when you were a teenager?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “Always. I have always wanted to do it. I was in a band when I was 14 – I was a punk rocker. I was 13 when I started getting into all of that. I left school at 16, moved to London, got a job.”

“You were,” I asked, “headstrong and decided not to go to university?”

“I benefitted from the life of all my friends who were at university. I joined them all at UCL and Cambridge and so on. I had all the fun without the work. And I did a lot of musicy-type things, but nothing that ever took off. Some of my friends have done a lot better than I had, but I’ve always been involved in music in one way or the other. And I’ve since done all sorts of training. I’m a qualified Tutor of Further and Adult Education.”

“Hardly lazy,” I said. “Two bands are a bit over-the-top with your full-time work as well.”

“I’ve always been over-the-top, unfortunately,” said Ali.

‘What sort of bands?” I asked.

The Wood Festival 2015

The Wood Festival 2015 in Oxfordshire

“I suppose the new one was based originally on Bluesy-Americana-type music. It was two bands who got together just for fun and now we’re going to be doing something at the Wood Festival in Oxford next Friday (15th May). One of the members of our band, who runs an organic fruit and veg delivery service, will be running workshops on how to make carrot flutes.

“There are three singers in the band, which is interesting for me. We take it in turns to lead and back one another.”

“You said it started off Bluesy, as if it has diverged since.”

“It still has that Bluesy side to it. I think maybe the stuff I write has a more funky Bluesy, even Gospelly, feel to it for that band. And then the songs that the others are writing are maybe more Country/Bluegrass. It’s acoustic, but we don’t have a drummer. We need someone who can do meaty rock ’n’ roll but who also has a bit of swing as well.”

“What’s the name of the band?”

“Ah. We only got together about seven weeks ago. Our band was originally called The Ragged Charms and theirs was called The Goldmine. We thought of calling the new band The Golden Shower, but there’s bound to be one called that already. We even thought of The Devil’s Doorbells, but apparently there’s already a band called that.”

“Devil’s Doorbell?” I asked.

Oxford Pride

Oxford Pride visit for Deadbeat Apostles

“It’s a euphemism for female parts. We eventually chose The Deadbeat Apostles as a name. As well as the Wood Festival next Friday, we are also going to be playing at Oxford Pride on 6th June.”

“And Pioneer Approaches is involved in a festival too,” I said.

“Yes,” said Ali. “In St Albans on 21st June. Our section is going to be called Go To but it’s part of a bigger St Albans Festival, tying in with Disability Week.

“And, every year since 2011, we have been putting on a special awards show called The Rumble Awards, named after Keith Rumble, who was a member of our drama group The Pioneer Spirits – a group who all have learning disabilities/differences. He died. He had all sorts of health problems and syndromes. He had been presented with quite a lot of challenges in his life and had complex disabilities. Over the years, once he got the right sort of support from some lovely people, he flourished and made us all laugh. He was good fun.

“To celebrate him, before the Awards came along, we put together our own band The Rumbles and decided to be complimentary therapists – not complementary but complimentary, in that we pay people compliments and we go around trying to cheer people up. We’ve got a range of songs: a ska-based one, a Bo Diddley style one, a Fats Domino type one.

“The message that we’re trying to push is that people with learning disabilities generally are very open, very loving, non-judgmental and quick to get to the point about good things. They don’t get bogged-down in all the strange agendas other so-called normal people might have.

The Rumble Awards were started in 2011

The Rumble Awards are on July 16th in Hemel Hempstead…

“And from that, Paul – one of our members with autism – said: Let’s put together an awards show and call it The Rumble Awards. It was a great idea. I don’t think there’s anything in the country like it – where the awards go to people with learning disabilities.

“The aim of the whole Rumble project is trying to find a meeting point that is not all about people saying: Oh, bless these little dears! Aren’t we doing good for them! or Ooh! that all looks a bit scary! It’s trying to find that place where we actually do all have respect and a laugh together.

We always write a song every year for The Rumble Awards. This year, we’ve got this lovely bloke from Herts Drum Circle – Abdul Conteh – he’s an African drummer but it’s djembe drumming and we have this big Africany-based song

“Everyone wants to do something that has some kind of worth to it – though, if you’re not careful, you can take over in a controlling way or in an over-caring form. People can feel good about themselves for doing ‘unto’ somebody else and I’m sure there’s something of that in me. It does feel nice. But I also feel I am sort of my ‘better self’ when I’m with the people I’m with. I’m less self-conscious, have less of all the other sort of baggage people carry around. It goes to the side and I just enjoy the company of the people I hang out with.”

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Let me tell you an Ashley Storrie…

Ashley Storriw

Ashley Storrie wrote Conundrums My Dad Says

Ashley Storrie has a sitcom pilot Conundrums My Dad Says transmitted on BBC Radio Scotland at lunchtime tomorrow.

She has a bit of previous.

She got her first acting part at the age of three as ‘the wee girl in the metal tea urn’ in the movie Alabama.

At five, she was playing the lead child in a TV ad for Fairy Liquid soap powder – directed by Ken Loach.

By 1996, aged ten, she was cast in the lead role of the independent film Wednesday’s Child, which screened in the British pavilion at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

She was a stand-up comedian from the age of 11 to 14. She performed her first ever stand up comedy routine at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Glasgow and went on to perform stand-up in London supporting the likes of Omid Djalili and Donna McPhail

Ashley's Edinburgh Fringe show when she was 13

Ashley’s Edinburgh Fringe show, aged 13

In 1999, still only thirteen, she wrote, produced and performed her own show What Were You Doing When You Were 13? at the Edinburgh Fringe, becoming the youngest ever stand up in the history of the Festival. She was guest presenter on the Disney Channel that same year.

She was offered a chance to appear on the Jay Leno TV chat show in the US, but decided she preferred to go on a school trip to the Lake District.

Then she decided she did not want to do stand-up any more.

But, just under two years ago, she returned to stand-up and, just before that, started writing for radio and TV.

“Why,” I asked, “did you call the sitcom Conundrums My Dad Says?”

“Everything I ever write,” she explained, “has a hidden reference to William Shatner in it.”

Ashley considering William Shatner as a bra rack

On Facebook, Ashley considered using famed and admired actor Shatner as a bra rack

“William Shatner?” I asked. “Conundrums?”

“He had a show called Shit My Dad Says.”

“Ah!” I said.

“It’s not meant to be a blatant, shout-out William Shatner reference,” said Ashley.

“No other references to William Shatner in it?” I asked.

“No. It’s about a man and his son and the dad has got Asperger’s. It’s about their relationship and his relationship with other people.”

“Your dad,” I said, “has got Asperger’s.”

“Yes.”

“How did the pilot happen?” I asked.

“The BBC had a commissioning round,” said Ashley. “I put in two pitches and I tried to make one of them tick every box I thought they wanted. I knew the demographic for Radio Scotland was mainly older men, so I wrote a comedy about fishermen, about a small fishing village in Scotland and a woman turns up to take over a boat and, you know, they don’t believe women should be on boats because it’s bad luck. So I submitted that, but I also had this thing I had kind of worked on when I was younger – I probably wrote the original treatment about six years ago – it was about a man with Asperger’s. And that was the one they picked. No-one really liked the proposal about fishermen, apart from me.”

“Why did you write about fishermen?” I asked.

“I really like programmes about fishermen. I watch a lot of Deadliest Catch and Wicked Tuna.”

Fishermen with oilskin jacket (left) and high trousers (right).

Fishermen with oilskin jacket (left) and high trousers (right).

“Didn’t you get the hots at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago,” I asked, “for some group of young men dressed as fishermen, roaming round the streets singing sea shanties?”

“That was in Adelaide,” said Ashley.

“Wasn’t it Edinburgh?”

“They might have been in Edinburgh as well… Bound. They were called Bound. There was a woman with a squint eye who really liked them and she kept going: I looov Bound! Me and Bound have been owt! She didn’t refer to them individually; they were just Bound.”

“But,” I said, “Conundrums My Dad Says is not about fishermen but about a father with Asperger’s Syndrome.”

“The whole point,” said Ashley, “is that the father is the one with a syndrome but he is probably the most normal person in his circle, even though he’s the one with autism. He sees the world more clearly and that’s important to me and I think it’s important especially in this day and age where so many people – because Asperger’s is such a ‘new’ thing – so many people who for years thought they were strange or socially abnormal or couldn’t make friends – they’re all just autistic.”

The cast of Conundrums My Dad Says (Ashley 3rd from left)

The cast of Conundrums My Dad Says (Ashley 3rd from left)

“You’re in it but not in a major role,” I said.

“I’m in a supporting role.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I wrote it about a man and his son. I thought it would be more interesting to see the dynamics between a man and his son rather than a man and his daughter. I think that would have been a completely different story.”

“Would that have been too autobiographical?” I asked.

“A wee bit. I didn’t want it to be This Is Your Life in a radio show. When I handed in the first draft, that was questioned a lot.”

“That you had not done it as a man and his daughter?”

“Yes. I genuinely just thought the dynamics between two men would be funnier. As a female, there is a certain amount of… especially on screen and in the media… women are always more understanding and have a little bit more compassion… and it’s harder. When you see women on TV and in films who are less compassionate and colder, they’re less well-received. I wanted there to be that friction of somebody not quite being able to deal with their dad and I think that comes better off a man. I just think it’s funnier. Especially as that man is his role model.”

“So,” I said, “it’s more of a comedy drama than a traditional sitcom which is there simply for the laughs.”

“It is not gag-gag-gag,” said Ashley, “but I don’t think it could be. I don’t think you would do Asperger’s any service by just being gag-gag-gag. It’s warm and its loving and it’s funny. It’s not dark. It’s the least dark thing I’ve ever written.”

“If it were a traditional sitcom,” I suggested, “you would be laughing at them rather than with them.”

“Yes,” said Ashley. “And this is more subtle. I want people to feel warm. You remember old sitcoms? They had a warmth to them, especially in British sitcoms. They weren’t like The Big Bang Theory which is joke-joke-joke. I wanted that warmth to be evident in mine. A lot of people have Asperger’s and it should be discussed and it should be accepted. We should be able to laugh about it. But not at it.”

“Have you 15 other sitcom ideas lined up?” I asked.

Janey Godley Ashley Storrie

Ashley Storrie with her mother, comedienne Janey Godley

“I’m always jotting shite down and telling mum, then watching her stare blankly at me as I tell her my idea of a sitcom set in space or for a drama about people who make clothes for animals.”

“Is that a real one?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to have your own solo show at the Fringe next year?”

“Yeah.”

“On the Free Festival?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have a title for the show yet?”

“Well, it’s easy with my name. I’m spoiled for choice. I could have Never Ending Storrie…or The Storrie of My Life Featuring One Direction.”

“You own a toy action figure of William Shatner,” I said.

“I do.”

The Storrie of William Shatner?” I suggested.

“No,” said Ashley.

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MALCOLM HARDEE AWARDS 2010 – shortlist announced at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

After an ‘interesting’ discussion** this morning, the shortlist for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards has been announced. The Awards are being presented until the year 2017 in memory of the late “godfather of British alternative comedy”.

The Malcolm Hardee Award winners will be announced around midnight on Friday 27th August during the nightly Shaggers show at the Three Sisters in Cowgate, Edinburgh as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.
Today, the shortlist for the three awards was announced as:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

Dr BROWN is an act where ‘surreal’ does not quite do justice to what is or is not happening on stage – “Uncomfortable weirdness” was one attempt to categorise it.

LEWIS SCHAFFER for turning round his act Into a highly improvised and totally unpredictable event… and for being able to literally take his show Free Until Famous onto the streets.

BOB SLAYER for his continued services to anarchy in comedy, including his  gobsmackingly anarchic Punk Rock Chat Show (which usually has nothing to do with punk, rock or chat)

ROBERT WHITE for his enthusiastic unconventionality and for being (in his own words) “the only gay, Aspergers, quarter Welsh, webbed-toed dyslexic pianist debuting this Fringe”

THE MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

(for best Fringe publicity stunt)

STEWART LEE who, while complaining about the former Perrier Award incidentally, almost accidentally promoted Japanese act the Frank Chickens who were not performing at this year’s Fringe. As a result, they actually did come up to Edinburgh to perform at the Fringe for the first time in 25 years – at a show promoting Stewart Lee’s new book. The fact that Stewart did not intend to unleash publicity does not negate his success.

MANOS THE GREEK for claiming he will donate 10% of the total earnings from his Free Fringe show to rescue the Greek economy and by pushing his luck in a Hardee-esque way by, one hour before we decided on the shortlist, having a photocall wearing a langolia (Greek kilt) atop Calton Hill in front of the Doric columns of the National Monument.

ARTHUR SMITH for declaring that he would pay £100 to any journalist attending his show who would juggle fish. When his bluff was called by critic Bruce Dessau, Arthur neglected to buy the required kippers, but he still got publicity out of a silly idea: a pre-requisite for getting a Cunning Stunt nomination.

THE MALCOLM HARDEE ‘ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID’ AWARD
(first time this new annual award has been made)

BO BURNHAM certainly one of the hottest young comedians on the Fringe for several years. Might already have made a million in the US, which might or might not disqualify him.

GREG DAVIES for his sense of the absurb. Known as the psychotic head of sixth form, Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners and the most out-of-shape member of We are Klang.
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Separate from the Awards, The Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview continues to screen daily at 1520 at the Newsroom venue in Leith Street (east end of Princes Street) until 28th August. The screening comprises a 32 minute documentary The Tunnel about Malcolm’s most notorious comedy club; and 17 minutes of clips from the currently-in-production 90-minute documentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.
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** The’interesting’ discussion resulted in the shortlist for the ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award’ reduced from four to two nominees.

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