Tag Archives: autism

Edinburgh Fringe 3 – a rail accident, Malcolm Hardee, #JusticeForObonjo

Some insights into the lives of three comedy performers at the Edinburgh Fringe…


(1) GERRY CARROLL is performing at the City Cafe, part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. He describes his show Crock or Gold as “the story of the first 66 years of my life told in jokes, clown numbers and songs.” He came up to Edinburgh from London on the Caledonian Sleeper. He tells me:


Gerry Carroll – famous for rolling not laughing stock

When the train arrived in Edinburgh, it passed quite fast through Haymarket station and Waverley station and then stopped in a tunnel. We waited for an hour, as train staff walked through the carriages saying that the train had lost power. 

Eventually, the train moved back to the platform and I got off.

I had Tweeted that I was on the Sleeper and a journalist from the BBC contacted me. 

The incident had potentially been much more serious. The train’s brakes had failed and it had to be stopped by an emergency brake. The journalist arranged to interview me on camera outside my venue, the City Cafe, and I told the story as I’ve written it here. Basically…

“What happened?” 

“Well, nothing much.” 

The piece was shown on the BBC Scottish News that night. 

Since then, I have been recognised twice in the street, once by a woman who asked to have a photo with me.

I am more famous for having been on a runaway train than for my show.


(2) BECKY FURY is performing her show One Hour to Save the World (in 55 Minutes) Upstairs at the Waverley Bar, as part of PBH’s Free Fringe. Her Diary (first part posted here 3 days ago) continues…


Becky Fury: she goes for the cute, autistic type

SATURDAY

My first show goes well. I tell an audience member he’s cute in that autistic way I like and add the caveat that he looks like he’s that far down the spectrum he might not be able to give consent. Legally. Or might need to get a signed letter from his carer giving permission if he wants to come home with me. 

After the show, I’m informed he’s someone important. Luckily he’s not so autistic or important that he doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate humour. I am also told afterwards that the Malcolm Hardee Awards are still running and the man I flirted with/insulted/diagnosed is involved.

I tell him, “They’re not,” and somehow agree to have Malcolm Hardee’s face tattooed on my arm if they are.

It seems I am being pranked by the Godfather of alternative comedy from beyond the grave as the next day I am anonymously messaged with a list of tattooists in Edinburgh.

SUNDAY

My hippy friend comes over for breakfast. He has brought me an offering of a chorizo sausage he found “dumpster diving”. I look at it, tell him I don’t eat meat and I especially don’t eat mouldy meat from the bin and I throw it away. 

He redeems himself after Chorizogate by unlocking some features on Photoshop so I can design a new flyer. 

I get engrossed in the design process and forget to flyer.

I end up performing to a small but lovely audience. Two of the girls are university students. They are studying journalism and have come to the show because they want to save the world. I ask them if they know what capitalism is. They say they have no idea.

It is great being able to tell an audience: “If you haven’t laughed, at least you’ve learnt… You need to get an analysis of capitalism.” 

Life goals achieved. 

Lovely kids but are they meant to be our future? Seriously? 

We are so fucked.

Fate is taking a big post-coital toke of her vape and lying back in a euphoric haze of fruit-flavoured carcinogens as I type.

I meet the Spirit of the Fringe again when I return to the flat where I’m staying.

He is sitting outside. 

He tells me he is called George and shakes my hand.


(3) Man of the moment Benjamin Bankole Bello aka President Obonjo, is performing his show Goodbye Mr President at the Voodoo Rooms on PBH’s Free Fringe. He writes:


Richard Blackwood, actor and playwright, meets Obonjo

Yesterday, was the best day ever so far at the Fringe and these are the reasons why:

A 4 star review for Goodbye Mr President. 

– Met Tim Vine, Tony Slattery, Stephen K Amos, Omid Djalili and so many top stakeholders in the comedy industry. Tim Vine knows about #JusticeForObonjo. So unreal chatting with Omid and Tim about the case. 

– A prominent comedy club in Edinburgh, that we have been trying to get into for years, finally offers spots whilst the President is in Edinburgh.

– Met Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP. Someone introduced me to him, saying: “I am happy to introduce two of my favourite politicians”. Tommy burst out laughing.

– Confirmation that #JusticeForObonjo is having a positive impact on sales for the Triple AAA compilation shows.

– Audience members shouting out “Justice for Obonjo!” at the end of show last night 

– Finally, finally, top agents in the country are interested.

#JusticeForObonjo !

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Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore – but still has views

Joe Wells is a political comedian. He has written for Have I Got News For You and performed as support act to Frankie Boyle and Alexei Sayle.

Joe Wells faces a bit of a career crisis…

His previous Edinburgh Fringe shows were Night of The Living Tories (2014), 10 Things I Hate About UKIP (2016) and I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative (2017).

But this August his show is entitled: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore!

So that’s a bit of a career crisis.

Between the ages of 8 and 15, he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He overcame it with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. When he was 15, he started writing about his experiences of OCD.

These writings went on to form the basis of his first book Touch and Go Joe.


JOHN: So… you have been doing previews of your new show before it hits Edinburgh…

JOE: Yes. In some of my previews, I’ve felt a bit self-conscious because, in part of the show, I am really quite earnest and I worry that is going to be a bit weird for the preview audiences. Though I know, in Edinburgh, they are going to be open to that. There is so much different stuff at the Edinburgh Fringe and people go there with such an open mind.

JOHN: Your show says what it’s about in the title: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore! Anything else?

JOE: One of the things I would like the show to be is a sort of defence of Comedy because, from all sides, it feels like it’s trendy to slag off Comedy. From the Left, people are saying Comedy is bullying and horrible. From the Right, they say Comedy has become too PC and comedians are just saying what people want to hear. 

I don’t think either of those things is true.

Comedy is great because it puts viewpoints in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear those viewpoints. That is what the Left should be striving for: getting people to hear from voices they don’t often hear.

But the Left has become quite insular: Let’s just talk amongst ourselves.

JOHN: Maybe Comedy audiences tend to be Left-leaning.

JOE: I want there to be Right Wing people in my audience so I can put forward my ideas of how I want the world to be. Why wouldn’t I want that?

French National Assembly: the original Left and Right Wingers

JOHN: There is this idea that defining politics as Left or Right is wrong. It’s just an accident of history – the way they sat in the French National Assembly. Thinking about Left and Right is misleading – it’s not a straight line: it’s a circle. If you take Left and Right to their extreme extremes, they both end up in the same place. A more sensible division might be Authoritarian and Libertarian.

JOE: But then, again, that becomes full circle. I want us to have a Welfare State; I want us to have… things which some people would see as Authoritarian. I think… yeah… I dunno. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The thing is comedians do not really know what they are talking about. I think that’s partly why I don’t want to do political stuff any more. I mean, I’m not a political theorist.

JOHN: But you do want to put your views out there, like all comedians… And all comedians are misfits. Different. If they were more like everyone else, then they wouldn’t be interesting to listen to. It’s because they can come up with a bizarre, unexpected angle – a different viewpoint on something. Michael McIntyre is arguably the most successful stand-up in Britain at the moment. And he is telling ordinary people about things they see every day – nothing new – but they haven’t seen those things from his viewpoint before.

JOE: I think he’s great, though I’m not queueing up to buy tickets. His routine about the bus stop is just a powerfully-written routine. Yes, to some extent, you have to be on the outside looking in.

JOHN: In a sense, if you do not have a character defect, maybe you cannot be a good comedian.

Joe Wells manages to fit into a bath…

JOE: I can’t think of many comedians who really properly ‘fit in’.

But, outside of comedy, I do know loads of people who I think do fit it. They know where they belong in things. Even though there are comedians who take their kids to school and lead a ‘normal’ life, they’re still a little bit… not so normal.

JOHN: Why did doing specifically political comedy attract you?

JOE: I talk about it in the show… I was an angry young man and a lot of that anger came from stuff that was not to do with politics. But at 18 or 19 I would go on protests – and shouting and being a political comedian and rallying against things was incredibly cathartic.

I am still a big Leftie and there’s still lots of injustices and things I want to change, but I’ve realised that the reason I fitted so neatly into being an angry political comedian was because I got to feel OK about being angry.

When we talk about mental health, people say: It’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel this or that. But you rarely hear people say: It’s OK to feel really angry about things which aren’t anyone’s fault. I can feel angry about things that happened in the past and there’s rarely an individual I can blame for stuff that’s happened in the past. But I can still feel that anger. And it’s valid. It’s OK to feel really angry.

I have felt angry a lot of my life.

JOHN: Because…?

JOE: Well the show has a ‘reveal’ – about whether or not I am autistic. I was assessed for autism in February this year. The reveal is whether they said I am… or not.

“Why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?” (Photograph by Ed Moore)

I did have those traits and I was different. I could not make friends and I didn’t fit in. I thought: Why can’t I fit in here at school? I feel I’m nice and I feel I’m a kind person. So why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?

I think that informed a lot of my life growing up. I don’t have many male friends. Most of my good friends are women. I would go to parties and see all the men would talk together. They’ve got some jigsaw pieces where they fit together and it works. There was something that was not working with me.

I have always had a real chip on my shoulder about football. I hated football fans.

But then I realised what it is is that my dad used to take me to football and it was so noisy. I hated all that shouting and noise. I found it overwhelming and horrible and I felt angry with the people making that noise. And, in my head, I created a story about that – Football fans are horrible!

But now I know lots of people who are into football and that’s fine… It’s not football fans I hate – It’s that noise. But I felt the anger and had to come up with a reason for why I felt that anger.

People need a narrative around why they feel a certain way and, if there’s no narrative…

One of the things I talk about in the show is that, in Comedy, everyone has their say.

“They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat…” (Photograph by Hannah Reding via UnSplash)

There are problems with diversity in Comedy – of course there are – but, moreso than in any other industry or art form, there are people from COMPLETELY different backgrounds, COMPLETELY different world views, seeing things in COMPLETELY different ways.

I would argue that Comedy is more neurodiverse than any other…

JOHN: Neurodiverse? What does that mean?

JOE: People think differently. There’s a book NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. The basic idea is we have bio-diversity and different animals all play their role. You need all those animals. They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat – but they all co-exist and are necessary. Same with cultural diversity.

And we also have neuro-diversity. Some people are more on the autistic side; others are good at social things and are very good at connecting to people emotionally; it’s all part of diversity.

The old way of looking at things is that there is this ‘good way’ of being and thinking, but actually the best way is for everyone to think and view things differently.

A lot of comics think about things differently and come at things from different angles and that’s part of how you write comedy – looking at things in a different way.

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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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The illegal Silk Road linking BBC TV’s EastEnders to the Edinburgh Fringe

It was Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Ellis – one of those people who seems to know everyone – who told me that writer Alex Oates was going to be on The Keiser Report last week.

I had tea with Alex at Soho Theatre yesterday.

“Being on Max Keiser’s show must have been an interesting experience, I said.

“I had thought,” replied Alex, “it was an online version of some Bloomberg type thing. I had no idea it was on Russia Today. I just agreed to it.”

“When did Max start shouting?” I asked.

Alex Oates (centre) with Dominic Shaw (left)and Max Keiser

Alex Oates (centre) with Dominic Shaw (left) and Max Keiser

“Quite soon,” said Alex.

Alex appeared on The Keiser Report with director Dominic Shaw, to plug Alex’s upcoming Edinburgh Fringe play Silk Road.

“Max wanted us on cos of the Bitcoin thing,” Alex told me. “He’s a Bitcoin evangelist.”

“And your play,” I prompted, “is about…?”

“We were going to call it SILK ROAD – OR HOW TO BUY DRUGS ONLINE but everyone said that was too gimmicky, so we just called it SILK ROAD. It’s a dark comedy about Silk Road, the illegal marketplace that uses Bitcoins, so we thought we would try and get funding through Bitcoin. It would be the first play financed through Bitcoins.”

“The guy who allegedly started Silk Road has been arrested,” I said.

“But,” said Alex, “three weeks after he was arrested, it came back and Silk Road 2 is very much alive.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to do a play about an online site where you can buy heroin and AK-47s?”

“You can’t buy AK-47s any more,” said Alex, “they’ve got a conscience.”

“But heroin is OK?” I asked.

One drug-selling page on the Silk Road hidden website, 2012

One drug-selling page on the illegal Silk Road website, 2012

“Yeah,” said Alex. “Strange, their moral compass. A bit wonky. Why did I want to do it? Because it’s really fascinating: the idea you can buy drugs on the internet and have them posted to your door by Royal Mail. And there’s a feedback system so you know what you’re buying is good drugs. There have been lots of plays and films about drug dealers, but this is the next generation of drug dealers.”

Silk Road is a one-man play starring James Baxter.

“How do you make it interesting?” I asked. “Because no-one ever meets anyone. It’s all online.”

Silk Road - The Play

Silk Road – a play about drugs, nans and tea cosies

“The guy in the play lives with his nan,” Alex explained. “She has an eBay business selling tea-cosies. He is trying to bring drugs to your average user. It’s quite hard to use Silk Road, so what he does is buy the drugs in bulk from Silk Road and then start slipping them into his nan’s tea-cosies. He lets people know that, if you buy his nan’s tea-cosies, then you’ll get a gram of cocaine with each one. So his nan’s eBay business goes from selling them for £5 to £60 and she virtually becomes a millionaire overnight.”

“How did Silk Road react?” I asked.

“Well, I advertised the play in the forums on Silk Road. Originally, a bunch of dealers were quite angry about it, saying: We don’t need any more press! We’re trying to keep this quiet! Then some dealers said: Look, we’re gonna get press regardless. So we might as well have someone in our corner. 

“Then one dealer said: I’ll give you some Bitcoins. And two Bitcoins were deposited in our account which, at the time we sold them, were worth £600 (together) – now, two weeks later, they’re worth around £850. The producer had thought Bitcoins might crash but, really, they’re not gonna crash any time soon, so we should have kept them. It was a mistake.

“I tried really hard to sell tickets for the play on Silk Road itself, but they’re not accepting any new venders at the moment. There’s a very strict authentication process and they’re being cautious since the fall of the first Silk Road.”

Alex Oates at the Soho Theatre yesterday afternoon

Alex Oates at the Soho Theatre in London yesterday afternoon

“How did you get involved in Silk Road?” I asked.

“I’m friends with a lot of tech guys and I know some people who use the website.”

“For what?”

“Buying drugs. They were telling me about Silk Road and how amazing it was.”

“You can see pictures of what you are going to buy,” I said.

“Yes. And the actual chemical breakdown of the drug and how pure it is. And that is guaranteed. And then there are people who write reviews and say: Yes, I’ve tested this. It is actually what it says it is.

“Is there a money-back guarantee if not satisfied?” I asked.

“There’s an escrow system,” explained Alex.

“I’m not sure if this is a good development of capitalism or a bad development of capitalism,” I said.

“It fascinating, though, isn’t it?” said Alex.

“So,” I asked, “Your Silk Road play. Does it have a message?”

Alex Oates laughs on The Keiser Report

Alex, a man with little political agenda, on The Keiser Report

“I think if I have a political agenda,” replied Alex, “it’s about drug reform and how the War on Drugs does not really work.

“It has demonised a generation of potheads and, really, if you regulated it and taxed it, then it would be a lot safer. In the play, we go into local gangsters who cut cocaine with urinal cakes.”

“Urinal cakes?” I asked.

“The little yellow cakes that are there to make the urinals fresh.”

“Oh,” I said, “I thought for a moment you meant cakes made out of urine. After all, we are sitting in Soho. There is probably a niche market for people who want to eat things like that.”

“There is a market for everything,” said Alex. “If I’m making a political point it is about drug reform, but Silk Road is a very light and whimsical play.”

“So you wrote it because…?”

“I’ve always been obsessed with theatre.”

“There’s no money in writing plays is there?” I asked.

“They say you can’t make a living, but you can make a killing. So I’m going for the killing.”

“No theatrical background?” I asked.

“My dad’s a policeman; my mum’s a nurse.”

“Your dad was in the drug squad?”

“No. He’s a retired inspector.”

“What did you study at university?”

“Theatre Arts at the University of Middlesex.”

“And then…?”

“I started writing on an EastEnders spin-off for the BBC.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “I should do research in advance.”

A BBC publicity shot of Alex for EastEnders:E20

BBC TV publicity shot of Alex for EastEnders:E20 series

“I was very lucky,” said Alex. “I got into a BBC Young Writers’ Summer School thing. It turned out the idea was for ten of us to create this thing called EastEnders: E20. I became the lead writer for that and wrote for three series of it.

“Then I applied for the Old Vic New Voices scheme and got onto that. They used to do a thing where you’re given 24-hour to write a play and you put it on in the Old Vic as a way to showcase yourself to the industry.”

“Jesus Christ 2,” I said. “I really should do research in advance. But I do know you are trying to finance Silk Road by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter and Max Keiser’s StartJOIN.

“Yes,” said Alex, “it finishes next Tuesday on Kickstarter. We need to raise £2,500 by next Tuesday or we get nothing.”

The play has already received £1000 from the Kevin Spacey Foundation.

“Next?” I asked.

“My next play is about an autistic boy,” said Alex, “because that’s my day job. I work with people with special needs.”

Rain Man?” I asked.

“No,” laughed Alex. “The thing that annoys me about the autism stereotype is the Rain Man thing. I wanted to show the other side. The really hard work. It can potentially ruin your life if you have an autistic child. It’s the sort of thing nobody really says, so the play is about a couple struggling to deal with having an autistic kid.”

There is a teaser for Silk Road on YouTube.

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How comic Lewis Schaffer tongued critic Kate Copstick – and drug tales from yesterday’s Edinburgh Fringe

Yesterday’s Scotsman article on Lewis Schaffer

Yesterday’s Scotsman article on Lewis Schaffer maligned me

Yesterday morning started when I bought a copy of The Scotsman and found a two-page feature on Lewis Schaffer under the headline I WAS BORN TO BE A FAILURE wherein Lewis Schaffer claimed I was his “personal blogger” apparently on the basis he thought I would hate it.

At lunchtime, doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick was put ‘on trial’ for offences against comedians.

One of the witnesses called in her defence was Lewis Schaffer and, later in the day, she told me this:

“He came towards me on stage and I thought How lovely. I’ve always been a fan of Lewis. Always will be. And I thought, you know, Peck on the cheek. And then I thought Oh, he’s going to pretend to snog me. And then there he was, in with the tongue and my kidneys were being ravished from the top down by this massive tongue. It felt like someone had put an enormous, slimy rug into my mouth. And he didn’t stop.

Lewis Schaffer ravished Kate Copstick’s kidneys yesterday

Lewis Schaffer ravished Kate Copstick’s kidneys yesterday

“I kept thinking He’s going to come up for air. But no. No. And then he went away but came back for more and grabbed my arse. I was severely Lewis-handled. I don’t know whether he’s looking for that elusive extra star in a review.

“When I close my eyes now, I’m still back there with the slimy rug in my mouth. Massive. It felt like it was the size of a bathroom rug.

“My mother and stepmum were in the audience, though I don’t know if they got that particularly good a view. Mind you, I think my dad would be happy if someone just took a bit of an interest in me.”

The day had begun for me when I had midday tea with comedian Sarah Hendrickx who had only very minor additions to the apparent avalanche of accidents which have happened to performers this year.

“I cut my finger while putting staples in a staple gun and got shat on by a seagull,” she told me.

“I think that’s par for the course,” I said.

Sarah Hendrickx has multiple flying technique

Sarah Hendrickx – multiple flyering technique

Sarah Hendrickx: Time Traveller is her first solo show and she says she veers between elation at being here and wanting to go home. Almost from minute-to-minute.

“What I have found, though, because I am in the autistic spectrum,” Sarah told me, “is that I’m not very good recognising people’s faces. Maybe autistic people make less eye-contact, so don’t look at faces so much. I don’t know, but it’s a classic characteristic. So I keep flyering the same people more than once. When I go to the Pleasance Courtyard, I go round the tables and forget who has been flyered. I genuinely end up approaching the same people who just look at me in a slightly confused way.”

After tea with Sarah in Grassmarket, I headed along Cowgate to the aforementioned Trial of Kate Copstick only to be overtaken by Copstick herself, being chauffeured there by Tanyalee Davis on her Batmobile/ Tanyabile/ whatever it is.

Copstick had an orgasm on the cobbles yesterday

Copstick had an orgasm on the cobbles yesterday

Going up the heavily cobbled steep hill that is Niddry Street at some speed, Copstick was heard to say: “That’s the best sex I’ve had in months…”

She had not yet encountered Lewis Schaffer’s tongue.

Copstick was facing the comedy trial for becoming the doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers “because she was a failed performer”.

I was sitting next to Copstick’s father and step-mum in the audience and had threatened to ask her father (for this blog) about Copstick’s potty training, but Copstick pre-empted this by telling me:

“According to my dad I was so chronically constipated as a child that my parents tried everything to get me to poo. Finally I got given some sort of cellulose stuff that just pushes everything out in front of it. One day, on my potty, with the entire extended family looking on, my baby botty just exploded with shite – and everyone burst into applause !!”

So, clearly she did not start her life as a failed performer.

Bob Slayer (in red) and attached Patrick Monahan defended Copstick

Bob Slayer (left) & attached Patrick Monahan with Copstick

But she was found Guilty despite being (or perhaps because she was) defended by Bob Slayer, who was physically attached to comedian Patrick Monahan throughout, because they were in the middle of a 25 hour attempt to break the world hugging record.

One of the witnesses called for the defence was Lewis Schaffer, who strode on stage and (as I thought) pretended to give Copstick a massive snog. You know the rest.

Afterward, unaware of the actual ravishing of Copstick onstage, I encountered Bob Slayer and Patrick Monahan intertwined in the foyer of The Hive venue.

Bob Slayer & Patrick Monahan hug at The Hive yesterday

Bob Slayer & Patrick Monahan hug at The Hive yesterday

“Are you getting sticky yet?” I asked.

“Oddly, this is the cleanest I’ve been all Fringe,” Bob replied. “We turned up for an interview this morning. I can’t remember what time. Times are irrelevant now. They had four bags of wet wipes and two young girls. The two young girls wiped us down. Well, admittedly, they did wipe Patrick down more than me and I had to get the bearded, hairy man to wipe me down. But this is the sweetest-smelling I’ve ever been.”

After seeing Adam Larter’s show – the audience loved it; I had no idea what was going on – I tried to buy a copy of the new Secret Edinburgh book at the Underbelly (I contributed a definitely non-funny piece to it), but it had not yet arrived, I presumed still stuck at Customs on the Turkish/Bulgarian border.

Laura Levites joins the ranks of injured Fringe performers

Laura Levites joins the ranks of injured Fringe performers

Then I bumped into New York comedian and flame-haired temptress Laura Levites. She had been present during part of The Copstick Trial, but had had to leave to perform her own show Laura Levites: Selfhelpless.

“Copstick got found guilty,” I told her.

“That’s a pity; she’s my new best friend,” replied Laura.

“Your knees are scuffed,” I said.

“I got hit by a taxi in New York,” she said. “It’s in my show.”

“When did it happen?” I asked.

“In April,” she replied.

“Jesus,” I said. “They look like new injuries. Everyone is getting injured at the Fringe this year.”

Laura Levites has Skype counselling and a big suitcase

Laura Levites has Skype and a big suitcase

“I was hospitalised,” said Laura. “I had a black eye and scrapes and bruises and sprains and a slipped disc in my neck or a slipped something – I know I have something wrong in my neck at the top of the spine and I was in a neck brace. Oh yeah! Life’s good!”

“Is your neck sorted out yet?” I asked.

“No,” said Laura.

“Are you on medicinal drugs?”

“Always.”

“I mean for the accident.”

“Oh, I had drugs for that,” said Laura, “but my psychiatrist took them away.”

“Your psychiatrist?” I asked.

“I have to have scheduled Skype therapy with my doctors,” explained Laura. “Both of them. I have to have a session with one once a week and with the other once every two weeks. One’s a therapist and one’s a psychiatrist.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“The therapist can’t prescribe medication and the psychiatrist can.”

Is it worse to be hit on by Lewis Schaffer or a NYC cab?

Which is worse? Hit on by Lewis Schaffer or hit by NYC cab?

“Are you stocked-up for medication for the month you’re over here?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Laura said. “I have to get a vacation waiver from my insurance company and one of the medications I take is a controlled substance and it’s not sold in this country. I have a prescription for it and it’s monitored: you can only get a certain amount of it in a 30-day period. So that took a lot of work to get for here. I have to have a two-month supply.”

“Customs must have been thrown by that,” I said.

“No, they have no problem with it, but I do have a really big bag of pills. I do have an extra suitcase for my pills and my vitamins. My excess baggage is pills. The bag is really heavy, but they have to let me take it.”

“Did British Customs ask to open it up?”

“No,” laughed Laura, “I’m a white girl and I smile and I play the part and I look OK.”

Comedian Tommy Holgate outside the soon-to-be Bob’s Bookshop venue - formerly the Scotland-Russia Institute

Tommy Holgate outside Bob’s Bookshop venue in Edinburgh

After that, I ended up at Bob’s Bookshop watching Tommy Holgate’s show Good Spirits. Tommy used to be comedy columnist for the Sun newspaper but now seems to have turned into a spiritual advisor for touring rock bands: an interesting career move.

At his show, I was sitting next to Andrew Mickel of the Such Small Portions website, which has published the new Secret Edinburgh book.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“The books are now all held up at Dover Customs,” he told me. “They should arrive in Edinburgh tomorrow.”

SlayerMonahanHug_bookshop

Bob and Patrick’s record triumph at The Bookshop last night

At midnight, I sat in Bob’s Bookshop and watched as Bob Slayer and Patrick Monahan were un-coupled by Kate Copstick. They had successfully hugged for 25 hours and 25 minutes.

Bob then told a story about being given a heavy dose of a drugs just before he and Patrick started their hug-in.

The drug was Viagra.

There was possibly too much information in his story.

I videoed the 14 minutes surrounding their un-coupling.

It is HERE on YouTube.

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Comic Sarah Hendrickx has a mid-life crisis & plans to ride Gérard Depardieu

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

Sarah Hendrickx yesterday

Sarah Hendrickx yesterday – from dreadlock kid to Depardieu

Comedian Sarah Hendrickx is 45, twice divorced, a mum of two, grandmother of twins and an expert on autism – she has published five books on the subject (plus one on student cookery).

She trains professionals – care workers, doctors, psychiatrists, foster carers, teachers – who have to deal with autistic people.

“And when you were a kid?” I asked her yesterday.

“Council house kid,” she said. “Scholarship. Private school. Croydon. Left at 16. Went to live in squats. For years and years, I was a squatter. Squatting in London in the early 1980s, as soon as I left school. Dropped out completely. Punk. Got pregnant. Lived in a van with my daughter. Dreadlocks. Dog on string. Travelling around a bit. Moved to Devon. I’ve only looked sensible in the last ten years. I’m a bit of a late starter.”

“And you have Tourette’s Syndrome,” I said.

“Yes,” Sarah said. “Facial ticks. Eye ticks. I used to blink around 100 times per minute. Now I have Botox injections around the eyes on the NHS – I get free Botox, which is what every middle-aged woman wants, isn’t it? But it’s a horrible, horrible process.”

“And you’re an international expert on autism,” I said.

“Apparently so,” said Sarah.

“Because…?” I asked.

“Because I’ve written books, I guess,” she replied. “And because not that many people know that much about it.”

“You’re autistic yourself?” I asked.

“Yes. The only people who really understand it are people with it, because it’s about a different neurology. Even people who are married to it don’t really understand it, because it’s a whole different way of seeing the world. It’s all about cognitive processing. It’s much easier to have set rules about something. There’s no grey. Everything’s black and white, because that makes your life easier and calmer. The logic is not necessarily perfect logic, but it’s your own logic. There’s always a logic; it may be a flawed or a skewed logic, but it’s not random thinking. You can’t make judgments very well, because judgments are grey.”

“But isn’t the whole thing about performing comedy that you can suddenly take off on a flight of fantasy?” I asked.

“Not my comedy,” said Sarah. “Because I have no imagination. I don’t get the surreal humour. The Mighty Boosh. I don’t get that at all. Oh I have a fish and you have binoculars! Really? Why is that funny? My comedy is all true.”

Hans Asperger in Vienna c 1940

Hans Asperger working in Vienna, c 1940

Asperger’s Syndrome interests me,” I told her. “Robert White, who won the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award a couple of years ago, has it.”

“There was research on stand-up comics a few years ago,” Sarah told me, “which found many were quite unusual in standard personality-type profiles. They might be extrovert on the stage but, in their personal lives, they were socially awkward.”

“I’ve found with quite a few of the comedians I’ve tried to help,” I said, “that they’re extrovert on stage but do they want to publicise themselves? No they bleeding don’t. They want to hide in a cave rather than be interviewed.”

“Well,” said Sarah, “you stick me in a networking event or a party… I’ve been to autism events as a speaker and I’m the one out of 300 people who’s hiding round the corner because I just can’t bear to be visible.”

“So how can shy people who want to hide away be comedians?” I asked.

“Because,” explained Sarah, “they stand in front of people with a microphone, a script, a set period of time to talk and a plan of what they’re going to talk about and, when they’ve had enough, they get off. It’s not a two-way dialogue. It’s not socialising.

“My experience of the comedy circuit is it’s like a special interest group. Most people aren’t the traditional type of friends. We turn up and say Done any gigs lately? How you gettin’ on? What you doin’ next week? There’s very few other comedians, for example, who know the names of my children or what I do for a living or where I’m going on holiday – which is my understanding of what friendship is supposed to be about. But that suits me fine.

“I think the comedy circuit includes a whole bunch of people who don’t have many ordinary friendships – we are, after all, people who are happy to spend all their weekend evenings away from their loved ones, driving round the country by themselves. That totally fits autism or, at least, it’s a lifestyle that suits someone like me very well.

“To me,” Sarah continued, “comedy is a puzzle. It’s like a scientific experiment. These are the words. This is my material. Did it work? Feedback from the audience tells me whether it did or not. If it didn’t, I go away and try to work out why and try to fix it. To me it’s a system. Trying to write the perfect joke, the perfect set, trying to analyse it. It’s all about analysing it. I never go home and worry about having had a bad gig, because it’s nothing to do with ‘me’, it’s to do with ‘that’ which I’ve created. I am separate from ‘that’.”

“So,” I asked, “if you get a bad audience reaction, it’s not a personal rejection, it’s a rejection of the product you created?”

“Yes,” agreed Sarah, “it’s like baking a cake and it didn’t taste very nice. I don’t have any emotion in it at all.”

“So why did you want to be a comedian in the first place?”

“Oh,” said Sarah, “that’s a long story about wanting to be an actor as a child. I got pregnant at 18. I got a place to do Drama at Exeter. I got down there with my daughter aged three. I realised that drama courses and three year olds do not go together. I couldn’t do the course and that was the end of that.”

“So you were a frustrated performer?”

“Very much so. Now I’ve got a 25-year-old daughter and two grand-children and a 16-year-old son who lives at home. When my son got to the point where he was able to be left on his own, I took myself off and started doing a bit of comedy.”

“And now you’re preparing to do your first solo Edinburgh Fringe show in August,” I prompted.

“Yes. It’s called Time Traveller.”

“Why?”

Scene of horror - Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Scene of Sarah’s panic attack – Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

“It’s about going back into my own past to an event which happened to me about twelve years ago. It was a pretty unfortunate time of my life. I was camping in Spain with my now ex-husband and kids. My mum had just died. I went up the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, had a giant panic attack, got agoraphobia, got relatively disabled by that though not house-bound.

So it’s kind of going back through that and saying Well, I was always a bit of an anxious kid and a bit of an odd kid. This thing happened. It all got worse. Stuff about my marriage. Stuff about my kids. Then this moment of clarity where I decide what I need to do is go back to Barcelona and sort all this shit out. And then I decide to go by bicycle.”

“And you are actually doing that?”

“Yes. I’m going to cycle to Barcelona at the end of May.”

“How far is it?”

“800 miles.”

“Have you done something like that before?”

“No.”

“And you’ve decided to do it, because…”

“I’m having a mid-life crisis. I’m just scared of everything. That’s the general premise. I need an adventure. I bought my bicycle off eBay. It’s called Gérard, after Gérard Depardieu. And I’ve written a song for the show.”

“You can play the guitar?” I asked.

“No,” said Sarah. “Playing the guitar when you can’t play the guitar is quite liberating.”

“I would pay to see this free show,” I said. “Have you practised for the bicycle ride by putting a scouring pad under your bottom and rubbing it backwards and forwards?”

“No. I haven’t even been on my bicycle for four months or so. I keep looking at my bicycle and thinking Ooh. I really should have a little go on it.”

“Will you be stopping at hotels along the way?”

“No. Camping. On my own.”

“Where will your camping equipment be?”

“On panniers.”

“Mmm…” I said.

“I know,” said Sarah. “It’s mad. I’ve never been camping on my own. I’m terrified. I’m terrified of everything. I’m terrified of being on my own. I’m an absolute weed. This is for the Edinburgh Fringe show but it is also because… well, I have been a mum since I was 19, my kids are now grown-up. This is genuinely a mid-life crisis. It’s the first time I’ve had the chance to do anything like this in my life, really.”

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