Tag Archives: Ben Elton

My dream of Ben Elton in a gas mask and the reality of severed feet in boots

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

Last year, during his annual tour, Arthur Smith encouraged singing over a ‘dead’ man on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Again, fantasy and reality are overlapping in my brain.

I woke up a few times during the night with my sore shoulder. Last August in Edinburgh, I tripped and fell in the dark in a crowd on the cobbles during comedian Arthur Smith’s annual fantasy tour of the Royal Mile. I fell on the shoulder which a truck had hit and pulverised in two places in 1991.

Two places in the shoulder, not two geographical places.

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the drowning of comedian Malcolm Hardee, aged 55.

So it goes.

It was announced the actress Geraldine McEwan had died, aged 82.

So it goes.

A video went on YouTube of an Islamic extremist cutting off a Japanese journalist’s head.

So it goes.

Comedy performer Ted Robbins collapsed on stage in front of 20,000 people at the Manchester Arena, aged 59.

He is in a stable condition in hospital.

I never knew him, but kept meeting him at Granada TV in the 1980s, where he was much-loved. He seemed to be a very kind man.

Yesterday, in mid-evening, I had to interchange at West Hampstead, where there are three totally separate stations on the same road, all called West Hampstead Station. As I approached the third West Hampstead station, I had to walk through the middle of a large fist fight on the pavement, where ten or twelve large men were shouting and swinging at each other. As I walked through the middle of the fight, they parted politely, then continued hitting and shouting at each other.

Polly Trope: "It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

Not Ben Elton, but author Polly Trope in mask

When I was waking up with my shoulder last night, I was having some ongoing dream in which a woman called Arlene Gorodensky-greenhouse had comedian and writer Ben Elton’s Second World War gas mask in a blue plastic bag. Ben Elton was born in 1959; the Second World War ended in 1945.

This dream happened in a single-storey building which was either a motel or a television studio.

In another room of the same building, a totally different woman – name unknown – also had comedian and writer Ben Elton’s Second World War gas mask in a blue plastic bag. The new woman looked about 45. Then she sat down and started to put on make-up and all the wrinkles on her skin started to show and her skin sagged and emptied of flesh and she then looked about 85 and was wearing a bikini.

The odd thing about this dream is that the first woman is real and her name really is Arlene Gorodensky-greenhouse. She is staging a Grouchy Club show on 22nd February featuring me and critic Kate Copstick hosting a chat show with no guests during a Jewish Comedy Day in North West London. Copstick and I are not Jewish.

The whole of that paragraph is true.

Last night, on the train home, I had an e-mail conversation with this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. I was in London; she was in Vancouver. The e-conversation started when she sent me a link to a wet-dream-like YouTube video featuring various people in various states of undress.

WATCH XENO’s INFERNO TRAILER Anna’s first e-heading said.

Another message from Anna said:

I have never seen the movie, but Christian Aldo and his brother Marshall Sfalcin are interesting products of Windsor, Ontario.

I knew Christian Aldo when he lived in Vancouver in the early 1990s. He was constantly creating paintings and sculptures and holding parties which he videoed. After Vancouver, he lived in New York, in Windsor Ontario (where he is from) and now he runs a gallery in Toronto called the Super Wonder Gallery which holds group shows with themes such as Naughtiness and Candy

Like many boys, Christian is fascinated by asteroids, robots, space aliens and sexy women. He also collects plastic toys from the 1960s and has made some intentionally bad films, said to be a cross between Fellini and Russ Meyer. Oh! – and he has been described as energetic and charismatic.  

When the competition opened for the design of the new World Trade Center in New York, his design was two plaster torsos of topless (female) mannequins (from the waist up). They did not win the competition.

Anna then sent me three e-mails. The first was headed:

DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER IS PLASTERED WITH POSTERS ADVERTISING A PLETHORA OF BALLS!

Vancouver Balls 2

The second was headed:

BALLS FOR THE MEN

Vancouver Balls 1

The third was headed:

MARTINI PARTIES FOR THE GIRLS

Vancouver Balls 3

A fourth e-mail then explained:

It’s all part of the gay festivities on now at Whistler (a local ski resort).

I then received a picture headed:

PEOPLE ASLEEP IN VANCOUVER

Vancouver Sleeping

I replied: “This appears to be a pair of knees with no torso camping out. With this and the outbreak of balls in ads, I think your dreams and nightmares are becoming flesh.”

Anna replied:

Are you trying to say that I dream about balls?

I replied: “Malcolm Hardee died today. Once seen, never forgotten.”

Malcolm was famed for the size of his testicles.

Anna replied:

I only saw Malcolm once.

I asked her: “Presumably naked?”

She replied:

Yes. He was naked. All the balloons were gone but he was very professional and all he said to us (the strippers at the Gargoyle Club in London) was a cheerful “Hello Ladies”…   This was much appreciated because most of the other comedians were either afraid of us or were asking dumb questions like how we could possibly be strippers and environmentalists at the same time.

Anna, who lives in a boat on a river in Vancouver, then told me without context:

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith as she likes to be thought of

I dreamed that I was lifting my bicycle off my deck and I dropped it into the river. Then I had to check to make sure the bicycle was still there. So many things have fallen into the river.

The Lesbians are not here any more. One went back to Spain; then the mother of the other one appeared. 

She had never met me before, but thanked me for saving her daughter’s life. In fact, I did not save her life – people are always accusing me of that – I just did basic First Aid and got someone to drive her to a clinic.

A couple of weeks ago, I looked out the window and their boat was gone. It had not sunk. It had been un-tied. Someone told me it had been towed out and tied-up downstream near The Island. 

There are two small islands down there, but we call it The Island because we only go onto one. There is nothing on them, although old docks get dumped there. It looks funny because the docks are barely attached. Some boats have been chopped up, then pieces of them float around in the tide for months.

Sometimes I see a shoe floating. 

When I see a shoe floating, I  check there is no foot in the shoe. 

There have been almost twenty shoes (trainers) found with feet in them – men’s feet. 

I do not think any of them have been identified. Do they find shoes with feet in the River Thames in London?

I replied: “I don’t think so.”

Anna replied:

NBC reports: Discovery of Human Foot ion Seattle Waterfront Adds to Appendage Tally

NBC reports: Discovery of Human Foot on Seattle Waterfront Adds to Appendage Tally

You DONT have the severed feet there?

Every couple of years, someone does a full page article about the severed feet here and then it is forgotten again. 

They are studied and theories are published about whether they were severed before death or if they were broken from the corpse by wave action. 

But nobody is finding corpses without feet. 

They are all feet from young, adult men – a single foot (none are a pair) – and nobody knows who they belong to. 

There is a new one found every few years and none has been identified as belonging to any missing person or any person missing a foot. 

Some of them are found on the Gulf Islands. One was found in the river not too far from here.

This morning, when I woke up, there was a link from Anna to a website called STRANGE REMAINS which has the sub-title: HUMAN REMAINS IN THE NEWS, STRANGE HISTORY OF CORPSES AND ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO HUMAN BONES

The website entry currently starts:

The Strange Remains website - with boot

The Strange Remains website + boot

When a dead body ends up in water (whether by murder, accident, or suicide) the hands and feet easily detach from the arms and legs as the body decomposes because, compared to the rest of the body, the muscle attachments to the limbs are relatively weak.

If that body is fully clothed and dumped wearing sneakers, from time to time the feet will wash ashore completely articulated in shoes. The most famous case of this happened between 2007  and 2011, when a dozen human feet washed ashore in the Pacific Northwest. 

At the time, there were a number of theories about the origin of the decomposed feet: they belonged to murder victims, they belonged to plane crash fatalities, or they were victims of the 2004 tsunami.  But investigators from British Columbia and Washington State were able to confirm that most of these feet found on beaches from Washington Vancouver belonged to people who either committed suicide, died of natural causes or were the victims of an accident.

AlteredDimensions.net reports

AlteredDimensions.net reports on feet

Forensic investigators believe that the reason why decayed feet entombed in sneakers or hiking boots can survive intact in lakes or oceans is that the thick shoes protect them from the ocean environment and prevent fish from feeding on them.  Some investigators argue that the shoes are also the reason the feet wash ashore because of the buoyancy of the shoe, which is lightweight and rubber-soled.

The website continued:

Below is a list of decomposed feet that have been discovered from 2007 to present.  This is an open post so that it is updated as more discoveries are made.

I stopped reading at this point.

There is a limit to my thirst for knowledge.

And I was not totally convinced I was awake.

An obviously outdated Wikipedia entry on Salish Sea Human Foot Discoveries currently states that, in the relatively small area of the Salish Sea in British Columbia, “As of February 2012, only five feet of four people have been identified; it is not known to whom the rest of the feet belong. In addition, several hoax ‘feet’ have been planted in the area.”

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Filed under Canada, Crime, Death, Dreams, Eccentrics

Journalist Garry Bushell talks about being accused of hating gay men

Yesterday’s now paraphrased blog

Yesterday’s original blog

Yesterday’s blog started as an I think interesting piece in which theatre producer David Johnson remembered Piers Morgan at the 1993 British Comedy Awards reacting to Julian Clary’s joke about “fisting” the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

David posted the original fascinating piece (now removed) on his own Facebook page last Monday. I asked his permission to quote it, which is why I did not post my own blog about it until yesterday.

After I had posted yesterday’s blog, very unusually, I added something to it – a further comment which David Johnson sent me. It said (I paraphrase) that it was the Sun’s thuggish columnist Garry Bushell who actually wrote the anti-Clary piece the day after the “fisting” joke incident and who then ran homophobic articles campaigning against Julian Clary, Graham Norton etc.

David said in this added section that he was pleased it was ultimately Garry Bushell not Julian Clary who became unemployable, that Bushell had hardly worked since 2007 and is an active UKIP member.

David has since asked me to remove yesterday’s blog. I have now re-posted the blog with David’s directly quoted words replaced by paraphrased words.

David wanted the blog removed in general, as I understand it, because I told him I was going to ask Garry Bushell questions as a follow-up and (in my view) to allow GB a full come-back. David was also angry because I would not immediately post in public a private message Garry Bushell sent me. Garry Bushell has now given me permission to print the message, though I have cut out one well-known entertainer’s name. The message read:

“I made my peace with Julian many years ago, John, even appearing on his TV show. I’m not sure how your claim of homophobia sits with my consistent support for talented gay artists, from Frankie Howerd and (another well-known entertainer) on. I am not an active member of UKIP and my column is still published nationally. Best wishes Garry”

David thinks I was unreasonable in not printing that immediately in a public forum without first asking Garry Bushell’s permission and, because of that, he has deleted his original Facebook post which was about Piers Morgan. He is also offended that I have allowed Garry Bushell to respond to various claims.

So here, alas without any counterbalancing arguments or facts from David, is what Garry Bushell answered in reply to some questions I asked him:

Q: Aren’t you ashamed of having destroyed Julian Clary’s career for two years? You wrote a piece trying to get Julian banned from live TV. He must hate you.

Journalist Garry Bushell

Journalist Garry Bushell says what he thinks??

A: All I did after Julian’s fisting gag was write an opinion piece reflecting the views of my editor (Kelvin MacKenzie). You have to put the incident in context. This happened shortly after Stan Boardman had been banned not just from live TV but from ITV completely for his Focke-Wulf gag. Des O’Connor’s live show was cancelled because of that row. It seemed that there was one rule for mainstream comedians and another for fashionable ones.

I did later appear on Julian’s TV show All Rise For Julian Clary in the 1990s. I wanted to bury the hatchet. I don’t know what Julian thinks of me, but I don’t hate him. Back at the start I felt that he was a single-entendre act who had been promoted beyond his abilities. I like him and his act a lot more now – I backed him to win Celebrity Big Brother in my column. He was the most entertaining housemate by far.

Q: You hate gays.

A: I don’t hate anyone because of their sexuality and never have done. I first fell out with gay activists over a tasteless joke in my column back in the 1980s and, because I’ve always loved feuds, I took it too far. One of the first people who came to my defence was Patrick Newley who wrote Mrs Shufflewick’s biography – now there was an act!

I’ve worked with gay people pretty much everywhere I’ve had a job, and championed gay acts for decades starting with Frankie Howerd (I was a lone voice in the press campaigning for his return to TV). I adore (the well-known entertainer mentioned in Garry Bushell’s message quoted above). I like Craig Hill. I supported Alan Carr when he first appeared on the scene. I loved Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady’s drag act) – I knew Paul’s boyfriend Brendan Murphy from back when we’d both been members of the International Socialists a long time ago. And, at the risk of the old ‘some of my best friends…’ cliché, I’m still mates with Dale Winton and have been since the mid-1990s.

Q: In your youth, you joined the International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party and wrote for Socialist Worker. I have always thought Hitler was a good Socialist and, after all, he did form the National Socialist Party and did everything in the name of ‘The People’…. So you were always a bit of a totalitarian?

A: I did join the IS and did write for Socialist Worker. But I think the threat to freedom now comes more from the far-Left than the far-Right, although in practice in power there is very little difference between them. It used to be rightwing Tories calling for things to be banned, now it’s the middle class Left. I find it extraordinary that the comrades are so happy to march arm-in-arm with women (and gay) hating clerical fascists.

Q: Now you are an ‘active’ member of UKIP…

A: I’m not an active member of anything.

Q: On talkSPORT Radio, you said homosexuality was a “perversion”.

A: I don’t recall the actual phrasing, but it was a dumb thing to say and I apologise for it. It’s no defence, but I had just come off the phone to my mate who is in Right Said Fred and I’d been winding him up about Fred getting punched by some Russian troglodyte.

Q: You were employed by the Sun as a ‘thug’ journalist. That’s your image, isn’t it? That’s why you get paid.

A: Am I a thug? I don’t think so. I’ve always liked acerbic humour, from Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers to Lily Savage, via Bernard Manning, and I think that if you don’t realise that you might not ‘get’ my column. Male working class humour tends to be abrasive.  My big mistake in the early days of writing the column was to caricature myself; the newspaper ‘Bushell’ was a comic exaggeration of my own views. I stopped doing that a long time ago.

Q: One of my Facebook Friends posted: Someone needs to dig up Bushell’s review of the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. The Sun gave him two pages to rant about how AIDS was a luvvies disease and how disgusting it was to see money raised for AIDS research when there was so little funding for proper diseases. It finished with his deathless advice on how to avoid contracting AIDS: “Don’t do drugs and don’t be gay.”

A: All I can remember about that is I used it to slip in a tasteless Jimmy Jones ode – Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, If you’d stuck with fanny You’d still be with us. I think it was over a spread, me versus Piers Morgan. I loved Queen and Freddie was one of the great rock front-men. I do think the early AIDS campaign was misleading but I genuinely regret writing this piece. If I could make amends for it, by doing a benefit gig or whatever I would happily do so, although no doubt some smartarse would then accuse me of chasing the pink pound.

Q: Do you hate women as much as perverts and pooftahs?

A: Love women, don’t know any perverts, although my old guitarist is a transvestite now – does that count?

Q: Did you ever encounter Jimmy Savile?

A: Yes. Horrible bastard, but cunning. You felt like you needed a wash after meeting him but were never quite sure why.

Q: How would you describe your novels?

A: Filthy.

Q: Do you want to create art with your writing?

A: No thanks. I want people to read it.

Q: In my blog yesterday, it was claimed you mounted “a relentless homophobic campaign against artists like Julian Clary and Graham Norton that lasted as long as Bushell was allowed air-time or column inches.” So it backfired on you, didn’t it? It destroyed your own Fleet Street career.

A: My column inches still pop up regularly and vigorously in the Daily Star Sunday, which last time I looked still outsells the Independent On Sunday.

Graham Norton’s late night Channel 4 show was filthy, so I couldn’t work out why BBC1 hired him – especially when they kept giving him flop early evening LE shows to host. He is however the smartest and funniest chat-show host in the country now – something I have been saying for years.

I don’t accept the charge of homophobia. And to suggest I relentlessly campaigned against Julian Clary and Graham Norton is untrue. I relentlessly campaigned against Ben Elton because I felt he was both an unfunny dick and a complete fake.

I’m a TV critic which means I criticise shows and stars who don’t float my boat. I moaned about Jo Brand for decades but as soon as she did something great, as she did with Getting On, I praised it to high heaven.

Tabloid readers like firm opinions. If I said everything was terrific no-one would read me.

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Filed under Gay, Journalism, Newspapers, Racism

What happened to a female comic one night at London’s Comedy Store in 1981

Vivienne & Martin Soan on stage at Pull The Other One this year

Vivienne and Martin Soan at Pull The Other One this year

Vivienne Soan currently hosts the always excellent monthly Pull The Other comedy club. She tells me…

___________________

It was 1981…Tony Allen was the compere at the original Comedy Store in London and I had been to a very important England v Scotland football match that same day.

It was the match where the referee jumped over the ball.

I had been given free tickets and was sort-of fired-up from having sat with the Scots and cheered the English.

I had been in Europe for the past four years with Action Theatre and the queue to get into the lift at the Comedy Store had proved too tempting for the performance hostess that had been maturing within me. I worked the crowd before they got into the venue and so, when I stood up and took the mike after Tony Allen, I challenged the audience to “do better”… I had no doubts…The audience were on my side and I ‘stormed it’ (as an open spot) with a mixture of real life stories and old playground jokes.

My opening line was good. I had been sitting in front of a persistent heckler and said I had taken the stage to get away from him.

After the show, I was invited back by Don Ward (the Comedy Store’s owner) to do three weeks.

After the second week, it was whispered in my ear by the other comics that this was ‘alternative comedy’ and I could only perform original material.

“I’m a performer not a writer,” I proclaimed and they all turned away.

The third week, there was great excitement as the new-born Channel 4 was coming in to have a look.

There was a buzz …. “They are very interested in you,” I was told.

I bounced onto the stage, hit my head on the gong and told my caterpillar joke which ends in “I bin sick”.

At this point, Ben Elton turned the mike off and closed my set with the words: “I’m sorry, darling, you can’t tell jokes like that. We cannot allow you to perpetuate the myth of the dumb blonde”.

I left the night with my head between my legs.

I didn’t venture back on a comic stage until 1991.

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Has British comedy stagnated since Monty Python, Hardee and Tiswas?

Beware. This is my blog. These are my very highly personal opinions. You can object. Please do.

People have said Alternative Comedy is not dead, it has just ceased to be Alternative. It has become the Mainstream. But they seldom talk about the next new wave of British comedians who will replace the now mainstream Alternative Comedians.

I desperately want to spot any new wave for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards, which I organise. Our avowed intent is to try to find “comic originality”.

We do find admirably quirky individuals to award the main annual Comic Originality prize to – last year, the one-off Robert White; this year, the one-off Johnny Sorrow.

And their one-offness is as it should be. You cannot have comic originality if 37 other people are doing something similar.

But where are the new style comedians performing a recognisable new type of comedy genre? There has not been anything overwhelmingly new since so-called Alternative Comedy arrived in the mid-1980s – over 25 years ago.

As far as I can see, there have been four very rough waves of post-War British comedy, most of them comprising overlapping double strands.

The first double wave of ‘new’ comics in the 1950s were reacting partly to stuffy mainstream 1930s Reithian radio comedy, partly to the necessary order of the 1940s wartime years and partly they were rebelling against the dying music hall circuit epitomised by John Osborne‘s fictional but iconic Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1957).

The Goon Show (1951-1960) on BBC Radio, at the height of its popularity in the mid 1950s, was the antithesis of the ‘old school’ of pre-War comedy. The Goons were a surreal comic equivalent to John Osborne’s own rebellious Look Back in Anger (1956) and the kitchen sink realism which surfaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Osborne was ultra-realistic; The Goons were ultra-surreal.

But Osborne’s plays and The Goons‘ radio comedy were both reactions to the rigidly ordered society in pre-War, wartime and immediately post-War Britain and The Goons‘ new anarchic style of comedy (although it owes some debt to the pre-War Crazy Gang and although the Wartime radio series ITMA was slightly surreal) really was like the new rock ‘n’ roll (which was not coincidentally happening simultaneously). It was startlingly new. They were consciously rebelling and revolting against a clear status quo which they saw as stuffy and restrictive.

Hot on the heels of The Goons came a different form of rebellion – the satirists of the 1960s – with Beyond the Fringe (1960) on stage and That Was The Week That Was (1962-1963) on TV. These two slightly overlapping Second Waves of new post-War British comedy were again reacting to a stuffy status quo.

The First Wave, the surrealist Goons wave, then reasserted that it was still rolling on when a Third Wave of influence – Monty Python’s Flying Circus – appeared on BBC TV 1969-1974 and – as satire declined in the 1970s – it was Monty Python‘s (and, ultimately, The Goons‘) comedic gene pool that held sway for a while – also epitomised, oddly, by the children’s TV show – Tiswas (1974-1982).

The Goons, Beyond The Fringe and That Was The Week That Was had been rebelling against something; Monty Python was surreal and Tiswas was anarchic just for the sheer sake of it. Monty Python and Tiswas were one-offs, but they have pale imitations trundling on even to today.

After Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, a Fourth Wave of new comics arose in the early and mid-1980s – a generation influenced by the satire gene not by the Goons/Python gene. These mostly-university-educated young left wing things rebelled against Thatcherism with their often political-based humour which became known as Alternative Comedy.

But again, just as there had been a second overlapping wave of comedy in the previous generation, this mostly ‘serious’ comedy was paralleled by a different wave possibly more low-key but epitomised by the decidedly fringe appeal of the hugely influential Malcolm Hardee, whose release from prison and subsequent comedy career coincided with the start of and overlapped with the future stars of Alternative Comedy.

Malcolm’s strand of mostly non-political comedy was spread by the clubs he ran and the acts he managed, agented, booked and/or nurtured: acts including the young Paul Merton (performing as Paul Martin when Malcolm first managed him), Jenny Eclair and later Keith Allen, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Jim Tavaré and Johnny Vegas.

While London’s Comedy Store nurtured future mainstream acts (some progressing there from Malcolm’s clubs), the more bizarre and original new acts continued to flock to Malcolm’s gigs and clubs including his near-legendary Sunday Night at the Tunnel Palladium gigs and later his lower-key but just as influential Up The Creek club.

These two strands of 1980s comedy – the alternative political and the Hardee-esque – successfully came together in a Channel 4 programme – not, as is often cited, Saturday Live (1985-1987), a mostly failed hotch-potch with different presenters every week, but its long-remembered successor, Geoff Posner‘s Friday Night Live (1988) which supposedly firebrand political polemic comic Ben Elton presented every week in what was supposed to be an ironic sparkly showbiz jacket.

Political alternative stand-ups mixed with strange variety and character acts, oddball comics and cross-over acts like Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield and many others nurtured by Malcolm Hardee.

This was both the highpoint and the start of the decline of Alternative Comedy because serious money was spent on the relatively low-rating Saturday Live and Friday Night Live on Channel 4, both ultimately shepherded by Alan Boyd’s resolutely mainstream but highly influential Entertainment Department at LWT.

Since then, where has the next giant New Wave of British comedy been? There are random outbreaks of originality, but mostly there has been a barren mediocrity of pale imitations of previous waves – and the desolate, mostly laugh-free zone that is BBC3.

At this point, allow me an even more personal view.

I thought I spotted a change in Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows around 2003 when Janey Godley was barred from consideration for the Perrier Award (despite a very lively verbal fight among the judging the panel) because it was decided that her seminal show Caught in the Act of Being Myself did not fall within the remit of the Awards because it was not a single ‘show’ repeated every night: she was basically ad-libbing a different hour of comedy every performance for 28 consecutive nights.

That same year, Mike Gunn performed his confessional heroin-addict show Mike Gunn: Uncut at the Fringe although, unlike Janey, he lightened and held back some of the more serious details of his life story.

It seemed to me that, certainly after 2004, when Janey performed her confessional show Good Godley!,  Fringe shows started an increasing tendency towards often confessional autobiographical storytelling. Good Godley! was one of the first hour-long comedy shows at the Fringe (though not the only one) to use material that was not in any way funny – in that case, child abuse, rape, murder and extreme emotional damage. Janey did not tell funny stories; she told stories funny. Viewed objectively, almost nothing she actually talked about was funny but audiences fell about laughing because it truly was “the way she told ’em”.

Since then, too, there seems to have been a tendency towards improvisation, probably spurred by the financial success of Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard. The traditional 1980s Alternative Comics still mostly stay to a script. The 21st Century comics influenced by Janey Godley, Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble often do not (to varying degrees).

So it could be argued there has been a tendency in this decade away from gag-telling (apart from the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine) towards storytelling… and a tendency towards improvisational gigs (bastardised by the almost entirely scripted and prepared ad-libs on TV panel shows).

But long-form storytelling does not fit comfortably into TV formats which tend to require short-form, gag-based, almost sound-bite material – you cannot tell long involved stories on panel shows and on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow type programmes. So a tendency in live gigs and certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – a tendency away from gag-based comedy to storytelling comedy – has been unable to transfer to television and has therefore not fully developed.

Occasionally, a Fifth Wave of British comedy is sighted on the horizon but, so far, all sightings have turned out to be tantalising mirages.

One possibility are the Kent Comics who all studied Stand Up Comedy as an academic subject in the University of Kent at Canterbury. They include Pappy’s aka Pappy’s Fun Club, Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, Laura Lexx and The Noise Next Door. But they share an origin, not a style.

Whither British comedy?

Who knows?

Not me.

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With sketch shows, it is impossible to know who will be famous in the future.

With comedy sketch shows, it is almost impossible to know which, if any, of the performers may become successful – famous, even – in the future.

I am old enough to have been stumbling around in the primeval alternative comedy mists of the last century and seen the Edinburgh Fringe show by the Cambridge Footlights group which included Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery. I was aware of their names because it got a lot of newspaper coverage afterwards – that’s one of the benefits of going to Oxbridge. But all I really remember, unless my memory fails me, is Stephen Fry sitting in a wing armchair wearing a smoking jacket and reading a very linguistically convoluted story from a book.

“Well,” I thought. “That’s very literate and he seems to aspire to being someone older than he is, but he’s not going to go very far with that as an act.”

I was also working at Granada TV when they made the long-forgotten sketch show Alfresco. I saw one being recorded in the studio. It starred Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane and Siobhan Redmond. The writing was a bit rough-and-ready and the cast made no impact on me at all, except I remember feeling Robbie Coltrane thought a bit too much of himself and Ben Elton thought he was cock of the walk. I am sure they have changed.

Which is all a pre-amble to the fact that I have seen three sketch shows in the last three days at the Edinburgh Fringe. They may have contained the big comedy and/or drama stars of the future, but who can know for sure? Certainly not me.

I went to see The Real McGuffins’ Skitsophrenic because I had met Dan March at a couple of previous Fringes, notably when he performed his Goldrunner show about being a contestant on the TV gameshow Blockbusters when he was a kid.

I saw The Real McGuffins perform at the Fringe last year and, while they were OK and energetic – a better version of the more-publicised Pappy’s aka Pappy’s Fun Club – they were, in truth, nothing special. This year, they are something special. The scripts are sharper, the performances are even sharper and the show zips along at a tremendous pace. They have also kept and improved on a scripted interaction between the three performers which adds a semi-narrative thread – always a good thing in sketch shows which, by their nature, can be very disjointed.

This unification of their comedy sketch show is something The Durham Revue’s 33rd Annual Surprise Party! does not have. They try to paper over the unavoidable gaps between separate sketches with extremely good and instantly recognisable rock music. But choosing such good music turns out to be a mistake as the extracts are so strong it distracts from rather than unifies the various sketches. I mentally opted-out of the live show to bop-along in my head to the music between sketches, then had to opt back in to the live show. Bland music, ironically, would have been better. Or some live running link to creatively Sellotape over the gaps.

At least one of the Durham Revue team appears to have the charisma necessary to get somewhere in showbusiness in the future but (see above) who can tell?

As for Casual Violence’s Choose Death, which I saw last night, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. There were a lot of tears, a lot of shouting, several characters’ deaths, Siamese twin assassins, a clown and a serial killer who looked like Daniel Craig on acid, but what exactly was going on or why was utterly beyond me. Nothing made much sense at all but the characters seemed to believe in what was happening within their own fictional world. Casual Violence could have created a new genre of ‘realistic surrealism’. There was certainly an awful lot of shouting which seemed to work rather well. But I have no idea why.

The six performers and keyboard accompanist were uniformly good and strangely realistic while being totally OTT in a script which was from another plane of reality on another planet. The important factor was that the script seemed to make logical sense to the characters within the show. And, while played straight and getting plentiful laughs from a near-full house, there was such an element of complete surreality permeating the whole thing that I warmed to it after about ten minutes and enjoyed it thoroughly throughout – without knowing what was going on over-all. The words made sense. The sentences made sense. But what was happening had more than one layer of insanity. It had the logic of a long-term inmate in a mental asylum.

The Real McGuffins were slick, smooth and ready for television and Dan March is a star in the making.

The Durham Revue performers need another year at the Fringe but showed promise.

Casual Violence’s Choose Death was so strange it is beyond any sane description and, in a long-shot way, is the most interesting of the three. The show was written by James Hamilton. I think he may need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. He is doing something right. There is something very original in there. I just don’t know what the fuck it is.

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The Edinburgh Fringe debate about sexist and racial – maybe racist – jokes

I admired the late Bernard Manning as a comedian.

And, unlike many who criticised him, I saw him perform live.

I blogged about this in January and got a lot of negative feedback.

But I think many anti-Bernard Manning sentiments are knee-jerk reactions. People dislike him because they know they are supposed to dislike him.

The comedian, musician and writer John Dowie contributed a very interesting short story to the Sit-Down Comedy anthology which the late Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited for Random House in 2003. His Help Me Make It Through the Night is basically a fictional story about a right-on early Ben Elton type alternative comedian and an old school Bernard Manning style comedian… written sympathetically from the point of view of the Bernard Manning character.

The story was written for the book by John Dowie after he and I had a discussion about Bernard Manning and surprisingly found a lot of common ground. Indeed, I think we agreed that we both admired him as a technically brilliant comedian; and it helped that we had both lived through the period when Manning was having his greatest success.

John Dowie is (in my opinion) a notable left-wing thinker; we are not talking a Daily Mail reader here.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I am chairing a couple of debates in Malcolm Hardee Week (the last week of the current Edinburgh Fringe).

On Tuesday 23rd August, the proposition is:

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

It is perhaps not the most original of ideas for a debate, but it is never not irrelevant and I felt it still has a lot of proverbial mileage left in it. The phrasing and punctuation of the debate’s title can be taken to represent either viewpoint:

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

I did invite Jim Davidson to take part in this debate (through his agent) without payment. He is taking part in the Guardian-sponsored Edinburgh International Television Festival at the end of the week reflecting, according to the programme, “on the industry that loved him, supported him but ultimately rejected him, as he discusses the changing nature of acceptability in comedy and television as a whole”.

His agent said Jim was unable to be in Edinburgh on Tuesday 23rd for the Malcolm Hardee Debate because he is on tour – playing Great Yarmouth on the Monday night and Weymouth on the Wednesday night.

I have no idea if it is just impractical (it sure ain’t easy) or because there was no money in it or because he just did not fancy doing it. All are perfectly reasonable.

It is a pity – but much in life is, like the fact choc ices are fattening.

I have never met Jim Davidson and have never seen his live act (television, in this case, does not count). I have asked people who have worked with him what he is like and opinion is varied. I have no personal opinion on him.

Prejudice is not something I admire and, by that, I mean judging people without really genuinely knowing what you are talking about. It is a comic irony that people who say you should never believe what you read in newspapers and magazines nor on the internet – and you should never believe edited video clips out of context – often do.

So I am prepared to believe Jim Davidson is a shit; but I am also prepared to believe he is misunderstood and misrepresented. Jimmy Carr, a brilliant comic whom I have seen and whom I do admire, has also been accused of telling racist jokes. To which I say Bollocks.

Admittedly, even if I did think Jim Davidson were a shit, I would put him on to get bums on seats and to let him defend himself (equal factors in my mind).

I think the line-up on 23rd August without him is still very good:

Simon Donald, co-founder of Viz magazine, who has now re-invented himself as a stand-up comedian.

Hardeep Singh Kohli, sometime presenter on BBC1’s The One Show and columnist for Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

Ian Pattison, creator and writer of the culturally phenomenal BBC TV series Rab C.Nesbitt.

And Maureen Younger, the astonishingly well-travelled London-Scottish comedian who hosts all-female Laughing Cows comedy gigs in London, Birmingham, Berlin etc.

If you are in Edinburgh on Tuesday 23rd August…

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

at The Hive, 6.15-7.00pm.

It is part of the Free Festival – so it is free unless you want to throw appreciative money in a bucket at the end, in which case it is for charity; 100% goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

Don’t pre-judge it.

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Outside the Edinburgh Fringe, TV show sleaze and a comedy award for sale

In Edinburgh yesterday morning, I saw President Ahmadinejad of Iran walking purposefully through Bristo Square. But surely this cannot be? All I can think is that a serious President Ahmadinejad wannabe lives nearby.

Later in the day, also in Bristo Square, I watched as a flyerer approached a mother and child with the opening line: “Can I interest you in a show about a tree?”

Ah! – the Edinburgh Fringe!

Outside the cocoon of the Fringe, surprisingly, the world still turns.

Comedian Dave Thompson has just published his novel The Sex Life of a Comedian about which I have blogged before

It is available as a printed book or as an eBook download.

He famously played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired for being too gay (which he isn’t) in the role and he is no stranger to the backstage world of television.

His novel is about a stand-up comedian called Doug who “lands a big part in Rats Milk Cheese, a bizarre sitcom… In a world where louche girls romp in dressing rooms, luxury yachts and drug-fuelled orgies, Doug thinks his career has taken off. But show business has a dark side. As the wealth at stake increases, so does the greed of those who want it. At a celebrity sex party, Doug accidentally spurts on a member of the Mafia…”

Dave tells me The Sex Life of a Comedian is only partially autobiographical.

It has only been out a week or so, but already has some impressive admirers:

“It’s funny, it’s gripping and it’s not for the squeamish.” (Ben Elton)

“If you love comedy and/or sex you’ll love this book. My wife caught me reading it and I had to do the washing up for a week.” (Harry Hill)

Also still available as a paperback, a Kindle eBook and an iBook for the iPad is Sit-Down Comedy, the anthology to which Dave contributed a short story with Jim Tavaré. The book had contributions from 19 stand-ups and was edited by me and the late great Malcolm Hardee.

Which inevitably brings me to the Malcolm Hardee Awards.

Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick (who is also a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) has already exchanged thoughts with me about acts which might be worth seeing for this year’s Award.

Meanwhile, last year’s winner of the main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality is not playing the Fringe this year.

Last year, Robert White did well: good reviews, career progression, a Malcolm Hardee Award, new gigs and the industry noticed him. But, he tells me:

“It left me poor: I am not doing Edinburgh this year and instead am releasing some YouTube sketches and selling my Malcolm Hardee Award on eBay.”

You read it first here.

I’ll be interested to see what price he gets for the increasingly prestigious, nay, unique trophy. Unfortunately, the man who was going to do Robert’s publicity has temporarily gone into prison – not for a social visit

“To be honest,” Robert says, “it’s thrown everything up in the air as he was going to do all the social networking etc. He has the Twitter account for a comedy club The Comedy Closet I am starting in central London. His Facebook is gone, I can’t ring him as he is in prison and I do not know exactly his circumstances. I have created some funny video sketches and set up all sorts of stuff and now I just don’t know really. I suppose I am going to have to teach myself Twitter in the space of a week.”

Robert intends to release five comedy sketches on YouTube on the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th of this month – to coincide with Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Did I mention there is a Malcolm Hardee Week at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, there is a Malcolm Hardee Week.

There, I’ve said it.

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