Tag Archives: Bill Hicks

Comic Richard Coughlan on the drugs, Doug Stanhope and the death threat

Richard Coughlan: an anti-white PC mangina

Richard Coughlan: really an anti-white PC mangina?

In yesterday’s blog, I was talking to comic performer Richard Coughlan.

That conversation took place in the Soho Theatre Bar.

This can be a bad place to have chats, because other comics have a tendency to come across and sit down to chat with you in the middle of the blog chat. Thus it was with my Richard Coughlan chat.

Malcolm Hardee Award winners Gareth Ellis and Rich Rose wandered over and sat down.

Another problem is that now, in this blog, you have to pay more attention when you read it, because it includes Richard (Coughlan) and Rich (Rose).

“We were talking about A Man Called Horse,” I told the two interlopers.

“Eh?” asked Rich (Rose).

“Are you so young you haven’t even heard of A Man Called Horse?” I asked.

“I did a hook-suspension thing,” explained Richard (Coughlan), “where they put the hooks through your back.”

Ichi The Killer?” asked Rich.

“You see,” Richard told me. “That’s the reference you want for the young people: Ichi The Killer.”

“A man is suspended and tortured in it,” explained Rich.

“How much pain is there?” Gareth asked Richard (Coughlan).

“It’s impossible to describe how it feels,” explained Richard. “It’s so intense. It’s like this combined feeling of intensity with the fact you know you can’t go anywhere because your feet are off the ground. So you just hang there and take it and all your endorphins kick in and the adrenaline. There is no sort of pain you can relate it to.”

“Is it like hitting yourself repeatedly in the face with a blender?” I asked, referring to the Malcolm Hardee Award winning stunt in which Rich punched Gareth repeatedly in the face to pretend he had been beaten-up by an irate audience member and thus get publicity for their Edinburgh Fringe show.

There is footage of the stunt on YouTube.

“It was a milk whisk,” said Rich, correcting me. Then he mentioned to Richard: “I saw your Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus show at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“I always put as much effort into the title of my show as writing the show,” said Richard. “The first show I did ever was Honky-Hating Heterophobic Man Whore. The whole show was about prejudice. My new show is similar: it’s Anti-White PC Mangina ACTIVATE! That was something I got called once online. I got called an anti-white PC mangina.”

Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus,” said Rich, was weirdly moving.”

“Well,” said Richard, “The whole point of the end monologue, which is about my girlfriend having an abortion in 2006, is it’s supposed to peak in the middle and get the audience to a point where they hate my guts and I come across as a horrible, nasty shit and then I become so pathetic and worthless by the end of it that they actually feel sympathetic for me when I am shitting myself during a religious experience having been awake for seven days on the trot, off my head on drugs.”

“Am I right,” asked Rich, “that you were on heroin?”

“No,” said Richard, “I was never on heroin. I quit drinking when I was 22 but the only reason I did that was it was the most boring of all the things I was addicted to. There was the crack, the cocaine, the MDMA and the meth…”

“Methadone or methylated spirits?” I asked.

Richard Coughlan (left) with Rich Rose at the Soho Theatre Bar

Richard Coughlan (left) & Rich Rose at the Soho Theatre Bar

“Methamphetamine,” said Richard. “Speed is what it’s called over here, but this is like a stronger version of it. Everyone knows what it is now, because they’ve watched Breaking Bad.”

“Except me,” I said.

“At one point,” Richard continued, “there was an eighteen month period where I was addicted to all four. But, from what I don’t remember of it, I was still quite high functioning. I was working 50 hours a week. You have to: I had something like a £600-a-week cocaine habit. I have no idea how I managed that, because I was only making £300 a week. You get to the point where you think: What else can I sell? I’ve got the carpet and my kidneys left.

“But you stopped being addicted?” I asked.

“Yeah. I knocked them on the head when I was about 25/26. (Richard is now 35.) People still think I’m on them because they see me on stage and I’m manic and all over the place and they see how thin I am and think I’m still on stuff but, no, that’s how much I took: it’s still wearing off.”

“It’s quite interesting,” said Rich, “the way quite a lot of comedians have a history of drug abuse.”

“I don’t really care,” said Richard. “I don’t really care what other people are talking about. When I wrote the abortion routine… I started writing it in about 2008 and it was only in about 2012 that I was finally confident enough with it to get it done. Originally, it was a bit longer, because I had written all this other stuff about interaction I had had with pro-life groups and, six months after I had written but not yet performed it, I watched Doug Stanhope’s No Refunds and he does lots of abortion material and he did this joke that was almost identical to what I’d written.

Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope replied the very next day

“I was so unsure about my stuff – even though it was true – that I actually wrote to Doug Stanhope saying: Here’s a transcript of a joke I’ve written. It’s almost identical to yours. I’m worried about doing it because I don’t want people to think I’ve nicked it off you. What should I do?

“I thought: He’ll never get back to me, but he got back to me the next day saying: Oh, when I started, everyone thought I was ripping-off Bill Hicks because I did stuff about drugs. He said: If you want to do it, just do it. If anyone accuses you of ripping me off, you can just send them a copy of this e-mail.”

“What is quite interesting,” said Rich, “is that, when Doug Stanhope talks about that kind of thing, he does it very much to make a point whereas, when you do it, I must say, it is moving – Doug Stanhope is rarely moving.”

“Well,” said Richard, “I wanted to write from the experience that This is not really funny. This was not fun. This was horrific and it was a traumatic, horrible experience. But it’s funny

“I really like Stanhope’s stuff,” said Rich, “but when Stanhope talks about that kind of thing, there’s never a sense of regret. What made yours interesting was there was a sense of regret.”

“But I think, though,” said Richard, “that he takes it to such an extreme. He does that great joke where he goes: We only had an abortion. It wasn’t a frivolous reason. It wasn’t cos we weren’t financially secure. It was just cos we wanted to know what it felt like to kill a baby. I don’t think Doug Stanhope is the sort of act who can risk coming across as emotionally fragile. Whereas that’s me.”

“Sometimes though,” I suggested, “it’s best not to annoy the audience too much.”

“There was one guy,” said Richard. “who had never even been to one of my shows. He was an English Defence League member who sent me a message: When you’re in Scotland doing a gig, I’m going to come and fucking find you and kill you, So I sent him my gig list saying: This is where I’m going to be. Then someone sent me a PM saying You might want to be careful – with a link to an article in The Scotsman and this guy had been sent to prison for stabbing his girlfriend.

“So I told him: If you come. let me know in advance, because I can bring a camera so I can get filmed being killed on camera.”

“You could get £250 from You’ve Been Framed!” I said. “Well, your heirs would.”

“At the risk,” said Richard, “of sounding like a bitter and twisted old bastard about not being famous, if I can get someone to kill me, then people will think: Oh, he must have been brilliant. Let’s look at all his old shit on the internet. And suddenly people will find it much more poignant and they will think it was really important and I can become famous without having to do any more work. And the other thing is people will say: Oh, he would have been massive if only he’d lived. He had so much potential. 

“But, of course, I wouldn’t have. I would – I will – fuck it up like I always do.”

On YouTube, Richard talks some more about getting hate mail.

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Bruce Dessau defends comedy critics and comedy agents and managers

Bruce Dessau, King of Comedy Critics

Bruce Dessau, King of Comedy Critics

Bruce Dessau is comedy critic for the London Evening Standard newspaper.

“So you’re a bastard,” I said to him, when we met for a chat. “You criticise these poor, hard-working comedians, you’ve got no talent yourself and you destroy them. What’s all that about?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever destroyed anyone in my life,” said mild-mannered and eternally polite Bruce. “I sometimes wish I had: there are probably a few who deserve to be destroyed. I can only speak for myself but, as a profession, I think critics try to be constructive. I almost see my role as an unpaid director and I see my reviews as maybe providing performers with directors’ notes without them actually paying me for them. There have been occasions – maybe not many – where comedians have changed their show because they’ve taken on board what I’ve said. It’s a funny dynamic between critics and performers. I suppose we’re obviously quite parasitical. We only exist because the performers exist. But I think comedians benefit from critics.”

“You have watched all levels of comedy for years,” I said. “You have chaired the Perrier Comedy Awards panel at the Edinburgh Fringe. You have written a dozen books including Beyond a Joke (on comedians’ dark side). You run the comedy website Beyond The JokeYou are very experienced. But why should anyone listen to the opinion of someone who is not a normal comedy-goer? Wouldn’t it be better to read 25 or 50 ordinary audience members’ thoughts on a website forum and take an average of those opinions rather than some professional critic?”

Bruce Dessau: prolific Evening Standard critic

Bruce: a prolific critic for Evening Standard

“I have a perspective on things.” replied Bruce. “I think that’s what a good critic does. Part of what we do is place something in a context, whether artistic or historical. That’s something a critic with a bit of experience can do.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, you do have people who are frankly younger than me who sometimes get very excited about a comedian and I may go: Yeah, it’s alright, but it’s not new. I’m not saying it’s crap. They are saying it’s new. I’m saying it’s not new. I’m not saying their judgment that something is good is wrong. But I can give it context. I am a critic who goes to 2, 3, 4 gigs a week, sees a lot of comedy, digests a lot of comedy but, when I write for the Evening Standard, I try to write for people who only go to a couple of gigs a month, if that – maybe only a couple of gigs a year – or people who have only ever been to arena gigs.

“I’m so old, I have actually seen Bill Hicks perform live on stage. That wouldn’t give me a massive advantage if I were writing a piece about him, because there’s enough Bill Hicks on YouTube and DVDs and records for everyone to see.

“But, with someone like Daniel Kitson, of whom there isn’t much of online, I’ve seen pretty much everything he’s done for the last 12 or 13 years, so I’m in a good position to talk about him, because someone else who wasn’t physically there can’t access that.”

“When you talk to comedians…’ I started.

“I very rarely talk to comedians,” said Bruce. “The nature of my job is I arrive at a gig as it starts and, because I always have to do overnight reviews for the Evening Standard, I can never go to the after-show parties.”

“And it’s very difficult to review someone if you’re chummy with them,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” said Bruce. “Exactly. It’s very awkward if you get to know them.”

“But they’re interesting,” I said. “All comedians are frail little souls with frail little egos. Maybe you could unknowingly, unwittingly and unintentionally damage someone’s self-confidence?”

“By writing a damning review of them?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think their psychology is fascinating.”

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – more famous than many

“One of the many paradoxes of comedians,” said Bruce, “is that, on the one hand, there is this very supportive community – Yeah! Yeah! Go for it! Do it! Great gig! – but they’re also very competitive. If two people are sharing the bill at the Edinburgh Fringe and one gets a better review than the other – or they know one has gone down better than the other – that is quite hard to take. It must be quite a strange thing. I went to see (a well-known TV comedian) perform last night and he was talking about doing a gig at the Glee Club in Birmingham which John Bishop had compered. And it was a joke but (the well-known TV comedian) was still having a slight dig at the fact John Bishop is now much more successful than him and performing in arenas.

“It must be quite strange when you look back and think There were five of us on a bill at the Comedy Store and one is now a heroin addict, one is now doing the O2 Arena and I’m doing a gig at the Bearcat Club. At one point you’re all on the same level and then – particularly with what’s happened to comedy in the last 5 or 6 years – the fickle finger of fate can pluck someone.’

“And not always the best,” I said.

“But,” argued Bruce, “the thing about comedy is – up to a point – it is a meritocracy. If people are selling out the Hammersmith Apollo, they must be doing something right.”

“Or maybe,” I suggested, “they’re just lucky and a mate got them a regular spot on a TV panel show? There are probably 150 or 1,500 equally good comics out there.”

“I thought you were going to say Maybe they had the right manager,” said Bruce. These things are all connected. In defence of these much-criticised comedy agencies and managers. They are not scouring the circuit to turn rubbish acts into stars. They are looking for talented acts. It’s not quite the same as pop music, looking to put together a boy band, where you might say It doesn’t matter what his voice is like, he looks good.

News, comment & reviews: Beyond The Joke

News, comment & reviews: Beyond The Joke

“In comedy, I’m not saying what you look like is totally irrelevant but you do have to have the comedic equivalent of being able to sing, otherwise you’ll be found out. And that’s why, as a critic, I feel I’m not destroying people’s careers. I’m just doing a little pecking order of who is better than others. I’m not saying X, Y and Z comedians are rubbish, but I might be saying X is better at a certain type of humour or Y is better with a certain type of story. I’m describing their strengths and weaknesses, but I could never say anyone playing the O2 Arena was rubbish… Well, now I’m thinking, I’m sure there are exceptions.”

“I got told recently about a female comedian,” I said. “I don’t know this girl personally. But she is about 25 or 26 – and a talent scout for a big comedy agency told her: You’re too old for us. What they want is inexperienced 18 and 19 year olds they can mould.”

“I would accept that up to a point,” said Bruce. “They might be looking for raw talent and they might also think: Ah, yes, I can shape that person. But they are going to shape them from a point of having some basic talent. They are not going to take a completely blank slate, otherwise they might as well go to a model agency and look in a catalogue. If there’s a gap in the market for a sexy female comedian, there’s no point going to an escort agency or a glamour model agency and picking one out. You go to a comedy club and find a sexy comedian and hope they’ll improve.”

“But this mid-twenties comedian is dead in the water, yet she is probably as good as or better than an 18 year-old.”

“Well, in that sense,” said Bruce, “it’s only as brutal as Hollywood.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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“Being a stockbroker is like being a comedian”: Russia Today’s Max Keiser

Max with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

Max (right) with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

If you want to see the heir of the late American comedian Bill Hicks performing, where do you look?

Not in British comedy clubs where Bill Hicks is the comedians’ comedian. Certainly not in America,  where Bill Hicks only came to most people’s attention fairly recently.

Perhaps one place to look is a television programme transmitted three times a week on the RT channel (The channel used to be called Russia Today.) American presenter Max Keiser is RT’s economic guru; he fronts his own show: The Keiser Report.

Max Keiser (extreme left) on 10 O'Clock Live

Max (perhaps suitably on the extreme left) on 10 O’Clock Live

Last month, he was a guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You. Last year, he was a guest on Channel 4’s comedy series 10 O’Clock Livepresented by Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. 

Jimmy Carr came up to me after the show,” Max told me yesterday in Soho. “He was very nice and wanted to know more about my views on the economy. A few weeks later, I was having lunch over at his place – beautiful house, beautiful tennis court. He had me up there to talk about gold and silver. He said he was prepared to buy a ton – that’s 32,000 ounces – of silver. Since that lunch, the price has dropped about 50%. So that’s probably why I haven’t heard from Jimmy since then.”

“And you’re a fan of Bill Hicks,” I said.

“If anyone is a big fan of comedy and they watch my show on RT,” said Max. “they’ll recognise that I borrow heavily from him. I liked Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and that raw, unvarnished truthfulness is something we’ve always tried to strive for in The Keiser Report. It’s just very raw and sometimes it works not from having people’s funny bone tickled but because they are uncomfortable.”

Max Keiser presents his Report on Russia Today TV

Max presents Keiser Report next to Boris Johnson’s City Hall

“But The Keiser Report,” I said, “is a current affairs show – a news show covering business and finance – that is not normally a comic area.”

“At this point in time,” replied Max, “the financial world and the banks are so pathetically corrupt that it’s impossible to cover them without having, to some degree, a satirical view. Very few things which banks do, in this country at this point, are legal. Virtually 100% of everything all the Big Four banks do is illegal.”

“Could you be pushing this angle because you’re a presenter on the Russian government’s own TV channel?” I asked.

“Well, the show is produced by Associated Press,” said Max. “which is an American company. The show is recorded at a TV studio that’s part of London & Partners, which is London Mayor Boris Johnson’s public relations division. And we make other shows with Associated Press which are sold to other outlets. We sold a show to Press TV.”

“Thats worse!” I said. “That’s the Iranian government!. These are dodgy people we are talking about.”

“These are fine international news organisations,” said Max. “We’ve done a show for BBC World News. We did shows for Al Jazeera English.”

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English, Doha

“Ah, now,” I said. “Al Jazeera English is a very, very good news channel, though I don’t know about the Arabic version.”

“When we were in Doha where Al Jazeera English is based,” said Max, “there was this famous car park with the Al Jazeera English building on one side and the Al Jazeera Arabic building on the other and they really did not get along. So there is a perpetual stand-off in Doha and occasionally executives would be taken out to the car park and…”

“Beheaded?” I suggested.

“…left to their own devices,” continued Max. “And that’s not easy to do, because you need an exit visa. So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.”

“What show did you make for them?” I asked.

“We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.”

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?

“Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still seems to want to be fighting the Cold War. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the US, they still think it’s 1970. They don’t understand that Russia and the Russian economy has leapfrogged well beyond what was happening during the Cold War, well past the Soviet Union. They are very entrepreneurial in Russia and the TV network is very savvy. They have a bigger reach than the BBC – over 800 million. I think they’ve really taken the top position in the world right now as far as global international satellite and cable TV is concerned. And whatever we can do to support that, we’re happy to do. In this country, I would say the relationship with the Soviet Union is quite strained. Other countries have moved on from their Cold War perception.”

“You’ll get a Hero of the Soviet Union medal,” I told Max. “You’ve had other comedians on The Keiser Report, haven’t you?”

Max Keiser (right) interviews comedian Frankie Boyle on Russia Today

Frankie Boyle (left) interviewed on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Yes, we’ve had Frankie Boyle. I’m a big fan of his. A no-holds-barred comedian who’s willing to take big risks.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I think he and I talked about the state of the media.”

“But you’re a business show.”

“Yeah, but so much of business now is driven by perception and that perception is driven by the media. The Stock Market – whether it’s the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones – it’s a hologram driven by perception. There’s no actual equity in those markets; it’s completely a bubble puffed up on zero collateral.”

“What were you before being a TV presenter?” I asked.

“I started out as a stockbroker for Paine Webber on Wall Street in the early 1980s. Before that, I was at New York University and I was doing stand-up comedy. I made the transition from doing comedy to being a stockbroker at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period.”

“Why?”

“Because, surprisingly, being a stockbroker is not that much different from being a comedian. You’re telling stories to people, going through a lot of stories quite rapidly and you are essentially getting people not to laugh but to say: Give me 1,000 shares. To get to that moment, you use the same techniques as a comedian: pacing, word-choice, empathy.

“I was at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. Rich Hall was doing improvisation down in the theatre district. Robin Williams was at Catch a Rising Star. On the West Coast, you had Steve Martin. It was the beginning of that huge new wave when comedy became the new rock ’n’ roll and then TV shows came out of that.

“Watching Robin Williams work was pretty remarkable. During that time, before he went on stage, his ritual was to line up seven or eight Kamikaze cocktails. They’re extremely potent alcoholic concoctions. As the MC was about to introduce him, he’d just go Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang and down those suckers and then hit the stage with all that energy.

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser is into a post “Comedy is Rock ’n’ Roll” period

“Now we’re into a post Comedy is rock ’n’ roll period. I’m hoping we’re getting back to the more politicised comedy – the Lenny Bruce type of comedy – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway. A lot of people who do comedy here in London go to the United States and come back and tell me: It’s great; it’s all very funny; but it’s homogenised. They’re all doing the same kind of jokes, which is because of this huge thing called TV: the sitcoms. They’re looking for a certain type to fill a certain spot and there’s 10,000 comics trying to get that one spot and they’re all doing the same act.

“I love the comedy here in London, because it’s completely different. There’s a lot of political edginess to it. A lot of comedians here identify themselves as ‘left wing’. In America, there is no left wing. There’s only slightly right-of-centre and extreme right-of-centre and the fanatical right.”

“Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I went for the first time last year.”

“You should do a show up there,” I suggested.

“I would like to take a show up there though, if I do, I’d have to workshop it here in London beforehand. But I’ve already been doing my Stand-Up Rage show in cities around the world: Dublin, Los Angeles, London.

“People are fans of my rages on The Keiser Report and this is a 60-minute rage without any control whatsoever. I go into a fugue state in a white rage. Afterwards, I literally have no memory of what I’ve said. It’s a cathartic experience and the audience, in many cases, achieve a level of ecstasy.”

There was a slight pause.

“So you don’t have a script,” I asked. “You just go off on a rant?”

“I start off on one basic idea,” explained Max, “and I will refer to headlines and each usually triggers a good ten minutes of rage. Then, to catch my breath, I will maybe cut to a 20 second music or video blurb.”

“And you rage about politics?” I asked.

“It’s about the bankers and the banksters because, when you have this merging of the private banking interests and the political interests otherwise known as Fascism… I mean, London is the capital of financial terrorism. This is where the financial Jihadis congregate.”

“You do good headline,” I said.

“If you go down to the City of London,” continued Max, “they have the madrassas – otherwise known as HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. These are the madrassas of banking fanaticism. They pursue market fundamentalism which says they can blow themselves up and others around them – not to seek THE Prophet but some profit.”

(The Keiser Report is transmitted on RT, with editions also available on YouTube)

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