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Last month I slept with Arthur Smith; last week I talked to new comic Archie Williams Maddocks; both write plays

Arthur Smith: man, myth and playwright

Arthur Smith: man, myth and playwright

Last month I slept with comedian Arthur Smith.

Oh, alright, we stayed in different rooms in the same house on different storeys after I saw him perform at the Comedy Lounge in Totnes. He left before breakfast.

No depth is too deep for me to plumb for a shallow, eye-catching headline.

But the point is… on the bill with Arthur at the Comedy Lounge was a young comedian called Archie Williams Maddocks who showed remarkably good stage presence and audience control. I wondered why, so I had a chat with him in London last week. He is 25.

“I did my first gig just over a year ago,” he told me, but I’ve been going properly – trying to gig every week – for about ten months and I’ve only started gigging three or four times a week since June of this year – about four months.”

“Why do you want to be a comic?” I asked him. “You don’t appear to be mad.”

“It’s a problem, isn’t it?” laughed Archie. “I’m not unhappy. I’m not crazy… I was doing an improvised play and someone came up to me afterwards and said The way your mind works is very quick: maybe you should try stand-up comedy. I had always liked comedy but never thought about trying it… It looked like a horrible life to me.”

“It is,” I said.

“Well,” said Archie, “I thought I’d give it a try and, when the first wave of laughter hit me, it was like Fuck! That’s amazing! It’s like a drug. I’m addicted to it now.”

“But you didn’t want to be a comedian before that?”

“I’m a playwright by trade,” Archie told me. “In the summer, I had something on at the Royal Court Theatre as part of their Open Court season.

The new Bush Theatre, London

The Bush Theatre is to be the site of a Brixton funeral parlour

“And I’ve just been commissioned by the Bush Theatre to write a play about gentrification in Brixton seen through the eyes of guys in a West Indian funeral parlour. It’s all about the idea that Brixton was once a very West Indian area and it’s becoming gentrified and the West Indian community which was there has moved out to other places like Barnet and the shops serving the diminishing West Indian community no longer really have a purpose. So my play questions the role of tradition and whether you should re-invent yourself, which means losing a bit of what you established in the first place.”

“Is this going to be totally straight or with laughs?” I asked.

“The first three-quarters is going to be funny and then…”

“… then you undercut the audience’s expectation?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Archie. “I find with a play, if you make it funny and accessible, they’re going to warm to it more quickly. If it’s a serious drama the whole time, you can’t help like feeling you’ve just been beaten up. It’s hard work watching a drama for two hours, so I want there to be laughs – not massive ones, but little titters here and there and quite big laughs.”

“Will you be acting in it?”

“No. The whole idea of playwriting in the first place was to be in the plays but the more I write them the less I want to be in my own plays, because I think I would get too controlling. I kinda just want to create them and I’m getting all my performance needs from doing comedy. I’ve always loved people looking at me, watching me and enjoying what I’m doing or hating what I’m doing – as long as I get a reaction from them.”

“Isn’t there a problem about people doing something with your play that you didn’t intend?” I asked.

“It’s kind of like you’ve made a baby, but then you’ve given it up for adoption and you watch someone else raise it. You think it’s going to come out one way and it doesn’t and it can be a bit of a shock but, at the same time, it can be amazing. So far, I’ve been lucky and directors have kept in constant contact.

“I’m also working on a play that’s going to be put on in London and in New York at the same time. It’s about the relationship between Africans and Caribbeans here in London and black Americans. This notion of blackness in two different spectrums and the dichotomy between that.

“It’s going to be about a West Indian woman meeting a black American man in America and it’s going to be about their different attitudes and perceptions towards race. Two black people from two different countries talking about race in America is almost like a black person and a white person talking about race in England. I think it’s quite an interesting dichotomy to explore.”

“How many plays have you written now?”

“Nine. Well, including short plays, I’ve written about eighteen.”

“And you’re 25.”

Yes.”

“You always wanted to write?”

Archie Williams Maddocks in his 15-year-old dreams

Archie Williams Maddocks, as seen in his 15-year-old dreams

“No. Until 15, I wanted to be a wrestler.”

“An American wrestler?”

“Yeah.”

“Because they’re macho and showbizzy?”

“Yeah, pretty much. And because you get to say the most ridiculous things.”

“Did you have a wrestling name you were going to use?”

“I was going to be The Dominator… or Half Man Half Amazing.”

“So when did you lose your ambition to be a wrestler?”

“When I properly figured out it wasn’t real. I figured I wanted to do something more serious than this. I wanted to act and follow in my father’s footsteps.”

“Your father’s an actor.”

“Yes.”

“So,” I said to Archie, “you’re very serious about writing plays and you think you will be able to continue doing that as well as doing a little bit of acting and doing stand-up comedy?”

“Well,” replied Archie, “I’ve started to put the acting on hold a little bit, because I’ve grown to love comedy so much that I want it really, really badly: I want to be out there every night. Comedy and playwriting sort of go hand-in-hand: it’s two different forms of writing.

“If you’re doing comedy, you’re out to make people laugh and to forget themselves and their troubles whereas, as a playwright, you’re out to make people think and evoke questions and loads of reaction. But I think you can do both at the same time.

“For me, the comedy brain works very quickly; it’s off-the-cuff and instinct. Whereas my playwriting brain I let cultivate ideas over time so the ideas I have are fully-formed when I come to them and I can write them out in two or three weeks.

Archie Williams Maddocks, no longer an aspiring wrestler

Archie Williams Maddocks is no longer an aspiring wrestler

“What I’m doing now is four days a week of playwriting, three days a week of comedy writing and trying to gig every night. Yesterday I was in Wincanton in Somerset; tonight I’m in Brighton; over the next few weeks, I’m going to be in Stockton-on-Tees, Newcastle, Leeds. That’s what you gotta do. You gotta get out there.”

“How would you describe your comedy?”

“I’m an observational storyteller, an anecdotalist.”

“Totally scripted?”

“I try to do a bit of improvisation in every gig and I try to do something new at every gig. There’s no set script. There’s beats and units in my mind where I know what I want to come next, so there’s a flow to it. But I never end up saying it the same way two nights in a row.”

“Are you going to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?”

“With a comedy show. I would never take a play up there at the moment. Far too expensive.”

“Yes,” I said, “The cost of hiring a venue – and the free venues don’t really put on plays.”

“And,” said Archie, “in Edinburgh, if you have a choice between seeing a play that you pay for and a free play, what are you going to see? You’re going to see a play that you pay for because you think it will be better quality. Whereas, in comedy, ‘free’ is the way it’s going at the moment – ‘free’ is not taken as being rubbish any more.”

“Your father is an actor?” I asked.

“Both my parents are actors,” replied Archie. “My mum, Mary Maddocks, is an actress: she was in The Rocky Horror Show when it was in the West End; and my dad is Don Warrington (of TV’s Rising Damp etc).

“The main thing I get from both of them is they understand the art of performance and the need to perform. It’s not something you choose to do. It’s something that you can’t not do. I’d rather be poor and do something I enjoy than be rich and have to go into work every day at something I don’t like and be miserable. I’d rather live outside in the cold literally – I hope I don’t, but…”

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A new religion rises, as Fascism rears its comedy head at the Edinburgh Fringe

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Snapped shamefully asleep by Scotsman snoop Claire Smith

Snapped shamefully asleep in Brooke’s Bar at the Pleasance by Scotsman snoop Claire Smith

I have only been at the Edinburgh Fringe for less than four days and already lack of sleep is clearly getting to me.

I was shamefully snapped sleeping in the Press Room of the Pleasance Dome by Scotsman reporter Claire Smith. No-one likes a grass, Claire…

In today’s blog, I was thinking of majoring on the show Dave Millett and Tim Renkow Are Meandering With Purpose – featuring two of the most interesting, thoughtful and intelligent pieces of complementary comedy I have ever seen at the Fringe.

But, as regular readers of this blog will know, I tend to rather go for superficial crass excess.

Thus we have Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – Wonder & Joy and Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II.

A few years ago, I tried to persuade comedian Simon Munnery that we should start a religion by writing a book together. How difficult can it be? L.Ron Hubbard managed it.

All you need to do is read a few Californian self-help books, note the chapter headings and build a pseudo-philosophy round them. People want to be led.

Alas Simon was not keen to be a godhead.

Twin godheads of a new comedy religion rising in our midst?

Twin godheads of a new comedy religion rising in our midst?

But Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans seem set to fill that gap in the market with their successful series of Sunday Assembly events in London and elsewhere. Others have taken up the idea in other countries and, from October to December, Sanderson & Pippa will be embarking on a roadshow called 40 Dates and 40 Nights, hosting Sunday Assemblies across the UK, Europe, the US and Australia.

Their current Edinburgh Fringe show – Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – Wonder & Joy – which I saw last night – well, it was less a case of seeing it than experiencing it – is less a show, more a cross between an orgasm, a Nuremberg Rally and a drug or adrenaline-fuelled disco rave.

One of the quieter moments last night

One of the quieter moments of Wonder & Joy last night

Singalongs, chants, games, nostalgic disco music and a lot of shouting, bouncing up and down and waving your arms – or, well, anything you fancy – in the air. That was the format. And very sweaty and joyous it was too. Much like the start of a new religion or cult, but without (so far) any animal sacrifice or mass suicides in the jungle. But give them time… Give them time.

At the end of the show, Sanderson yelled at the bouncing audience, “This is not a show – It’s a movement!”

And he could be right

Sanderson Jones proves he is an android

Sanderson Jones encourages new believers

Sanderson encouraged anyone to get in touch if they wanted to start a Sunday Assembly in their town. And, at midday on the next two Sundays, their atheist celebrations of life will be held in Edinburgh.

I am not sure if I will be going. I am not sure I have that much sweat in my body to give. All that bouncing, pogo-ing and waving yourself around! At my age, I just want tea and Victoria sponge and to have the spittle dabbed from the side of my mouth by a nurse.

The only downside of the show last night was that, coming out of the Hive venue’s ‘Bunker’ room, I realised that poor Lewis Schaffer had been trying to perform his show in the adjoining room. It must have been like trying to perform a spoken word show during a Rolling Stones concert.

As I said, the show in the Hive’s Bunker room was part orgasm and part Nuremberg Rally.

Nazi but nice - Frank last night

Nazi but nice: Frank sang last night

Perhaps even closer to a combination of an orgasm, Nuremberg Rally and bunker show was Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II at the Voodoo Rooms.

I saw this glorious celebration of bad taste with comedian Maureen Younger and – linking back to the start of this blog – Claire Smith of the Scotsman.

Maureen speaks fluent German and was able to vouch for the veracity of the occasional little snippets of German. I can vouch for the bad taste. Frank Sanazi claimed that, last week, he had been ejected from PC World.

I had gone expecting more of the same admirable old Frank Sanazi routines though (as blogged about two days ago) missing his fine rendition of Auschwitz Craft.

In fact, this was a real humdinger of a fake Vegas show in the kitsch surroundings of the Voodoo Rooms.

Lofty Anne Stank’s sang of her diary

There was a lofty performance by Anne Stank with her diary

The beloved Führer of Fun sang all his regulars, but also appeared in character as Tom Moans (an aged Tom Jones with a zimmer frame and tight leather trousers belting out pastiches of his songs).

Plus there were the added joys of Maureen Dietrich (I think I heard that right), Anne Stank (emerging from a wardrobe to sing about her diary, then searching for eroticism and love among the men in the audience).

Nancy Sanazi raises a black gloved Reich hand

Nancy Sanazi raised a black gloved Reich hand

And there was a new, even better, version of Nancy Sanazi not just singing Jackboots Are Made For Walking but with an almost genuinely frightening split personality – part dumb American blonde, part screaming, wild-eyed homicidal/genocidal schizophrenic.

Oh – and, just to round off the evening, Jesus Christ appeared, transforming from Messiah to Full Monty type stripper/dancer with red ribbons flowing from the wounds in his hands like some Maoist Chinese ballet from the 1960s.

Nazi but nice.

The whole show.

Frank Sanazi and his stormtroupers triumphed.

Bob Slayer -desperate for books

Bob Slayer – desperate for books, even though he lacks shelves

Meanwhile, in the more mundane world of Edinburgh Fringe promotion, Bob Slayer has put out an appeal for books. Bob’s Bookshop has proved a good idea as a venue, but is sadly lacking in the bookshop area… though Phil Kay‘s long-awaited crowdfunded autobiographical opus is allegedly arriving in the Bookshop on Friday.

My secret view revealed

My secret view of Edinburgh will be revealed

Before that, Such Small Portions’ book Secret Edinburgh with contributions from 160 comedians and vaguely comedy-connected people (including a non-humorous piece from me) should be arriving at other book shops in Edinburgh (and online) on Wednesday after, co-editor Andrew Mickel tells me, the books got held up at the Turkey/Bulgaria border.

Obviously.

This is the Edinburgh Fringe we are talking about. However unlikely or impossible anything is, it may happen.

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Chasing pussy at Edinburgh Fringe + Lewis Schaffer develops terminal cancer

Lewis Schaffer (left) , Lach and Phil Kay last night

Lewis Schaffer (left in white), Lach and Phil Kay last night

It was 01.40am this morning, when I left Bob Slayer’s first Midnight Mayhem show which has no structure and simply has performers and members of the (if they want to) paying public doing pretty much whatever comes into Bob Slayer’s head – a risky concept at the end of the day, given Bob’s proclivity for drink.

Frank Sanazi croons “It’s Auschwitz" last night

Frank Sanazi crooned about Auschwitz craft

The show was still going strong with Phil Kay just about to start his second musical set.

Earlier, Frank Sanazi had performed one song to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s Witchcraft which he told us he now no longer sings in public (because of too many complaints) – Auschwitzcraft. And Lewis Schaffer had refused to perform his legendary three-part Holocaust joke.

A punter called Sally said it was her third visit to the Fringe over the years and she and her man had seen three shows at the major venues over the course of the day, two of which she said were “shit”. She asked what were the requirements for performing on the Fringe.

Kate Copstick, there to review Midnight Mayhem for the Scotsman newspaper, told Sally that it was a free-access festival and if you paid (one particular major venue) £5,000 up-front, then that was your qualification for performing.

Midnight Mayhem was happening in Bob’s Bookshop which, as a Pay What You Want show within the Free Festival within the overall Edinburgh Fringe, is in a rather different league but it was one which Sally seemed to say was what she had thought she was going to experience when she came to the Fringe for the first time. The earlier shows had not been this anarchic.

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp – the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

My day had started oddly, having breakfast with Lewis Schaffer at midday. Also at the meal – well it was a snack, really – were Ivor Dembina and the man currently sleeping in my bed, Andy Zapp. (I should point out I am sleeping in the living room next door.)

“What’s your best advice to young new comedians?” Ivor Dembina asked Andy.

“It’s good to make money while you’re still shit,” replied Andy.

Lewis Schaffer told us that his Fringe show next year would be called Lewis Schaffer Has Cancer and would contain details of his battle with a life-threatening form of cancer.

“What sort of cancer?” I asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he replied. All Lewis Schaffer knows so far is that his show will have to be life-affirming and he says he feels he has to establish the title Lewis Schaffer Has Cancer early, in case someone else uses it.

In a press release later in the day, he wrote:

I have never had cancer, nor do I have cancer, but I hope someday to have cancer. Cancer worked for comic greats Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks and Tig Notaro – why shouldn’t it work for me? My apologies to everyone who has cancer and everyone who hasn’t had cancer.

Has anyone seen Kitler? Lost in Edinburgh.

Anyone seen Kitler? Allegedly lost by F.Sanazi

At around the same time I received this press release, Frank Sanazi phoned me up with news that he was sticking up posters all over Edinburgh about the tragic loss of his pet cat Kitler. The feline was not, as far as he knew, dead but (he claimed) had gone missing in action on Thursday.

He told me he would give me more information if I came to see his show Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II (which I had already arranged to do.)

Yesterday was a day I had chosen to see shows by other acts I already knew. For example, I saw two shows by previous winners of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

Johnny Sorrow (left) in The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society

Johnny Sorrow (left) – Bob Blackman Appreciation Society

The first was Johnny Sorrow, appearing as 50% of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. I laughed out loud throughout, something I rarely do. The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society Bonanza show included tap-dancing fleas and ‘the man with no act’ and – suitably for a show steeped in showbiz nostalgia and kitsch – it also included the soundtrack of an ITV trailer of the type I used to make for 20 years.

After the show, I chatted briefly with increasingly prestigious award-winning Johnny Sorrow and he told me:

“A couple of weeks ago in Stockport, Bob Blackman’s grand-daughter Abbie came to see our show. She lives in Macclesfield.”

“Poor woman,” I said. “How did she hear about you?”

“She saw us our name on the internet and thought What the hell’s this? and got in contact with us.”

Bob Blackman used to appear on TV hitting his head with a metal tray to the tune Mule Train. It was a memorable act, now sadly and unjustly forgotten by most subsequent generations of thrill-seekers.

“We found out where Bob Blackman actually started the act,” Johnny Sorrow told me yesterday. “It was at the Waterman’s Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs in London. At first, he used to do the act just by hitting the tray on his knees but then, one day, the Watermans Arms was so packed the tray couldn’t be seen, so he started hitting himself on the head with the metal tray and his fame just took off. His son Raymond told me that. You know you can get plaques put up on walls where cult comedians did famous things? We want a plaque up for Bob Blackman.”

The Rubberbandits at the Gilded Balloon yesterday

The rousing Rubberbandits at the Gilded Balloon yesterday

The second Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning act I saw yesterday was Ireland’s Rubberbandits, regaling a packed Gilded Balloon venue with their greatest hits including Spastic Hawk and Up The RA (including the appearance on stage of two balaklava-wearing fake IRA members).

I rather enjoyed the particularly bad taste of their Spoiling Ivan,

The Gilded Balloon seems to be on a roll this year. Earlier, I had seen two other shows by top-notch acts.

Janey Godley was untagged in Edinburgh yesterday

Janey Godley happily ungagged in Edinburgh

My chum Janey Godley has returned for two weeks only to the Edinburgh Fringe – after a break of a couple of years – with a stonkingly good show Janey Godley Is Ungagged mostly about social media.

But it also has one of the most interesting anti-police stories I have heard and Janey’s barnstorming performance occasionally teetered on the edge of successful rabble-rousing.

When she said she was thinking of standing as an MP (I think she was joking – although the late Margaret Thatcher once suggested Janey should enter politics) she was loudly cheered and, by the end, she was telling the audience to be ungagged and to realise words are just words and had them chanting along with her Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! which – as everyone knows – is a term of endearment in Glasgow.

Ashley Storrie with mother Janey at the Gilded yesterday

Ashley Storrie and mother Janey Godley at the Gilded Balloon

As always, Janey did the whole show unscripted and, for these particular Edinburgh shows, she is preceded by a 15-minute warm-up performed by her daughter Ashley Storrie.

I had never seen Ashley perform stand-up before. She got 4-star reviews at the Fringe when she performed as a 13-year-old in 1999, but lost interest in it shortly after that. A couple of years ago, she performed at the Fringe with sketch show Alchemy but, this year, she started doing pure stand-up again. I talked to her about it in January.

On-stage, she has her mother’s self-confidence and audience-controlling charm. Astonishing.

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette Burton in her first grown-up solo show

As is Juliette Burton’s show When I Grow Up, also at the Gilded Balloon.

“I was walking round today flyering people,” Juliette told me after the show, “and I remembered the first time I came up to the Fringe in 2005, just as a punter. Back then, I was really, really jealous of all the performers and now I am one.”

“Which is what your show’s about,” I said. “realising dreams. Though the one thing you do not say in your show is that, as a kid, you wanted to be a comedian when you grew up.”

Juliette Burton gets a dream Fringe pass

Juliette gets her dream performer’s pass

“Not a stand-up comedian,” replied Juliette. “And that’s not what I am now. Why does comedy have to be stand-up? Why do you have to necessarily adhere to one specific form of comedy to be considered a comic performer? If you’re billed as a comedian, everyone assumes you’re going to do stand-up.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I saw Janey Godley earlier this evening and she’s called a comedian, but she’s really not a traditional comedian – she’s a brilliant storyteller who gets laughs.”

“I don’t see,” continued Juliette, “why comedy has to be set-up/punchline/gag. Why can’t comedy take different forms? Mine is very mainstream storytelling, but it would not fit in the theatre section of the Fringe Programme: it would be too comedic. On the other hand, it’s not stand-up comedy.”

“The videos are very funny,” I said. “I normally don’t like videos plonked into live shows to attract TV producers. But your videos and recorded interviews are a seamless part of the live show.”

“I guess,” said Juliette, “that it’s poking fun at some of the social boundaries that we’ve enforced upon ourselves in ways that – I don’t want to give away what’s in the show, but I like to do things that might seem absurd and crazy and like a nutcase, but actually the real crazy thing is not to enjoy what you’re doing with your life.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that your enthusiastic presenting style says to the audience that it’s a showbiz, comedic piece, but it’s not actually..”

Juliette foregrounded by either arms or legs

Juliette (right) sings at rockfest T In the Park

“How can you define comedy?” Juliette interrupted. “I’m very honest on stage. In a way, a stand-up comedian’s routine is more dishonest than what I’m saying. Several people have told me in the last couple of days that they are tiring of stand-up because it’s so predictable. They actually want something a bit different, something to surprise them.

“Stand-up – however shocking it might be – swearing and taboo subjects – is no longer pushing any boundaries. So maybe redefining what a comedy show is might be the next boundary to push.”

“I cried at one point in your show,” I said. “Not from laughter. From sadness. Despite the fact I had seen the show before and knew what was coming. It has shades and the audience don’t see what’s coming. Sometimes comedy is best when you laugh AND cry”

Juliette’s pop promo for her song Dreamers (When I Grow Up) – recorded specially for her show – can be seen on YouTube and the song can bought online. All money made during the Fringe will be donated to Children In Need.

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Enthusiastic UK comedy with the dead Malcolm Hardee and a new Chris Rock

Charlie Chuck backstage at Weirdos last night

Charlie Chuck backstage last night

I went to Adam Larter’s very aptly named Weirdos Comedy Club in the East End of London last night with comedian Charlie Chuck, who donned his new-ish PVC suit for the performance at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

It’s no wonder Weirdos and Bethnal Green are much talked about. Equally odd Holly Burn was on the bill (“one to watch in 2013” said the Independent) plus Lee Kern as four-letter one-man band British Pasta plus 2011 Edinburgh ‘Best Newcomer’ Daniel Simonsen and 2011 Edinburgh ‘Best Newcomer’ Thom Tuck.

“Will there be any TV talent scouts around?” a friend asked me.

“No,” I said. “Too trendy for TV people.”

Which demonstrates what I know.

Because, after the show, I bumped into Polly McGirr, TV producer for Princess Productions and Managing Director of Up The Creek Management.

People tend to assume that Malcolm Hardee, the late godfather of British Alternative Comedy, owned his Up The Creek comedy club. In fact, the money was put up by three brothers – I like to call them The Brothers – and he initially owned an equal 25% in return for handling the creative side of the club.

Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich

Up The Creek club could have been named Jools’ or Malcolm’s

I think at one early stage Jools Holland was going to invest in the club but decided not to and, at one point, the club was going to be simply called Malcolm’s but it was decided (oddly, I think) that it sounded too ‘Essex’.

Polly McGirr is the daughter of one of The Brothers and is wildly enthusiastic about comedy.

I was quite exhausted just hearing her enthusiasm.

“You remember Malcolm?” I asked.

“I remember the club that night,” she said.

“What night?”

“The night of his funeral. I remember all the acts getting on stage. I remember Jools Holland, Jo Brand and the naked balloon dance being performed and I remember when I was small Malcolm sweeping the stage. Whenever there was a shit act he…”

“You used to watch shows from the sound booth, didn’t you?” I asked, foolishly interrupting what could have been a good anecdote.

That’s what happens in snatched conversations.

“I’m so passionate about Up The Creek and I love it so much,” Polly enthused to me. “I remember being so young and my dad and my uncles allowing me to watch this comedy brilliance and seeing guys like Terry Alderton and Charlie Chuck. Brilliant, brilliant guys I adore so much now and Malcolm introducing new acts by saying Could be good. Could be shit. Fuck it! 

“On my 13th birthday, I remember going to the opening night of the Willesden club (there was briefly an Up The Creek offshoot there) and I remember Malcolm coming out and my mum screeching Noooo! He’s naked!

“And now you’re managing director of Up The Creek Management,” I said.

“Oh,” Polly explained. “I just do the new talent stuff. I love the weekends at Up The Creek. There’s no other place like it. That spirit of Malcolm is still there.”

“And Sundays…” I prompted.

“They’re done by Will, Jane’s son (Malcolm’s stepson). It’s brilliant. I love Sundays. They’re amazing. But Thursdays is now New Talent night. It’s either established acts trying out new material or it’s brand new guys and it’s still the same thing – Could be good. Could be shit. You never know.

Polly McGirr enthuses after the Weirdos show last night

Polly McGirr enthuses after the Weirdos show last night

“People are always saying to me: Why don’t you vet acts before they go on stage on a Thursday? But I say No. It HAS to be open mic: the idea that a crowd will never know who’s going to come on next. Could be good, Could be shit. You just don’t know.”

“How long have you been doing it now?” I asked.

“Three years. And I love it. It’s my home. Really. Seriously. It’s ridiculous, but I love the club so much.”

“So how,” I asked, “did you get an interest in comedy? Just cos you were hanging around it so much? Because The Brothers’ background is not actually showbiz. They’re – what are they? – property magnates?”

“For a long time,” explained Polly, “I wasn’t really doing much about the club, because I’d been around it for so long… But now I work in television and, because I love the club so much, I thought What I really want to see is new talent back here and being established back here and I love shuffling through all the crazy acts to find a gem that you adore. When you feel that buzz and there’s a real mix of different types of acts.”

“And it crosses over with your television work,” I said.

“Yeah,” Polly agreed. “So now I can take acts from the club and put them on TV. Recently, we’ve taken two guys who I first met at the Up The Creek open mic nights and they’re on CBBC as Britain’s first black comedy double act – Johnny Cochrane and Inel Tomlinson. I first met them at the Open Mic and thought THAT is what it’s all about! Either side of them were insane acts and you saw their brilliance.”

“But people,” I suggested, “say television doesn’t like or want original comedy; it just does the same thing over and over again.”

“We’ve got Johnny Cochrane and Inel Tomlinson on screen.” countered Polly. “It took two years to get them on telly, but it has been the most amazing time to establish them. We’re not very good at doing it in the UK – cool comedy – until now. And I really believe there’s great female comedy out there as well.

“I really love Harriet Kemsley. What I love about her is it’s really, really ballsy. When she does a really aggressive joke, it’s brilliant, so beautifully written.

Dane Baptiste - the new Chris Rock?

Up The Creek: Dane Baptiste, a new Chris Rock?

“But the new act you HAVE to see is Dane Baptiste.

“For me, he takes every brilliant element of the urban (black) circuit and he does what acts usually can’t do in the UK which is cross over from urban comedy to mainstream comedy. He is Chris Rock to me.”

Dane Baptiste is already signed with Polly’s Up The Creek Management, but it is unusual to see even a comedy manager let alone a TV person so enthusiastic, I had to go home, lie down and recover.

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Filed under Comedy, Television

When things go wrong for comedians

Bob Slayer has a few problems

Bob Slayer in one of his less strange moments as a performer

I was happily dozing off last night when I got woken up at 1.30am by a series of text messages from comedian Bob Slayer.

Cobbled together, this is what he told me:

“I did two gigs with The Greatest Show on Legs / Martin Soan at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival tonight: an early show and a late show in Dave’s Curry House.

“It is always weird when you meet people involved with a gig and get on with them, have a laugh, then the gig goes wrong and they don’t want to look you in the eye. And other comics avoid you in case your dose of the unfunnies is catching. If you are sharing a car it can be a painful journey.

“The first gig was really struggling. But then it got to a bit which always goes down well: Martin’s Thriller sketch where we put elastic bands round our heads to distort our faces into zombie masks while we dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

The original routine: Malcolm Hardee & Martin Soan (right) (photograph by Steve Taylor)

The original routine: Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan (photograph by Steve Taylor)

“Except that, when Martin cued the music (at which point we are already committed to the Michael Jackson zombie dance) instead of Thriller, the music that came on was Black or White. It was the wrong track on the CD.

“The audience just looked at us, confused, while we did our dance, putting rubber bands on our heads to distort our faces and dancing like zombies to Black or White. They didn’t know it is the wrong track. It just seems very strange to them.

“Afterwards, one of the acts told me he was watching and thinking: Are they making a statement about being black? With elastic bands????

“Fortunately, at the second gig, we got the right track and the gig went beautifully.

“The drive home was lovely.”

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John Terry, racism & the Afro-American

News from home while insects bite

I am in Milan for a week.

Yesterday, I was laughed-at for wearing long trousers in the 84F degree heat. Last night, we ate watermelon at an outside restaurant and the mosquitos ate my accusers’ legs.

There is a God and he lives in northern Italy.

Meanwhile other life goes on.

The UK newspapers this morning are full of footballer John Terry being found innocent of racism for calling Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt”. I really do not know what I think about this case. My mind is split.

In my heart, I feel he should have been found guilty but, on the other hand, I know that if he had called a Cardiff-born footballer a “fucking Welsh cunt” he would not have been prosecuted. This implies that it is no longer illegal to use the words “fucking cunt” (something I was found guilty of in a Crown Court in Norwich in the mid-1990s, when the appeal judge said the use of the word “cunt” was “clearly obscene” in the phrase “Your client is a fucking cunt”), but it is now possibly a criminal offence to use the word “black”.

This unsettles me.

Especially as an English friend here in Italy has told me that he heard his 14-year-old son (who speaks English at his international school) call a British rapper an “Afro-American”. When my friend mentioned that he thought the rapper was actually born in Brixton, his son told him he could not call the rapper “black” because that was a racist word. So he called all black people, wherever they came from, “Afro-American” because they all “originally came from Africa”.

Where the American bit comes in I am flummoxed to explain.

In other news from home, I am now getting my annual e-mails from American comedian Lewis Schaffer being indecisive about the design of the flyers for his Edinburgh Fringe show.

I see all his designs carry the line

SPONSORED BY PETER GODDARD. HE’S A NICE GUY

with a photo of the aforementioned Peter.

I blogged about it when this interesting piece of sponsorship was first suggested to Lewis and I am not quite sure if it warrants another Cunning Stunt nomination for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Or not.

As I type this, I am eating toast and drinking tea near Milan.

In Syria, people are being killed.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Football, Italy, Racism

The eccentric UK cult of the Kibbo Kift Kindred & the Greenshirts of the 1930s

The Kibbo Kift Kindred were keen on costumes & ceremonies

I was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1976 (yes, I am that old) but sadly I did not go to see a rock musical called The Kibbo Kift at the Traverse Theatre which was, as far as I can remember, at that time, a rather ramshackle room up some metal stairs.

I am very sad I did not see the musical, written by Judge Smith (his real name) who co-created heavy metal rock group Van der Graaf Generator in 1967.

But last night I went to a Sohemian Society meeting to hear Judge Smith (now bald – aren’t we all) extol the eccentric virtues of the now almost totally forgotten 1930s movement called the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift… and its highly charismatic leader John Hargrave – an illustrator, cartoonist, wood carver, thriller novelist, inventor and psychic healer.

By the age of 17, Hargrave was Chief Cartoonist for the London Evening Times.

After the First World War, he joined the Boy Scouts and, a charismatic outdoor man, he was soon appointed Commissioner for Woodcraft and Camping. In 1919, now calling himself ‘White Fox’, he married the leader of the Merry Campers – part of the Camp Fire Girls movement – called Ruth Clark (her ‘Woodcraft name’ was ‘Minobi’)

John Hargrave started the Kibbo Kift Kindred in 1920 as an anti-war breakaway from Baden-Powell’s more militaristic Boy Scouts. Hargrave’s aim was to encourage “outdoor education, the learning of handicrafts, physical training, the re-introduction of ritual into modern life, the regeneration of urban man and the establishment of a new world civilisation.”

These aims were to be accomplished by hiking and camping. “Picturesque and dramatic public speaking” was also encouraged.

The man sitting next to me in the Sohemian Society meeting last night had come down to London all the way from Leicester just to find out more about this extraordinary group.

During the Kibbo Kindred’s weekend hiking and camping extravaganzas, members were encouraged to make their own tents and wear handmade uniforms – long Saxon-styled hooded cloak , belted tunic and shorts for men; knee-length dress, leather belt and Valkyrie-style leather helmet for women. They liked a bit of elaborate ritual and ceremony, did the Kibbo Kift. At larger ceremonial meetings, the KK’s different Clans, Tribes and Lodges paraded with their tribal totems – everyone was encouraged to carve their own personal totem pole and parade round with it. Their tents were decorated in bright colours and their elaborate robes and regalia embossed with symbolic designs were somewhere between Hiawatha and Art Nouveau.

They used the native American greeting of the outstretched arm and raised open hand (to show you held no weapon) and Hargrave was “somewhat annoyed” when he discovered that the Italian Fascists’ raised arm salute looked exactly the same. Hargrave dropped the hand greeting when too many photos of Nazis in Germany with raised arms “caused confusion”. He did not like Fascists.

The Kibbo Kift sound like a bunch of amiable loonies but, involved in the Kibbo Kift, were suffragette Emmeline Lawrence, photographer Angus McBean, social reformer Havelock Ellis, biologist Julian Huxley and author H.G.Wells.

By 1925, Hargrave had switched his interest from ‘back-to’nature’ to the political Social Credit movement, which aimed to eradicate poverty and unemployment. The Kibbo Kift Kindred split when Hargreaves refused to recognise a new South London Lodge called ‘The Brockleything’. He formed the more political Green Shirts; the ‘back-to-nature’ diehards formed The Woodcraft Folk organisation (which still exists today).

In 1930, Hargrave formed a “Legion of the Unemployed” in Coventry. Wearing green paramilitary uniforms and berets, these political activists became known as the Legion of the Kibbo Kift and, by 1935, were known as The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit, marching through the streets with their own bands of drummers. In 1935, they put up a Parliamentary candidate under the banner of the Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but lost their deposit.

As Judge Smith explained to the very crowded room above a pub last night, the Green Shirts were the largest uniformed paramilitary street-army in 1930s Britain. They supported and promoted the Social Credit movement which, basically, said the Western banking system based on massive debt (the economic system makes money by lending money) is mad and inevitably results in periods of boom and bust. They had more followers than Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, yet have been totally forgotten.

They were idealistic and had a particular dislike of ‘fat cat’ financial institutions, Communists, Fascists and the Governor of the Bank of England.

During the Second World War, Hargrave invented an ‘automatic navigator’ for aircraft. The RAF tested it, decided it worked well but, as it required a gyroscope and all the gyroscopes were being used for bomb sights, they never took up the idea.

After the War, Hargrave decided he had the power of psychic healing and dissolved his organisation in 1951, making a living as an author, illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair and the Daily Sketch.

In 1967, he discovered that the new Concorde supersonic airliner had a ‘moving map display’ which sounded remarkably like the ‘automatic navigator’ he had invented during the War; but he had allowed his patent to lapse. Despite this, eventually, in 1967, he forced the British government to hold a full Public Enquiry which, basically, decided that Hargrave’s idea had, indeed, been nicked but he would get no money for it as he had let the patent lapse.

In 1976, now in his eighties, Hargrave went to see Judge Smith’s rock musical The Kibbo Kift in the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe and enjoyed it thoroughly though, Judge Smith said last night, this may have been because he was “pretty deaf by then and this very loud rock music may have been the first  music he’d heard for years”.

Before he died in 1982, Hargrave set up the Foundation of the Kibbo Kift Foundation.

All the paper records are now held by the London School of Economics; the costumes, banners and other physical stuff is held at the Museum of London.

Unjustly forgotten. As Judge Smith said last night, “one of the most unusual things about this very unusual man is just how little-known he and his movement are today. There’s no biography; there’s been no TV documentary. But he is far more interesting, significant and downright entertaining than many personalities of the time who are still famous today.”

On my way home from the Sohemian Society meeting, a girl opposite me in the tube train was making up her eyes with her right hand, using her Apple iPhone 4S in her left hand. She had it switched on to the camera, using it as a video mirror.

Times change. Lateral and creative thinking continues.

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Filed under Eccentrics, History, Politics