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My Comedy Taste. Part 1: Improvisation good and bad but not Michael McIntyre

The late Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe

I started and used to run the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. They started in 2005. They were due to (and did) end in August 2017. 

To coincide with their end, I thought I might post a blog about my taste in comedy. What is the point in having a blog if you can’t be self-indulgent? 

So, in June 2017, I persuaded my chum, oft-times comedy judge and linguistic expert Louisette Stodel to ‘interview’ me in London’s Soho Theatre Bar for that planned blog. But then I never got round to transcribing the interview and actually writing it. Unpardonable lethargy may have had something to do with it too.

Time passed, as time does, and I was going to run the interview/blog to coincide with the start of the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. But again I never got round to transcribing the interview and writing that blog. Again, unpardonable lethargy may have had something to do with it.

But, with performers now preparing to start to book venues and think about getting round to writing or at least pretending to start to write shows for the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, I miraculously got round to transcribing the interview at the weekend and here is Part 1 of that  June 2017 chat.


LOUISETTE: When did you first go to the Fringe?

JOHN: Well, I started going to the Edinburgh Film Festival in the mid-1970s when I was reviewing movies for magazines and, around the mid-1980s, I switched to the Edinburgh Fringe, which is around the time comedy started taking over from naff university theatre groups. I was looking for acts to appear on TV shows.

LOUISETTE: How long have you been blogging about comedy?

JOHN: It has never really been a 100% comedy blog. I started it in 2010 to plug a movie I had foolishly put money into and it became daily around April 2011 to plug comedy-related stuff I was helping to stage at the Edinburgh Fringe that August and I stopped doing it daily at the end of December 2016.

But it has never really been a comedy blog. I tend not to write reviews of comedy. They tend to be previews in advance of the actual performance of a show. In a sense, I don’t care so much about what the show is like but about how it got created by this particular person. It’s about interesting people doing interesting things, usually creative and/or in some way quirky. It’s always about people, rarely about things. People, people, people. And I do like a quirky anecdote.

LOUISETTE: What is it about quirkiness you like?

JOHN: The TV programme stuff I used to do was usually related to quirkiness. I would be finding ordinary people who did bizarre things… a man rollerskating wearing a bright yellow plastic sou’wester while simultaneously playing the harmonica and spoons, with a seagull on his shoulder. Ah! Mr Wickers, a Tiswas Talented Teacher!

LOUISETTE: You like eccentricity.

Surprise! Surprise! – A show and a clue to what I really like

JOHN: Admire it, for sure. But I remember having a conversation with another researcher on Surprise! Surprise! at LWT and we both agreed, if you want to find a real eccentric, you do not go for extroverts. You do NOT want the person who makes all his mates laugh in the pub. They are just superficial.

What you want is an introvert with eccentricity within. The extrovert just likes the sound of their own voice and just wants attention. The eccentric introvert has got odd quirkiness in depth within them. 

Comedians are odd because you would think they would have to be wild extroverts, getting up on stage wanting applause, but loads are deep-down shy and terrified inside. Maybe it’s the dichotomy that makes them. I like people who think differently.

People often contact me and say: “Come and see my show for your blog.” And I may do but it’s not the show – not the end result – that attracts me. I don’t really do reviews. I am interested in interviewing the person about why or how they did the show or what they feel like when they are performing it. I’m interested in the psychology of creative people not the end result itself, as such.

In a sense, I am not bothered whether the show is good or not good provided it is interesting. I would much rather watch an interesting failure than a dull success. You can very often learn more from what doesn’t work than from what works.

LOUISETTE: So what is ‘interesting’?

JOHN: Lateral thinking is interesting. Instead of going from A-B, you go from A to T to L to B or maybe you never get to B.

LOUISETTE: So you like the unexpected.

JOHN: I think Michael McIntyre is absolutely brilliant. 120% brilliant. But I would not pay to see his one of his shows, because I know what I am going to get. I can go see him in Manchester and the next day in Swansea and the next day in Plymouth and it will be the same show. Perfect. A work of art. Superb. But the same perfect thing.

LOUISETTE: So you are talking about wanting unpredictability?

JOHN: Yes. And people flying, going off at tangents, trying things out which even they didn’t know they were going to do.

LOUISETTE: How do you know they didn’t know?

Boothby Graffoe – always the unexpected

JOHN: I think you can tell… Boothby Graffoe had a very very good 20 or 30 minute act he would do in clubs. (His 60-minute shows were good too.) Fine. It was all very good. Audiences loved it. But, in a way, he was better with a bad audience. The good audience would listen to his very well put-together material. But, if he got hecklers or distractions, he would fly off on wild flights of fantasy, even funnier than the prepared show, almost soar round the room then eventually get seamlessly back to the prepared show. Brilliant.

There was another act, now established, whom I won’t name. When he was starting off, maybe 50% of his stuff was OK, 45% was not very good and 5% was absolute genius. I would go watch him for that 5% genius. And I would still rather go see a show like that which is 5% genius than a solid mainstream show that is 100% perfect entertainment.

If someone creates something truly original in front of your eyes, it is like magic.

LOUISETTE:  Michael McIntyre get laughs from saying unexpected things.

JOHN: If I see Michael McIntyre, I do not know what is going to happen, but it is pre-ordained what is going to happen. It is slick in the best way. If people are on TV and ‘famous’, I am not that interested because they have reached a level of professional capability. I prefer to see reasonably new acts or lower middle-rung acts. And people untarnished by TV.

If you see someone who is REALLY starting off, they are crap, because they can’t adjust their act to the specific audience. When performers reach a certain level of experience, they can cope with any type of audience and that is interesting to see how they can turn an audience but, if they are TV ‘stars’ they may well automatically have easy audiences because the audience has come to see “that bloke” or “that girl off the telly” and they are expecting to have a good time.

If it’s Fred NoName, the audience have no expectations.

I prefer to see Fred NoName with a rollercoaster of an act and I am interested in seeing the structure of an act. I am interested in the mechanics of it.

LOUISETTE: And you like the element of danger? It could all go wrong, all go pear-shaped?

JOHN: Yes. On the other hand (LAUGHS) most improvisation is shit because the performers are often not very good.

LOUISETTE: Don’t you have to be very skilled to improvise?

“Most improvisation is shit: the performers are not very good.”

JOHN: In my erstwhile youth, I used to go every week to Pentameters club at The Freemasons Arms pub in Hampstead and watch the Theatre Machine improvisation show supervised by Keith Johnstone.

Very good. Very interesting.

But, for some reason, I don’t like most improvisation today.

Partly that’s because, a lot of the time, you can see it’s NOT fully improvised. You can see the…

LOUISETTE: …formats?

JOHN: Templates. Yeah. Certain routines they can just adjust. Give me the name of an animal… Give me a performance style… It sounds like they are widening possibilities, but they are narrowing them so they can be slotted into pre-existing storylines and routines they can adjust. 

Also, a lot of improvisation groups seem to comprise actors trying to be comedians… I have an allergy to actors trying to be comedians. They’re just attempting and usually failing to be comedic until a ‘real’ job comes along.

LOUISETTE: Surely an actor can be funny in character, though.

JOHN: Often I think: What I am watching here is like a showreel of their theatre school training. It’s like an audition show. They go through 20 characters just to show their breadth of ability – to impress themselves as much as the audience. But the audience has not come there to appreciate their versatility. The audience wants to be entertained not to be impressed. The audience wants to enjoy their material, not give the act marks out of ten for technique. 

… CONTINUED HERE

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Why comedian Richard Herring thinks creating free comedy will make money

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

Richard Herring’s career and credits are a bit like Irish or Balkan politics or his hair – you could go mad trying to disentangle it. Go read Wikipedia.

But, between 1992 and 2000, he first became famous (or arguably for a second time, if you count radio) as a double act with Stewart Lee for their TV series Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy.

He has been writing his weekly Metro newspaper column for two years – he wrote his 100th last Friday. And he has written his daily blog Warming Up for 11 years. He recorded The Collings and Herrin Podcast 2008-2011 with Andrew Collins and has been podcasting solo since then.

He also co-wrote Al Murray’s 2000-2002 Sky TV series Time Gentlemen Please.

Next week, he records the second episode of his self-financed online TV series Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Last June, he wrote in a Daily Telegraph article that he thought the world was “approaching a revolution in entertainment similar to the one a century ago that led to the explosion in film-making… We are our own media moguls, and as such are denting the power and influence of those who have traditionally held the reins.”

He says: “I am increasingly excited about the artistic possibilities of the internet”.

“After Time Gentlemen Please, I had a bit of time,” he told me last week at Bar Italia in London.. “So I thought if I wrote a blog – Warming Up – every morning it would get my brain working, then I would do the proper work I was meant to be doing.

“I wasn’t doing stand-up at the time. I’d done a couple of one-man shows. I wasn’t looking to create stand-up material from the blog. But, when I started doing stand-up again in about 2004 I found, having written something every day, you could look through it and there might be a routine in it you would never have thought of doing if you hadn’t already written the stuff.

Richard’s new project - his own TV series

Richard’s current self-made online project – his own TV series

“Even now, when I’m writing Meaning of Life, I can type PARANORMAL or GHOSTS into the search engine and 20 or 30 blog entries will come up. So quite a lot of things in the second episode come from my blog of 5 or 6 or 10 years ago: it’s a great resource. There’s so many things in there I can’t remember writing which might make good routines. I’ve just passed the 4,000th entry and I’ve written something like 2 million words. The blog’s been a really great way of getting good at writing succinctly. Often, when I really hit form, a blog will be almost perfect as a routine; then, if I take it on stage and play around with it…’

“Good forward planning?” I asked.

“No,” said Richard. “I didn’t start the blog with any intentions other than thinking it would be a good way of getting people to come to my website every day. With all the stuff I’ve put on the internet the impetus, really, has been I’d rather get this stuff out there than just sit there either not doing anything or doing stuff which nobody ever sees.

Al Murray’s sitcom series actually got made

Al Murray’s sitcom series actually got made

“Over the last ten years, I’ve written quite a lot of scripts and, since Time Gentlemen Please, I’ve only had one that was actually made for TV – and even that was just a one-off thing which didn’t get to a series. I’ve probably written 8 or 9 different pilots. I got paid for them all, which is great, but it’d be nicer if they had got made as series because then you’d actually get paid some proper money.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve had a lot of ideas and TV and radio haven’t always been… I mean, I’ve always done OK, but they haven’t been desperate to employ me. So it’s kind of nice now you can go on the internet and just show you can do something. It’s hard work and I think a lot of comedians don’t get this about the business: there’s so many people trying to be comedians and writers now and a lot of them work really, really, really hard and, if you’re not prepared to work as hard, you’re not going to break through.

“It’s good to keep pushing yourself and I think, with the internet now, you make your own success. You can’t sit back now and say Ooh, if they’d let me on TV, I’d be amazing because you can just do it yourself now. You can write your own articles, you can make your own radio show, you can make your own online TV shows now.”

“But can you make any money out of all this hard work?” I asked.

“Well, I think you can,” Richard told me, “because, if you believe in yourself and you’re good… I mean, I would say I am giving away for free maybe 70% of what I do. And then I tour and then I do DVDs and I make money on that and doing bits and pieces here and there. I’m making more money now than I’ve ever made before and I can’t really sit down and work out why that is – apart from the fact that the podcasts I have done have trebled my audience.

Even after Fist of Fun, Richard Herring (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on seats

Even after their TV success with Fist of Fun, Richard (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on theatre seats

“Even directly after we were on TV with Lee & Herring, I might sell 30 tickets for live shows or, if I was lucky, I might sell 100 tickets. I would perform in London and 50 people might come and see me. That was directly after the TV series. People knew who I was and we had fans, but they weren’t coming out.

“Then I stopped stand-up; did the blogs; came back to stand-up; started to do the podcasts; did the Edinburgh Fringe pretty much every year doing different types of shows; then I started touring the shows; and, over the last 12 years, I’ve toured a show every year.

“We started doing the podcasts almost exactly six years ago. We gave the podcasts out for free but, if I said on the podcast Oh, I’ll be in Bristol this week, if there were 100 people listening in Bristol and 50 decided to come along, that would immediately double my audience.”

“What’s it like now?” I asked.

“I’m not like a TV presence,” Richard shrugged. “I can’t go out and do a 1,000 seater. I can play in 500-seater theatres and I’ll still get 100 people in some places, but I’ll probably average about 300 people which is a very good living. When you do 30-50 people, you’ll break even and maybe make a little bit of money. When you get 300 plus, you can make a lovely living touring the country if those people keep coming.

“If you get on TV, yes they’ll think Oh, it’s that guy on TV and lots of people will come and see you, but a third of them will not really know what to expect. The way I’ve done it, which is much harder work though more satisfying, is to do 12 consecutive years of touring on my own. So maybe people who have enjoyed that show will come the next year and bring a friend. And the people who have enjoyed the podcasts may come and maybe bring a friend.

“Audiences have definitely built that way. I figure all the stuff I’m doing online for nothing will bring in new fans.”

“And last year at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “you were giving away free DVDs to entice people in to your live show – because, quite rightly, you thought the big, expensive street posters have very little effect.”

“Well,” explained Richard, “people get sucked into what you supposedly have to do and, especially in Edinburgh, things get more and more expensive. I think those large billboard posters and lamp post posters are mainly ego for the performers. I just don’t think it’s worth £3,000… If it were £1,000, maybe. People think it shows a presence, it shows TV people that maybe you’re a name; but there are SO many of them that it doesn’t.

Tim Vine

Tim Vine’s 2006 Fringe poster announcing he was not there

“Ten years ago, if you were the only person doing that maybe – or if you were Tim Vine when he had that enormous poster saying he was not appearing at that year’s Fringe – That was worth its weight in gold.

“But what I’m saying is, if you have £3,000 to spend on publicity, try to think of an interesting way to spend it that will actually attract attention. People are not walking past those billboards any more thinking Ooh! He’s on a billboard. I’d better go and see him.

Richard: the big thing is attract attention

Richard: the big thing is attract attention

“People are wise to it and people are wise to the 5-star reviews all over the place: they know it’s just people putting up their own reviews from websites. It’s fine, but it doesn’t mean anything; it’s just one punter’s opinion.”

“And giving away the free DVDs in Edinburgh worked?” I asked.

“I’m not sure it completely worked,” said Richard, “but it didn’t make any difference. So rather than spending £3,000-£4,000 on posters, I had something to give away and we’ve sold 200 or so online which has got half the money back and I have some left over which I sell at gigs, so I will make the money back.”

… CONTINUED HERE

There is an interesting video on Vimeo showing the process of creating a poster for Richard’s 2013 show We’re All Going To Die

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US comedian Lynn Ruth Miller replies to critics of that controversial ‘rape’ blog

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and  Kate Copstick

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) & Kate Copstick at Fringe chat show

Two Mondays ago, I posted a blog which transcribed part of one of my chat shows at the recent Edinburgh Fringe.

It was a conversation between Scots comedy critic Kate Copstick and American comedians Lynn Ruth Miller & Laura Levites. The section quoted in my blog referred to specific situations in which rape might occur.

Laura and Lynn had been booked by me for the chat show because I thought it would be interesting to hear a conversation between two female Jewish American comedians of different generations.

Laura arrived late (as pre-arranged) because her own show overlapped the start of my chat show.

So, by the time she arrived, a more general conversation had started about feminism, prompted by the critical and box office success at the Fringe of American performer Adrienne Truscott’s show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

My blog quoting an extract from the chat show was headlined Feminist female comedians agree there are different types of rape in Edinburgh – entirely my choice of headline and responsibility – and it caused a lot of comment online in the UK, including various blogs like this one headed Rape Is Rape, even in Edinburgh.

They attacked the perceived opinions expressed in my original blog – as did a piece written for The Skinny culture magazine by their comedy editor Vonny Moyes headlined It’s an Unfair Copstick, Guv.

I had followed up my original blog with one expressing the opinion of my eternally-un-named friend and one quoting three of the interesting online reactions including a Facebook comment from Adrienne Truscott who had, by this time, won the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the 2013 Fosters Comedy Awards panel award  for her Asking for It show.

I also posted an open response to Kate Copstick’s quoted comments sent to me by comedy critic Corry Shaw.

Until now, the three people quoted in the original blog have not reacted.

But this is American performer Lynn Ruth Miller’s reaction today to what has been said about that original blog extracted from the hour long conversation at my Edinburgh Fringe chat show:

_______________________________________________________

Lynn Ruth Miller - Grade A show; dodgy C venue

Lynn Ruth Miller replies to critics of the discussion

I really cannot believe how these people misconstrued what Kate Copstick and I actually meant… but the real problem was THEY WERE NOT THERE AT THE PANEL DISCUSSION.  Not one of us demeaned or criticized the innocent victims of rape who were doing nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We were talking about women who deliberately set out to provoke men and, when it works, are surprised at the consequences… and I for one think rape is violence not sex and has nothing to do with how you dress or swivel your hips. We didn’t even get into that aspect.

I certainly stand by my comment that more and more women are using their bodies to ‘get the job’, to ‘get the promotion’ even to ‘get the attention’ and I personally think that is a shame…There are better, more effective ways. I find flaunting your sexuality both immature and not very intelligent. However, we all have our own means of making life work for us and I for one will not criticize anyone else’s methods or motives.

I do not want to go on and on about this but I do believe that had one of those people been at the discussion they would have gotten the spirit of what we were saying. Not one of us condoned rape or hinted that men are uncontrollable animals…

Ah well… the beauty of the world is that we all have different opinions… and I think that is a very good thing.

I also wish they would take what we actually SAID in context and not extrapolate from a word or a phrase an opinion or an implication that was in their minds, not ours.

However I think this is one of the interesting downsides of web blogging.

All these people vented their outrage at something that was neither meant nor implied by any of us and it was to no real purpose other than making themselves heard. The writing was not particularly studied; the prose was more stream of consciousness than an edited piece with proof to substantiate their accusations… and I find that very shallow and meaningless.

What did they accomplish?  What kind of consensus did they achieve?

Perhaps their universal conclusion was that the three of us are shallow shits… and I for one can live with that. That is, after all, their opinion; not a fact. Anyone’s opinion is a direct reflection of who THEY  are, not the person they are criticizing.  All of them were forming a judgement about what our core philosophies were from a single phrase that was objectionable to them. This is their problem and their lack of perception, not ours.

And one more point.

It is very easy to vilify someone when you are writing an impersonal blog. I would truly love any one of these angry people to come to me directly, look at me and  discuss the basis of their accusations and the logic of the hysteria they want to fuel over a very innocent, lighthearted, casual discussion about women, who we are and want to be.

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Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Rape, Sex

At the Edinburgh Fringe in August – Five daily chat shows based on this blog

Pay a fiver and be guaranteed a chance to heckle me

Pay a fiver and be guaranteed a seat & a chance to heckle me

I am staging five daily chat shows at the Edinburgh Fringe this year allegedly based on this blog.

As I have mentioned here before, I am a bit dubious about Bob Slayer’s new idea. His two Heroes of Fringe venues this year come under the umbrella of the Free Festival, but you can buy £5 advance tickets for some of their shows.

The whole idea of the Free Fringe and the Free Festival is bizarre enough to begin with… The audience does not pay to get in but they can pay as much money as they think the show was worth on the way out (or not pay anything if they thought it was worth nothing). In effect, it is indoor busking.

This year, Bob Slayer’s two venues – The Hive and his new Bob’s Bookshop – will have shows following the ‘Free’ principle of not charging admission… You just turn up, go into the venue, see the show and then decide how much to pay, if anything…

But you can also buy a £5 ticket in advance which guarantees you a seat. He calls this Pay-What-You-Want.

His original idea was that you could pay as much as you wanted in advance, but that uncertainty was too much for the Fringe Box Office system.

I think the original ‘Free’ format is confusing enough already without adding in another layer of confusion. When I blogged about this before, Bob got a bit grumpy and had a rant.

But that, of course, hasn’t stopped me joining up. Other shows at Bob’s Bookshop include Miss Behave, Phil Kay, Mr Methane, Patrick Monahan and the Sun’s former comedy columnist Tommy Holgate – plus Janey Godley, Tony Law, Glenn Wool et al passing through.

My annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be staged, as usual, in the ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh as part of the Free Festival under the ‘normal’ system where you pay as much as you want on the way out (and, in this case, 100% of the money will go to charity with no deductions). That happens on the evening of Friday 23rd August.

Comedian Tommy Holgate outside the soon-to-be Bob’s Bookshop - formerly the Scottish-Russian Institute

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

But my five Fringe shows snappily titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! So It Goes – John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show will be staged in Bob’s Bookshop under the Pay-What-You-Want system and, from last night, you can pay £5 in advance online to buy a ticket and guarantee entry. The shows will run Monday 19th to Friday 23rd August.

As I understand it, the capacity of the main room at Bob’s Bookshop is 40 people and – of course – demand will be high with people like Lord Lucan, Keyser Söze and James ‘Harvey’ Stewart attending, so I recommend booking early.

I have no idea who is going to be on the show, of course. I will be booking people after the Fringe Programme is published on 30th May and I know who is actually going to be in town. But a regular guest should be The Scotsman’s Kate Copstick: doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers, a regular in this blog and a woman for whom the phrase acid-tongued is too bland. She tells me she will recommend the best and rip into the worst Edinburgh shows and, knowing her as I do, I imagine she will have some potentially libellous daily gossip.

That is unless she has money thrown at her to do something better.

But what could be better?

My chat shows, unlike the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show, are not for charity but I will presumably make a loss because – hey! – it’s the Edinburgh Fringe and, if you can’t take a joke at your own expense, there is no point going.

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When I went to bed with comic Janey Godley and club owner Noel Faulkner

Bob Slayer yesterday in Leicester - not changing his spots

Bob Slayer in Leicester yesterday – not turning over a new leaf

I went to Leicester yesterday to see Bob Slayer‘s new show, which is perhaps over-optimistically titled: Bob Slayer: Turning Over a New Leaf.

It did, of course, not live up to the title because the 60-minute show went on for 90 minutes but never actually started due to four disruptive drunks in the audience.

However, keeping to the billed or intended subject has never been one of Bob’s priorities, so it turned out to be one of the most entertaining shows I have seen recently.

You just can’t dislike a show which includes shutting one of the audience drunks in a hidden cupboard behind a mirror, insulting the Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival judge who was in the room to rate the show and taking leave of absence from the stage to go watch a lady pee in the nearby toilet.

Strangely Bob Slayer, when sober and often even when not, is one of Britain’s most entrepreneurial comedians – something probably gained from his days as a rock band manager – and he has a couple of highly-original, laterally-thought-out but sadly as-yet-unprintable ideas for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Another comedian with original ideas is my chum Janey Godley.

In 2004, she started blogging and, at its height, her blog was getting at least (I saw the figures) 500,000 hits per week worldwide. She has since been mostly seduced away from blogging by Tweeting.

As I recently mentioned, she looked into live streaming her 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show from the original Underbelly building in Edinburgh. It was her daughter Ashley Storrie who came up with the idea, Janey told me when I was in bed with her (Janey) and Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner a week ago.

Noel Faulkner in bed with Janey Godley a week ago

Noel Faulkner in bed with Janey Godley at the Comedy Cafe

“Ashley decided,” Janey told me, “that, if you can live-stream porn and people will pay for it, why can’t you use the porn pay-per-view platform for comedy?”

Alas, at that time, it proved technically impossible in the Underbelly’s original bizarre building. The next year, I think it was, she persuaded the Pleasance Dome venue to have a giant projected video screen promo for her Fringe show in their front window – something unheard-of at the time.

Last year, Janey’s live Twitter tale about a couple called Tim & Freya arguing on a Virgin train went viral and triggered media soul-searching about social media privacy. So she then turned it into a one-off performance as a short play at the Edinburgh Fringe (written by her daughter Ashley).

And now, from tomorrow, she is running radio ads on Real Radio XS (formerly Rock Radio) for her weekly podcast with Ashley, which has been running since 2010.

“Ashley wrote the ad and I get to interrupt her, which is what I get to do in the podcast,” Janey told me. “It’s the first time an ad for an independent podcast is going on commercial radio – and all because the listeners of my podcast donated enough money for us to make an advert.

“You know,” Janey told me, “now you can actually make payments with your phone. You can actually just bang your phone to pay – and that will revolutionise prostitution.”

“The other night,” Noel Faulkner added, “I saw an ad that said Text this number: £3 will buy a blanket for a kid. And I thought What’s three quid? and donated. The fact you could text the number made it easy.”

“In Glasgow,” said Janey, “we now have children who steal McDonalds’ sachets of tomato sauce and make a pot of soup with them because they’re so poor. We should get those two fucking lazy pandas out of Edinburgh Zoo and they’ll feed the kids. We need more original thinking.”

Then she carried on watching the act on stage.

The Comedy Cafe Theatre provides a large bed in the corner of its auditorium for acts to rest on while the shows progress across the room.

Original thinking.

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UK comic Tiernan Douieb is becoming more political and is going to Iceland

Tiernan Douieb in London this week

Tiernan Douieb in Piccadilly Circus, London this week

A few years ago, the comedian Tiernan Douieb was at risk of having the Michael Palin problem: people just thought he was too nice.

I had a feeling Tiernan decided to change his persona sometime around 2010, by bringing politics into his act, so I asked him about it this week:

“Oh, I think I’m still quite friendly on stage,” he said. “I’m trying to do the politics in my own voice, by saying I’m an idiot but this is how I understand things and this is why I’m upset. I’m not trying to get on my high horse and say I know more than the audience. But, yeah, I did want to get away from just doing silly gags.”

“Why were you worried about being loveable?” I asked.

“I wasn’t so worried,” Tiernan laughed. “But, at the moment, I’m just generally very angry with the government and I thought I want to talk about this because, for the first time, it’s really bothering me. I felt what I was saying on stage – the gags – didn’t really… I didn’t care about it any more.

“My family – my dad and brother and mum – are all quite political and I’ve generally been the crap one who didn’t care really care enough until a couple of years ago. I did start doing political stuff a little before the Coalition came in – about the financial crisis. It felt like a good challenge and I quite enjoyed getting my teeth into it – saying to myself: How do I make this horrible situation funny?”

“So how do you make a horrible situation funny?” I asked.

“If you look into a subject enough, there will always be something ridiculous, but you’ve got to research it. I’m learning. I’m still learning. I’m finding that there are gigs I can’t really do the political stuff at, especially on a Friday or Saturday where people seem to just switch off. People have the automatic assumption that, if you start to talk about politics, they won’t enjoy it. They just think: This is going to be boring. I’ve just finished work. This is the last thing I want to hear. I want to hear dick jokes.”

“So,” I asked, “you perform one type of routine Sundays to Thursdays and another type Fridays and Saturdays?”

“That’s almost it,” agreed Tiernan. “Also if I’m compering, I don’t do political stuff very much then because, selflessly, I’ve got to set it up for the other acts and, if I do something that changes the opinion in the room…

“The other problem with doing topical or political stuff is that it changes every week. I have bits of material I have where I go: Argh! I can’t do that any more! because they’ve changed that policy or whatever.”

“Did you also start writing for the Huffington Post because it gives you more gravitas?” I asked.

“Well,” said Tiernan, “much like you, I used to write a daily blog on my website. The object was to force me to get up and write something each day. Then, because my blog was about all sorts of things, I thought I’d write one for the Huffington Post which was just political stuff. And then I gave up writing my blog because I got bored with writing something every day.”

“I find,” I said, “that writing a daily blog does force me to do things. But I still don’t understand how to use Twitter effectively. Performers love it, though: possibly because they want constant attention.”

“Personally,” said Tiernan, “I like using Twitter because it helps me to generate jokes. I can write a topical joke very quickly and then it’s out there immediately.”

“But doesn’t that also mean,” I suggested, “that you’re giving away good jokes for free and, if you then use that joke in your act, it feels like a stale joke because people who follow you on Twitter will have heard the joke already?”

Tiernan disagreed.

“I don’t use a lot of jokes I Tweet,” he explained, “because they are so topical. If I do three short jokes based on the news, they won’t be relevant tomorrow. I do Twitter for the same reason I used to do a blog: I find it keeps me really sharp. I get up every morning and think What gag can I get from that?… And what gag can I get from that?… Bam-Bam-Bam… I need to start my brain in the mornings, otherwise I can sit there aimlessly for hours. And often I put on Twitter a short joke that, later, I find is a theme I can develop. If it gets ReTweets, I know people have found it interesting. If I do a couple of jokes and they work, then I Tweet I’m gigging there… and that does work as self-promotion. At the Edinburgh Fringe, I sold 4 or 5 tickets a day, just as the result of Tweets.”

“And your next big project?” I asked.

“I’ve got a director friend and we’re talking about doing a video-cast every week – 5 minutes on YouTube of political humour, really topical. We’re both very sick of the fact there’s so much that dictates what’s on television and radio. We both have a lot of projects turned down because everything needs to be changed: You’re not allowed to say that on television or whatever.

“Sod it! We want to do an angry political rant every week. We might call it The Partly Political Broadcast and make it as funny as possible but with a point.”

“So you’re going to carry on down the political path, then?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m enjoying it. But I’m not a big Labour Party fan either. I think they’re awful as well. I don’t think anyone really speaks for the people or really cares. It’s mostly about earning money and I think, while that’s the case, there’s a lot to say.”

“What about Boris Johnson (the Mayor of London)?”

“I hate him,” said Tiernan. “I got booed at a gig for saying I hated him. He’s awful. He’s terrible.”

“But he makes people laugh…” I said.

“That’s the thing about being funny,” said Tiernan. “You can get away with everything. Comedians are dangerous.”

“And Boris is a comedian…” I said.

“No, he’s a clown.”

“What’s the difference?”

“He’s more farcical,” said Tiernan. “He’s more slapstick. His scripts are well-written. I’d love to know who writes his speeches. I think he improvises parts of them. I went to one of the Mayoral Debates and I didn’t really like any of the candidates. Brian Paddick was reading a script…”

“He was the gay policeman?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Tiernan. “And he was just so wooden and boring… but Jenny Jones and Boris came over as being very normal. If you watch enough performers and performance, you can tell when people are being ‘real’ and they just seemed genuine. But Boris ‘mugged’. Any time anyone else spoke, he would pull faces and distract the audience, so people were giggling. It was so cruel.”

“But effective,” I said.

“Incredibly so,” said Tiernan. “I just hated it.”

“Perhaps you should be a politician,” I suggested.

“I couldn’t do that,” said Tiernan instantly.

“The problem,” I said, “is that, to be an effective politician, you have to be two-faced and have adjustable morals to deal with all the shits you have to negotiate and compromise with.”

“I’m going to Iceland on Monday,” Tiernan said. “for my first holiday in two years. I like their ethos. Not their eating ethos – sheep’s heads and putrified shark – but the Mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, was a stand-up comedian and went in to the election for a bit of a laugh. He formed a party called the Best Party and some of their policies were We’re definitely going to get a polar bear in the zoo and Free towels at all the swimming pools and all the voters went Yeah, We’re so sick of everyone, we’ll vote you in and he ended up being Mayor and now he’s going to run for Prime Minister.

“Their whole ethos is just Peace. They want to be a peaceful nation. They don’t want an army. They’ve got these lovely ideas. I mean, they still eat puffins, but… I dunno… the whole place appeals to me.”

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A laughing criticism of James Joyce’s story “The Dead” and my similarity to a character in “Winnie The Pooh” books

A jar of honey before being emptied

A jar of honey which has not been emptied

Last night, I woke up in the middle of a dream about a multi-storey tower block constructed from the horizontal pages of books, all flapping in the wind while Benito Mussolini handed out prizes for art.

Benito Mussolini was confused.

So was I.

It is not uncommon.

I was confused a couple of evenings ago, when my eternally-un-named friend laughed at my daily blogs over the Christmas period.

Towards the end of yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that my eternally-un-named friend had, the previous day, laughed out loud at some of my blogs.

“I was creasing up this morning,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “at John’s blog about how he likes to be depressed at Christmas and…”

“A mis-representation,” I interrupted.

What actually happened was this…

She had got behind in reading my blogs over Christmas and read three at once. Then she started laughing hysterically.

“I didn’t think they were funny,” I told her, surprised. “Why are you laughing?”

She was reading my Boxing Day blog.

“At the end of your blog,” she laughed, “after writing about two other people’s diaries, you’ve said Samuel Pepys & his wife and James Boswell & Louisa are long dead…”

Then she started laughing again.

“That’s your contribution,” she said. “Having plonked in all these diaries from long ago, that’s your contribution… And you say you had  done virtually nothing and your Christmas Day was a comparatively miserable time and people are now dead while you’re living and you’re having a boring time!”

She started laughing again.

“You don’t even mention the Christmas pudding you cooked and these two guys hadn’t even cooked a carrot…”

She started laughing uncontrollably.

“On Christmas Day,” she laughed, “you’d had a phone call from the dead comedian… Okay… And Christmas Eve – Oh whoopee! – While the rest of us are thinking Oh! I wonder what we’ll get tomorrow. Oh! I wonder if he’s going to like that present and wrapping things and Oh! Something nice to eat! you’ve blogged The best-written paragraph in English was written by a short-sighted Irishman. And then there’s this miserable paragraph that’s unreadable and I dunno what’s going on. It sounds like someone’s lying next to someone who’s dead… And you say that reminds you of Christmas!”

She started laughing uncontrollably again.

“You’re just a miserable old wotsit!” she laughed. “You’re Eeyore!… Mind you, at least he was happy when he was given a balloon that had burst and someone else had given him an empty honey jar. Ooh! I can put the burst balloon into the honey jar!” And I suppose you would do the same. Do you know that story?”

“I don’t know Pooh,” I said.

“You don’t know Pooh at all?”

“I know shit about Pooh,” I replied.

“So,” explained my eternally-un-named friend, “it’s Eeyore’s birthday and he’s always so bloody miserable…” and she started laughing again. “Eating nettles!” she laughed. “Oh! My day! My life! Woe is me! And it’s his birthday and Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh both think Oh, it’s Eeyore’s birthday. We’ll give him something! And Piglet thinks I’ve got a balloon! It’s a big red balloon. And he’s running along, excited to give it to him and he falls over and it bursts. And Winnie-the-Pooh thought I’ll give him one of my jars of honey. But he gets a bit peckish on the way and sits down and eats it.

“So, when they get to Eeyore’s field, they only have a burst balloon and an empty jar to give him. Oh, he says, well at least I can put my burst balloon into the empty jar – because it wouldn’t have fitted otherwise. So that was good all round. He saw the positive.

“There’s a book written – The Tao of Pooh – to follow the ways of Pooh with ‘attitude’ and the way to happiness is not to think beyond lunchtime. You miserable little sausage! People are going to be reading your blogs and thinking This guy is into emotional masturbation. The misery! It’s a slightly teenage kind of attitude. Oh, woe is me! I have nothing! which is easy to do.

“And this blog about your favourite passage in English! I’m not even sure if the woman he’s got in bed next to him is dead in whatever that book is.”

The Dead,” I said.

“He gets into bed next to her,” my eternally-un-named friend continued, “and she hasn’t responded. I’m thinking she’s dead. And there’s something about her eyes that last saw… and she’d had to lock away the love of her life and looking at his eyes because he’d said he’d kill himself. I’m not sure which one was going to kill themselves of these bloody guys. Whether it was him and she hadn’t got off with the love of her life or the love of her life said he’d kill herself. Or he’d killed herself and she was left with this one who was in bed beside her while she’s dead. I have no idea.

“Meanwhile, he’s then blah blah blah – I have no idea what that was about – and something about the snow falling on the…”

“The Bog of Allen,” I suggested.

“…on the graves and the fences,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “And we saw Doctor Who which had snow in it.”

My eternally-un-named friend stopped laughing and blew her nose.

“And you say that always reminds you of Christmas,” she told me. “Not one word about Christmas. The snow might be, slightly, but…”

There was a long pause.

We both started laughing.

“So I read that,” she said eventually, laughing, “and felt I’d failed you by not giving you the wretched bones of a Pope or a photograph of a dead archbishop in Milan or something… Oh! I’ll give him a shrunken head next year… I’ll give you that. This was once a person. They had a bad time, you can say, but not as bad as mine! At least they’ve thrown off this mortal coil and they’ve lost weight.

“There’s no point me trying to say something comforting to you, because you want to be miserable. So what can I do to make you miserable? I could trim your eyebrows.”

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