Tag Archives: Brighton

The joys of Glasgow when you are an 85-year-old burlesque performer

Ever-seductive Lynn Ruth Miller

Recently back from performing comedy in the Far East (as per various recent blogs here) 85 year-old American comic and late-starting burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller was stripping in Glasgow last week; she lives in London; she used to live in Brighton. Here she tells you what happened.


Glasgow is a unique city; much like Brighton but, in Brighton, they speak English.

People in Glasgow are positively avuncular when they see an old lady.

It started when the train pulled into Central Station. Instantly, one man took my case from the luggage rack and another hauled it off the train. As soon as I got into the station I asked a cleaner (no-one at the Information Desk) how to get to my hotel and he had a great deal to say. Sadly I could not understand one word, although I made him repeat it three times.  

I walked over to three girls in blonde wigs and asked them if they knew where Virginia Street was and they knew but insisted I take a cab because the weather was horrid. It was windy and raining. It was, after all Glasgow.

The three informed me that they were Swedish tonight because they were going to an Abba party. Did I want to go with them? I explained that I am Jewish and needed a toilet and they understood.  

They took me to the cab-stand and put me in a cab. The driver took me to the hotel, took my bag into the lobby and asked me to tell him a joke.

I did.

He laughed.

The hotel was charming. All thick, grey stone walls, dim lighting and forbidding paintings of knights on horses with spears on the walls. There was no lift and my room was on the third floor up an endless circular staircase. I felt a bit like Rapunzel and had I let my hair grow, I would have dropped it out the window and climbed down to the street. It would have been far less arduous than climbing those stairs.

One look at the size of my room and I immediately understood how it would feel to live in Japan. The good thing was I could reach EVERYTHING standing at the foot of the bed. I am 58 inches tall and the room was exactly 60 inches square.

I went out of the hotel in search of dinner and discovered that, in Glasgow, everything is open until midnight and beyond TO DRINK. Eating must be finished by ten.  

Glasgow – It is not all windy and raining

Back in the hotel, I practised my songs for the Burlesque Festival in my tiny little room at the top of the stairs. I was up so high that several birds peered in the glass to check out the caterwauling sounds coming from my open window.

The next afternoon, I lunched at Breakfast at Tiffany’s (really) and was taken by how many old couples (seventy or older) go out for lunch there. They sit at the table and never say one word to one another, eating careful and slowly lest they drop a bit of egg on their jumpers.   

I always thought I had missed so much because I don’t have a partner… no-one to share ideas with; no-one to tell my troubles to; no-one to cuddle. But, when I look at these couples who have been together for umpteen years and don’t even register the other’s presence, I wonder if I missed anything at all.  

I held my comedy class at The Riding Room for three wonderful women and talked about what makes funny.

There was one accomplished woman from New Zealand who had just come from London where she had played the Royal Vauxhall Theatre and it occurred to me that I could learn from HER not the other way around; a single mother from Glasgow who said that people consider single mothers the result of a broken relationship but the truth is they are just broke; and a wonderful young lady from Aberdeen who wants to start a burlesque venue there.

I said to them all: “Why not?”

Aberdeen could use some twirling tits to take their minds off the horny sheep; New Zealand must be thrilled to have a stripper who tells them that menopause means men are paused… and single parents really do have a lot more fun when they manage to find a baby sitter.

My big one was that night: The Saturday Evening Spectacular at The Glasgow Burlesque Festival and I was the headliner.  

Audiences in Glasgow are particularly supportive and they go wild just because you are performing. I did my song and got a huge standing ovation, which thrilled me.  

I do not think I will ever take audience appreciation for granted. It is a gift that means far more to a true performer than the money we earn. It validates us. But the sweetest thing is how very many people came up to me afterwards and THANKED ME for doing my performance.

There is a joy and a sense that humans are important and to be cherished in Glasgow. It is the underlying quality I love about all of the UK but in Glasgow (and in Brighton) it is far more apparent.  

Age, sex, sexuality, income… no-one cares. They only get upset if you are cruel to someone else or kick a puppy (and in Brighton, of course, if you forget to recycle).

Viv Gee and Lynn Ruth are kind to puppies

My Sunday in Glasgow was spectacular. I went to lunch with Viv Gee, a superb comedian and a teacher of comedy. She met me at Singl-end, a New Age restaurant so up-to-the-minute that there were no deep-fried Mars Bars on the menu. Not even fish and chips. Just blood pudding and things like seared Kale and Spirulina fritters.  

I left to meet Frodo McDaniel and spoiled the entire nutritional effect of my lunch with Costa’s hot chocolate covered with mountains of whipped cream. We discussed the problem of achieving fame and fortune when you do cabaret… evidently no-one loves a cabaret artist.  

The burlesque scene is burgeoning however and the range of talent that we see on stage goes from mediocre and expected to wild and original. It is becoming very like comedy in that more and more people are doing it and you can actually choose how sophisticated and polished a show you prefer.

Roxy Stardust created the Glasgow Burlesque Festival. This is her fourth year of bringing artists from all over the world to Glasgow to rip off their clothes, swallow swords and climb ropes. She does not discriminate between men and women, colour or genre and it is Roxy’s patter that holds each show together. She sings, she jokes, she chats to an audience who cannot help but get her… and she fills the house every night. She has figured the whole thing out just right.

At the early show, I recreated my prize-winning cabaret AGEING IS AMAZING (the one where I throw diapers at the audience, give them condoms and put wigs on their heads). I got my second standing ovation for that one.

In the late show, we had our finale for the four-day festival and I gave them ZIP, where I zip up and zip down but never strip. The audience response was gorgeous.

The next day I dragged my case down three flights of narrow stairs and walked to the station (not ten minutes away).

As always in Glasgow, someone walked me to the entrance, someone else helped me haul my case onto the train and someone ELSE stored it in the luggage rack and promised to retrieve it when we got to Euston.

And he did.

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Lynn Ruth Miller – “Comedy is a skill that is far more than the jokes you tell”


In the past few weeks, globetrotting UK-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller – physical age 84; mental age 24 – has sent me pieces about her trips to Prague and Dublin.

Next week, she has a week of performances in Paris. But last week, she was in Berlin for six days. 

This is (some of) what happened…


The Ryanair flight was ONE HOUR late landing, so we didn’t get the bugle call to tell us we were on time but my hearing aid gave me a little whistle which was much nicer and didn’t disturb anyone else.    

I had made friends with a lovely break dancer who was telling me how he had mutilated his body and had even begun losing his hair because of the extreme physical demands of his profession and I thought to myself: “It is a good thing I only do the Lindy Hop half time. I certainly cannot afford to lose any more hair than I already have.”

Bald is only beautiful on a baby’s butt and I am definitely beyond that.

I think, in a strange way, Berlin is very much like Brighton (although Brighton is wildly expensive and Berlin is amazingly affordable).

Ex-Brighton resident Lynn Ruth in Berlin

The similarity is that anything goes in both places and everyone loves everyone… no homophobia of any kind. But, although everyone feels at home and loved in both places, it is really hard to earn a living. Everyone has a unique talent they cannot market and they are so dedicated to that talent that they will do it anywhere and everywhere just to have the opportunity to express themselves to others.

No-one needs to pay them for what they do. So you cannot earn a living; you cannot progress in whatever field you happen to be in; and yet… and yet… both are such FUN places to be, everyone hates to leave.

Berlin is a place you need to experience rather than describe. There is an atmosphere of politeness and concern that is really comforting. It has been one of the most welcoming of places for me with people anxious and eager to help. I often wonder what happened to this national sensibility when my ancestors were here being converted into soap and lampshades.

We run away from our roots, don’t we? I certainly have: across a vast country, across an ocean. And the strange truth is that the clarification and validation I sought was inside me all that time.

That first evening in Berlin last week, I was intending to meet Kenny (a guitarist I met last trip) to go open air dancing but – alas – he was too tired (story of my life).

Instead, we took a little walk and talked about him. He is finding the glow that is Berlin fading and he is thinking about finding vibrancy somewhere else. The low cost of living and wonderfully hopeful atmosphere is tarnished. Kenny has been here 11 years. The problem of living in a low cost area is that salaries are also low, so no-one can get his or her head above water.

The second night – Wednesday – I was blessed with a comp ticket to Quatsch Comedy, THE upscale comedy club that does one English show every couple of months. The MC is Christian Schulte-Loh who is amazing because, although English is his second language, he has the English subtext down pat. He is an excellent host, never dominating the stage and always priming the audience for what is to come, welcoming them and getting them set up for laughter.

The headliner was John Moloney and I was amazed and delighted at his ability to give us one punch-line after another, never slowing his pace and never descending to cheap shocking material. He is an artist and he is the reason I struggle to perfect my set… What he does is where I want to be (before I die? Fat chance). The entire show taught me that I have a long way to go to be that smooth and that professional.

After the show, I went to Bombay – an Indian restaurant across the street – to have dinner and met two vegan women from Amsterdam who were in Berlin for a conference that was cancelled. Both are writing a vegan cookbook. The son of the owner of the restaurant fell in love with all three of us and plied us with shots until we were all bloopy. Evidently alcohol is fine on a vegan diet.  It is just cheese and eggs that are verboten.

“I am more than an old lady to them…”

Thursday was my first night at Cosmic Comedy and it was a delight. The audience is receptive and happy, filled as they are with pizza and free shots. I truly love doing my sets there because the owners and the audience always get my humor. I am more than an old lady to them. I am a funny comedian. Eat your heart out Joan Rivers. I didn’t have to have a face lift to do this.

Friday night was a showcase night and I headlined. The audience was small because of the Big Game (football over here is a way of life) but they were responsive and I did my usual routine. The interesting thing was that usually my audiences in Berlin are all expats, but this time the majority was German. English is their second and sometimes their third language. They got the jokes all right but slowly.

This highlights my theory that standup comedy is a skill that is far more than the jokes you tell. You are paid to make the audience laugh no matter what the demographic. That means adjusting your material to their response. Not easy, but definitely part of the job.

Saturday was my big show and I did one of my compilations of songs and stories. My friend Kenny Stanger accompanied me on a guitar. Since I cannot carry a tune anyway, it really doesn’t matter what the musician accompanying me plays.

When I looked at the list of musical numbers I realized that nine out of the ten were about my looking for love, loving men, wanting to find a guy and bemoaning my obvious failures. I was fairly sure this topic would be boring and out of date for the modern expat generation in progressive Berlin, but I was wrong. Even though I did my usual stumbling over words, tunes and melodies, the audiences was captivated and simply could not get enough of me. The show was a great success.

They clustered around me after the show just to assure themselves that all the stories I tell of my failed attempt at romance were really true (as they are) and several said they had never seen a show like this one and of course they were right. No-one in the world has stumbled and fallen so indecorously or made such a mess of a performance. I suspect the charm of this performance was that everyone thought: “If that old hag can make a fool of herself on stage, I would be a star.”

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Lesbians in Brighton, a 101st birthday party, but no news of any stripping

Mrs H on her 101st birthday

Mrs H celebrated at her 101st birthday party in Catford

I went to a 101st birthday party in Catford on Saturday night for ‘Mrs H’.

She was dancing at her 100th birthday, in her youth did a lot of walking and camping and now drinks a bottle of brandy every week. A lesson to us all.

Meanwhile, camping of a different type…

I keep getting mistaken for gay comedy icon Michael Topping. I think it is the eyebrows and the lack of hair atop our heads. We are not mistaken for each other. I am mistaken for Michael not vice versa. It is in the nature of fame.

When I worked at Anglia TV, someone called me ‘Peter’ for two years. I never corrected him; I felt it would have seemed churlish.

Claire Smith in Brighton yesterday

Claire Smith took a selfie in sun-kissed Brighton yesterday

Yesterday, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and Scotsman comedy reviewer Claire Smith was impressed by Ali Child and Rosie Wakley’s show All The Nice Girls at the Brighton Fringe. It is about music hall entertainers who were secretly lesbian.

Ali came out 18 months ago, after getting together with Rosie, whom she met in (of all places) Lesbos. Elsewhere, Rosie performs as Sinatra-esque  lounge singer Ronnie Rialto and, with Ali, she performs as Behind the Lines.

All The Nice Girls is based on the true story of Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney – music hall singers of the 1920s who had an on/off relationship with each other.

There is a 1922 film clip of them on YouTube.

Claire tells me: “When Ali and Rosie started researching the show they were hoping to find some original sheet music – but hardly anything existed. Then a friend in the British Library found some very old original recordings, so they have recreated the songs from them. The lost recordings also ended up on an album.

Ali child & Rosie Wakley - All The Nice Girls

Rosie Wakley and Ali Child – All The Nice Girls in Brighton

“The songs are lovely, fresh and funny with surprisingly fruity lyrics. Ali and Rosie have done an amazing job of bringing back to life this forgotten bit of entertainment history.”

The man from the British Library was also at the show.

“Ali and Rosie make lesbianism very appealing,” Claire tells me.

Ali Child, Michael Topping and Rosie Wakley (Photograph by Claire Smith)

Rosie Wakley, Michael Topping and Ali Child yesterday (Photograph by Claire Smith)

They must do. Claire also tells me that Michael Topping too thinks the show was “delightful – very warm and intimate and funny”. So much so that he says it has inspired him to become a lesbian.

Meanwhile, I await news of a previously-mentioned strip show in Vancouver.

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“One of the men tried to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener”

After yesterday’s blog, in which Louise Reay told the true story of a man banging a nail into his penis – as is the way when I have no time to write a considered and/or transcribed blog – today we have a hodge podge of glimpses into human life in 2015.

  • World Naked Gardening Day

    If you cultivate roses, you should always beware of little pricks

    On Facebook, comedy fan Sandra Smith informed me that today is the 10th annual World Naked Gardening Day. According to NBC’s Today programme in the US, the event “celebrates weeding, planting flowers and trimming hedges” naked. The event’s own website suggests: “freehikers can pull invasive weeds along their favorite stretch of trail. More daring groups can make rapid clothes-free sorties into public parks to do community-friendly stealth cleanups.”

  • Yesterday, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge Claire Smith told me that, at the Brighton Fringe, feisty 81-year-old Californian cabaret act and comic Lynn Ruth Miller has a new double act going with the owner of a fish and chip shop in Brighton. – “He supplies the fish and chips, she supplies the customers with wit and repartee. She is also holding an exhibition of her paintings in the chip shop.”
Anna Smith - Bobby The Duck

Bobby The Duck  + bandaged foot

  • From Vancouver, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith e-mailed me with her news: “Today I saw Bobby the Duck (previously mentioned in this blog back in October last year) and he has a sore webbed foot. Meanwhile, the fraud trial of Mike Duffy has started. He is a senator accused of crimes like spending too much public money on makeup. And Conni Smudge is hosting a weekly gay bingo night at Celebrities night club on Davie Street. Conni’s full name is Convenient Smudge and she seems to have a preference for blue balls. We have also been warned that planes are going to be spraying us with insecticide this morning.
  • Meanwhile, in London last night, I went to see a run-through of Charmian Hughes’ new show – When Comedy Was Alternative (The Laughs and Loves of a She-Comic) – which, in its present form, is a smörgåsbord of previously untold comic tales of Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel Club, Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky, Arthur Smith, Sean Hughes and the Glastonbury Festival.
  • At Charmian’s read-through, I chatted to comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly. He told me that, at a recent South Coast gig, he had seven copies of his most recent book of poetry stolen. Neither of us could figure out if this was a bad or (in publicity terms) a good thing.
  • “Sandra

    Sandra Smith (right) on QE2 ocean liner about 45 years ago

    Then, this morning, back home in Borehamwood, I got another e-mail from comedy fan and this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith about her days working on cruise ships. She told me: “I used to work in the dining room with a waiter called Billy. One morning, towards the end of service, he asked me to give him the very heavy silver coffee pot that I was holding. I watched him pour out the coffee, then saunter across the dining room to where the Assistant Head Waiter was having breakfast. Billy hit him around the head with the coffee pot several times, until he fell forward unconscious. Billy then came back to where I was standing transfixed and said: Sorry if I scared you, Sandy, but he’s been on my back. Within moments, several Masters at Arms appeared and Billy picked up a knife, but he was eventually overpowered and taken away. I never saw him again. On another occasion, two men were in competition for the attentions of a third. So one of the men tried to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener.

And this is the final version

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Delicious and dateless Nicole Harvey on taking a sex doll and whip to Brighton

Smiling Nicole Harvey with Gorgeous Gavin as yet un-inflated

Smiling Nicole Harvey + the Gorgeous Gavin

I met actress/writer/voice-over performer Nicole Harvey in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday afternoon. She had a broad smile on her face and had just been to a sex shop in Goodge Street to buy an inflatable man.

“He’s called Gorgeous Gavin,” she told me.

Nicole’s show Delicious & Dateless is at the Brighton Fringe this weekend and next weekend.

“You did the same show at the Edinburgh Fringe last August,” I said. “At what point since then did you think: The one thing missing from this show is an inflatable doll with an inflatable penis?”

“I‘ve completely re-written the show,” Nicole told me. “In Edinburgh, the show was very much in development. It now has a very different beginning.”

“Gorgeous Gavin appears at the beginning of the show?” I asked. “How are you going to climax at the end?”

Nicole’s show, revised for Brighton Fringe

Nicole’s show, revised for Brighton Fringe

“Well, there are boots and whips that appear later,” she said.

“And you bought Gorgeous Gavin at a shop in Goodge Street?” I asked.

“There was also a Justin Bieber doll called Just-In Beaver,” said Nicole.

“Why did you go to that shop in particular?” I asked.

“Because I had to take back the female doll I had bought – Lollipop Lolita.“

“Why did you have to take back Lollipop Lolita?”

“Because I don’t want to fuck her mouth and that’s what she is designed for.”

“Didn’t this strike you at the point you originally bought her?”

“I had just wanted her legs for my show. But her boobs were so huge she wasn’t going to work as a comedy prop – there was no way I could scrunge the boobs down. So I decided to buy Gorgeous Gavin instead.”

“Do you have a discount at this shop for bulk buying?” I asked.

The show as it was at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

Since Edinburgh last year, Nicole has had “a real eye-opener”

Nicole ignored the question and said: “Since doing my show in Edinburgh last year, I have had a complete eye-opener and, in one part of my new show, I am commenting on this cultural shift that we’re in.”

“Cultural shift?” I asked.

“The reason I don’t have a love life,” explained Nicole, “is because I refuse to get on Tinder. That is what everyone is doing. But it’s purely pictures. It is about as superficial as it can get.

“Everyone is glued to their phone. I’ve seen pictures of guys’ hard-ons on Twitter that even 12-year-olds can see – and messages saying: Hi, I need someone to suck me off at lunchtime; I don’t mind if it’s male or female. Message me. It seems that, in this reality today, no-one will actually talk to you. Certainly no-one chats you up.”

“Which reality?” I asked.

“Actual reality,” said Nicole, “as opposed to virtual reality.”

“No-one chats you up?” I asked.

“No. Not in the real world. But they’re quite happy to be totally up-front asking for sex online with someone they’ve never met. so the world’s gone mad.”

“Well,” I said, “the whole Sex Positive thing does seem to be just an excuse for random sex with strangers.”

An irrelevant film poster for Fifty Shades of Grey

Was the film a sexual game-changer?

“With Fifty Shades of Grey,” said Nicole, “not only am I not up-to-date with fashion because I won’t go on Tinder, but I now need to be up for a spanking with a stranger – or get good at whipping – just to keep up with the trend.”

“What sort of man are you after?” I asked.

“Someone kind. Someone funny. Someone who’s emotionally mature, with not too much baggage, who’s got his shit together.”

“Well, that rules out most comedians off-stage,” I said. “Did you get any reaction from your show in Edinburgh? Your posters were really saying; I want a date!

“My audience was mainly women wanting to tell me their Tinder horror stories.”

“Tell me more about the man in the sex shop.”

“I said to him: Whatever’s kinky is not taboo. But what is taboo is loneliness.”

“Explain?” I said.

We are not really shocked by kinkiness any more. We’ve seen god knows how many politicians with sex scandals and 50 Shades of Grey became a mainstream movie. Anything that was kinky doesn’t really seem to be taboo any more. but to need a doll because you’re lonely… Yes, there is online dating and Tinder and it’s oh-so-easy to meet up, but what we don’t have easily any more is intimacy.”

Nicole Harvey - looking for emotional intimacy

Nicole Harvey – waiting for her right cup of tea

“What type of intimacy?” I asked.

“Emotional.”

“You should get together with the man in the shop,” I suggested.

“I think he makes sex videos and wears a pig’s face.”

“Generally?” I asked.

“He used to be a singer and has a book coming out.”

“I feel a blog coming on. You’ll have to take me into the shop – Pimp a blogger. How do you know he wears a pig face?”

“There’s a back room.”

“Why were you in the back room?”

“Because I need a whip for the show as well.”

“Gorgeous Gavin, the inflatable man, was not enough for you?”

“No.”

“Did you buy a whip?”

“No. They were all a bit wonky.”

Nicole Harvey grew up with her horse

Crop expert Nicole Harvey aesthetically dislikes wonky whips

“Define a wonky whip,” I asked her. “It sounds to me like an ice cream.”

“It was the way the leather was platted. It wasn’t nice and straight.”

“So for you,” I said, “it’s not to do with sex or pain but the aesthetics?”

“Oh yeah. I’m probably just going to get a horsey one, a riding crop. I ride horses.”

“I was thinking more of Zorro,” I said.

“That’s more of a lion tamer’s whip.”

“You’re smirking again.”

“I am allowed to.”

“What else does the shop have?”

“There are dolls you can get that cost thousands and thousands of pounds because they’re made of silicon and have real hair. There was a TV documentary about it and a play I saw called Companion Piece.”

“So, you’ve researched it in depth?”

“I’ve just come across things.”

After a long, thoughtful pause, I asked: “I wonder how large the demand for sex dolls is.”

“I guess,” replied Nicole, “some men don’t want a woman to answer back. But, on the other hand, plastic dolls can’t cook.”

“Swings and roundabouts,” I said.

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How Doug Segal changed his image from top corporate advertising agency man to successful comedy mind reader

Changing his image - Doug Segal in 2008 (left) and in2011

To help change his image, Doug Segal lost 8 stone in weight

This Saturday is Star Wars Day – May The Fourth be with you – and I am probably going to Stowmarket in Suffolk to see two early Edinburgh Fringe previews – by comedian Juliette Burton and mind-reader Doug Segal.

Both are also performing their shows at the Brighton Fringe next month.

Whether I go to Stowmarket or not depends on the carpet man from John Lewis. Trust me. You do not want to know.

But I had a chat with Doug Segal in case I do not go.

Yesterday, he told me: “Stowmarket will be the first time I’ve ever done an actual ‘preview’ as opposed to a fully-honed show, so I’m packing extra trousers! I’ve already identified a bunch of major changes I’ll be making between this weekend and Brighton – but I’m leaving them in because I want to work on other stuff and I need to try that in front of a real audience.

“The new show is called I Can Make You a Mentalist and premieres properly on 24th and 25th in Brighton, then there are about ten dates around the country, then it runs at the Gilded Balloon throughout the Edinburgh Fringe in August and it tours the country in Spring next year.”

Doug is very successful but does not have an agent.

“I’m really struggling to get an agent,” he told me.

“But you have bookings coming out of your ears!” I said, surprised. We were talking in London at lunchtime; he was on his way to Brighton to play a corporate afternoon show, then he was returning to London in the evening to play another big gig.

“I’m playing big venues,” agreed Doug. “I played York Theatre Royal two weeks ago. It’s frustrating. I’ve got 15% of an on-going business that I’m desperate to give away.

Wrestling with the problem of agents who cannot categorise him

Agents’ problem with Doug’s act is they cannot categorise it

“Agents come along and say: I absolutely love what you do!

“Then they have a little think: Oh! I can’t just put it into the machine, crank the handles and it’ll fall into the normal places. I’ll have to actually think about it.

“Then all of them tell me the same thing: We adore what you do! Amazing! But it’s a lot of work for us at the moment and we’re not sure we’ve got the manpower.

“And I think: Well, I’m managing it AND doing the act, so why can’t you?”

Perhaps that might be because Doug is a better salesman than most agents.

He started off selling space to advertisers in the Today newspaper, the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard.

“I left advertising and did corporate after-dinner mind-reading shows for about six years,” he told me. “Then I went off and started a second career doing stand-up comedy and got to the point where I was getting regular paid middle-of-the-bills and the odd paid opener. And then I quit… because the whole point was learn how to make my act funny. So then I had a comedy mentalism act and started doing public shows and that took off beyond my expectations.”

“What first interested you in mind reading?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I used to fanny around when I was doing psychology at London University – Birkbeck College – I started doing party pieces. I usually tell people I was taking hard science and perverting it for tawdry entertainment. I also did some acting with a theatre company and I’d been in bands in my teens – from 14 to 19. We supported some decent bands.”

Who knows what is going on here?

Mind reading? Who knows what is going on?

“So you had a desperate urge to be famous,” I said.

“I had that once,” said Doug. “Now I just want to make a decent living performing. I think Stewart Lee’s model is you want 10,000 people who are prepared, each year, to pay you £15 to come and see a new show.

“So I only want sufficient fame to make that happen. I would hate the level of fame where your life becomes a pantomime played out on the public stage. That would be horrific; I genuinely don’t want that.

“What happened was I had a son really, really young and needed to provide for my family and needed to get a sensible career, so I sold advertising space for newspapers and worked for an advertising agency. I learnt about persuasion, extended my repertoire of party pieces and then I had a client who bullied me into doing a show for a car manufacturer’s conference.

“It went down really well and I thought I could give this a go! I miss being on stage: I’ll give it a shot! And I sold out the Baron’s Court Theatre for two weeks and then things escalated from there.

“I was at quite a senior level in advertising when I left. I was on the board of a major agency: the third biggest agency in the UK at the time. I was one of the first people in Britain to spend money on posters in toilets. And I was one of the ad agency people developing all these LED sites you see on the roadside and in the underground.”

A sophisticated act, Doug never resorts to know gags

Off stage, Doug is an art connoisseur

“Can I say in my blog that you were very big in toilets?” I asked.

“Only in the context of posters,” replied Doug.

“What are you going to be doing in ten years time?”

“I have no idea. What I wanted to do when I left the corporate world was to effectively have an early semi-retirement. The principle was: Don’t work very often but charge an obscene amount of money when you do. That model worked right up to the Recession.

“Then my wife told me: You need to do a tour. I said No, self-funded public tours lose money. So she said: You should do the Edinburgh Fringe. I said: Absolutely not. It’s a money pit. But she talked me into it and it went really well.

“That first year – 2011 – I did ten days on the Free Fringe, picked up ten 4 and 5 star reviews and, after accommodation costs, made £350.

“Last year, I played the Gilded Balloon and the average loss you make at a paid venue is something like £8,000… But, after taking into account accommodation and everything, I only lost £102 over the full run and that was only because I had a bloody expensive screen and TV camera. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have made a decent profit.”

“So this new show…” I said. “You do a mind-reading act… Mind-reading is mind-reading. Basically, it’s the same as your previous shows. It’s the same old – highly successful – tosh.”

“No,” said Doug laughing, “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the same old tosh. I’ve really ramped-up the comedy angle and there is a storyline. Things happen dramatically through the show. I don’t just move from one thing to another. There are ‘events’ within the show.

“It’s always been a comedy mind-reading show – there are gags and stuff – but, as well as that, there’s now sketch comedy, animation and music. The sketches I’ve co-written with James Hamilton of Casual Violence and Guy Kelly from the Beta Males.”

“Good grief,” I said.

“This year’s show,” explains Doug, “starts with a random audience member being chosen and then they do the show. They do all of the tricks in the show. I have this enormous machine on stage called the Brainmatiser 3000. It’s like my TARDIS, I guess. Stuff happens. The narrative of the show gets taken off-track. Unexpected events happen and then get resolved. Lots of physical comedy.”

“But you’re screwed on TV,” I said, “because there’s only room for one mentalist act at any one time on TV and Derren Brown is already there.”

“What I really want,” said Doug, “is for people to come out of my stage show this year and say I have really no idea what that show was. This year’s show is a Fast Show type comedy with mentalism plus a storyline running through. That’s something different. You could put that on screen and it would not be the Derren Brown show.”

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Outsider Charmian Hughes’ inside view of an autobiographical comedy show

Charmian in Edinburgh last year

Charmian at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

Last night, I saw a try-out of Charmian Hughes’ new Edinburgh Fringe show Odd One In which she is also performing at the Brighton Fringe next month.

It is about how she has always felt an outsider, even in her family.

She went from being a Nazi War Criminal’s daughter to being the only girl in a boys’ school to snogging now-disgraced politician Chris Huhne and a bishop.

She had only finished writing sections of it around two hours before the performance.

“I’ve never tried an autobiographical show before,” she told me, “but my friends have always found accounts of my weird family very funny and have been urging me to do one for years.”

“Are you finding it easy?” I asked

“Well,” she said, “telling spontaneous true tales from your heart and memory in a pub is a lot easier than trying to get it into some kind of structure for an audience who  know nothing about you and don’t have a context. Finding the right voice is a challenge – without the whole thing sounding like a whingey poor me complaint of family life from the heart of South Kensington.”

“It’s going to be a good show,” I told her, “because you’ve realised the trick in doing autobiographical stuff is not to plough through everything that happens: it’s to pick out the specific incidents that illuminate the general. Autobiographies are not about facts; they’re about people and feelings. People are interested in people.”

“Yes,” said Charmian, “One of the things to decide is which parts of the story carry the theme and which bits to mercilessly discard. But I’ve also got to remember that while it may be about me-me-me being a misfit and outsider, it’s also a universal story…

“My mother dominates my story. She only died last year and she was mostly a very difficult woman… but hilarious and the source of all my humour. My way of coping with her and to stay sane was to regale people with the latest dramas of my family life. She was a great British eccentric and more like a fictional character than a real woman and people were mesmerised by her.

“That’s one problem with telling true stories,” I said to Charmian. “The truth is usually so over-the-top people think you’re making it up.”

“I really want to do her justice,” said Charmian.

“You did a storytelling course recently, didn’t you?”

“Yes, with Pete Searle.”

“And did you learn anything?”

“You have to be the hero of your own story, have a goal and cross obstacles to reach a clear conclusion. And you have to know when to stop,” said Charmian.

As with stories, so with blogs.

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