Tag Archives: Britain’s Got Talent

Why Britain’s Got Talent finalist Robert White has such wide appeal

 In a blog here at the end of April, musical comedian and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Robert White explained why he had entered Britain’s Got Talent this year.

After winning most public votes from viewers in his semi-final appearance, he is now through to the live Sunday night final tomorrow on ITV1.

It seemed the right time to ask him why he seems to have such a wide appeal.

So I asked him…

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JOHN: After your song on the semi-final, your mother now definitely knows you are gay.

ROBERT: Yes and gay comedians have been my idols since I was young. There’s a sort of gay sense of humour you have if you’re camp or an outsider. I know Britain’s Got Talent has a massive gay following, a massive musical theatre following.

My song had a particular gay slant to it. We all have a particular relationship with our parents and I think it was maybe a song that other gay people found an empathy with.

JOHN: You said you had gay idols. For example…?

ROBERT: One of the people I looked up to and look up to is a guy called Mark Bunyan, who I think was the first openly gay performer at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you listen to the sort of songs he did then, they are about the same sort of level – or tamer – than the stuff I’ve done on Britain’s Got Talent.

JOHN: You write songs with intricate lyrics. But you are dyslexic. That must be a bit of a problem.

ROBERT: Well, since I was a kid, it has been easier to make stuff up than to read it. I can read and write music and lyrics but, by the time you’ve sat down and got the end of the line, you could have played most of it by ear anyway.

JOHN: Any creative genes in your family?

ROBERT: My granddad – Samuel Thomas – was from Wales and he was a massive part of my life. A lot of my comedy comes from him. He was from Bleinavon – he was eccentric and intelligent; he was self-taught; he was told he could have been a teacher but he wanted to go and spend time down the pits with his brothers. His father was a band leader and he himself played the euphonium and the cornet. All my music comes from him. He was this crazy, eccentric musical genius: a brilliant man.

I’m regularly in Neath: there’s a lovely comedy festival there. I do gigs in Cardiff, Aberystwyth, all over.

One thing I remember about doing my first gig in Wales was when I first got heckled. The words were nasty, but the accent itself just reminded me of my granddad. So I sort-of can’t be effectively heckled in Wales because it just reminds me of this lovely Welsh voice that used to tell me stories when I was a child.

JOHN: But now you’re a Londoner…

ROBERT: Well, I have adopted London. At the moment, I live in Mile End, but I’ve lived all over London – Brixton, Kilburn, Willesden Green, North, South, East, West. London has done for me what it has done for a lot of people. It has made me who I am. I was born in Sussex – born in Crawley, brought up in Horsham – but made in London..

I had a police escort when I was born. My dad was on his way to Crawley Hospital with my pregnant mother, could not find the entrance, stopped by the side of the road, was spotted by a policeman and I got a police escort to the hospital.

JOHN: That sounds a suitably bizarre entrance to the world for a gay, dyslexic, Aspergic, quarter-Welsh, web-toed performer.

ROBERT: Things which used to be classed as disabilities are now accepted and I think that’s very positive.

500-1,000 years ago, people who were left-handed were being called witches and branded as outcasts.

20 years ago, I was allowed to be dyslexic at primary school, but I was not allowed to be dyslexic at secondary school because they did not have the funding for it.

Now these things are accepted. By highlighting them, what I would like to do is make them be seen as normal. They are not exceptional; they are just different.

JOHN: Which brings us to the fact you have web toes…

ROBERT: When people ask me about my web toes, I try to ‘duck’ the question. My nan had webbed toes as well. Quite a lot of people have it. Anne Boleyn had a sixth finger and it may or may not have been webbed.

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Filed under autism, Comedy, dyslexia, Gay, Music, Talent, Wales

Why Robert White went on Britain’s Got Talent and what comedy has taught him

Robert White won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 (beating Bo Burnham and Dr Brown). He claims to be – and I think no-one is going to dispute this – the only gay, dyslexic, quarter-Welsh, Aspergic, web-toed comedian working on the UK comedy circuit.


JOHN: So why did you do Britain’s Got Talent?

Robert White, aspiring primary school teacher

ROBERT: Because I had given up comedy.

In August last year, the Edinburgh Fringe financially destroyed me so much that I decided I was going to go full-time into teaching music in primary schools.

JOHN: I genuinely thought it was a wonderful Fringe show.

ROBERT: Well, doing an opera like that was artistically spectacular but the only thing it did for my career is that, now, if I die in poverty, at least I’ve got a chance of being recognised 200 years after I’m dead as a composer.

JOHN: Why primary school children? Because they are not as stroppy as teenagers?

ROBERT: Yes. There is an element of discipline. But, being dyslexic yet very creative, I’m very good at taking things and translating them in a very innovative and creative way. Obviously, I have done a degree and highly academic work, but, rather than engaging with HUGE amounts of written material and expressing it in an academic, written way, I would much prefer engaging with limited written material and expressing it in a creative way

In secondary schools, there is a lot of This Date… That Date. I can and have done all of that but, because of the nature of me, I would not choose to do so much of it; there is just so much more writing and so much more reading. With primary school, you are taking things like scale or high and low and the basic elements of music and conveying them in various different interesting creative ways.

I looked into it and, because I had not used it for so long, the PGCE (teaching qualification) I had from 20 years ago was no longer valid. So I would have to re-train. When I decided to go into teaching full-time, it was literally a week after the training course had stopped. There is a thing, though, whereby you can teach primary school music if you have a degree and some teaching experience: which I have.

So I thought: If I do some primary school teaching, that will give me some income. And, if I do the gigs I have, that will give me some other income. And the primary school teaching I do will give me enough experience so that, at the end of the year, instead of having to re-train, I can get a position in a private school where you don’t actually need to have the teaching qualifications.

So that was going to be my career path. A year of finishing-off comedy and building-up teaching then, at the end of it, I would be teaching full-time.

The reason for Britain’s Got Talent was I thought: Well, I’ve done 12 or 13 years of comedy. I may as well cash in what I’ve done and at least that way I can prove to my mum that I’ve done the most I can.

“At least that way I can prove to my mum that I’ve done the most I can.”

I told my mum: “Look, I just don’t want to struggle any more.” I don’t mind whether comedy works or teaching works or if I move home and just start a job in a shop and work my way up to be a supervisor. I just don’t want to struggle any more.

The last 20 years, it has felt as if I’ve been trying to pay off the same £1,000 overdraft and never succeeding…

JOHN: You’ve been doing comedy for a while now…

ROBERT: I have Asperger’s Syndrome and comedy through the last 13 years has been like CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

I have been putting myself in difficult situations, night after night after night, and it has helped so much. Comedy has not just brought me a comedy career, it has actually helped my Asperger’s enough that I can now do a normal job. It has got me to a point now where I can teach.

Comedy has taught me about people and Asperger’s and the way I think. Every year, I’ve become more free. Even walking on stage, I now don’t think I have to do A-B-C-D in a certain order. I’m more relaxed.

JOHN: Whereas before…?

ROBERT: Because I have Asperger’s, I find it very difficult to connect with people in the real world and all of my social processes are thought-through processes. Now, with what I’ve learnt from years of doing comedy, some have become more intuitive. But they are not naturally intuitive.

You don’t have Asperger’s so, to you, reading facial expressions is intuitive. To me, it is not. Literally thinking-through and analysing: What is this other person thinking? How do I act in this situation? Which becomes very very very very tiring.

The thing that comedy has done for me is it taught me about social skills and gave me an understanding of people. If you think of the audience as a macro-person, then that translates into how one person acts to the individual micro-person. It has helped me understand about people.

But conversely what that has meant is that, sort of like horse whispering, I’ve got an almost unusually natural understanding of audiences that other people wouldn’t have – because I analyse them in a certain way. If there’s any way my autistic mind does work well in the overly-analytical way, it’s basically an understanding of the audience and what’s going on.

I’m the only person I know who, before he goes on, fills up his hand and his whole arm not with jokes but with social cues. That’s because, when I first started – and now – I needed to reinforce myself with certain things. I still do that.

JOHN: Writing on your arm such things as…?

ROBERT: Be nice. No rudes. Time equals money. There is an understanding that there is a right sort of groan and a wrong sort of groan. That has now come to inform me on a level other people don’t have. Which is why standing on stage now and being able to say whatever I want is an amazingly freeing thing. 

The judges’ reaction to Robert White on Britain’s Got Talent

When it got to Britain’s Got Talent and the audition, I looked at my act…

If you take away the crudeness and swearing – there is so much still left. I had not considered that before. There is quirkiness, jokes, puns, silliness, music. I have got many more strings to my bow than I originally considered.

JOHN: You are playing 20-minute spots at the Comedy Store now.

ROBERT: I did the Gong Show at the Comedy Store about two years ago and it was a really rough gig. There was this woman shouting me at the front and I had to go off-piste and really properly play the gig. So, in an absolute, utter bear-pit gig, I won the night.  Eleven years earlier, I did the Gong Show, walked onto the stage; same response; but I ripped my tee-shirt and started crying.

That is what comedy has done for me.

The whole process of doing comedy and then Edinburgh making me give up comedy led to Britain’s Got Talent and rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

But we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

All I want is to not struggle.

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Filed under Comedy, Talent

Jody Kamali on what happened at the “Britain’s Got Talent” audition

Jody Kamali

Jody Kamali – a performer with bags of talent, taken aback

Yesterday, comic Jody Kamali was auditioned for TV series Britain’s Got Talent. Here is his description of what happened:


It was an experience I’ll never forget, but hope to forget.

It has never been my life’s ambition to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. I have always groaned at the format, the treatment of acts and choice of acts they put through.

So why did I do it? I really don’t know. And I still don’t. Occasionally I get these Fuck it! moments in life and, when the producer of BGT asked if I would do it, after a lot of persuading, I squirmed and said: “Er… OK then”.

My plastic bag act has always been a winner. It impresses quickly and can really win over an audience. Even Steve Bennett liked it in his 2-star scathing review on Chortle back in 2014. Harry Hill saw me do the act and, as a result, cast me in his TV pilot. The only time it flopped was in front of an audience of pensioners aged 65+ in Bristol, who stared at me blankly while I whizzed around the small stage joyously flinging plastic bags in the air.

“You do get the act, right?” I said to the producer. “Even though I am flinging those bags in the air as serious as I am… it’s supposed to be daft and silly, right? I don’t want you making me out to be a weirdo and edited to make out that I really believe I think my bag act is genuinely amazing… Please put across the irony?”

“Yes, yes, Jody. We totally get it. We love that act and think you’ll do great.”

Of course, I didn’t believe him.

I had my doubts.

I saw on Facebook that many comedians had been contacted but refused in fear they would be mocked on stage. It seems the producers were targeting the alternative acts. Really? So they can champion alternative comedian acts? Or to mock them for entertainment purposes? But maybe they really did want to find new talent other than the usual dog, dance, old folks rapping and 5-year-olds doing stand up.

Maybe – just maybe – the cards have turned.

“Do it, do it,” said blogger John Fleming. “It’s exposure. You never know who might see it.”

So I officially committed.

I arrived at the Dominion Theatre at 3:30pm, an hour late as I forgotten my passport.

I immediately got into costume and began tons of tons of non-stop interviews for BGT and BGT Extra – two different shows. There were your usual BGT wannabes there. The dance troupe featuring at least one guy with a huge Afro and also a young boy. A choir. An old couple in their 80s who do rap. A man in a lederhosen who plays an electronic accordion to rock music. An operatic transgender Filipino. And ME. Amongst others. What a bunch of oddballs we all were.

There were cameras everywhere. Hundreds of crew. I felt like I was in The Truman Show or something.

“Let’s film your entrance and exits,” said the production assistant. “Let’s have you walk in the theatre and you fall onto the BGT sign and it falls over… cos you do comedy.”

“Ah, yes. That’s comedy, of course, yes,” I said.

“Actually, let’s first film you walking up to the BGT sign there and wave ecstatically,” she said.

“Erm… That’s not really me. Can I do my own thing?”

So I settle for the ‘comedy fall’ on to the sign.

“Let’s not make it look set up,” I said. “You know, it will look cheesy otherwise?”

“Oh, we love set ups on BGT,” said the young Scottish camera girl.

So I enter the theatre, walk up the stairs and turn back and fall on the BGT sign. I actually lost control and crashed onto the sign and tumbled down the stairs, ripping my trousers, right in my crotch.

“Ahhhhh!” screamed a bunch of elderly ladies. “Help him! Help him!”

A paramedic runs over, who happens to be in the foyer.

I’m fine, I’m fine… but I need a new pair of trousers ASAP,” I groaned, covering the hole in my crotch, while the elderly ladies stood over me, concerned.

After finishing off my ‘set up’ entrances and exits, I’m whizzed up several flights of stairs to do an interview with Stephen Mulhern for BGT Extra for ITV2.

BGT Extra is fun; we can have a laugh,” said a production assistant.

After a slightly awkward interview with Mulhern, messing about with my bags, I head to do my ‘pre-interview’.

“Is this the biggest gig of your life?” asked the presenter.

“No, it’s not. When you spend thousands of pounds and work year round on a solo show, then present it at the Edinburgh Fringe in front of critics, producers etc… That is the biggest gig,” I said.

“Oh no no, like um, the biggest crowd,” she replied.

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Well say that you do small gigs to a tiny crowd and then here you are… the biggest gig of your life,” said the girl, goading me into saying what she wanted.

It was a long interview and strange in the way that they kinda manipulate your words into creating a story that they want. I didn’t bring any family or friends with me or give them a sob story which, as we all know, they love so much.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian; say your are going to do something amazing,” said the interviewer. “We don’t want to give it away.”

I got so bored of the interview and felt the girl wasn’t even listening as her gaze drifted to the left every time I spoke. I could have literally said I suck cows’ udders for a living and she would’ve nodded with her fixed grin. I started to entertain myself by being extremely confident – “I’m definitely going to win BGT”… “I’m going to get a golden buzzer”… “The judges will be blown away”… “It’s THE most original act ever seen.”

After the interview, I started to have cold feet. I had this intense feeling come over me – like a warning sign or something. They are going to make a mockery of me, I know they are. They are not going to get it. I considered just walking out. I rang my wife, concerned, and she recommended I call my best buddy who is ‘in the business’.

After a pep talk from Andy and the fact that his friend ‘Keith Teeth’ auditioned once and didn’t get shown, I got my confidence back, knowing full well this could go either way. FUCK IT. I am going to do it. And do it with full confidence! 

Down I went to the backstage area for… yes… more interviews.

They filmed me ‘warming up’ – I was playing up to it but warming up like I meant business, doing cheesy poses, dancing, boxing – like I was about to have a bout with Tyson. I had my final interview with Ant and Dec who were lovely. And off I went….

The stage was huge – 3,000 people in the audience. A family audience. Like an audience you might see at a panto.

“Hello!” I yelled.

“Hello,” says Amanda Holden.

“What’s your name?” says Cowell.

“Jody”

“What’s your day job? Says Amanda.

“I work part time at the Royal Academy of Art.”

“Whoooooooooooo!” whooped the audience, assuming I was some hot shot impressionist or the next Damien Hirst.

“No, no I’m not an artist… I just charm affluent people into signing up to their membership scheme, where they get to see unlimited exhibitions,” I said in a cheesy ‘salesman’ voice. The audience laughed. The judges didn’t.

“What are ya gonna do?” asked Aysha Dixon.

“Something amazing and unique,” I said.

I said this because the producers told me to beforehand.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian, otherwise it will give it away,” said a producer, moments before I went on.

Alarm bells rang but I trusted them. Ah, I thought, the judges will get the irony and stupidity of the act and will get that I’m obviously taking the piss.

The music kicks in.

I run to the left and right waving my arms to get the audience to cheer. They did. 3,000. The sound was electric. Cowell looked at Amanda with a Look at this prick! expression.

I pulled out a bag.

I threw it in the air.

I could see Cowell in the corner of my eye looking at the judges unimpressed.

BUZZ.

Cowell had buzzed. No surprise there.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

1 second later

BUZZ.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

I lasted 25 secs, if that! I was shocked. I couldn’t believe they didn’t let me at least do one minute! I walked off stage thinking that’s what I had to do. Ant and Dec were waving at me saying “No, no” and pointing. I thought that they meant I should exit stage right, not stage left… So I did. I walked over to stage right, straight into cables and a tight corner.

“Fuck!” I muttered.

“Not that way” barked the sound guy.

I walked out from stage right and went upper stage right to another exit.

“No, no, no!” cried a production assistant. “Go back to the centre on the cross. The judges want to talk to you!”

“Ohhh… OK. Shit.”

The audience started to boo me a little bit but stopped.

Cowell was shaking his head with a Who is this idiot? expression. Even David Walliams looked unimpressed. I was surprised as I actually thought David would like my act.

“Jody, are you serious?” said Cowell.

“Nooooo!” I cried. “It’s meant to be daft. It’s meant to be so serious, it’s funny!”

All the judges faces had dropped. They ACTUALLY believed I genuinely thought that my act WAS amazing with NO irony.

“But I fought ya went to Academy Royal.. Art or summink,” said Alesha Dixon.

“That’s just a job. I’m a comedian. I’ve performed many times at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

David Walliams shuffled.

“It’s not good, Jody,” barked Cowell in way that reminded me of doing a clown workshop where the teacher would say you are awful.

“How can you not like it? Floating bags are amazing,”  I said sarcastically. “Look…”

I floated a bag. The audience cheered. I pulled another bag out of my pocket. The audience roared. I pulled another out. They roared loudly. And another. And Another. The audience were going nuts, cheering me. The judges looked stony faced.

“You see,” I said, “the audience like it!”

“Well I don’t,” said Cowell. “It’s a No.”

The rest followed suit. Four Nos. I left the stage to big applause.

I was gutted. I wasn’t given the chance to do the full act but was pissed off that I was told not to say I was a comedian. I felt set up. I believe the producers knew the judges would smash me down. If I had said I was a comedian, it might have been different.

I was rushed up stairs for more interviews. I sat down in a bit of a daze.

“What’s your name?” said the presenter.

I had repeatedly said my name and occupation, where I lived so many times… I’d had enough.

“Sorry, but I have had enough now. I’m leaving. I am fed up. I’m so tired. I’m done.”

I packed up and left, being chased by the crew, trying to persuade me to have my ‘final say’ so that I could say: “The judges were wrong.”

“No no no…” I said in a huff, “cos it will only mean I would criticise the producers for building me for up for the judges to bash me down… and you’ll edit it the way you want.”

And off I went… crew still trying everything they could to get my ‘final reaction’.

I was so happy to leave.

It was a bizarre experience.

It wasn’t me at all.

I did chuckle to myself on the way home though.

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Filed under Talent, Television

Arrest of the Kray Twins; Frank Bruno; and the winner of Britain’s Got Talent

Micky Fawcett in the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Micky Fawcett was in the May Fair Hotel, London, this month

A couple of days ago, I blogged about a chat I had with Mickey Fawcett, a close associate of iconic 1960s gangsters the Kray Twins.

“I dug out some statements the other day,” he told me.

‘The ones made when you were arrested with the Twins?” I asked.

“Yeah. There were loads of people arrested.”

“It was fraud you were acquitted of?”

“Yes. I wasn’t charged with anything else.”

“This is,” I checked, “when the Krays were arrested for the two murders?”

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s book about The Firm

“The murders and everything,” said Micky. “The whole thing. I was the last one arrested because I kept out-of-the-way for a while. I had always given my mother’s address, so the police kept missing me. I had stopped speaking to the Twins at this point and was enemies with them and we were trying to kill each other.”

“As,” I said, “in the first sentence in your book.”

“Yes,” said Micky. His book Krayzy Days starts with the words:

We were going to kill Reggie Kray. I had a .38 revolver and we were waiting for him late one night outside John Bigg Point, a block of flats in Stratford, East London. Reggie and I had once been close and for years I knew the Kray twins as well as anyone. But now their world was in disarray. They were lost in their own celebrity; a fame which brought with it a circle of yes-men and hangers-on. Wannabe gangsters who fuelled brother Ronnie’s madness. Only a few of us who had been around for longer could see the twins were heading for disaster. If we didn’t do anything they would take us down with them.

Micky Fawcett (right) with Ronnie Kray (left) & boxer Sonny Liston,

(From left) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston, Micky Fawcett (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“You got off,” I said. “How?”

“I had a plan,” said Mickey.

“What was that?” I asked.

“People will have to read the book,” he laughed, “but it involved the Financial Times.”

“What was the fraud you were charged with?” I asked.

Long firm,” said Micky. “Poor old Stanley Crowther was running the long firm – a gay, alcoholic, ex-barrister.”

“I feel,” I said: “there is a sitcom in this.”

“What used to happen with Ronnie, though,” Micky continued, “was that he would spoil a long firm by jumping in halfway through. On one occasion, he said to me: Come on, Mick: a bird in the hand is worth four in the bush.

Larry Gains - British Empire (Commonwealth) heavyweight champion, Ronnie and Johnny Davies with the twins’ racehorse Solway Cross.

Twins’ racehorse Solway Cross with (L-R) British Empire heavyweight champion Larry Gains, Ronnie Kray and gunman Johnny Davies. (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“Another day, he went in and said: I need £1,000 to buy a racehorse. And he bought one. The Twins really bought it for their mother.  But it was a ‘three-legged’ one. It never won anything. They auctioned it.

“One of the statements I read the other day was when the Twins got arrested. Nipper Read – Chief Superintendent Read, he was at the time – goes into the council flat the Twins are using in Bunhill Row and his statement reads: I said to Reginald Kray ‘You are under arrest’ and he said ‘Aaahhh! Mr Read, we’ve been expecting you. You’ll find it a bit more difficult this time, because we’ve got lots of friends now, you know’… The Twins got 30 years!”

“Nipper Read,” I said, “was an unusually straight copper, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” Micky agreed. “Nipper Read was straight. But he weren’t straight with me.”

“When?” I asked.

“Just after the Twins had been arrested and I had been acquitted, I applied to the British Boxing Board of Control for a licence to train a boxer – which they gave me, after checking me out. Then, a couple of weeks later, they asked me to come back again and Nipper Read was there and James Morton, his mouthpiece.” (James Morton was then a lawyer, but later wrote books with Mad Frank Fraser and about gangland in general).

Micky Fawcett ‘gloving up’ Funs Banjo

Micky Fawcett ‘gloving up’ Funso Banjo for a boxing match

“They were part of the Board of Control,” Micky explained, “and they said: Your licence has been rescinded. You were granted one by the Southern Area Council but now the full Board has discussed it and you can’t have a licence. You knew the Kray Twins.

“I said: Well, a lot of people knew the Kray Twins. Everybody knew the Kray Twins.

Yeah, they said, but you knew them more than most. So they stopped me getting a licence, despite the fact I had been acquitted in court.”

“But,” I said, “You got a licence eventually.”

“Yeah, but it took years and not getting one ruined me, because I had a boxer and he didn’t want to be trained by someone who the Board of Control didn’t consider to be a fit person to have a licence – despite the fact I had been acquitted in court and I had stopped speaking to the Twins and we were trying to kill each other… Nipper Reid was a nasty little man. But it was deeper than that.”

“In what way?” I asked.

Micky Fawcett’s boxer Funs Banjo

Micky Fawcett’s boxer Funso Banjo (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“What happened was Terry Lawless and Mickey Duff and Mike Barrett and Co had Frank Bruno. And I had a black heavyweight boxer called Funso Banjo – his real name was Babafunso Banjo. And they were afraid I would topple Bruno. They didn’t want anyone to spoil the Bruno patch and that is why they took my licence away. To make it really difficult for me. Funso Banjo ended up boxing Joe Frazier’s son.

“And Funso’s son Ashley Modurotolu Banjo won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Dancing. He was a ballet dancer. He’s the leader of Diversity, the dance troupe. He’s performed at the London Palladium and been introduced to the Queen. Never been in any trouble. He’s done well.”

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Farting in Italy, nudity in Canada and the dead in the trenches of World War I

Blood-red poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Blood-red ceramic poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Today is Remembrance Day.

I forgot until I switched on the BBC News after lunch and saw the Tower of London’s moat filled with the 888,246 ceramic poppies.

There are two unrelated posts in this blog today – about cultural events in Italy and Canada. It ends with poppies in Vancouver.

My farting chum Mr Methane has returned to the UK bearing a gift for me: a fridge magnet of Pope Francis – the only current world religious leader to bear a striking resemblance to 1980s British TV gameshow host Jim Bowen.

I mentioned in this blog last Friday that Mr Methane – who farts around the world professionally – was in Italy but I could not say why. This was because the Italian TV show he was appearing on wanted him to be a surprise for viewers and presumably they thought my increasingly prestigious blog, being widely read in Italy, might give the game away.

But now they have put the Mr Methane clip online on Vimeo, so I can tell you that, last Saturday, Mr Methane surprised the nation that gave us Punch & Judy and The Renaissance.

Mr Methane performed to an unprepared Italian nation on primetime Saturday night Television

Mr Methane performed to an unprepared Italian nation on primetime television last Saturday night…

It was, perhaps surprisingly, Mr Methane’s first appearance on Italian TV.

“Did the audience know you?” I asked him yesterday.

“There was a buzz as I entered from stage right,” he told me. “The sort of buzz that tells you people in the audience know exactly what you are going to do. I think this shows that the power of the internet and YouTube over conventional TV is growing.”

“Did the Italians,” I asked, “react in any different way from other countries?”

“Well, it’s definitely different from Norway, Sweden, Finland, France or Germany,” said Mr Methane, “but its hard to say how exactly. It was certainly a more open, intellectual and civilised approach to the subject than Simon Cowell could manage.”

(Mr Methane was invited to appear on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. There is a clip on YouTube. It has currently had over 33 million views.)

“I think the nice bit on the Italian TV show,” said Mr Methane, “was the ending. We managed to wheel out a few old jokes that may possibly be almost as old as the fart joke which, you will remember, Michael Grade discovered was the world’s oldest joke

“The set up on Saturday was:

Panel:  Are You Married Mr Methane?

Me: No

Panel: I wonder why not.

“Then we all laughed hard at the razor-sharp wit of the judging panel while at the same time enforcing some social stereotypes and norms – a good thing to do on a traditional Saturday night family TV show and a good way of smuggling farting into the format.

“I was worried that the main host, Seniora Mara, might mess up on the cake routine as there had been no rehearsal but she positioned the candles very well for a first-timer. She seemed to have an empathy with what was going on. This could be because she has a degree in chemistry, but it is more likely because she is just an intellectual and open-minded European. I mean, could you imagine Amanda Holden being able or willing to pull that one off – She’d be worried shitless about her image etc etc etc.

Les Dennis on Cardiff Bay in 2010. But does he fart? (Photograph by Ben Salter/Wikipedia)

Les Dennis on Cardiff Bay in 2010. Does he fart dramatically? (Photograph by Ben Salter)

“In the early 1990s Bobby Davro told me that Les Dennis (Amanda Holden’s former husband) could perform the art of Petomania. I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg but about a decade later I was working on a Sky TV show with Les Dennis so I asked him about what Bobby had told me and he confirmed it was true although he said he had not tried it for a few years and didn’t know if he still had the abililty.

“So, to be fair on Amanda, as she lived with a man who possessed the gift of petomania, maybe – just maybe – I’m being a bit harsh about her ability to be able to hold candles up to a man’s arse while he farts them out. But what happens in the privacy of a person’s relationship should stay that way, so I can only speculate using the information available and come to the conclusion that while such a scenario was possible it probably never happened.”

“Did you try to speak Italian on the show last Saturday?” I asked.

“I spoke a little at the end to say Thankyou to the viewers but, for all I know, I could have been saying: I want to fuck a dead hamster.”

“What’s next?” I asked.

“A French TV show about super heroes is in the offing,” Mr Methane told me. “We just need to see if we can work the money and travel – I’m hopeful we can do as I really like the sound of the project and they seem to like the sound of me.”

Pope Francis on my fridge with a picture of my home town

Pope Francis on my fridge with a picture of my home town

“Thanks for the fridge magnet of Pope Francis,” I said. “Have you ever performed for any religious groups?”

“No,” said Mr Methane. “Although I was once thinking of reaching out to that market by releasing an album of faith-based recordings entitled Touching Cloth. In the end, I decided not to as I respect other people’s beliefs and would not want to offend them.”

Meanwhile, yesterday I also received news from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She told me: “I met an exceptional 23 year old man this summer.

“It was in a park on the waterfront in Vancouver. He was apparently from Dublin, but wasn’t. He said his name was Eddie.

“I told him: There’s a song with your name – Eddie Don’t Like Furniture.

“He surprised me by saying: I HATE that song.

You KNOW that song? I asked.

I know it and I hate it, he said, clenching his teeth.

On Pender Island, there was a man who disliked furniture

On Pender Island, there was a man who disliked all furniture

“I met someone on Pender Island, near Vancouver, who reminded me of it. He hated furniture too – partitions, anything resembling furniture at all…. He ripped them all out…He did it to a caravan and he did it to a fiberglass motor cruiser – right down to the bulkheads. He even did it to a Boston Whaler. He tore all the seats out until there was nothing left but the hull and a shredded-looking steering column. Like a maniac, he steered it through the shipping lane across the Georgia Straight from Pender Island to Richmond standing up as if it was a scooter. He never wore belts or shoelaces. He thought they were bad for the circulation.

“When people sink boats deliberately I try not to become overly involved. I loaned somebody my axe once and I never got it back.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

Anna Smith is thinking of a book

“Maybe I should write a book with nothing but isolated paragraphs like that I think I could easily write a short string of striptease stories as I have told them many times over, just never written them all down.

“People do seem to enjoy those.

“The places I worked in… Very strange.

“I once performed a striptease at a library in Don Mills, an affluent suburb of Toronto. And I broke my foot flying off stage into a crowd of uranium miners in Northern Ontario. I was happy that happened on a Saturday, because it meant I only missed two shows out of the week.

“People in Vancouver are taking their clothes off in November for no particular reason and standing around outside the art gallery. The naked people are doing it because they want children to have a future and they told me it was not a protest but a Vigil for Vulnerability.

The Man in The Lego Mask & cape (Photograph by Anna Smith)

The Man in The Lego Mask & cape (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“I took photos.

“The man with the Lego mask and cape is Simon Leplante.

“He said he had made 50 of the Lego and chicken foot masks and given 48 of them away, mainly to women artists. He told me that he had performed a dance recently at a downtown nightclub and left the stage strewn with tiny bits of Lego.

“Outside the art gallery, the naked vigil enlivened the afternoon for a street vendor selling tourist trinkets. He shouted:

You gotta LOVE the art gallery!

People in Vancouver are taking off their clothes (Photograph by Anna Smith)

The Vancouver Vulnerability Vigil (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“The Vulnerability Vigil was originated by a woman from Victoria, British Columbia. The man in the photo with the tattoos is an art school model. They were very friendly and appreciative that I took many photos with their own cameras.

“Then a burly young security guard emerged from the art gallery but he did not call the police nor ask them to clothe themselves. He merely asked if they could move to a spot slightly to the west, as he said they were too close to the gallery restaurant.

“So they did.

“After I paid my phone bill I went to the library. There was an information fair outside the library where activists were promoting a movie about peyote and handing out stickers of opium poppies to remind us of the victims of all the wars.”

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Filed under Canada, Catholic Church, Eccentrics, Italy, Television

Eggs acting standards: yesterday I was beaten by Simon Cowell’s stand-in

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

andydunlop_30june2013_cut2

Andy – out standing in his own field

Yesterday, I went to the 8th annual World Egg Throwing Championships at Swaton in Lincolnshire.

When I arrived, World Egg Throwing Federation President Andy Dunlop told me there was room for me in the Russian Egg Roulette Championship. Last year, I acquitted myself well – I was runner-up. Not bad for a first attempt.

Russian Egg Roulette is the internationally-recognised sport in which two competitors sit facing each other across a table on which lie six eggs – five hard-boiled; one raw. Each competitor then takes it in turn to smash an egg of his or her forehead. The one who smashes the raw egg on their forehead – with explosive results – loses.

“All the spots for competitors (over 30 of them) are already filled up,” Andy told me when I arrived, “but we have left a couple of spaces for Simon Cowell and for Natalie Holt, the woman who threw eggs at Simon on Britain’s Got Talent. We’ve invited both of them but we’re not totally certain if they will turn up. If Simon Cowell does not turn up, then we have a man called Mark Heselwood prepared to stand in for him.”

Sadly, Simon Cowell did not turn up and, even more sadly, I was beaten by Mark Heselwood in the first round of the Russian Egg Roulette. The only fact which slightly mended my crushed ego was that Mark went on to actually win the over-all title of World Russian Egg Roulette Champion.

At Swaton yesterday, there were egg teams from Brazil, the Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Japan, Slovenia and South Africa competing not just in Russian Egg Roulette but in the main Egg Throwing event and the Egg Throwing Static Relay contest and the World Egg Trebuchet Challenge, in which catapults based on medieval siege engines propel eggs set distances to be caught by plucky teams. All the eggs are rejects or outdated, so no food is wasted.

The Japanese gained face - and eggs -and a gold medal title

The Japanese gained face – and eggs – and a gold medal title

“There’s a team from Japanese national TV,” Andy told me when I arrived. “They have six cameras, one sound man, a make-up guy, a team of four, two directors and a producer,. They flew in specially for this last week.

“The team consists of two Japanese baseball players who can throw a good distance, one eggspert who runs a chicken farm and one manager who, before he became a serious actor, was a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger on TV. They’re making a one-hour documentary. What they do on their programme is take ordinary people with some skills and send them across the world trying to bring back gold medals to Japan. They’ve been here for a week and they’re here for another week.

“As a result of this, we’re hoping to set up an annual Japanese Egg Throwing Championship. We’ve just confirmed the first national Australian Egg Throwing Championships on 5th August

“When are the English Championships?” I asked.

“July 13th in Surrey. Then there’s the Dutch national Championships. The Belgian national championships are on 14th August…”

Russian Egg Roulette at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Show

“And I’m very proud,” I interrupted, “that the Scottish national open Russian Egg Roulette Championships are taking place during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe on 23rd August.”

“Indeed,” said Andy.

“It will look good in my blog if I say that,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Andy. “And, next May, we’ve got the Finnish national Russian Egg Roulette Championship.”

“Whatever happened,” I asked, “to that Australian children’s TV show who were going to to be filming Australian competitors egg throwing at the Fringe?”

“They are going to be filming here on 11th September,” replied Andy. “They couldn’t fit their shooting in with the Edinburgh Fringe times.”

“So they’re doing it in Swaton?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Andy, “at the special training course we’ve set up. It’s a long field with a mown strip down it. The Japanese, the Irish and the German teams have been all using it in the last few days at separate times so they don’t have to scramble for facilities.

Not catching an egg yesterday

Not catching an egg yesterday

“It’s a proper course. When you see Wild Willie O’Donovan, the Irish guy, watch how he throws the egg compared to anyone else. He is the Irish Road Bowling champion. You know road bowling? A 28 ounce steel ball over a three mile course in the least number of throws. Wild Willie’s unusual technique in egg-throwing is an under-arm lob which is peculiar to road bowling. He’s now successfully brought that technique across to British egg throwing and he’s the World Record Holder for Egg Throwing, set at the Irish national Egg Throwing Championships in Connacht four weeks ago – 71.2 metres.”

“You are a man who lives for egg statistics,” I suggested.

“I was interviewed on TalkSport Radio the other day,” admitted Andy. “I gave them all these statistics and no puns and they said You should be on Mastermind with your knowledge of Egg Throwing. But, of course, the only person who could set the questions would be me. That’s a bit of a problem.

“The good story, though,” added Andy, “is us raising – we hope – over £10,000 for charity today.”

Proceeds will go to leukaemia research, the local air ambulance and the emergency response organisation Lives.

“Japanese TV have given us a lot of money,” said Andy. “They were going to give us a donation but we’ve been so good to them over the last 3 or 4 days – organising and setting up things for them – that they’ve more than tripled their donation.”

“How did they fit that into their budget?” I asked.

“They’ve put it down as provision, organisation and facilitation fees.”

“Which, indeed, it is,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Andy.

“How did your Indian trip go?” I asked. (I blogged about it back in March.)

“Four guys from Sleaford went across there and kicked India’s arse,” said Andy. “We won the series 4-3 and beat 1.2 billion Indians at Russian Egg Roulette. But, while we were over there, we were also inoculating 300 million under-5-year-olds in a Weekend For Polio. In the last 20 years, every kid under 5 has been inoculated. The Rotary Club raised and spent £300 million on it. And the much-maligned Bill Gates gave us £300 million as well. We think polio has now gone in India. We were over there three years ago and we’ve been inoculating twice a year since then and polio is now only left in bits of the north west frontier in Pakistan and the south east frontier of Afghanistan.”

“And that’s because it’s too dangerous to go in?” I asked.

Even armour-wearing competitors lost out yesterday

Even armour-wearing roulette competitors lost out yesterday

“Well, it was,” said Andy. “The fundamentalists were slaughtering the people who were doing it – they killed 30 at the beginning of this year –  young nurses, young girls who were doing it. But the Taliban have now been persuaded that it’s not a plot of the Americans to sterilise all the kids and it’s actually stopping polio and they’ve actually come on side and are now actually protecting the polio inoculators.”

At that point, Andy was called away to be interviewed by Reuters.

The good news at the end of the day was that the Japanese won the World Egg Trebuchet Challenge, got their gold medal and may be back next year to defend their title.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Sport

Comedians abroad, Archbishop Tutu & the “Britain’s Got Talent” egg-throwing

Last night at the London Palladium...

Last night on tour at the London Palladium

I never go anywhere. Nothing interesting ever happens to me.

Last night, I went to see John Cooper Clarke’s show at the London Palladium, courtesy of comic Matt Roper, who had tickets but then had to fly South Africa on Saturday to appear in the June/July comedy festival where, apparently, all proceeds go to the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and, in Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be performing a stand-up comedy spot on the press night.

See what I mean?

I could say Whooo! I went to the London Palladium last night! But Matt Roper has trumped me by going to South Africa to (in a sense) perform comedy as his dribbling, lecherous alter-ego Wilfredo with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

And, while I was in a train on the way to London yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick was flying to Kenya for three weeks where she will be working for her Mama Biashara charity.

AND I got a text from comedian Sarah Hendrickx, cycling to Barcelona to better her soul and to collect material for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe shows. Sarah has barely cycled any further than a local ice cream shop before this. Her text said:

“I covered 520 miles and could easily have done more so not too shabby.”

See? Sickening. All I’ve done is go to Oxford Circus in a train and a tube.

And then there is the extensive egg throwing.

Yesterday - an irresistible pun for the Sun

It was an irresistible pun for the Sun

Yesterday, the papers were full of the woman who threw eggs at Simon Cowell during the live televised final of Britain’s Got Talent.

This is good pre-publicity. The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August will include the official Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette All-Comers Championship.

American comic Lewis Schaffer will be defending his 2012 title against the likes of comedian Richard Herring and aforementioned comedy critic Kate Copstick. The event – basically people smashing eggs on their foreheads for a laugh – will be supervised by Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, who is travelling up to Edinburgh for the event.

But, again, Andy has trumped me and gone one – or several – better.

Organiser Andy Dunlop provides eggs for Russian Roulette

Andy at last year’s World Egg Throwing…

“August is going to be busy,” he told me yesterday. “We have the Australian Egg Throwing Championships early in the month, the Malcolm Hardee Show in Scotland on the 23rd and the Belgian Championships on the 31st.

“Meanwhile, we have a Japanese TV game show coming to Lincolnshire for the World Egg Throwing Championship on June 30th – they’ll be bringing four raw viewers with them to take part. And there is an Australian children’s TV show coming for some egg throwing here in September.

“I am already gut busted. I have just spent six days in hospital due complications with surgery to repair complications from surgery in May that followed a life saving op in October (that had complications).  That was because of complications from a life saving op to repair a bust gut 32 years ago, which was a complication from failure of my umbilical cord to wither correctly 55 years ago. Life is full of complications, as was the bag, attached to the tube that drains the wound in my belly, until it detached overnight……. twice.”

Ever-sympathetic, I asked him to send me a photo of himself in hospital for this blog.

Egg-throwing man Andy Dunlop in hospital

Andy Dunlop – ‘Mr Happy’ – in hospital…

“Here it is,” his e-mail said, a few minutes later. “The photo was taken last October by a ‘friend’ to show how cheerful I was following emergency surgery at 03.00am. Note the tubes (including auto morphine drive) inserted into various openings in me, not all natural. I am wearing a badge that says Mr Happy.

“I left hospital on that occasion after five days with an infection in my belly wound that required several months of treatment as it was 10cm deep and wider than a wide-mouth toad. There were daily visits by the local district nurse team to prod and re-stuff me with magic seaweed-based filler. I had four belly buttons along my rather impressive 10 inch scar

“The weakened area of belly then developed a rather cute little bulge (or, as my wife said, What on earth is that?, pointing to my nether regions) which was identified as an “incisional hernia” that required day case surgery to repair.  I had that on the 23rd of May and one of my four belly buttons was removed during this process.

“That led to an emergency re-admission and a rather grotesque distension of my belly, which was drained of two pints of red gunge last week during my last six-day stay. It is still draining. Another two pints since done. Still infected.

“I am still happy… and alive.”

Andy then added, as well he might:

“So it goes.”

Other people!

Their lives are too interesting.

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Filed under Comedy, Medical