Tag Archives: California

What’s US West Coast comedy life like? 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tells you.

Lynn Ruth Miller on stage in Los Angeles

In three recent blogs, unique 86-year-old comic and occasional burlesque dancer Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her recent trip home to San Francisco.

After that, she went to Los Angeles…

So now read on…


It is funny how some friends stay and some vanish as you travel through your life. I met Julie Anderson at the beginning of my comedy career. She took Kurtis Matthew’s course at the San Francisco Comedy College the year after I did. From the beginning, I knew she was a very special human being. At the time I discovered her, she had a 9-year-old son Nigel who thought he was a stand-up comedian. Julie thought so too.

She was living in Vallejo, California at the time. Vallejo then was a very low- income, unsavory place to live.

It still has the highest crime rate of any place in America. 

If you live there, your chances of being a victim are something like 1 in 22.  

Still, Julie loved it. She had her own house and commuted to work as an administrator in a glass gallery in Napa. At night, she honed her skills as a stand-up comedian.

Julie is a wonderful storyteller and she holds an audience’s attention. She is a born performer. She started her own comedy night in Vallejo and booked lots of San Francisco comedians – but Nigel always stole the show.  

After the gig, all the comedians on the bill would go back to Julie’s house where we gobbled up a huge buffet dinner before we drove the hour‘s journey home. I cannot say the comedy was much to boast about, but those dinners were magnificent and everyone loved the entire evening.

As the years went by, Julie found a new partner named Martini and the two created comedy shows together. It was Julie who filmed my first cabaret Ageing Is Amazing 

She has innovative and creative ideas and is not afraid to put them in motion.

She creates happenings wherever she is.

“Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis?” (Photo: Sergi Viladesau, UnSplash)

Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis? It actually began in 2007 with the depreciation of the subprime mortgage market in the United States and developed into a full-blown international banking crisis by the fall of 2008.

The Bay area in San Francisco was particularly affected with mortgage rates soaring and banks like Wells Fargo determined to take advantage of people whose equity in their homes plunged.  

I was one of those victims and so was Julie.

However, Julie handled it differently than I. She stopped paying her mortgage and waited it out until the bank got around to kicking her out of her home.  

I continued to pay Wells Fargo, while I tried to reason with them and convince them that they were overcharging me. I wasted hours of my time and energy only to slam against one wall after another.  

Julie didn’t even bother to contact her bank. She knew that there were so many foreclosures in Vallejo that it would take years before anyone got around to dealing with her.

And she was right.

During the time she was waiting for the inevitable, she began selling her furniture and her belongings. Finally, the year before I lost my house, Julie walked away from her Vallejo property and moved to downtown LA with absolutely nothing but her determination to make a new life.

Julie Anderson and Lynn Ruth Miller in London in 2018

That was ten years ago and now Julie has established herself in Los Angeles. She is part of the downtown community and feels at home there.  

The last time we saw each other she told me that, when I returned to San Francisco, I should go down to LA as well.

I had done comedy in Los Angeles several times while I lived in the Bay Area and had never managed to get into the paying market there. LA is a tough market to crack. This time, I wrote to one of the former San Francisco comedians who moved to LA to make his fortune (as so many of them do) and asked if there was a possibility of being a headliner there with my credentials. He said: “Lynn Ruth, we all do sets for no money because we are ALL headliners.”

I dispute that but I knew that, for me, getting any paid work in Los Angeles was a pipe dream. So I told Julie that it would waste my time and money to go to Los Angeles. 

Julie said, “Lynnie, I will create gigs for you.  I promise.”

So I relented.

I said I would spend a week with Julie.

She told me that she had some extra money saved for a vacation that she wanted instead to spend on my visit. She would take care of my accommodation and pay for the transportation I needed to get from one place to another. More important, she would create gigs for me to sold-out houses.  

I didn’t really think she would do either, but I love Julie and when we are together we have fun.

So I agreed to spend the last week of my California journey this year with her.  

Ron Lynch liked the idea of seeing Lynn Ruth at midnight…

I wrote to Ron Lynch (who is my favorite LA comedian) and told him I would do his midnight show for him if he liked.

He liked.

Then I got a letter from NBC.  

They are doing a reality show called 1st Look, a lifestyle and travel show hosted by Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio, airing nationally every Saturday after Saturday Night Live. Johnny is the host of 1st Look and famous for his successful appearances on The Challenge, a program that tests physical prowess.

One 1st Look program will be about older people doing something unusual with their lives.  

They asked me if I planned to be in New York or LA anytime this year and I told them when I would be in LA. They made arrangements for me to be filmed with Johnny Bananas for their program.

After I committed to doing that show with NBC, I discovered that my dear friend Greta Pontarelli had already done a segment for them and that we would be in the same show together.  

I met Greta several years ago in Montenegro… She is in her seventies and is a pole dancer and performer.  She is an amazing woman who can do far more than stunts on a pole, but it is those stunts that have made her unbelievably famous.

Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio took a 1st Look at Lynn Ruth

And so the die was cast.  

I committed to go to LA.  

NBC asked if Johnny Bananas could be on Ron Lynch’s show with me and both Ron and I said Yes.

I also arranged to be on Scot Nery’s variety show Boobie Trap where I was assured I would get four minutes of fame…

… CONTINUES and CONCLUDES HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller finds life tough in San Francisco and meets Trump supporters

Lynn Ruth’s view

The last couple of blogs have been by the uniquely multi-talented comic, writer and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, ruminating on her recent visit back to San Francisco, where she lived for nearly 30 years. Here she rounds off…


I met with Mike Morgin who is my US tax consultant. His stage name is Mike Moto and he was an active part of the American comedy scene.

His heritage is part of his set. He is part Japanese, part Yugoslavian so he always opens with: “I am a Japoslav”.  

The last time I heard him, we were in a tiny theater that holds 20 people and someone in that minute group shouted: “I am, too!” You cannot make these things up.

Six years ago, Mike suffered a severe stroke and the interesting thing about this story is that for six years he has struggled with his rehabilitation and within two years he was managing to go back on stage. His balance is precarious and he walks with a cane. Although his speech is improving, he still is difficult to understand. However, he is determined to master these challenges. He is doing more shows every year. His progress is slow, but he proves the cliché “once a comedian always a comedian”. His set is still solid and, as of just this year, he has been doing longer sets not just for comedy audiences but for people recovering from a stroke.

Since comedy is not the most lucrative profession for those of us that TV has not discovered (yet), Mike is a tax consultant during the day and he has been doing my taxes for about 8 years.

On the Friday, I was booked for Samson Koletar’s room in Oakland.  Samson is from Mumbai and came to Silicon Valley because he got a high-paying job in IT. He moved into a beautiful apartment near San Francisco’s Mission District. He said that, in Mumbai, his parents, his sister and he all lived in a one bedroom flat and the isolation of living alone in his fancy new American home was almost more than he could bear.

Samson started Comedy Oakland several years ago and its growth was very slow; but he persisted.   

The city of San Francisco was the center for sophisticated entertainment. Stand up demands intelligent listening to be enjoyed. Oakland, on the other hand, has a fluctuating population and the income and cultural levels are extremely varied. 

It has some of the most gorgeous and expensive places to live near scenic Lake Merritt. It is also one of the places famous for its drive-by shootings and immense consumption of drugs.

Lynn Ruth Miller alone on stage in Oakland

Sam continued to bring in good comedy to this area because it had no comedy at all and he knew eventually the shows would be accepted and be well attended. He succeeded. This time, Sam scheduled two shows back to back and the place was sold out.

Once again, I am faced with the question of what keeps us at it. Comedy is a thankless, stressful career, at best. At worst, it is the stuff of suicide. It is very stressful to get up on a stage and bare your heart to a bunch of strangers.  

I lived alone with no family and very few friends. Comedy was my lifeline and I hung on to it for dear life. I fed on the laughs no matter how sparse they were when I began.

I went for dinner with my friend, Judy Lawrence. I met her at the Park Movie Theatre when she was the manager there almost 40 years ago. We became fast friends and I saw her through some very difficult times. 

Her favorite nephew got brain cancer and died and Judy was torn apart. She went from one dead-end job to another and, between the ups and downs of her very challenging life, we would meet now and again. At one point when I was in my house in Pacifica, she had dyed her hair a bright green and pierced herself like a pin-cushion with rings everywhere – her tongue, her nose, her eyebrows, her ears. I asked her: “Why do you mutilate yourself like this?”.  

She said: ”Why did you have anorexia?” 

And the penny dropped.

I realized then that the only thing we can control is our bodies and, when life goes off the charts, we turn to our anatomy and force it to do our bidding.  

I starved and stuffed my body because it kept me from facing my many failures and inadequacies. Judy pierced hers trying to come to terms with the unfairness and cruelty of disease and loss.

Owning a house in San Francisco is beyond most of us and to my happy surprise, Judy now has her own little house in a beautiful and safe neighborhood of the city. She has a partner now and her mother lives with her as well and – surprise of all surprises – Judy works for Apple.

Apple in Silicon Valley (Photo: Carles Rabada via UnSplash)

She is now part of that top income level created by the Silicon Valley Greats that people say is destroying the city and erasing the middle class.

These very high-income professionals can pay outrageous prices for what they want and, in America, money is the only power that counts. 

Judy has a brand new car; she dresses in up-to-the-minute fashion. The rings are gone. Her hair is a conventional color. But, underneath, she is the same fun-loving and adventuresome Judy that I bonded with at the Park Theatre.  

Our circumstances change, but those basic impulses: compassion, kindness and adventure… we hang on to them. The difference is that, as we age and as our circumstances change, the way we express those tendencies becomes different, less impulsive and, perhaps, a bit more staid.

That night I had a sleep-over with my long-time friends Alan Schneider and Deidre Laiken. When I met them, they lived in San Francisco’s North Beach. They were originally from New York State and came west as so many of us did because we believed California was a magic place. And indeed it was – over ten years ago – when the two of them became part of that culture: jazz on Sunday afternoons, wild street entertainment every day and idyllic weather, never too hot or too cold.

Gradually, the ambience changed and Deidre tells the story of walking out her front door and being accosted by angry, demanding homeless people who blocked the streets with their sleeping bags and tents. The two decided to do what so many former Californians have done: move away from the city that had originally captured their hearts.  

They chose Folsom, an expanding community nearer to Sacramento than San Francisco. They found a condominium development with every amenity: a gym, a swimming pool, lovely walkways filled with foliage that encouraged birds to nest and a well-equipped clubhouse all at a cost far less than their two-bedroom flat in San Francisco. The weather is more extreme; the culture is just not there; but it is safe to walk outside at any time of the day or night.

To my surprise, both of them are ardent Trump supporters.  Alan explained that, although he has no respect for our president as a person, he believes in the things he has accomplished. Unemployment is down; the economy is up; he says minorities are prospering (?); and Donald Trump is making America greater every day.(???) 

“Donald Trump is making America greater every day (???)” (Image via Pixabay)

“The world is changing,” Alan went on to say. “Families are totally different; we live with our cell phones; we do not eat together; and young people cannot have the same dreams we had. Few of them will be able to buy a home; more of them will have to go to University if they want to earn a living; yet fewer of them can afford tuition; we meet people online instead of face to face. Children are living with their parents longer; they are more concerned about things we never even considered like abusing the environment and the artificial additives we put into food.”

I saw that change he was speaking of when I went out for dinner with another friend, Alan Kahn. This Alan is a teacher and a magician, involved now with a woman ten years his senior, who wants him to move to Oregon, a typical escape haven for people disenchanted with the Bay Area.  

Alan has had custody of his two children since his divorce many years ago. Both are in their twenties and are living at home. They are incensed that their father is charging them rent to live in his home now that they are older.  

He believes he is justified because he says they do nothing to help with the upkeep of the house and are earning enough to pay him for the cost of the utilities and huge taxes that every Californian has to pay. His daughter was so insulted that her father would charge her to live in what she feels is her home, that she has moved out and is paying twice as much rent for the privilege.

Alan is not happy with his job and would like to tour the country in a van performing at magic festivals, but his new partner is not too enthusiastic about that. And he says he cannot even consider such a move until both his son and daughter become self-supporting. Neither of the children have a partner and both of them not only have menial jobs that barely pay enough for food, but also do not have enough education to break into more lucrative professions.

It certainly is a new world. I left home as soon as I graduated from university to take a job my education had prepared me for. After my first divorce, I returned home and it never occurred to me that my parents would charge me to live there. My plan for my future was to marry and have children. The idea that I would not do such a thing – or that I would have to go to work to support myself after I married – would have horrified me.

Today, millennials do not leave home until they have to, marriage is in a steep decline and recreational sex is taken for granted.

Who knew?

… CONTINUED IN LOS ANGELES HERE

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Filed under California, Comedy, Poverty, Psychology, Sociology

The decline and possible fall of San Francisco, as seen by Lynn Ruth Miller

Lynn Ruth Miller back where she once was

The uniquely-talented American comedian and writer Lynn Ruth Miller has been on her travels again. This time she returns (almost) home…


I finally arrived in San Francisco at 10:30 the ‘next’ morning. I had gone more than a day with no sleep but, somehow, as soon as I landed in that familiar airport, I felt in sync with my surroundings.

My first night in the Bay Area is always spent reminding lots of people that I have arrived in the place that was once my home. I never felt very important while I lived here and never believed I made any kind of an impact, even though I had two television shows on their public access TV station and wrote for the local newspaper and a regional magazine.  

California is one of the most liberal states in the Union, yet there is that American sub-context to all that we do: wealthy white men are in charge of us all. Everyone else is a lesser being and when any ordinary bloke earns a job promotion, accolades in his field or even a seat on the bus, he owes it to that hidden aristocracy that is in charge of all we receive and even what we dare to think.

That sense that no-one really matters in the bigger picture except those in the privileged class permeates the culture.  

But, at my friend Leo’s house, I was treated like the most important human being on the planet and, of course, I ate that up.  

Leo, his wife Carol and I always talk about the disintegration of San Francisco, because this once noble city filled with glamorous, sophisticated people has become a dumping ground for the homeless. Tents, sleeping bags, cardboard boxes and even RVs clutter the streets and empty lots. 

San Francisco is no longer a safe city. If you walk alone on its streets you are targets for robbery, bullying, even murder. People are hungry and desperate here. And conditions get worse every time I return.  

A homeless camp in Oakland in May 2017, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle (Photograph by Santiago Mejia)

According to Leo, the homeless have set up encampments and the city is doing nothing to help them. They have become a scourge on the population and people are moving out of the city in droves. That is hard to believe when I see the traffic that clogs the highways. It seems to be bumper-to-bumper traffic at every hour of the day. So SOME people are still here.

Whenever Leo discusses the multitude of freeloaders who do nothing but take as much as they can from the state and do not want to work or even seek proper shelter even if you offer it to them, I think of my dear friend Brett.  

Brett has miraculously reinvented himself. He has recovered from both drug and alcohol addiction, earned a degree in business in his forties and, with much perseverance, has climbed the employment ladder from the bottom. Now in his early fifties, he has qualified for a middle management job in San Francisco. His salary is right in line with what he should be earning. He had achieved his goal.

Yet he cannot afford to rent a flat of his own. He lives in a 10ft by 10ft room in a house he shares with two other men. The house is an hour’s commute from his work.

If people in well-paying jobs cannot afford decent housing, how on earth can we expect someone who is a clerk in a hardware store or who works in a bakery to be able to take care of his basic needs much less put a roof over his head?  

(Photo: Jp Valery, UnSplash)

Surely, a society as wealthy as this one can manage to give its citizens shelter, food, and a sense of dignity. To me, these are inalienable human rights.

The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, has been trying to get legislation through that will create affordable housing but has failed. The city’s Board of Supervisors refuse to ease the antiquated regulations that make every building permit outrageously expensive and so complicated that nothing can get done. Hard-working people like Brett are destined to receive salaries that cannot possibly cover their basic cost of living.

Leo also is very disturbed by the deluge of illegal immigrants who come over here and claim medical and housing benefits for themselves and their children, when ordinary hard-working folk have to struggle just to keep a roof over their heads.  

Sound familiar to British readers? It doesn’t seem to be Eastern Europeans milking the system over here. It is Mexicans and pretty much all people of color.   

Leo is talking about a law passed in California that gives low-income adults between the ages of 19 and 25 living in California illegally the right to be included in California’s Medicaid program, the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

However, these costs to the state are balanced by what is saved in police protection, medical emergencies and jail maintenance.  

Illegal immigrants are people who do work for far less than minimum wage and are excluded from nearly all social services. It is greedy employers who hire these people because they do not want to pay a fair salary for the jobs they want done. They are causing this exploitation of hungry, desperate people willing to work for any wage just to have money for food.

I get the sense that Californians are very angry, especially in the Bay Area.  

They see the prices of everything going up and up; wages going down and down; housing prices and rents soaring sky high; and their streets are littered with homeless colonies where people are defecating in the streets, belligerently demanding money from pedestrians and defacing the neighborhoods residents once all loved.

Those who are comfortably housed and comparatively well-to-do believe that homeless people are either drug addicts or lazy sloths who milk the welfare system when they could easily earn enough money to feed and house themselves.

San Francisco, city of unexpected contrasts (Photograph by Simon Zhu via UnSplash)

Yet every statistic insists that the majority of homeless people living in those tent cities on San Francisco’s streets are there because they lost their job and could not find another or the job they have does not give them enough money for both food and a roof over their heads.

Still, the city of San Francisco has a magic all is own.  

Now that I am a visitor, I do not feel the despair that longtime residents feel.

I understand why tourists love the place. The free jazz on North Beach; the charming cable cars; the ocean and the Bay; the beautiful Victorian homes…

All of it is but a thin façade that hides furious, disillusioned and hopeless people failing to make a comfortable life there.

For way too many of my friends, this magic isn’t enough to offset the cost of living.  So many of them are moving to places like Austin, Texas… Ashville, North Carolina… and even Boise Idaho.  

The beautiful weather and the gorgeous landscape is not enough to make up for the rampant crime on the streets and the outrageous cost of a loaf of bread.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Last night I saw The Wurzels sing and heard of a man chasing whales’ breath

The Wurzels – men out standing in their own field last night

Is there something wrong with me?

I saw The Wurzels perform at a pub in Worcestershire last night.

Yes. The I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester band, still playing around.

I expected maybe a rather half-hearted, past-it band performing in the back room of a pub. Instead, they were playing off the side of a vast pantechnicon lorry in a gigantic field behind the pub and they were slick in the best possible way. The gig had sold out well in advance; the field was full.

It was like watching a perfectly engineered gleaming machine – no mention of combine harvesters – working with razor-sharp precision and playing to a way-over-the-top, party-type audience who, certainly near the front, were raucously singing along and dancing like someone had crossed The Wicker Man with a 1970s nightclub scene from Stringfellow’s without the glam clothes. The audience LOVED the Wurzels and there was not any micro-second when they were not delivering top-notch professional entertainment.

But I would have preferred a rather less professional outfit playing in the back room of a pub.

That’s my problem.

It’s rather like my taste in comedy.

I saw one act at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of months ago which was like The Wurzels. Very experienced. Totally professional. Honed to absolute second-to-second perfection. Brilliant. The audience loved every second. And the comedian could – and probably did – repeat that act just as brilliantly every time he performed.

But I would have preferred something rougher, less professional, more likely to soar in parts but go off the rails in others.

As I say, that’s my problem.

You can’t beat stripping off and mooning at the audience…

I have seen The Wurzels. They are brilliant. I would happily sit or stand through their show again. But I would not seek them out. I know what I am going to get. A word-perfect, note-perfect, beautifully-structured show guaranteed to entertain without fail and without flagging at any point. There was even the sight of one of the Worzels mooning – judging the audience perfectly.

The show was a gleaming Rolls Royce of professionalism.

The Wicker Man met 1970s Stringfellow’s nightclub last night

But I think maybe I would prefer a circus clown’s car, a bit ramshackle, with the engine blowing up and the doors falling off.

Is there something wrong with me? There must be.

The Wurzels are a perfect TV band, You know exactly what you are getting. Brilliant populist entertainment which can be repeated exactly in rehearsal, dress rehearsal and on the recording or live show.

Why they do not appear more on TV, I don’t know. They are peaktime entertainers who appeal to all ages.

Well, maybe I do know.

Presumably it is a sign of the lack of genuine personal taste in a lot of TV shows, made by Oxbridge producers who coldly and impersonally create programmes for what they see as down-market audiences in defined demographics with whom they have nothing in common.

Yesterday I blogged about the TV series Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! They were created by producers (and, in particular the brilliant executive producer Alan Boyd) who made programmes they themselves wanted to watch. I have a feeling some producers now are making ITV programmes for highly researched ‘target audiences’ but would never dream of watching the type of programme they themselves are making – they maybe watch BBC2 and BBC4 at home. The result? Tacky, lowest-common-denominator trash which gets ‘acceptable’ ratings – unlike The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent which are clearly controlled by people who like their own shows, who understand populist audiences and who therefore get massive mega-ratings.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that both The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent can be traced back to Pop Idol, which was originally backed by Alan Boyd.

Still, seeing The Wurzels last night was well worth the experience. They really were a band out standing in their own field.

Not in the audience at the Wurzels gig: a humpback whale

And I got chatting to someone who has a relation working at Davis University in California who is researching breath as a way of predicting cancer risks. He has researched humans’ and apes’ and other animals’ breath and has been trying to get samples of whales’ breath.

It is not easy.

I kid you not.

It made my evening.

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The international sport of egg-throwing – was it Greek, Californian or English?

Andy Dunlop weighs the eggs act alternatives

I’ve just received a press release from organiser Andy Dunlop about the World Egg Throwing Championships which I mentioned in a blog last week.

Apparently, international teams of egg throwers will be flying in for the Championships on 24th June from Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the USA. The Dutch currently hold the title with a throw of 63.3m

Representing Greece will be identical twin brothers Kiri and Kostas Poulous. They say history is on their side because: “We invented sport egg throwing, against the Persians in 480 BC at the Battle of Thermopylae.”

This claim is controversial.

My comedy chum Martin Soan tells me his troupe The Greatest Show On Legs appeared on the British TV show Game For a Laugh around 1985 throwing eggs.

“Our egg-tossing thing,” he tells me, “came out of a 1981 book called Californian New Games – all sorts of hippy games they’d developed to keep children entertained during early festivals on the West Coast.

“In England, Footsbarn Theatre and people like that had done it in the West Country and, when we were talking to London Weekend Television about appearing on Game For a Laugh, we told them We’ve got our naked balloon dance and they said No. We’re a peaktime family show. Have you got any other ideas? So we said Yeah, we’ve got this egg-tossing competition.

“So Game For a Laugh closed down Covent Garden market in London to stage our egg-tossing.

“But, without telling us, they had arranged for the English cricket team to ‘just by coincidence’ turn up too. Suddenly, we were having these enormous throws from one end of Covent Garden market to the other with cricketers catching the eggs. It was genius.”

However, current World Egg Throwing Championship supremo Andy Dunlop says the sport in England dates back to the fourteenth century.

“According to that font of all knowledge Wikipedia,” Andy tells me, “egg throwing in the village of Swaton started circa 1322 when the new Abbot of Swaton, controlling all poultry in the village, used them to provide eggs as alms to those that attended church. When the Eau was in flood these were hurled over the swollen river to waiting peasants.

“I myself,” Andy tells me, “played a version of it at RAF Alconbury in the early 1980s. In 2005, we held our first event at Swaton Show, resurrecting the ancient true sport and the World Championships commenced in 2006.

“The origination of the World Championships was discussed hotly by the committee (seeking to ensure that old tractors and vintage vehicles were not distracted from).

“The question was asked: How could we claim to be the World Championships?

“The answer was that there was not one already and, anyway, with our verifiable ancient claim to the sport (and the web address already purchased) who could object?…. Not even Sport England it would seem, as they have acknowledged egg throwing as a genuine sport.

“We extended the games the following year from two person throw/catch and an egg relay to include target throwing. Then, after that, we added Russian Roulette and egg trebuchet.”

Whether or not the Greeks can prove the claim that their national egg throwing dates back to the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC remains uncertain.

In the meantime, I would just be interested to find a copy of Martin Soan’s claimed Californian New Games book. I can’t spot it on Amazon or elsewhere.

It is almost as if people are making up facts about egg throwing just for a yolk.

There. I said it.

Now I have got it out of my system, I can get on with my life.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Sport, Television

The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Religion, Theatre

Why Roman Polanski’s glamorous rape-excusing friends should be ashamed

I once had to make a television trailer for a documentary on the Waffen-SS. It was very difficult to cut together any pictures that did not make the SS look glamorous because most of the footage was actually shot by the Nazi regime itself, therefore it had a Triumph of the Will style about it. Wonderful angled shots of smart, black-uniformed men marching down steps in formation. The Nazis tended not to film the Waffen-SS butchering men, women and children. Bad for the image.

Let’s be honest, Hitler’s Third Reich made good films and had a great sense of visual style in the design of their uniforms, their architecture and the staging of big-scale live events. But that doesn’t mean that The Holocaust was a minor matter and that Adolf Hitler “should be forgiven this one sin”.

I always find that, if you take an opinion or an event – especially on moral questions – and re-position it into an extreme situation, then that clarifies the opinion or event. My extreme situation is Nazi Germany.

If an argument works put into the context of Nazi Germany, then it probably works in general. Which brings us to Roman Polanski.

His glamorous showbiz chums sit around saying that he should be ‘let off’ the sex abuse charges on which he was found guilty in the US – and on which he jumped bail – in 1977. They say that he should be forgiven his trespasses because (a) he is famous, (b) he is or was a good film director, (c) he had a bad time in the War and (d) it all happened a good few years ago.

I admire Polanski’s earlier films.

But he drugged, raped and buggered a 13 year old girl. This is no small matter and the facts are not in dispute.

If Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact the Holocaust was a long time ago and he had had a difficult childhood would not quite merit ignoring what was done and letting him off with a slap on the head and “Don’t do it again, you naughty boy,” said in a disapproving tone.

I recently mentioned in passing on my Facebook page that when IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with attempted rape, was initially refused bail, one reason the judge gave for not giving him bail was the fact that Roman Polanski had done a runner on a rape charge.

Someone pointed out to me that the girl victim in the Polanski case “has been trying to drop charges for the last ten years… She has said that all of the publicity for this incident has hurt her more than the actual crime itself… She’s suffered enough; let it drop.”

Well, if Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact that the Holocaust was a long time ago and the people who suffered would be upset by a trial would not affect what crimes had been intentionally committed.

Raping a 13 year old is not right. Buggering a 13 year old is not right. And, equally, jumping bail to avoid a jail sentence for drugging, raping and buggering a 13 year old girl is not something to be ignored just because you used to be a good movie director and it happened a while ago.

The fact Polanski’s original trial judge in 1977 was running for public office, desperate for self-publicity and sounds like he changed his mind on giving Polanski a custodial sentence does not enter into it. I imagine some of the judges at the Nuremberg Trials were scumbags; it does not mean that Nazis found living in freedom 30 years later should not be tried.

My bottom line is that, if you drug, rape and bugger a 13 year old girl and then flee abroad to escape a custodial sentence, you deserve to be imprisoned for a considerable time. The fact glamorous showbiz names champion Roman Polanski and, in effect, say he should be pardoned for artistic merit nauseates me. Hitler was a painter and commissioned good movies. I don’t think his artistic merit or the artistic merit of Leni_Riefenstahl enters into it.

You can read the 37 page transcript of the Grand Jury proceedings against Roman Polanski in 1977 HERE.

According to the girl’s testimony, after giving her champagne and a Quaalude, Polanski sat down beside her and kissed her, despite demands that he “keep away.” He eventually, she said, “started to have intercourse with me.” Later, he asked the 13 year old: “Would you want me to go in through your back?” before he “put his penis in my butt.”

Asked why she did not more forcefully resist 43 year old Polanski, the teenager, who was 13 at the time of the rape, said: “Because I was afraid of him.”

The girl sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. In 1993 Polanski agreed to settle with her and according to the Los Angeles Times he agreed to give her half a million dollars. Reportedly, she was still trying to get part of this money from him in 1996 but she and her lawyers later confirmed the financial settlement was completed.

The girl publicly forgave Polanski in 1997, twenty years after the rape and buggery.

In 2009, Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, argued that Polanski “should be forgiven this one sin.”

I say fuck him.

Details of what was in Polanski’s 111 page Polish Secret Service file are HERE.

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Filed under History, Movies, Politics, Sex