Tag Archives: Charles Aznavour

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 28 – Phishing, MI6, COVID, comedy, Kunt

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 27

SUNDAY 26th JULY

Ariane Sherine, who is writing an album of songs as Ariane X, has discovered that, since finding a new man in her life and becoming happy, she has been unable (temporarily one hopes) to write songs.

I remember Charles Aznavour being asked in an interview why he always seemed to write sad songs. He said that, when people are happy, they are all happy in much the same way, so happy songs are a bit samey; when people are sad, there are varied, specific reasons why, so ‘sad’ is more inspiring and more interesting.

Let’s go off on a random phishing expedition… (Photograph: Bearmix Studio via UnSplash)

MONDAY 27th JULY

I had a call from BT, my internet provider, telling me that my line has been compromised and that my landline and broadband might be cut off…

Except BT is not my internet provider nor my line provider.

There was an electronic recorded voice explaining the above, which then transferred me to a second electronic recorded voice which said it was putting me through to an ‘adviser’ who said, in a very heavy Indian accent: “Hello. This is BT, your internet provider”.

I replied “No you’re not. So you can fuck off.”

It seemed best in the circumstances.

As someone pointed out, the quality of scammers has deteriorated recently.

The COVID self-administered swab test pack – my fifth test…

TUESDAY 28th JULY

No wonder the self-administered COVID-19 swab tests are inaccurate. I just self-administered my second one. (This time, I was randomly chosen by IpsosMORI for their research.)

You are supposed to stick the swab up both nostrils and into the back of your mouth, touching both tonsils, using a mirror to see the tonsils.

Perhaps I am oddly built but, for the life of me (which could be literally true) I cannot see my tonsils nor pretty much anything at the back of my mouth/top of my throat.

After sticking the swab up both nostrils and turning it around a bit, I dabbed it and turned it vaguely at the back of my throat on each side and hoped for the best.

In the evening, I went to my local cinema to see The Dark Knight. Cinemas are currently screening ‘modern classic’ movies to entice people in after the coronavirus lockdown.

I sat in my normal seat in the very front row. I was the only person in the screening room until, at the very last moment, a tall man came in and sat in the very back row. He had a green Mohican hairstyle, which struck me as a little old-fashioned. I was reminded of James Fenimore Cooper.

WEDNESDAY 29th JULY

Good news for comedy clubs. A friend of a friend who works for a comedy club (and who has luckily been on paid furlough because of the coronavirus) will be back at work this Saturday because a lifting of restrictions means that comedy clubs can open provided they observe social distancing and take other anti-virus precautions.

Other than that, it was a surreal day…

The ‘artist formerly known as The Iceman‘, now occasionally and erratically known as AIM, has been painting aliens. He sent me an image of his latest encounter.

Like many by the artist formerly known as The Iceman, this painting is fairly self-extra-planetary

The “BARGAIM of the WEEK” (sic) on his website is currently a painting of his ice block at the Glastonbury Festival for a very reasonable £5,077…

Richard Moore, known as ‘C’ or ‘M’ but not as Roger Moore.

Richard Moore has been appointed the new head of MI6 – ‘C’ to his chums; ‘M’ to James Bond fans.

It is a sign of our surreal times, that #RogerMoore is now trending on Twitter because people only skim the headlines and get confused between reality and fantasy.

THURSDAY 30th JULY

On Monday I have an appointment to see the doctor who is trying to figure out why my calcium level and kidney function went mad in May and I had to be hospitalised. It is a face-to-face meeting and will include yet another blood test.

As I have come to expect, this morning the NHS sent me a text saying the face-to-face meeting has been changed to a telephone call. I assume this is bollocks.

This afternoon, I had a chat in Covent Garden with performer Samantha Hannah for an upcoming blog. Nearby in the piazza, in front of ‘The Actors’ Church’, a lone puppeteer street performer was trying to attract a crowd. The place used to be thronged. No more – because of COVID-19.

A street pupeteer (extreme right) tries to attract an audience (extreme left) in Covent Garden piazza

Samantha told me two fascinating facts which will not be in the blog…

Apparently up-market apartments are not selling at The Shard in London – not because of the prices but simply because it is (just) south of the River Thames. North has more prestige.

And she read somewhere that people from hilly areas speak with accents that go up and down more than people from flat areas. This is such a weird and unlikely idea that I suspect it may actually be true.

Life is a simultaneous drama and comedy for all these days

FRIDAY 31st JULY

On the early morning Today programme on Radio 4, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that comedy clubs can open tomorrow.

I double-checked with the hospital that my appointment on Monday is, indeed, a face-to-face meeting with my Kidney Man, not via telephone.

And, indeed, it is face-to-face.

The text I got from the NHS was bollocks.

Later, I got a text about my self-administered coronavirus test:


Thank you for completing the COVID-19 swab test. Your swab analysis results indicate that you are COVID-19 negative. Although results are not 100% conclusive, it is important that you and your household continue to observe social distancing guidance. If you or anyone in your household has or develops symptoms you must follow the Stay at Home Guidance even if you have a negative result.


That is my fifth COVID-19 swab test. All negative.

I received a more positive email from Kunt and the Gang:


“It took 18 months… 20-odd rehearsals, 3 days in the studio”

It took 18 months, 2 line-up changes, 20-odd rehearsals, 3 days in the studio and about 2 months of pinging mixes back and forth remotely all through lockdown, but finally, at long last… Kunts Punk In Your Face is out now to download from our Bandcamp page.

As a thank you to everyone who supported my book Kickstarter all those years ago it’s available for free until 17-08-2020.

For everyone else it’s pay what you want – I suggest between a fiver and a tenner, depending on how flush you are, or be a proper kunt and go and pinch it for free!

Or get it on CD with extra bonus track from http://katg.co.uk

It should also be up on the likes of your Spotifys and your iTuneses etc. soon, so go and have a check – if it’s not up right now it won’t be long but those platforms are a bit of a law unto themselves.


At lunchtime, it was suddenly announced that the slow easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has been put on pause and comedy clubs (and other premises) will NOT be allowed to open tomorrow.

Worse still, for me, cinemas can remain open but audiences will have to wear masks.

It is, at least, good to know that, in such uncertain times, you can rely on the arrival of Kunt albums with puns in the titles.

SATURDAY 1st AUGUST

And, it seems, you can also rely on Apple…

Writer/performer/producer/comedian/all-round good guy Peter Michael Marino, who lives in New York, says:


Socially-responsible, financially lucky Peter Michael Marino

At Grand Central Genius Bar:

“Your 2.5-year old, out-of-warranty MacBook Pro is defective and needs a new keyboard, new battery, and new hard drive.

“How much?”

“It’s your lucky day. It’s all free. Don’t ask any questions. Play the lottery, dude.”

Just played the lottery and won $10.


I reply:


Apple Store, London, late 2011.

I took my out-of-warranty MacBook Pro in for repair for the third time – a faulty DVD drive. They had previously repaired it for free, because the drive was a third-party item – not of their making – and they passed the repair charge on to the other company.

“John, you seem to be having a problem with this machine. Would you like a new one for free?”

“How much would it cost if I bought it?”

(The answer was over £2,000)

“I’ll have it.”

“I’m afraid there will be a delay of about a week. We have to get it in from Ireland.”

A week later, I am watching the BBC News Channel. They announce that Steve Jobs has died.

Half an hour later, the phone rings.

“Your new MacBook has arrived.”

Newer model. Bigger hard drive. Faster processor.

July 2020… It is still working.

Thankyou Steve Jobs.


I buy a ticket for tonight’s UK lottery game.

My numbers do not come up.

Welcome to reality, John.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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Peculiar – Comic Jo Burke disappeared for 3 years, found true love and a show

The last time performer/writer Jo Burke appeared in this blog was in September 2015. There is a reason for that gap of over three years.


Three years absent and three books published

JOHN: So you have three children’s books here which you wrote. There is Standing on Custard

JO: That’s the first one. It’s a book of funny verse – for up to 10 year olds – and it’s really good for small ones because it’s rhyming. Then A Squirrel’s Tail is a whole story rather than verse. A really lovely story about inclusivity and diversity about a squirrel born without his tail. And then Molly, Chip and The Chair is for slightly older children: when they’re moving on to reading adult-style books.

JOHN: Why’s it called Standing on Custard?

JO: The book has lots of useful facts. So one interesting fact is that you can actually stand on custard.

JOHN: Eh?

JO: You get two tins of Ambrosia, you put them on the floor and you stand on them. (LAUGHS) No… It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid. You have to make it with cornflour and lots of it. What a non-Newtonian fluid does is, instead of like most fluids and liquids, it becomes harder the more pressure, the more weight you put on it.

JOHN: The books are beautifully illustrated.

JO: My talented husband Philip Price.

JOHN: You gave up comedy for three years.

JO: I didn’t intend to. My last show – the last time we had a chat – was 2015 and that was my I Scream show and I’d written a book about that as well. It was about online dating. 

“Most successful show… I was quite annoyed”

That was my most successful show so far and it was me as me. Before that, I had been doing character-based comedy. I was delighted that the one with me as me was the most successful. But also quite annoyed, because I had trained for many many years to be an actress. And the show I did as me was the most successful. 

I think I just felt like I’d plateaued a bit: that I didn’t have much else to say. I had sort of fallen… not out of love with it because it was fantastic… but I felt that, if I were to come back with something else, it would have to be as good and I didn’t want to rush into the next thing. I had kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh Fringe thing. I had done about six Edinburghs in a row by that point. Six shows up to 2015 and, in two of those years, I did two shows each year, which was ridiculous.

Initially, I thought I might take a year off. But, I got back to London from Edinburgh in the September and, in the October I met the man who is now my husband. It was ironic that whole I Scream book and show had been about my disastrous love life. Then, lo and behold…!

JOHN: So you were only doing comedy to cover gaps in your acting.

JO: I had always done acting and ads and whatever and, up until that point as well, I also had a  mortgage-paying job which most performers have – a horrible office job three days a week which was not playing to any of my strengths and just to pay the bills. I had started to feel quite unhappy there and I thought: You know what? It’s time to move on. So I did. 

What I needed then was a revenue stream. So I thought: Actually, now I’ve met Phil, who is an artist… I had already written this book years and years ago for a friend’s daughter. And I said to Phil: “Do you think you’d be interested in doing the artwork for this book?” 

So that was our first project. We have released a book a year, basically; we are just finishing off a new one.

JOHN: You said you needed a revenue stream – to make money – so you started writing books… That is not a way to make money!

JO: The books are really popular in Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, America. I sell them online and at a stall in Greenwich Market and I sell hundreds of them a month and we sell prints and artwork as well. I do a maximum of about three days there and it’s great because I can work it round castings – I just shot a commercial for IKEA in Italy for four days.

JOHN: And next Saturday (6th April), you are back on stage at the Museum of Comedy in London with a new show called Peculiar. Is it you as yourself or is it character comedy?

JO: It’s me again.

Jo Burke no longer screaming; just as creative

JOHN: A follow-up to I Scream?

JO: No, that’s why to have the space of three years between the two shows was good. I don’t really feel like that person I was any more. Straight after I Scream, I met Phil. I feel so far removed from that (previous) person and all of that angst and heartache and stuff. Everything changed. It was like a cathartic thing. I released the I Scream book and did that show then, all-of-a-sudden, the love of my life walked in the door.

JOHN: Is happiness good creatively, though? I heard Charles Aznavour interviewed and he was asked why he sang sad songs. He said they were more interesting because, when people are happy, there’s not a lot you can say. People are happy in the same way but, when people are sad, they are sad for all sorts of different. specific reasons.

JO: Yeah. Also happy people can be a bit annoying to be around sometimes. I spent a huge chunk of my life being single and being around happy couples and I know the annoyance of it. (LAUGHS) Nobody’s interested in you if you’re happy and I don’t really write when I’m happy. I have always written when I’m annoyed. When you are happy, it’s quite dull creatively, I think.

JOHN: So when you got happy it must have screwed-up your creativity for the last three years?

JO: No. I never stopped writing. I made notes all the time in those three years and I did the children’s books. The children’s books are a gentler… they’re still funny, but it’s a gentler humour and a different audience. But I still always had dark, evil thoughts that I would set aside for future shows.

So when I decided to do this new show, Peculiar, I started looking back through all my notes and maybe I had written the equivalent of a show a year anyway, so Peculiar is really the best of all of that.

“It’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd”

JOHN: What’s the elevator pitch for Peculiar? Is it angry?

JO: No, but it’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd from nail varnishes to medication to marriage to eBay.

JOHN: So observational comedy.

JO: Yes, but not really. It’s… Jo Burke calls out the absurdity surrounding our every day life. She shoots down the lazy marketing we are perpetually bombarded with, ridiculous products and Amazon reviews plus a fair few things in between.

JOHN: Last time we talked, you wanted to do a show about working class life.

JO: Well, that’s always a bugbear of mine. I’m always slightly peeved at the fact there are fewer and fewer working class voices. There are sketches I’ve written just for bizarre funny’s sake, but a good 90% of what I do is with a reason, a message behind it. 

JOHN: To get your message out? But you’re not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

JO: Part of the reason I’m doing Peculiar at the Brighton Fringe in May but I am not doing Edinburgh is that I priced it all out and I would love to go to Edinburgh – I absolutely love it – but, you know, I am still paying for the seven years I did before!

Why would I go to the Edinburgh Fringe? Because I love it. But that is not a good enough reason. It has not been a stepping stone for me so far and I can’t really afford to keep trying. I’m taking another tack now. I’m not really doing stand-up spots on other people’s gigs. It’s time-consuming and means travelling all around and I prefer doing my own shows. 

I did consider doing a children’s show in Edinburgh. Standing on Custard would make an amazing children’s show but… Well, it’s all very well signing books and making children laugh but it’s a whole different ball game when you can make a whole room of adults laugh.

JOHN: The lure of the applause?

JO: I was missing the feel-good. Also, because everything is so politically dark and horrible at the moment, I think if you have a skill – to make kids or adults laugh – now is definitely the time to be doing it.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 14: Sad comedy and Alex Salmond’s Comedy Award?

Luca Cupani makes a happy point at today’s Grouchy Club

At the Grouchy Club this afternoon, Kate Copstick got worried about the fact Italian comic Luca Cupani has a new girlfriend. Copstick is of the opinion that happiness is not a good ingredient for a comedian’s emotional make-up and that having children is worse. She lamented good, edgy comedians reduced to talking on-stage about their children’s cuteness.

I tend to agree. I remember Charles Aznavour being asked why all his songs seemed to be unhappy. Why did he never write songs about happiness? He said because, when people are happy, they are pretty-much happy in the same way. But, when people are unhappy, they are uniquely unhappy because of specific circumstances. So their stories are more interesting.

As with songs so, perhaps, with comedy.

Juliette Burton flies high in The Butterfly Effect

This afternoon, I saw Juliette Burton’s Butterfly Effect show in a totally fully room. She has sold out her last two Edinburgh Fringes, her recent Brighton Fringe shows and, so far, every one of her shows at the current Edinburgh Fringe. I know why. She makes audiences happy – and this show is about being kind to other people. The only criticism I have ever heard of her is that she is too Sally Sunshine happy. But, to get there, the actual meat of her shows is a string of madness, emotional turmoil and upset. What holds the happy-making shows together is actually the narrative glue of unhappiness.

Feelgood musical anecdotal autobiographical

Interestingly, tonight I also saw Shit I’m In Love With You Again. This is, in its effect on the audience, a feelgood musical anecdotal autobiographical show from Canadian Comedy Award winner Rachelle Elie. But, though feelgood and jolly, again the narrative goes through unhappiness to get to the comedy and the surprise ending, which may support Copstick’s point.

Meanwhile, as every year, from a slow start, people are now pulling cunning stunts in a desperate bid to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

Nathan Cassidy (see yesterday’s blog) is now claiming the Best MC gong he awarded himself was a Malcolm Hardee Award (rather echoing Cally Beaton, who had already claiming an unconnected award she got last year was a Malcolm Hardee Award).

Man in a balaclava in a corner not saying anything

And, in today’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club, Sir Richard, one half of Bob Blackman’s Tray (the other half being genuine Malcolm Hardee Award winner Johnny Sorrow) sat in a corner and said nothing.

This evening, a webpage appeared, claiming he had been nominated for a new (fictional) award – The Malcolm Hardee Person Most Likely To Sit In The Corner And Not Say Anything Award – and got 5 stars from Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee judge Kate Copstick.

In fact, we do not fully discuss the nominees until noon next Monday.

I can exclusively reveal here, though, that one nominee for a Cunning Stunt Award may be Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond – for hinting on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was going to tell a sadomasochism story involving Kirsty Walk on his Edinburgh Fringe chat show.

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100% successful comedy shows can get standing ovations but then fail as blogs

A statue of Charles Aznavour in Gyumri, Armenia (Well, he was really Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian)

A statue of Charles Aznavour in Gyumri, Armenia (Well, he was really Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian)

I thought I was onto a winner for today’s blog. Seeing a show AND comedy news from Germany.

It was not to be.

I once heard French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour being interviewed and asked why his songs were almost always about sad things not happy things and he explained it was because everyone is sad in different ways for different reasons but what can you say about being happy? Being happy is fairly uniform and therefore there is nothing to analyse and dissect.

In a sense, the same goes for successful stage shows. Awful stage shows are interesting to dissect and write and read about. Totally successful shows? What can you say about them? Not much. There are about ten enthusiastic adjectives of exultation you can use and that’s it without giving too much of the show away.

In this blog, I keep rattling on about how pure, straight stand-up comedy is getting a bit dull and there should be more Variety in comedy shows.

A fortnight ago, I saw the first night of Slightly Fat FeaturesVariety Soup show at the Leicester Square Theatre. It was wonderful and I did not write a blog about it…

–  partly because this is not a review blog – straight reviews are transient and of very little interest if you read them five years later (which blogs or potential e-books can be) or if you live in a different country or continent

–  partly because I had a built-up blog-jam of interviews at the time

–  partly because I had no ‘angle’ and had no idea what to say about it

A successful show is a successful show. You can only roll out adjectives.

Last night, with comedy couple Martin & Vivienne Soan, I saw Variety Soup for a second time. It was just as perfect as the first time.

An utterly brilliant script and flawless performances from seven men (only men) at the top of their performing game.

Variety Soup - Leicester Square Theatre flyer

Variety Soup – 100% successful show even with the fake dwarf

A great opening, then juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine, a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience.

Each short routine would have been a featured speciality act in the original Sunday Night at The London Palladium (before ITV ballsed-it-up in their recent re-make).

In other words, Variety Soup is a show so 100% successful I have nothing to say about it.

Well, it is 99.5% successful. There is one highly dubious routine involving a supposed dwarf cowboy. I abhor over-PC zealots and this routine was all done with such charm and originality that the audience loved it – in fact, the packed audience loved the entire show and gave it a standing ovation at the end – but, at this point, we were being suckered-by-professionalism into to laughing AT the antics of the fake dwarf, not WITH his antics.

I still feel the show was a 100% triumph, though.

Just not a blog.

Comedy news from Germany? There wasn’t enough time to ask Martin and Vivienne about their recent visit to Leipzig.

Tomorrow, I have high hopes of a proper blog.

Perhaps I will see a less-brilliant show.

Perhaps I will have tea in Mayfair with a man who did not once firebomb a house.

Life is full of surprises.

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