Tag Archives: Charmian Hughes

Memories by other comedians of comic impressionist and eccentric Chris Luby

Chris Luby - the forces’ favourite

Chris Luby swapped between Army and Air Force acts

Comedian Chris Luby died in London on Saturday. He fell down a staircase at home when (it is said) he was drunk.

In January 2005, his friend, mentor and occasional manager/agent Malcolm Hardee drowned when he fell into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. Malcolm, too, was drunk at the time.

It is a very British thing.

Chris and Malcolm ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Greenland Dock.

Chris’ comic stage act was to use his mouth and considerable lung power to perform audio recreations of Trooping The Colour, Formula 1 races and bombing raids/aerial combat in World War II. The act usually went well though, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show in 1998, Chris’ act was not much appreciated by some sections of the audience and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler yelled out: “Do a glider!”

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All are now dead. So it goes.

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All now dead.

In its 2005 report of Malcolm Hardee’s death by drowning, the London Evening Standard wrote:

His business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. “His death will leave a huge hole,” said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. “He ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium, which was the most extraordinary club ever.

“It set people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy.”

Now both Malcolm and Chris are dead. So it goes.

In a possibly frightening illustration that nothing is private nor forgotten by Google in this Cyber Age, I can tell you that, on 24th September 2010, comedian Alan Davies Tweeted:

Chris Luby did the Spitfire, the Lancaster and various marching bands. Did many gigs with that fella. Bonkers…

Yesterday, Alan Tweeted about Chris: He could name 6 of anything.

Malcolm Hardee is still remembered in the comedy industry and by media people, though not yet by the Great British public.

A Twitter conversation between comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili on 28th September 2012 went:

ROBIN INCE: If comedians don’t make it to TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it (true of all I suppose).

OMID DJALILI: Chris Luby has done no TV but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy, it’s heroic lunacy.

ROBIN  INCE: I never had a lift with him because I had been warned of those long air shows all the way up the M1.

This refers to Chris’ habit of doing his aeroplane impersonation act on long journeys (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog).

Comedian Charmian Hughes said yesterday:

I will never forget the time I had Chris and Malcolm in the back of my car on the way back from a gig in Birmingham. They were so distracting that, at the roundabout at Hammersmith flyover, I pranged another car. Luckily Malcolm was a brilliant witness and pointed out that it was the other car’s fault, which it was. But I would have anticipated him if they hadn’t been so noisy! Farewell Chris, a kind, sweet, generous, often annoying, and noisome man.

Malcolm and Chris’ friend Steven Taylor aka ‘Steve From Up North’ says:

One of my favourite memories was on the way back from a gig in, I think, Blackburn. There was Chris, myself, Malcolm Hardee and Jo Brand. Chris was annoying us all – doing the noises of the gear changes and the engine. Suddenly, Jo said to him: “Chris, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll open that door and push you out and you can do the sound effect of your body bouncing down a motorway!” He was a great guy and true eccentric.

Brian Damage remembers:

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Hardee comedy intermingled with Luby quiz nights.

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Malcolm Hardee’s comedy nights mixed with Chris Luby’s quiz nights.

We had a three hour car journey with Chris a few years ago. To keep us entertained he did a quiz… all the way to the gig. We were exhausted by the time we got there. On the way home, he did another quiz – with exactly the same questions. Apart from his quizzes, he was one of my favourite people.

Promoter Kev Wright says:

I was proud to get Chris Luby on at our Cracking Night Out at The Hackney Empire. I must have told him it started at 7 and he turned up on time… But he told me it was the second time he had been there that day as he had already been knocking on the stage door at 7 in the morning, as thats the time he thought we meant! The cleaner had told him to go away and he came back across London twelve hours later for 7 in the evening.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he also performed on a comedy bus.

Brian Crane remembers: Ah, the comedy bus with Malcolm as the naked conductor and Chris Luby on the mic as announcer… a classic night, never to be forgotten.

I booked Chris on TV shows with ‘mad inventor’ John Ward at least a couple of times. Yesterday, John told me:

Oddly, I was bringing Chris to mind only the other day as we live in a flight path for the RAF Memorial Flight and they often fly their Spitfire over our place on the way to gigs and I thought how smashing it would be to get him to come up to see us this summer – I thought I would take him up to the base at RAF Coningsby and introduce him.

Chris Luby - once met, never forgotten

ATTEN-SHUN! – Chris Luby – A very loud act

I met Chris twice when he was doing his act on Prove It (presented by Chris Tarrant) for TVS light years ago – once for the pilot and once for the actual show. The first time, I recall being in the canteen in the TVS studios with my lunch and, as I was sorting myself out, I thought I heard an army battalion in the distance or at least in the building but – No – I suddenly found myself in the World of Chris Luby. He had moved towards me sideways so that I did not see him speaking or, for that matter, doing his act of impersonating sounds that you don’t normally associate with a single person on his own.

His Spitfire impression was a masterpiece as he talked through the process involved in getting the plane into the air – starting the engine from cold, the warming-up before take-off, then climbing up to 5,000 feet or so, levelling off and then spotting the ‘Hun’, going into battle and, after shooting one down in flames, his descent and landing.

The second time we met on Prove It, once again, the TVS canteen was his stage as that week’s guests were sitting down having a bite to eat at lunchtime and, having not seen him perform in the rehearsals, they were baffled as they sat there training their ears to fathom out where the noise was coming from. It was just Chris creating the sound of a WW2 Spitfire all on his own. But to see four full-grown adults standing against a window and opening it to look for a plane that seemed to be rather close – in fact even overhead – It was a classic moment.

When he appeared on the show that second time, he had broken his leg. He lurched on to the studio floor dressed in a Coldstream Guardsman’s uniform plus busby with his leg all done up – but he was still brilliant despite this minor upset. He was a real trouper or should that be trooper?… R.I.P. and I hope he keeps ‘em laughing in the ‘hanger in the sky’.

Yesterday, comedians were Twittering.

Ian Stone suggested: There should be a marching band at his funeral.

Andy Smart thought: It’ll be a lot noisier where ever he’s gone!

Even the trade union Equity Tweeted:

We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.

Arthur Smith told me last night:

He was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: “I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like….” but he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world. I hope he is enjoying the molecules in the stars.

Jenny Eclair Tweeted:

Oh please can all the mad, bad, bonkers and wonderful old timers from the old days of alternative comedy stop dying?

and, when I asked her about Chris Luby last night, she told me:

I just remember when Malcolm offered me out-of-town gigs asking if Chris would be in the same car and taking the train rather than be trapped with him doing Spitfires in my ear!

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy

What it is like to be in the constant company of a self-obsessed comedian. Case Study No 1: Lewis Schaffer

Charmian Hughes perhaps foolishly invited Lewis Schaffer

Party girl Charmian perhaps foolishly invited Lewis Schaffer

Yesterday morning’s blog included a comment by American comedian Lewis Schaffer about the importance for a performer of repeating your own name to people, to ensure they know who you are.

Lewis Schaffer is having a Christmas break but, each week, he has been doing his radio show Nunhead American Radio for Resonance FM on Monday, free 90-minute comedy shows at the Source below in Soho on Tuesday & Wednesday, guesting on a Monkey Business comedy show in Kentish Town on Thursday and performing an ever-changing 60-minute pay-to-enter comedy show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday.

Lewis Schaffer has, I suspect, around 4-6 hours of basic comedy material which he personalises to each audience, shifts round according to the circumstances and which he adds to as he goes along.

Yesterday evening, I went to a Christmas party at the home of comedian Charmian Hughes and magician David Don’t (they are married) and who should turn up?

Yup. Lewis Schaffer plus one third of his entourage – diminutive, seemingly eternal student at Oxford University, Heather Stevens.

Lewis Schaffer with Harriet Bowden

Lewis Schaffer shows interest in someone – Harriet Bowden

While Lewis Schaffer flirted with comics Karen O Novak and Harriet Bowden, I asked Heather about Lewis Schaffer. She has been part of his entourage for two years.

Comedian Ivor Dembina was passing by at the time.

“Lewis Schaffer,” Ivor joked (well, OK, maybe he only half-joked), “has never been heard to utter a sentence that did not include the word ‘I’ although I did once hear – and it’s only a rumour – that he once did say a phrase that neglected to use the word ‘I’ but did include the word ‘me’.”

“What on earth,” I asked Heather, “is it like being with Lewis Schaffer for prolonged lengths of time?”

“Harrowing,” she replied. “He talks about his shows being a harrowing mid-life crisis, but constant contact is just harrowing on its own. Oh dear, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It’s sometimes alright.”

“Does he talk about anything that doesn’t involve Lewis Schaffer and his comedy?” I asked.

Heather (left) at yesterday’s party while Lewis Schaffer schmoozes with Karen O Novak & husband

Heather Stevens (left) at last night’s party while Lewis Schaffer schmoozes with Karen O Novak and her husband

“He does sometime talk about his ex-wife and his kids,” she told me, then paused, thought and added. “But I suppose that’s part of his comedy as well. He never talks about anything that isn’t connected to Lewis Schaffer. He will always have the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ somewhere within the sentence or it will be an ‘I’ or a ‘me’, as Ivor pointed out.”

“Has he ever asked you what your name is?” I asked.

“I don’t think he knows my name,” said Heather.

“And you’ve been with him for two years?” I asked.

“Yes. He doesn’t need to know my name. He will never need to use it in a sentence.”

“And you are actually helping him,” I said.

Martin Soan earlier this week, naked on radio

Martin Soan on Lewis Schaffer’s radio show

“Yeah,” agreed Heather. “I write jokes for his radio show. I write a proper script, but the punchlines get moved around. He doesn’t learn them, so any joke I write will be maimed. Nothing I write is as-written when he says it.”

“That’s fair enough for his sort of comedy,” I said.

Heather laughed.

“You weren’t writing for him originally,” I said.

“No,” explained Heather. “On the radio show, he started out asking me to research news items, so I set up a Twitter search to monitor the word ‘Nunhead’ and I’d give him news items, but he’d ask Why haven’t you made this into a joke? So then I’d write one or two jokes and I’ve done two or three shows where I just properly scripted the whole thing.”

An edition of Lewis Schaffer’s radio show (with guest comedian Richard Herring) is on SoundCloud.

Rose and Lewis Schaffer in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon

Rose Ives with Lewis Schaffer at the Edinburgh Fringe 2013

“You and Rose,” I said to Heather (Rose Ives is another member of Lewis Schaffer’s entourage) “take notes during his stage shows, so he can re-use any ad-libs he makes. But you don’t actually write for his stage shows.”

“No. Only things that I’ve put in the radio show and he’s decided to use. Or when I’ve written down things from his live show, I’ll sometimes suggest he moves a punchline or re-word something. There’s only been one or two bits over two years that I’ve written from scratch.”

“In fact, though,” I suggested, “no-one really writes for him. It’s little decorations that he may pick up and use or not or play around with.”

“Yes,” agreed Heather. “Part of my role and all of Alex Mason’s role (Alex Mason is yet another of Lewis Schaffer’s entourage) is helping him with his jokes.

Lewis Schaffer + part entourage Alex Mason & Heather Stevens

Alex Mason, Lewis Schaffer and Heather Stevens in London

“So we’ve both written set lists for him – which he never uses. When he did the Bloomsbury Theatre show, Alex and I were with him for about four hours writing a set list until he was happy with it, but then we went to the show and we were sitting in the audience and he didn’t use it.”

“Well Rose and I were in the wings backstage,” I said, “and, when he went on for an encore, we told him to do his big 9/11 joke because the show actually was on 11th September and, of course, he didn’t do it – the one joke he should have done that night!”

Heather laughed.

There is a clip of the Bloomsbury Theatre show on YouTube, with Lewis Schaffer introduced by Stewart Lee.

“Perverse,” I said. “That should be the title of his next Edinburgh Fringe show: Lewis Schaffer is Perverse.”

As I left, Charmian Hughes kissed me on the cheek and said: “I’m looking forward to your blog tomorrow about Lewis Schaffer’s party.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Adventure, mass murder and bananas. It’s the perfect Edinburgh comedy show.

Charmian and Kaye on the Ganges in Varanasi

Charmian (left) & Kaye last month on the Ganges in Varanasi

If you are going to perform for over three weeks at the always potentially rainy and windy Edinburgh Fringe in August, it is best to make your show about a glamorous subject simply on the basis that the research will cheer you up.

Comedian Charmian Hughes was in India last month doing 16 days ‘research’ with her friend Kaye Bachelard. Both were following in the footsteps of their earlier even more feisty relatives and trying to uncover what really happened to them.

Kaye had a relative who forsook the Jesuit priesthood for a woman. Charmian’s story was even more of an adventure and will be the basis of her Edinburgh Fringe show next year.

“Which section of the Fringe Programme do you think I should put it in?” she asked me last night after she and Kaye had run through their stories with photos and videos in Charmian’s kitchen.

“In the Comedy section,” I said, “because it will attract more bums on seats. It’s a real cracking adventure story – well, a double adventure story – the 19th century one and your own 2013 one. It’s got murder, mystery mayhem and all the rest – but you’ll make it funny with all the incidental details – the populace paying homage to a great man by giving him bananas is worth at least a titter.”

I asked Charmian to give me an ‘elevator pitch’ for her proposed show.

“It is,” she said, “about me and my friend Kaye going to find out about our families who had escaped from India – and WE ended up having to escape!”

“Who was the relative whose adventure you were following in the footsteps of?” I asked, on the basis that it’s easier to write blogs if you get other people to supply the words.

“Mrs Goldney,” said Charmian. “She got caught up in the Indian Mutiny. She escaped on the back of an elephant by climbing up its tail and disguising herself in torn-up petticoats as an Indian bride. She took shelter with the one-eyed scoundrel and the Rajah and she escaped from a mob who were trying to kill her by throwing her money around so, in the end, she had the same tipping worries as everyone else does in India. Do you think it’ll work?”

“Yes,” I told her. “It has a Three Act structure. It starts off like it’s going to be a gentle tale about two modern women on a trip to India following in the footsteps of their forebears… then it becomes a 19th century female Indiana Jones adventure story set in the Indian Mutiny, with people getting killed by being tied to the front of the barrels of cannons while others are beheaded and escaping on elephants…

“…and then we have the end bit of your adventure which we can’t say too much about in a blog because it would give away how you met royalty and why you thought – with good reason – that you and Kaye might be killed and/or bricked-up alive inside a wall. What is there not to like? It has adventure, mass murder and bananas – the perfect Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. And, because you both had short hair, people kept thinking you were lesbians and kept offering you double beds. So it even has the lure of sex in it. You just have to add in some Indian dancing…”

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

“No dancing,” said Charmian.

“There has to be,” I said. “It’s a tradition in your shows. You did the sand dance in two of your shows. This one cries out for you to do some Indian dancing.”

“No,” said Charmian.

“Well at least have a practice here in the kitchen,” I said.

And she did.

I have high hopes Charmian may, once again, dance in her Edinburgh Fringe show next August.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, India

A masterclass in how to perform good comedy – even at the Edinburgh Fringe

John Robertson - a man with outstanding hair

John Robertson, a man in Dark Room with outstanding hair

Life continues as normal at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I got a text message from Australian comedian John Robertson of The Dark Room saying simply:

“Crowd-surfed a dwarf at last night’s Spank! Life is good.”

The Scotsman gave a 4-star review to Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II ending with the line: “If you were hoping to find a Nazi themed Las Vegas style cabaret show with occasional nudity and a touch of the Nuremberg Rally then look no further.”

A while ago, I got an e-mail from Neil Dagley aka Flange Krammer, saying:

“I’m writing a spoof Edinburgh Fringe review site for the 2013 Festival.  The idea is that Golf Monthly has sent a team of reviewers to the Fringe– it’s supposed to be a wry commentary on the hundreds of totally unqualified reviewers who descend upon Edinburgh to pass judgement on the participants.

I’ve got several established comedians on board to write as guest reviewers (under golf related pseudonyms). Do you think it could be a possible candidate for a Malcolm Hardee Award, or is it a bit too subtle!”

Golf Planet - comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Golf Planet – comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Yesterday, I got a follow-up email from Neil, telling me that the established publication Golf Monthly had demanded that he change the name of his spoof review site to Golf Planet and comedian Sean Hughes had retweeted Golf Planet’s 2 golf ball review of his show Penguins, saying:Best written review so far.”

The review partly reads: “Dressed all in black, Hughes deliberately evoked thoughts of the great Gary Player… However, Hughes kept getting side-tracked by completely un-golf-related stories about his youth, which frankly left a sour after-taste following the promising start.”

I then bumped into uber-promoter/manager Brett Vincent of GetComedy who showed me the extraordinary way his printed Edinburgh brochure comes alive on an iPhone/Android phone with the Blipper app.

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

It works something like a QR code reader except you just point your phone at a picture/page in the GetComedy brochure – or at a flyer or a poster in the street – and it comes alive on your phone plus it allows you to buy tickets and see videos of the act performing.

It can show you the act before you buy the ticket.

Brett seems to be the first entertainment company in the UK to use Blipper. Other users include Justin Bieber, Heinz, JLS, The Wanted, The Gadget Show and Oyster Card.

“I just phoned Blipper up,” Brett told me, “and asked Do you fancy doing it for comedy? – I think they fancied the free comedy tickets as part of the deal. I just thought it was something different. You can go and blip all the posters, every image, watch the videos. I find out who blips it, what age group they are and if they’ve made a booking via the app. I can also find out which page you blipped in the brochure, which person you looked at and, hopefully, one day I’ll find out who you are.”

“How does it know who I am?” I asked.

“There’s a certain amount of things your iPhone can tell people because of your iOS settings,” explained Brett. “At the moment, only a few things. Your age group, your sex and sometimes your country.”

If only everything at the Fringe were so efficient.

C Venues – long-known for having such bad signage that people are constantly having to ask under-trained staff where a particular performance room actually is – managed to out-do themselves yesterday.

Their staff now appear not to know where their own outlying venue buildings are. They don’t know left from right And they don’t know the difference between the George IV Bridge and South Bridge (despite the fact South Bridge is a 5-second walk from their front door).

Lynn Ruth Miller - Grade A show; dodgy C venue

Lynn Ruth Miller – Grade A show; dodgy C venue

As a result, I arrived 3 minutes late for the wonderful Lynn Ruth Miller’s equally wonderful show Granny’s Gone Wild.

When I did arrive at the venue, of course, I had to ask two members of staff on different storeys where the actual performance room was.

Despite the fact the sound techie missed cues and the microphone only worked 50% of the time, Lynn Ruth Miller’s show – as always – was a joy for the audience particularly those, it seemed, in their 20s. A wonderful concoction of jokes and songs, it occasionally mixed in some sadness and certainly two 20-something girls in the audience were wiping away tears during one particular song.

The equally wunnerful Charmian Hughes’ show Odd One In managed to tell the true story of her youthful loves including a future Church of England bishop and recently disgraced government minister Chris Huhne. Sadly, this year, she did not do the Sand Dance.

But my evening was rounded-off with Scots comedian Brian Higgins’ show From Beer to Paternity at the Jekyll & Hyde venue – an L-shaped room with dodgy sight-lines which I have always thought was very difficult to perform in.

Brian Higgins - From Beer To Paternity last night

Brian Higgins – he went From Beer To Paternity last night

I had never heard of Brian Higgins, which just shows how much I know about comedy.

I went to see him on the recommendation of fellow Scot Alex Frackleton in Prague (of whom more, I think, in an upcoming blog).

Brian had managed to fill the basement venue to standing and awkward-sitting capacity and gave a masterclass in how to perform comedy to a mainstream mixed audience.

The word to bear in mind here is Mainstream.

We are not talking of alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers here.

We are talking about normal people.

Alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers are not normal people.

With some audience members from multiple ethnic origins, Brian trod a very fine PC line which some alternative comedy clubs might have been slightly (but only very slightly) unsettled by – and the same with some of the gags about women.

But this was not the world of Guardian-reading uber-PCers.

It was ordinary men, women and foreign students from Taiwan.

And they LOVED it. They loved every gag about themselves. And the couples loved it. And they all loved it. And Brian did, pretty much, seem to be hitting laughs every 10 seconds with no faltering – a laugh-rate few Guardian-rated comedians could even come close to.

He also managed to pull the rug from under the audience with a totally unexpected tragic story which had them in total, silent, rapt attention. That, he admitted, was the reason for performing this Fringe show. That one story. A story that had a sharper political knife-thrust than most trendy ‘political’ comics could ever muster.

I was sitting there thinking: He surely can’t end with this? How is he going to get the mood up again after this? He’s got them in a state of near-shock. How can he get them laughing again without seeming to be bad taste?

But he managed it through sheer professionalism.

He is a vastly experienced comic at the top of his game.

Njambi McGrath performs in Edinburgh last night

Njambi McGrath performing last night

He even interrupted the flow of his act about ten minutes in by giving a ten-minute spot to Kenyan comic Njambi McGrath who established “I am from Africa,” but then performed spot-on totally British social material with some very funny back-references to Africa. I particularly liked a joke about Oxfam which only an African could make. She is a potentially major comedian.

Anyone wanting to become a comedian should go watch Brian Higgins and try to deconstruct what is going on. You can’t beat total audience control with a seemingly casual persona.

And Njambi McGrath is one to watch.

From tomorrow, she is going to be one third of the cast in an 8-night run of a show called The Equal Opportunities Act 2010 Presents…

It promises “a Nigerian perspective from Nigeria, gold-digging stories from Kenya and dirty filthy knob jokes from Essex”

I will be there.

What is interesting is that – with the exception of the C Venues show where staff did not know where their own venues were and the microphone did not work – all the shows I have mentioned have been free shows – Charmian Hughes, Brian Higgins and the upcoming Equal Opportunities show.

I have a feeling that free shows may increasingly start winning the major comedy prizes in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, tonight at 2.00 in the morning, I will be outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle awaiting Arthur Smith’s legendary night-time tour of the Royal Mile.

He will also be on my Fringe chat show on Monday.

Both those events are free too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

At the Edinburgh Fringe, physical attacks on comedians and on a critic

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to comedy magician David Don’t.

Her Edinburgh Fringe show Charmian Hughes: Odd One In includes tales of kissing disgraced government minister Chris Huhn. It is part of the PBH Free Fringe.

David’s show David Don’t: The Delusionist (unbilled in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme) is one of Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe shows within the Laughing Horse Free Festival – whom PBH of the Free Fringe sees as bitter competitors.

I met Charmian and David at the Pleasance Dome shortly after she had collected him at Waverley station, off a train from London.

It is David’s first Fringe and he is only performing for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week – at Bob’s Bookshop. He was also keen to promote his new website.

“It’s been put together,” he told me, “by the fantastic new web designer (and comedian) Harriet Bowden…”

“She’s not called that any more,” said Charmian.

“Oh no,” said David, “she’s Lyndon Grady.”

“She’s designed me a new website too,” added Charmian. “Harriet went to a numerologist, who told her great success would only come by changing her name. So she has changed her name to Lyndon Grady. Isn’t that the name of the person who married Catherine Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or was that Lytton Strachey? Anyway, everyone loves magic, except for me. A magician says what he’s going to do – like a dustman says what he’s going to do – and does it. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

“Except,” I pointed out, “that, when David says he’s going to do a trick, it often doesn’t work.”

“I never set out to fail,” said David Don’t.

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

“I almost lost David once, through his magic,” Charmian continued. “It was when he was doing escapology from a postman’s sack at Pull The Other One. He was handcuffed and tied up in the bag and was failing to get out. One of the people in the audience said: Let’s put him on a bus.

“I don’t do magic at home any more,” David told me. “Charmian looks at me and doesn’t ask How did you do that? She asks Why did you do that? I think she’d rather find me wanking off to a porn mag than playing with a pack of cards. I don’t leave packs of cards round the house any more.”

“But do you lea…” I started to ask.

“Don’t go there…” said Charmian. “Barry Lyndon… That’s who I was thinking of. Have you noticed that Sean Hughes’ Edinburgh show is called Penguins but there is no image of a penguin on his poster? And I am Charmian Hughes. There is no penguin in my show title, but I have a picture of a penguin on my poster. That’s not planned. It’s a random serendipity of the universe.”

“When do the actual penguins arrive for your show?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” replied Charmian.

“And on Wednesday,” I said, “Andy Zapp and Ivor Dembina have a gorilla arriving to appear in their show for the rest of their run. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“No,” said Charmian.

My secret view revealed

Non-secret launch party for book last night

Then the three of us went off to the launch of the new Secret Edinburgh book (my non-humorous piece is on page 179) at Bob’s Bookshop.

On my third day here, I saw Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show and the two performers in it asked me not to name them in my resultant blog. So I did not.

They were Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose – the comedy double act Ellis & Rose.

The reason I can name them now is that other, arguably less amiable, sources have.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show has currently received three 1-star reviews and one 3-star review.

“We feel that the 3-star review in The Skinny has ruined it,” Richard Rose told me outside Bob’s Bookshop last night. “That 3-star review is getting in the way of us doing one of the Shit of The Fringe competitions. We might ignore the 3-stars.”

The 1-star reviews came from Broadway Baby, London Is Funny and the Chortle website with Three Weeks still to publish its review.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

STAR Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

“We fear it might be more than one star,” Gareth Ellis told me.

“As well as Jimmy Savile,” I said, “I saw your own show at The Hive and it was all over the place, but I thought you were both TV presenter material. Very loveable and amiable and jolly; just no linear script.”

“There IS a script,” said Richard. “This is what irritates us slightly. It’s all written down and we play around with it.”

“But not a linear script,” I suggested.

“That’s not what we do,” argued Richard. “We’re fun and, today, we had a cracking show, but this heckler blundered into the room in the last five minutes.”

“He stumbled in and sat down at the back of the room,” explained Gareth. “He had a bottle of vodka in his hand – a big one – and it was half empty and he just shouted out: Yer mum!

Yer mum!” agreed Richard, “and I said Sir, it seems like an odd time, about three minutes before the end, to start heckling and that got a laugh. And then it came to the point in our show where Gareth says I’m feeling sexy! and the guy shouted out You’re not sexy – You’re shit! and Gareth just exploded… in character.”

Ellis (left) & Rose walk the Edinburgh streets alone last night

Ellis (left) & Rose walk Edinburgh’s mean streets last night

Gareth said: “I told him You will feel the wrath of my sex! and slammed a chair down on the floor.”

“And you started humping the chair,” said Richard. “And people were applauding. People loved it.”

“He kept going on and I kept putting him down,” said Gareth. “And then the show finished, we got changed, went outside and the heckler was waiting for us. He said: You’re them two cunts who do that Savile thing! and took a swing at me. I managed to dodge it and he managed to land a slap on Richard and then we legged it.”

“For about two hours afterwards, it was really funny,” said Richard. “Fucking hell! I can’t believe we provoked that much reaction! But then it seemed to be less funny and we were quite shaken and now we’re just befuddled and a bit drunk.”

Two minutes after talking to Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, I was inside Bob’s Bookshop, talking to Scotsman newspaper reporter and reviewer Claire Smith.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

“A couple of nights ago,” she told me, “I was walking home and I was very, very tired. I went to Tesco to buy some avocados and there were a whole load of guys running round from one side of the road to the other on Great Junction Street in Leith, throwing eggs at people’s houses, trying to hit the windows.

“Then one of them ran along behind me and whacked me really hard on the back of my head with his hand. So I’ve got this huge bump on the back of my head and I have concussion.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” I asked.

“No,” Claire told me, “I went to see Bob Slayer. “I needed medical advice and I thought Bob’s an ex-jockey who’s fallen off loads of horses. So, in between seeing shows, I thought I’d pop in and see what he said. He’s got a very calm, helpful side to him. It’s ‘Quiet Bob’ and I sometimes pop in hoping to catch Quiet Bob. I really like Quiet Bob.

“It was just before his own show started; he was dealing with a load of Phil Kay’s books which had just arrived; and there were all sorts of admin things going on to do with the bar at Bob’s Bookshop. But, when I told him what had happened, he sat down and chatted to me about it, which was very sweet. But what happened after I got hit was…”

“You went down?” I asked.

“No,” said Claire, “which is strange, because I fall over all the time. I just didn’t fall over when someone tried to make me fall over.

“I shouted something – I don’t know – You’re an arsehole! Fuck off! What are you doing? – they were across the street now, a big gang of them. And then this huge guy came and stood next to me. He was like a knight in shining armour.

Stuart - Claire’s knight in shining armour

Stuart – knight in shining armour

“He started speaking really slowly and really quietly and it was frightening because the gang of guys carried on shouting and they followed us for a bit.

“The big guy told me My bus isn’t for half an hour, so I’m going to walk you home and he walked me round the corner and then they started throwing eggs after us which were hitting the wall beside us and hitting the pavement in front of us.

“The big guy said to me: If they catch us, just run away. He said: You might need a brandy. So we went to a pub and I asked What do you do for a living? and he said I’m the most hated person in Edinburgh.

What do you mean? I asked.

I’m a traffic warden, he told me.

“He’s an ex-Army guy called Stuart. He had been shot twice – in Kosovo and somewhere else. He showed me his bullet holes in the pub.”

“Where were they?” I asked.

“They were both in his back,” Claire told me. “It was odd. Because Matt Price is staying at my house during the Fringe and I was thinking This is the sort of thing that happens to Matt. We have been invaded by the story-telling gods.”

Lewis Schaffer consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

As I left the Secret Edinburgh book launch at Bob’s Bookshop, I picked up one of the daily Broadway Baby review sheets with, on the front, a review of actor Brian Blessed’s one-man show Shout: The Life of Brian.

Oh, I didn’t know he was doing a show, I thought to myself.

On my way home, at around 1.30am in the morning, I bumped into Arthur Smith in a kebab shop.

He is guest on the first of my Edinburgh Fringe chat shows next Monday. The show finishes at 4.30pm and, at 5.00pm, Arthur is getting on a train back to London. The audience will be invited to accompany him to Waverley station.

“Are you still doing my chat show next Monday?” I asked him. It is always worth checking everything in Edinburgh.

“Of course,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to people waving me off at the station.”

When I got back to my flat, I found a series of Tweets:

Broadway Baby - send in the cunning comedy clones

Broadway Baby – send in the cunning stunt clones

Broadway Baby ‏- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This isn’t us folks. Someone’s copying BB! pic.twitter.com/YWPV32QCJK

Sean Brightman ‏- That is very funny.

Broadway Baby ‏- We are bemused and baffled by the effort someone’s put into this!

Sean Brightman – Well, the clue may be in the reviews methinks. And if it is who I think it is, he should win an award.

Broadway Baby – Best publicity stunt this year? Writing your own audience reviews happens. Printing an entire edition? That’s a first!

Sean Brightman – Yep, it should be in the running for a @thejohnfleming Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt award.

I looked up the Fringe Programme to check if Brian Blessed really was performing a show called Shout: The Life of Brian. It was not in the Fringe Programme. According to the Broadway Baby review, it was supposedly being performed at the Underbelly’s DistendedBelly venue.

Then I read the rave review on the sheet of Barry Fearn’s show Barry on Arthur’s Seat – 6 stars – “A phenomenal show. Better than life itself” – and went to bed.

Reality, fantasy, a few laughs and occasional random violence.

Welcome to the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Crime, Edinburgh

When Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows go wrong – a lesson in audience control

David tells The Gospel Truth at the Fringe

David tells The Gospel Truth at the Fringe

Yesterday, I was talking to multi-talented American stand-up David Mills about gigs that go wrong at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“If you have a gig you don’t want to have,” David told me, “the great thing about Edinburgh is there’s another gig coming tomorrow and the next day and the next day. So you can always redeem yourself. I’m always looking to try to redeem myself.

“It’s like that thing they say about New York: Don’t worry if you fall on your face and everyone sees, ‘cause tomorrow someone else is going to fall on their face and everyone’s going to see that and your failure is going to disappear. And the same thing with any success you get. I say you’re nobody until you’ve got a one star review.”

“You’ll never get a one star review,” I said.

“I’m hoping to get a one star review,” said David. “Some of the greats have had one star reviews.”

“Anyway,” I said. “It’s bad if you get a two star review. But if you actually only get one star, then…”

“…then you’re onto something!” laughed David. “The performers I identify with are the performers who are never satisfied.”

Shows going wrong – or at least diverging from what you thought they were going to be – are not necessarily a bad thing. As evidence…

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt Price’s show yesterday turned into three shows in one

At the Edinburgh Fringe three days ago, I saw Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia – a very interesting and very funny show unbilled in the Edinburgh Fringe programme. In that, at least, it delivers what you expect from the title.

Yesterday morning, I got a Facebook message from comedian/promoter Nig Lovell saying:

“You should speak to Matt Price about this Machete Hettie gig for your blog. If I hadn’t been there I’m not sure I’d have believed it happened. Part of me is still wondering if I was hallucinating.”

Machete Hettie gig?? I thought. So I e-mailed Matt Price. He told me:

Machete Hetty and Matt Price at The Hive yesterday

Machete Hettie and Matt Price after the show

“Hettie says she will be back today with her balaclava this time. It was one of the best contributions I have ever witnessed at a show, but almost impossible to describe in an email. I’m hoping that the drunk people who took the group photo get in touch because we all need photographic evidence. Basically, a couple of audience members did their first gig last night and to be fair to them they stormed it.”

I then bumped into Charmian Hughes, who is performing at a totally different venue – the Banshee Labyrinth – a couple of doors away from Matt Price at The Hive. She, too, had heard of the Machete Hettie gig.

Hettie was from Ethiopia.

I phoned up Matt Price. He told me Machete Hettie was likely to turn up again – at yesterday’s show.

I was already scheduled to see the lovely David Mills at The Hive in a slot immediately before Matt Price’s show, but I then had a ticket to see the unmissable Tim FitzHigham’s show Challenger at the Pleasance venue soon afterwards and I was not going to miss that.

So I arranged to see the first half of Matt’s show again just on the off-chance that Machete Hettie would turn up.

David Mills’ show was, as always, a mystery.

The mystery is why such an audience-pleasing, sophisticated act has not been snapped-up by BBC2 or Channel 4.

The ways of British television at the moment are passing strange.

After David’s show, as we waited for Matt’s show to start, my heart sank. No Ethiopians were in the audience.

The gig started but where was Machete Hetty?

The gig started but which one was the elusive Machete Hettie?

But, it turned out Machete Hettie WAS there – I had mis-heard. She calls herself a ‘Leithiopian’ – someone from Leith in north Edinburgh.

She had bright eyes, a lively personality and I wished I had been at the previous day’s show.

Matt yesterday started with the words:

“First impressions are kind of weird because, if you don’t mind me saying, you seem a very nice, very respectful audience, very normal. But then I thought that about Hettie yesterday and, by the end of it, I knew more about her vagina than I knew about comedy… Is that a different friend sitting next to you today, Hettie?”

“Ye mind the half a brick? The half a brick?” said Hettie.

“You had a friend yesterday who was a nurse,” said Matt.

“This time, she’s a dental nurse,” said Hettie. “She just fixes yer teeth in the middle of the night.”

About three people started speaking at once, from different parts of the audience.

“Oh God, there’s more of you,” said Matt gently. “Hello, I’m Matt. I was going to do a show, but Hettie came in yesterday and interjected with things about her vagina and we haven’t looked back since. She had a Brazilian.” Then he turned to a friend of Hettie’s in the front row: “Do you have the footage safely?”

“Yes,” the woman in the front row replied. “We’ll put it on YouTube tonight.”

“Would you like a photo for John Fleming’s blog?” Matt asked.

“Oh brilliant,” replied Hettie. “Aye. Oh aye.”

Machete Hetty poses for my porn blog picture

Machete Hettie – keen to be in my porn blog picture with Matt

“It’s a porn blog, but don’t worry,” said Matt. “You told me yesterday about your vagina and today you’re straight in with Half a brick, big boy. I love it. Would you,” he said to the audience, “consider this as not so much a show – more a respite from the rain? Is that OK?”

“Smoked sausage!” said Hettie in dramatic showbiz style.

She had about ten friends and neighbours in different parts of the audience who laughed uproariously.

“Biscuits!” she added.

Matt then brilliantly, under trying circumstances, managed to simultaneously perform his show, interact with Hettie as part of an almost separate show and have an occasional running commentary with two fellow comedians in the audience. It was three shows in one simultaneously, all blending together seemingly naturally.

“Earlier this year,” Matt started, “I was asked if I would ghost-write the autobiography of a criminal and I said Yes. What do you know about crime, Hettie?”

“A lot,” she replied.

The whole audience laughed.

“Now, you might think,” continued Matt, “He has nothing to say, which is why I dipped into the audience just then. But I knew if I said that to Hettie, she would say A lot and it would get a cheap laugh, so I just couldn’t resist doing it.”

“I led a life of crime for 17 years,” said Hettie.

I am now hooked on Hettie and a vast admirer of Matt Price’s ability to tell a good story, control a difficult audience, improvise with control during a show and… well… I am going back to see what happens tonight. Hettie will be back.

Soon to be a doubly act? - Machete Hetty and Matt

Soon to be a double act? – Machete Hettie and Matt The Man

Matt tells me he has given her ten minutes on stage at the start of his show.

“John,” he told me, “I am now performing a two-hander against my will. She has turned me from a comedian into a talent scout.”

So I am going back for more tonight – not least because I forgot to ask why she is called Machete Hettie…

Leave a comment

Filed under Computers

Outsider Charmian Hughes’ inside view of an autobiographical comedy show

Charmian in Edinburgh last year

Charmian at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you finding it easy?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, with Pete Searle.”

“And did you learn anything?”

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

As with stories, so with blogs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Charmian Hughes on disgraced Chris Huhne – and Malcolm Hardee’s balls

Chris Huhne, the man who snogged teenage Charmian

Chris Huhne introduced Charmian to Das Kapital and mime

My blog yesterday, in which comedian Charmian Hughes remembered her teenage crush on disgraced UK politician Chris Huhne has had more than a normal share of hits. And the Mr & ex-Mrs Huhne court soap saga is again all over today’s newspapers.

But Charmian asked me this morning: “Why is it OK for (alternative comedy godfather) Malcolm Hardee to have two driving licences, deny offences and have affairs and yet be seen as a jolly old loveable rogue as a result, but for Chris to do the same thing and to be the most vilified man in the press?”

“Perhaps,” I teased, “you still hold a torch for him? Or maybe just a small Swan Vestas match?”

“No,” Charmian replied, “but Chris was urbane, witty, clever and took my mind outside its bourgeois confines for the first time. I remember all the exotic things he introduced me to: Nescafé Continental Blend, Das Kapital, progressive underground music, mime….”

I have no answer to this.

But Charmian is taking her full-length show Charmageddon! to the Leicester Comedy Festival at the end of next week.

The Mayans predicted the end of the world in December last year,” she told me. “It didn’t happen… But maybe we misunderstood what they meant by the end of the world. Maybe they meant the end of the world when your heart is broken, when you realise your boyfriend is imaginary, your teenage crush thinks you’re a nuisance and when you discover you are not adopted. That’s what Charmageddon! is about and it ends with the erotic Dance of the Seven Cardigans which will restore order to the universe.”

“But will it include personal stories about Chris Huhne?” I asked.

“I will probably mention him,” admitted Charmian, “I will fill in the censored bits I didn’t tell you yesterday. Charmageddon! is about what happens when your world ends.”

Later this year, she will be taking her new, as-yet untitled comedy show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

“It is going to be stories about always being a minority,” she told me this morning. “About being a girl in a boys’ school, a Catholic in a protestant family, a Catholic with a Protestant mother in a fiercely Catholic school, about my great escape from minority to belonging. I might call it Odd One Out.”

“Or Odd One In,” I suggested.

Charmian Hughes at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Charmian Hughes at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

“Or not,” she said. “I performed at the last two Edinburgh Fringes after a long child-rearing break of 17 years and Edinburgh is very addictive. You get to do those student things all over again. You know – break out in hives from poor nutrition, pursue the elusive, spend a lot of time hanging out on street corners trying to attract the one you want – a big audience – obsess about whether anyone is talking about you (the legendary ‘buzz’) and then slip your sad face back despondently into your instant cappuccino. I love it.”

“When you went back to the Fringe after the 17 year break,” I asked, “did you notice a change?”

“There was more stuff,” Charmian said, “and, when I came back again, it felt like there was much more big business, corporate stuff and fewer weirdy little plays.”

When I first went up in the early 1970s,” I agreed, “it was more of a student theatre Fringe. It only started being comedy in maybe the mid-1980s.”

“The first time I went up,” said Charmian, “was with my university in about 1977. We went up to the main International Festival to do The Soldier’s Tale which was Stravinsky ballet stuff and I went up to help and also to do readings of my own poems at lunchtimes.

“At first, I didn’t get many in, but then I realised if I did it straight after The Soldier’s Tale and actually locked the audience in the room, then I had a huge audience. My poems were very long. I took my poetry very seriously.”

“And,” I asked, “you stopped because…?”

“I discovered comedy,” said Charmian immediately. “I found that people had started to laugh at my dark, dark, dark poems and I thought If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So I discovered comedy. I’m now thinking of doing a burlesque show.”

Charmian practices her Dance of the Seven Cardigans (photograph by Kerstin Diegel)

Charmian practices her erotic burlesque dance (photograph by Kerstin Diegel)

“You are?” I asked.

“You’re suddenly interested now, aren’t you?” observed Charmian. “I think they’ll find it very interesting when I have seven cardigans and, one-by-one, I put them on in the Dance of the Seven Cardigans.”

“You got good reviews for your Edinburgh show last year.”

“I did. One reviewer said my show was ‘intelligent and well-put together’, but I didn’t use the quote in case people dug further. The same reviewer said ‘despair turns to horror’.”

“Using review quotes in Edinburgh is an art form in itself,” I suggested.

“The only trouble with Edinburgh,” said Charmian, “is it’s annoying not having a summer holiday with my family.”

“Can’t they come up to Edinburgh?”

“They want the sun,” explained Charmian.

“Ah,” I said sympathetically.

“And they distract me too much,” she added. “When my daughter came up two years ago, I found it exhausting because she didn’t understand the pain and torment we were all going through as performers and she wanted things like cake and cups of tea.”

“What pain and torment?” I asked.

“You know,” said Charmian. “Having to walk up hills. Last year, I got an Edinburgh monthly bus pass and found there was no bus that went to where I lived, so I had to walk.”

“When did you start doing comedy?” I asked.

“I think I started in about 1985 but, the first few years, I was just mucking around, doing my Teatro de Existentiale. I did Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel Club a lot and then he would book me into weird colleges and balls.”

“Balls?” I asked.

“Balls,” confirmed Charmian. “He booked lots of us on the college circuit. We would all go off to colleges and do 20 minutes and get £90 and he would get £600 to do one joke and then walk off.”

“Did you enjoy Malcolm?” I asked.

“What can I say?” replied Charmian. “Errr… I did. I did. But I don’t like being teased. I had a family that teased me mercilessly from the moment I was born, telling me I was adopted and stuff. I find it quite hard being teased. So Malcolm probably thought I was a bit of a wet blanket and a killjoy.”

“Back in 1989, what did you think you wanted to become?” I asked.

“In 1989, I was just so relieved to be experiencing anything like comedy, because I’d had this job in advertising. Eventually I was a copywriter, but I’d had to go in at the bottom as a personnel clerk.

“I had come out of university with my degree in English and I couldn’t get any work. I just didn’t know how to present myself without apologising all the time. But that job in advertising made you lose the will to live.

“So I went to the City Lit for clowning classes just to meet different types of people and then I hung out with them, left my job and started a children’s theatre and then, at Molesworth Peace Camp, when I was a bit drunk and maybe a bit stoned, I got up on stage with a red nose on and just started mucking around and people thought I was so brilliant they threw plastic cups at me. But I felt like I’d been rescued and I didn’t care if I was good or bad, just that I was doing it.”

“Had you,” I asked, “felt the threat of ordinariness stretching ahead of you?”

“I didn’t mind being ordinary,” said Charmian, “but I hated feeling suffocated.”

“By what?” I asked.

“I… err… I’d have to go into a lot of things…” said Charmian. “I… Not professionally, but as a person… I can’t think of a funny way to say it… I had a very emotionally-abusive family who basically bullied me all the time. I felt very crushed as a person for a long time. But it’s all alright now. A lot of them died and left me their money!” Charmian laughed.

“Just performing comedy helped,” she said.

“I’ve never known anyone called Charmian before,” I said. “Where does that come from?”

“It comes from Antony & Cleopatra. Charmian and Iris were Cleopatra’s handmaidens.”

“Does ‘Charmian’ mean something?”

“Source of joy.”

“In what language?”

“Every language.”

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Politics

Disgraced Chris Huhne, in poems and diaries by the teenage girl he snogged

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Chris Huhne, the man who snogged teenage Charmian

Chris Huhne, the man who snogged teenage comic Charmian

Last May, I posted a blog which was headed:

Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne and the Convent-Raised Comedian

in which comedienne Charmian Hughes remembered now-disgraced British politician Chris Huhne giving her her first snog when she was a pupil at Westminster Boys’ School (it’s a complicated story).

So, when Chris Huhne yesterday (after ten years of denying it) admitted in court to perverting the course of justice… and when his son’s venomous e-mails to him were made public this morning… I sent an e-mail to Charmian:

Any bloggable memories or comments? I asked. He seems to have been liked by his son!

Did Westminster School rate telling the truth highly? At my grammar school, they had a debating society (I wasn’t a member) where the most admired people were the ones who could successfully argue for a motion which they didn’t agree with at all… A microcosm of Parliament, I think… Lying was admired and celebrated.

Charmian Hughes at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Charmian Hughes at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Charmian replied:

All adolescents hate their parents and I hope they get through this. It is very sad. My daughter says things like that to me on a daily basis and I haven’t even done anything!

I think maybe he has confessed to save his son from going to court. It’s like A Tale of Two Cities: “It is a far far better thing that I do now than I have ever done…”

He gave us the most fun in our teens, but not out of generosity but because we hung on to his tails by the skin of our teeth. I have a five year diary that is full of him and how amazing I thought he was.

Did you know I am a writer of serious poetry since the age of 7? So here is one written in October 1971 and guess who it is about and what it predicts. Forgive the metaphysical, meteorological and geographical confusion. These are my teenage poems about Chris.

________________

THE OSTRICH – (October 1971)

The wolves pursued me through the snow,
I was an ostrich fleeing across the strand,
aware of death if I were to let go,
I buried my head, an ostrich in the sand,
and when I reached my mother’s arms
I tried to hold her, but she let me go,
let the wolves devour me,
an ostrich in the snow.

SNOWMAN – (September 1971)

When that warmth
almost thawed the frost,
I was ready to worship the sun.
But you clothed yourself in cloud
and my heart has become numb.
Sensitivity has formed its own barricade.

Love – I have forgotten how to love;
and I am like some empty Antarctica
that nothing can penetrate.

Don’t try to melt me
or you too shall become frozen;
and two unfeeling snowmen
shall stare indifferently
at a bleak and frozen world.

LOUISE – (9th December 1972)
(for CPH)

a cold day –
our tears are all frozen
into hard smiles.
The same axe
splintered all our dreams.
But on the thousandth day
we rise again:

More bitter and more silent,
but still with instinct to survive, endure,
forget, and love again.

________________

Charmian continued:

I came from a convent where truth was absolutely paramount. If a teacher told a girl off for talking in class, another girl’s hand would shoot up straight away: “Please, Sister, it was my fault actually,” and that herd mentality protected the group, so honesty paid off.

Westminster certainly protected its own. It was educating the political and legal class – the sins of youth were probably expected, even covered up.

People were always laughing at other people there, mocking the sensitive. I think if you laugh at someone (not in entertainment but in ridicule)  it is the least intelligent, least curious response to that person and is just expressing a fait accompli superiority devoid of moral growth. Lots of people laughed at my poems and thought I was oversensitive but, mind you and touch wood, I’m not in prison am I?  Abuse of a metaphor is not yet a criminal offence!

These are extracts from Charmian’s teenage diaries:

________________

1970

August

in evening i went to see Chris Paul-Huhne. He has grown his hair – much nicer!!! Chris edits a v. serious magazine called Free Press, one shilling and he and others spend hundreds on it.

12th September

Chris looked super. we sold Free Press in market and tube station. moved to pop concert but lost Chris – saw him disappear in car with girl on his lap.

13th September

Chris apologised and said while we were in market he and pals were at tube looking for us. he’d gone on to party and we’d have gone too if we’d found him.

31st October

In morn shopped at Kensington Market. Bought purple vest/shirt. In afternoon went to Chris’s. Marcus W was there. Chris wilfully flared the lighter in my face and tried to singe my eyebrow! My god, he could have singed my eye and blinded me!! He tried to make me jealous by saying about a house party next Saturday. We left with Free Press. In evening Mish asked us round. We tried ringing Chris to see if anything on. Was not on.

1971

14th April

Went to see Chris. He was having breakfast. This time he played the piano and sung his own combination. God! Actually he’s got quite a good voice. When the romantic moment came, he told me I owed him 14/6pence for the Free Press I’d sold.

23rd April

Chris wanted his cash so i gave it to him out of sponsor cash.

31st May

Went to Chris’s. He seemed pleased to see me and asked me in. He kept staring at me. I said I was either Marxist or Labour and he said he’d send me Manifesto of Communism for birthday. I told him date.

4th June

My birthday. No manifesto from Chris.

18th July

In evening went to see Chris. He said I embarrassed him as I represented his childhood. Then he said I’d changed a lot since he last saw me and was mature.  he said I had… an air of serenity. We listened to records. He is a very deep person.

________________

After she read these diary entries from Charmian, my eternally-un-named friend said to me:

“Well, if he can sing, he should write a song in prison. He might get a pardon if he writes a good one. Or he could sing Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree…”

Tantalisingly, Charmian told me:

“I had to edit and cut those extracts as they presented him in rather an unfair light!”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Legal system, Poetry, Politics

Lewis Schaffer has bowel problems and Mooky crushes nuts with her hands

Lewis Schaffer has problems

Lewis Schaffer, the comic who loves to be hated

“Your best blogs,” American comedian Lewis Schaffer told me last night in the car back to his home in Nunhead, London, “are the ones in which you express your own opinion. Your worst blogs are the ones when you resort to quoting some self-obsessed comedian talking about himself. Or even worse is when you quote a comedian talking about you and your blog.

“The five things that people wanna see in a blog,” Lewis Schaffer told me, “are One – themselves… Two – people they know… Three – places they’ve been to… Four – people or places they’d like to know or like to go to… and Five… Lewis Schaffer.”

“I don’t have a blog from tonight,” I told him, “although lots happened.”

I had been going to go to comedian Charmian Hughes’ Christmas party with my eternally-un-named friend, but she (my eternally-un-named friend) has a bad cough and decided not to go. So Lewis Schaffer went with me instead.

When we arrived at the door, I had the first of three bad coughing fits.

The guest list was interesting.

For almost a whole minute, comedian Harriet Bowden and I persuaded Lewis Schaffer that Harriet was my ex-wife and that we had lived together in a small house near Sandringham in Norfolk. Lewis Scaffer’s temporary stare of confusion as he looked at both of us (Harriet was wearing a full-length mink coat; I was looking rumpled) was worth the trip.

Harriet was trying to persuade people to go on a Weekend Comedy Workshop next month.

“Not for me,” I told her. “Ask Lewis Schaffer.”

“I’m not going to go on it,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because I haven’t been asked to teach it and I’m not going to show up and say I need help. Everybody knows I need help. It would be embarrassing, but I think that is how the comedy industry is going: comedians teaching other comedians how to make money and get out of debt by charging them £100.”

David Don't (left) blows in the kitchen

David Don’t (left) blows his horn in the kitchen last night

Charmian Hughes and her husband David Don’t have a toilet with a new Crapper… a genuine Thomas Crapper, boldly emblazoned as such on the cistern, inside the bowl and even on the sink. And they have a new kitchen with a new wood-burning stove.

“There’s no ash,” Charmian told me. “It’s very efficient. It burns the ash.”

It is a very neat, square, black stove. It looked very lovely, but reminded me slightly of an oven at Auschwitz. I did not mention this to Charmian at the time. Perhaps I should not mention it in this blog now. But it looks very nice and I am impressed it burns the ashes.

Sadly, I could not persuade Charmian to get her accordion out last night.

“I haven’t had it out for a while,” she explained.

“You could do the sand dance instead,” I said.

She ignored this – I thought rather good – suggestion.

But the party was enlivened by Charmian’s husband playing a trumpet and demonstrating very good magic tricks in the kitchen with cards, rubber bands and chess pieces. Not simultaneously, but his lessons with Jerry Sadowitz are paying off.

Nuts of the type cracked last night

Nuts not jokes were cracked at the comic’s party in London

Also in the kitchen was Canadian cabaret act and clown ‘Mooky’ Cornish, who can and did crack nuts with her bare hands. When someone told her I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards, I emphasised to her:

“They’re increasingly prestigious, you know.”

“I’m just impressed,” she said, “that they’re not named after a beer.”

She told me she had once been on the board of a company with Thomas Crapper’s grandson. I think it was the board of an organisation involved in puppets, masks and animated objects. I do seem to remember the phrase “animated objects” came up, but I may have lost track of reality by that point.

I certainly remember the party ending with Lewis Schaffer randomly going up to people he had not had time to meet and saying, “Hi! My name’s Lewis Schaffer.” They mostly looked slightly startled and slightly afraid. He chatted to three women with the opening gambit: “I hate women.”

In the car taking him home to Nunhead Heights, he told me: “I gotta make a poo, but I couldn’t make a poo in that Thomas Crapper thing.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It was too classy,” he said.

“I gotta go to the loo so badly,” he emphasised. “I feel like I’ve let you down by not giving you a blog.”

“You’ve given me a blog,” I said.

“I haven’t,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“You have,” I said.

“I could tell you,” he said, “why I support people’s right to own guns in America.”

“With all those schoolchildren shot in America?” I asked. “You’re just saying that to be hated. Just so people will hate you.”

“They hate me already,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Every time something like this happens, I wanna say something, because English people get all indignant about it, but…” he paused, “I need to go to the loo so bad.”

He paused again.

“Perhaps I just need to fart,” he said, getting out of the car.

There was a long silence.

“No. That didn’t work,” he said.

And then Lewis Schaffer was gone into the night, like the sweet smell of strawberries blown on the wind at Wimbledon.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour