Tag Archives: Christianity

Maggy Whitehouse, comic and vicar: “Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley”

“I was at the end of my rope with Christianity…”

Yesterday’s blog was a chat with Maggy Whitehouse, stand-up comedian and freelance vicar/priest.

It was intended to be about her comedy, but strayed into religion… Here it continues…


JOHN: So, at home, you have an Isis and Mary altar? Isis the Egyptian god, not the Islamic fundamentalists.

MAGGY: Yes, Isis and Mary represent the Great Mother, because it’s all one Great Mother and one Great Father. The idea is she stuck her husband’s body back together after he was all carved up and she managed to conceive a child from it.

I studied New Testament Greek and really got into it and then I met a Jewish guy and he was at the end of his rope with Judaism and I was at the end of my rope with Christianity and my teacher of healing sent us off to this guy in London who was teaching Kabbalah, which is Jewish mysticism. So I started studying that.

JOHN: The Madonna stuff?

MAGGY: No. There are two sorts of Kabbalah. Hers is based in the 16th century and takes the theory that, when God created the Universe, he made a mistake. 

Mine is based in Biblical times, which is that, when God created the Universe, it was all perfect and we screwed up. Well, not even that, because Jews don’t believe in Original Sin, so how could Jesus?

Independent Maggy marries a Sikh man & a Christian woman

Anyway, there I was, doing this New Age stuff, doing funerals and my now-husband’s best friend was murdered in London and he and I were members of the same Kabbalah group. He asked me to do the funeral for Jon and my (Christian) bishop was in the congregation and phoned me up the following week and said: “OK, God told me we need you and you need us.”

I told him: “You must be out of your mind.”

But he was a guy after my own mind who was saying: Christianity has lost EVERYTHING. It’s all meant to be about love, inclusivity, kindness, simplicity. So I decided I would train. And I did.

JOHN: The Old Testament and the New Testament appear to me to have totally different gods. The Old Testament teaches “an eye for an eye”… The New Testament teaches “turn the other cheek”.

MAGGY: One thing is we only have one Hebrew testament. There used to be dozens and dozens and dozens of versions of it. But they pulled it all together into one after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. So we don’t know what the original text was.

We DO know that there are an awful lot of edits. And also, in ancient days, they read the text on four levels: the literal, the allegorical, the metaphysical and the mystical. If you take the texts out of the literal sense, they’re all about the psychological development of the soul. 

JOHN: You don’t sound especially Christian to me; just generically religious.

MAGGY: I am a very passionate follower of the teachings of Jesus… But he never once asked us to worship him. He said: “Follow me.”

JOHN: Buddha tried that. It didn’t work. I am not a god. I am not a religion. Do NOT worship me. But now loads of people clearly worship him as an idol.

“90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley”

MAGGY: Of course it doesn’t work. The thing about faith is… If you like the look of it, you’ve got to go on the journey, go through all these Road to Damascus moments.

Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley. If you are a proper seeker, you travel to Finchley. But 90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley, so they will find somebody who HAS been to Finchley and worship them. And, if they can’t find someone who has been to Finchley, they will worship the signpost… And that is what religion is.

I was Church of England, but now I am an Independent. We have been associated with part of the liberal Catholic Church, but I am actually ‘an independent’.

JOHN: If you don’t follow the rules of a specific recognised branch of Christianity, surely you are a heretic?

MAGGY: Of COURSE I am a heretic. The Methodists in West Devon use me – I’ve got two services this Sunday – 11.00am and 6.30pm – which is very decent of them. They heard me on BBC Radio Devon: I did a year there as a presenter. But my local rector, who runs the Anglican area can’t use me, because he would get lynched. 

JOHN: Not literally.

MAGGY: Not literally.

JOHN: So you are only really recognised as a proper person by the Methodists?

MAGGY: I’m not really recognised by them, because I can’t do communion for them. I just showed up, lay on my face on the floor in my white robe and got my hands and brow anointed.

JOHN: Ooh! A white robe. Sounds kinda Druidy.

MAGGY: I COULD be Druidy. The wonderful thing is, if you do this mysticism, this direct experience of what you perceive to be the divine, you can converse with anyone of any faith and none – And that’s what it’s about.

Maggy’s first book – about a different type of journey

JOHN: You have written seventeen books, mostly about religion and spirituality.

MAGGY: I’m writing a new book at the moment: Kabbalah and Healing. I have to deliver it to the publisher by the end of September; published the beginning of next year.

JOHN: I suppose we should mention you doing stand-up comedy as, supposedly, that is the bloody reason why we are sitting here chatting in the first place. How did you get into comedy?

MAGGY: I do spiritual workshops and events and things like that to make a living. People kept saying to me: “You’re very funny; you should do comedy.”

There was a comedy course in Birmingham half a mile from me that cost £50. I went along and I was the oldest person by 35 years. At the end, there was a showcase and, a week later, I was asked to back Hal Cruttenden on an Edinburgh Fringe preview at Kings Heath in Birmingham.

I started doing unpaid gigs after that. But then I moved to Devon. Six months later, I got cancer – non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That was a massive Road to Damascus healing journey too.

JOHN: Edinburgh Fringe?

MAGGY: I did one Edinburgh run in 2014 when I had only been performing comedy for 18 months and I had the cancer at the time. I went to Edinburgh as a bucket list thing. I had to rest all day, do my hour at night, then go back and rest. So I didn’t really get the Edinburgh experience at all.

JOHN: Will you go again?

MAGGY: At the moment, I am trying to get together four priests including me to go to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 – There’s Ravi Holy, a rector in Canterbury; Kate Bruce, who’s chaplain to the RAF at Brize Norton; and Mark Townsend, who’s an ex-Anglican but still a vicar who is a magician.

Maggy performed at the Monkey Business comedy club in London earlier this month

JOHN: So where else do you go from here? Another Road to Damascus?

MAGGY: I have no idea where I go from here. I basically thought: I will give the comedy five years and see what happens. That is almost up now.

I don’t know where I’m going.

I am writing the book; I am doing spiritual workshops; I am pottering along quite happily in comedy.

And I am happy.

I am incredibly happy. 

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The Maggy Whitehouse Experiences – the stand-up comic who is also a vicar

Maggie says: “Most of the congregation are sheep… Literally”

Maggy Whitehouse bills herself as a “Maverick priest, comedian and author who believes in an All-Inclusive Loving Beingness that also kicks ass.”

 So, obviously, I wanted to talk to her.

So, obviously, we did – at Paddington station – when she was in London.

So we were, obviously, supposed to be talking about comedy but we ended up, obviously, talking about religion…

…and, no, she is not related to Mary Whitehouse…


JOHN: I tend to ramble when I chat to people..

MAGGY: I love rambling. Going off in different directions. Most of the congregation are sheep.

JOHN: Be careful what you get quoted saying!

MAGGY: No. Literally. I sometimes go out and practise a sermon at night, when I’m putting the chickens to bed. I will be in the paddock sermonising out loud and I will turn round and 30 pairs of sheep eyes are staring at me, from the field behind.

JOHN: You live a rural life on Dartmoor. Are you from there?

MAGGY: No. Harborne in Birmingham.

JOHN: And you were a producer for Carlton TV.

MAGGY: I did a couple of documentaries on China in the 1980s, because my dad was a railway expert and used to write books about steam engines. He founded the Birmingham Railway Museum. He went in to China in 1976 – as soon as it opened up – with my brother. After three or four years, my brother decided to get married. My father had no-one else to travel with, so he took me to China.

Suzi Quatro, Vince Hill and Caesarian scar sightings

I was already working as a radio presenter with Radio WM in Birmingham, then I moved over to BBC TV – Pebble Mill at One – as a producer. I joined them three months before they closed. Then I moved to Carlton TV and a terrible lunchtime show called Gas Street. It had Suzi Quatro and Vince Hill as presenters. That was a marriage made in Hell. Suzi was great fun: she used to show us her Caesarian scar and things like that.

JOHN: You met loads of famous people.

MAGGY: Yes. This was back in the politically incorrect days. I met Rolf Harris and he was disgusting.

JOHN: He had a reputation, back then, as a groper.

MAGGY: He used to push himself up against you and put his hands behind you and go “Woo-wugh-wugh-woo-wugh-wugh” like his wobbly board thing. Fortunately I was too old for Jimmy Savile. I just knew he was vile; he made my skin crawl.

JOHN: Steam engines got you into TV…

MAGGY: Yes. My dad got a commission to write a book on steam engines in China but they wanted a real coffee table book – not just all about the engines; more about travel. I had been travelling with him for six years by then – we went out every summer – so I wrote the book and he took the pictures.

Then I did two TV documentaries on steam engines in China and got lots of marriage proposals but Tiananmen Square happened and all future travel in China went out the window. And I had also met my first husband, Henry. He was a sound recordist. We got married and he was diagnosed with terminal cancer six months later – two months after Tiananmen Square – and by February the following year he was dead. So I lost husband and career within a year, which was a bit…

JOHN: Was this when you had a Road to Damascus and decided to become a vicar?

MAGGY: No. But I lost my faith then, really. I had been an armchair Christian. I just showed up at church occasionally at Christmas.

My husband Henry had been an atheist and, on his deathbed, the Catholic hospital chaplain said: “I’m sorry, my dear, but, if he’s an atheist who does not believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, then he cannot go to heaven.”

THAT was a Road to Damascus moment, because I just thought: But that is wrong! Henry was a better person than I. He was kinder than I. He was far less of a trollop than I had ever been. I just thought: No! No! And I could not get a funeral for him that would reflect a little bit of faith. 

It had to be Church of England or Humanist back then and my family and his family would not go for Humanist so, basically, I walked up the aisle behind my young husband’s coffin hearing him damned to Hell. And I was thinking: This isn’t right! This isn’t right!

Most people might go into Atheism from that, but I went crazy and went into New Age – Buddhism and chakras and healing and that sort of thing.

JOHN: Kabbalah?

MAGGY: That came later.

JOHN: Did the New Age stuff help you?

MAGGY: Yes, because I learned about all sorts of alternative things and Healing was very interesting at this point.

Maggy’s business card (NOTE: Terms & conditions apply)

After a few years, I realised I was still FURIOUS with Christianity. The whole idea that, if you didn’t believe in Jesus, you didn’t go to heaven. And all the power and corruption which everybody alerts me to and I know about… But I realised what I had done was I had stuck all this in a nasty heap in the corner, put a nice pink blanket over it and covered it in tea lights and crystals and I was pretending it didn’t exist. I realised I was going to have to deal with it.

I also started having the opportunity to do funerals for people.

JOHN: You were a multi-faith funeral giver?

MAGGY: Sort of. A sort of self-taught one. I found a guy in London who taught me.

JOHN: Funerals? What needs teaching?

MAGGY: You have to be taught what not to say and how to deal with dead bodies and bereaved people. You are quite often going to be there when they are dying. I ended up being a hospice chaplain.

So I started putting myself around as a funeral person in London, where the work was. And I went to university to learn New Testament Greek because I thought: If I can read the New Testament in Greek, I might actually understand what this guy Jesus was on about and not have to rely on other people’s translations.

However, it turns out there are 32,000 versions of the New Testament in Greek.

JOHN: Not literally 32,000…

MAGGY: Yes, literally. Most of them are fragments. Only about 500 are full ones. But they are quite dramatically different.

JOHN: Are they all translated from the Aramaic or something?

MAGGY: No, they’re just different ways they wrote it down because, in those days, if somebody had written down one of the Gospels and wanted to copy it out, they would read it out loud and people would copy it down and they would make mistakes. 

JOHN: I remember reading or hearing somewhere that, in the original language, there is no definite or indefinite article. 

MAGGY: That’s right.

JOHN: So the phrase ‘Son of God’ does not necessarily mean THE Son of God, it can equally mean A Son of God. And we are all Sons (or Daughters) of God.

MAGGY: Yes. We are all children of God… and Christ is not Jesus’ surname… The Christ exists independently of Jesus.

JOHN: In the original, no-one was saying he was The Christ. They were saying he was a Son of God: he was a good man. The Moslems believe in Jesus as a prophet, don’t they?

MAGGY: Yes. In fact, he is mentioned in the Koran more than Mohammed is.

A sphere representing the Left Eye of God – inside the Cao Dai Tây Ninh Holy See in Vietnam.  (Photograph by Ernie Lo)

JOHN: The Cao Dai religion in Vietnam reveres Confucius, Jesus and Victor Hugo… I think because the French civil servant who created the religion rather liked the works of Victor Hugo.

MAGGY: Well, you should see my altar at home. It has Isis, Mary & Joseph and…

JOHN: Isis as opposed to ISIS

MAGGY: Yes. One of my friends Christened his daughter Isis eight years ago. It is a problem now…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Why has comedian Akin Omobitan started a podcast called IT DIES HERE?

JOHN: So you have started a podcast. Why not do a blog? – Or is that too old-fashioned?

AKIN: I did do a blog back in the day and someone did once call me a blogger and I really didn’t know how to take that.

JOHN: Are you sure it was a blogger he called you?

AKIN: Yes. You have a blog. How do you describe yourself?

JOHN: The former John Fleming. 

AKIN: I used to blog back in 2004. I had wanted to do a podcast for ages but never had an idea I thought would be ‘for people’. 

JOHN: And now you have. Why is it called It Dies Here?

AKIN: It is pretty much a celebration of idiocy, calamity, regret, stupidity, misfortune, mishaps. So, each week, I have a different guest and they bring a story, a situation or an event which plays in circles in their head because, in hindsight, they now know how they could have handled it differently and better. So, instead of it living in their head, they bring it to the podcast and it can die.

JOHN: Sounds like online therapy.

A couple of people have said: “Oh wow! This is like therapy!

AKIN: A couple of people have come on and said: Oh wow! This is like therapy! but none of them has agreed to pay for my services yet.

JOHN: Do you have a couch to lie on?

AKIN: I do. But, if I invited people to my home to lie on a couch, it might just lead to misinterpretations.

JOHN: People might queue.

AKIN: Well, since releasing the trailer and putting Episodes 1 and 2 online, people have got in touch with me asking to be on the podcast.

JOHN: Do you edit it?”

AKIN: No. Because of the time it takes. And because I think it’s good for the listener to get the full conversation.

JOHN: Are the guests all comedians?

AKIN: No. Coming up, we have a couple of comedians, a financial journalist, a DJ and a TV presenter.

JOHN: Despite having co-hosted 101 Grouchy Club podcasts, I am not really a podcast listener. I have a feeling there’s something else I could do – like watch two-thirds of an old British comedy movie on TV.

AKIN: Or you could listen to a podcast and hear about the demise of an individual who started his own business, was offered millions for it and a job in Silicon Valley and all of that crumbled.

JOHN: But will it have knob gags? Anyway… where is this new weekly podcast leading? To a ‘proper’ broadcast radio show?

AKIN: I don’t know. It’s a different way of expressing yourself creatively. I used to write; that was one method. Doing stand-up comedy is another method. I MC shows as well; that’s different. And the podcast is such a different platform.

JOHN: How?

AKIN: With a lot of my stand-up, it is scripted. I may go off on tangents and play around a bit, but the majority of it is premeditated… When you are MCing, you can have a chat with the audience, but there are lots of different people and you are not really having a conversation with them; you are just trying to make the room fizz… When you do a podcast, you sit one-on-one with someone and have a good in-depth conversation for around 45 minutes.

JOHN: I find listening to what people say is over-rated.

“…I had things which ran around in MY head…”

AKIN: Part of what inspired…

JOHN: What?

AKIN: Part of what inspired the podcast is that I had things which ran around in MY head much longer than they should have… You know when you are a teenager and you are just very broody and moody and miserable? And that can go from adolescence into adulthood. Break-ups, different careers, failures. I was fired from jobs on a number of occasions. There were lots of things I had to let go of and, in letting go of them, I realised that I myself was the main reason I was not happy.

When I realised that and took a bit more control of my own happiness, I became a happier, nicer person.

And, because I had this reference point of me being a moody, miserable, self-indulgent person, I never wanted to be that person again. It inspired me to drift away from that aspect of my personality and more towards embracing the good things of life.

JOHN: You are a Christian. Did you go through a period in your teens of not being a Christian?

AKIN: I wouldn’t describe myself as re-born. I think a big part of it, actually, is that, when you grow up in a Christian household, there are a lot of beliefs and belief systems which you adopt without really making a choice. I guess part of my ‘liberation’ was stepping away from a lot of things. 

I guess I stepped away from a lot of the formalities of Christianity and the closeness I had with my parents. I quit my job. A lot of things: friendships, relationships, even myself. Lots of things I just stepped away from entirely.

Akin will be appearing with Lew Fitz at the Edinburgh Fesival Fringe this August

And then, one-by-one, I started re-connecting to all of these things, but under my terms. My relationship with my family is great, but I no longer feel the need to pander to my parents’ wishes for my life. I have tailored my friendship circles, so it is people who I genuinely want to be friends with, as opposed to people who I have just known for a long time.

Even with my Faith, I would say I am a lot more liberal in my views and outlooks. I guess there are different ideals and morals and stuff which I agree with. I just connect with things very differently. I guess there’s just a certain amount of freedom now.

JOHN: So you are more liberal in accepting other people’s ideas and beliefs?

AKIN: Definitely. I would always have described myself as liberal but I think, until you step away from your ideas then re-connect to them as you want, you are not really living your Truth.

When I decided who I wanted to be and who I wanted to connect with, I then started thinking: Why do I?

So, as opposed to Oh! I just love everyone, man! I then started thinking Why do I believe that?

I guess a lot of my beliefs and ideologies now are bounded more in me personally, not just: Oh. Because I’m a Christian, this is why I love everyone… or Because I’m a black person, this is why I behave this way. I just separated myself from a lot of parts of my identity and found a way of re-connecting… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

AKIN: Maybe that sounds a bit hippyish and… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

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Comedy critic Copstick to become a nun

Kate Copstick in Kenya last week

Kate Copstick in a non-Christian incarnation

A couple of days ago in this blog, I posted edited extracts from Kate Copstick’s Kenyan diary. 

She is there for her charity Mama Biashara.

Here is another edited extract.


TUESDAY

We are being begged to go to a place just outside Nairobi which is called ‘the home of the Devil’. An unbelievably deprived village.

Sadly, as soon as the mothers were in touch to ask for help with their sick children – who have never even been de-wormed in their lives – the village ‘elders’ muscled in and demanded that, first, I come as their ‘guest of honour’ at a fundraising to build their new church.

Which translates as ‘give us a lot of money’.

The village seems to be run by the church.

Anything that comes in goes directly to the church while the women and children starve and become ill.

The general consensus is that I have no chance of getting to the ground except through the church and they will not let me do that. So we make a cunning plan.

The only way to beat the church here is to BE the church.

And so I shall be going to the ‘home of the devil’ as a nun.

Doris is laying the groundwork now. Sister Catherine Mary. From a tiny retreat in Scotland. The Sisters of Perpetual Poverty. Hence, no massive payout to the scummy elders.

Thanks to an excellent record in Religious Education at school, I can quote scripture till the cows come home. Starting with ‘suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven’.

Unlikely as it sounds to you and me, it takes very little to persuade these horrible men if they think you are from the church or something else important.

I even have a rosary left over from playing a Mother Superior in a play in Edinburgh.

(Continued HERE)

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Paul Kerensa: an upstanding 50/50 kneel-down stand-up comic and writer

Paul Kerensa - in a Christmas cracker of a comedy show

A Christmas cracker of a show new to London

“I’ve forgotten why we’re meeting up,” I told comedian Paul Kerensa this afternoon. “I find over-research can be very over-rated.”

“This coming Monday,” he reminded me, “I’m at the Leicester Square Theatre with a Christmas show – Kerensa’s Christmas Cracker – A Centrepoint Fundraiser. It has some carols, Bec Hill, Paul Tonkinson, Rob Thomas and a magician called Wayne The Weird – his real name is Wayne Shakespeare – I keep telling him he should just use his real name.”

All proceeds go to the Centrepoint Christmas homeless charity.

“I’ve been doing these package shows all through December,” he explained, “I’ve done this show about eight years now but never done it in central London before. I normally call it Comedians and Carols but, in London, I didn’t want to step on the toes of Robin Ince’s Lessons and Carols For Godless People.”

“It’s been getting audiences?” I asked.

“Last week in Exeter, we played to 2,000 people at a modern-built church place. And, in Durham, we played to about 1,500 at the Gala Theatre.”

Paul has been performing stand-up comedy for 15 years.

“I tried giving it up about six years ago,” he told me, “but that only lasted about 10 days.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I thought I had got into stand-up to be a writer and I thought: The writing is working out. I will stop all this trudging across this fine land of ours. I love doing the gigs, but the driving is a lot of… So I tried to give up the stand-up and that lasted about a week-and-a-half but I got the sweats and needed to go and do a gig again. So, ever since then, I’ve done about three gigs a week – because I have to. It’s a drug. I love it and it’s just brilliant fun.”

“But you had originally,” I said, “gone into stand-up to become a writer?”

Paul Kerensa’s book - confessions of a kneel-down stand-up

Paul’s book as a kneel-down stand-up

“Well, I had thought I did, but now I know I didn’t. Now I know I went into it because I need to get laughs. Once you’ve had the experience, it’s difficult to not keep doing it.”

As Paul said, the writing HAS been working out for him. He wrote for the Miranda TV sitcom and writes for Lee Mack’s Not Going Out sitcom. His work has won awards from the Royal Television Society, the Rose d’Or and the British Comedy Awards.

I asked: “Are the stand-up and the writing fairly equally balanced?”

“Last year’s tax return,” he told me, “was within £10 between writing and performing. And I’m starting a podcast soon. I’ve got a few interviews recorded, which I’ll put out in the New Year. Just little segments like overheard conversations.”

“Why do a podcast?” I asked.

“Because I’m meeting lots of interesting people. I’m doing lots of BBC Radio 2 things with Chris Evans – I do the Pause For Thought spot on his Breakfast Show and I’ve been writing TFI Friday (on Channel 4 TV) for the last six weeks.”

Pause For Thought?” I asked.

“They do it every day Monday to Friday,” Paul explained. “The Reverend Richard Coles does it; a few bishops; a few Imams; and the occasional comedian like me. This Thursday, I’m doing one about my kids’ school nativity play.”

“And you do that spot because you are a Christian?”

“Yes.”

Paul Kerensa - amid the Ho Ho Ho and the sign of the cross

Paul Kerensa this afternoon – a bit of a Ho Ho and maybe the sign of the cross if you spot it

“That’s not common among comedians,” I said.

“I do a lot of gigs in churches,” said Paul, “because they have a ready-made audience. But the trouble is how do you have a foot in that camp and a foot in the mainstream comedy circuit? The problem is I don’t think being a Christian is that funny. It’s maybe funny to laugh at but not with. How do you make it funny? That’s the problem, really.”

“And, if you even mention it,” I said, “it might sound as if you’re proselytising.”

“Exactly. I think you can do the atheist stance on stage and people will go Yes!! but, if you did it from the other perspective, it would sound proselytising.”

“And you have to be squeaky clean?” I asked.

“Don’t have to be,” said Paul. “Depends on the venue. Depends who’s booked you.”

“Is there a church circuit?” I asked.

“I don’t think there’s a circuit as such, but I do 90 minute shows in churches to 200 people and sell a few books. The last church gig I did was two nights ago and, at the end of it, I had three different people from other churches come up to me and say: We’re from the church down the road. Can we have your card? Come and do a show for us. That doesn’t happen at most comedy club gigs – that you can get three new gigs from one gig.”

“It’s horses for courses. The way comedy has gone… If I had said to my mum 15 years ago Name me a comedian, she’d probably have gone Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard. Now, she could probably name me 50 comedians. There’s a comedian for everyone. Certainly ten years ago, a lot of churchy folk would have gone: Oh, I don’t like comedy. It’s a little bit, y’know… not for me. Now there’s something for everyone; comedy’s for everyone. A lot of modern churches nowadays: they’ve got the stage, the lights, the mic, the refreshments – they’re made for it.”

“With all this radio and TV writing,” I said. “I still don’t really understand the attraction of standing in a room above a pub performing to a relatively small number of people.”

Paul Kerensa’s advice on how to be a Blibluffer

His book advises how to be a Bibluffer

“Writing doesn’t give me the same sort of reward,” explained Paul. “Hearing Lee Mack get a laugh for something eight months after I’ve written it is not the same – and forgetting if I even wrote that bit or he wrote it… It’s not the same as getting the instant kick of a laugh in a club. Also, writing doesn’t pay what it could do and I have a family to feed – a wife and two kids.”

“Is your wife in the business?” I asked.

“No. She just pushes me out the door and says: Go and do a gig. Get the jokes off your chest and don’t do them in the house.”

“You have two kids?” I asked.

“My 2-year-old daughter,” said Paul, “is showing particular signs of being a good comedy audience member. My son does the jokes and she does the laughing.

“My son is 5 now. He’s just started school and is showing good signs of being a comedian. In a true show of comic timing, yesterday at school he was awarded a perfect attendance record certificate… but he wasn’t there to collect it because he was off ill.”

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Christianity and close-up magic tricks at Parliament… followed by naked radio

Radio magic - Lewis Schaffer (left) & Martin Soan (naked)

I had an interesting, if slightly varied, day yesterday.

It started with lunch at the Houses of Parliament and ended with a naked radio chat show near London Bridge.

I had lunch at the Palace of Westminster with Fred Finn (Guinness Record holder as the world’s most-travelled person and blogger for Ukraine International Airlines), Grenville Burn (personal assistant to former Labour Chief Whip Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland) and a barrister who had better remain nameless lest it sound like advertising.

Grenville Burn is a former colonel in the Salvation Army, comes from a family of Salvation Army officers and the only person I have ever met whose opening gambit to me over lunch was “Are you a Christian?” and, when I said, “No,” responded, “Why?”

He is also an intriguingly enterprising man who is involved in the Executives Association of Great Britain and the Mikado Experience which, he tells me, was involved in creating over £70 million of new business last year. He ‘teaches’ Networking – at universities, to directors, for companies. He has some fascinating psychological and schmoozing insights in how to get on in business, something he told me he partially learned by being a Christian preacher… and he is involved in an organisation called BestForBusiness which, he tells me, is already bigger than the Institute of Directors. He is a sophisticated and persuasive man who – perhaps fortunately for me – has not yet started selling double-glazing.

More interesting to me than all that, though, was that he frustratingly told me a couple of extraordinary and totally unpublishable true stories plucked, as they say, from tabloid headlines… and he is a skilled close-up magician – rope tricks, dice, you name it – as well as being impressively fast on the creation of magic squares from any numbers. In years past, he might have been burnt at the stake as the possessor of unearthly powers.

There is no easy way to link from Christianity and magic tricks performed in the environs of the Houses of Parliament to exposed male genitalia in a radio studio near London Bridge, so I will not even attempt it.

I wrote a blog last week titled How I talked myself out of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s naked radio show.

It seems I was over-optimistic.

Last night, after a meal with comedian Martin Soan, I ended up at Resonance FM for their lengthily-titled weekly radio show The Voice of Americans with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead – a man who could and should never be confused with Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland.

When we arrived at the studio, Lewis Schaffer told Martin: “You can’t take your clothes off. They won’t allow it. Sorry. Apparently OfCom rules say you can’t do naked radio.”

“Well, I’m going to take off my clothes anyway,” replied Martin, “because that’s what I’m doing here.”

“That’s the only reason I’ve come!” piped up my eternally-un-named female friend.

“Do I look good?” asked Lewis Schaffer, stroking his black suit.

“Fuck it,” said Martin. “Being naked is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?. I’m taking my clothes off.”

“Well I’ll take my clothes off too,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Keep your socks on,” advised Martin, taking his clothes off. “You are never naked with your socks on, man. You are never naked with your socks on.”

Martin had had a few drinks with us before arriving at the studio.

“I don’t want to take my clothes off in front of the young women,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’ll take my shirt off.”

“I’ve got no microphone,” said Martin.

“I’m so fat. I’m so fat,” said Lewis Schaffer, taking his shirt off. “Am I too fat? I’m too fat. Who can love a man with a… Let’s see your penis…”

“You can see my penis any time you want,” said Martin.

“It’s a lovely-sized penis,” said Lewis Schaffer with warmth in his voice.

“I think I can retain some kind of calm and I will not freak out for this announcement,” said the Resonance FM girl who had to introduce the show on air. “I will not freak out for this announcement.”

“Have I got a microphone?” asked Martin.

“Would I look good naked?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Am I too fat? Yes I am. Do you understand what I am saying? I am too fat.”

“It’s pointless being naked if I haven’t got a microphone,” said Martin.

“No-one will like me naked,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I dress up nicely. I wear a dark suit. That’s what I wear. A dark suit. Do I look good for my age?” He started to put his shirt back on. He looked at Martin. “He’s got a lovely-sized penis. Me? I’ve gained a bit of waistline; it’s not a sexy look.”

“You’ve got one minute,” said the Resonance FM girl.

“This is just a normal Monday night for me,” said Martin. “Being naked.”

“Take a picture of his penis,” Lewis Schaffer told me.

“You’re listening,” said the Resonance FM girl, “to Resonance 104.4 FM. That was Luscombe’s Choice. Coming up next, Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead.”

Then the opening music – God Bless America – swelled up, the show started, I coughed a bit and Martin stayed naked and got passionate about funding cuts for the elderly in Nunead. It will probably turn up as a podcast at some point. What can I say?

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Last night, I saw toast hanging from trees and children sparkling with light

After what happened last night, I really must go to a Wicker Man festival.

The climax of The Wicker Man (the 1973 version, obviously) was shot at Burrow Head in Wigtownshire. I think my uncle’s ashes were scattered into the sea off Burrow Head; he used to sit there as a teenager and look out to sea. Or maybe it was off some other Head. There are quite a few Heads in the area.

For sure, several Wicker Man scenes were shot in the Isle of Whithorn (which is not an island), where my father was brought up. And several other scenes were shot in Whithorn itself (a totally different place to the Isle of Whithorn) where both my parents went to school and met again during the Second World War (I blogged about their meeting last year).

Nothing in life is ever simple.

There is a speech in The Wicker Man about how paganism is the real religion of Britain and how Christianity is merely a Johnny-come-lately cult.

I paraphrase but, after last night, I am all for paganism.

I went wassailing at orchards in semi-rural Hertfordshire, quite close to where I live. About forty or so adults and children went and blessed the trees. Pieces of toast soaked in cider were hanging from the branches of the trees and cider was poured round the trees’ roots to encourage them to grow and bear fruit in the coming year.

Wassail toast hanging from trees

Much noise was made with bells and horns and spoons on pots and pans to scare away evil spirits; a wassailing song was sung; the children went and told the trees to grow, then waved sparklers around; fireworks soared high into the air from the orchards; there was much cheering and clapping; and then we went inside for soup and bread and cake and cups of mulled wine and cider.

I have been to a local church the last couple of Christmases (avoiding the services) and they provided mulled wine and biscuits. But no toast hanging from trees; no children waving sparklers; and no eccentricity on this scale.

No wonder paganism is on the increase.

This was not a genuine outbreak of paganism in semi-rural Hertfordshire, of course. It was a bit of admirable British jollity.

But Christianity has to pull its socks up.

I think annual human sacrifice (a concept at the very core of Christianity) in Winter or Spring could be the way forward, though the supply of willing virgins might prove something of a problem.

Still, The Wicker Man shows that, where there’s a will, there are ways and means…

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Filed under Eccentrics, Movies, Religion, Scotland, Strange phenomena