Yesterday’s blog was a chat about the new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott.
‘Ryan Hasler-Stott’ is actually two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and electrician Darren Hasler-Stott…
The chat continues here…
ME (TO DARREN): So you’re still an electrician?
JOHN RYAN: He’s also a musician.
DARREN: I used to be in a band. A bit of piano. Sang quite a lot. A sort of rock band. Singer-songwriter thing. It was a long time ago.
JOHN RYAN: Thing is Darren’s like a lot of people; like how I was.
He’s a guy with a regular job. He’s very creative. And where I differed was – with his support and others’ support – I went from the regular job and took the plunge. Whereas most people never take the plunge. So I kind of dragged him a bit to go with his creativity. We’ve just come at it from different angles.
ME (TO JOHN RYAN): You don’t totally play comedy clubs. You do the cruises… This is your 20th year entertaining on the cruise ships?
JOHN RYAN: Yeah. And I’ve done the military. Went out to Afghanistan to entertain the troops. Went all round the Middle East. I’ve done police conferences, prison projects – won an award – Best Documentary at the Scottish Film Festival. I’ve done a women’s prison – tough gig.
ME: …and, during the Covid Lockdown…
JOHN RYAN: My income went down about 85%. It will slowly come back. But you know, on the circuit now, headlining is about £50, £60. Whereas, ten years ago, it was £200, £250. It’s just that the power dynamic has changed completely. You’ve got a lot of promoters filling rooms up with 200, 300 punters, charging them £15 each and paying the acts £100.
You’ve got so many comedy courses now, just churning out hundreds of comedians, which kind of lowers the base price that people will pay. And they just live off people’s dreams basically. Whereas before there was a career path.
Back then, if you were with the Jongleurs circuit, you were a career comedian: well looked-after, well paid, hotels, everything. Now there’s no Jongleurs. The Glee has stepped up a bit; Hot Water in Liverpool has stepped up a bit; Alan Anderson’s gigs have stepped up.
But, other than that, it’s hard to get weekends or regular work.
ME: I don’t know Hot Water.
JOHN RYAN: They’re basically in Liverpool and they have come up with a new business model. They’re building a 700 seater. I’ve never worked for them, but they’re packing them out. They’re going up on the energy They’re on podcasts, social media, they do gigs, touring shows. Rather than going It’s Saturday night, people pay to come in and have a laugh tonight, they’re more about seven days a week and corporate stuff an all. The North West of England is the home of comedy in the UK at the moment.
JOHN RYAN: I think a hungry dynamic.
ME: I suppose Media City in Manchester might help.
JOHN RYAN: And the same with Scotland. There’s a nice little circuit up in Scotland.
ME: London’s still important, though.
JOHN RYAN: Well, again, you see down here is where you’ll meet people. Whereas maybe when I started we gigged to get gigs, now you meet people who have half a dozen gigs and they’ve got a CV and a lot of a management. Very driven. Very much like America.
ME: Traditionally, people went to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe to be spotted by industry people from London and…
JOHN RYAN: But, getting back to our book, we see it as one of seven.
ME: Is that because it’s a lucky number? Or something to do with Harry Potter?
JOHN RYAN: Number 7. Eric Cantona. (LAUGHS)
ME: What age is your book aimed at?
JOHN RYAN: I guess for the young and the young at heart. I guess 10 upwards. It’s all about understanding that there’s mischief. There’s characters. They argue with each other. But they gotta get home in time for tea. Not going to get hurt.
ME: Could that not be boring?
JOHN RYAN: Doesn’t have to be. Kids nowadays – all this whole shoot-em-up and violence… There IS violence in there.
ME: Aren’t all stories about confrontations? Confronting situations or people.
JOHN RYAN: Yeah, it’s very confrontational.
ME: There’s a villain?
DARREN: Several villains. The main villain in the first book is a guy called General Thwackeray who’s the leader of the ducks. Then, in the other books, there’ll be other villains.
Part of the action is set around the annual Eggs Factor competition, where the ducks have a talent show. So there’s a lot of side silliness going on. There’s a paddle maker who becomes a reluctant duck hero. All he wants is some cracked corn but he keeps finding himself at the front of all the duck activity purely by chance and continually gets promoted. But all he wants is to settle down.
ME: It’s selling well to kids?
JOHN RYAN: Most of the people who’ve bought it seem to be adults.
DARREN: They love it. And a few people in Sweden for some reason.
ME: When was it actually published?
JOHN RYAN: July 7th this year?
JOHN RYAN: I spoke to two publishers who liked it and they were very interested and offered us the glorious sum of 7%. Net. So I said, “Okay, and do we do anything?”
They said: “You do your publicity, your PR, your marketing.”
ME: They weren’t going to do anything themselves?
JOHN RYAN: No. Not until it gained traction. And we’re talking established publishers. So we thought: We’ll self-publish, get some traction. We’ve got a couple of animation production companies sniffing around with a view to turn it into… Well, we would like it to be a feature film. Maybe a TV series, but it lends itself very much to film because each character has a backstory.
Because of the nature of it, because it’s comedic, no one’s allowed to get killed. So we’ve got a team of superheroes who don’t kill anyone.
The main thing about the story though, is that it’s a stand-alone. There will be seven stand-alone stories. The next one basically involves a couple of penguins. They are childless and they find what they think is an egg. They think it’s an egg – a gift from heaven – because it fell from the sky. But it’s actually a nuclear timer.
ME: Have you got an elevator pitch?
JOHN RYAN: We have a mighty duck army hell-bent on taking over the world. The only thing standing between them and world domination are a team of…
JOHN RYAN: Yeah. Wind in the Willows meets Dad’s Army,..
ME: The Dirty Dozen with ducks?
JOHN RYAN: It’s a harmeless, mischievious adventure of what we would have seen on Saturday morning cinema back in the day. It’s basically about how you overcome obstacles by working together. Just a glorious romp.
ME: …with ducks.
JOHN RYAN: With ducks and crazy characters. And badgers.
DARREN: Yeah. Badgers are like…
JOHN RYAN: …jobsworths.
DARREN: They know all the rules.
JOHN RYAN: They issue the permits.
DARREN: Our four genetically-modified characters are our superheroes and then Waldo, who’s a bee, they kind of pick-up along the way.
JOHN RYAN: He’s basically been kicked out of his hive for being annoying.
ME: Is he based on anyone?
JOHN RYAN: Sort of loosely based on us, really… Me. An annoying, buzzing feller.
ME: Oh, come on now!
JOHN RYAN: The thing is I don’t socialise with comics. My social network is mostly people like Darren, who are what you could call ‘real people’.
It’s an interesting game I challenge all comics to do. Go through your WhatsApp messages, look at the last 5 or 10 people you’ve contacted. See how many are NOT comedians. Because then you’ll see where your friends are. I think you have to maintain your feet in the real world. Most comedians live in an abstract world surrounded and reinforced by other comics. Consequently, they don’t understand why they can offend or upset people.
We are all about inclusivity.