Tag Archives: comedy

A fond memory of eccentric – and very noisy – comedy performer Chis Luby

John Ward made the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Mad inventor John Ward is a man of many parts, many of them going spare. He designed and built the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and I have occasionally booked him on TV shows. 

One was in 1988 on the weekly ITV series Prove It! Participants had to ‘prove’ they could do something bizarre.

John now writes a weekly column for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and today he remembered fellow eccentric Chris Luby. Here are some of his memories:


The late Chris Luby was absolutely brilliant at ‘noise impressions’ such as a WW2 spitfire starting up, going down a runway and into battle, trains on the underground that to the untrained ear sounded very real plus many more.

I first met him some years ago when we both appeared on an ITV telly show called Prove It! presented by Chris Tarrant

We both recorded the pilot show plus both appeared in the first episode while I appeared in the whole series on a thirteen week basis presenting assorted inventions and gadgets.

Chrises Tarrant and Luby

Day one was rehearsal day with everybody involved getting to know each other, then going through our paces plus a studio run-through, then – all those still breathing – off to our designated hotels for a clean-up before dinner.

I was on the same table as Chris (Luby) for dinner/supper and it was an experience sitting there, looking at the menu while hearing about The train now leaving platform whatever… and going through to Kings Cross station, with all the assorted sounds and voices.

He sat there, menu covering his face, making these noises and, apart from the fact they were ‘spot on’ and very realistic, my thoughts were: “Does he ever stop!?”

He was doing his impression of whatever plane it was as the waiter came over to us to ask if we were ready to order. I said we would, just as soon as my companion came in to land.

The look on the poor waiter’s face was a classic as he didn’t know what was going on but then nor did I… but I was learning – I hoped.

The first night we spent in the lounge bar area of the hotel and, yes, he carried on going like a good ‘un with his assorted impressions of objects and people.

Eventually it was off to bedtime and I did sleep very well all things considered as it had been a really long day.

So imagine being woken up the next morning by what sounded like a detachment of the Grenadier Guards at the bedroom door, ‘marching on the spot’ outside.

I know I had asked for an alarm call but this was pushing it a bit.

I then heard what could be called a sergeant major’s ‘rallying call’ or “Git ‘art of bed, you ‘orribel little man!!!” as it dawned on me (well, it was by then daylight) it could be only Chris Luby. 

Does he ever stop? I asked myself.

Chris Luby – N0-one ever slept in HIS shows

His initial appearance had him in a Coldstream Guard’s uniform, coming through the middle of the stage curtains, making the sounds of a marching regiment… hobbling on crutches as he had broken his leg a week or so beforehand.

Culture didn’t come any better than this.

He used to perform about a twenty minute act consisting of assorted ‘sounds’ or noises, many military based and he made a decent living from it on the comedy circuit.

Sadly there is not much on the internet about him apart from the fact he passed away in January 2014 following an accident at his home when he tumbled downstairs.

That ended the life and sounds of ‘The Man of Many Noises’.

He wasn’t what you might call a ‘mainstream’ entertainer but anybody you mentioned his name to in ‘the show business’ always broke into a smile as they all seem to have a Chris anecdote.

He was one of those unique but talented people that, once met or seen, never forgotten.


SoundCloud has an audio clip of Chris Luby impersonating an RAF fly-past at the legendarily raucous church funeral of Malcolm Hardee in 2005…

…and YouTube has a clip of John Ward (though sadly not Chris Luby) on Prove It!

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Good Godley! – It’s the seemingly irresistible rise and rise of Janey Godley

The indomitable, unstoppable Janey Godley

Some people are just unstoppable.

Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark (a bestseller in 2005 and 2006) is published for the first time as an audio book today and she appears yet again as a panellist on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You tomorrow night.

Penguin Books recently reprinted Handstands in the Dark with a new cover and new introduction. Frank Get the Door!, a book transcribing some of her viral video voiceovers, made the Sunday Times bestseller list last year. Her first novel is coming out next year. The Last Mermaid, a 2019 short film she co-wrote and starred in, won a couple of awards at Berlin and in Scotland; and she starred in a series of lockdown monologues for the National Theatre of Scotland.

In other words, she is on a roll.

Handstands in the Dark – Janey’s bestselling autobiography – still selling well after 16 years

Her nationwide UK comedy tour, which was interrupted by the Covid pandemic last year, re-starts this autumn. Her political voice-over videos have made her a worldwide viral YouTube hit complemented by animal voice-over videos and more family-friendly videos featuring her dog Honey.

Over the last few years, she has also built-up a massive following for her weekly podcasts, online pandemic chats with her daughter Ashley Storrie, random appearances on UK radio and TV, a weekly column in The Herald newspaper (she used to have a weekly column in The Scotsman) and what seem like daily news items in Scotland’s Daily Record about her Tweets.

Ashley has appeared in various BBC TV comedy series, has her own weekly BBC Scotland radio show and today BBC iPlayer (UK only) has posted online the new BBC3 comedy drama pilot Dinosaur in which she has the lead part as an undiagnosed autistic woman. It will be screened on BBC1 on 7th June and was made by Two Brothers Pictures, producers of Fleabag.

BBC TV have also just announced a new documentary series next year: Ashley & Janey Get a Real Job following the duo round the country doing things like working on a fishing boat (!)

So, obviously, I had to have a chat with Janey.

But what I was really interested in was the extraordinary range of her online commercial merchandise – everything from the normal and to-be-expected mugs and T-shirts to – extraordinarily – greetings cards, her artwork and bottles of Janey’s own Frank Get The Door! and Aw The Sandras branded gin at £32 a bottle…


JANEY: I’m sooooo fucking tired, John!

JOHN: I’m not surprised. You’ve been running round like a blue-arsed fly.

JANEY: I think it’s just… Well, I got shingles, which I’ve never had. 

JOHN: Jesus! That’s really painful.

JANEY: It really wasn’t that bad. I kept on thinking: Have I got sunburn? Then I got these sharp pains and a rash. It went away pretty fast; it wasn’t that bad. But then I got this dizzy thing.

JOHN: Vertigo?

JANEY: It was connected to the shingles and it started the morning I was filming with Joanna Lumley. I woke up, the whole world went sideways and I thought I was having a stroke. And we were filming on an old, bumpy bus.

JOHN: Your merchandise is everything from pens and mugs, T-shirts and face masks to bottles of gin. So how did that start? You were maybe a third of the way through a national UK tour, Covid hit and you had no live comedy income at all…

JANEY: And then Frank Get The Door! (the catchphrase from her viral Nicola Sturgeon voice-over videos) became really famous so we decided to make Frank Get The Door! T-shirts. My husband Sean got on LinkedIn and somebody recommended this guy lan Adie of Promotional Warehouse in Glasgow… I called him and he said: “You came to the right place at last, because I don’t need a deposit off you. We’ll make it and we’ll share it.”

The very first wave was T-shirts, clicky pens and cups. 

I told him: “It’s not going to do very much but, even if it does, I’m going to donate 100% of my profit to the STV Children’s Appeal.”

He said: “That’s weird, but OK.”

So they went on sale that first weekend, back in June/July last year… and he phoned me on the Monday and said: “Oh my God! We have sold 7,000 units!”

The first wave brought in £25,000 for the STV Children’s Appeal, which I don’t regret. I’m still happy that happened, despite HMRC (the UK government’s tax authority)… We had to pay tax on it… If you’re selling goods for a charity – not donations but selling goods for a charity – you still have to pay VAT because it’s sale through goods. Because people could say they have passed it on to charity but not done it.

JOHN: Even if you get a receipt from the charity?

JANEY: It doesn’t matter. What happens is £25,000 goes into my bank account. But I can’t just give that £25,000 to STV and say to HMRC: “Oh, I gave it all away to charity.” I have to pay VAT on the income, because they don’t see it as charity money; they see it as you making £25,000. I still have to pay VAT on it. So about £4,000 or £5,000 went to HMRC.

JOHN: And are you still donating your profit on those items to STV?

JANEY: No. The STV Children’s Appeal stopped. But now 100% of my profit on my Emotional Lifejacket merchandise goes to the Scottish Carers’ Trust. I don’t get a penny of that myself. If you buy anything from my website that’s got Emotional Lifejacket on it, 100% of my profit goes to the Carers’ Trust. We also did a 12-hour telethon for the Carers’ Trust and so far, all-in-all, we have raised about £50,000 for charity during lockdown.

JOHN: You branched into other merchandise…

JANEY: Well Ian Adie and I just clicked. He said: “We’ll do gin; we’ll do candles”… Then my daughter Ashley came up with this beautiful range – Neural Funky – because she was diagnosed with autism during lockdown… which was quite hard for her because we had always just thought that she was (LAUGHS) a bit weird… But, y’know…

JOHN: So now you have Janey Godley merchandise, Ashley Storrie merchandise and even Honey your dachshund has merchandise.

JANEY: Yes, Honey is now an earner. She cost us £8,000 when she nearly died the year before last, so…

JOHN: You’re on a roll. You survived having zero live comedy income for the last year and…

JANEY: My agent is very good. Every single day now we have to have a morning meeting where we go through the various offers that have come through. This morning (NAME BRAND) wanted me to do an advert for (A NOT INCONSIDERABLE SUM) and he said: “No, it’s not enough.”

I go back on tour in the Autumn, have one day off and then go straight into rehearsals for (A NOT-YET ANNOUNCED PROJECT).

JOHN: Penguin have just re-issued your 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a new cover, you have the new audiobook of Handstands in the Dark out now and your first novel is published by Hodder & Stoughton next year. Penguin must have suddenly realised how good you are if they’re bringing out an audio book after all this time.

The new unabridged audio version now on sale, read by Janey

JANEY: No! The audio book is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Penguin didn’t want to do the audio version, so Hodder said We want to do it! and bought the audio rights from Penguin.

JOHN: Penguin are mad. You are on a roll not just in the UK but in the US because of your Trump sign.

JANEY: And Hodder want me to write another book.

JOHN: Fiction or non-fiction?

JANEY: Fiction.

JOHN: You should do a sequel to your Handstands in the Dark autobiography. It ends on a cliffhanger. You could go from the end of the first book to some new climactic point – the Trump Is a Cunt sign maybe.

Janey’s iconic comment went viral and is now available as a greetings card from her online shop.

JANEY: I don’t think I want to, John.

ASHLEY (IN THE BACKGROUND, FROM THE KITCHEN): Mum! We keep getting people saying: When’s the next book in that series coming out!

JANEY: (BIG THEATRICAL SIGH)

ASHLEY: You have the distinct privilege that you can talk about the changing fucking dynamics of women in stand-up comedy from the 1990s to now. You have the excessive privilege that you can explain that to people who don’t understand it. You can explain what the fuck you had to go through so they can now get upset about an ‘inappropriate’ man brushing their arse!

(PAUSE)

JOHN: Anyway… The novel you’ve written which is coming out next year – Was it easy to write?

JANEY: It was so hard to write it in lockdown. For one thing I had just had shingles. Plus my confidence was shot-to-fuck and I was really, really busy doing all the other stuff. I couldn’t focus on being creative because I kept on panicking that We’re all gonna die! So I was writing bits but kept on fixing bits and kept on fixing bits and…

Then Ashley and I were stood in the kitchen one night and she said to me: “Just fucking write it! If it’s shite, just write all the shite out of your system. It’s a vomit draft. Get it all out!” So I did.

Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie – the dynamic duo of Scottish comedy (Photo: Andrew Laing)

I sent the ‘vomit draft’ off to Hodder and they got back to me after a week and said it was one of the best first drafts they’d ever had. They said it was publishable as it was, but the editing process since then has been really good.

Epilepsy Scotland gave me their offices to write it in and I got a researcher, Caitlin, who was fucking great.

Another Janey Sunday Times bestseller

JOHN: And, in the meantime, you published Frank Get The Door!

JANEY: I didn’t think it would sell but, fuck, did it sell! It was in the Sunday Times bestseller list. 

JOHN: Your videos go viral, so presumably there are sales of Frank Get The Door! worldwide because you are now known worldwide.

JANEY: And I’m about to write a Honey book – a family-friendly book.

JOHN: You will make Honey immortal.

JANEY: (LAUGHS) How are you now, John?

JOHN: Same as before.

JANEY: Can I be the headline act at your funeral when you die?

JOHN: Sure.

ASHLEY (FROM THE KITCHEN): Would you not rather have me? I’ve got TV credits. I’m just saying I’m in three upcoming television series.

JANEY: Yeah. You might be better with her headlining your funeral.

JOHN: How about you both as joint headliners?

ASHLEY: I don’t share my billing, but thankyou for the offer.

JANEY & ASHLEY: (LAUGHTER)


Janey’s main website is at http://www.janeygodley.com

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Amazon anarchy runs riot in long-lasting Malcolm Hardee mystery

Malcolm Hardee while researching his autobiography in 1995

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned British comedian Malcolm Hardee in passing. He was, to understate the truth, very anarchic. A comedian, club owner, agent and force of Nature, he has been called the father of (British) alternative comedy.

He drowned in 2005. At least, that is the story.

He wrote his autobiography in 1996. It was titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which, indeed, he did. It has been out of print for quite a few years.

At the time of writing this blog, there are a couple of second hand copies available on amazon.co.uk – one at £49.98, the other at £109.95.

One second hand copy is also available on amazon.com at $49.98.

Full disclosure: I own 20% of the royalties from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. But, as the book is out-of-print and these are second hand copies, there are no royalties. So I would get nothing if anyone forked out £49.98 or $49.98 or £109.95.

On amazon.com, the book’s description correctly reads:

“The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

On amazon.co.uk, the description reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.”

Yup. It is the description of a totally different book. Amazon’s computers have somehow got their techno-knickers in a twist. Originally I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had the correct listing on amazon.co.uk but somehow, between 1996 and 2021, it got surreally mistaken for this other academic book.

It has been listed like that for years, certainly since 2015. But, as I get nothing out of any sales, it doesn’t particularly bother me and I have a sneaking feeling that Malcolm Hardee would have somehow enjoyed the mix-up.

I mentioned most of this in a blog way back in November 2015.

Over the six intervening years, I have more-or-less halfheartedly but officially notified Amazon.co.uk of the error I think four times – helpfully pointing out that the listing was correct on amazon.com, so they only had to copy their own listing from amazon.com.

The last time was a couple of months ago.

But nothing has been been changed.

Not about comedy and criminal activities

The bizarre incorrect description of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake actually comes from Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski’s niftily-titled book Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners.

Sadly, the blurb for Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners on amazon.co.uk does not describe it as “The humorous memoirs of a criminal-turned-comedy agent who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours”.

A couple of nights ago, I was talking to multi-talented performer Matt Roper aka Wilfredo in New York.

Full disclosure: he was in New York; I was in London…

…and I mentioned all the above jolly shenanigans to him. I explained to him that the amazon.com listing for I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was correct.

But, yesterday, he contacted me to tell me he had just looked up the amazon.com listing and although it was, indeed, mostly correct… it did say that I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had been published on January 1, 1600… He attached a screen shot of the page. 

He told me: “Amazon.com seems to think the book was published in 1600, just as Giordano Bruno was being burned at the stake by the Inquisition and when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. Perhaps that’s why it costs so much here.”

The price advertised at the time was $164.66.

I have just looked it up myself and the amazon.com page now says I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published on 5 Aug 1996 and it now has a $49.98 price tag.

Full disclosure: My head is swirling a bit – I seem to be getting bouts of vertigo – and I am beginning to think that Malcolm Hardee faked his own death by drowning in 2005 and is playing anarchic games from beyond the non-grave. 

I would not put it past him.

Incidentally, I have some pristine copies of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake available at a mere £675.99 plus postage… They are collectors’ items for marketing surrealists and increasingly prestigious.

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North Korea, President Obonjo and me on “If Comedians Ruled The World…”

Here’s a chat I had last night with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer President Obonjo aka Benjamin Bankole Bello for his podcast If Comedians Ruled The World.

In the chat, I mention the Zircon satellite, which is incorrect. I think the satellite I should have mentioned was probably an ECHELON one.

I also mention the Pakistan Ambassador in Pyongyang and I think I mean the Indian Ambassador. It was a long time ago and I have a legendarily shit memory.

Anyway, we got through comedy, North Korea, Donald Trump, politics, dictators, propaganda, the US electoral system, the media and the Edinburgh Fringe, all in 45 minutes of fun, frivolity and totalitarian talk.

After viewing it, Sandra Smith – comedy industry uber-fan and observer of such details – commented: “Very active head action while speaking to the President.” She listed…

14 ear touches

9 spectacles

4 mouth

9 head

2 forehead

1 neck

3 eyes

2 nose

I wish she hadn’t mentioned all those. I’m a bit touchy…

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Lynn Ruth Miller, 87, says: “STOP COMPLAINING! Just go out and do it!”

Indefatigable, inspirational, genuinely unique

The indefatigable and genuinely unique American writer, comedian, raconteur and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller (she first stripped at the age of 73) is 87 today.

She has two Master’s Degrees with honours: one in Creative Arts for Children from the University of Toledo and the other a Master of Arts degree in Communications from Stanford University. She has done post-graduate work at Indiana, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and San Francisco State Universities.

When she was 27 and her ambitions turned theatrical, she starred in her own CBS television show.

She has been dubbed “the new Joan Rivers” and “the world’s oldest performing stand-up comedian”. For the last 15 years, she has been travelling the world “telling inappropriate jokes and shattering stereotypes”.

I wanted to ask about her latest book Getting The Last Laugh. We had a meal together. She insisted on paying because, she said, she wanted to have some sort of hold over me.


JOHN: So what do you want to bring up?

LYNN RUTH: Asparagus.

JOHN: You have written another book.

LYNN RUTH: Yes. It’s the fifth that’s been published. We edited it four times and I wrote an addendum which brings it up-to-date with COVID. I have another book coming out soon called Growing Old Outrageously and Loving It – it’s just about done – to be published by my friend Nader Shabahangi. That one has pictures and more of my philosophy.

JOHN: What is your philosophy?

LYNN RUTH: Just Fuck it… So it’s a short book. (LAUGHS)

“I thought it would be a book about comedy”

JOHN: This one has pictures too.

LYNN RUTH: And everybody who was nice to me – their names are in it. Everyone who wasn’t, I just refer to them. You can figure out who they are, but I don’t name them. And there were a lot.

JOHN: And you wrote Getting The Last Laugh because…?

LYNN RUTH: I think the message of the book was not what I intended. I thought it would be a book about my doing comedy and there IS a lot about it in there…

JOHN: …but…?

LYNN RUTH: …But it’s got a lot about the walls I faced. The point of this book is Anyone can do what I’ve done. Really and truly it’s not that I am special, not that I’m talented, but I made all this happen and an awful lot of people would not have. A lot of people would have started and then said: “Ah! Too much work!”

JOHN: So why did you have the determination?

LYNN RUTH: Because I really love doing this.

JOHN: Comedy or eating?

LYNN RUTH: I love eating too and I’ve been doing it a lot longer than comedy.

JOHN: There’s a lot in the book about your early life.

Young Lynn Ruth: “I was the dreamer in the family… Hoping my mother would love me…”

LYNN RUTH: But also a lot about my philosophy of believing in yourself… This COVID pandemic has really disturbed me: because we are all so afraid of what other people think, so afraid of each other and that is wrong. The hardest thing for anyone is to believe in yourself.

People ask me “Why didn’t you just give up?” and, honest to God, I don’t know. In general, I wasn’t doing too well in Life. I had the two divorces. I have a Masters Degree in Journalism, but I couldn’t get a job in journalism. I had a TV show in the States, but I was never doing anything, really. I just kept going and then, all of a sudden, things came together. I think the story of this book is: KEEP GOING! So the message of the book is STOP COMPLAINING! Just go out there and do it!

I believe anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the work. You have to take responsibility for the things in your life.

I had a very negative upbringing. All my life, I blamed my mother, blamed my sister, blamed Toledo where I grew up.

But, when I was about 50 years old, it hit me – Oh, my God! I am the one who let those things happen. It’s MY fault! 

Until you take responsibility for your own happiness, you don’t stand a chance.

Young Lynn Ruth pictured with her parents. She had her own CBS TV show at the time.

JOHN: What were your parents like?

LYNN RUTH: My mother looked absolutely gorgeous and she smelled SO good, which is amazing as she hardly ever bathed. Daddy I thought was the most wonderful… I thought he was a great big man but actually he was quite little.

JOHN: This book is about your life AND your comedy career…

LYNN RUTH: It’s valuable for comedians, I think. In it I have a complete comedy set and, in it, I tell you what I do to make the joke work, why I put it in the order it’s in and what I do if it’s not working. Also in there I have two tours with all the names of the contacts.

JOHN: What’s the difference between this book and your next book?

LYNN RUTH: The next book is stories of people who achieved what looked like the impossible but they just got on with it. People think they can’t have the dream that they want but they can.

First wedding, aged 22, in September 1956…

I have a friend called Glenn. He didn’t go to college; he was just educated up to 18 and he got a job with the Recreation Dept in San Francisco – a low-level, shit job. But he loves theatre. He loves classical theatre. He was absolutely sure he could direct a Shakespeare play. No education. And he talked the Recreation Dept into letting him do three shows.

JOHN: Were they good?

LYNN RUTH: They were really shitty productions. And then the Recreation Dept fired him. But now he has founded his own company and it’s very successful. Or it was until COVID happened.

JOHN: So what now?

LYNN RUTH: (SHRUGS) We keep going…

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Robert White – The Autistic, web-toed British comedian is up for another prize

 

Tomorrow, a fascinating documentary about Malcolm Hardee Award-winning musical comic Robert White is going to be screened (and is up for an Audience Award) at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles – It’s an online virtual event this year.

I think I am pretty safe in saying that Robert is the only Aspergic, dyslexic, web-toed, cross-lateral, gay, quarter-Welsh, gluten-intolerant professional musical comedian in the world who made the final of Britain’s Got Talent and came runner-up.

The Autistic Comedian – is extraordinarily successful in giving an insight – warts and all – into what it’s like for a hyper-sensitive performer to grow up, undiagnosed, in the 1980s and 1990s, feel his life spiralling out of control but then learn to deal with the challenges totally on his own.

It gains from the fact that director Joe Bor is also a comedy performer and Robert’s friend – so there is a unique access and insight. 

It reminded me of the 1997 Elton John documentary Tantrums and Tiaras, directed by David Furnish.

Both films manage to be an extraordinary emotional rollercoaster with unique psychological insights.

There are details of the online Awareness Film Festival screening here and there is a trailer on Vimeo:

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 36 – COVID conspiracies, tears and comedy

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 35

SUNDAY 20th SEPTEMBER

Donna Daniels-Moss tells me that Paul Eccentric aka The AntiPoet is punting another book The Periwinkle Perspective: The Giant Step, the synopsis of which is:


Is there amateur taxidermy in space…??

June 1897, and as part of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, her expanding Empire lays claim to another new territory: The Moon!

Space Captain Gordon Periwinkle; the much vaunted Gentleman Adventurer (and amateur taxidermist), becomes the first man to set foot on Earth’s only natural satellite; bravely sacrificing his life on a one way trip into the history books.

The world is changed in an instant; the balance of power shifting in Victoria’s favour. War breaks out between Germany and America: the two world powers that had previously been the closest to achieving such a feat…

This is the story of the good captain’s attempt to get home, dodging an array of government assassins and foreign agents along the way; keen to use him for the own nefarious propaganda purposes.


MONDAY 21st SEPTEMBER

Writer/performer Ariane Sherine who has her latest book How To Live To 100 out next week is, like me, is trying to lose weight. She suggested we should have a competition and the person who loses least weight has to buy both of us a slap-up Christmas dinner. I have been losing weight in the last week or so, but I have a sense of impending doom.

Chris Dangerfield live from Cambodia, home of Colonel Kurtz

Eternal contrarian Chris Dangerfield got in touch from Cambodia to tell me he has a novel coming out “at Christmas”, which turns out to be 15th November. He tells me no more. I feel it may be controversial. Perhaps something along the lines of an autobiographical novel about his time quitting heroin while living in a brothel in Thailand.

Never one to make things easy for himself, a brothel in Thailand is possibly the least likely place I can think of to get rid of his addictions… He now seems to be addicted to posting two-hour interactive YouTube videos from his home in South East Asia.

After reading Chris Dangerfield’s email, I checked my Gmail InBox.

The number of messages it said I had was 666.

This did not fill me with untramelled optimism.

TUESDAY 22nd SEPTEMBER

In my last diary blog, I mentioned a local man – local to where I live – who wears bright clothes, has an over-enthusiastic moustache and, according to the Evening Standard, was once convicted of killing his brother.

(Photograph by Fusion Medical Animation, via UnSplash)

Today, he was in the local Sainsbury’s with two acquaintances, none of them wearing masks (as the government’s COVID regulations decree). They were discussing with theatrical bravado how ridiculous it was to wear masks when (the three of them knew for certain) the virus doesn’t come out and become active until after 8.00pm in the evening and how other, lesser mortals than they – the ones who mindlessly followed the government’s mask-wearing rules – were just ‘sheeple’.

After reaching enlightenment at Sainsbury’s, I went to Elstree station where similar surrealism is standard. The time was 8.39pm. One of the train indicator boards said the next train would arrive in 1,082 minutes, at 1440 tomorrow afternoon, with the second train due at 1446, in 1,087 minutes. True to their eternal incompetence – even if these due times were true – Thameslink’s minutes didn’t add up.

WEDNESDAY 23rd SEPTEMBER

First World problems only seem heavy…

Losing weight is not easy.

My scales told me I had added 8lbs overnight.

But it turned out one corner of the scales was resting on a piece of lino resulting in the scales over the course of the last week telling me I was 8lbs lighter than I actually was.

First world problems.

THURSDAY 24th SEPTEMBER

My cousin Muriel told me she doesn’t enjoy the months of November and December.

I rather like November/December because the weather gets worse. I don’t like hot weather and rather like dreich days – a result I suspect of impressionable childhood days living in a council estate on a hill in Aberdeen. If there ain’t a wind in yer face and rain coming down, it ain’t proper weather.

The best days in Edinburgh, my favourite city, are late winter days just after dusk with a sea mist drifting in and the air feeling wet.

I fear California is not for me.

FRIDAY 25th SEPTEMBER

At lunchtime, I passed the local McDonald’s – local to where I live.

Their cheap ice creams may have influenced my feet.

Crying McTear (Photo by Aliyah Jamous via UnSplash)

Sitting next to each other, outside on a wooden bench, were a young couple – male and female – maybe aged in their early twenties. Both were crying silently.

They sat next to each other, not opposite each other. They both looked ahead, not at each other, their heads tilted slightly downwards.

I will never know why they were crying.

Glimpses of other people’s lives.

SATURDAY 26th SEPTEMBER

I posted a new blog: a chat I had with promoter/constantly inventive ideas man Adam Wilder. As always, I had to cut out chunks to make it a readable length. This bit got chopped and dropped:


“Death of the world if we become humourless.”

ADAM: Comedy is something that unites the audience together, it can help people to relax.

We tend to take ourselves so seriously and it can be really hard to live when we do that.

We are not living in the most easy-going of times and I think it’s important to have a bit of playfulness. It’s the death of the world if we become humourless. And there are some movements to become humourless now.

I think comedians are like modern shamens, weaving a spell with the audience, taking us in with a ritual experience.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Samantha Hannah… A bad day in Australia and a trans-world romance

Next Up – it’s Samantha Hannah’s lockdown special show

Samantha Hannah got in touch with me in July to plug her newly online NextUp Comedy show – How To Find Happiness in a Year – it’s her 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show shot in her living room at home during the UK Coronavirus Lockdown with her partner as the sole member of the audience. NextUp had been going to film it on stage in front of a live audience until COVID-19 intervened.

But, when they saw her living room version, they snapped it up.

Hello. I thought. That’s interesting.

And also Samantha comes from Perth in Scotland. My mother was born in a village just outside Perth.

That’s interesting, I thought.

We met on 30th July in a pretty much deserted Covent Garden Piazza.

It was very interesting.

Three problems.

I have been lazy.

Lockdown Lethargy hit me.

And her back-story is so interesting, she is not getting much of a plug for her NextUp show here…


Samantha in a deserted Covent Garden…

SAMANTHA: I performed on the UK comedy circuit for about two years, about six nights a week. Then I gave up in 2009 for about seven years. Didn’t do any stand-up.

JOHN: You had always fancied being a stand-up?

SAMANTHA: Well, I studied Performing Arts at university then went more down a directing route – youth theatre, helping adults with learning difficulties… 

JOHN: Adults with learning difficulties? The comedy circuit…

SAMANTHA: (LAUGHS) No!

When I moved to London, I didn’t have the connections to do the work I’d done in Scotland, so I auditioned for A Christmas Carol at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town and did that for several weeks, but I always loved writing comedy sketches. I was writing them and putting them on the British Comedy Guide forum… Someone saw one of the sketches online and asked to film it.

The sketch never got filmed, but the director of A Christmas Carol asked: “Who was that guy you were meeting?” 

“Oh,” I said, “he does comedy.”

“You do comedy? Why don’t you put on a show here for the next six weeks after this run finishes?”

“…a space to do whatever I wanted…”

So I was basically given a space above the theatre to do whatever I wanted… I got a few people together and put on a show that was about 3½ hours long with so many acts and so many intervals and Aaron Barschak did like a full hour of stand-up at the very end.

It was a most bizarre experience but, because I did it for about six weeks, I met lots of actors. I wanted to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, but everyone dropped out, so then I did a stand-up course to meet other people to write and perform with.

Then I realised: Oh! You can just do it on your own! You don’t have to rely on anybody and people won’t drop out!

That’s basically how I got into comedy.

JOHN: But then, after two years, you gave up for seven years. Why?

SAMANTHA: I think I just got burnt out by the circuit. I was doing some 20-minuters and getting paid, but I wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t know why I was doing it. It just wasn’t giving me any joy.

And also I met someone who was also in the industry – never do that. He was a promoter.

I gave up comedy; we broke up; my brother passed away and I just went travelling. I went to Australia for a year. I worked in ski-fields in the middle of nowhere, worked at Madame Tussauds in Sydney, making wax hands…

A very hand-some figure at Madame Tussaud’s in Sydney

JOHN: What qualifications do you need to make wax hands?

SAMANTHA: I have no idea. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I was just doing what came along. I worked on a cattle farm in Queensland…

JOHN: You rode horses?

SAMANTHA: I was given a horse by the owners and they said: “We trust this horse with our 3-year-old, so you will be fine.” 

One day I was mustering cattle and the horse was getting really unhappy. At one point, we went over mud and the horse really didn’t like it, started bucking and threw me off. I landed on my head on a rock – luckily I had a helmet on. The helmet got dented and, obviously, I was quite dazed and confused.

All the farmers around were saying: “You’ve gotta get back on the horse and teach it a lesson!”

But I couldn’t, so one of the other farmers, she jumped on the back of the horse and rode it off and gave it a telling-off.

Later that same day, we had to go into the bull pen, sorting out the cows and bulls…

Samantha’s animal encounters were unlike this (Photo: David Clode via UnSplash)

JOHN: This sounds like a bad idea.

SAMANTHA: I was told: “You’re alright. The bulls are not going to go for you. You’re fine.”

But this one bull just locked eyes on me and started charging towards me.

You know about ‘fight or flight’?

I did nothing. I was just staring at it and the farmer was looking at me like: Why is this girl not doing anything? And, at the last moment, as it got to me, it suddenly swerved out of the way. So it was fine.

When we got back to the farm that day, the mum took my dented helmet and was going to separate the sun visor from it… But, as she took it apart, she saw that, inside the helmet was a redback nest with a redback in it – a very poisonous spider – the Australian black widow. If I had been bitten by the spider, I probably wouldn’t have known because I was so dazed by hitting my head on the rock.

JOHN: An eventful day…

SAMANTHA: And then, a couple of days later, an eastern brown – one of the deadliest snakes in the world – came into the house and got behind the TV set.

JOHN: I’ve never really fancied going to Australia. New Zealand, yes.

SAMANTHA: My mother and father came over to visit me in Australia and wanted to go to New Zealand, so we went there. After they left, I stayed on and worked there in Queenstown – another ski resort – and lived in Glenorchy with an old man and an unrelated 7-year-old child. We watched Lord of the Rings. Then I decided to move up to Wellington and to write a show about trying to find a husband in a year.

I posted a Tinder profile…

…and I started to say Yes to EVERYone who replied. 

JOHN: New Zealand is a relatively small country.

SAMANTHA: Several times I ran out of matches. You could only do 100 every 12 hours.

JOHN: How many did you do? 400?

SAMANTHA: Oh, there were more than that! I went on a few dates. A few nice guys. And then, the day I got to Wellington, I was getting a bit sick of it. But the next morning, when I woke up, I’d had a Match with someone called Toby…

He was a New Zealander in London, doing his own experiment, trying to understand the algorithms and he thought he probably wanted to move back to New Zealand. He had thought: I’ll set it to New Zealand and see what happens. So he set it to Wellington.

He was in London, really near to where I used to live. And I was in Wellington, literally one stop away from where he used to go to university.

Samantha’s pic on Tinder. She liked melons.

We started Messaging. He was a data scientist. I asked if he could do an analytics report to see if we were a good match. He put all our messages into Excel and looked for commonly-used words and sentiments. I was going to use the results as part of my show.

JOHN: Were you a good match?

SAMANTHA: We had our first phone call when I was quite drunk and, when I woke up the next day, didn’t really remember it but, because he had Uber Eats for Wellington, he used it to send me breakfast. And that was it. He was clearly the person for me. I met his parents before I met him.

Six weeks after the first message, I flew back to the UK to meet him. I arrived about 05.00am in the morning after a 38-hour flight… and he wasn’t there.

Then he turned up with a bottle of Copella apple juice in hand, because I had kept telling him how much I liked Copella apple juice. And we decided: “Right! Let’s go on our first date!”

JOHN: How did you decide what sort of date it would be?

SAMANTHA: It was six o’clock in the morning. I needed food and to go to sleep. But it was still a bit nerve-wracking. Imagine if you flew 12,000 miles to meet someone and…

Anyway, it was fine and we had a week together, then he went back to New Zealand for Christmas and I went up to Scotland.

In the New Year, we dithered a bit, because he was thinking about going back to New Zealand, But then he broke his leg in a ski-ing accident in France.

JOHN: You arranged this?

SAMANTHA: I wasn’t there! But, when he came back to the UK, he was very ill. He had picked up a bug. I was nursing him back to health and we just decided, because he couldn’t run away with a broken leg, we would go for it.

“…I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber…”

JOHN: And you wrote the show…

SAMANTHA: Yes. How to Find a Husband in a Year at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber at 11.00am in the morning. I wasn’t even in the Fringe Programme. Then my second show, in 2019, was How To Find Happiness in a Year.

JOHN: Which is your NextUp show… But the Rule of Three. There has to be a third How To show…Were you preparing it as your 2020 Edinburgh show before coronavirus hit?

SAMANTHA: Yes: How To Win At Life.

JOHN: Edinburgh in 2021?

SAMANTHA: I hope so.

All’s Well That Ends Well… The happy couple – Samantha Hannah and Toby – at home in London

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 30 – Edinburgh minus the Fringe and a tooth

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 29

SUNDAY 9th AUGUST

In the age of coronavirus and no Edinburgh Fringe, hyphenate Peter Stanford – more than just a Henry VIII lookalike – has been far from quiet…


Peter Stanford performs his one-off 2020 non-Edinburgh Fringe show “Only 534 Miles Out”

Yesterday, I was in a theatre-above-a-pub with a gang of socially distancing people, some of whom I knew, but most of whom I didn’t. We were debating the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, and whether anything would take place. So I jumped up to the stage, and announced to the crowd that I was about to give a performance on the Fringe, but socially distant – 534 miles distant to be precise.

I gave them a ten minute routine about why I hate Agatha Christie, with a few topical jokes about the Arts events which lockdown had prevented me doing or seeing this year and then asked if anyone else wanted to join my off-Fringe show. 

No-one did, so it was just me. 


Peter also shocked me by saying the famous movie line from Carry On Cleo – “Infamy, Infamy. They’ve all got it in for me” – was not written by scriptwriter Talbot Rothwell but nicked (with their permission) from a Frank Muir & Denis Norden BBC radio script for Take It From Here.

Which, indeed, it was.

I have still not recovered from the shock.

Homeless and faceless in a heatwave, 2020

MONDAY 10th AUGUST

I passed a homeless man asleep under an arch in the current heatwave in London.

I passed him by.

About half an hour later, I passed him again and this time I took a photograph of him on my phone.

I felt embarrassed that I took a picture of him.

Although without an identifiable face.

I still don’t know if it was a morally bad thing to do.

I suspect it was.

And to post it here.

… 34 questions asked before you give blood …

TUESDAY 11th AUGUST

I was supposed to be donating blood next Wednesday.

But, beforehand, they send you a long list of questions you have to say Yes on No to, including Since your last donation, have you had any hospital investigations, tests, operations or alternative therapies?

As I was in hospital for a week in May, I had to say Yes to this. I phoned up to check if this meant I could not give blood and, indeed it did.

So my blood donoring on 19th August is cancelled and I can’t give blood again until I am discharged as an outpatient by the Kidney Man. I am booked-in to see him on 19th October.

Inconsequential to you, perhaps; means more to me.

My apologies.

WEDNESDAY 12th AUGUST

I am going to have a few weeks of just blocking totally paranoid Facebook Friend posters and commenters. The coronavirus seems to have stimulated latent lunacy. Life is too short. Well, it is at my age. With Friends like these, I need enemas.

Sara Mason – once seen, never forgotten

THURSDAY 13th AUGUST

The standard of online scams and spam is falling. I got this today: a Comment by someone called ewidencja lokali na sprzedażon about my 2018 blog headlined Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

The comment read:


Actually still cannot quite assume that I could always be one of those studying the important tips found on your web blog. My family and I are truly thankful for your generosity and for offering me the chance to pursue my personal chosen profession path. Thank you for the important information I obtained from your blog.


This seemed an unlikely comment on Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”? All the moreso when I put ewidencja lokali na sprzedaż into Google Translate and it came up as Polish for “register of premises for sale”.

There is nothing like good marketing and that was nothing like… etc etc.


You can’t beat a good bit of symbolism in marketing…

FRIDAY 14th AUGUST

As a sign that my blog is read somewhere other than by my loyal reader in Guatemala, I received an email headed New council scheme in Hertsmere from a company called Yes Energy Solutions. They know about delivering good marketing… Their message read:


Hello John,

I came across your local blog and thought you may be interested in a scheme that is running in Hertsmere designed to help people on low incomes get central heating and gas connections for free.

We are managing the scheme on behalf of the council – the full press release can be found here – https://www.hertsmere.gov.uk/News/Articles/August-2020/Free-central-heating-available-for-those-in-fuel-poverty.aspx

Let me know if you would like any further information.

Many thanks,

Adam Lewis
Marketing Administrator
YES Energy Solutions


Full marks to Adam Lewis – and a gold star – for spotting that my blog is local and that I may be living in fuel poverty. Sadly, I already have radiators and gas central heating, but I have forwarded the info to my reader in Guatemala. So far, no comeback. He does not live in Hertsmere so is not immediately eligible, but he may have thoughts of moving here. Who knows what the future holds?

SATURDAY 15th AUGUST

I got an easyJet flight from Stansted to Edinburgh to see what the Edinburgh Fringe looked like without the Edinburgh Fringe. The flight was cheaper than either a train or an overnight National Express coach. Also the latter involved wearing a mask for about eleven hours each way. The easyJet flight involved a mask for about an hour each way. (The outward journey was 55 minutes.)

55 masked minutes for a different type of Edinburgh flyerer

National Express are very carefully socially distancing their masked passengers. To my surprise, the easyJet plane was totally full – as far as I could see, every seat was taken: three seats on both sides of the aisle. Packed like sardines.

After I arrived in Edinburgh (It would have seemed perverse to try this before I arrived), I walked up the Blackford Hill, as I do every year, to see the panorama.

Edinburgh from the Blackford Hill. It is worth the climb up… even at my increasingly advanced age.

This time, I felt my age. It was exhausting.

Halfway up, a group of seven teenagers were dancing to rave music on an mp3 player.

In town – a Saturday night – there were lots of 1960s long black fake eyelashes on Essex-type, skimpily-dressed teenage girls in teenage and twenties mixed-sex groups. Obviously, there was no social distancing in these groups of 5 or 7 or 10 yoofs, because they feel they are immune to the coronavirus.

I bought a packet of chocolate-covered ginger biscuits.

Very tasty, but I had a big falling-out with them on Saturday night in my Edinburgh hotel…

One of my teeth came out. A cap – a crown – on an already dead tooth.

I felt my age.

Again.

Argghh!!

A picture of me – sans teeth, sans eyes, sans good taste, sans, well, pretty much everything…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kevin McGeary on writing satiric Chinese-language comedy songs

I talked to musical performer and writer Kevin McGeary about how and why he came to “write controversial songs in the world’s largest authoritarian state” (his own turn-of-phrase). 

He got in touch with me because he had read my blog chat last November with Kunt & The Gang.

Coronavirus conversations via Skype are becoming the norm. He was self-isolated in his flat in Manchester while I was self-isolated at my home in Borehamwood.

Kevin McGeary talked to me from Manchester via Skype


JOHN: In the last two weeks, you’ve  released an English-language album TMItastic and a  Chinese language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure), both humorous. How are they different?

KEVIN: My English comedy songs are often foul-mouthed and use a lot of swear words, though not to the extent of Kunt & The Gang. My Chinese songs tend to be offensive in a different way: they satirise Chinese culture and society. The Chinese ones are PG-friendly. They are not sweary; they are more satirical. They satirise aspects of society like wealthy men who keep mistresses. There are entire villages in China where pretty-much everybody is a ‘kept’ woman.

JOHN: Presumably you could not sing these Chinese songs in China… The authorities would take exception to them.

KEVIN: Well, my initial wave of creativity in writing Chinese songs came just before Xi Jinping took over as President. Under him, censorship of the media and the blocking of websites has got a lot stricter. But I used to busk in China; I used to perform on the streets singing my songs in Mandarin and people were very friendly.

JOHN: Are there loads of buskers in China?

KEVIN: No, not at all.

JOHN: So you must have been stopped, surely. They have Party people on every block, don’t they?

KEVIN: Urban administrators, yes. But they’re not really very powerful and they’re only there to stop violence or actual crime. I wasn’t committing a crime and I got away with it because my stuff was so off the wall. 

Kevin McGeary busking in Shenzhen (Photograph by Jesse Warren for China Daily)

JOHN: You were in China for…

KEVIN: …for eleven years. The first 3½  years, I was teaching English. I studied the language very hard, so I was conversant within a year and could read a newspaper within two years. 

The second year, I lived in a small city in the middle of the country in Hunan Province – the equivalent of living in Arkansas or Oklahoma.

The only form of entertainment, really, was karaoke: I went almost every night and that’s where my Chinese songwriting grew.

JOHN: And, after you finished teaching English…

KEVIN: I worked on a  newspaper for two years – the Shenzhen Daily. Then I left China, but I missed it, so I went back 2014-2018, working for a massive Chinese company Midea who make home appliances.

Kevin McGeary on GuangdongTelevision

JOHN: Not a creative, artistic job, then…?

KEVIN: Same as Kunt & The Gang, I don’t expect to monetise my creative work, so I need a steady job that gives me the material basis to be creative. You can’t be creative if you don’t have a roof over your head and clothes on your back.

I started writing Chinese-language songs in November 2008 and, in February 2012, it just suddenly struck me to start writing comedy songs.

When I started writing songs in Chinese, I had only been learning the language for 18 months, so my pronunciation was not perfect and also the novelty of having a white person singing in Chinese meant most people were just laughing at my attempts. After a while, I realised I had to turn this weakness into a strength. If people are laughing at my attempts, I might as well try to make people laugh. That’s how it started.

JOHN: Is satire a good idea in China?

KEVIN: Well, people are more open-minded than you would imagine. There was a feature in China Daily about my songwriting; I also performed and was interviewed on Chinese television.

JOHN: So being offensive is OK?

KEVIN: A lot of my stuff is beyond bad taste. It’s too silly to even be offensive.

JOHN: You don’t have any problem getting your music heard online in China?

KEVIN: I didn’t originally but, within a year of the Beijing Olympics – which was supposed to be China’s ‘coming out’ party – they blocked YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Back when blogging was big in the early 2010s I had quite a popular blog with a decent audience – tens of thousands of hits for a video – but now, with the internet being more heavily censored and pretty much all Western websites blocked in China – the New York Times, the BBC – it’s harder now to get my stuff heard. 

JOHN: So how do you get it heard? What sites do you put it on?

KEVIN: Youku and Tencent and QQ – Chinese-owned video-sharing sites which are the equivalents of YouTube. Youku is owned by Alibaba; QQ is owned by Tencent. They are not as censorious as some people might imagine. You can get almost anything on there unless it’s sexually explicit or violent.

JOHN: The Chinese love Yes Minister, don’t they? And that satirises bureaucracy. So there must be a liking for taking the piss out of your own system – though keeping low-key about it!

KEVIN: Definitely. I think Yes Minister was a vastly superior show to The Thick of It because, for a start, the characters are a lot more likeable… and there’s a lot more subtlety. When the Chinese criticise the regime, they tend to be very subtle about it.

For example, when the #MeToo movement broke in 2017, all internet posts with the Mandarin phrase for ‘Me too’ – ‘I also am’ – were censored. So the way to get any subversive message across was to use the image of a bowl of rice and the image of a rabbit. Because (in Chinese) ‘mee’ is the word for rice and ‘to’ is the word for rabbit. So ‘mee-to’ sounds very similar to the English expression. If you do that, you are not breaking the law.

JOHN: Very subtle.

KEVIN: Yes, images of Winnie the Pooh were banned because there was this paranoia he looked like Xi Jinping.

JOHN: In a sense, you must have had to change your ‘self’ to live in China. What terrible Western habits did you have to drop?

KEVIN: There is a lot more subtlety to the way people communicate in China. In a country like America or Australia, where people came from different parts of the world and they grew as a nation state in a very short time, the only way to get by was to be very direct. But, in China, a much larger percentage of communication is unspoken. So much is about context and reading between the lines. Criticising people as individuals is generally very taboo in China.

JOHN: Are you worried one night there is going to be a knock on your door and a Chinese man will be saying: “We have been reading and listening to your work in Beijing…”?

… CONTINUED HERE

… There is a taster for Kevin’s Chinese-language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure) online…

… There is a YouTube playlist for the album HERE

… AND THERE IS A TOTALLY UNEDITED AUDIO VERSION OF MY CHAT WITH KEVIN ON THE PODBEAN WEBSITE HERE.
IT RUNS 42 MINUTES.

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