Tag Archives: comedy

Cunning comic Becky Fury, banned by Facebook, is to go into sexy wrestling

Becky Fury was at Mama Biashara last night

Yesterday’s blog was partly about the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award given at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Last night, I saw last year’s award-winner, Becky Fury, preview her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show at Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara emporium in London.

Becky has been having a run of bad luck.

About a week ago, in the course of one day, she lost both her Edinburgh Fringe venue and her Edinburgh accommodation. And, when I saw her last night, she had just finished a 24-hour ban by Facebook. She remains unbowed, though, and has plans for making money in wrestling.

Everything was settled for her Edinburgh Fringe show Molotov Cocktail Party – including her paying the exorbitant fee to be listed in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. She was due to perform at the exotically-named Bar Bados Complex which, apparently, is the new name for the Cowgatehead building, a legendarily cursed comedy venue at the Fringe.

Becky’s expensive but now incorrect Edinburgh Fringe listing

But, around a week ago, well after the Fringe Programme was published, the Fire Brigade refused to allow two rooms in the venue to be used for performance and Becky was moved to another new venue in a different location though mercifully at the same time – 10.45pm – 6th-26th August. The new venue, the Black Market, beside Waverley Station, was still being built when last heard-of.

Simultaneous with her venue loss, she lost her free accommodation in Edinburgh but was able to get some temporary accommodation for the first few days of the Fringe.

It never rains but it pours.

Particularly in Edinburgh.

“And,” I said to her last night, you have just been banned from Facebook for 24 hours. How did you manage that?”

Becky’s temporarily-banned non-cummunity standard Facebook

“Two jokes I wrote,” she explained, “included the word ‘Paki’. So I am on my third warning from Facebook. If I say anything else that ‘does not adhere to Facebook community standards’, the Facebook Thought Police will come, detain me, detonate my profile and ‘disappear’ me.”

“What were the objectionable jokes on your Facebook page?” I asked.

“The first joke was about genuinely meeting a racist at a train station who was talking about the three ‘P’s – Poles, Pakis and Paddies.”

“So,” I checked, “what got you into trouble was the reported speech of another person which happened in a real situation?”

“Yes. The joke was that I said I agreed with ‘no platforming’ so I pushed him off the platform under a train. That was the joke.”

“So,” I checked again, “Facebook had no objection to you saying you pushed a man under a train but they did object to the fact that, in objecting to his racism, you quoted him using the word ‘Paki’?”

“Yes,” said Becky. “That got me a ‘First Warning’. This second time, I got banned for 24 hours because there was a discussion around Daniel Kitson’s use of the word ‘Paki’ in his show and I don’t like the other politically correct words like PoC or BAME so I suggested we might compromise and use the word Poci instead. I was agreeing with the idea of political correctness but I got banned because, again, the word ‘Paki’ was in there.”

“So what’s next after Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Wrestling,” she replied.

“Wrestling what?” I asked.

“Probably existential questions.”

Wrestling with existential questions?

“Fury is a good name for a wrestler,” I said.

“I’m not sure,” she replied, “if it’s a good idea for my actual, real name to go up on the internet and be immortalised as a sexy wrestler. So I am going to be Minerva, the goddess of war.”

“What sort of wrestling?” I asked.

“I’m going to be a sexy wrestler…a bikini wrestler.”

“In front of crowds in stadia?”

“No. Mostly one-on-one.”

“Wrestling men or women?” I asked.

“I don’t mind. It’s obviously mainly men, because they are…”

“Stupid?” I suggested.

“Stupid perverts,” Becky laughed. “Yeah.”

“Define one-to-one wrestling,” I said.

“It’s wrestling with a guy – usually a guy – for money. That makes it sound like marriage, I suppose. But you basically play-fight with them for an hour and they pay you for it and you wear a bikini.”

“What do they wear?” I asked.

“Usually a teeshirt and a pair of shorts. Them wearing clothes is a pre-requisite. You are alone in the room with them. They could just attack you in that situation and fuck you. But there is always someone else in the building.”

Becky wants to get a head in wrestling

“How much?” I asked.

“£150 a session. There’s about three different centres in London do it.”

“If it’s wrestling,” I said, “it’s a competition. Someone must win.”

“Usually the woman wins,” said Becky. “As always in Life.”

“This is not really wrestling,” I suggested. “It’s hugging and stroking.”

“There’s no fondling going on,” replied Becky. “It’s sensual, semi-competitive wrestling.”

“Where does the ‘semi’ come into it?” I asked.

“I don’t want to think about that.”

“Why do they pay to do it?” I asked.

“I think part of what’s going on is that these guys are submissive, so they normally have a control issue in their life. They are normally guys who are in control, maybe OCD, very obsessive-compulsive. What they like is that, in the ring, they have to maintain control over their own lustful desires while you are asserting yourself over them. So it’s like very, very light BDSM.”

“It’s in a wrestling ring?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Why have a proper ring?”

Becky with her 2016 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

“It’s the theatricality of it. Makes it more fun.”

“With most theatrical experiences, there’s a build-up, development and a climax,” I prompted.

“There’s no happy endings,” said Becky. “It’s about maintaining a level of eroticism.”

“You seem to know a lot about it.”

“I did it for a couple of months a few years ago, but I’m a lot stronger now. I’ve been doing loads of yoga and going to the gym. If you’re not strong enough, they don’t want to wrestle you. They don’t put up a great deal of resistance, but you do need to give them a proper fight. The women fighting women are really going for it, though. You really have to fight, until you get your arm ripped off by some psychotic Ukrainian.”

“Women fighting women?” I asked.

“If you just want to go and watch girls wrestle each other competitively,” said Becky, “that goes on for a few hours, so that might cost £70 for a ticket.”

“Are you going to do that as well?”

“Yeah. But they tend to be really hardcore Eastern European women, much more interested in beating-up other women for money than I am. It’s the women that I’m scared-of, not the men. I may get my arse kicked by some big fuck-off scary Russian female shot-putter. The men are little, weedy, runt-boy men.”

“When you were involved in it before, how old were the men?”

“Generally in their 40s.”

“Is it a fetish?”

“It’s just something people want to pay for. People pay for all sorts of nonsense. One time, I did a filming session. The guy was wearing a Santa Claus hat with a little white ball dangling on it and the woman was riding around on his back half the time. At the end, she got the hat and shoved it into his mouth and, when he took it out, he told us: I’ll be wearing this for Christmas dinner when I go and visit my family. People have got all sorts of really bizarre fantasies and, if they want to spend money realising them, they can.”

“What was Father Christmas wearing apart from his hat?”

“Shorts and a teeshirt.”

Becky Fury’s Molotov Cocktail Party show

“What is the attraction to you?”

“Money.”

“So, basically,  these people are like the Medicis to your struggling artist? Supporting the Arts with their cash.”

“Exactly. Because I can’t be bothered to fill-out Arts Council grant forms…” She paused. “I don’t know how this blog will come out. I don’t want to sound like a whore.”

“Would I do that to you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“No,” I tried to reassure her. “You will come out as a lover of eccentricity. A worthy Malcolm Hardee Award winner.”

“Well,” she said, “it’s just more fun than working in McDonalds, isn’t it?… And also you get to kick men in the testicles and not get sacked… again.”

“Will you be wrestling up in Edinburgh?” I asked.

“If anyone wants to wrestle me in Edinburgh,” she said, “it will be £200 – or mates’ rates, which will be £250.”

Becky also appeared in this 2016 music video

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How publicists can easily lose you an Edinburgh Fringe award nomination

Super Cally Fragile Lipstick go shoosh…?

In a blog last week, I mentioned that comic Cally Beaton has been publicising her Edinburgh Fringe debut solo show Super Cally Fragile Lipstick by saying her previous show Cat Call (with Catherine Brohart) “received a Malcolm Hardee Award” at  last year’s Fringe.

This sounded to me like the sort of admirable scam that should get her nominated for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

The story was picked-up yesterday by comedy industry website Chortle – as part of a list of false publicity claims by various performers – which reported re Cally that: “The press release for her delightfully named show Super Cally Fragile Lipstick boasts that she won the ‘Malcolm Hardee First Minute Award’, last year.

Today, Chortle has a piece which includes the suicidal lines:

“Comedian Cally Beaton also felt that she had ended up on the list through no fault of her own… Her publicist said they were told Beaton had won a ‘First Minute Award at the Malcolm Hardee Awards.”

The implication is that it was a misunderstanding rather than a blatant blag.

The publicity for Cally Beaton’s show

In fact, the publicity for her show this year, did not say she had won a First Minute Award (true) at all. It said: 

“Cally took her first show, Cat Call, to Edinburgh in 2016 with her comedy partner Catherine Bohart… where together they… received a Malcolm Hardee Award..”

Ironically, the publicist(s) have probably lost Cally a genuine Malcolm Hardee nomination.

I was strongly thinking of nominating her for a Cunning Stunt Award this year – the irony of pretending she had won a Malcolm Hardee Award actually getting her a Malcolm Hardee Award being an added bonus.

If the story now is it was all a tragic mistake rather than a wholly intentional piece of blagging then, obviously, it can’t be a cunning stunt.

To say she (or they) won a First Minute Award last year is true.

To say it was a Malcolm Hardee First Minute Award is stretching the truth beyond the facts (it was presented immediately before the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show started and was unconnected to the increasingly prestigious Awards themselves).

One of the increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Awards

To say Cally actually won a Malcolm Hardee Award (totally untrue) is worthy of getting her nominated for or even winning a real Malcolm Hardee Award.

Sadly, by saying the 2016 award-claim was some sort of misunderstanding rather than a clever scam, the publicists have probably lost her an award nomination.

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Arthur Smith: the singing comedian is obsessed with an amateur boxer-poet

Arthur Smith is singing as the dead Leonard Cohen – again

Comic Arthur Smith, an Edinburgh Fringe regular spanning two centuries, is only going up for three days this year, to perform his legendary Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen show – re-titled Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen – The Final Tribute.

“Why did you originally decide to sing Leonard Cohen anyway?” I asked him.

“Because,” he explained, “my play An Evening With Gary Lineker was running in the West End so it didn’t really matter what the fuck I did. So I did a show called Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams. You know what it’s like. You have to pick a title in March for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I had no intention of singing Andy Williams songs. It was a title I picked because it just seemed stupid.

“I am old school, I don’t actually write my shows until… Well, it got to about a month before Edinburgh and I thought: What the fuck am I actually going to do in this show?… Well, I’ve got Tony Hawks on the piano, so I might as well actually try to do a couple of Andy Williams songs. But then I got very interested in this bloke… I think of him as a bit like Malcolm Hardee in a way. He was a footnote in history. A character called Arthur Cravan. He was the nephew of Oscar Wilde, though he never met him.”

Arthur Cravan. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about… not being talked about,” said his uncle.

“Was he Irish?” I asked.

“It’s hard to tell,” Arthur shrugged. “He was brought up in Switzerland. Then he lived in Berlin, then he moved to Paris, where he started selling his art magazine Maintenant! and became notorious for slagging everyone off. Then he was a boxer and won the French Amateur Boxing Championship and used to parade around the ring – long before Muhammed Ali – saying: This guy’s a wanker!

“He was also a thief. There were so many stories about him. Then the First World War started and he fled to America. He met Trotsky on the boat over to America. Once over there, he was invited to give a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art or somewhere about this new weird thing Dadaism. But he came on and he was drunk and he took his trousers down and had a piss on the table and got arrested. This was deemed by the Dadaists to have been a great success. He really was like an early Malcolm Hardee. He then supposedly went hitch-hiking round Canada dressed as a woman.”

“I presume,” I said, “he did this for no reason at all?”

“Never stood a fucking chance”

“Well, I think he was escaping. He was usually escaping from something. He then married a woman, a poet called Mina Loy and went to Mexico. Mina Loy, who was pregnant by then, was going to join him, but then he disappeared. It was thought that he got on a boat and it sank, but it was never really known – which, of course, is a great way to go – people not really knowing if you have gone. He was spotted here-and-there ever after. Oh! – And in 1916 in Barcelona he fought the then just finished World Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, the first black champion who had been pretty-much exiled from America for going out with white women. There’s little bit of film of him boxing on the internet.”

“How did he fare?” I asked.

“He never stood a fucking chance against Jack Johnson. But they were both just trying to make some money. He famously had huge bollocks.”

“Like Malcolm,” I said.

“There were just loads of stories about him,” Arthur continued. “Like Malcolm. He really is this sort of mythical footnote in history.”

“And they both died by drowning,” I said.

“Yeah. Possibly. He was only in his 30s when he died. If he died. He was a ludicrous figure. I did a thing about him on BBC Radio 3 a while back.”

“What has this to do with Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams?” I asked.

“Ludicrous… We only charged something like 20p to get in”

“Ah yes!” laughed Arthur. “I got obsessed with Arthur Cravan and I went to an exhibition about him in Paris, at which point I decided to make the Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams show about Arthur Cravan, punctuated by Andy Williams songs. I had this whole thing about Was Andy Williams really Arthur Cravan? It was the most ludicrous show. We only charged something like 20p to get in. You were offered your money back on the way out. We had a gala performance that cost something like £50 – for TV executives on expenses. I started the show talking about Arthur Cravan. People wondered what was going on. Then I suddenly started singing Moon River. I had Andy Smart as a plant in the audience and we had a fight during the show.”

“Did you impersonate Andy Williams’ voice?” I asked.

“As far as I can,” said Arthur. “And I had a bear that came on. Do you remember Andy Williams used to have a bear come on in his TV shows?”

“It seems to have slipped my mind,” I said.

“I conceived…” said Arthur, “I was going to do three Arthur Smith Sings… shows. I picked Leonard Cohen as a follow-up to Andy Williams because it just sounded so boring: Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen.

“So what has happened to the third Arthur Smith Sings… show?”

“I have a few in mind. Maybe Arthur Smith Sings The Supremes or Arthur Smith Sings Serge Gainsbourg or Arthur Smith Sings Little Mix. You pick the title for being funny before you worry about what’s in it.”

Arthur Smith Sings Harry Styles?” I suggested.

“Or Arthur Smith Sings Alan Bennett,” mused Arthur. “I dunno. I don’t thing he’s done a lot of singing.”

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Feeling slightly happier with attractive comic, actor, conman Nathan Cassidy.

Nathan Cassidy: a man hungry for publicity

I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards – for the most cunning publicity stunt to publicise a performer or show at the annual Edinburgh Fringe.

My last blog was about cunning stunts and people being origami-like with the truth in publicity for their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. You can make up your own mind whether what follows is along the same lines or not.

When I talked to comedian Nathan Cassidy in a Haggerston cafe, he told me he had just been asked to audition for Puppetry of the Penis, the globe-trotting performance group who specialise in penile origami.

“I suppose it’s a different type of stand-up,” I mused. “Why are we meeting?”

“I want to ask you to be a judge,” Nathan told me. “The Rat Pack are producing this show in Edinburgh: The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final.”

Is this just leading me towards an empty room?

He put a poster for it on the table. It said: Cassidy is an attractive man (Fringe Guru 2012).

“Did you make that up?” I asked.

“Of course I didn’t make it up!”

At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, Nathan was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

“And is this bit true?” I asked. “Thousands entered. 6 MCs survived. £5,000 cash prize. Plus an amazing headline act.

“We have scoured the world,” Nathan told me. “As all comedy competitions do. The world. The whole world.”

“Qatar?” I asked.

“Yes, the Rat Pack have been there.”

“Syria?” I asked.

“Yes, everywhere. We have a spare slot on the judging panel. Are you free? Steve Bennett of Chortle has pencilled himself in. £5,000 cash prize. Thousands of auditions and this is the Grand Final. We can’t reveal the line-up at this stage.”

“How,” I asked, “do you prove you’re a good MC in a final? Will there be a physical line-up? Will they stand there and say: And now… some fake act who isn’t there?”

Comic Jo Burke, slightly happier with Nathan Cassidy in 2015

“There are no fake acts,” said Nathan. “It’s just the MCs. The MCs will introduce each other. They have 5-7 minutes each. I will introduce the first MC and then they introduce each other.”

“Who,” I asked, “does the last MC introduce?”

“There is not a last MC,” explained Nathan. “Read the poster. There is an amazing headline act.”

“So you are the headline act?” I asked, sceptically.

“No, I’m the MC. And we have one gap on the judging panel on 14th August. Are you free?”

(After consulting my Fringe Diary) “I can move things around a bit and do it,” I said. “So Steve Bennett is pencilled in? I think he is having building work done on his house. Turning it into a replica of Citizen Kane’s Xanadu.”

“Where does he live?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not grassing him up,” I said.

“There is,” said Nathan, “a quote from Steve Bennett on my other show’s poster: Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena.

Nathan Cassidy’s sold-out O2 gigs on right

He put it on the table.

I read: The entire second row is pissed… and there are only two rows (Steve Bennett, Chortle)

“What do you think of this other quote?” Nathan asked me. “Having seen Bill Hicks, I can honestly say he’s as good as him. It’s an official quote from the Buxton Fringe.

“Did you write it yourself?” I asked.

“No! That’s what everyone thinks. It’s buxtonfringe.org.uk – The Buxton Fringe sends out about ten reviewers to review all the shows. It’s a real quote. But I want a better quote I can use. AS GOOD AS Bill Hicks doesn’t really do it for me.”

“This poster,” I said, “says the show is sold out on 14th August, but you’re not doing it on the 14th – You’re doing the MC Awards.”

“No, it’s sold out,” said Nathan. “There are other dates still available.”

“You appear to have sold out the O2 Arena in October and November,” I observed.

“Well, I’m doing the O2 Arena on 4th November, as you know.”

“Do I? Which bit of it? The main auditorium?”

“Yes. Yes.”

“Are you going to fill it? I got free tickets to see Rod Stewart because he couldn’t fill it. How much are you paying for it?”

“I can’t divulge that.”

“So this is another Cunning Stunt?”

“Of course not.”

Nathan’s 2017 was even more sold out in 2016

At the Edinburgh Fringe in August last year, Nathan put up a poster for a fake tour – Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena – with all the dates sold out throughout October/November 2017, except for a performance at the O2 Arena on 4th November 2017.

“People thought it was a fake show,” he told me, “but it was just pre-advertising for this year’s Fringe show… Bruce Dessau (comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge) covered it a couple of times but, when I asked if he wanted to come to the O2 show, he didn’t reply.”

“His loss, I’m sure,” I said. “So, basically, I am going to turn up at the Three Sisters to judge this MC Awards show and there will be an empty room as you attempt to win a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award…”

“No,” said Nathan. “It’s legitimate. The Rat Pack are spending £250 on a massive poster. We are not going to do that for nothing. It’s totally real. Genuinely, I swear on my… I swear on your life and Steve Bennett’s life that a £5,000 cash prize will be given to the winner on the day. I am totally gimmick-free this year.”

“Is there more?” I asked.

“Is that not enough for you?”

“I would prefer £250 in a brown envelope,” I said.

“I am doing a third show in Edinburgh,” said Nathan, “but it’s a theatre show.”

Love & the winner of Sir Michael Caine’s Award

He put the flyer on the table. The title of the show is Nathan Cassidy: Watch This. Love Me. It’s Deep.

The headline pitch read: FOR THE PERFECT LOVE STORY YOU HAVE TO GO TO RIDICULOUS LENGTHS.

I turned over the flyer and read out loud:

“ONE-MAN THEATRE SHOW FROM THE WINNER OF THE SIR MICHAEL CAINE NEW WRITING AWARD.”

“Who won that?” I asked.

“Me,” said Nathan. “You are very sceptical, John. You think everything is a ruse to get you along to an empty room.”

“When did you win the Michael Caine Award?” I asked.

“About ten years ago now. I did theatre before I did stand-up. I won it for a play called A Cure For The Common Cold at the Leatherhead Theatre.”

“It says here,” I said, “that you have a distinctive stand-up style. What’s that?”

“Well,” replied Nathan, “last year Steve Bennet said: Nathan Cassidy will make you slightly happier for an hour or so… So I am ‘an attractive man’ who will ‘make you slightly happier’…”

“What’s the theatre show about?”

“Something happened in the last year which reminded me of a story that happened to me starting when I was 15 and it’s a perfect love story and it would not fit within stand-up but it would fit within theatre. People think that perfect love is impossible but I am telling you a true story from my life to show it is possible. There may be a happy or a sad ending; you will have to come to the show to see which.”

“You are very persistent,” I said.

Chubby had a female agent…

“In 2010,” said Nathan, “when I first did the Edinburgh Fringe, I performed to two ladies and Roy Chubby Brown’s agent. She never got back to me.”

“His agent was a she?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes. I first met Chubby Brown when I was 12 years-old. For a 12-year-old kid, it was fun. Do you remember his song He’s a Cunt?”

“Sadly not.”

“But those two ladies have come back every year to see me and, the last couple of years, they have even given out flyers for me.”

“Is that the smallest audience you have played to?”

“No. Once at Buxton Fringe, I performed to two people in a fridge. It had a capacity of three, so it was only two-thirds full. I was gutted I had not filled it.”

“What reaction did you get?”

“A standing ovation. They loved it. Admittedly there were no seats.”

The fridge story I believed. The Roy Chubby Brown story I believed. The Puppetry of the Penis story I believed. But I was unsure about the Michael Caine story.

I Googled it afterwards. There were pieces about it online. And a photo of a young Nathan Cassidy with Michael Caine.

Who knows what truth is at the Edinburgh Fringe or anywhere? I look forward to a tranquil night alone at the Three Sisters/Free Sisters venue at 7.45pm on 14th August.

The award-winning young Nathan with Sir Michael Caine

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How to edit your script and not be invisible at the Edinburgh Fringe (etc)

To be pompous… and, if I can’t be pompous here, then where can I be?…

If you fancy yourself as a wordsmith on stage or screen, my advice is to write as little dialogue as possible.

If your work of genius would work as well on radio as it would on stage or screen, then it needs visuals added.

Television is not radio.
Movies are not radio.
The stage is not radio.

That’s a big thing of mine.

If a script will work on radio, then it is probably a bad script for stage or TV/movie production.

Having said that, Johnny Speight and a lot of Galton & Simpson TV shows are all dialogue….

So what do I know?

One Foot in the Grave, though, has loads of visual gags. There’s a gag where the phone rings and Victor, asleep on a chair, sleepy, reaches down and picks up a small dog.

The tortoise episode has visual gags aplenty. There are loads of surreal visuals in Grave which don’t rely on spoken words.

And, of course, allegedly the British public’s most beloved and memorable TV comedy sequence is not Ronnie Barker’s “four candles” routine nor John Cleese’s ‘dead parrot’ routine but the visual gag from Only Fools and Horses.

Just because something ain’t got spoken words doesn’t mean it ain’t a good piece of scripting.

Clint Eastwood says he told Sergio Leone to cut acres of his character’s dialogue out of the original script of A Fistful of Dollars. He told Sergio: “I can do those two lines of dialogue by just one look”.

The 2mins 40secs pre-credits opening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West is brilliantly scripted but has only three short, totally inconsequential lines of dialogue.

So write a stage or screen script.

Then go through it and try to cut out as many words as you can because, if you can, they are unnecessary.

Then go through it again and try to cut out as many of the necessary words as you can and replace them with something visual.

If words can be cut out and the point made visually, that’s miles better – though, if it’s for a stage performance, the people at the back have to see it. So subtle eye movements may be invisible.

And I get SO annoyed when performers sit or lie on the floor in venues bigger than the ones they are used to.

It may have worked in some room above a pub with an audience of 5 but it don’t feckin’ work when you are sitting in the audience at the back of a non-tiered room with even only three rows of people seated in front of you. If the performer’s head is below the heads of the people sitting in the front row then the odds are that even the person sitting in row 4 can’t see it clearly if at all.

End of pomposity. Raises eyebrow. Slaps forehead. Says nothing.

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Lewis Schaffer and the unopened letters from his mother: “All women are crazy”

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his Leicester Square audience

The penultimate time I saw London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer, he was touting a show in a venue “near Leicester Square” in which the audience had to turn up at a corner of the square and be led to a highly secret venue.

When the audience assembled, he took them to the upstairs floor of a Burger King bar on the corner of the square, where he found a table and sat around chatting to them.

Now, in the lead-up to the Edinburgh Fringe, he is performing a new Monday night show in a more conventional venue – a room above a pub near London Bridge, an hour-and-a-half after his weekly Resonance FM Radio show which is transmitted live. His radio show is allegedly specifically for Americans living in Nunhead, London. But the guests are almost never American and rarely come from or have any link to Nunhead.

“Come along to the radio show and sit in the corner,” he told me. “You don’t have to say anything.”

Lucy Frederick with radio hosts Lisa Moyle and Lewis Schaffer

The actual guest on the radio show last Monday was comic Lucy Frederick, though he did ask me a couple of questions, introducing me as “the worst guest ever”.

In a pub after the radio show, he talked about his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Unopened Letters From My Mother

He has a whole batch of letters sent to him in London from his mother in New York over a ten year period. Each night, he will genuinely open a different sealed letter received from her which he has never read.

“Every woman that I know,” he told us in the pub, “has said their mother was insane, so it has given me the impression that maybe all mothers are insane.”

“I am not a parent,” said Lucy Frederick, “and I don’t really plan to be, but maybe maternal love almost drives you insane. The weight of my mother’s affection and love was quite a burden. Which sounds a dreadful thing to say, but I think living up to that was…”

“I have a feeling,” interrupted Lewis Schaffer, “that is what’s going to be in my mother’s letters. The burden of my mother’s love.”

“You’re riddled with guilt,” suggested Lucy. “Guilt and gratitude: two very heavy things.”

“These are letters,” I asked Lewis, “which you received after you came over here in 2000?”

“Yeah.”

“And she died when?”

“2011.”

“So why did you not open the letters?”

Lewis Schaffer’s unopened letters from his mother (He has since – long ago – changed his address)

“We don’t know why,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “There were six I did open. The first six. I looked in the envelopes to see if there was any money. I didn’t read the letters and just put them aside. After the first six, I didn’t open any of them. I thought: The chance of there being money in them is… But I didn’t want those letters to go to waste, so I kept them.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, we don’t know,” he replied.

“And why,” I asked, “for the first time in your life, are you using the word ‘We’?”

“I’m thinking for the show,” he explained. “We as an audience, and me, are going to find out.”

“But you have no idea why you have never read the letters?” I asked.

“I think I have an idea. I could give you an answer but, whether that would be the real answer… It’s been 17 years.”

“You have no idea,” I said, “what is in the letters. They might be very emotionally upsetting. What happens if, on the second night, you break down with paranoid fear of what’s going to be in tomorrow’s letter?”

“We don’t know,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You know, for the past two years I’ve sort-of wound down my comedy because, two years ago, I had a 5-star review at Edinburgh and, that year, I achieved all the goals I wanted to with comedy: which weren’t very much… To do a ‘regular’ type show and to have people appreciate it. And I acted in a play. And I also organised a tour with over 50 dates. After that, I felt: Why bother? Why do I need to continue? That’s what I’m really afraid of: that I don’t really have a desire to do stand-up comedy any more.”

That was what Lewis Schaffer said to us in the pub.

Lewis Schaffer kicks off a show every Monday

An hour later, in his weekly comedy show, upstairs in another pub, he told the audience:

“When I open the letters, people are going to cry – Moms or people with moms. We all have moms. I thought: People are going to cry and that is going to get me an award. The way you win a comedy award in Edinburgh is by making people cry. Heartfelt. I have to do this show now, because I promised to do it.

“I kind of know why I didn’t open the letters, but I don’t know what’s in the letters. My mother is dead. So I am thinking: How can this be funny? Does it mean I didn’t love my mother? Does it make me a bad person?”

A woman in the audience said: “Yes.”

“Does it?” said Lewis Schaffer. “I left my mother behind in New York. I have a sister. I’ve noticed this about daughters… they think their mothers are crazy.

“I would say all women are crazy. I got married late and the mother of my children threw me out. I’ve had a lot of dealings with women and I’ve noticed how crazy they are. My father would say to me: Your mother’s crazy, but that woman over there is not crazy. He said that because he wasn’t married to that woman over there. That’s when I started to think that all women are crazy. I don’t hear many people calling men crazy. They call them shits.

“At some point, you have to say that women are a different species from men and you have to learn to love them for what they are, otherwise you will be very unhappy. My father never understood that. He would say Your mother’s crazy so I grew up thinking my mother was literally crazy. But, when I look back at her now, based on the other women I’ve met in my life, she was just a normal woman. I didn’t open the letters because…”

Well, you will have to see the show.

As always with Lewis Schaffer shows, it will be different every night. With insight and an element of crazy.

Lewis Schaffer (Photograph by Garry Platt)

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25 Years of Shooting Comedians and the recent new devaluation of artistic talent

Rich Hardcastle has photographed comedians for 25 years.

Now he has a Kickstarter campaign to publish a large-format coffee-table book of 110 extraordinary photos and text: 25 Years of Shooting Comedians. Ricky Gervais has written a foreword for it and says: “Rich has a way of making even a rainy day spent standing in a muddy field look glamorous and important.”

Fellow photographer Idil Sukan recently wrote on Facebook about Rich Hardcastle:

“His photos of comedians are completely amazing. His work was the only reason I thought there was hope for the industry instead of just wacky head scratching photos of needy boys wearing red shirts. His photos are beautiful and touching and always stand out, always.

“He, like all of us comedy photographers, has done so much work under such high pressure circumstances, not always been paid at full rates, been messed around by producers, but regardless, consistently, always produced incredible work that supported comedians, sold tickets, made fans happy. The comedy photography industry really only opened up because of him, because he was taking risks and doing things differently.”

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Photograph: Rich Hardcastle)

Some comedians are in the National Portrait Gallery because of Rich Hardcastle – Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Phill Jupitus et al.

“25 years as a photographer,” I said to Rich when we met. “Ever since you were at Edinburgh College of Art. So you had decided back then you wanted to be a professional photographer?”

“Well, I wanted to photograph rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do Terry O’Neill type shots: beautifully-framed shots showing the real person behind the facade. This was back in the day when celebrity meant something.”

“But you didn’t,” I asked, “want to be an ad agency photographer shooting pack shots and well-lit plates of food?”

“No. though I’d love to be in advertising now, because of the money…”

“Of course,” I said.

“Though there is not,” he added, “as much as there used to be.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“No. There’s no real money in photography. In terms of me in comedy, I think I’m the Ramones. I’ve influenced loads of people. I started something, but I haven’t made any money from it and I don’t even have the revenue from T-shirt sales.”

“So why, 25 years ago,” I asked, “did you start shooting comedians and not rock stars?”

“They were there, they were easy to get to and I liked comedy. I love the comedy industry. They’ve been very good to me and a lot of my success has been through things that happened in the comedy industry.”

“Why a book now?” I asked.

Director Terry Gilliam, as photographed by Rich Hardcastle

“25 years. I was there for 25 years, documenting that world opening up. I want it to be a big, beautiful, important book. It’s a snapshot of a generation of British comedy.”

“Surely anyone,” I prompted, “can photograph comedians? You just get them to open their mouths and wave their hands about in a zany way.”

“But I wanted to photograph them like rock stars,” explained Rich. “To try to make them look cool.”

“So what did you decide to do instead of wacky comedy shots?”

“Photograph them like I would a musician or a movie star. Nice, cool portraits of people who happen to be comedians.”

“There must have been,” I suggested, “no money in photographing people who were, at that time, relative nonentities.”

“I was an art student when I started (in the early 1990s); then I started photographing other things – editorial stuff like GQ; but I kept photographing comedians – maybe 90% was not commissioned. I did it because I was interested. No, there was not really any money in it.”

“There’s little money in anything creative now,” I said. “It started with music being free, then books, then videos. People expect all the creative stuff to be free or dirt cheap.”

Greg Davies (Photo by Rich Hardcastle)

“I used to do posters for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,”  said Rich. “The greatest thing was when people would steal the posters because they were such lovely images. It changed around the time digital cameras took off and people were using almost snapshot photos of themselves. Russell Howard had a poster which was just him standing in a Vietnamese street market or sitting on a wall or something, obviously when he was on tour.

“Things changed around then. It looked like a bit of a movement, but it wasn’t. It was just someone’s tour manager taking a photo and thinking: Oh, we don’t have to pay a photographer to do this and you can take like 3,000 on one card – so one of ‘em’s going to be good. Phil Nichols said to me: The problem is what you do is now considered ‘Art’ and people now baulk at the idea of having to pay someone to come up with a concept and shoot it.”

I suggested: “Maybe all creative things are undervalued now. Everyone thinks they can write novels because they can type on their computer and self-publish a paperback book. And anyone can take a free photograph now because they have a smartphone.”

“This is the thing,” said Rich, “you can take 6,000 photos on your phone and print one up that might look good. But I can do it with one shot.”

“Everyone thinks they can be an artist,” I said.

“Yes,” Rich agreed. “The creative arts have been de-valued.”

“To create a music album,” I said, “you used to have to rent Abbey Road Studios for a month and pay George Martin to produce it. Now I can record something for free on GarageBand on my iPhone and upload it onto iTunes for people to hear worldwide.”

“In a way, though,” said Rich, “it’s quite nice because bands are finding the only way they can make money is to play live, which is what they are supposed to do and sort-of great. Rather than a manufactured pop band who have never actually played live selling out the O2…”

“But then,” I said, “anyone can write a novel, self-publish it and call themselves a novelist…”

“…And that devalues the word ‘novelist’,” agreed Rich. “Brooklyn Beckham is a ‘photographer’ and has a book out and a show.”

“Have you seen it and do you want to be quoted?” I asked.

Rich Hardcastle (Photo by Sarah M Lee)

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rich, “because, if he’s serious about wanting to be a photographer and he actually develops any talent over the years, then that’s fucked him. That book and that whole launch has fucked his career because people are going to think he’s a joke and real, creative people are not going to want to be associated with him. Which is a real shame.

“It’s like the Australian actor Guy Pearce. It has taken a long, long time for people to forget he was in Neighbours. Now it’s ‘Guy Pearce, Hollywood actor’ whereas, at the start of his career, it was ‘that guy who used to be in Neighbours’.”

Malcolm Hardee,” I told Rich, “used to say that any normal person who practises juggling for 10 hours a day, every day, for 3 years, can become a very good juggler. Because it’s a skill not a talent, but…”

“That’s what I hate about jugglers,” said Rich. “I think: You’re doing the same thing that every other juggler does. Yes, you are standing on a chair and the things you’re juggling are on fire, but you are still just juggling.”

“But,” I continued, “Malcolm said, without talent, you could practise forever and never became a great comedian because performing comedy has a large element of talent involved; it’s not just a skill… It’s the same with photography, I think. To be a great photographer, you need talent not just skill. It’s an art.”

“Yes,” said Rich. “You can take 3,000 photos on a camera and call yourself a photographer, but you are not. You’re just like a monkey taking 6,000 photos and one of them could be a good composition by accident.”

Stewart Lee, photographed by Rich Hardcastle

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