Tag Archives: comedy

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: The former John Fleming. 

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

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

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

JOHN: Sounds like online therapy.

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

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

JOHN: Do you have a couch to lie on?

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

JOHN: People might queue.

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

JOHN: Do you edit it?”

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

JOHN: Are the guests all comedians?

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: How?

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

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

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

AKIN: Part of what inspired…

JOHN: What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: Yeah.

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

JOHN: Yeah.

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Filed under Christianity, Comedy, Podcasts, Psychology, Religion

Comic Lynn Ruth’s Irish adventure, from passport control to birth control

Just over a week ago, Lynn Ruth Miller, the 84-year-old currently-globetrotting stand-up comic, blogged here about her trip to Prague. She is off to Berlin on Monday and has just returned from Dublin. Here she goes again…


Young chicken about to go out on the town…

So. I was in Dublin again. My trip ended in a blast of sunshine and alcohol. If my liver survives all this travel, I just might live to see 85.

My Irish adventure always begins with passport control. The last time I arrived in Dublin, the officer in charge looked at my passport and said, “You don’t LOOK 84,” and I said, “I would if I took off my clothes.”

The man who admitted me this time said he agreed with that officer and there was a spring to what is left of my step as I waltzed through that green door with nothing to declare except that I was a young chicken about to go out on Dublin town.

When I am in Dublin, I stay with an amazing family filled with geniuses who are actually fun. So it is that when I am there I get an education in how to cope with cyberspace.

Zak is the eldest of their three amazing boys, each of whom are going to remodel the world and bring peace and happiness to all of us on earth.

After two days with them, I had already learned how to create my own video blogs and set up a conversation on Reddit where I answered 36 questions and had 5.7k views and an 81 point rating just because I said nothing shocks me anymore. I did not add that this is because I don’t hear anything.

The matriarch of this gorgeous family is Lisa, a woman who really is not shocked by anything. That is her secret to bringing up three boisterous boys with amazingly perceptive and active minds and training a husband who is such an angel that he has to wear a larger suit jacket to hide his wings.

“Luca is now as tall as my first husband and far fonder of my crotch”

Lisa picked me up at the airport and I hurried to her home to change clothes and look glamorous. This is called comforting self-deception. I nurture it by never looking in a mirror. As soon as I entered the house, I was accosted by the family’s new puppy, Luca, who is now as tall as my first husband and far fonder of my crotch.

Three of the family – Lisa, Zak and Ken (the angel, remember?) – came to the show at Anseo, the wonderful comedy club where I headline each time I come into town.

The delightful thing about this show was that Jim Elliott from Washington DC had ASKED to host so he could see me again.

I made the audience laugh for about 45 minutes, which is an accomplishment in Dublin’s fair city because usually, after about 5 minutes, the audience is so drunk they are asleep or singing loudly in an off-colour manner. A dog loved the show and I got three barks and a tail wag from her.

On Thursday I began my run at The International, THE comedy place in Dublin for the past 16 years.

The interesting thing about this particular Thursday night audience was that there were only two couples from Dublin. Everyone else was from somewhere else and there was a preponderance of Americans: four from Lake Tahoe in California, three from Dallas, plus a group from Sweden and another couple from Vancouver.

That makes the comedy I do more challenging because I could not use either my Dublin or my London references because no-one would know what I was talking about. The funniest gaff was when headliner Damo Clark talked about putting a dummy in a baby’s mouth and the Americans thought he was stuffing in a stupid person into its mouth instead of a pacifier. God only knows what the Swedes thought.

I have also now learned how the Irish say goodbye. Evidently they do not. They just walk out as unobtrusively as they can. Very different from the Jews who stay at least an hour after they say good-bye explaining why they are leaving. (Lynn Ruth is Jewish.)

Lynn Ruth Miller sought romance on TV’s First Date series

Walking down George Street on the way to The International a woman stopped me and said, ”I KNOW you! First Date! – The nicest thing about dating at my age is that you don’t have to meet their parents.

I was in the Irish papers for appearing in that TV show.

My final night in Dublin was spent at The Comedy Crunch where we get free ice cream at the interval and by this time the weather was so warm that they probably got the last ice cream bars left in Ireland for the show.

The big issue that everyone was joking about and happy about was the Irish Abortion Referendum. Its passing did more than simply make it easier for women to terminate a pregnancy. It gave women renewed status.

All over Dublin, women’s comedy shows are springing up. Emily O’Callaghan has one series at The Meltdown Café that has an all-woman line-up and she said she got a lot of grief about that. Irish women are very, very funny. I heard several this trip and every one of them was top notch. For way too many years women have been totally left out of comedy line-ups. Perhaps now our time has come?

Next week, I will be performing in Berlin. I am hoping NOT to run into any swastikas or Jeremy Corbyn fans.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Ireland

There is much more to Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers than just surreal comedy

Having a hearty breakfast with Mr Twonkey

I met up with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey over breakfast to talk about his show Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein but, initially, we got sidetracked by the three gigs he recently played at the Prague Fringe – in the Museum of Alchemists.


JOHN: What is the museum like?

PAUL: It’s a lovely place. It’s got a lot of… not waxworks… fibreglass dummies of alchemists.

JOHN: I like Prague.

Mr Twonkey was a cover star at the Prague Fringe

PAUL: Oh, it’s a beautiful place. we always give money to the Infant Jesus of Prague. They change its clothes every day; it has different jackets and stuff. The more money we gave, the busier the show got. 

JOHN: Did he bleed more if you gave him more money?

PAUL: He doesn’t bleed, but he smiles. He is in a little glass box in a little church just over the Charles Bridge. He is small, but he has big fluffy coats and very flamboyant clothing. 

JOHN: It’s not a small statue of Liberace, is it?

PAUL: It does look like Liberace, but it’s Jesus. It’s one of those things like his eyes are following you round the room.

JOHN: His stigmata are following you round the room?

PAUL: Yeah. But the more money you give him, the more people come, you know?

JOHN: Anyway, you are performing your Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein at the Bill Murray venue in London next Thursday. Is that the same show you did in Brighton?

PAUL: Slightly but not totally different. It’s finding its feet. I have different terms for my shows now. The current show is an Arrival show. But I also do Gateway shows.

JOHN: What are they?

PAUL: A Gateway show is where you find a way in or a way out. With creative ideas, I find sometimes you get trapped. You get a formula for doing something and then, over time, that formula becomes stale, so you feel trapped by it. A Gateway show shows you don’t actually have to do it like that.

In another show, Mr Twonkey spent Christmas in the Jungle

You experiment with a new format and, if that works then, after that, you can have an Arrival show which I think is the most exciting type but it’s also potentially The End. In which case you need another Gateway show. Unless I have two Arrival shows, which is what I’m thinking.

I wonder if that’s possible.

JOHN: Maybe Liechtenstein will have a fire escape.

PAUL: Yeah. That would be great: if I could have two Arrival shows. 

JOHN: …and a fire escape show, like West Side Story.

PAUL: It makes sense in my head, but…

JOHN: So what you did before feels a bit stale to you now?

PAUL: Well, my first three shows – Twonkey’s Cottage, Twonkey’s Castle and Twonkey’s Kingdom – were like a trilogy and the idea was I was only going to do that. I was telling the story of the mythical character Twonkey. But the trouble was no-one understood what I was going on about; no-one was following the story. In some respects, you had to have seen the show before to fully understand the threads in the other show.

JOHN: What was the over-all narrative of the three shows?

PAUL: It was following the journey of Twonkey, who was an accountant… well, a dragon, really… Basically, a dragon who moved from a castle and got more and more powerful. He started off in a cottage, then had his own castle, then had his own kingdom. 

Mr Twonkey had a colourful and successful Blue Cadabra

Then I broke away. I killed Twonkey off after the third show. So the dragon died and I became Mr Twonkey. I became the essence of Twonkey. What I realised was that Twonkey was not a dragon but a state of mind. That freed it up. I had a Gateway show – Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra – which I had quite a bit of success with.

After that, I did a series of shows in that kind of formula…

JOHN: How many?

PAUL: Eh… How many were there?…Two?

JOHN: You’re not quite sure?

PAUL: No. I did Twonkey’s Private Restaurant, which was an extension of Cadabra. In Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, there was a log flume park. Then Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel was the one I got the Malcolm Hardee Award for. That was a Gateway show, because that was the first time I introduced the idea of an interwoven narrative throughout the over-all piece. 

I have carried on with that since and the new show – Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein – probably has the most clear narrative I’ve had.

JOHN: And you are doing that at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: Are you playing Fringe By The Sea in North Berwick while you’re up in Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, but not as Twonkey. I’m doing my band stuff. Paul Vickers and The Leg.

JOHN: Your band is active again?

PAUL: Yes. We are recording an album at the end of June.

Paul Vickers (right) and The Leg: part of a body parts boom

JOHN: Why are they called The Leg?

PAUL: There was a boom in Scotland of bands named after body parts. There was Wounded Knee; there was Withered Hand; and so there was The Leg. There was also Frightened Rabbit.

JOHN: That’s a body part?

PAUL: No. Not a body part. But it fits in somehow.

JOHN: Fringe By The Sea sounds good.

PAUL: Yes, an odd mix of acts. The Sugarhill Gang. Mica Paris. Lewis Schaffer, David Steel and Roy Hattersley.

JOHN: David Steel and Roy Hattersley? The politicians?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: They’re singing…?

PAUL: No. Sitting in chairs and speaking to people.

JOHN: Roy Hattersley should join your band.

PAUL: Well, he had the reputation of spitting a lot… on Spitting Image… My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: As a prop for your Twonkey show?

PAUL: She says it is. Though I haven’t got anything with a seagull in my act at the moment. 

Paul/Twonkey has been known to use occasional props

JOHN: She makes your props.

PAUL: Some, yes. And Grant Pringle makes the bigger ones.

JOHN: Is he related to the Pringles crisp dynasty?

PAUL: No. I think he is related to Pringle The Slayer.

JOHN: Who?

PAUL: Pringle The Slayer was a Borders Reiver. He had people locked up in a tower near Galashiels. I wrote a piece about Pringle The Slayer for Border Life magazine. I used to write for that. We interviewed David Steel for that too. Local interest. I also did Border X-Files, which was about  aliens and ghosts.

JOHN: That was a separate magazine from the one David Steel was in?

PAUL: No. It was all local interest. There was a lot of going to manor houses and talking to rich old ladies and there were photos of horses and green fields. It was the most successful thing we did after the music magazine failed. When BritPop deflated, the music magazine went down and we went into local publishing. But then the band took off and we were alright.

JOHN: What was the music magazine called?

PAUL: Sun Zoom Spark, named after a Captain Beefheart song.

JOHN: Ah. How are you enjoying your baked beans?

PAUL: They’re very nice.

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Surreal

In Prague, Lynn Ruth Miller, 84, re-evaluates why people become comics

Just over a month ago, I posted a blog about UK-based US comic Lynn Ruth Miller’s extraordinary up-coming world travels. Later this week, she is off for seven days work in Dublin.

She has just returned from nine days performing in the Czech Republic. This is (part of) what happened there.


I arrived in Prague and within minutes I had demolished a bottle of wine. It seems the city is fuelled on alcohol and dumplings… but who am I to judge?

My first comedy show was in Brno. 

Lynn Ruth Miller performed at the Velvet Comedy in Brno

I stayed the night in a huge apartment that automatically turned on lights whenever I stepped into the room and was filled with encouraging English sayings, like: You are what you want to beLife is for living… and Please do not put anything other than you know what in our toilets.

The city is filled with ex-pats who have come here to live because the cost of living is low, the people are friendly and the preponderance of alcohol soothes the ruffled mind. These people use beer to jump-start the day.

We returned to Prague the next day. I stayed in a very retro flat with all kinds of old-fashioned furniture and one ton of mosquitoes and spiders. I felt like a pin-cushion and scratched in very embarrassing places. 

The comedy show was at a hostel and the audience was thirsty for a laugh and Czech beer. The accepted routine is a large mug of local beer with a whisky chaser and two dumplings to line the tummy. The audience was from every corner of the globe including a former teacher from Boston who had taught in LA, Okinawa, then moved to Mexico, then Prague and now makes jewelry and does improv; a Japanese comedian from Tokyo; and a guy from Manchester who was the only one who got my jokes.

The next day I tried my hand at teaching a comedy workshop to five eager would-be comedians. I realized once again that people have to have a sense of funny and, if they do not, no matter what they say, it won’t get a laugh.

I learned a couple things about would-be comics however. They will fight to the finish to keep a bad joke. They cannot understand the concept of set-up > punch. It is more long diatribe and feeble ha-ha. And, if one friend laughed at one of their jokes once, they think it is sure to become a classic. I knocked off a bottle of wine and – believe me – I needed it.

After dinner, we went to a tapas place with the woman from LA who lived in Okinawa and Mexico and is now a Czech citizen. She has lived in Prague for 15 years and still cannot speak Czech. I am told it is the most difficult language in the world and it seems to ignore vowels. Another bottle of wine down the hatch and the evening was very sparkly… or what I remember of it.

An insight into the Czech sex psyche

We talked about the Czech attitude toward sex and equality. It seems women have always had to work and are on an equal basis with men when it comes to salary and promotion. The MeToo movement doesn’t really make sense to these people, mainly because Czech men do not come on to women.

I cannot figure out whether they do not make the first move because they are ashamed of their bodies or because they have no vowels.

Porn is a way of life here. It is their substitute for not getting any. They all watch it and that is why Czech people think they have excellent technique when in reality you have to be an accomplished gymnast to do what you see on film. I have given up the idea of finding a Czech lover. It is far too risky. I have osteoporosis.

My second comedy workshop was in a café. Four of my students showed up and I heard their attempts at a five minute set which was horrifying. We all worked together to try to help each other tighten up the diatribes they had created and I hope I am not deceiving myself when I say I think we made progress.

This has made me evaluate why people become stand-ups. I am convinced we are all misfits who have never been able to make ourselves heard in conventional areas of life. Humor is a great facilitators and when we manage to make our buddies laugh we think: “Well, I’ve fucked-up everything else, maybe my real talent is doing stand up.”

It never occurs to people that stand-up is an art and has to be continually revised and re-evaluated to be effective.

I suspect that is why so many people start off in this very challenging and demanding career like an atomic explosion and then peter-out when they realize that getting laughs involves work.

The reality is that finding venues to PUT those laughs in is a boring grind. I was talking to one very enthusiastic new comedian who said: “It is the journey I love, even more than the success.”

Hopefully she will not mind the pitfalls, roadblocks and road crashes. Those of us who stick to it are bruised, wounded warriors. For me, at least, it has been well worth it.

When I listened to my students in this second session, two of them got what I thought we were after. The other two were determined to pontificate about racism and sexual misdirection without giving us anything to even smile about. 

There is a lack of coq in Prague

I spent Sunday eating Belgian food (a coq au vin that was a lot more vin than coq) and drinking copiously as they do here and then going to The Jazz Club Reduta to listen to a lot of music I danced to in the forties in Toledo, Ohio.

That involved a few more bottles of wine, several beers (each one different of course and arriving in a different shaped glass) and a couple of whiskeys – so I cannot remember many details of the day, just a warm fuzzy feeling and muddled brain.

Czech Cafes are always especially charming with flowers on the table and very clean toilets. (Obviously, when you are my age, this is a determining factor.)

They eat a lot of pastry evidently and do not seem to gain weight… but the alcohol I consumed might have blurred my vision.

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Filed under Comedy, Czech Republic, Sex

Globetrotting 84-year old US comedian Lynn Ruth is part of a ‘British Invasion’

Last week, I had a chat with 84-year-old, London-based, American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller – the thinking senior citizen’s crumpet – whose upcoming schedule of gigs includes Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, various cities in the US, Manila, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “probably somewhere in Cambodia”.

Lynn Ruth in London’s Pall Mall last week

That’s an interesting itinerary for an 84-year-old American living in London, I thought.

I was going to write a blog about the chat this week but, then, blow me, I got this email from her two days ago…


I am in CANNES, where the sun is shining!  

At first, I was alarmed because I did not know why I didn’t have to turn on all the lights to see my hand in front of my face.

Then I realised I WAS NOT IN LONDON.

When you are out of the UK, people actually see the sun.  

My hotel here is called The Hotel Bellevue and it is adorable.

My room is the size of a disabled public toilet but somehow it is very complete. I feel like I have just entered Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputian village. It is a good thing I am 4’10” tall and weigh under 100 pounds or I would never fit into the place.

I must say the world does dote on the elderly. At Gatwick Airport, a lovely Englishman from Birmingham stood behind me in line to board Ryanair and carried my case down the stairs without my even asking and the woman in the seat next to mine chatted with me the entire two hours we were on the flight.  Not that I WANTED her to chat for so long but she was from Essex. What can you expect?

Vanessa Marcié met me at the airport. Her mother is a wild, adventurous driver. She drove us to Vanessa’s flat.  As we darted from one lane to the tree on the side of the road into the highway and across four lanes and a traffic bump, I stifled an impulse to call my friends and say good-bye but we got to the flat intact.

Her mother had made me a homemade pizza which I devoured with champagne as Vanessa and I discussed the profession of comedy and the insensitivity and stupidity of her university students.  

Vanessa is a very educated woman with a PHD and two masters degrees and it made me wonder why she is so devoted to talking dirty on stage to crowds.  

I know MY reason: it is that it brings back memories of my youth.

Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes (Photo by Joseph Plotz)

I called Uber to get me from Nice where Vanessa lives to Cannes and my driver was Charlotte who took me INTO the hotel and opened the door to my room.  The world does dote on the elderly.

She told me driving a cab is her living because it is the only thing she can do besides eat. Looking at her squeezed between the steering wheel and the seat I saw that she was right about the food and, when she got me to the hotel safely, I realised she did indeed know her stuff.

As I said, the whole fucking world just loves the elderly… EXCEPT when they are doing business with them.  

I decided to take a walk to find a place for lunch in Cannes. It abounds in many, many eateries with menus in French. I do not speak French.

If it isn’t a crepe or an omelette, I have no idea what it is.  

I finally found La Civett Carnot which had a sign saying it was a brasserie. I knew what that was. The food there was all right and the service very fast. However, if you speak only English or you are older or a woman, beware.  

I ordered a weak coffee and got charged for a double espresso which looked like one shot to me. Naturally, being Jewish, I complained that I was overcharged. Two very large imposing men insisted that that is what they thought I asked for and what they gave me and I better damn well pay for it. I did.

I feel certain had I been able to speak French or had I not been a single ancient hag they would have adjusted the bill. Life does have its hurdles.

Lynn Ruth, part of the ‘British Invasion’ (she is from Ohio)

My gig was called THE BRITISH INVASION (Lynn Ruth was born in Ohio, living most of her life in San Francisco) and was in an Irish Bar, just 6 minutes from my hotel.  

However, I get confused by the little blue dot on Google Maps and the 6 minutes expanded to 30, as I wandered the streets of Cannes.

The comedy show was interesting and well attended. The audience was very thirsty for a laugh and the show was a success. I headlined for them and the response was gorgeous. I even got a Caesar Salad, two drinks and a bit of cash.

I managed to find my way home with the help of two escorts and it did indeed take me 6 minutes to get to my hotel. Which all goes to show Google does not lie.

The next morning I took a bus to the airport, got a flight to Gatwick, came home to grab my burlesque costume and took my clothes off to a standing ovation in Islington.

As we all know, a girl has to do what she has to do.


 I think we may hear more of Lynn Ruth’s travels…

 

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Filed under France, Humor, Humour

Martin Soan sells bits of comedy history – and The Greatest Show on Legs’ origin

The poster for the latest Pull The Other One

Martin Soan’s comedy club Pull The Other One has been running for eleven years in South East London but is closing in June this year. Currently, there are shows twice a month. Recent acts have included Alan Davies, Omid Djalili, Boothby Graffoe, Robin Ince, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. The next one is this Friday with top-of-the-bill Nina Conti. After that, there are only five more shows including one headlining Simon Munnery. The final Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June with Oram & Meeten. 

Martin Soan is also a prolific prop maker both for himself and others. Almost every Edinburgh Fringe, it seems, he gets asked to make a giant vagina by different acts: on one occasion, a singing one.

I did not ask him about the giant vaginas when we met.


Martin – legendary performance artist with a sense of humour

JOHN: So you are selling your props… Why?

MARTIN: To get a bit of cash and fund me doing something else. And I don’t have a van any more and some of these props are quite large. That’s the main reason.

JOHN: Doing something else? 

MARTIN: I’m reinventing myself, John.

JOHN: As what? A woman?

MARTIN: A performance artist with a sense of humour.

JOHN: But you’ve always been a performance artist.

MARTIN: I haven’t done a show for ages.

JOHN: You’re doing a show every two weeks!

MARTIN: Well, with that, I’m a comedy producer or a gig owner or whatever. But there’s another show inside me.

JOHN: Which is?

MARTIN: I don’t know yet. It won’t be themed. It won’t be like…

JOHN: Hamlet?

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: So?

MARTIN: Stupid, surreal.

JOHN: What are you going to do with this show? Take it up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

MARTIN: No. 

JOHN: Why?”

MARTIN: Because Edinburgh is a black hole of financial… deadlines and… Edinburgh is rich enough now. The breweries, the University. They’re rich enough. Move on… To another city. A depressed city.

JOHN: Where?

Could Scarborough be the new Edinburgh for Fringe comedy?

MARTIN: Scarborough. Let’s create a Fringe at Scarborough.

JOHN: Why?

MARTIN: The last time I went to Scarborough, it looked a bit like Brighton – a gorgeous town – but it was completely and utterly depressed.

JOHN: Isn’t it where Alan Ayckbourn does his plays?

MARTIN: I’m not sure. I’m saying Scarborough, but it could be any town. Scarborough is ideal because it has all these large premises. Loads and loads of rooms out the back of pubs.

JOHN: How about Leipzig? You have staged Pull The Other One shows there.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but it’s getting popular now. Probably moving out of Leipzig is the thing to do. Grünau is probably the place. I’m desperate to go somewhere like Leipzig.

JOHN: You mean move there?

MARTIN: Yeah, for a time. That’s the desire. I’ve gotta get some funding. Pull The Other One in Nunhead was fantastic, but I don’t make money. I cover my expenses. It’s an enormous amount of work. I dress the room, which takes a day and then another day taking it down. I would carry on, but it does occupy all my time, really, and it’s tense leading up to the gigs. If I don’t sell tickets, I’m losing big-time because I have to pay everyone. The Nun’s Head pub are very, very good to me, but I want to do two or three pop-up shows a year.

JOHN: So what props are you selling?

MARTIN: The Gates of Hell.

JOHN: Eh?

MARTIN: That rack of 24 singing Billy The Bass fish… And  I have an anvil made out of foam… I’m selling The Red Sparrows with written choreography…

…and I’m selling Mr Punch, who is 49 years old. 

JOHN: And the relevance of Mr Punch is…?

MARTIN: He was the very first member of The Greatest Show on Legs. I was the second. Basically, the Greatest Show on Legs started out as a Punch & Judy show and it was me and Malcolm Hardee. That was where me and Malcolm met. He became my ‘interpreter’.

JOHN: Why is it called The Greatest Show on Legs?

MARTIN: Because, rather than being a free-standing booth, the booth cloth came down halfway and was all strapped to my back so my legs came out the bottom and I could walk around with it. In fact, the original one had four legs coming out of it, because I did the old Rolf Harris Jake The Peg thing.

JOHN: Malcolm told me the other reason for building it that way was that, if the show went badly, you could just do a runner…

MARTIN: Well…

JOHN: …or was that just one of Malcolm’s fantasies?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, Malcolm just made that up. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to see where I was running, would I? There was one time at the Ferry Inn at Salcolme when I had had rather too much to drink and, inside the booth you have no horizon so I was falling over and didn’t even know it. Suddenly, it was like a sledgehammer coming up and hitting me on the back of the head and I was knocked out. Malcolm looked at the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be an interval of fifteen minutes.”

JOHN: But you had done the Greatest Show on Legs on your own before you met Malcolm.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. I was 16 when I started. I think me and Malcolm met when we were about 24 or 25. When I first started at 16, obviously, I was shit. I had no formal training in any performing art or anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I always remember the first show I gave where I thought: Aaah! I think I might have the hang of this! It was at University College, London. Outside one of their buildings, at some event. Something clicked on that one.

JOHN: You got around a bit.

MARTIN: I used to do Portobello Road and only two people used to come and see me regularly. This large black lady and a little boy. They came and saw me every time; I don’t know why. I  used to shit bricks before I got into the booth and started.

JOHN: Why did you start doing it if you had no natural aptitude at 16?

MARTIN: When you’re young, you are desperate to make friends and at least be recognised in some sort of way. Plus it fed my creative ‘making’ side – making props and things. I used to like all the problem solving. 

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Thinking it would be brilliant if Mr Punch got so angry that smoke would come out of his ears. So he has two tubes to blow smoke out.

JOHN: And this is the one you are auctioning off?

MARTIN: Yeah. He is 49 years of age.

JOHN: That must be a bit of an emotional trauma for you.

Martin Soan’s 24 Billy The Bass which will sing in unison

MARTIN: Well, so far, people have not taken it seriously. Boothby Graffoe started mucking around and saying he would bid half a monkey. Otiz Cannelloni bid £500 for the crate of Billy The Bass singing fish which I think… Well, they are £25-£35 each and you could flog ‘em for £25 each so, in singing fish alone it’s worth £500. But it’s a concept and they’re all wired up to one button so they all sing together.

JOHN: How do you know when the auction has ended? 

MARTIN: I will decide when it gets to the reserve price or more.

JOHN: Have you got reserve prices in mind?

Martin says: “Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at”

MARTIN: No. Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at. He looks aged. He looks 49, but not in a bad way.

JOHN: What does “Not in a bad way” mean?

MARTIN: Look, I’m talking bollocks now. You have tricked me into talking bollocks.

JOHN: It’s a natural aptitude.

MARTIN: I obviously would not let Mr Punch go for for £25.

JOHN: If people want to bid or buy or ask questions, what is the ‘handle’ as I think young people say or used to say.

MARTIN: @PTOOcomedy on Twitter and Facebook is Pull The Other One.

JOHN: Not Martin Soan?

MARTIN: Well, you could. And I have other interesting stuff.

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Miss Haversham.

JOHN: From Great Expectations.

Martin Soan on stage as Miss Haversham

MARTIN: She’s sitting down in an armchair and she has arms and legs – which are false. 

JOHN: And Miss Haversham IS the armchair.

MARTIN: Yeah. You put it on like a costume. You can be dressed normally, You go in from the back and come up and, as you come up, you are putting on the whole costume; there’s even a wig built-in. It’s like a quick-change thing.

JOHN: I seem to remember it involved a 3-minute build-up for one visual gag.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve never seen the whole sketch. It was all about alliteration. There’s Pip and Miss Haversham is doing embroidery and she gives the needle to Pip then she moves away from him to create the tautness of the thread and comes back. Instead of him moving, she moves.

JOHN: You should do a show demonstrating all the props you’re selling ‘as originally used’.

MARTIN: I suppose so. They’re lovely props, but they are big props for a big show. You need a van. To get even the fish in AND Miss Haversham, you need a big van.

JOHN: You’re not going to retire.

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: That’s a relief.

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Douglas Adams talks. Part 4: Science fiction, comedy, re-writes and ambitions

After Parts One, Two and Three, the final part of my 1980 interview with Douglas Adams

Concept by Jim Francis for a Vogon demolition ship in BBC TV’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“…virtually impossible to read science fiction”

JOHN: Are you actually interested in science fiction?

DOUGLAS: Yes and no. I always thought I was interested until I discovered this enormous sub-culture and met people and found I knew nothing about it whatsoever. I always used to enjoy reading the odd science fiction book. Having done The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who for this length of time, I now find it virtually impossible to read science fiction, which is simply a measure of the extent of which I’ve been saturated with it. I’m a bit nervous, at the moment, of being pigeon-holed as a science fiction writer, which I’m not. I’m a comedy writer who happens to be in science fiction.

JOHN: There’s the double problem that you’re thought of as a science fiction person and as a comedy writer. So, if you wanted to write a serious book…

DOUGLAS: I don’t think I could do a serious book anyway: jokes would start to creep in.

JOHN: You’re not like a stand-up comic who, deep down, wants to play Hamlet?

“I was being fairly flippant about it”

DOUGLAS: No, you see, I actually think comedy’s a serious business, although I may not give that impression. I was being interviewed the other day by a woman from the Telegraph Magazine who’d read the new book (The Restaurant at the End of The Universe) and was asking me all sorts of questions and I was being fairly flippant about it and I think she got rather disappointed, because she expected me to be much more serious about it than I was being.

I think that comes about because, when you’re actually working on something, you have to take it absolutely seriously; you have to be totally, passionately committed to it. But you can’t maintain that if you’re going to stay sane. So, on the whole, when I talk about  it to other people I tend then to be quite flippant about it. Because I’m just so glad to have got through it. (LAUGHS) You say: Ah well, it’s just that. It’s just jokes. She was saying she thought the second book was much weightier than the first, which surprised me. I wasn’t aware of that.

JOHN: Presumably the reason the first book didn’t include the last two episodes of the original radio series was that you hadn’t totally written them yourself and you weren’t totally happy with them.

DOUGLAS: Yes. I also wanted to keep those last two episodes for the end of the second book.

JOHN: Were you not totally happy with the second radio series?

BBC Radio 4’s The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Most of the second series was first draft…”

DOUGLAS: No. You see, the first series was written and re-written and re-written and worked on very, very heavily. The second series I had to do under immense pressure while I was doing other things as well. There was an element of desperation in writing it. Also, the first time round, it was my own, private little world which only I really knew about. Writing the sequel series was like running round the street naked because suddenly it’s become everyone else’s property as well. Most of the second series was first draft, as opposed to fourth draft. So about two-thirds of the second book actually comes from episodes 5 and 6 of the first series.

The first third of it was a re-structured plotting of aspects of the second series. I think it works out better like that, although it meant I had to write the book backwards, I couldn’t get the thing started and it held me up and held me up and held me up and eventually I wrote the last bit, then the bit before that and the bit before that – and the beginning was worked out, more or less, by a process of elimination.

Special Effects designer Jim Francis’ concept for BBC TV’s Alpha Centauri

JOHN: It’s all been very successful, though.

DOUGLAS: I now have a company and everything goes through the company. It’s called Serious Productions. I decided most people I know with companies had silly names for them, so I decided I wasn’t. I was going to have a Serious name.

JOHN: How do you get out of the trap of being forever ‘The man who wrote Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘?

DOUGLAS: Well, by doing something else, really. I think we’ll probably do a second TV series, although it’s by no means certain. I think it’s on the cards and, if we did, then it would be a totally new series written for television rather than adapted. And that, as far as I’m concerned, would be the end of Hitch-Hiker.

JOHN: And you would go on to .. .

DOUGLAS: I want to write a book from scratch to prove that I can do it. I’ve now written two books which are based on something I’d already written. That’s not quite kosher. And I would like to write a stage-play because that was the one failure Hitch-Hiker had. And I’d like to write a film. These are all fairly wishy-washy ideas at the moment, but that’s what I’d like to do… Oh, and I’d like to be a guitarist.

(DOUGLAS ADAMS, 11 March 1952 – 11 May 2001, R.I.P.)

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