Tag Archives: comedy

Is London’s uniquely decorated comedy venue – The Poodle Club – barking?

Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) was a physician recognised as a founder of clinical medicine and epidemiology who discovered Sydenham’s Chorea aka St Vitus Dance

What did he suggest caused illnesses?  Humoural imbalance.

South East London’s Sydenham area is named after him and humour has been restored there, at least.

(That is an example of why I am not a comedian.)

Betsy, the club’s meeter-and-greeter…

The Poodle Club has re-opened for comedy in Sydenham. The club first opened in 2017 but, of course, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, had to close in 2020. 

It’s run by indefatigable dog-lover Karen O Novak and her husband Darren Ball.

Unusually for UK comedy clubs, it’s not just some room in a pub; they own the lease and it was purpose-built as a comedy venue.

“Why call it The Poodle Club?” I asked Karen.

“Betsy, of course,” she told me.

Betsy is a tiny poodle: a very enthusiastic and much-loved meeter-and-greeter of audiences at the club.  

My last blog was a chat with stand-up performer David Mills backstage at the sold-out grand post-pandemic re-opening of The Poodle Club.

In it, I used the word “unique” about the club. Because it is.

Karen O Novak and David Mills back in 2014

You can choose to share a toilet with Liberace…

The revitalised post-pandemic Poodle Club has a new state-of-the-art ventilation system which delivers 500 litres of fresh air per second.

It also aims to have an equal number of male and female comedians and to promote LGBTQ+ and non-white comics in order, says Karen, “to raise up voices that are sometimes lost in the traditionally straight, male-dominated comedy scene”.

The policy, she claims, has drawn an audience that is 70% female.

The club’s decor – like Betsy the Poodle – shows signs of quirky character.

…or visit Bloo Hawaii in the other poodle loo

There are two unisex toilets in the club: one lavishly decorated as a tribute to Liberace and one equally lavishly dedicated to Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii

Despite being clearly marked as unisex, Darren tells me that, overwhelmingly – and for no known reason – men tend to go into the Liberace WC and women into the Elvis WC.

The audiences on the sold-out opening weekend came into the club beaming with joy – partly because of the warm welcome from Betsy, partly because of the club-wide OTT decor which greeted them and partly, I imagine, just because they were able to go to local comedy again.

There’s a plethora of poodle ornaments and ‘kooky’ knick-knacks crowding behind the bar…

“How,” I asked Karen, “did the good people of Sydenham react during the club’s pandemic closure?”

“There were,” she told me, “non-stop emails, weeping, people throwing themselves under buses.”

“Normal for Sydenham, then,” I said. “Has Betsy greeted audiences since the start in 2017?”

Poodle pooches are all over the place in this lovingly-decorated oasis of the comedy arts…

“Before Betsy,” said Karen, “there was Snoopadoo. She used to hold court here at the bar, but she was an elderly lady poodle and passed away at 19 years old.”

“Were Betsy and Snoopadoo related?”

“Sadly no.”

The poodle obsession runs deep, though. In the backstage dressing room, even the signs on the wall board are held up with little pink poodle pins.

The club has performances every Friday and Saturday – during most other days it lies fallow.

But, ever-enterprising, Karen and Darren are running the First Annual ‘Sydenham Comedy Festival’ at the Poodle Club for a whole week this year – 10th-18th June.

The Festival will feature 20 one-hour shows – a series of Edinburgh Fringe previews by the likes of Arthur Smith, Paul Foot, Tony Law and Shazia Mirza..

The Poodle Club in Sydenham is far from Barking…

Like I said, I’m no comedian, but I know what I like.

I like originality. And The Poodle Club certainly has that.

The never-less-than-extravagantly costumed Ada Campe performing on stage at The Poodle Club

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David Mills on the difference between US and UK comedy clubs… and more…

Every week, British-based US-born comedian David Mills posts online an extraordinary 5-point bulletin called Quality Timea smörgåsbord of societal snippets, curated curious comment and interesting insights.

This week, in issue 67, there are items on the Mexican rodeo tradition, US abortion laws, personal advice from the founding executive editor of Wired magazineunforgettable movie trailers and a suspected Basque Country serial killer of gay men who is still on the loose…

We had a chat backstage when I went to the grand re-opening of South London’s unique comedy venue The Poodle Club. David was headlining the opening night, of course.


JOHN: How would you describe Quality Time?

DAVID: It’s a column, really. It’s a window onto the world. Culture & commentary.

JOHN: Very you…You were born in LA?

DAVID: No, it’s where the family ended-up in the 1980s and 1990s. I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Pennsylvania and we travelled over to California when I was about 18. My family’s now in Northern California and Oregan.

JOHN: Recently, you’ve started performing in the UK AND in the US. Are the audience tastes different?

DAVID: Yes. What I’ve found, going back to LA and gigging is that a lot of comics out there are really great on stage and they’re really warm and they have tons of charisma, but they have none of the craft that you need to play comedy rooms in the UK.

JOHN: So what do you need in the UK?

DAVID: You need jokes. You need callbacks. It needs to be quick fire. You need to keep them laughing. In the US – at least in California – I think it’s very different in New York – they are happy to just have a charming host. Someone like a party host and maybe a joke comes and maybe it doesn’t.

David at the Underbelly’s Thames-side South Bank Festival in London, 2019

When you get UK acts like me or Brett Goldstein who go over there and… joke, joke, joke, joke… they don’t know what they’re even looking at but they LOVE it.

I was over there for two months at the end of last year and the beginning of this and I thought: There’s lots of opportunity here for UK acts and for me. And they’re also looking at me because I’m American but I’m not American. So I’m sort-of this interesting thing to them.

JOHN: And yet you are one of them…

DAVID: Yes. I AM ‘one of them’. It’s good to go back. It’s nice to be around. It’s always nice to come home, isn’t it? Look at James Cordon. He’s coming home to the UK.

JOHN: Indeed. So that means there’s an empty space for a late night chat show host in the US. Perhaps a culturally-diverse person like you? They’ve had James Cordon and Craig Ferguson and Trevor Noah – all non-Americans. You are an American but, in a way you are not an American. So you…

DAVID: No. What they want is a woman. And there should be a woman. There is no woman on the late-night chat shows. Well, Joan Rivers did it. Samantha Bee does it. Others have done it, but they’ve never lasted.

What’s interesting is that James Cordon is going AND Ellen DeGeneres  is going. Ellen is daytime and Cordon is evening. Ellen’s been doing it for 19 years. Cordon was tipped to replace Ellen but it seems he’s coming back to the UK.

JOHN: So they have two spots open and they want someone sophisticated who…

Multi-cultural David at the Bar Chez Georges, Saint-Germain in Paris, 2020

DAVID: I don’t know that they want ‘sophisticated’, but they want someone who can really connect with the audience. And that’s what you see on stage in LA. All these acts really connect with audiences. They’re not looking to be stand-up comics. They’re mostly looking to be actors or TV presenters or whatever – and they just want to get exposure.

They don’t need to be joke-joke-joke good comics. They do need to be charming and dynamite and look great and be friendly and likeable. And then they get picked up from that and thrown into something like an Ellen spot.

JOHN: But you’re an actor too. You were in Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. When are you going to be in another feature film?

DAVID: Well, there’s a small film I did – a small part – which I filmed last July in Glasgow.

JOHN: A small film called?

DAVID: Indiana Jones 5.

JOHN: And Glasgow is Gotham City?

DAVID: Yes. Glasgow is New York. Whenever they want to do New York in the UK, they do it in Glasgow.

JOHN: Might you go back to the US more full-time? Like 10 months a year?

DAVID: Who knows?

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Facebook attacks the long-established UK tradition of a ‘banger-up-the-bum’

It seems to have taken six months for Facebook to decide that sticking a banger up your bum is unacceptable. This message arrived just before 07.00am this morning (UK time). Bad news for fans of football and Chris Lynam…

The above was posted in a members-only Facebook group for fans of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

I think the picture of England football fans in Leicester Square during the Euro 2020 Championsip was taken from the UK newspaper Metro – owned by Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail – or possibly from the BBC News website, though I can’t quite remember. It was also published online by the Daily Mail itself.

I can’t help but feel this frown from Facebook demonstrates a cultural gap between UK (possibly European) and US sensibilities. Sticking a banger-up-your-bum is a commendably British tradition which started in the 1980s – 40 years ago.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee, in his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, tells how the revered banger-up-the-bum routine originated…


One of the most popular acts with any Tunnel audience that enjoyed General De Gaulle was Chris Lynam, who had been so kind to me when Pip was ill.

He was in The Greatest Show on Legs at one point and we were all sitting round saying:

“How can we follow The Balloon Dance? We’re all naked. What can we do? We just have to walk off stage. There’s no way to finish it!”

“Well,” I said, “You might as well stick a banger up your arse!”

“Good idea!” Chris said: “You do it!”

So I was the first one to do it. But I only did it once.

You don’t actually stick the banger up your arse, you just clench it between your buttocks, then light it. I didn’t have the necessary muscle-control. It drooped a bit and set light to the hairs on my testicles. I said to Chris:

“You’d better do it”.

So now the finish to his act involves putting a firework up his bottom, then an extravagant version of There’s No Business Like Show Business starts playing on loudspeakers, the firework is lit, goes off and he exits the stage trailing glorious sparks. Sometimes it’s a three-stage Roman Candle shooting forth increasingly spectacular jets of silver sparkles. Good finish. Difficult to follow.

The first year he did it in Edinburgh, we were playing a little pub called The Comedy Boom. It wasn’t very big, but we got the Banger Up The Bum routine passed by a Fire Officer called Maurice Gibb. That’s his real name. It just is. We did the routine the first night then the landlord said he wouldn’t let us do it again. He said:

“You’re not doing that in my pub!”

I said we’d compromise. At the end of our show, we’d take the audience outside and do it in the street. So we did that the second night and it wasn’t just the audience from the show who were there: it drew a bit of a crowd. The landlord said:

“No! You’re not doing that again. It’s bringing my pub into disrepute!”

So we had to video the routine and show the audience the video and it wasn’t the same.

On the last night of our run, I decided we’d do it again for real. We’d been paid already, so fuck the landlord. I was sick of it. We’d had other rows about our act – obviously.

So Chris Lynam bought an extra-large firework.

That night – banger in the bottom – light it – No Business Like Show Business – and it set the pub alight. Just the wall. A bit of plaster. It wasn’t much damage. But some people…. moan, moan, moan.

The next year, The Greatest Show on Legs played The Assembly Rooms, the big, prestige venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. Same thing again. The Fire Officer passed it. First night went without a hitch. Lovely. On the second night, for some reason, it set off all the fire alarms in The Assembly Rooms and they had to evacuate the entire building – about 3,000 people had to evacuate, including our audience and some Russians who were doing a four-hour play and only had three minutes left to go.

We were all standing around outside The Assembly Rooms – a motley crew – when the fire engines turned up with Maurice Gibb. He was there, ready with the hose. Then he saw me naked, saw Chris Lynam, and said:

“Banger up the bum?”.

“Yes,” I said.

“Hoses away, lads!” he said.

And off they went.

The Russians – fair play to them – went back upstairs and did the last three minutes of their play.


YouTube has a clip of Chris Lynam’s routine, as shown nationally on France’s Got Talent in 2014…

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Too mild? Chris Rock should learn from Jerry Sadowitz and/or Malcolm Hardee

Last weekend, actor Will Smith (a former comic) slapped Chris Rock (a current comic) in the face at the Oscars ceremony for allegedly slighting his wife with an ad-libbed joke obliquely-referring to her alopecia-caused baldness/shaved head.

I can’t help but feel that Americans’ sensibilities are a little too touchy and their attempts at edgy comedy could do with a bit more edge-sharpening. 

Still… it was the slap that echoed round the world, making front-page news and generating much comment.

On Twitter, British comedian and writer David Baddiel observed: “As a comedy moment it’s still not up there with a member of the audience at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 1991 punching Jerry Sadowitz out cold for opening with Hello moose-fuckers!

The full line was: “Hello moose-fuckers! I tell you why I hate Canada: half of you speak French, and the other half let them.

As David Baddiel pointed out, there is no footage of that particular punch, but there is a video of Clive Anderson interviewing comedians Denis Leary and Bill Hicks about it after the event…

In a comment on David Baddiel’s Tweet this week, Mr AR Felix (who describes himself as a “Ferrari supporter, casual artist and culture vulture”) wrote: 

“The rarely-quoted follow up line, which Sadowitz claims is what actually led to him being attacked was: Why don’t you speak Indian? You might as well speak the language of the people you stole the country off of in the first place.

When I mentioned the Sadowitz attack on my own Facebook page, former Time Out editor Dominic Wells commented:

“Loved Jerry/Gerry Sadowitz — the reason for my G/J being that when I was still chief sub on Time Out, and editor Don Atyeo showed his new columnist round the office, I asked him (pre-internet): How do you spell G/Jerry? 

Spell it how ye fucking want, son, ah don’t give a shite, quoth the comic. 

Jerry or Gerry Sadowitz takes Time Out with Ben Elton

“So I (unlike Wikipedia, now that it exists) spelt it with a G in all his Time Out columns and the cover he was on, throttling the Spitting Image puppet of Ben Elton, for which Ben apparently never forgave us. 

“G/Jerry was by a long chalk the funniest columnist I have EVER read, let alone subbed. I would hoot with laughter at his copy. Sadly G/Jerry proved too close to the edge even for Time Out. The editor couldn’t handle the letters of complaint and sacked him after just four or five, despite my entreaties. 

“I guess the tone was set by his very first column, replacing Muriel Gray, who had departed for the Guardian or similar. It opened with a poem: 

See that Muriel Gray/ In a’ the Fleet Street papers/ You can read her if you want/ But I’d rather fuck the Proclaimers.

After this Facebook comment, comic and cultural icon John Dowie reminisced:

What’s the worst opening remark a comedian could ever say? asked Nick Revell, backstage prior to a 1980s comedy gig. Nelson Mandela – What a cunt! was the winning answer… Jerry opened with it… Of course.”

Then, returning to the subject of outrage caused at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, Rob Williams (who describes himself as a “writer of stuff” added:

“Malcolm Hardee at Montreal got told before going on that they love observational humour. Do observational stuff and you’ll be fine, they told him… So he opened with: Have you ever noticed that if you stick a carrot up your arse and lick it it tastes like shit?

I can’t help but feel that Will Smith – especially as an ex-comic – was being more than a tad over-sensitive and Chris Rock could have been more offensive.

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Steve Best: The photographer comedian

Comedian Steve Best is going to publish his third book of photographs this summer. His two previous books – Comedy Snapshot in 2014 and Joker Face in 2017 – comprised photographs of comedians plus brief anecdotes/jokes. 

The new book – Comedians – is a big departure.


“It’s an expensive book to create because it’s fine art…”

STEVE: I’ve been meaning to do this book for bloody years. It’s not cheap – it’s £50 to buy. It’s an expensive book to create because it’s fine art. It’s a lot of money to raise. I was thinking of going the crowdfunding route via a publishing site that specialises in that, but they take a management fee and ask for all my contacts. So I thought: I might as well do it myself.

So I’ve kind of done crowdfunding on my website by asking people to pre-buy it. I’ve nearly broken even. If I could pre-sell another 100 or so then, when it comes out, we can do a good old PR/publicity thing with the comedians.

JOHN: You previously published the two smaller paperback books.

STEVE: They were very much of the snapshot portraits type. With this one, I’m trying to ‘sell’ it to the Art world as well as to comedy fans.

I think you’ve gotta put your stall out and say This is what it is, because I don’t want to confuse people.

JOHN: You’ve already had photographic exhibitions in arty places…

STEVE: Yeah. There’s still an exhibition of my photos at the Observatory Photography Gallery in London.

JOHN: Which lasts for how long?

STEVE: Indefinitely at the moment.

JOHN: And Joe Bor is making a documentary about you: Clowntographer.

STEVE: Yes. He wanted to do a film about photographers who take pictures of comedians.

JOHN: A limited area…

STEVE: There are a few, obviously. But, as we were setting it up, I said: “Why don’t you do it about me? I’m a comedian who’s a photographer who takes photographs of comedians. It’s a nicer narrative, a better story.”

So we interview Don Ward at the Comedy Store about the pictures on the wall and there are lots of live shoots. It’s more-or-less all filmed. Joe’s editing it now. We’re going to try and get it ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

JOHN: Although it’s about British circuit comedians, I guess it will be of interest internationally. And, because both Joe and you are comics, you presumably got great backstage access.

STEVE: There are very few people who have had relaxed access backstage. Some of the most interesting photographs I’ve done are backstage.

The idea with this book is to position myself in the art/photography world so I could actually go to clients and say: “Look, I can document something else for you…” I’ve done a few corporate things. The way to get on in any profession in the arts is to keep developing.

Steve explores the fine art of photography and the fine heart of comedy in his Comedians book…

The idea is to step up the game on the arty side of photography. No-one is really doing this. People like David Bailey and Annie Leibovitz have done backstage photo stuff on music, but no-one’s really done it with comedy.

JOHN: So are you a comedian with a sideline in photography or a photographer with a sideline in comedy?

STEVE: It has changed. I think I was a comedian with a sideline in photography. Now it’s very much reversed. But there’s always a risk in pigeonholing someone. I think you can be a performer AND be an artist. You don’t have to be a comedian only.

JOHN: What’s the difference between creating comedy and creating photographs?

STEVE: In the comedy world, you write your stuff and you try it out and it’s very immediate: it either works or it doesn’t work. In some of the other arts, you do it and there’s a delayed response from critics and the art public.

JOHN: In fine art – or  even when writing comedy – you can pore over the details endlessly. But, in photography, sometimes it’s just a matter of luck, isn’t it? Capturing that one split second.

STEVE: You can teach someone how to write and perform comedy but whether they are really funny is another thing. In a way, it’s the same with photography. You can teach somebody the technical aspects of shutter speed and aperture but whether they have the eye for it is another matter.

JOHN: Surely there’s a limit to the number of ways you can photograph comedians standing at the microphone or doing their make-up in front of a mirror?

Steve takes great Carr with his backstage photography…

STEVE: Well, backstage, I’m always looking for the little bits and pieces that haven’t been done. And onstage I have found some very nice angles – shooting up into the light, from behind the curtains…

JOHN: Physical AND psychological angles? A normal photographer, won’t understand what the comedian is actually thinking. But you – because you are a performer…

STEVE: Well, I can know when the punchline is coming and I can anticipate stuff that might happen…

JOHN: And, with you, they will be more relaxed than with someone who’s just a photographer.

STEVE: Yes, they think of me as a comedian with a camera, rather than as a ‘Photographer’.

JOHN: How long have you been taking photographs of comedians?

STEVE: Comedy Snapshot came out in 2014, so I started maybe 5 or 6 years before that.

JOHN: And you began performing comedy…

STEVE: …28 years ago. I started very young. Haven’t really done anything else. At school, I became involved in magic and got to the final of Young Magician of the Year, then I started doing my ‘A’ Levels at school and then started doing theatre and kids’ parties and then went into the entertainment world. I learned how to juggle, how to unicycle, did lots of circusy stuff. Never did street performing.

JOHN: Does the misdirection inherently involved in magic link into being original in photography? The way people perceive images…?

STEVE: I think you can look into stuff too deeply, John…

Steve in the forthcoming Clowntographer documentary

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Why the spoof radio game Mornington Crescent is called Mornington Crescent

(L-R) Graeme Garden, Willie Rushton, Barry Cryer, Humphrey Lyttelton, Tim Brooke-Taylor

I had always assumed the fake BBC Radio game Mornington Crescent was called that more-or-less at random. After all, there is no logic to any of it, so why not just choose a random tube station?

Wikipedia currently explains:

The objective of Mornington Crescent is to give the appearance of a game of skill and strategy, with complex and long-winded rules and strategies, to parody games in which similarly circuitous systems have evolved. The rules are fictional and its appeal to audiences lies in the ability of players to create an entertaining illusion of competitive gameplay.

The person who first names Mornington Crescent as being on a supposed London Underground route wins.

Our starting point… Finchley Central station

I knew Mornington Crescent was a version of a game previously called Finchley Central which dates back to at least 1969 when Anatole Beck and David Fowler mentioned it in the Spring 1969 issue of the mathematical magazine Manifold, in which they discussed A Pandora’s Box of Non-games.

They describe the rules of Finchley Central as:

Two players alternate naming the stations of the London Underground. The first to say “Finchley Central” wins. It is clear that the ‘best’ time to say “Finchley Central” is exactly before your opponent does. Failing that, it is good that he should be considering it. You could, of course, say “Finchley Central” on your second turn. In that case, your opponent puffs on his cigarette and says, “Well,… Shame on you!”

On BBC Radio, Mornington Crescent first appeared in the opening episode of the sixth series of comedy panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, broadcast on 22 August 1978 – nine years after the Manifold mention of Finchley Central. 

As I said, I assumed Mornington Crescent was chosen at random as the station at the centre of the new spoof game.

But, this morning, former TV & radio announcer/presenter and so much more Keith Martin told me this was not the case.

“The show used to be recorded at what was then the BBC’s Camden Palace Theatre,” he told me, “which, as you know, was directly opposite Mornington Crescent tube station. I used to go and watch it being recorded there. So it was the station everyone coming to the show arrived at.”

BBC Camden Palace Theatre could fit an entire orchestra into the studio

The Camden Palace had a life almost as varied as Keith Martin’s.

It opened as a music hall on Boxing Day 1900, became the Camden Hippodrome variety theatre in 1909, the Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre in 1913, a Gaumont cinema in 1928, closed in 1940 and was then a key studio for the BBC Light Programme, becoming BBC Radio’s ” home of light music and comedy” between 1945 and 1972. (The BBC Light Programme was re-named BBC Radio 2 in 1967). The studios closed in 1972, but the building re-opened as a live music venue – The Music Machine – in 1977. It was re-named the Camden Palace (again) in 1982, closed in 2004 and re-opened as music venue KOKO.

“I used to watch The Goons there,” Keith told me, wistfully.

So there you are. I  took a circuitous route but…

Mornington Crescent.

I win.

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Never cancel a live comedy show even if not a single person has booked to see it

(Photograph by Tyler Callahan via UnSplash)

This morning, I was told that an act had cancelled a show at the current Leicester Comedy Festival.

No-one should ever cancel any comedy show because of low or no pre-bookings – unless, perhaps, they are playing the O2 arena and only one person has booked. In that case, perhaps the person should consider their career or their agent.

Apparently – unknown to the act – the Leicester Comedy Festival show that was cancelled was going to be reviewed.

One year at the Edinburgh Fringe, a comedy show was cancelled without notice because no-one had booked in advance and previous shows had had low or no audiences. The act had gone back to London in despair.

In fact, two people did turn up for the show that night and had to be turned away by the embarrassed venue.

One was me, working as an ITV researcher looking for acts and general talent. The other – entirely separately – was a BBC TV producer.

Another year at the Fringe, I turned up for a three-hander comedy show and the acts were there to explain that, as I was the only audience member, there was no point them doing the show. I did not point out to them that (again) I was a TV researcher up there to find talent. There was no point me telling them because they were clearly not dependable pros.

I’ve heard the argument that doing a comedy show to one or two people is not a true representation of the act.

Well, if you can’t perform the comedy act to one person, your act does not work. The rule of thumb on TV is that you should perform in your mind to one person – the one person sitting at home (perhaps in a family group, but still sitting alone) on a sofa.

The performer may want a reaction from a massed audience. But each individual is watching the show alone, inside his or her head, even if others react with them. If you can’t perform the comedy act to one person, your act does not work.

I remember The Scotsman once gave a 5-star review to a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe. The reviewer was the only audience member. If the act works, it works. If the reviewer knows what he/she is doing, they review the show and the performance not the audience reaction.

I once helped an act at the Fringe. It was his first trip up there and he was unknown.

He got very very low audiences and was thinking of giving up and going back home to England. I told him that he should stay and play even if there was only one person in the audience because he had no idea who that person might be.

Even if no-one turns up, still perform the show to an empty venue and treat it as a tough rehearsal. If someone turns up after 15 minutes, keep performing and they will get a private performance which they will adore.

One day when I had to go back to London myself for the night, that particular act played to four people.

Two of them, it turned out, were TV producers looking for an act to appear in a brand new Channel 4 TV show. They had not booked in advance.

As a result of his performance that night, the act got booked for the whole new and successful Channel 4 series, which led to two subsequent BBC TV series.

Never cancel a live comedy show even if no-one has booked to see it.

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He has a simultaneous one-year run in London’s West End AND on Broadway

Katsura Sunshine after two days in quarantine

Back in September 2017, I blogged about Katsura Sunshinethe unique Canadian purveyor of the traditional Japanese storytelling genre Rakugo.

He flew into London from New York last Thursday, sat out his two-day Covid isolation in a hotel, performed his show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday, then flew out to Tokyo yesterday (Tuesday). I chatted to him before he left.


JOHN: When are you coming back again?

KATSURA: I’m going to be performing my show Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo at the Leicester Square Theatre every month for the next year. Dates are on their website.

It’s going to be my one-year run in the West End. It’s only once-a-month on a Sunday, but it’s a one-year-run… And, starting next month, I also have my weekly run in New York for a year, every Thursday.

JOHN: On Broadway?

KATSURA: The theatre’s on-Broadway; the size is off-Broadway.

JOHN: So you will be performing a one-year run of your show in London’s West End AND simultaneously be performing a one-year run of your show on Broadway in New York…

Reuters christened him the King of Kimono Comedy…

KATSURA: Yes. So once a month on a Friday I will fly to London to perform at Leicester Square on the Sunday.

It doesn’t make any economic sense.

However, the thought was – pending Covid etc – I can be here once a month for a week with a base at the Leicester Square Theatre and do other shows in the UK and Paris and around Europe. That would make more economic sense.

I could play New York on the Thursday; fly to London on Friday; play Paris on Saturday; London on Sunday; and New York the following Thursday.

JOHN: And, the rest of each month, when you are performing weekly in New York…

KATSURA: I would be living in New York.

JOHN: With visits to Tokyo?

KATSURA: The current (Covid) quarantine restrictions in Tokyo are tight. A two-week quarantine.

JOHN: Will you be doing roughly the same show in New York and London?

KATSURA: Yeah. When I was performing before – twice-a-week for six months in New York – Thursdays and Saturdays – it was a different show every month. Meaning different stories in the show every month… and I started to get a lot of ‘repeaters’. Quite a few people would come back monthly. Which is kind of the way it’s performed in Japan too.

JOHN: So, over the next year, you could hopefully build up repeat London audiences in the same way…

KATSURA: Hopefully.

JOHN: What’s your New York venue?

The New World Stages 5-venue theater in New York City

KATSURA: It’s called New World Stages and it’s built like a movie theater in that, when you come in, there’s five different theaters. Two 500-seaters, two 350-seaters and a smaller one. I’m in one of the 350-seaters. The way I am able to do it is there’s a children’s show that has been in there for maybe three or four days a week for 13 years; on a Saturday, they do 3 or 4 shows. When you get to Christmas, they’re doing 10, maybe 12 shows a week.

JOHN: For 13 years! Jesus!

KATSURA: It’s called The Gazillion Bubble Show – they blow bubbles. It’s for small children and they don’t use the theater in the evening, so I was able to piggy-back off it. That’s the way I can do one-day-a-week in a Broadway theater, which is kind-of unheard-of.

JOHN: You should do the Edinburgh Fringe next August. (LAUGHS) Fit it into your busy international schedule. Do your weekly show in New York, your monthly show in London and fly up to do a one-off Edinburgh show the same weekend as London.

KATSURA: That’s a great idea!

JOHN: I was joking… But think of the publicity! New York on Thursday; Edinburgh on Saturday; London on Sunday…

KATSURA: (LAUGHS) It’s a great idea!

JOHN: So how is your career of taking original traditional Japanese storytelling around the world going?

KATSURA: Step by step. Being interrupted by Covid was not so good; but six months on Broadway was not bad before that; and the theater’s waiting for me there. I’m really lucky I can start again. I started the show in September 2019 and the theaters got closed down in March 2020.

JOHN: So, like all performers, Covid stopped your career for 18 months.

Katsura Sunshine in his shiny denim lamé kimono

KATSURA: I started a denim kimono fashion line.

JOHN: You seem to be wearing some sort of super-denim kimono.

KATSURA: Yeah, it’s kind-of lamé fabric, got a silver coating to it. But I also sell normal denim. And haori.

JOHN: Haori?

KATSURA: You wear them over the kimono and they come down to your knees. I’m spinning the kimonos off into a separate business: Katsura Sunshine Kimono.

JOHN: You’re a money-spinner. You sell kimonos to non-Japanese people?

KATSURA: Half-and-half. Right now, people email me for their size and it’s made-to-order.

JOHN: When you leave London now, you’re flying to Tokyo?

KATSURA: I hope… I have a lot of important performances over New Year.

JOHN: Important?

KATSURA: It’s a New Year family festival at a hotel. They’ve been doing it for like 50 years. The other performers are all extremely famous.

JOHN: New Year is big in Japan?

KATSURA: The 23rd/24th December is for dates and 31st December is for family.

JOHN: Dates?

KATSURA: Girls who don’t have a boyfriend try their best to get a boyfriend by Christmas. Everyone goes on dates then goes to a hotel.

JOHN: I’m shocked! 

KATSURA: (LAUGHS) I was shocked the first time. I thought they were making fun of me when they first told me that 20 years ago!

JOHN: That everyone goes to hotels?

KATSURA: Yes. You go to a restaurant and then you go to a ‘love hotel’. That’s at Christmas… Last Christmas I spent in (Covid) quarantine because I had just come back from New York to Tokyo… and this Christmas I will be in quarantine too.

JOHN: Eating turkey…

KATSURA: In the West we eat turkey at Christmas but, in Japan, the thing is to eat chicken.

JOHN: Not just chicken, it seems.

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Stories of legendary UK comic Jimbo…

This week, esteemed comic Noel James posted an announcement about a last minute act appearing on the bill at his Cafe Play club in Mumbles, Swansea,Wales, this Saturday, 6th November.

The act is the legendary and sadly not widely-enough fêted UK comic Jimbo (not to be confused with Australian comic Jimbo Bazoobi)

The news on Facebook of our British Jimbo’s booking elicited a fair number of comments, almost entirely from other comedians:


Jimbo: the man, the myth, the mirth…

Andy White
Did my first ever gig with Jimbo. Didn’t gig with him again till a couple of years ago. He was proper funny.

Mark Hurst
First Jimbo gig I witnessed he was introduced, made his way thru the audience, onto the stage, paused briefly at mic, as if about to speak, then carried on, off the other side of the stage, back thru the crowd and straight out the pub door…

Jez Feeney

yep I saw similar… hilarious

Noel James
ha ha yes sounds like Jimbo at his best.

Addy van der Borgh
One of the funniest opening 5 minutes I’ve ever seen… fiddling with the microphone, the mic stand, starting to speak, stopping etc. Great timing.

Noel James
Addy van der Borgh – so that’s where you got the idea from !!

Addy van der Borgh
I was first! Actually it’s an old commedia dell’arte thing. So there x

Adam-Morrison Jones
Absolute legend.

Neil Masters
Once at a gig on Tottenham Court Road in London, Jimbo took the mic outside of the pub so nobody could see him. Then he started to interview himself , sort of Voice 1. “please speak.” Voice 2. Lots of weird sounds and silly grumbles for 3 minutes then baritone “NO!” Then back inside , bowed and left the stage.

Andrew Max O’Neill
Amazing.

Mark Hurst
Then there was his first open spot at the Comedy Store. This was in the days when the open spots went on at the end, about 2am. He went on, did a bit of muttering and mic-stand fiddling, then collapsed into a heap on the stage. The MC not knowing what he was doing didn’t know if it was part of an act, stood at the side for a minute, that seemed like an hour, with people shouting out, whilst he lay motionless. Eventually, MC had to step over him, “Jimbo, let’s hear it for Jimbo.” At which, he jumped up and bounded off’.

Phil Davey
yeah i was there for that. compere was Kevin Day. Kim Kinnie was absolutely furious.

Dan Willis
Heard he once stripped naked,
Walked off leaving his clothes,
Never returning to get them..
I’ve gigged with him about twenty odd times – mostly doing gags, but I did see him setting fire to his own hair, without any apparent plan for when it took flame…

Phil Dins
Fantastic act. X

Gary Sansome
Great guy, I remember him doing a set at Huddersfield University and just walking straight out of the venue from the stage. Hope he is well.

David Hadingham
In the early days me and Jimbo (of course back then he was known by his real name James Fancyknot) shared a flat together where we would come up with all these great ideas, I wonder where he is now?

John Mann
Ha. Was discussing his antics only today with Alan Francis and Geoff Boyes.

Jez Feeney
Bloody hell???? Maaaaaaaaaalcolm!…..saw Jim at Sunday Night with Malcolm Hardee many a time… always an occasion… didn’t recognise the photo at first… proper old school… wonderful.

Glad he’s still around …would love to see him on Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow.

Steve Day
The story, and I assume everyone knows this in one form or another, when he was offered a paid gig in a pub somewhere out of London. Travelled there, but due to low audience numbers the landlord pulled the gig but agreed to pay the acts. Jimbo says since he’d come all this way he’d do his spot anyway. Goes on, is Jimbo for ten minutes, finishes.

The landlord says, “I’m not paying you for that!”

Noel James
his hair’s a bit whiter, but he’s still around, still gigging.

James Sherwood
Jimbo did my favourite ever topical gag. He described a story in that day’s paper about a pig farmer who hid some jewellery in the sty, the pigs ate the jewellery, now he has to comb through their excrement to get it back. “So I’m looking at this story and I’m looking at it… and COULD I THINK OF A JOKE?”

Matthew Baylis
A million years ago I did a writing day that jimbo was at – run by Chris Head. Jimbo had worked up a set (with Chris) as a drunken old-school comic dressed in a hideously believable Vegas style suit. It was mostly physical comedy and noises but it was quite brilliant and highly bookable.

I saw him at a gig a month later and he had dumped the routine and was back to ‘normal’.

John Fothergill
Did a minute or two then climbed out of the window behind the curtains and left in his car when I was mc in north London once.

Noel James
if i’d known he was this popular i’d have booked him to headline!

Ian Stone
He turned up at the East Dulwich tavern one night. He’d travelled from Milton Keynes with a moose head. He got introduced, walked on with the moose head, did the gig and never mentioned it, left the venue and then got the train back to Milton Keynes.

Robin Deb
Climbing out of the window at the Comedy Brewhouse and just… going home. oh, some punter complained they paid a fiver so he dropped one in her pint glass and then left…. HERO!

Mark Hayden
I’ve gigged a few times with Jimbo. I remember some silver suit or something that he wore that was out of the seventies or something. He also came and did Mr Ben’s gong show in Leeds. I asked him in my email to him are you sure as it’s a long way to come and do a gong. Sure enough he turned up. He must be nearly 80 now.

Dan Antopolski
He once did a bit shoving dogfood into a soft toy dog’s face that Sean Lock said was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

Matt Kirshen

First time I met Sean, he was delighted to hear that Jimbo was still going. As as I am right now.

Pete Cracknell

He turned up at an open mic spot at The Father Red Cap, a gay pub in Camberwell. The audience were expecting Drag, flamboyance and music. They got Jimbo. It didn’t go well.

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Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch, Princess Margaret and the Pub Quiz Mafia…

Paul Vickers with clock sans cuckoo spoke on FaceTime

Twonkey aka Paul Vickers is back at London’s Soho Theatre on Tuesday with a new show. 

Well, sort of.

I talked to him on FaceTime. He lives in Edinburgh.


JOHN: You didn’t play the much-cut-back  Edinburgh Fringe this year.

PAUL: No, because it kept wavering. I was due be doing it at Dragonfly again, but then that got closed for two weeks because of a Covid outbreak.

JOHN: You’re coming down south for your Soho Theatre show: Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch. Didn’t you have a Twitch show before?

PAUL: Yes, there was Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. This one is more like a ‘Best of Twonkey’ show.

The difficulty is selecting what the best is. I’ve just chosen what I think the best bits are and hope people will agree with me. I mean, really, Twonkey started as a joke and just got out of hand. 

It was something I did off the cuff. I didn’t think: Oh, I’ll be doing this for over ten years. I just thought: I’ll do one Edinburgh Fringe and see what happens. But then you get addicted; you get on the treadmill of doing it.

I am feeling a bit like James Bond, in the sense that I’ve created a franchise and I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’d like to pass it on to someone else.

JOHN: Who else could do a Twonkey show though?

PAUL: Princess Anne was on the list.

JOHN: Have you asked her? It’s worth asking because you’re likely to get a reply from some official which you could quote… Who else?

PAUL: Peter Crouch, the footballer. John Craven was mentioned.

Twonkey’s greatest latest seen soon in Soho

JOHN: Why would Princess Anne be ideal to do a Twonkey show?

PAUL: It was thought she might give it a bit of dignity. But Princess Margaret was the fun one. She used to get stoned with the Incredible String Band, apparently.

JOHN: And now it’s too late…

PAUL: Yes. But I feel like Roger Moore gearing up for Octopussy. It won’t feel like that once I get going again. At the moment I’m in that nervous period.

It will be like Diamonds Are Forever when I get going.

JOHN: You haven’t performed as Twonkey for a while, because of the lockdowns…

PAUL: Yeah. I’ve been more into band stuff. (More on his band Paul Vickers and The Leg in my blog of February this year)

JOHN: Are you going to do less Twonkey and more music?

PAUL: I think it might be a bit like that, yeah. We were gonna try and incorporate a band thing in the new show, but we’re not really ready: it’s such a long process with the band.

JOHN: Your shows tend to have music in them, but you mean the band could actually be part of a Twonkey show?

PAUL: That could happen. I’ve always wanted to do that. The main thing that stops me is expense and all the Edinburgh Fringe venues are basically just like a plug in the wall. It would have to be a big enough venue to fit six people with equipment on the stage.

JOHN: Anything planned after the Soho Theatre and before next year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

A cultural dessert – the Custard Club

PAUL: Well, I did write another show that I had been going to do in 2020: Twonkey’s Custard Club. I had an elaborate idea involving custard as currency and where desserts had become the main meal.

JOHN: That works for me.

PAUL: I was all geared-up to do it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but then all the lockdowns happened and I couldn’t do anything for almost two years.

JOHN: So why are you not doing Twonkey’s Custard Club as your Soho Theatre show?

PAUL: Well, I kept opening the Word document and I thought: I don’t know how I feel about that now… There had been enough time for doubts to creep in. Previously, there had never been enough time for doubts to creep in because, every year, I barely had enough time to get a coherent show together for the Fringe.

I think everyone’s gone through this thing where you had a structured life and, during the pandemic, it wasn’t there any more. And then you start thinking: Do I really need to do that any more? Is that important? Do I LIKE doing that? It’s quite stressful.

Paul Vickers and The Leg – all six members of the band…

All those things came into the equation, so I became a bit more serious. The new band album is quite serious. I got quite into that during the pandemic – crafting a really good album.

JOHN: What was Twonkey’s Custard Club like?

PAUL: There was a book that had 100 pages with the same picture on every page. It was a tankard and a sleepy/romantic Alpine scene. There was a whole bit about if that book did exist, how would you interpret it? You would probably automatically think there might be a slight difference between the pictures and start looking for it. But there was no difference.

JOHN: Was any custard involved?

PAUL: In that bit, no. It was not custardy that bit. It wasn’t ALL custardy.

There will be a couple of custard songs in the Soho Theatre show – the ‘Best of’ show – despite the fact they’ve never been heard by anyone before.

JOHN: Seems reasonable.

PAUL: If the gig at the Soho Theatre goes well, that’ll help me make my decision on what to do.

If everyone’s like You can’t stop doing that! That’s great, Paul! that’s one thing. But, if it ends with people booing and asking for refunds, then… (LAUGHS)

Twitch bound… the Wobbly Waiter from Twonkey’s Custard Club…

There are some amazing puppets that Grant’s made for the show. The Wobbly Waiter of the Custard Club has got leg braces and everything. It was going to have custard and wobbly things on the plate. You bomb about and create absolute chaos with him because it’s very heavy and impossible to control. So it’s the perfect foil for comedy activity. 

JOHN: You haven’t done Twonkey at all during the pandemic?

PAUL: Well I did a pub quiz as Twonkey in a little pub called The Hoppy in Edinburgh and that went really well. That was the first time I’d done Twonkey in ages.

JOHN: How does Twonkey do a pub quiz? Surreal questions?

PAUL: Well, there’s a lot of things I do that make it not work.

JOHN: Is that the basis of Twonkey? Making it not work.

PAUL: Essentially. For example, at the pub quiz, I was forgetting to read out all the answers and no-one had any idea who was winning, not even me because I had forgotten to count it up.

JOHN: What happened at the end?

PAUL: My brother tried to make sense of it all and we did crown a winner.

Woodland Creatures bar, home of an unconventional pub quiz

JOHN: You had hosted pub quizzes before?

PAUL: When I did it on Leith Walk, I used to do it at a place called Woodland Creatures. But the trouble with pub quizzes is that people take them very seriously and the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia came round. I was like the new kid on the block.

JOHN: Who are the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia?

PAUL: Well, there’s a few of them that do the pub quiz circuit. Some of them do five or six pubs. I used to think the host for a pub quiz was probably a local schoolteacher with a bit of knowledge and time on his hands but – nah – it’s much more cynical than that.

The Pub Quiz Mafia were like: What’s this guy up to? Because I was going against the conventions of pub quizzes…

JOHN: … like giving the answers…

PAUL: …erm… yes. It was controversial at first. I had one round where I showed a clip from a film and people watched it really carefully, thinking the questions were going to be about that clip… but then I’d ask questions about a completely different film.

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey – unconventional is now standard

At the start, it was quite popular. I had a dominatrix doing the score cards. She was in latex and stuff.

She was like Carol Vorderman from Countdown. She was the brain and the discipline of the quiz and I was like Richard Whiteley, sitting there not having a clue what was going on, but being charming in a way I suppose. If I messed up, the dominatrix would keep me in line.

JOHN: She would whip you into shape?

PAUL: (LAUGHS) There was no whipping involved, but she made it known she was displeased. And she got angry with people who weren’t behaving in the crowd. After she stopped helping out, I was just sort of floating because I forgot I was doing a pub quiz. And it turned out that really frustrates people.

JOHN: What were you thinking if you forgot it was a pub quiz?

PAUL: Well, I start off thinking: Oh, this will be fun. And then I lose interest because it’s a pub quiz. I suppose I’ve made it my own. You could say it’s just a bad pub quiz.

JOHN: You should do a bad pub quiz at the Edinburgh Fringe. People would flock to it.

PAUL: Maybe… I will send you a link to my new video: Everyone Loves Custard. It will be in the Soho show.


And he did…
 

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