Tag Archives: comedy

Worldwide comments on Louise Reay’s husband’s self-destructive court case.

Controversial Edinburgh Fringe show

If you want to complain about something included in a comedy show you have not seen, my advice is do not sue the comic. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case, it will not make you look good and the media will love it.

Last Friday, I blogged about Louise Reay starting a crowdfunding appeal to cover court costs because her estranged husband is suing her for mentioning him in an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode last year.

As far as I am aware, he has never actually seen the show, which was about political totalitarianism and what would happen if the Chinese government took over the BBC.

I saw a preview of Hard Mode before the Fringe in which Louise mentioned how sad she was about her marriage breaking up. Without details.

I never saw the show in Edinburgh. Apparently her husband objected to some comments he was told she had made in a handful of shows and she removed the comments. Now, six months later, he is suing her.

Drawing attention to something only a few people heard by going into a public court and attracting inevitable media publicity is staggeringly counterproductive. As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, it triggers the Streisand Effect. I showed how the story had spread, virus-like – basically Husband Sues Comedian Wife for Talking About Him on Stage – and, since yesterday, it has spread further with people now commenting on it worldwide. The latest new references to it which I spotted on a cursory Google this morning are listed below at the bottom of this blog.

Eraserhead – Louise’s new show had to be written in 48 hours

In Australia, The Advertiser noted that the complained-of show “last year won an Adelaide Fringe Best Emerging Artist Weekly Award”. This year (Louise is currently performing in Adelaide), The Advertiser notes she was forced to write a new show Eraserhead in just 48 hours. It is “about the experience of censorship and the way it makes you feel like your identity is being erased”.

Louise is quoted as saying: “he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me. As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.”

Canada’s National Post wisely got in touch with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who actually saw and reviewed the complained-about show in Edinburgh for The Scotsman last year.

She said that the show was about freedom of speech and political oppression. At one brief point in the show, she told the National Post yesterday: “My memory of it is that (Louise) said that she’d realized that she’d also been in an oppressive relationship. But it was so minor — there was very, very little detail… I’ve seen lots of shows where people talk about relationships where they’ve gone into a lot of detail about their relationships, their marriage. Mostly what she was doing was making a political point. It seems extraordinary that he has taken this view of it.”

The Malaysian Digest quoted Mark Stephens, a libel lawyer at Howard Kennedy in London, who told the UK’s Guardian:

“There’s a long history of British juries – before they were abolished [in defamation cases] – not finding in favour of claimants when it’s a joke… This will be the first time [the issue comes] before a judge. It’s going to be a test of whether the British judiciary understands a joke – I mean that seriously. It’s a test case for the judge to see whether they will follow the same route as juries used to take, which was to throw libel cases which were based on humour out on their ear. Judges have traditionally had something of a humourless side.”

The Malaysian Digest continues: “Drawing from personal experience has been key to vast numbers of comedians’ work. Last year’s Fringe, even, featured separate shows by ex-couple Sarah Pascoe and John Robins in which they discussed their break up, the latter winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show, shared with Hannah Gadsby. Sarah Millican won the if.comedy award for Best Newcomer in 2008 for her show Sarah Millican’s Not Nice, inspired by her own divorce.

“It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism…”

“(Louise Reay’s) solicitors have also issued a statement on the case, reading: Louise started to write her Hard Mode show when she was still with her husband. It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese Government. It was in no way a show about her husband. While performing the show after their separation, Louise mentioned her husband a couple of times but this was in the context of telling the audience how sad she was that they had recently separated.

“At certain performances of the show, she cried at this point. While she used Mr. Reay’s image of a couple of times, she invited the audience to admire how good-looking he was and expressed sadness that the marriage had come to an end. She used an image and some footage from their wedding that she had been using in her shows for years without any objection from Mr. Reay.

Mr. Reay had claimed that there are sections of the show which will have been understood by the audience to mean that he was abusive to Louise. Louise’s position is that the key sections that he claimed are defamatory of him were not intended to be understood by the audience to refer to him. During the most of these sections, Louise was playing various different characters, including a newsreader and Jeremy Clarkson. Should this case go to trial, there will undoubtedly be debate over the meaning of the words complained about and whether they can truly be said to refer to Mr. Reay.

Claire Smith’s review of the show in The Scotsman last year, by the way, said it was: “an absurdist show about totalitarianism which intentionally makes its audience feel uncomfortable. We are hustled to our feet, given identity papers and surrounded by masked guards who are watching our behaviour. In the past Reay, who is fluent in Chinese, has been sponsored by the Chinese government to create absurdist mime shows in Chinese. It is safe to say Reay and the Chinese government are getting a divorce – particularly as she has worked on this show with dissident artist Ai Weiwei. It’s a bold experimental comedy.”

In fact, the Chinese, as far as I am aware at the time of writing, have not yet threatened to sue Louise.

Louise’s TV documentary work covers difficult subjects

Incidentally, Louise’s TV documentary credits include BBC1 Panorama, Channel 4’s Dispatches, BBC2’s study of income inequality The Super Rich & Us, Channel 4’s series on immigration Why Don’t You Speak English?,  BBC2’s series on education Chinese School: Are Our Kids Tough Enough?, BBC4’s History of India: Treasures of the Indus and Channel 4’s History of China: Triumph & Turmoil.

I don’t think the current court case could easily be the subject of some future TV documentary. More a TV sitcom.

Louise Reay’s crowdfunding page is HERE.

The latest batch of media reports are:

THE ADVERTISER (AUSTRALIA)

BBC NEWS, SCOTLAND

DAILY EXPRESS

DAILY RECORD (SCOTLAND)

(LONDON) EVENING STANDARD

GIZMODO

THE i

LINDA NIEUWS (HOLLAND)

MALAYSIAN DIGEST

MANDY NEWS online

NATIONAL POST (CANADA)

NEW YORK POST

THE SCOTSMAN

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Filed under China, Comedy, Legal system

Comic Louise Reay, her husband suing her and the destructiveness of publicity

Friday’s blog

On Friday, I blogged a story about comic performer Louise Reay crowdfunding to cover her legal fees because her estranged husband is suing her as a result of her saying, he claims, something derogatory about him in her Edinburgh Fringe show back in August.

She had removed the reference after he complained so why he has decided to sue her now – in February – is beyond me.

But, leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the case – I have no idea what his complaint is and the preview show I saw in advance of Edinburgh was not derogatory about him – there is the Streisand Effect to take into consideration here.

I mentioned this is my blog last Friday.

I can do no better than to quote the current Wikipedia entry – if it’s in Wikipedia, it must be true…

“The Streisand Effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.

The complained-of photo of the Barbra Streisand mansion (Photo Copyright (C) 2002 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project)

It dates back to 2003, when Barbra Streisand sued a photographer for violation of privacy by making an aerial photograph of her mansion publicly available amid a collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs which aimed to draw attention to coastal erosion.

The photograph she complained about had only, one presumes, ever been seen by coastline erosion enthusiasts and had only ever been downloaded six times (two of those were by Streisand’s attorneys). As a result of the legal action, more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.  (The lawsuit was dismissed and Streisand was ordered to pay the photographer’s legal fees, which amounted to $155,567.)

Last Friday, I blogged about Louise Reay being sued by her estranged husband over an Edinburgh show which, let’s face it – Louise is good, but – only a small number of people had ever seen.

On Saturday, the Chortle comedy website picked up the story.

On Monday, the Guardian newspaper was reporting it.

On Tuesday morning, it was on Channel 5.

By Tuesday teatime, it was on the BBC World Service.

By this morning – Wednesday – on a very superficial search (excluding blogs and social media mentions) these outlets (listed alphabetically) had reported the story:

BBC WORLD SERVICE
“BBC OS” at 16’00”-20’00” on
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172vrbbtvrl739

CHANNEL 5
“The Wright Stuff” at 54’24”-55’55” on
https://www.my5.tv/the-wright-stuff/season-2018/episode-32

CHORTLE COMEDY INDUSTRY WEBSITE

CRAVE

(GLASGOW) EVENING TIMES

GUARDIAN

(GLASGOW) HERALD

THE INDEPENDENT

METRO

DAILY MIRROR

NATIONAL POST

THE SUN

THE TIMES

THE WEEK

Louise – the allegedly offensive show

Louise Reay’s husband is apparently suing her because he says she said things about him which will make people think less of him.

Apparently Louise Reay’s estranged husband is suing her for £30,000.

It seems to me that, if he is claiming damage to his reputation, then (if true) £29,999.50p of that damage would have been caused by he himself and 50p by anything a few people heard in less than a handful of shows in Edinburgh back in August 2017.

Do people take what comedians say in comedy shows seriously?

As Terry Christian said yesterday on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5: “Imagine how much money Les Dawson’s mother-in-law would have got.”

Someone on Facebook commented about Louise’s un-named husband: “He’s trying to tell the world he’s not a cunt by being an utter cunt.”

Louise Reay’s crowdfunding page to cover her legal costs

Note that that comment (with which, of course, I do not associate myself) is referring not to the perception of the estranged husband raised by Louise’s Edinburgh Fringe show but by the perception raised by the estranged husband’s legal action.

If it is possible under English law, I think Louise’s estranged husband would have a very strong case for suing himself for self-defamation of his own character.

Now THAT is an Edinburgh Fringe show I would pay to see.

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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Comic Becky Fury proposes marriage while chatting to me at a Pret a Manger

Becky Fury with stars in her eyes – well, one

Yesterday’s blog was about my first stage appearance at Martyn Sadler’s new comedy club in East London. Malcolm Hardee Award-winning comedian Becky Fury had performed there a month before – on its opening night.

I had tea with her at a branch of Pret a Manger yesterday afternoon. I thought we were going to talk about the new club – and we started on that – but then the subject changed unexpectedly.


JOHN: When I was at Martyn’s club, the audience was a bit rowdy. What were they like when you performed there?

BECKY: There was a stag party in one corner and they were getting the most attention. You know I have the horn…

JOHN: Yes. How did you deal with the situation?

Becky backstage at Martyn’s opening night

BECKY: So I have this horn in my back pocket which means I can squeeze one of my breasts and make a honking sound as I squeeze it. Audiences like it… I nearly turned that bit of my act into a full, very aggressive striptease to keep them quiet but I knew Martyn wasn’t allowed to do that. He has been told that his licence doesn’t allow him to have strippers.

I was going to do it, but then I realised I hadn’t shaved my legs, so I backed away from that, which was a massive shame.

JOHN: So how did you quieten the stag party?

BECKY: Natural charm.

JOHN: What was Martyn doing while all this was going on?

BECKY: He was round the back wearing his fedora. Hanging round the bar talking to people. You know what he’s like.

The Stables bar at Granada Television buildings in Manchester

JOHN: He was like that when I worked with him at Granada TV in Manchester. Always in the Stables.

BECKY: The Stables?

JOHN: The staff bar. What was your impression of Martyn when you first met him?

BECKY: That he is always an act. He is always playing the part of Martyn Sadler.

JOHN: You first met him in Edinburgh a couple of years ago…?

BECKY: Yeah. I met him and we ended up having a drink in a Wetherspoons in Leith and these two Scottish guys were giving me shit because I was swearing. They said they didn’t want to hear that sort of language. They were really nicely sharply suited and booted. I went over and apologised to them but they told me to Fuck off and that I was being rude.

JOHN: In those exact words? “Fuck off”?

The Wetherspoons at the Foot of the Walk in Leith, Edinburgh

BECKY: Yeah. In Leith Wetherspoons at half twelve in the afternoon!

JOHN: Some people have no sense of irony.

BECKY: Yeah. They just really pissed me off.  So I picked up a bottle of ketchup off a table and said: “Oh, it would be a shame, wouldn’t it, lads, if someone got ketchup all over their nice, smart jacket.”

JOHN: How did they react?

BECKY: They kind of freaked out and the manager came over and said: “Just sit down, right?” and it calmed down. But what Martyn did a few minutes after that was he got his glasses…

JOHN: His spectacles?

BECKY: Yes. And he got some ketchup, squirted it across the top of the glasses, put the glasses back on his face and walked past them on the way to the toilet and looked at them with the ketchup dripping down over his eyes and he said: “I told her to watch her language too, lads, and this is what she did to me.”

JOHN: And they…?

BECKY: They grabbed their fucking coats and ran off. Well, they didn’t run – but they exited sharpish. And that is why Martyn Sadler is amazing.

Martyn Sadler (top right) at his new club in East London

JOHN: You like his anarchic tendencies.

BECKY: Yeah. Maybe I should propose to him via your blog. He says he likes pranks.

JOHN: ‘Becky Sadler’ has a nice ring to it.

BECKY: Exactly.

JOHN: You would have your own club to perform in.

BECKY: Yeah. It sounds like a good match to me.

JOHN: A match made in…

BECKY: …Headinburgh… Will you marry me, Martyn?

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner reviews my first stage performance

Publicity shot for my first ever show

Last Wednesday night I took to the stage for the first time.

I appeared doing a 10-minute spot in a Valentine’s Night special at Martyn Sadler’s new comedy club in East London.

It was, perhaps, a rather rowdier audience than I would have preferred.

But, sitting in the audience, was comedy promoter Noel Faulkner, who founded the Comedy Cafe – now at its new venue in Shoreditch.

He was kind enough to share this review of my act via social media the next day.


Noel Faulkner is a man of exquisite taste

Well I have to say John Fleming – who has seen more comedy than anyone in the business – is definitely a dark horse of the stage. He was amazing in his performance last night. First of all, nobody told me he has such a great falsetto voice. I thought he was miming!

His performance from the moment he stepped on stage just blew everyone away (John is good at blowing). And, at his age, to come on to what must be one of the most difficult tap dancing routines since Fred Astaire and still have the energy to do two songs – one with an audience member on his shoulders – was both a treat and a feat.


Martin Soan (pictured) introduced German act The Short Man in Long Socks in 2016 wearing short socks to avoid confusion

I have hopes that Noel may book me at his Comedy Cafe Theatre in the summer but, in the meantime, Martyn Sadler has re-booked me to perform at his new East London club at the end of March.

Also on the bill will be that extraordinary German variety club act The Short Man in Long Socks – Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken – who has not been seen in London since his appearance at Pull the Other One in Nunhead in 2016.

I blogged about it at the time.

Tickets for the March show at Martyn Sadler’s club are available online now at £10 full price; £15 for students.

This admirable pricing system is based on a model the late Malcolm Hardee once used for his show at the Edinburgh Festival.

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Comedian Louise Reay is being sued over a Fringe show about free speech

Louise Reay, has come up against a brick wall, not in China

Last year, comic Louise Reay previewed her then-upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode at critic Kate Copstick’s increasingly prestigious London charity emporium Mama Biashara.

It was the first time I knew Louise had separated from her husband.

Beyond that fact and a lot of rather arty Chinese references, I discovered no details of why they had separated. That is relevant to what follows.

The  blurb for Hard Mode read:


“Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship”

Imagine how you’d act if you were always being watched? Imagine if you couldn’t speak freely? Imagine if the Chinese government bought the BBC?

An immersive comedy show where the audience experiences life in an authoritarian regime. Yay!

Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship and surveillance.

Hard Mode is the latest show from multi award-winning comedian and journalist, Louise Reay.

‘Reay can legitimately claim to be unique’ (Independent)

‘Truly fantastic, utterly out there’ (Al Murray)

**** (Skinny)


“I am being sued. It’s really happening”

Last night, I got an email from Louise. She is currently in Australia, performing at the Adelaide Fringe. Her email read:

Dear John – I am being sued. It’s really happening. 

She is being sued by her estranged husband because he objected to what he claims was in her Hard Mode show.

I can only assume her estranged husband has not heard of The Streisand Effect.

Louise has started a GoFundMe crowdfunding page. It reads:


Hi! I am Louise Beamont, my stage name is Louise Reay.

I hope you’ll forgive me – but I need to ask you something.

You see, I am being sued over one of my stand-up shows.

Not just by anyone. By my husband (now separated of course).

He has a lot more money than me and he says that I accused him of abusing me in my show. And so he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me.

As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.

So this has become a free speech issue – and free speech means everything to me. As a Chinese speaker, I’ve spent many years in China and experienced the social impact when people do not have this freedom. I’ve also spent many years making documentaries for the BBC with vulnerable people whose voices are rarely heard.

And, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult an experience it has been to have my Edinburgh show censored.

I think therefore it’s really important for me to defend myself in this case.

And I’m afraid I need your help please because. I need to pay lawyers you see.

Here’s a bit more detail ….

I am a stand up comedian and documentary-maker, with a particular interest in speaking out for oppressed people.  On Tuesday 30 January 2018, I was served with defamation, privacy and data protection proceedings by my husband from whom I am separated. I cannot tell you how oppressive that feels.

The claim is in relation to a comedy show that I performed last year. a few times last year. It was a 50 minute show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese government.

During that show, I referred to my husband a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50 minute show. The main gist of those references was to tell the audience how sad I was that my marriage had broken down recently. He has complained about 2 performances of my show in London, and my shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He is seeking £30,000 damages, his legal costs (which I can only assume will be massive) and an injunction stopping me from publishing statements about him. This is despite the fact that I gave him an undertaking (a sort of legal promise – without admitting liability of course) not to mention him in any further performances of the show, as soon as his lawyers complained. Indeed, all further performances of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe were without reference to him.

Defamation and privacy cases like this can be very expensive to defend. At present, I do not have the funds to defend this case. Therefore, I’d be very grateful for any assistance with costs. I have struggled greatly to pay all of my costs to date but and cannot afford to pay a barrister to prepare my defence.

I am confident I can defend the claim. However, these sorts of cases are fraught with uncertainty. It will depend on what the judge finds the words mean and possibly on whose testimony the judge prefers.

I am therefore seeking to raise an initial fund of at least £10,000. I might need to raise more as the case goes on.

If I am successful in defending this case, I hope to secure the recovery of some of my legal expenses from him (around 70% is typical I’m told). If I am able to recover some of my legal expenses, I will reimburse all those who have contributed to my defence fund in proportion to what each party has contributed.

Funds raised in this crowdfunder shall be used solely for my legal expenses. If I lose the case and damages and costs are awarded to my husband, I shall be personally liable for those. I’m told that, if this happens, it could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I will be bankrupt.

In any responses to this message can I please ask that you don’t post any negative comments about my husband. I’m not trying to embarrass him with this plea. I’m desperate. I need help. It’s about free speech … just like my show was.

Thank you very much for reading.


The link to the GoFundMe crowdfunding page is HERE

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system

Waiting for Guido with aerial artist Avi

Becky Fury, Geoff Steel and Johnathan Richardson are Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre

On Monday night, Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury is presenting a show called Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre in London. It is billed as:

“Fusing comic improvisation from world class performers, a little sprinkling of circus performance and an improvised musical score. This is Jesus and the Easter bunny waiting for the return of the enigmatic and insurrectionary battery chicken, Guido. In a basic story structure inspired by Waiting for Godot, Dada and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, we present an evening of entertainment, theatrical innovation and carefully curated chaos.”

Johnathan Richardson, Becky Fury, Geoff Steel in rehearsal

As well as comics Trevor Lock, Johnathan Richardson, Geoff Steel and Becky, there is music by a house band featuring Bang Crosby and aerial acts from “contortionist and rope and hoop expert” Avital Hannah.

Aerial acts? I thought. Aerial acts? So I went to the National Centre for Circus Arts in London to see Becky and Avital talk through and swing through what might be happening on Monday.


JOHN: So what is Waiting For Guido?

BECKY: It’s basically a cabaret show with some theatrical comedy vignettes. A contemporary freakshow inspired by Principa Discordia and the Dogme manifesto. This one’s more Catme but I always have to be so extra. Everything’s not so much falling into place but descending in beautiful yet bizarre shapes and landing elegantly in place.

JOHN: What’s the narrative?

BECKY: Waiting.

JOHN: What is Avi doing? Just hanging around?

AVI: Hanging from the rafters.

BECKY: She will be mirroring some of the characters in the show. Everyone has a character. It’s a hybrid cabaret comedy circus show.

Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

JOHN: Why did you decide being an aerial artist was a good career choice?

AVI: I kind of decided on a whim… I had gone to college to study law, psychology, philosophy and critical thinking. I thought: There’s a future for me as an aerial artist because I’m highly-strung and not very good at letting go. And I thought: If I go to circus school then I can do what I want but I still get a qualification.

JOHN: Did the glamour of circus attract you?

AVI: No.

JOHN: So what was the attraction?

AVI: The ownership of my own body.

JOHN: Define that.

AVI: It was really positive for reclaiming my body as a woman. I had often felt it was ‘owned’ by other people. I’m definitely in control of it now. It will always be more useful to me than anyone else. Before circus, that had not necessarily always been apparent.

JOHN: ‘Being in control of your own body’ sounds like it might overlap into hatred of men.

AVI: Well, to some extent I think it’s a feminist answer but I think it’s just as a human I have my right to own my own body and this has enabled me to do so.

JOHN: Where is the career in being an aerial artist outside a circus? You can’t play the upstairs room of a suburban pub.

Waiting For Guido in rehearsal

AVI: No, but there’s corporate gigs, the corporate circuit at Christmas time, charity gigs, Council things and it’s more integrated into theatre and dance than it used to be. There are circus shows in the West End. There’s TV and film stuff. It’s quite broad; you’ve just gotta know where to look.

JOHN: Corporate gigs?

AVI: Making posh people’s parties look cooler. If you can get someone to hang off the ceiling, it looks good.

JOHN: Is there a career path?

AVI: I’m interested in the production side. I’m really interested in production management and directing, producing.

JOHN: How do you two know each other?

BECKY: From festivals. The DIY culture. The Unfairground stage at the Glastonbury Festival.

JOHN: There is a lot of twirling involved in what you do.

AVI: I find it easier to learn things on the left. It’s generally easier to rotate one way. I generally spin to the right but there are certain tricks that require me to spin to the left and that’s fine; it’s just a different type of training.

JOHN: Is that something to do with the left side of your brain controlling the right side of the body and vice versa?

AVI: I don’t know, but there are certain things you can do to make them talk to each other a bit better.

JOHN: Such as?”

Becky shoots Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

AVI: Stand up and stand on one leg with your eyes closed and then try standing on the other leg. You will be better doing it on one side than the other. Then open your eyes and bring your thumb towards them until it’s uncomfortable to see it and do that three times. Keep your thumb really steady while doing it. Then try standing on one leg again. It should be way more even between left and right. It tricks your brain somehow.

BECKY: It must realign everything into a balance because you have to focus on the thumb straight-on rather than left and right sides and one of your eyes being lazy.

AVI: I don’t know. It seems to work.

JOHN: Have you got public liability insurance if you fall on someone?

AVI: Only if I’m performing. Not in normal life.

BECKY: Everyone should have it. A friend of mine was performing at a Secret Policeman’s Ball show. He threw rice during the show and someone slipped on a grain of rice in their stiletto shoe and broke their ankle. Luckily he had public liability insurance, because they sued him.

JOHN: Why are your powdering your ear?

AVI: I always put make-up on my ear lobes before a show. You don’t want red ears when you go upside down. Blood goes to them when you are upside down.

JOHN: Ah… Why are you in Becky’s show? It’s basically a comedy show.

AVI: It’s different. I wanna see what happens.

JOHN: Yes indeed.

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Filed under circus, Comedy, Surreal, Theatre

How do people get into storytelling comedy? Here is how one man did.

Akin Omobitan has been performing comedy for less than two years. He performed his first gig in April 2016. It is now January 2018. He has been a finalist in the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year contest, a semi-finalist in the prestigious So You Think You’re Funny contest and been a Comedy Virgins’ Max Turner Prize winner. So I had a chat with him.


JOHN: Did your first gig go well in 2016?

AKIN: Pretty good. After that first gig, I knew it would not be my last.

JOHN: You got the taste for applause?

AKIN: Yes. It fuels me; it’s definitely quite the drug.

JOHN: How old are you?

AKIN: 33.

JOHN: Is it OK to mention that? Some people don’t like their age printed.

AKIN: I’m OK with that. I think my age allows my comedy to make more sense.

JOHN: More sense?

AKIN: As to why someone would hold so much resentment and anger… and not just be doing jokes about dating and partying.

JOHN: So you are a bitter and twisted man?

AKIN: Yeah.

JOHN: But you’ve had a relatively easy life.

AKIN: Well, I have. I feel that’s part of the problem. I feel like I’ve had a life good enough for me to have become a better person than I am. There’s a lot of self-resentment – I should have made more of a lot of opportunities that I had. So I’m not really angry at Society, not angry at other people. It’s more a case of being angry with me – with jobs that I stayed at too long, relationships I was in too long.

JOHN: When this is in cold print, it might come over as I don’t hate Society; I hate myself.

AKIN: Yeah… That’s fair. But I’m learning to love myself and I hope that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on my comedy.

JOHN: You seem an amiable, well-adjusted person. That is not good if you want to be a comedian. Comedians are all barking mad.

AKIN: There is stuff. There is stuff wrong. But, yeah, the self-loathing is… Having had so many opportunities and having so much available… I think about my dad and how much he has achieved. My parents came to the UK in the late-1980s in their early-twenties for a better life and got a much harder one. It took them quite a while to get established. But now my dad owns a house and a flat. He’s married. He’s got three kids. He’s been in his job for two decades or something and this is someone who came here from Nigeria with just a suitcase. Then I look at myself and think, realistically: I should have far exceeded him in so many different areas.

JOHN: Do you have a suitcase?

AKIN: I don’t even have a suitcase.

JOHN: It sounds to me less like self-loathing than a drive to succeed.

AKIN: Maybe it IS ambition. Maybe. I do want to do a lot of things.

JOHN: Do you have one big, central ambition? Or do you just want to be generally famous?

AKIN: Fame isn’t even the goal. No. What I would love to do is make a living out of something that I enjoy. That’s the main goal. To wake up with a purpose that excites me.

JOHN: A moral purpose? You want to make the world a better place?

AKIN: Not really. My comedy is very self-indulgent, very autobiographical. It’s about me. I’m not trying to convince people about anything. I’m not trying to change minds. I’m trying to show them the world through my lens. It’s not Get on board! It’s just This is what I think.

JOHN: So it’s autobiographical, observational storytelling.

AKIN: Not even observational, really. At university, I got interested in psychology and philosophy, I like to ‘guise’ a lot of that in my comedy where it is about bigger questions and how do you have a joke about bigger questions?

JOHN: What did you study at university?

AKIN: Media Studies at the University of East London – film, TV, radio… and then you could add other areas which I found I was more interested in, like psychology. What I’m massively interested in now is psychology, philosophy and literature. I never really knew, back then, what I wanted to do.

JOHN: At school you were some sort of arty bastard?

AKIN: I went to three different secondary schools – in Camden, Finchley and Dagenham – I never went to an arty school. Everything was very bog standard.

JOHN: Did you have an urge to be in school plays?

AKIN: My parents talked me out of performing. When I was in secondary school, they came to a parents’ evening and the drama teacher tried to persuade them to further nudge me in the direction of acting but they talked me out of it.

JOHN: So they didn’t encourage you to be creative but they could stomach you doing Media Studies?

AKIN: I think by then I was doing well enough in school for them to think I had a bit more figured out than I did. At the time, I was very interested in film analysis and the construction and deconstruction of media.

JOHN: So what were you doing between the ages of 22 and 32?

AKIN: Making lots of mistakes. I think I grew up thinking Life just happens as opposed to You make Life happen. I had a strong influence from my parents in terms of being responsible and going to university. But there was no encouragement for anything creative. It was more practical.

JOHN: After university, you just bummed around?

AKIN: I worked in media.

JOHN: For example?

AKIN: In the advertising production department of a company – Media 10. They do magazines and live events like Grand Designs and the Ideal Home Show. They do Icon magazine about architecture and interior design… and onOffice magazine, which is all about work space interior design. My job was to check copy. It wasn’t that interesting. I did chip-in writing some copy and helping the studio team, but that was more just for my own interest. It was quite low-paying and, after a couple of years…

JOHN: Anything more personally creative?

AKIN: I used to blog.

JOHN: The last refuge of a scoundrel. What was it called?

AKIN: A Darker Shade of Black. It was quite successful in terms of views and interactions. I had had an idea for a book and I was two chapters into writing it when I re-read it and realised: This is horrible! The writing is terrible! So I started a blog to exercise my writing and it turned into its own thing.

JOHN: You wrote for the sake of writing, so it would just become natural?

AKIN: Yeah. It varied from current affairs to autobiographical to creative stuff like poems, short stories, opinion pieces. Just unfiltered – what I felt like, as the urge struck me.

JOHN: Why did you stop?”

AKIN: I had a job.

JOHN: Another job?

AKIN: Yes. Back then, I could stomach 9-to-5. Now, a 9-to-5 would be the death of me. But the job I had was 9-to-6 and it just crushed me. That extra hour just seemed to stamp out my entire day. I was a Project Assistant. It was very vague. I reported to about three different people. There was no real job description.

JOHN: Did you have a ‘Road To Damascus’ moment when you decided to be a comedian?

AKIN: When I turned 29, I just started freaking out about Life. I didn’t like where any of it was going – relationships, my career.

JOHN: Why turn to comedy? Why not acting?

AKIN: I think, having wasted three years in Media Studies, I was really put off the idea of going back and studying anything. I guess in terms of Why?… When I was 31, I was working on a list of 32 things to do before I turned 32 and, in a conversation with a friend, I joked about trying stand-up and his reaction was: That’s actually a really good idea. You should do it!

JOHN: Did you do all 32 things on the list?

AKIN: It ended up being only 26 on the list and I did 19 of them.

JOHN: What were the 7 you didn’t do?

AKIN: One was to give a random person £100.

JOHN: I am happy to help you with that.

AKIN: It was going to be in cash and I don’t have that amount on me.

JOHN: I can wait… You have not yet done two years of stand-up comedy. Do you want to be like Ken Dodd: still performing for the applause when you are 133 years old? Or be a film director? Or a novelist?

AKIN: I’m very open. I am still interested in acting.

JOHN: You should write a sitcom for yourself.

AKIN: I have. Myself and a friend have written two episodes.

JOHN: And you would perform in it?

AKIN: Very much so.

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