Tag Archives: comedy

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 29

SUNDAY 9th AUGUST

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


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

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

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

No-one did, so it was just me. 


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

Which, indeed, it was.

I have still not recovered from the shock.

Homeless and faceless in a heatwave, 2020

MONDAY 10th AUGUST

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

I passed him by.

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

I felt embarrassed that I took a picture of him.

Although without an identifiable face.

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

I suspect it was.

And to post it here.

… 34 questions asked before you give blood …

TUESDAY 11th AUGUST

I was supposed to be donating blood next Wednesday.

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

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

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

Inconsequential to you, perhaps; means more to me.

My apologies.

WEDNESDAY 12th AUGUST

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

Sara Mason – once seen, never forgotten

THURSDAY 13th AUGUST

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

The comment read:


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


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

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


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

FRIDAY 14th AUGUST

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


Hello John,

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

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

Let me know if you would like any further information.

Many thanks,

Adam Lewis
Marketing Administrator
YES Energy Solutions


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

SATURDAY 15th AUGUST

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

55 masked minutes for a different type of Edinburgh flyerer

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bought a packet of chocolate-covered ginger biscuits.

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

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

I felt my age.

Again.

Argghh!!

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kevin McGeary on writing satiric Chinese-language comedy songs

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

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

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

Kevin McGeary talked to me from Manchester via Skype


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

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

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

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

JOHN: Are there loads of buskers in China?

KEVIN: No, not at all.

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

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

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

JOHN: You were in China for…

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

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

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

JOHN: And, after you finished teaching English…

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

Kevin McGeary on GuangdongTelevision

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

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

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

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

JOHN: Is satire a good idea in China?

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

JOHN: So being offensive is OK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: Very subtle.

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

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

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

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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

… There is a YouTube playlist for the album HERE

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

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Simon Munnery on his first exhibition, buying vegetables and a new form of art

Simon Munnery with Tazzy, his over-large lap dog, out shopping for vegetables in Bedford…

It’s Tuesday today.

Last Wednesday, I went to Bedford for a chat with ever-original comedy performer Simon Munnery. He travels about 11 miles to Bedford every Wednesday to buy his vegetables.

Since then, I’ve either been busy or lazy or I’ve been waiting for the coronavirus panic to settle in some way to find an angle. Take your pick.

But there is no angle. Simon’s first solo art exhibition What Am I? has opened in Bedford at Andy Holden‘s suitably quirky Ex-Baldessarre Gallery. It runs from noon to 6.00pm every Saturday until 9th May, coronavirus allowing.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested everyone in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas and that people who did not absolutely have to go out should stay at home – an end to “all unnecessary social contact.”

London theatres have already started to close. Who knows if smaller, intimate exhibitions like Simon’s will close? As of this morning, the art exhibition continues but his Alan Parker Urban Warrior ‘Farewell Tour’ comedy show is pausing, with luck recommencing in April, perhaps later. Just a week is a long time in a virus pandemic. This is what happened last week…

Simon’s first solo art exhibition is taking place in the character-filled Queen’s Park area of Bedford


JOHN: You live in a village in the countryside. I thought you were a city boy.

SIMON: Born in Edgware, raised in Watford, died all over the place.

JOHN: So why are you living in a village?

SIMON: It’s cheap. 

JOHN: This is billed as your first art exhibition? Surely not.

SIMON: I had stuff in Arthur Smith’s art gallery at the Edinburgh Fringe one year. He turned a house into an art gallery. That was it. 

JOHN: So this is your first solo exhibition.

SIMON: Yes. 

JOHN: I’m surprised you haven’t been approached by a major London gallery before this. I mean, you’re a ‘Name’. The Scotsman described you as “The closest that comedy gets to modern art.”

SIMON: Well, a jacket of mine is in the Museum of Comedy in London: the jacket with cider cans all over it. And this art exhibition is booked to go to Edinburgh.

JOHN: During the Fringe?

SIMON: Yup.

JOHN: If there IS a Fringe this year because of the coronavirus…

SIMON: Well, we don’t know at this stage. If there is, I’m doing a show called Trials & Tribulations.

JOHN: Because…

SIMON: Because you have to think of a title. I think the art exhibition may also be going to Stroud. Maybe it might go to London after that… The idea of a show that can tour without you is good.

JOHN: This sounds like a rounding-off-your-career type of exhibition.

Simon Munnery, in his youth, billed as “The Next Shakespeare”… though with an interest in science

SIMON: Not really. It was Andy Holden’s idea. He’s an artist; he uses some of the space he has in his studio for a tiny gallery and he said: “I shall do you.” So I said: “Alright.” And that was it.

JOHN: There’s something in the exhibition which you did when you were nine years old.

SIMON: There’s a poem. Something about The Fog.

JOHN: The Fog?

SIMON: I can’t remember it. I got a text from a neighbour that Mrs Nunn, my primary school teacher – there was some dispute at the time – says: “I still think you cheated on that poem.”

JOHN: How?

SIMON: I don’t know how. I didn’t. But it’s been following me round for 40 years.

JOHN: What’s in it?

SIMON:
Just things that rhyme with fog, I think. The fog lingers… I can’t remember.

JOHN: I can’t remember what you studied at university.

SIMON: Science. Well, “Not much,” is the real answer. In the last year, I ended up doing ‘The History and Philosophy of Science’.

JOHN: Is that actually Science? Or is it History and Philosophy?

SIMON: I don’t know. I didn’t go to any lectures, so I have no idea what the course was like. I just slipped through the net and no-one noticed, really.

JOHN: This was at Cambridge.

SIMON: Yes. I met my Supervisor a week before the exam. Because I had never been to anything, he hadn’t written any reports about me saying how well or badly I was doing and I said to him: “Can you recommend one book?” and he recommended Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge by Paul K Feyerabend.

So I read that and regurgitated all his arguments – which was basically saying there’s no such thing as the philosophy of science, along with some really good examples about Galileo… And I passed on the strength of reading one book.

JOHN: Did you get a good degree?

Simon leaves no stone unturned in his Bedford-based search for originality in Art… soon to tour

SIMON: A third. It goes First, Second, Third, so Third is the best.

JOHN: It’s the best because…?

SIMON: Because it’s the highest number. If you are utterly brilliant, you can get a Fourth.

JOHN: Why did you do science? You’re very arty.

SIMON: Am I? To be honest, in school subjects, I was quite good at everything. But when you got to ‘A’ Levels, at that time, you had to choose one or the other.

JOHN: You must surely have wanted to be an artist as a kid. You’re not usually doing straight stand-up in your shows. You’re always trying to work out some new, original, unique angle.

SIMON: It’s just to keep myself busy, really…

JOHN: But you could keep busy by doing the same old stuff over and over again.

SIMON: Well, I AM touring Alan Parker: Urban Warrior again. It’s billed as a ‘Farewell Tour’. But it has resurrected very nicely. I think it’s funnier played by someone in their mid-50s rather than their mid-20s, when I first did it. He’s still anti-Thatcher. The fact she’s dead now doesn’t make any difference to him. It’s like a bedrock. But there are new bits. Climate change. Extinction Rebellion and all that.

Reflections on a much younger Alan Parker, Urban Warrior, in one of the art exhibition’s videos…

JOHN: You performed for Extinction Rebellion…

SIMON: I played Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Brockwell Park in South London.

JOHN: Anyway, to get back to the exhibition… Andy Holden decided you were going to have an exhibition. So how did you choose what to include in it?

SIMON: I didn’t. I submitted things and he chose what to put up… I did have this massive canvas in my shed, which had been there for years… When I was spray-painting buckets, they rested on the canvas, so there were strange patterns on it. I tried to get that in the exhibition, just to get rid of it out of the shed, but he REALLY objected to that.

JOHN: Couldn’t you claim it was post-modern…?

SIMON:  That’s what I tried. But no, he wouldn’t have it.

JOHN: There must be phrases. ‘Post-modern’ is usually a good one. ‘Meme’ is a good one now. I suppose ‘Zeitgeist’ is a bit old-fashioned.

SIMON: I might have got away with just ‘Abstract’, but I feel it’s destined to stay in the shed.

JOHN: Couldn’t you have claimed it was about the Iraq War or something?

SIMON: A good title might have saved it. But no. He gave me some canvases and asked me to fill them and I printed out some stuff and he selected what he wanted. I did make an Alan Parker from an Action Man doll.

JOHN: That’s the mobile.

Simon addresses Extinction Rebellion in a video while his Alan Parker doll takes flight in the gallery

SIMON: Yes. Did you notice how padded its tummy was?

JOHN: Was it pregnant?

SIMON: No, but your standard Action Man isn’t the same shape as me.

JOHN: But you’re slim…

SIMON: Less so now…

JOHN: There was the wall with lots of quotes on.

A wall of quotes from Simon’s AGM show surround one of his always inventive television videos…

SIMON: That is only two-thirds of one year of my AGM show. I have sacks of those.

JOHN: So you were just trying to empty your house. What’s next?

SIMON: I came up with a format for a new form of Art… Roadside placards.

JOHN: Discuss…

SIMON: You often see an advert at the side of the road but you could put a sentence… then another sentence… and another sentence… and it would build up into a paragraph. Or maybe not even a sentence or a paragraph; just an image and then another image that replies to the previous image. You could prove Pythagoras’ Theorem entirely in images. People could learn as they drove past. Your experience would alter depending on the speed you were travelling at. You could design it for cyclists or car drivers or something to make people slow down. I dunno.

I was imagining green-on-brown so you would have to know it was there, maybe. Secret Art.

JOHN: Pythagoras?

SIMON: Pictorial proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem. It could be done. The format of roadside placards has not been fully exploited.

JOHN: More immediately, what next for you?

SIMON: I’ve bought eggs from the egg lady. She’s not shaped like an egg; she sells eggs. I’ve got my fruit and veg. I was supposed to be getting toilet rolls. We are running out at home. I went to the supermarket – none. Other people’s houses must be full of toilet rolls.

Simon Munnery’s exhibition What Am I? runs in Bedford every Saturday until May 9th, probably.

…Simon about to catch a wreath at a funeral staged in his back garden…

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Paul Vickers aka Twonkey fails to explain next week’s comedy show…

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey performs his latest show Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch at the Soho Theatre in London next Monday night. He lives in Edinburgh. I live in London (ish). We talked via Apple FaceTime… We both got sidetracked in cyberspace…


JOHN: So your new show is…

PAUL: Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe show. But it’s not been seen in London before… Well, no, that’s not true. The very first early version of it I did at the Bill Murray comedy club in London. But that was a disaster. All over the place. It was the first time I’d ever done a show where I had misjudged it so badly.

JOHN: Yet it was successful at the Fringe last August. What had you got so wrong in the first version?

PAUL: The right bits in the wrong order. I had sussed-out a formula for how to do my shows. The best way to do a Twonkey show is to have loads of short, fast, fun bits to (LAUGHS) lure people into a false sense of security and then, about halfway through the show start telling a longer narrative right through to the end.

For some reason, I decided in that first version to do it in reverse to see what would happen. I started with the story and then went to short, fast bits at the end and it didn’t work because people said: “You were telling a story and then you just completely abandoned it.”

JOHN: So, like Eric Morecambe, you did all the right bits, but not necessarily in the right order… in that first London try-out.

PAUL: Exactly. So I did major surgery on it overnight and, the next day, I did it in Leicester in a completely different way and it worked. Can you hear the dog?

JOHN: What?

PAUL: There’s a dog here. He’s going tomorrow. He’s going to live on a farm, which offers him a more rewarding life than we can… Eric.

JOHN: Eric?

Eric is Paul’s dog, but is not Paul

PAUL: That’s his name. Eric.ou

JOHN: After Eric Morecambe?

PAUL: I don’t know. It was my friend Mary who named him. I suppose it’s a strong name. I’ve written a song about him.

JOHN: How does it go – the song?

PAUL: I remember! The name! It’s because of Lynn Ruth Miller… That’s why he’s called Eric. Because Lynn Ruth always calls me Eric. Whenever she sees me, she yells out (in an American accent): “Oh, my God! It’s Eric!”

JOHN: She has always thought you are named Eric?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: When I worked at Granada TV, there was a man who called me ‘Peter’ for two years. I never had it in my heart to tell him I was not Peter. But he was happy and I was happy, so no problem. It’s only a name.

PAUL: Yeah, well, that’s how it goes, isn’t it? After a while, I stopped correcting Lynn Ruth because it seemed pointless.

JOHN: What does she say when she sees the dog? Does she call it Paul?

PAUL: She’s never seen the dog.

Mr Twonkey is cleaning up (Photo by Steve Ullathorne)

JOHN: Just as well, The dog might have developed an identity crisis… You were talking about the narrative story in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch? What’s the narrative?

PAUL: It’s about the fact that all the weather in the world has been replaced by fake weather in 1982. 

JOHN: Why?

PAUL: Because the old weather was being repaired and so there is a factory in the Dordogne where the weather is being stored. I travel to the Dordogne and find out who invented the weather originally… That kind of thing.

JOHN: Oh, the old ‘weather factory in the Dordogne’ meme…

PAUL: The previous year’s show Night Train to Liechtenstein had been about inherited wealth. It was a bit like Jack & The Beanstalk because, when I went to collect the inheritance, all there was were some beans but, when I grew the beans, inside there was a pumpkin and inside the pumpkin were diamonds. 

JOHN: But that is not what Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch is about…

Paul’s head is full of Twonkey ideas (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

PAUL: No. But the bit of music I was working on at the time of Night Train to Liechtenstein was like a choral thing and I realised the key it was in was exactly the same as Somewhere Over The Rainbow. So the end of the show had me holding up this pumpkin with diamonds in it and suddenly there was this weird choral music and out of it came Somewhere Over The Rainbow and it almost felt like I was floating out of the room. It was very odd, especially when I got tired.

JOHN: But that’s not the ending of Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

PAUL: No. It’s probably going to end with an advertisement for my next show, which will feature an interview with Maradona, the Argentinian football player. He will be played by Simon Jay, who is also in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. He plays ‘the old hag’ – and he’s also the technician as well. I thought: Well, it’s daft him just sitting there pressing buttons. If he came on and acted a little part, it would be cool as well.

JOHN: So he is going to do a trailer as Maradona for your next show at the end of this show in which he is ‘the old hag’.

PAUL: Yes. He was Leonardo da Vinci’s landlady in Night Train to Liechtenstein.

JOHN: And in your next show he will be Maradona.

PAUL: Yes. My next show is going to be called Twonkey’s Custard Club.

JOHN: It’s about custard?

“I misjudged what a physical mess…”

PAUL: It’s about rival custard shops. I’m still writing it. I’m hoping ‘the custard chef’ will be built in time, but he has very long arms and is difficult to pack. I’ve done one dry run of it, but I misjudged what a physical mess it creates, because there is a bit where I get covered in custard pies and I can’t actually see anything. It was difficult to see my laptop computer and it was not actually good for my laptop computer to be covered in shaving foam.

But it was good in terms of working out the parameters of what I need to do. I realised I will need a couple of towels close-by. And I now know how many custard pies you can get out of one tin of shaving foam. And I have a good Django Reinhardt kind-of jazzy song called The Custard Club, so it seemed like a good idea.

JOHN: But that’s not what happens in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch…

PAUL: No. Sometimes you don’t know what a show is about until like five years later and then you sort-of think: Ah! That show was about me! I think it’s impossible to create work without it being about yourself. But you can’t necessarily see it immediately… I had quite a difficult year last year. I had a lot going on in my personal life. Just a lot going on.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Surreal

Lynn Ruth Miller: “Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy…”

In yesterday’s blog, Lynn Ruth Miller gave an insight into comedy industry life in Los Angeles. The blog finished with Lynn Ruth getting booked to appear in Scot Neary’s unique Boobie Trap variety show AND on Ron Lynch’s legendary midnight comedy club show AND NBC booking her for a spot on Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio‘s TV show 1st Look. Now read on…


The minute I walked into the Boobie Trap venue, I knew I had made the right decision. This was a variety show that was totally out of the box. I particularly love Scot Nery. He made his name in San Francisco first, cooking pancakes on stage and throwing them at the audience. This time, he piled chairs on top of one another and balanced them on his face.  

I was one of two stand-up comedians. The other acts were magic, mime, song and poetry. The show’s finale was done in the middle of the seating area. We removed all the chairs and watched three men spit water at each other.

After the show, I returned to my hotel to romp around in the shower…alone of course… Some dreams never come true.

The next day, my friend and very talented comedian and cross-dresser Nick Leonard drove down to be part of my Los Angeles experience. Nick is one of the finest comedians I know and has given me many of my punch lines. He has a way of zeroing in on just the right expression to make you smile and still describe what you are after.  

I wanted a succinct description of my poodle and he said: “How about Donald looked like a fluffy baked potato?”  

You simply cannot beat that for accurate humor.

The highlight of my trip was the day NBC picked up Julie and me to begin filming for 1st Look.

The idea was that I was supposed to teach Johnny Bananas how to become a stand-up comedian. Since it has taken me 16 years to come close to figuring out what I am supposed to do on stage, this was a daunting assignment.  

People think that stand-up comedy is just standing on a stage cracking jokes, but it is far more than that.  

I tried to explain timing, mic technique and the need to ‘find the funny’ to this very enthusiastic, over-the-top young man.

The idea was that, after I coached him, he would do a set for Ron Lynch at his midnight show that evening.

Ron Lynch’s show is called The Tomorrow Show and everyone who performs in Los Angeles loves to be on that show. I love being in that show so much I used to drive 382 miles to LA from Pacifica to be on his stage. I always bought a bottle of wine to pep things up. Often I would drive back home the same night if I had nothing else to do in LA. The show was (and still is) that much fun.

NBC filmed both my set and Johnny’s attempt at humor. The highlight of the evening was the band Ron has on the scene, playing unexpected accompaniment to the things we all say and do.

Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy. It lacks the subtlety, the double entendre and the wit… at least to me. But what do I know? With my hearing aids on high, I still can’t hear enough to make a judgment.

The next night was my big show at the Five Star Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Julie had been working for at least a month on creating an audience to stir up interest in that show. She planned to do an hour of open mic performances; then the main show with a few supporting comedians for me; then my hour show; followed by more open mic sets.  Her reasoning was that the open mic performers would fill the house and that would give me a large audience.  

Entrance was free but on the stage for all to see was a big bucket labelled Lynn Ruth Miller’s Retirement Fund. Julie passed this around at appropriate and inappropriate intervals

Edwin Li walked into the bar see the show. Edwin started comedy in San Francisco the same year that I did but the difference is that he was 14 years old and I was 70. He is Chinese and his signature joke was: ”My dick isn’t small; it’s cute.”

Edwin no longer does comedy because he has moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make his fortune… as they all do. He said he had to move away from his house full of women because he needed to find out who he really was.

In order to support himself now, he delivers food for a local take away café. By the time he finishes his deliveries and makes his way to a comedy club, it is very late at night. Getting home is a huge problem because all cabs, even Uber and Lyft, are expensive when you are living on minimum wage. 

Los Angeles’s public transportation, while not horrid, isn’t very good.  

It is very challenging for people who do not drive when they live in areas where the buses only run once an hour or not at all.

So Edwin, who moved to LA to do comedy as well as escape a house filled with domineering women, is now too tired and too financially challenged to develop a talent that showed so much promise when I knew him in San Francisco.

It is a great loss to the comedy community. It also is instructive.  

Those of us who really love what we are doing in comedy will manage to do it no matter what. Common sense and logic play NO part in pursuing this thankless, yet addictive, career.  

Edwin did a sensible, pragmatic thing… and I have no doubt he will return to comedy eventually.  

On the other hand, I never paid any attention to common sense. I knew that, for me, comedy was the entrée into living a fulfilled life. So I did it.

And here I am still – 16 years into the game and not even close to wanting to quit.

I was overjoyed to see Edwin of course, though I never managed to find out if it was still cute.

And now I’m back in London.

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What’s US West Coast comedy life like? 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tells you.

Lynn Ruth Miller on stage in Los Angeles

In three recent blogs, unique 86-year-old comic and occasional burlesque dancer Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her recent trip home to San Francisco.

After that, she went to Los Angeles…

So now read on…


It is funny how some friends stay and some vanish as you travel through your life. I met Julie Anderson at the beginning of my comedy career. She took Kurtis Matthew’s course at the San Francisco Comedy College the year after I did. From the beginning, I knew she was a very special human being. At the time I discovered her, she had a 9-year-old son Nigel who thought he was a stand-up comedian. Julie thought so too.

She was living in Vallejo, California at the time. Vallejo then was a very low- income, unsavory place to live.

It still has the highest crime rate of any place in America. 

If you live there, your chances of being a victim are something like 1 in 22.  

Still, Julie loved it. She had her own house and commuted to work as an administrator in a glass gallery in Napa. At night, she honed her skills as a stand-up comedian.

Julie is a wonderful storyteller and she holds an audience’s attention. She is a born performer. She started her own comedy night in Vallejo and booked lots of San Francisco comedians – but Nigel always stole the show.  

After the gig, all the comedians on the bill would go back to Julie’s house where we gobbled up a huge buffet dinner before we drove the hour‘s journey home. I cannot say the comedy was much to boast about, but those dinners were magnificent and everyone loved the entire evening.

As the years went by, Julie found a new partner named Martini and the two created comedy shows together. It was Julie who filmed my first cabaret Ageing Is Amazing 

She has innovative and creative ideas and is not afraid to put them in motion.

She creates happenings wherever she is.

“Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis?” (Photo: Sergi Viladesau, UnSplash)

Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis? It actually began in 2007 with the depreciation of the subprime mortgage market in the United States and developed into a full-blown international banking crisis by the fall of 2008.

The Bay area in San Francisco was particularly affected with mortgage rates soaring and banks like Wells Fargo determined to take advantage of people whose equity in their homes plunged.  

I was one of those victims and so was Julie.

However, Julie handled it differently than I. She stopped paying her mortgage and waited it out until the bank got around to kicking her out of her home.  

I continued to pay Wells Fargo, while I tried to reason with them and convince them that they were overcharging me. I wasted hours of my time and energy only to slam against one wall after another.  

Julie didn’t even bother to contact her bank. She knew that there were so many foreclosures in Vallejo that it would take years before anyone got around to dealing with her.

And she was right.

During the time she was waiting for the inevitable, she began selling her furniture and her belongings. Finally, the year before I lost my house, Julie walked away from her Vallejo property and moved to downtown LA with absolutely nothing but her determination to make a new life.

Julie Anderson and Lynn Ruth Miller in London in 2018

That was ten years ago and now Julie has established herself in Los Angeles. She is part of the downtown community and feels at home there.  

The last time we saw each other she told me that, when I returned to San Francisco, I should go down to LA as well.

I had done comedy in Los Angeles several times while I lived in the Bay Area and had never managed to get into the paying market there. LA is a tough market to crack. This time, I wrote to one of the former San Francisco comedians who moved to LA to make his fortune (as so many of them do) and asked if there was a possibility of being a headliner there with my credentials. He said: “Lynn Ruth, we all do sets for no money because we are ALL headliners.”

I dispute that but I knew that, for me, getting any paid work in Los Angeles was a pipe dream. So I told Julie that it would waste my time and money to go to Los Angeles. 

Julie said, “Lynnie, I will create gigs for you.  I promise.”

So I relented.

I said I would spend a week with Julie.

She told me that she had some extra money saved for a vacation that she wanted instead to spend on my visit. She would take care of my accommodation and pay for the transportation I needed to get from one place to another. More important, she would create gigs for me to sold-out houses.  

I didn’t really think she would do either, but I love Julie and when we are together we have fun.

So I agreed to spend the last week of my California journey this year with her.  

Ron Lynch liked the idea of seeing Lynn Ruth at midnight…

I wrote to Ron Lynch (who is my favorite LA comedian) and told him I would do his midnight show for him if he liked.

He liked.

Then I got a letter from NBC.  

They are doing a reality show called 1st Look, a lifestyle and travel show hosted by Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio, airing nationally every Saturday after Saturday Night Live. Johnny is the host of 1st Look and famous for his successful appearances on The Challenge, a program that tests physical prowess.

One 1st Look program will be about older people doing something unusual with their lives.  

They asked me if I planned to be in New York or LA anytime this year and I told them when I would be in LA. They made arrangements for me to be filmed with Johnny Bananas for their program.

After I committed to doing that show with NBC, I discovered that my dear friend Greta Pontarelli had already done a segment for them and that we would be in the same show together.  

I met Greta several years ago in Montenegro… She is in her seventies and is a pole dancer and performer.  She is an amazing woman who can do far more than stunts on a pole, but it is those stunts that have made her unbelievably famous.

Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio took a 1st Look at Lynn Ruth

And so the die was cast.  

I committed to go to LA.  

NBC asked if Johnny Bananas could be on Ron Lynch’s show with me and both Ron and I said Yes.

I also arranged to be on Scot Nery’s variety show Boobie Trap where I was assured I would get four minutes of fame…

… CONTINUES and CONCLUDES HERE

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How to write a successful Edinburgh Fringe comedy show… Four ideas…

What comedy shows go down best at the annual Edinburgh Fringe?

Well, serious self-analysis always goes down well with the Awards judges.

My last blog here was about a conversation I had with a chum at St Pancras station in London.

I also started pontificating to her about how to write a one-hour comedy show for the Edinburgh Fringe. I think she glazed over internally but disguised it well. After all, she is a performer.

I am not a performer. So what do I know?

Ignore what follows if you have better ideas.

And, like all generalities, there are exceptions.

But – hey! – this is my blog and, just for the helluvit, this is what I think…

Go write your own blog if you disagree.

The only near-certainty if you follow any advice of mine or any advice of any kind or no advice of any kind is that you will probably lose money at the Fringe…


Expanding a good 20-minute stage act where you meander from one anecdote to another via cleverly obscuring the fact that none of the bits really fit together but you have ‘seamlessly’ Sellotaped over the gaps with clever links… That doesn’t work in a 55-ish minute show at the Edinburgh Fringe (or anywhere else).

You have to write a single unitary show.

BIT OF ADVICE 1

I think all Edinburgh shows need a single relentless theme and 100% should be about that one single theme with a single developing narrative strand.

People talk about the ‘dead dad’ story you should drop in about 35-40 minutes into the duration of a 55-ish minute show. 

The theory of the Dead Dad is that a show can have wonderfully funny stories but, after about 30-35 mins, the audience settles into the rhythm of the performance and they still laugh but ‘sameness’ fatigue sets in, even though they’re still laughing.

An unexpected shock at around 35/40 minutes into a 55 min narrative show pulls the carpet from under the audience’s expectations and shocks them into being 100% attentive again. If you can suddenly mention that your dad died last week, that should do it. But anything unexpected and different.

They are shocked – when it’s successful – into total silence. Of course, in a comedy show, you then have to be a good enough performer to get them back in the last 10 minutes to finish with a climactic laughter fest/orgasm. Then they go out happy and smiling having been on the thrill of a rollercoaster.

BIT OF ADVICE 2

Write an elevator pitch for your own show. For your eyes only. Eight words saying what your show is specifically about. Not generally. No generality. One specific subject.

Anything that doesn’t fit that succinct 8-word description, chuck it out.

It doesn’t matter how clever or funny it is. If it doesn’t fit the description, chuck it out. You can use it in a future show but NOT this show. However funny, however clever, however well-written it is… if it doesn’t fit into your 8-word description of your own show’s specific subject, it will interrupt the flow of the single narrative thread and it will be a distraction to the audience’s attention/involvement in your narrative. 

A good show is a good show because of what you DO NOT include.

There used to be an ad on television, the selling line of which was:

“It’s the fish John West reject that make John West the best”

Follow the fish principle!

But without the smell.

A good show is a good show because of what you DO NOT include, even more than what you include.

BIT OF ADVICE 3

Ask yourself why you alone can do this specific show and no-one else can.

If you can do a show on a general subject, then so can I – so can anyone else.

If you can’t be original, at least be personal. 

Why can you alone do this specific show and no-one else can?

Make it personal.

No-one reads autobiographies for facts.

They want to be voyeurs on another person’s life. Either because they think: That’s just like me. Or they want to experience something they have never and will never experience.

People want to hear about people not ideas.

Or they want to hear about ideas via a narrative involving people whose lives and minds they can become involved with.

No-one except an academic reads books or watches movies or watches comedy shows for abstract facts. That ain’t a show, it’s a lecture. Go perform at Speaker’s Corner in London, not on a comedy stage in Edinburgh.

If you talk about facts illustrated by specific human stories – ideally your own – people will be interested. 

Pretty much the same events happen to everyone. But how the events interact with a specific person is unique.

Ordinary people read books/watch shows for emotional and psychological voyeurism. They want to identify with other people.

BIT OF ADVICE 4

This goes back to concentrating the audience’s minds with a single narrative plot.

The ‘one’ plot is allegedly… A hero (or heroine) sets out on a quest to find something. Things happen along the way. The hero (or heroine) finds the thing (good or bad) – it may be a truth or a revelation.

It is a search for a specific Holy Grail.

In the case of a one hour Fringe show, everything along the way has to progress the journey. No jolly side anecdotes unrelated to the quest. Everything must be relevant to your 8-word definition of the quest.

The Grail – the climax of the show – is a single specific thing.

When you start writing the show, you have to know what the very end is. Otherwise you will inevitably waffle. 

What is the last paragraph, the last sentence of the show?

Anyone can do a show about the quest for an idea. 

What is the specific show only you can write and perform about that quest that I or 2,000 other people cannot do?

Personal.

People.

One single strand.

Keep on the bloody subject!

And now all you have to do is make it funny!!!!!! 

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Lynn Ruth Miller finds life tough in San Francisco and meets Trump supporters

Lynn Ruth’s view

The last couple of blogs have been by the uniquely multi-talented comic, writer and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, ruminating on her recent visit back to San Francisco, where she lived for nearly 30 years. Here she rounds off…


I met with Mike Morgin who is my US tax consultant. His stage name is Mike Moto and he was an active part of the American comedy scene.

His heritage is part of his set. He is part Japanese, part Yugoslavian so he always opens with: “I am a Japoslav”.  

The last time I heard him, we were in a tiny theater that holds 20 people and someone in that minute group shouted: “I am, too!” You cannot make these things up.

Six years ago, Mike suffered a severe stroke and the interesting thing about this story is that for six years he has struggled with his rehabilitation and within two years he was managing to go back on stage. His balance is precarious and he walks with a cane. Although his speech is improving, he still is difficult to understand. However, he is determined to master these challenges. He is doing more shows every year. His progress is slow, but he proves the cliché “once a comedian always a comedian”. His set is still solid and, as of just this year, he has been doing longer sets not just for comedy audiences but for people recovering from a stroke.

Since comedy is not the most lucrative profession for those of us that TV has not discovered (yet), Mike is a tax consultant during the day and he has been doing my taxes for about 8 years.

On the Friday, I was booked for Samson Koletar’s room in Oakland.  Samson is from Mumbai and came to Silicon Valley because he got a high-paying job in IT. He moved into a beautiful apartment near San Francisco’s Mission District. He said that, in Mumbai, his parents, his sister and he all lived in a one bedroom flat and the isolation of living alone in his fancy new American home was almost more than he could bear.

Samson started Comedy Oakland several years ago and its growth was very slow; but he persisted.   

The city of San Francisco was the center for sophisticated entertainment. Stand up demands intelligent listening to be enjoyed. Oakland, on the other hand, has a fluctuating population and the income and cultural levels are extremely varied. 

It has some of the most gorgeous and expensive places to live near scenic Lake Merritt. It is also one of the places famous for its drive-by shootings and immense consumption of drugs.

Lynn Ruth Miller alone on stage in Oakland

Sam continued to bring in good comedy to this area because it had no comedy at all and he knew eventually the shows would be accepted and be well attended. He succeeded. This time, Sam scheduled two shows back to back and the place was sold out.

Once again, I am faced with the question of what keeps us at it. Comedy is a thankless, stressful career, at best. At worst, it is the stuff of suicide. It is very stressful to get up on a stage and bare your heart to a bunch of strangers.  

I lived alone with no family and very few friends. Comedy was my lifeline and I hung on to it for dear life. I fed on the laughs no matter how sparse they were when I began.

I went for dinner with my friend, Judy Lawrence. I met her at the Park Movie Theatre when she was the manager there almost 40 years ago. We became fast friends and I saw her through some very difficult times. 

Her favorite nephew got brain cancer and died and Judy was torn apart. She went from one dead-end job to another and, between the ups and downs of her very challenging life, we would meet now and again. At one point when I was in my house in Pacifica, she had dyed her hair a bright green and pierced herself like a pin-cushion with rings everywhere – her tongue, her nose, her eyebrows, her ears. I asked her: “Why do you mutilate yourself like this?”.  

She said: ”Why did you have anorexia?” 

And the penny dropped.

I realized then that the only thing we can control is our bodies and, when life goes off the charts, we turn to our anatomy and force it to do our bidding.  

I starved and stuffed my body because it kept me from facing my many failures and inadequacies. Judy pierced hers trying to come to terms with the unfairness and cruelty of disease and loss.

Owning a house in San Francisco is beyond most of us and to my happy surprise, Judy now has her own little house in a beautiful and safe neighborhood of the city. She has a partner now and her mother lives with her as well and – surprise of all surprises – Judy works for Apple.

Apple in Silicon Valley (Photo: Carles Rabada via UnSplash)

She is now part of that top income level created by the Silicon Valley Greats that people say is destroying the city and erasing the middle class.

These very high-income professionals can pay outrageous prices for what they want and, in America, money is the only power that counts. 

Judy has a brand new car; she dresses in up-to-the-minute fashion. The rings are gone. Her hair is a conventional color. But, underneath, she is the same fun-loving and adventuresome Judy that I bonded with at the Park Theatre.  

Our circumstances change, but those basic impulses: compassion, kindness and adventure… we hang on to them. The difference is that, as we age and as our circumstances change, the way we express those tendencies becomes different, less impulsive and, perhaps, a bit more staid.

That night I had a sleep-over with my long-time friends Alan Schneider and Deidre Laiken. When I met them, they lived in San Francisco’s North Beach. They were originally from New York State and came west as so many of us did because we believed California was a magic place. And indeed it was – over ten years ago – when the two of them became part of that culture: jazz on Sunday afternoons, wild street entertainment every day and idyllic weather, never too hot or too cold.

Gradually, the ambience changed and Deidre tells the story of walking out her front door and being accosted by angry, demanding homeless people who blocked the streets with their sleeping bags and tents. The two decided to do what so many former Californians have done: move away from the city that had originally captured their hearts.  

They chose Folsom, an expanding community nearer to Sacramento than San Francisco. They found a condominium development with every amenity: a gym, a swimming pool, lovely walkways filled with foliage that encouraged birds to nest and a well-equipped clubhouse all at a cost far less than their two-bedroom flat in San Francisco. The weather is more extreme; the culture is just not there; but it is safe to walk outside at any time of the day or night.

To my surprise, both of them are ardent Trump supporters.  Alan explained that, although he has no respect for our president as a person, he believes in the things he has accomplished. Unemployment is down; the economy is up; he says minorities are prospering (?); and Donald Trump is making America greater every day.(???) 

“Donald Trump is making America greater every day (???)” (Image via Pixabay)

“The world is changing,” Alan went on to say. “Families are totally different; we live with our cell phones; we do not eat together; and young people cannot have the same dreams we had. Few of them will be able to buy a home; more of them will have to go to University if they want to earn a living; yet fewer of them can afford tuition; we meet people online instead of face to face. Children are living with their parents longer; they are more concerned about things we never even considered like abusing the environment and the artificial additives we put into food.”

I saw that change he was speaking of when I went out for dinner with another friend, Alan Kahn. This Alan is a teacher and a magician, involved now with a woman ten years his senior, who wants him to move to Oregon, a typical escape haven for people disenchanted with the Bay Area.  

Alan has had custody of his two children since his divorce many years ago. Both are in their twenties and are living at home. They are incensed that their father is charging them rent to live in his home now that they are older.  

He believes he is justified because he says they do nothing to help with the upkeep of the house and are earning enough to pay him for the cost of the utilities and huge taxes that every Californian has to pay. His daughter was so insulted that her father would charge her to live in what she feels is her home, that she has moved out and is paying twice as much rent for the privilege.

Alan is not happy with his job and would like to tour the country in a van performing at magic festivals, but his new partner is not too enthusiastic about that. And he says he cannot even consider such a move until both his son and daughter become self-supporting. Neither of the children have a partner and both of them not only have menial jobs that barely pay enough for food, but also do not have enough education to break into more lucrative professions.

It certainly is a new world. I left home as soon as I graduated from university to take a job my education had prepared me for. After my first divorce, I returned home and it never occurred to me that my parents would charge me to live there. My plan for my future was to marry and have children. The idea that I would not do such a thing – or that I would have to go to work to support myself after I married – would have horrified me.

Today, millennials do not leave home until they have to, marriage is in a steep decline and recreational sex is taken for granted.

Who knew?

… CONTINUED IN LOS ANGELES HERE

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On stage, 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller hugs a gorilla and rips off her clothes

The incomparable Lynn Ruth

Lynn Ruth lived in San Francisco for nearly 30 years. In her last blog, she mused on the changing face of the city. But she was really visiting there to perform…


My first real performance in San Francisco this time was a comedy gig at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 

My favorite comedian of all time, Aundre the Wonderwoman, came on stage.

Besides being amazingly funny. Aundre Herron is my hero. During the day, she is a lawyer for the people on death row. She was one of the first black women accepted to Radcliffe College and has worked her way through undergraduate and graduate studies to become a first-rate lawyer and a top-notch comedian.  

She is highly political and a staunch defender of the underdog. One of my favorite of her succinct observations on current culture is when she says (I paraphrase):

“Kids these days murder their parents. I didn’t know it was an option.”

When you listen to her comedy, you cannot help but see the illogical injustice that permeates our world. Her comedy is what I think all stand-up should be: words that open a window to social issues that no-one else dares to discuss.

The headliner was a new breed of comedian who had no idea that she was supposed to tell jokes. She gave us lots of poses and contorted facial expressions and went on and on about her mother and her life for a very long time. I am not sure if this is the direction American comedy is going and if the old fashioned pattern of set up/punch has gone out of style.

The next night was my one-hour stand up show I Never Said I Was Nice at The Marsh Theater.

It was a huge privilege to perform at The Marsh. When I lived in San Francisco, I applied several times to perform my Edinburgh Fringe cabarets there and I was never accepted. Now, because they became aware of my UK and European successes, I was able to do I Love Men there last year. I filled the house thank goodness and the show was a success.

Will I ever be a confident performer? I was a nervous mess as I sat in the lovely spacious dressing room in The Marsh, but my delightful tech lady, Raye, was so encouraging that I finally relaxed and did my performance to a combination of friends old and new.

One woman in a wheelchair informed me that she had seen me ten years ago at Gazo’s Grill in Pescadero, California, and that I had not changed a bit. All I could think of was: Did I look this old and wasted at 76?

When I finished the Marsh show, my trusty driver Leo (who has traded babysitting my dogs for caring for me), drove me to the DNA Lounge for Hubba Hubba’s Murder Mansion Show 

Hubba Hubba was the first burlesque show that started booking me regularly in San Francisco. It was created and is now run by the delightful and very funny Jim Sweeney who MCs each event. He adds special comic touches that embody the original spirit of burlesque. In his bigger shows, there is a gorilla who welcomes each act and prances about when the going gets boring.  

I love that gorilla.  

Lynn Ruth was billed as “The Stripping Granny” at the Hubba Hubba this year

He is the sweetest living thing on the Hubba Hubba stage and we often have a quick cuddle during my act. But then I have always been a sucker for hairy men.  

There is always a scantily clad lady on the stage as well, waving a sign at the audience saying HOORAY! just in case they do not express their appreciation loudly enough.

When I first started performing at Hubba Hubba, the shows were in a tiny bar in Oakland where there were only a few seats along the side of the room. The majority of the audience stood to watch us all rip off our clothes on stage to a screaming, clapping, joyous audience. 

Burlesque is not just twirling tits and wiggling bums in Jim’s shows. I have never been in any production there that doesn’t have a great deal of tongue-in-cheek repartee. This time, I sang to a backing track while the gorilla helped me fiddle with my clothes but, sadly, I had sent the wrong version of the song to the sound engineer.  

We had had no time for a sound check and the result was that I was ripping off robes and chemises singing my heart out long after the music stopped.  

The gorilla didn’t care and thank God neither did the audience. They roared with delight.

I was a hit.

Saturday night was my big local show, Crazy Cabaret at A Grape in The Fog.

This place was one of my former stomping grounds.

I lived in Pacifica for almost thirty years and I never believed anyone knew who I was. My neighbors called me The Dog Lady. The rest of that world didn’t notice me at all.  

Although I had two Public Access TV shows that ran for almost 15 years, it wasn’t until about a year before I left town that someone stopped me while I was walking the dogs and said: “You are the TV Lady!”

Newspaper column spawned two books

Chris Hunter was the editor of the Pacifica Tribune while I was writing my column for that paper. He asked me to do a regular column. He had written a feature about me while he was just a reporter and when he was promoted to management, he decided he wanted to add a little oddball humor to the paper. This was the first real break I had in the newspaper world. I was paid $25 a column. I called it Thoughts While Walking The Dog and that is the title of two books that are compilations of those columns.  

I have never forgotten what Chris did for my ego and my writing career. To my utter joy, he and his daughter came to the show at A Grape in The Fog. It was his birthday and we celebrated with a drink and a lot of songs.

The real highlight of the evening, though, was when Ruby Finklestein did her warm-up introduction for me. Ruby is ten years old. Her father Judd runs a winery in Napa. Ruby has always wanted to be a stand-up comedian – a profession I didn’t even know existed until I was 70 years old. I told her she could tell a few jokes to start the performance and, I assure you, she stole the show.

I also have a friend in Pacifica who was a student in one of my adult art classes. Her name is Ursula and she is from Germany. Her father was a Nazi. I am Jewish. She told me story after story of how the German people starved during World War II and how her father had to join the Party to save his family.

Ursula is an example of someone who takes her responsibility as an immigrant to a new country seriously. She has her citizenship; she speaks English beautifully; and she worked for years tutoring children in English grammar as a volunteer. She is a talented artist and has continued working in soft pastels long after I stopped teaching and turned my attention to comedy. We have continued our friendship and no visit to Pacifica world be complete without Ursula.

But she is currently facing what we all will have to face one day. Her husband Werner is finally succumbing to the multiple sclerosis he has had for years and years. Ursula was forced to put him in a care home because she could not possibly care for him at their home. She visits him every day. She is also dealing with the prospect of preparing to be alone without him.

She and Werner have been married for at least fifty years and now my dear friend realizes that she will have to explore new avenues to fill her life, once her beloved husband is gone. One of her granddaughters is living with her now to help her through this terrible, demanding and frightening transition. The granddaughter has a dog and that dog has been Ursula’s solace. We sometimes forget how comforting it is to sit with a dog in your lap stroking its fur and absorbing its calm.

… CONTINUED HERE

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I mistook someone else for me in comic Janet Bettesworth’s pre-novel ‘doodles’

She studied Fine Art & Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

Everyone inevitably makes instant judgments on people’s characters at first sight: solely on their looks. But we seldom see ourselves as others see us.

Comedian, art connoisseur and Grouchy Club regular Janet Bettesworth recently announced: “I’m going to write a novel by doodling the characters first.” She studied Fine Art and Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

She is currently posting drawings – she calls them ‘doodles’ – on her Facebook page and asks three questions for Facebook Friends to answer about each unknown person sketched. For example:

  • What is his name?
  • The love of his life?
  • His taste in furniture?

I recognised the 25th sketch was of fellow Grouchy Club regular Peter Stanford. Janet’s questions were:

Peter Stanford – airlifted to safety after a farming incident?

  • What’s his name?
  • His most recent airborne experience?
  • Way of organising a picnic?

Answers included:

  • His name is Nils, he was airlifted to safety after a farming incident. Picnics for him are rye bread & herring & fermented ale.
  • He used to get gigs as a Brian Blessed looky-like until he accidentally boarded an EasyJet to Finland, where he found a lot more work playing Santa to tourists, and now he drinks mulled wine all year round.

And, from Peter Stanford himself:

  • Definitely one of the gods in your novel. Cranach looks down at the mortals giving the Deserving pieces of good luck and mugs of tea. He is rarely airborne as he can transport himself between the godly and earthly realms instantaneously. His worshippers organise ‘Picnics’ (feasts held indoors in the colder months and only outside in high summer) for the poor and homeless – and anyone else – in his honour as part of their devotions, instead of building temples. When he was appearing on earth, he drank mugs of tea, which he shared with other people. “Don’t build any temples”, he told them. “Just organise picnics and tea.” The cult is always in danger of dying out.

A few days later, Peter pointed out to me that No 30 in Janet’s series looked a lot like me, though with different-shaped spectacles. I had a look and thought: Well, bugger me, that does look like it’s me!

The three questions Janet asked of her Facebook Friends were:

Is this me? – or Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge?

  • What is his name?
  • His opinion of Boris Johnson?
  • His chances of winning the Lottery?

The answers seemed to reflect more on the personality of the commentator rather than on me and tended to reflect British people’s somewhat unhealthy continuing obsession with Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

  • Glenn Thoresby. What he really thinks of Boris Johnson is unprintable here; enough to say he believes that the British people have been lied to mercilessly by this entitled upper-class toff who doesn’t give a monkey’s: a feckless, narcissistic, utterly irresponsible public school product, a marionette of Dominic-whom-nobody-voted-for-Cummings. Glenn’s chances of winning the Lottery are nil as he doesn’t buy the tickets. He believes they are an exploitative tax on the poor who, (like Brexit voters) think they have a chance to turn their fates around on a million to one statistical odds. This doesn’t stop him from buying raffle tickets occasionally, though, especially when the prize is a good bottle of plonk and/or the beneficiaries’ cause is a good one.
  • This is a cracking picture. I think his name is Peter Egg and he’s a foodie: a London restaurant critic who is zealous about plant-based foods to the extent that the smell of animal products cooking now makes him gag. Restaurants where he dines now have to put him in a separate room and block the doorframe with towels and wet loo paper to stop the offending molecules reaching his nose. He thinks Boris is an execrable pig or walking pork roast. He has no chance of winning the Lottery as he never enters. It only penetrates his consciousness when he goes to the theatre and sees its logo at the bottom of programmes for plays it has funded.

Janet Bettesworth – Edinburgh Fringe, 2012

  • Dimitri Dennis Zabaroski. He won’t win. He doesn’t do Lottery. Hates the foreign man who won up the road… they should fuck off back home. (Both parents immigrated to Luton in the ’50s.) He works at car plant locally and knows a lot of foreign people abuse the system. Likes Prince Andrew and his confidence. Likes Borris and wants to have a flag pole outside his house with Farage and Union flag. Council refused planning application. All foreign.
  • This is Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge, known to his closest friends as 3Pee. He is a second cousin, once removed to Boris. He is immensely proud and fond of his childhood pal, with whom he roasted chestnuts and netted little jars of frogspawn when the families got together for camping trips. They frequently got their shorts mixed up, being almost identical in size and shape. They still swap Christmas jumpers, particularly the ones gifted by Rachel as she seems to find the ones with the rudest slogans… Piggott has enjoyed a varied career, which includes a brief spell as a fluffer in a Hollywood porn production company (he was sacked for making badly edited and shaky copies on his secret camera which discreetly attached to his paisley patterned cravat). He also worked as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong, normally stationed outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon but few tourists engaged his services due to his extremely eccentric hats and comedy Chinese moustaches… He eventually made his fortune writing haiku messages predicting the purchasers’ marriage prospects onto extremely dark and gloomy canvases which sell for many dollars all over the USA. In his own way, therefore, he has already won the lottery so has no need to buy tickets on the weekly National Lottery, which he disdains with a passion – matched only by that of his antipathy to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.

I contacted Janet, because I thought it would make an interesting blog to run her drawing of me with strangers’ character assessments of what this unknown person might be like.

But there was a snag…

She told me it was NOT a sketch of me at all: in fact, it was a sketch of her husband! She said he found the comments amusing – He does despise Boris Johnson, but he does do the Lottery.

Now Janet HAS included a sketch of me. Sadly with less interesting comments/suggestions. 

Does this Jewish man appreciate a good, well-shaped calf?

Her questions were:

  • What is his name?
  • His over-riding passion in life?
  • Way of dealing with problems? 

The responses include:

  • Manny Silverman. Loves small investments. Still dining out on making £35,000 on ‘Britcoin’ a couple of years ago. Cigars and coffee are how he copes with life’s complexities. Don’t mention the time he passed on Apple shares, though.
  • Godfrey was a prostate specialist and his hands could reach parts that others… but now volunteers at his local city farm delivering calves – His approach to life? He always gets stuck in and is happy to get his hands dirty
  • This is Howard Silver. He’s a nice East End Jewish boy now living in Southgate. He’s a life-long socialist and lives in a rented housing association flat that he got through Rachel, one of his cousins who works there. He doesn’t own anything, aside from the clothes on his back and a few sticks of furniture, all the books on Communism he’s read were borrowed never bought. He’s lifelong Labour, red through and through but was recently upset by the growing anti-Semitism in the party so he voted green for the first time ever in protest. He’s what Yiddish speakers would term a poor old nebbish.
  • His name is Frank Gibbins. He thinks that the world has become strange, impersonal and unnecessarily complicated… He seeks solace in the simplicity of nature and its instinctive laws, eg. the way that the ducklings follow the mother duck, the unquestioned authority of the silverback gorilla in setting the direction of his troop and keeping it in order… He likes to sit in the park for hours, observing the behaviour of humans as they centre themselves in selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful autumnal leaves or wander around oblivious to the creatures of the forest…Sometimes he’ll draw them in his book and imagine their thoughts.
  • Constantine Gras – because he looks the spit of a friend of mine called Constantine Gras. Well, what he’d look like in about 30 years. He’s tall – maybe 6’2. He’s an artist/filmmaker.
  • Who are these people? (Photograph: Jez Timms via UnSplash)

    Clive Earnshaw. Son of a bookkeeper and an apiarist, he has inherited a calm demeanour in all kinds of crisis situations, which served him well in his job as an emergency medical technician. His overriding passions in life are his sibling’s children, for whom he would do anything. His search for meaning led him to a retreat in the North African desert and he converted to the Sufic branch of Islam. His way of dealing with problems (apart from whirling) is to quote soothing aphorisms such as: This too will pass. He is deeply peaceful.

The trite lesson to be learned from all this?

People see totally different characters and backgrounds in exactly the same faces. Initial assumptions about people can – and very often are – wrong.

Peter Stanford’s view my sketch was:

  • This is Derek Milchman, a friend of No 30: that one which looks like him. They sometimes swap glasses and pretend to be each other. If this is a humorous book, with hilarious results; if a grim book, this leads to a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.

Janet replied: “I am not entirely in agreement. For students of phrenology and physiognomy, it may be observed that No. 30 has a receding jawline, whereas No. 39 has a protruding one. I do like the idea of a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.”

Comedy critic Kate Copstick, recognised me: “This is John Fleming!!!” And Peter Stanford asked Janet: “So what role are you going to give him in the novel?”

A “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait

She replied: “If you’re referring to the author of the Malcolm Hardee biography, the hands are too big and seem to be coated with some kind of white substance.”

Janet also told me that she had included a “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait – No 31 in the bunch.

And below are three more of her drawings.

Janet tells me: “I do two types of doodles – one where I’m basing it on a real person, and the other where I do random scribbles with my eyes closed, then a face gradually emerges out of the chaos, like seeing faces in the fire – that way is by far my favourite…”

One final comment and query from one of Janet’s Facebook Friends sums it all up, though: “I keep wondering why you’re writing a novel when you’re so ‘geniusly’ good at drawing – Or are you even better at writing?”

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Psychology, Writing