Tag Archives: comedy club

How has British comedy changed in the last twenty years? One interesting view.

What has changed? Maybe mouths have got bigger.

How has comedy changed? Have mouths just got bigger?

On Saturday 9th February, I’m going to be on the panel of a Leicester Comedy Festival event at De Montfort University called Oh How We Laughed! Also on the panel will be the London Comedy Store’s owner Don Ward and doyenne of UK comedy critics Kate Copstick. Allegedly, we will be discussing the changes in UK comedy over the last twenty years.

I was asked to give a quote about the Leicester Comedy Festival.

I tried:

I am glad to say that, although it has been going for 20 years – unlike Leicester cheese – it has never matured.

The Leicester Comedy Festival is even older than some of the jokes I hear in endless TV panel shows.

And, about comedy in general:

There were more odd variety acts 20 years ago and I think they may be staging a comeback now. Maybe the era of the pure stand-up is ending.

It’s about time the ‘alternative’ was put back into alternative comedy

The excitement of 20 years ago has changed into reliability. This is not a good thing.

I could not get any of those quotes quite right, so I thought I would ask an acquaintance who likes comedy on TV and in clubs but is not obsessed by it and who, more importantly, is not part of the comedy business. In other words, this person is that legendary, seldom-quoted figure: an ‘ordinary’ person.

I thought there might be some mention of the taming of alternative comedy, of the Michael McIntyre factor making comedy less rebellious. After all, next month Malcolm Hardee will have been dead for eight years.

That was not what was said.

This is what I was told had changed in UK comedy over the last twenty years:

“It’s got nastier in the last twenty years. Ruder. More unpleasant. It’s now got that Fuck off! What are you staring at? kind of attitude. Kicking people when they’re down. Trying to outdo each other by being as crude as possible.”

There speaks an ordinary British comedy-goer who has seen comedy over the last twenty years.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

How a comedy night out in London’s Soho led to what some might call this misanthropic anti-Japanese blog

I had been going to write a blog about American comic Lewis Schaffer’s show Free Until Famous which runs in Soho every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Almost as a joke, he started saying it was the longest-running solo comedy show in London’s West End. Then he realised that, in fact, it probably was.

He’s been performing it in various nightly configurations since October 2008. Initially, he played it Tuesdays and Wednesdays then, because too many people were turning up, he occasionally played it twice-nightly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – at 8.00pm and 9.30pm. For the last few weeks, he’s been running it every Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday night at 8.00pm.

He successfully brought the model of Edinburgh’s Free Fringe to London. You don’t pay anything as you go into the venue but as you leave at the end, if you liked the show, you pay whatever you think it was worth.

Lewis tells me: “When I started, there were no free shows in London and now there are millions. What makes my show unique is that all the other shows are group shows with maybe one or two acts the punters will like and the rest not to their liking. I am akin to a single malt in a world of blends. If you like it, you love it; if you don’t you won’t; but the ones who like it…”

Whenever I have gone, his audience is always, eclectic and bizarrely international. Last Wednesday, that meant three Saudi women who were coming to his show for the third time. They don’t live in London but, every few months, when they are over here, they make a pilgrimage to Lewis’ comedy show. He doesn’t know why. I don’t know why. Even they probably don’t know why.

I asked Lewis about this after the show.

“They have told me directly We are fans!,” he said, bemused. “But they cover their faces after every joke! Maybe it’s the guilty pleasure of listening to dirty things from a double infidel – I’m an American AND I’m a Jew – plus maybe they find my Semitic look attractive, with my naturally dark hair.”

(Lewis tried not dying his hair the other week; I told him it really wasn’t a success.)

He always moans to me that it’s hard to get people in – moan moan moan these bloody Colonials – but, when I went last Wednesday night, it was a full house – it always is when I wander along – and Lewis was on unusually good form. Normally, he plays a blindingly good first half then loses confidence and tries to persuade the audience they’re not enjoying themselves as much as they think they are. Or he starts the show by saying he’s shit tonight but, by at least halfway through, he’s storming it. Last week, he stormed it for about 95% of the time though, of course, afterwards he was complaining to me that he hadn’t done very well.

Much like Lewis’ rollercoaster shows, it’s always worth any trip to Soho anytime because there are always unexpected and eccentric things happening. Last Wednesday, after the show, my friend and I had to plough through a crowded Brewer Street, which was being used for location shooting of some big-budget Bollywood movie. When I asked one of the crew who the star was, we were told:

“All I know is he’s a mega-star in Bollywood. Their equivalent of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise combined. I don’t know who the fuck he is.”

O vanitas vanitatum. A good overview of superstardom.

Then, in a doorway, we passed two red-faced drunks sitting on a doorstep between a sex shop and a pub, clutching bottles, almost falling sideways as they slurred a drunken conversation with each other. As we passed, I only heard the words:

“Ave you ‘eard 50 Cent’s latest? It ain’t nowhere near as good as his last one.”

Drunks who follow 50 Cent and the latest music trends. Only in Soho.

So I WAS going to blog about all that but decided not to.

Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier.

Anyway, during the show, Lewis made a joke about how people gave money to Japan following their triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear ‘accident’. Remember we are talking here about a comic who, to my mind, has the best Holocaust joke(s) I have ever heard.

The audience reaction to Lewis’ Japanese joke was to gasp – possibly because it was a truth spoken openly for the first time – and then to laugh. I won’t tell the full joke as it’s one to be heard live on stage.

But there was a news item yesterday that the owners of the stricken Japanese nuclear power plant say it will take another 6-9 months to sort out the mess.

I have a friend who has worked at Oxfam for many years. So I’m not unsympathetic to disaster-hit countries. She was recently in a country even I had barely heard of.

But people in the UK donating aid and holding charity gigs to raise money to supply aid to Japan? Give me a break.

Japan has the third biggest economy in the world, after the US and China. It has a stronger economy that Germany, France and – in 6th place – the United Kingdom.

Haiti is largely ignored now. It is still an impoverished disaster area. And people have been donating money to Japan? That’s an example of people donating money to charity to make themselves feel better not to make a disastrous situation any better.

Countries in Africa and Asia where babies are routinely living for a few days or hours or being born dead because of the poverty are not as ‘sexy’ as Japan was for a few weeks because the TV pictures were not there on TV screens.

There were 62 tornado reports in North Carolina on Saturday. Communities across Oklahoma and the Carolinas have been devastated.

Do I feel sorry for people in those areas? Am I sad at the deaths? Yes.

Am I going to donate money to the world’s strongest economy to alleviate my own sadness and cheer myself up about the USA’s tragedy? No.

Will I donate money to children in certain parts of Africa? Yes.

If some tragedy occurs in Hampstead or Islington, I would not expect the good people of Haiti to have a whip-round or put on charity gigs to raise money to help.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Racism, Theatre

Greenwich: from World Heritage Site to Third World slum within a two minute walk

Greenwich is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

But the road behind late comic Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich has not become my favourite place recently. It is called Bardsley Lane.

In the late-night darkness there, I have twice trodden in dog shit (it’s apparently common in the area) and my car was broken into in the early hours of the morning (apparently also common in the area). The police response was: “Is there a street camera in Bardsley Lane?”

Call me out-of-touch, but I somehow thought the police might know.

There isn’t, of course, because Greenwich Council appears to have abandoned Bardsley Lane like Jordan has abandoned Alex Reid as a lost cause – they don’t even pretend to take any interest in the area. It is just a two-minute stroll from Greenwich Town centre and you can see what a jolly stroll it is in a video I have posted on YouTube.

While tarting-up some areas where councillors live “for the 2012 Olympics”, Greenwich Council have let Bardsley Lane deteriorate literally into a rubbish tip – although it is just two minutes from the historic town centre of the UNESCO World Heritage site and visible from the main Creek Road through the town centre.

The car wash featured towards the end of the video was given permission to trade on the basis it was “not out of keeping with the general character of… Greenwich Town centre and (would) not harm the setting and the appearance of the area and the adjacent West Greenwich Conservation area.”

Are they having a laugh?

Does this look like a World Heritage Site or a rubbish tip of a slum in some Third World country?

Ah! But then… call me a cynical fat slaphead…

Where there’s muck, there’s usually brass changing hands.

Leave a comment

Filed under Architecture, History, Politics

I saw this comedian last night and I have no idea who he was… or if the act was good or just deeply odd

I am worried I am going to get even fatter and ultimately explode like Mr Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. I am also worried, having just re-read this blog entry, that I am turning into a mindless luvvie but without the glitz, glamour, class and cravat.

Yesterday I had lunch with Malcolm Hardee documentary director Jody VandenBurg and multi-talented multi-media writer Mark Kelly, who has that very rare thing: a genuinely very original TV idea. He was, at one time the stand-up comic Mr Nasty and he reminded me of one typical early Alternative Comedy incident in which comedy duo The Port Stanley Amateur Dramatic Society got banned from right-on vegetarian cabaret restaurant The Earth Exchange… for throwing ham sandwiches at the audience.

This was actually part of their normal act but proved far too non-PC an anarchic step for the militant non-carnivores at the Earth Exchange which was so small I’m surprised they actually had space to move their arms backwards to throw the offensive sandwiches.

Mark also remembered having his only serious falling-out with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Palladium comedy club after Malcolm put on stage a female fanny farting act who, at the time, might or might not have been a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of local Goldsmiths College art student Damien Hirst. Mark felt the audience – and, indeed, Malcolm – might have been laughing at the performer rather than with the act.

Knowing Malcolm, I guess it might have been a bit of both.

(Note to US readers, “fanny” has a different meaning in British and American English.)

So, anyway I had a very nice ham omelette and banana split with Mark and Jody downstairs at The Stockpot in Old Compton Street, Soho, and then Irish comic/musician/vagabond Andrias de Staic arrived. I know him from his wonderful Edinburgh Fringe shows Around The World on 80 Quid and The Summer I Did the Leaving, but he is currently appearing until 2nd April in the Woody Guthrie musical Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End.

I swear that, the last time I met Aindrias – and it was only last year – he was 5ft 9ins tall. He confirmed this height to me. Yesterday he was 6ft 1in tall.

“It’s the theatrical work,” he told me. “It makes you stand straighter and taller.”

For a moment, I believed him. Then I realised it was rubbish. Then I started to wonder if it could be true.

Or perhaps I am shrinking. The uncertainty of life can be a constant worry.

After that, I went to the weekly Rudy’s Comedy Night gig at Rudy’s Revenge in High Holborn to see Miss D perform an interestingly different routine in which she gave advice on what to do and what not to do when having a heart attack – something she knows about, having had one in June 2009.

The gig was also notable because I saw for the first time the extremely funny and talented compere Katerina Vrana… and an extraordinary act by a man claiming to be an archaeologist about having a hawk on his arm. I missed his name. If you know, tell me, because it had the same effect on me as watching Anthony Newley’s Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? in a Kensington cinema one afternoon etched on my memory in 1969. Perhaps I mean the experience scarred me for life. When the movie finished, I sat there like a stunned halibut and thought What was that??!! and sat through it again to see what on earth I had been watching and whether I liked it. Except, of course, I didn’t have the opportunity to sit still and see this guy perform again last night.

He certainly had energy, that’s for sure.

As for Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? – it is highly recommended, provided you know what you are letting yourself in for.

It is a bit like North Korea in that respect.

(POSTSCRIPT: Within 5 minutes of posting this, two people Facebooked me to say the ‘hawk’ comedian is Paul Duncan McGarrity. The wonders of 21st century communications leave me in perpetual awe; I should, perhaps, get out more.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Movies, Theatre

The unnecessarily old Lewis Schaffer, his secret sex scandal and his apparently never-ending comedy show

American comedian Lewis Schaffer, trapped in London because he has two children here, has let his hair go boldly grey. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not. I think I prefer the previous black. People have been telling him it looks distinguished. I think it just makes him look unnecessarily old. Perhaps he should alternate it – one week grey, the next week dyed black – then it would be as varied as his ever-changing show.

Last night I went to see his apparently never-ending and constantly changing Free Until Famous show at The Source Below in Soho and, afterwards, we had a frustrating chat while eating falafels.

The second reason it was frustrating was he kept talking for so long that the ice-cream shop next door had closed by the time we left.

The primary reason for my frustration, though, was because he told me an absolute humdinger of an unpublished true sexual scandal about another comedian… but (given what the story is) I can’t print it.

Deep frustration.

For you and me both.

But no falafel with Lewis is ever a wasted falafel and there was a moment when I was reminded of writing Malcolm Hardee’s constantly-promoted* autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (* constantly-promoted by me, here)

It is still available at surprisingly outrageous prices on Amazon

Anyway… Malcolm’s book is full of incredible stories – literally incredible because, although I think only two small details of two stories in the book are untrue (for comic effect), the main stories themselves are so extraordinary that people assume they must have been made up. It’s a bit like comedians’ stage acts: the likely-sounding true stories are usually made up and the more ludicrous unlikely stories are very often true.

The frustrating thing with Malcolm Hardee writing his autobiography was that he could seldom remember in which order the bizarre facts of his life happened and, in some cases, he could not even remember which decade they happened in; I had to work out the timeline by talking to other people or linking the stories to other dated events.

Lewis, it transpired last night, couldn’t remember whether he started performing his Free Until Famous show in London in October 2009 or in 2008.

He has recently taken to saying in his publicity that Free Until Famous is the longest-running solo comedy show ever performed in London. I took this as hyperbole until we started talking. Then I thought about it and I reckon it might actually (almost accidentally) be true.

The show has been running every Tuesday and Wednesday since at least October 2009 (or maybe 2008) with gaps for the Edinburgh Fringe and, in its early days, Lewis was sometimes performing Free Until Famous twice on Tuesday nights and twice on Wednesday nights. From this week, for at least three weeks, he is also performing it on Mondays.

This is quite a run and, as anyone who has ever seen a Lewis Schaffer show knows, it is either:

a) constantly evolving or

b) just never the same twice

…depending on your viewpoint.

I reckon he must have about four or five hours of good material and, with each individual show, he simply plucks out and rearranges the material according to the audience and his whim on the night. So, if you have seen Free Until Famous once and go back, it is the same show but totally different. Few shows are so real-character-based.

He deserves credit for bringing the Free Fringe concept wholesale (he is, after all, Jewish) from Edinburgh to London, with free entry to his shows and a metal bucket at the end for contributions. The bucket is metal, as he points out to audience members, because notes make no sound but he is able to tell if people only put coins in.

With a Wikipedian knowledge of trivial facts retrieved from his brain at the drop of a punter’s birthplace or biographical detail, why Lewis has not been picked up by TV or radio as a comic social commentator on Britain in the Bill Bryson style, I don’t know.

He is Bill Bryson with attitude.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Sex, Theatre

I have seen some unexpected acts in my life but I had never seen what I saw last night… I am still shocked.

This morning, I used the Listen Again button on the BBC’s website to hear Boothby Graffoe being interviewed on yesterday’s Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman (it’s 18 minutes in, but is only available online in the UK if you are reading this within seven days of me writing it).

He was on the Radio 2 show to plug his new music album Songs For Dogs, Funerals (the comma really is there – don’t ask) and his UK comedy tour, which starts next Tuesday.

I knew he was the only comedian named after the small Lincolnshire village of Boothby Graffoe but, until he mentioned it on the show, I hadn’t realised this meant he was also named after the second largest site in Europe for testing genetically-modified food. Now there’s a thing.

I listened to the Radio 2 show this morning because I bumped into Boothby last night when I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s always extraordinary monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in Nunhead, South London. You know a comedy gig is good when other comedians go to see it even when they’re not on the bill and Boothby just went along to see Pull The Other One before he went back home to Leicestershire.

If I were using glib phrases – which, of course, I wouldn’t dream of writing – I might say it turned into an evening of unexpected revelations.

After the show, I was chatting to Martin Soan and, despite the fact I’ve probably known him since around 1990, I never knew he wrote several sketches for Spitting Image at the height of their TV success.

It was no surprise, of course, that, during the actual Pull The Other One show itself, Bob Slayer enticed a woman from the audience onto the stage and ended carrying her off over his shoulder.

What was unexpected was the climax of Mat Ricardo’s act. He is billed as a juggler, but is more than that and he introduced the final highly-visual thing he did as “impossible”… as indeed it is, but he still did it.

After Mat’s act, there was an interval and one of the other acts – smiling broadly – just looked at me and said: “Jesus!”

Another said to me: “Jesus! I have never seen that done before.”

The Lord was being invoked quite a lot after what we saw. I was and remain so shocked by what he did that I am going to pay to go to see his full live show Three Balls and a Good Suit next week in the hope he does it again.

What he did involves a table and a tablecloth and – no – it is not at all what you think.

There is seldom anything new under the sun – but I have never heard of anyone else doing what I saw and I have certainly never seen it before.

I can’t believe I did see it.

And I have seen a lot of acts.

Jesus!

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Magic, Radio, Theatre

Rutger Hauer says more about life in “Blade Runner” than the Bible, the Koran and Douglas Adams

Last night, I watched Brian De Palma’s movie The Untouchables on TV. The music is by Ennio Morricone.

“That music is very sad,” I said to the friend who was watching it with me. “An old man’s music. He composed the music for Once Upon a Time in the West too. That’s melancholic.”

I think you have to be over a certain age to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not about death, it’s about dying and it’s very long.

On YouTube recently, I stumbled on the closing sequence of Richard Attenborough’s movie Oh! What a Lovely War.

I cried.

I watched it five times over the next week. I cried each time I saw the final shot. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it with a (slightly younger) friend. I cried at the closing sequence, watching the final shot. One single shot, held for over two minutes. She didn’t understand why.

Clearly the cancer and cancer scares swirling amid my friends must be having their toll.

Someone has put online all issues of the British hippie/alternative culture newspaper International Times (aka “it”).

I was the Film Section editor for one of its incarnations in 1974.

Tempus fugit or would that be better as the Nicer sentence Ars Longa Vita Brevis?

There comes a point where I guess everyone gets slightly pretentious and feels like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.

Especially when you look round comedy clubs and you’re by far the oldest person in the room and you don’t laugh as much because you’ve heard what must be literally thousands of jokes told live on stage over decades.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

With me, it’s flashes of memories from the 1960s.

I remember working at the long-forgotten Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was really just a garage in a mews and people donated second hand books to it but – hey! man! – wouldn’t it be great if everything was free? I remember going downstairs in the Arts Lab in Drury Lane to see experimental films; I think I saw the long-forgotten Herostratus movie there. I remember walking among people holding daffodils in the darkened streets around the Royal Albert Hall when we all came out of a Donovan concert. Or was it an Incredible String Band gig? I remember the two amazingly talented members of the Incredible String Band sitting in a pile of mostly eccentric musical instruments on stage at the Royal Albert Hall; they played them all at one point or another.

No, I was right originally. It was a Donovan concert in January 1967. It’s in Wikipedia, so it must be true. On stage at Donovan’s gig, a ballerina danced during a 12-minute performance of Golden Apples.

I remember it.

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

It’s not true when they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.

I remember being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (or was it the Purcell Room?) on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, seeing the two-man hippie group Tyrannosaurus Rex perform before Marc Bolan dumped Steve Peregrine Took and formed what Tyrannosaurus Rex fans like me mostly felt was the far-inferior T Rex. And the Tyrannosaurus Rex support act that night on the South Bank was a mime artist who did not impress me called David Jones who later re-invented himself as David Bowie. I still didn’t rate him much as David Bowie: he was just a jumped-up mime artist who sang.

No, it wasn’t in the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Purcell Room. It didn’t happen there. It was in the Royal Festival Hall on Whit Monday, 3rd June 1968. There’s an ad for it on the back cover of International Times issue 31.

The gig was organised by Blackhill Enterprises, who were part-owned by Pink Floyd.

The ad says DJ John Peel was providing “vibrations” and the wonderful Roy Harper was supporting.

I remember that now.

But the ad says “David Bowie” was supporting.

I’m sure he was introduced on stage as “David Jones”.

I think.

I used to go to the early free rock concerts which Blackhill Enterprises organised in a small-ish natural grass amphitheatre called ‘the cockpit’ in Hyde Park. Not many people went. Just enough to sit on the grass and listen comfortably. I think I may have been in the audience by the stage on the cover of the second issue of the new Time Out listings magazine.

I realised Pink Floyd – whom I hadn’t much rated before – were better heard at a distance when their sounds were drifting over water – like bagpipes – so I meandered over and listened to them from the other side of the Serpentine.

I remember a few months or a few weeks later turning up ten minutes before the Rolling Stones were due to start their free Hyde Park gig and found thousands of people had turned up and the gig had been moved to a flatter area. I think maybe I had not realised the Stones would draw a crowd. I gave up and went home. The Hyde Park gigs never recovered. Too many people from then on.

I remember going to The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity on the Isle of Wight in 1968. I went to see seeing Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fairport Convention. I didn’t go back the next year to the re-named Isle of Wight Festival because top-of-the-bill was the horribly pretentious and whiney non-singer Bob Dylan. What have people ever seen in him?

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

You can look it up on Wikipedia.

Though equally good, I reckon is the ancient saying:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, maybe I spent too much time in the 1960s…

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Drugs, History, Movies, Music, Record Industry