Tag Archives: dancing

Edinburgh Fringe: The trauma of a 5-star review & why I don’t like fauning

Extreme absurdism reaches The Times

Extreme 4-star absurdism has now reached even The Times

Maybe absurdism and ‘outa left field’ comedians are starting to make inroads into mainstream media consciousness. Even if I have no idea what ‘outa left field’ actually specifically means.

This week, definitively absurd Mr Twonkey got a 4-star review and near double-page spread in The Times, which (like Martha McBrier’s 5-star review in The Scotsman) had an immediate effect on audience numbers.

Then, yesterday, Lewis Schaffer got a 5-star review in The Scotsman. This too had an immediate effect. He sent me a text saying: “Feeling bad about it.”

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who wrote the review, told me: “Lewis is upset. He told me not to review him. I did it without telling him. So I said: Lewis, you’d better buy the paper. Now he’s in bits.”

Lewis Schaffer’s 5-star anguish

5-star anguish for coffee-stealing Lewis Schaffer

I told her: “He is bound to be upset. Five stars! His reputation is in shreds!”

Critic Kate Copstick told me: “Lewis Schaffer stole my coffee today. I was sitting at the Community Centre. He came out of his show with an entourage and I told him: I’m terrible sorry. I’ve heard all about it. I don’t know what Claire Smith was thinking of. If it had been me, I would have been kinder and not have given you more than 3 stars.

“Although he was obviously emotionally devastated by the review, he managed to quickly get it up… on his mobile phone, I mean… and let everyone around him read the review. It’s a lovely review, but he was so upset he started sipping my coffee – Oh! This is delicious! Just like American coffee! – and, because he was so distraught, I let him drink it all. He was chuntering on about the star-chasers who just go and see anything that has 5-stars.”

The star system for reviews also came up as a subject at yesterday’s Grouchy Club. Co-host Kate Copstick was scathingly against it. Two members of the audience staunchly defend it, on the basis that it was just quicker than reading the reviews.

Peter Michael Marino - six stars

Not a compilation show – a compilation review

Abigoliah Schamaun (as mentioned in a blog last week) has taken to putting stars on her posters from fictional publications. And Peter Michael Marino, whose show precedes The Grouchy Club, yesterday started putting ‘compilation’ stars on his flyers. He proclaims a 6-star review from Fringe Guru/Broadway Baby – on the basis that Fringe Guru gave him 3 stars and Broadway Baby gave him 3 stars. The combined quote of the 6-star review is Outrageous! Hitler!

He told me Fringe Guru had used the word Outrageous! in its review. So presumably Broadway Baby reviewed him as Hitler! I thought it better not to ask for details of the full quote.

After The Grouchy Club, I bumped into my comedy chum Janey Godley on the pavement outside The Counting House. She started raving to me about the joys of Comics and Graphic Novels: the shop next to the venue.

“In the very first week of the Fringe,” she told me, “I got really sick. I went in there, didn’t know them, but they let me lie on their couch and they had a random dog called Bonnie who jumped on the couch with me – Why wouldn’t he? – Then they all went away to get drunk – they’re a wee bit hippie – and forgot I was there and locked me in.

Janey points out her favourite shop

Where do you find a comedian in Edinburgh? In a comic shop

“So I was locked in the comic shop with ten minutes to go before my show – at the window screaming – with a dog barking and folk passing by who thought it was a show – Why would it not be? It’s the Fringe. Eventually, I got out in time and did my show with Bonnie the Dog at my heels. So now I can go in to the shop whenever I want and have a nap and I have coffee and tea in the back, sandwiches in the fridge and I have a dog to stroke. Now piss off. I have people to see.”

And with that, as Kevin Spacey said in The Usual Suspects, she was gone.

So I went to see Pat Cahill’s show Panjandrum, a bizarrely endearing mix of something, something and something. Not quite sure what. I think it was probably echoes of English Music Hall, a bit of absurdism and something indefinably original. There was a metal hat and a large bomb involved along the way. He had built the bomb himself.

Then came my worst nightmare.

I had been invited to see the well-reviewed and much-touted Follow The Faun but I think, somewhere along the way, I had failed to read the small print.

Faun and games for everyone except me

Faun & games for everyone except maybe me

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I hate being part of anything where people do things in unison. I abhor community singing. I would have hated the Second World War. All that bleeding singing jaunty songs together. Anything where ‘bonding’ en masse is involved I loathe.

I hate dancing.

I am a fat slaphead of an unspeakable age. I am well past my prancing prime. But, even when I was in my teens and twenties, I hated dancing. I am not and never have been filled with any hint of an inkling of any desire to be joyful through moving in unison with other people and waving my arms and legs about. I would rather kneel in an orange jumpsuit for ISIS.

What I am saying is that, for me, Follow The Faun was an hour of torture. It involves going into a darkened basement room and following the dance moves of a satyr with large horns. It is a combination of 1960s/1970s hippie, trippy Glastonbury-type Acid-fuelled love-in, 1980s/1990s Ecstasy-fuelled Rave dancing and The Wicker Man with a lot of sexual miming and a bit of wannabe human sacrifice. You may think I am joking about that last bit. I am not.

I hated it. Though I am not averse to a bit of human sacrifice.

But…

I am not the target audience.

Everyone else – young, lively, outgoing people (mostly girls) in their twenties – LOVED it… They L-O-V-E-D it. Beaming faces, pogo-ing bodies, sweat pouring, occasional screams of joy.

London’s theatrical mask falls

This is not the figure of a graceful satyr used to joyful prancing

If you are an optimistic, outgoing, life-loving, youngish, Rave culture dance-loving lively person, go and take part in it.

If you are a grouchy fat male slaphead well over 35 who likes cynical endings to films and looks a bit like a bald, lightly-bearded Hattie Jacques… avoid.

More to my taste was the show I saw after that – the ever-dependable Frank Sanazi with his Iraq Pack – Saddami Davis Junior, Osama Bing Crosby and Dean Stalin. The full house at the Voodoo Rooms was packed tighter than a cattle truck and the audience was well-up for an hour of bad taste songs about mass murder and dictators in hiding – so much so that, when the subject of people on the run and in hiding came up, an audience member threw Madeleine McCann’s name into the mix.

You can’t beat a bit of continually-updated bad taste for a good Saturday night out in Edinburgh. And it is good to see ISIS and Tony Blair added in there among the Biggies of Badassness.

There is a Follow The Faun video on YouTube

… and one of Frank Sanazi, solo, singing his signature tune.

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Filed under Bad taste, Comedy, Dance

The truth about piping in the haggis on Burns Night and about the dancing fish

Martin Soan about to eat a fish last night

Comedian Martin Soan prepares to eat a fish last night

“I just don’t like putting holes in walls any more,” said Martin Soan last night. “If there’s a hole, there has to be a screw in it.”

I have no idea why he said this… Then we had a general knowledge quiz.

“How many barbels are on a barbel?” he asked.

“42,” I said confidently. “That’s the answer to everything.”

“Two,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Lots of things come in twos.”

“Amazing!” said Martin. “That’s right. Well actually it’s four, because it’s two pairs. The barbel is a fish.”

He then told a true story about how, years ago, when his two daughters were younger, the whole family had gone on a boating holiday on a river and pulled up at a jetty where a man pulled a net out of the water and photographed the fish he had caught.

He then threw the fish one-by-one on the sloping ground by the river.

“They were barbel fish,” said Martin. “Barbels are very very strong, because they have to swim through really strong river currents and they search for things on the river bed with their noses.

“They up-ended themselves on the grass so they were standing upright on their noses and they danced back down into the river on their noses.

“That’s true,” he said.

I was at Martin’s home last night because there had been going to be a small comedy show in Greenwich pub The Lord Hood in memory of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. But it was cancelled because of the heavy snow.

“I was going to do an act at the show,” Martin told me. “A one-off. It can’t be repeated. Well, it CAN be repeated, but only every six months or so. Maybe I’ll do it at our next show.” (Martin and his wife Vivienne run a twice-a-month comedy club called Pull The Other One.)

“When is the next Pull The Other One?” I asked.

“This Friday,” Vivienne said.

“That’s Burns Night,” I said. “You should pipe in the haggis.”

“It’s not supposed to be a haggis,” Martin said. “Everyone thinks that you are supposed to pipe in the haggis on Burns Night, but that’s not true. It’s just a Sassenach English interpretation of a Scottish tradition. What the Scots traditionally piped in was a herring.”

“A red herring?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Piped in from the North Sea like the gas?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “it’s true. Traditionally, it was the herring that was piped in on Burns Night.”

“Not kippers?” Martin’s wife Vivienne asked. “Am I not allowed to tell the story about the piper and the kippers?… The piper and the kippers and the Action Man.”

“What happened,” said Martin, “it was Oram & Meeton, Dr Brown and me finishing off the whole evening.”

“With the piper and the kippers and the Action Man,” said Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin.

“With the piper and the kippers and the Action Man,” Vivienne sang.

“Vivienne’s told you that one story,” Martin said to me, “But you are never going to hear the story of the perfect National Health comedy sketch that I was involved in and it was real and it happened and it obeyed every single rule of comedy and echoed one of the greatest sketches in TV comedy.”

“Never?” I asked.

“Never,” said Martin.

“What about the dancing barbel fish?” I asked.

“That’s true,” said Martin. “Totally true. I am thinking of writing a short story about the dancing barbel fish and Izaak Walton, who wrote The Compleat Anger and Issac Newton. Or it could be a story for the radio. But I’ll never get round to it.”

Last night was, in theory, slightly sad, because today Martin & Vivienne’s daughter Sydney is moving to Australia with her boyfriend Charlie, an Apple Genius who has packed light to move to Oz and, in fact, seemed to have packed little except his surf board.

“But Charlie don’t surf,” I said.

“He does,” I was told.

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Comedy, burlesque and going OTT at PTOO with a naked Irish Riverdance in Peckham, London

There seem to be two separate ‘circuits’ in London at the moment: the amorphous alternative comedy circuit and the burlesque circuit. The latter seems to meander from stripper-type-tease to glimpses of old-style variety to fetish-style stuff with more than a nod to Berlin cabaret between-the-Wars.

Most of the straight comedy shows nowadays are a just a string of stand-ups with maybe, occasionally, an odd act thrown in. Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One club in Nunhead (that’s Peckham to me and you) is clearly not burlesque; but it is not one of the amorphous straight comedy nights either.

It is old-style variety mingled with comic performance art plus usually one big-name straight stand up. It is never short of the unexpected and bizarre, so it’s no surprise that Pull The Other One regulars Bob Slayer and Holly Burn both appear in the April issue of Bizarre magazine as New Alternative Comedy Heroes.

The average Pull The Other One show does not exist and it is a sign of how unusual it is that it has always attracted comedians to its audience. Last month Boothby Graffoe was there in the audience just to enjoy it; this month it was Stephen Frost.

The Big Name stand up on the bill last night was multi-talented Omid Djalili, a man who can move with nary a blink from appearing in Gladiator, The MummyPirates of the Caribbean and James Bond movies to club gigs on the London comedy circuit to playing Fagin in Oliver! at the London Palladium and having his own TV series on BBC1. His career is almost as variety-filled as a Pull The Other One show.

I missed most of last night’s show because main speciality act Paul Morocco had got cut down earlier in the day with a very serious stomach bug and couldn’t appear – well, it’s a tribute to his professionalism that he would have appeared if Vivienne Soan had not been able to find a fill-in sharpish. But Paul’s amazing act includes juggling, a lot of bopping around and blowing/juggling multiple ping pong balls from his mouth. This is not ideal if you have a serious stomach bug and just want to lie in bed and die with the pain.

So I missed most of last night’s show because I was picking up and driving my chum Melbourne-based Irish fiddle-playing comic vagabond Aindrias de Staic from the West End to Nunhead after he appeared in two performances of Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. Aindrias is not so much jet-lagged as show-lagged. He is over in London to appear in Woody Sez until 2nd April – another two shows today – and tomorrow he performs his one-man show Around The World on 80 Quid at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

So last night, at 9.35, we were legging it to my car to get to Pull The Other One in time – parking mid-evening on a Friday in the West End had not been fun.

Aindrias decided in the car on the way to the venue what he was going to do: mostly stand-up stories with an inkling of fiddling… but, when he actually got there and realised the measure of the audience, changed it all.

He gave them a bit of a foot-stomping fiddle, then a bizarre story and a couple more musical items.

Well, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

He had had a 20-second chat with Martin Soan before he went on and they ad-libbed what then happened.

Aindrias was interrupted during his second diddly-aye foot-stomping Irish fiddly piece by Martin Soan – totally naked, of course – Riverdancing in from the wings behind him and, trust me, Irish dancing in the nude is a particularly visual entertainment.

There’s a lot of flopping up and down going on.

When this went down very well with the audience, Aindrias called Martin back on stage to do a reprise “bollock dance” to the Jew’s Harp accompanied by a rather dubious song which Aindrias improvised.

Aindrias called what was happening “gyp-hop” – a musical combination of gypsy and hip-hop.

Watching this, Stephen Frost said to me: “If only Malcolm (Hardee) were here to see this.”

Indeed.

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A man with Tourette’s Syndrome and an FBI file… Plus how comedian Ricky Grover insulted me.

So, the story goes like this…

On Monday night, I went to the New Act of the Year auditions at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, one of the jolliest and most brightly-coloured comedy clubs in Britain. A film crew was coincidentally filming scenes for an upcoming movie called The Comedian.

The Comedy Cafe’s owner, Noel Faulkner, has had a ‘colourful’ past which he revealed in his astonishing 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel. I first met him when we were both helping-out our mutual chum Ricky Grover by appearing in an early pilot/showreel for his planned movie Bulla, which Ricky has recently completed as a ‘pucka’ feature film with Steven Berkoff, Omid Djalili, Peter Capaldi etc.

Noel has Tourette’s Syndrome which doesn’t mean he swears uncontrollably but does mean he occasionally twitches uncontrollably… except, oddly, he doesn’t do it when he’s performing on stage or on film. This non-twitching while performing caused surreal problems during the autobiographical Shake, Rattle and Noel show, as he was talking about how he twitched uncontrollably without actually twitching uncontrollably.

Noel has lived a life-and-a-half and he isn’t through with it yet.

After being brought up in Ireland by the Christian Brothers and working on fishing trawlers and having some peripheral encounters with the IRA, he was in Swinging London at its height where he got involved with the young Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood and sold Gary Glitter his first glitter suit. Noel’s twitching made him a wow in discos – people thought he was a great disco dancer – and it was assumed to be drug-induced, so he fitted perfectly into the very Swinging London scene.

Then he went to hippie San Francisco before Haight Ashbury turned into Hate Ashbury and became a friend of the young, before-he-was-famous Robin Williams. Noel ended up on the run from the FBI, went to New York as an actor and comic, dealt directly with and smuggled dope for the early Colombian drug cartels, was caught and deported from the US, returned to London and set up the Comedy Cafe, one of the few purpose-built comedy venues in the capital.

So this – the Comedy Cafe – was where I found myself on Monday night for the New Act of the Year comedy auditions, the 28th year of the contest – it used to be called the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year (Eddie Izzard came 12th one year). The final used to be held a the Hackney Empire, which organisers Roland & Claire Muldoon ran. This year, the final takes place at The Barbican on Saturday 19th March.

It was well worth going because I saw for a second time the promising up-and-coming stand-up Pat Cahill and, for the first time, the very interesting indeed Duncan Hart who had a dark and very well-crafted set about a heart problem in a hospital, a drug overdose, a mugging at gunpoint and much more. Not obvious comedy subjects and potentially difficult to tailor for comedy in a 5-minute spot, but he performed it flawlessly.

The only downside was that, looking around the Comedy Cafe’s full room, I was, as usual, almost certainly the oldest punter in the room. This depressing scenario is even more depressing when I am up at the Edinburgh Fringe and street flyerers ignore me without a second glance because – clearly, at my age – I can’t possibly be interested in comedy.

Ricky Grover cast me as a bank manager in his Bulla showreel because he has always said I look like a banker (and I don’t think he was using Cockney rhyming slang). After the financial meltdown, I should take this as an insult. And I will. But I won’t tell him.

It would be far too dangerous.

It will be our little secret.

Just you and me.

OK?

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Drugs, Health, Movies