Tag Archives: David Baddiel

Jonathan Pie co-writer says: “A lot of comics are not in favour of free speech”

Jonathan Pie is a fictional UK TV news reporter, played by Tom Walker, in satirical political videos posted online and in stage shows. The scripts are written by Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle.

Andrew Doyle on his return from Scotland

Andrew Doyle and I met in London just after he had come back from Scotland, where he had filmed a half hour TV documentary about a man who had been prosecuted and found guilty of training a pug dog to give a Nazi salute. The man – calling himself ‘Count Dankula’  – then posted a video of the dog on YouTube; he said he had done it as a joke for his girlfriend. 

Probably all my blogs should come with the warning that I do not necessarily agree with all the interviewee’s opinions. And, equally, I do not necessarily disagree with all of them.

Make of that what you will.

Just saying…


JOHN: Why the interest in the pug dog?

ANDREW: Because it is such a landmark case in terms of free speech. Lots of people have been found guilty of telling jokes in this country, but we don’t hear about them very often: they’re mostly just unemployed teenagers on Facebook. It’s the first case of its kind that has got widespread attention and it has caused a real division within the comedy community, which I think is fascinating.

JOHN: And that division is?

ANDREW: Well, when I wrote a Jonathan Pie video about it with Tom Walker, we fully expected comedians to be up in arms about the case. There were a few who were annoyed about it – Shappi Khorsandi, Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel – but most comedians were silent about it and quite a few sided with the court’s decision. It was the opposite reaction to what I would have expected.

It has really illuminated the fact that actually a lot of comics are not in favour of free speech at all. And that fascinates me.

JOHN: Any particular type of comedian? Left wing or right wing?

ANDREW: Well, virtually all comedians are left wing.

JOHN: But the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing are just a quirk of French history, aren’t they? If you take both to extremes, they end up in the same place. It’s a circle not a straight line.

ANDREW: Well, most comedians are middle class Blairites who call themselves ‘left wing’ but they don’t really know what ‘left wing’ means. I think because they identify as left wing and because the Left is often so hostile to free speech and has not done a very good job defending it, you now see people like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins defending free speech and that makes the Left even more suspicious of free speech. It’s a really dangerous situation.

The Left needs to reclaim free speech – I am passionate about that, although I have been called a misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi.

A misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi??

JOHN: But you are gay. Why are you allegedly a homophobe?

ANDREW: Some of the jokes I make, apparently.

JOHN: So the Left are not very good on free speech?

ANDREW: No. They used to be. If you go back to the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, they understood that free speech was at the heart of any…

JOHN: So you’re saying the New Left and the Blairites were OK but the Corbynistas are a bit Fascistic?

ANDREW: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Fascistic. And I don’t think the Blairites were particularly strong on free speech. There have been increasing attempts at press regulations and Hate Speech laws are now enshrined in our way of life. That is not a free speech position.

JOHN: But it’s not opinion, only incitement to violence, that is criminal.

ANDREW: No. The 2003 Communications Act deems that anything you send online that could be ‘grossly offensive’ is a criminal offence.

JOHN: Virtually anything Jerry Sadowitz says is offensive to someone.

ANDREW: Yes. That’s his schtick. If some of that were to go online, then theoretically he could be arrested.

JOHN: Do you think PC has gone too far?

ANDREW: I don’t use the term PC. I associate political correctness with a different thing. To me it is a good thing. It is about a general, shared, agreed discourse that we have in public, in work, where we basically agree to be polite to each other and agree not to say certain things. It’s a social contract.

Andrew writes regular articles for Spiked magazine

Obviously I am not in favour of enforcing any type of speech law but, say, if you agree to work in an office, part of that is an obligation not to use the word “faggot”. That’s not a free speech issue. You can say it elsewhere but not in the office you have chosen to work in. I don’t think the idea of society encouraging people to be polite is a bad thing – and that is all I see political correctness as being.

What is happening now is not political correctness. It is a transformed, perverted version of political correctness, creeping into authoritarianism.

JOHN: You seem to be saying you are not in favour of any restriction of speech laws.

ANDREW: That’s right. I am not.

JOHN: But someone should not be allowed to say: “I think you should go out and kill all black people…”

ANDREW: Yes, that is a terrible thing to say.

JOHN: Surely saying that should be illegal?

ANDREW: No.

JOHN: Is it not an encouragement to commit a crime?

ANDREW: No, because whoever commits the crime should be held responsible for the crime. I am really uncomfortable with the idea of diminishing the responsibility of someone who breaks the law.

JOHN: But, by that logic, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust because other people did the killing.

ANDREW: He explicitly ordered and orchestrated it so, yes, he is responsible. He was not trying to persuade the SS to do it for him, he was ordering the SS to do it. They are responsible too – the people who did it – but he is too, because that is part of a military chain of command. That is not the same as someone standing at Speaker’s Corner shouting out that gay people should be castrated.

Just because he shouts that out, does not mean that people are going to go out and castrate gay people and, if they did, they would be responsible. It is not the same thing.

JOHN: But, if someone goes out and does something criminal as the result of hearing a speech, that speech was incitement to commit a crime, isn’t it? Which is illegal.

Andrew’s stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017

ANDREW: Yes, but the problem I have with this is that, on balance, I do not think it is safe to allow the state to have the power to criminalise speech – even if that means some really horrible people are going to try to persuade people to do horrible things. On balance, I think that is deeply unpleasant but it is not as frightening to me as the state having the right to lock people up for what they say and what they think.

We cannot trust the state. We know that now. They have convicted in a court of law a man for making a joke video about a pug dog giving a Nazi salute. And they call that Hate Speech. We cannot trust them to distinguish between a joke and some psychopath in a park shouting and inciting murder.

JOHN: The pug dog video case was in Scotland. Would it have been illegal in England?

ANDREW: Yes, The Communications Act applies to all of the UK.

JOHN: This is all a bit serious.

ANDREW: Do you want to talk about something flippant?

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

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Old Jewish Jokes and why comedian Ivor Dembina gets hate mail from Jews

I was partly brought up in Ilford in East London and went to school near Gants Hill which was, at the time, extremely Jewish. When there was a Jewish holiday, class numbers were so depleted that teachers at my school tended to abandon the lessons and have general knowledge tests. One of the bonuses of going to my school, though, was that I got endless top-notch Jewish jokes told by Jews.

Ivor played his Palestine show in Washington

Ivor played his Palestine show in Washington

Next week, Wednesday to Saturday, comedian Ivor Dembina is performing his show called Old Jewish Jokes at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

“It came about because of my previous solo show This Is Not a Suitable Subject For Comedy,” he told me yesterday. “That was a story with jokes about the Israel-Palestine conflict seen through the eyes of a North London Jew.

“Some people complained it was ‘too political’. So I came up with the idea of preceding it with a 20-minute curtain-raiser called Old Jewish Jokes. Then I was going to have an interval and perform This Is Not a Suitable Subject For Comedy.”

In fact, Ivor never did this. Old Jewish Jokes developed into its own one-hour show.

“One day,” he explained to me, “I did a gig at a Jewish venue and, before the show, the organiser asked me: You’re not going to do jokes about the Holocaust, are you? That slightly threw me – not because I actually do jokes about the Holocaust, though I do jokes about the way people use the Holocaust to fit their own agenda – about people appropriating history for their own purposes. I think that’s fair comment for the current comedian.

“But there was something odd about being asked beforehand about material I was not going to do. So I have worked that idea of being told by a venue owner what jokes not to tell into a narrative in which to tell the old Jewish jokes: Jews and Israel, Jews and money, Jews and sex. There ARE lots of jokes, but it’s underpinned by this story of what it’s like being a modern Jewish comedian when you’re given a shopping list of things you’re not allowed to talk about.

“I tested the show out last August at the Edinburgh Fringe – on a small scale at the Free Festival – and it sold out on the second night and then every night throughout the run. What was clear and heartening was that at least 75% of the audience was non-Jewish. So I thought I’d try it in London. The tickets for the Leicester Square Theatre show are selling really well without any great PR. If it works well there, I’ll probably take it back to Edinburgh again this year, maybe in a bigger pay venue.”

“The title is great,” I said. Old Jewish Jokes. You know exactly what you’re going to get.”

“Yes,” said Ivor, “People don’t come to see Ivor Dembina, by and large: they come because of the title.

Ivor Dembina on the pendulum swings of UK comedy

Ivor Dembina: “a typical alternative comedian”?

“I’m just a typical London-based alternative comedian. I’m used to writing stories about myself or whatever. But I’ve found actually standing on stage telling jokes is really hard. You could tell the best jokes in the world for an hour but, about 10 or 15 minutes in, the audience’s enjoyment will start going down. Which is why it’s so important to have the story in there. It gives the audience a breather and an additional level of interest because it becomes not just about the jokes themselves but about ethnic minorities having a fear of people making jokes about them.

“Black people can make jokes with the word ‘nigger’ in. White people can’t. Jews can make jokes about being mean with money and use the word ‘Yid’ but non-Jews can’t. What’s that all about? All those issues are kind of bubbling underneath and I think that’s what makes this quite an interesting show. The old jokes are great. I don’t have to worry about the jokes. But hopefully the audience may go away thinking about acceptability. Why are some jokes acceptable and others not? Why is the same joke OK in a certain context but not in others? It just stirs it up a little and I like that.

“In London, the Jews still have something of a ghettoised mentality; they tend to live in North West London or Ilford. Most Jewish entertainers work the Jewish community – the culture centres, the synagogue halls. Which is fine. But no-one – particularly in comedy – has yet stuck their neck out and consciously decided to try and take Jewish humour of an English kind out of the community and target it fairly and squarely at the ethnically-mixed audience. That’s what I’m trying to do. Instead of Jews just telling these jokes to each other, the whole culture of Jewish jokes could be opened up to a much wider audience.”

Ivo Dembina at Hampstead Comedy Club last night

Ivor Dembina at his Hampstead Comedy Club last week

“But surely ,” I said, “Jews have been telling jokes about Jews forever? There’s that whole New York Jewish thing.”

“Ah,” said Ivor. “That’s America, Over there the whole Jewish schtick is much more widespread.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said. “There are loads of British comedians who are Jews, but I can’t think of a single famous comedian over here who you could describe as doing his or her act as ‘a Jewish comedian’. Bernard Manning was a bit Jewish. Jerry Sadowitz is a bit Jewish. But you couldn’t describe either of them as being ‘Jewish comedians’ in the genre sense.”

“Mark Maier does a bit about it,” said Ivor, “and there’s David Baddiel, but you wouldn’t say he’s a specifically Jewish comedian. Lenny Henry was the UK’s ‘black comedian’ but there has never been a comic who became Britain’s Jewish Comedian.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“America’s a much bigger country,” said Ivor, “and they have a predilection for ethnic assertiveness – I’m an American black! – I’m proud! – I’m an American Jew! – I’m proud! – I’m an American Italian! – I’m proud! Jews in America see themselves as American first and Jewish second. In Britain people see themselves as Jews first and British second.”

“Really?” I said, surprised. “I’m not English, but I’m Scottish and British equally.”

“In my opinion,” said Ivor.

“Lewis Schaffer – a Jewish New York comedian,” I said, “surprised me by saying he was brought up to distrust Gentiles.”

“Well,” said Ivor, “I was brought up to fear Gentiles.”

“They are shifty, untrustworthy?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Ivor. “You can’t trust them. That was what I was told. In a way, the reason why Israel is so important to the Jews is because they see it as a bolt hole to go to if anti-Semitism gets too bad.

Ivor’s Edinburgh show with Omid Djalili: The Arab & The Jew

Ivor’s 1996 Edinburgh show with Omid Djalili: The Arab & The Jew

“I think what drives most Jewish behaviour is fear. Because of the experience of our past… I was brought up to think You can’t trust non-Jews. Obviously you find that same mentality in Israel: You can’t trust the Arabs. Shoot first. Ask questions afterwards. And, in the diasporait’s even more so. If anyone begins to raise a dissenting voice within the community, you get labelled as a traitor. I get hate mail just because I’ve dared to question the prevailing ethos through my comedy and through my very low-level political activity.”

“How did Jews react,” I asked, “to your show This Is Not a Suitable Subject For Comedy? It was about you actually going to Palestine and what you saw there. Did you get hassle about being perceived to be pro-Palestinian?”

“I get loads,” Ivor replied. “Hate mail.”

“Even now?” I asked.

“Not so much now,” said Ivor. “What happens is they try to marginalise you. Its main function is to intimidate you. Life would be easier if I kept quiet. Or to provoke you into doing something or saying something outrageous that will make you look stupid or like a villain. To get under your skin, to make you angry. I’m used to it now. I don’t take any notice of it.

The Bethlehem Unwrapped wall

The Bethlehem Unwrapped wall at St James’s in Piccadilly

“I don’t do much. I took part in that Bethlehem Unwrapped thing where they did a replica of the wall separating Palestine from Israel at that church in Piccadilly. I did a comedy show with Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy and a couple of other Jewish comedians. And there was a line of people outside complaining Ivor Dembina makes jokes about the Holocaust! Which I don’t. But they’re very organised these Zionist people. It’s like banging your head against the wall.”

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How British Government finance works – by the stand-up comic who worked for Education Secretary Michael Gove

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Stand-up comics tend to have odd and interesting backgrounds.

Gareth Morinan’s university degree was in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics.

Yesterday at Bar Italia in Soho, he told me: “I started in the Civil Service in late 2008 because I wanted to see how government works and I was there until around mid-2011.

“Most of the time I was there, I was in the Education Department although, for the first six months, I worked in this dodgy department called The Export Credits Guarantee Department, which is the only department other than the HM Revenue & Customs that makes money. It’s basically like a government-run insurance firm.

If some big British company wants to export, they’ll always have an insurance deal. But, if they’re exporting to some dodgy country – if they want to export fighter jets to some dodgy country – no private insurance company is going to insure that: it’s too risky. So the government has this entire department purely set up for supporting dodgy deals. I was really curious, so went to work there for six months and then left. I was an analyst there. As an analyst, people take your word as Gospel.”

“That’s because your art is a science.” I suggested.

“Yes,” Gareth laughed, “even though, when you look at the spreadsheets, it’s very dodgy. I had situations where I would e-mail someone a figure saying This is a very rough figure. This is the best figure I can get. And it got sent round the department and would eventually come back to me as fact and I’d say: I know that’s not fact. I came up with that figure. Don’t put that out on a press release. But they did. This happened a lot in the Export Credits Guarantee Department.”

“That was under the Labour Party?” I asked.

“Yeah. You had these figures – especially around the time of the financial crisis, where some analyst somewhere in some bank had come out with some figure he’d plucked out of the air on the back of an envelope and, as soon as it became public, that figure became ‘fact’ and it could not be changed and everyone had to work from those figures.

“All politicians really want is a number: Give me a number. Don’t tell me anything else. The less I know about how dodgy this number is, the better it is – It’s that plausible deniability thing.

“I started in the Education Department about a year before the General Election so, when I started, Ed Balls was the Minister and then, about a year later, it was all-change because the Coalition came in and what we were doing changed somewhat.”

“Changed?” I asked.

“Well,” Gareth told me, “the key thing Michael Gove did when he came in was – on the first day – a big picture of the Queen was put up in Reception. And there were some formality differences.

Policies changed with Michael Gove

Policies changed with the arrival of journalist Michael Gove

“The most interesting thing was that the Permanent Secretary told us – these are not his exact words, but he basically told us – This new government – specifically Michael Gove – doesn’t care so much about the details or the facts. He cares more about ‘the narrative’. 

“When we were doing White Papers, whereas before it was very much We’ve got to have these details; this is the headline figure, Michael Gove, because he’s a journalist, just wanted the story to read well.

“He was a local journalist, then a journalist for The Times, then a TV commentator… then suddenly he’s in charge of national education policy, which makes a change from cracking jokes on A Stab in The Dark with David Baddiel.”

There is a clip on YouTube of him presenting 1993 TV satire show A Stab in The Dark:

“Most of the financial projections in Education,” Gareth told me, “are based on how many kids there are going to be and those calculations are based round the Office for National Statistics’ population projections. But Michael Gove was quite keen for a while on trying to replace them with projections done by somebody he knows at Tesco.

“At Tesco, they have all this Clubcard data and they have projections which help them decide where to open up a new store. And, for quite a while, he was arguing we should start incorporating those – or replace the official national projections with ones done by Tesco. It didn’t go down well in the department.

“I actually had to lie for Michael Gove once.

“During the big Comprehensive Spending Review where (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne works out how much money he’s going to give to all the departments, I was basically the guy working out the headline figures of how many billions we needed. I would hand those numbers to someone who then had a meeting with Michael Gove – There was always a buffer zone between me and Michael Gove. Maybe I was too scruffy.

“Our department did quite well in the budget review – basically they decided to give us extra money at the cost of other departments. So we had a nice little champagne reception to thank everyone and the look Michael Gove gave me when I stood there listening to his speech was like How did this one get in? I was just wearing a shirt and cardigan and looking very scruffy with uncombed hair. He was like Oh God! What is going on there?

“But, basically, in the spending review, we were negotiating and there was a strategy department. I provided numbers and we would go into meetings with all these senior Treasury people and I was the person having to justify all the numbers.

“Over the course of several months, while this was happening, the Office for National Statistics came out with a new projection of pupil numbers, which underpinned all our financial projections… and their projections were basically lower. So, overnight, our projection of how much money we needed went down by about half a billion pounds.

Michael Gove at Westminster in 2008

Michael Gove looking contemplative in Westminster in 2008

“Michael Gove’s opinion was that this had not happened and that the projections we believed were the ones that were higher. That was the official line.

“We were about to go into this meeting and I’m the one who has to explain the actual numbers to all these senior Treasury people who were probably better negotiators than the people in our department and better analysts than me. And I was told before I went into the meeting: Well, just come up with something.

“So I was pinned down in this meeting by the Treasury people: What’s the difference in these numbers? Which ones are the correct ones? The higher ones? Why? I basically just stuttered for a while and gave a very unconvincing performance.”

“Did you get away with it?” I asked.

“No,” said Gareth. “After that meeting, I went to my boss, who was an analyst, and he was like Well, this is outrageous. We shouldn’t be lying. And my boss spoke to the other person’s boss and eventually they decided that we were going to go with the lower numbers… But here’s an interesting example of how analysis works in the government.

“The thing you learn when you work in any government department is how little information we actually have. There are entire swathes of the education budget that no-one really knows the cost of.

“The biggest mystery black hole is kids who have special needs. There are more of these kids every year – especially ones with serious medical problems who require like £100,000 a year – because, as health technology improves, more kids get saved and live longer.

“There’s no way of predicting how many of these kids there’s going to be and medical costs keep going up, so there was this line in the budget which was The 1% Assumption. It was a long-standing assumption: We don’t know how much it’s going to be, so we just assume it’s going to rise by 1% every year.

“My brainwave was to ask: Well… Could we make this The 2% Assumption? That was thought to be a genius idea. We put it into the calculations and suddenly the gap was closed and we were back to the higher figure we had originally wanted.

“That was probably the one thing I did which made the biggest actual difference when I worked for the government.”

* * * * *

Gareth Morinan has a YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/gmorinan, to which he will be adding over the next couple of months.

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Filed under Education, Finance, Humor, Humour, Politics

Comic Arthur Smith and critic Copstick talk comedy & hard core pornography

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the first show, the guests were comedian Arthur Smith and doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (who hates being called Kate). This is a short extract:

_____________________________________________________

ARTHUR: A naked man is funny whereas, with a naked woman, there are different things going on.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why?

ARTHUR: Well… because of the evil that is Man.

COPSTICK: A round of applause, please. The feminist contingent has arrived.

ARTHUR: Well, I do consider myself a feminist. When I arrived at university in 1974, there was a woman setting up The Women’s Liberation Society. You only had to think about it. Men had been oppressing women for thousands of years and she was absolutely right.

I always thought that the feminist ethos would continue more. For example, the ‘Ms’ thing. Fair enough. Why does a woman have to announce her marital status on a form by being Miss or Mrs? Men don’t have to. So I just assumed Ms would become standard, but it didn’t.

I assumed that the Feminist revolution, for want of a better word, would continue, but then Lad Culture suddenly appeared, courtesy of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel amongst others. And porn was alright.

COPSTICK: Porn IS alright!

ARTHUR: Yeah, but… I’m not suggesting porn should be illegal, but it’s another area of controversy.

COPSTICK: Have you ever been on a porn set?

ARTHUR: I was asked… Victoria Coren

COPSTICK: Oh, that’s not a proper porn set. That’s middle-class girls playing at making porn.

JOHN: Copstick has proper porn sets.

ARTHUR: I’ve always had this joke about balancing a tray on the end of me knob. It’s an idea that perhaps I could learn to do.

COPSTICK: I was only asking because I have spent quite a long while within the porn industry.

ARTHUR: Have you?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

ARTHUR: I didn’t know that.

COPSTICK: Oh yes.

JOHN: She owns the Erotic Review.

COPSTICK: But I’m not talking about the Erotic Review. I’m talking about hard core porn. Proper hard core, you know? Every industry has its sleazy end. I know nothing about the illegal stuff. I’m talking about… The mainstream porn industry is where the one group of people who can turn up on a set with a list of what they will do and what they won’t do is the women. And that list is adhered to.

A very good friend of mine does everything. She does things probably none of the lovely people here could even imagine.

JOHN: Such as?

COPSTICK: Have you ever seen a cream pie?

ARTHUR: Oh, I’ve heard of that one. There’s a woman I know who’s actually quite well-known who said Ooh, I’ve seen this lovely profiterole. I’ve got me eye on it. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but… she… she doesn’t eat it. Let’s put it like that.

COPSTICK: My friend does double-anal, she does double-pussy, she does cream pie, she does everything.

ARTHUR: With profiteroles?

COPSTICK: Well, there’s somebody there balancing them on a tray on his dick.

JOHN: And then?

ARTHUR: Is this comedy or porn?

COPSTICK: Oh, it’s porn.

ARTHUR: It sounds quite funny, doesn’t it?

COPSTICK: She’ll do all these things, but she doesn’t like anyone playing with her nipples. So, on her list of things the guys are not allowed to do, none of them are allowed to go anywhere near her nipples, no matter what else they are doing… And, if they do, she can stop the scene. The women are not downtrodden in porn… I haven’t convinced you, Arthur?

JOHN: Few people know you’re in the erotic industry.

COPSTICK: I thought we were talking about Arthur.

JOHN: Few people know you were in the erotic industry, Arthur.

ARTHUR: Mr Knobbo? He never really caught on.

JOHN: There was a lot of nudity surrounding Malcolm Hardee in the 1980s for no reason I could figure out except The Roman In Britain was getting publicity.

ARTHUR: Well, like I said, naked men are funny.

JOHN: Why?

ARTHUR: Kate will tell you.

COPSTICK: It is the danglies. Little squishy things that dangle are quite funny.

ARTHUR: Well, the testicles and penis are slightly silly things. The rest of your body doesn’t have things hanging off. You look at them and you think What the hell are…

COPSTICK: One wonders what Mother Nature was thinking… And there are an increasing number of chaps in really quite middle-of-the-road comedy shows who, at the end of the show, just randomly get their knobs out.

If I was male and I was going to get my knob out, I would want to know that people were going to have to gasp Whoaaah! but none of them are. Maybe it’s just a comedian thing. They’re all…

ARTHUR: All comedians have small knobs?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

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Is there life after stand-up comedy? There is huge potential, it seems.

Next Monday, the movie Huge premieres in London, with a general release on 8th July. It is directed by comedy actor Ben Miller and co-scripted by Simon Godley.

Simon Godley is interesting because he used to play the stand-up comedy circuit but is now a dentist to many top British comedians. Well, he was always a dentist when he himself was a comedian, but now he has a trendy Notting Hill surgery, also runs an art gallery at the same address and acts occasionally.

Huge first premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. It is about a struggling comedy double act and their ambitions to be the new Morecambe and Wise. Written (in alphabetical order) by Jez Butterworth, Simon Godley and Ben Miller, it was originally a stage play at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993 and seen as an in-joke about the Fringe but it has also been called “a more universal meditation on the dark heart of comedy”,

The stage play was set in a squat and had only two characters, played by Ben Miller and Simon Godley.

“The most appealing thing about it first of all,” says Ben Miller, “was that it had two characters and one setting. It seemed a cheap film to make. But, of course, by the time we started filming it had fifty actors and umpteen locations and wasn’t cheap at all.”

In the movie, the roles that Ben Miller and Simon Godley played on stage are now taken by Johnny Harris and Noel Clarke.

Simon Godley suggested that every other comic in the film should be played by a real one.  So, for one scene set at a comedy awards (surprisingly not the Malcolm Hardee Awards), Jo Brand, Alan Davies, Harry Hill, Eddie Izzard and Frank Skinner play themselves.

“If your dentist asked a favour, would you dare turn him down?” Ben Miller says.

And then there’s also Stephen K Amos, Ronni Ancona, David Baddiel, Ninia Benjamin, Kevin Bishop, Jack Dee, Hattie Hayridge, Mark Lamarr, Rory McGrath, Sean Mayo, Alistair McGowan, Sally Phillips and Nick Revell all playing themselves plus Simon Day playing a character strangely called Noel Faulkner.

Simon Godley’s celebrity dentist status brought to my mind what happened to Jonathan Meres after he left stand-up comedy.

He used to play the comedy circuit under the name Johnny Immaterial. His opening line was:

“Hello. The name’s immaterial,.. Johnny Immaterial.”

He used to make me laugh mightily though, it has to be said, often more from his charisma and delivery than from the material. It was an act without its own catchphrase but, when Johnny Immaterial intoned “Ooooh, nooo, matron!” in Kenneth Williams‘ unmistakable nasal twang, you could forgive him anything.

He disappeared from the circuit, as I heard it at the time, when he found a good woman in Edinburgh. Anything is possible in Edinburgh.

He was Perrier Award-nominated in 1993 for a show called My Booze Hell By Little Johnny Cartilage, the same year Simon Godley and Ben Miller performed Huge at the Edinburgh Fringe but he played his last stand-up gig in 1994 after, as I understand it, he became disenchanted with the business.

Johnny Immaterial reverted to being Jonathan Meres and became a very highly successful children’s author, publishing his first book in 1998; he has also written extensively for children’s television and, like Simon Godley, kept his performing skills up-to-scratch with various acting roles.

So, yes, there is life after stand-up comedy – it generally pays better and it may lead on to even better things.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Movies, Theatre