Tag Archives: David Mills

David Mills, chic gay comic with a nose for pussy, gets chatty about PrEP etc

Next Wednesday, American comic David Mills starts The Mix – the first in a monthly series of chat shows at the Phoenix Artist Club in London.

“You’ve got a bit of previous with chat shows,” I said, “with Scott Capurro and then with Jonathan Hearn.”

“And,” David told me, “I had a chat show with another comic in San Francisco maybe 20 years ago – Late Night Live – with this hilarious woman called Bridget Schwartz.

“She has since given up comedy. A great loss.

“We had big local San Francisco politicians, some of the big newscasters and drag queens – the same sort of thing I’m trying to create here. Not just people from the comedy world, but people from politics and culture and newsmakers.”

“So The Mix will not be all comics?” I asked.

“No. That’s why it’s called The Mix, John. Next Wednesday, we will have comic Jo Sutherland and the writers of Jonathan Pie – Andrew Doyle and Tom Walker who plays Jonathan Pie – and London’s Night Czar Miss Amy Lamé who will be talking about the night-time economy.

“For the second show on 19th April, we are currently negotiating to get a controversial politician and we already have comic Mark Silcox and Daniel Lismore, who is the current reigning Leigh Bowery of the world – like a crazy creature who has come out of some couture closet. A sort of Art Scenester. I don’t want it to be all comics. It’s The Mix.”

“Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?”

David Mills in his photograph of choice

“No. I won’t be playing Edinburgh this year. I’ve been going back to the US a lot – more regularly – so I haven’t been spending time writing a new show. I’ve been gigging in LA, gigging in New York, also I have family out there. Trying to make my way. But it’s a bit of a challenge to make your way in LA if you’re only there for two weeks every three months.”

“You could,” I suggest, “get a position in the Trump administration. He’s running out of people to nominate. Do you know any Russians?”

“There was Denis Krasnov,” said David.

“He seems,” I said, “to calls himself Jack Dennis now.”

“He’s the only Russian I know,” David told me. “He used to be on the circuit in London, then he went to New York. but I don’t think he can get me into government. Well, I don’t want to be in the Trump administration, but I’d work for Milania – perhaps as a stylist or a gay best friend.”

“You are in bigtime Hollywood movies now,” I said. “Florence Foster Jenkins. What part did you play?”

“The gay friend.”

“A lot of acting involved?” I asked.

“It was a real stretch for me, John, because… I don’t have friends. For research, I had to hang around with people who have friends and let me tell you – I don’t know if you know anything about friends, but – they’re a lot of work. There’s a lot of lying involved. Lots.”

“Where was Florence Foster Jenkins filmed?”

“All over. North London, West London…”

“It was supposed to be New York?”

“But filmed in the UK, which is why I got the job. They needed an American gay friend in London. So there’s basically me or Scott Capurro and Scott wasn’t around.”

“Stephen Frears directed it,” I said. “Very prestigious. So you might appear in other films.”

“Well, I’m in the short Robert Johnson and The Devil Man directed by Matthew Highton and written by Joz Norris. Guess who plays The Devil Man.”

“Joz Norris?”

“No. They needed someone with a suit. Who looks good in a suit?… I always get those parts. When Tim Renkow did the pilot for A Brief History of Tim, they thought: We need some guy in a suit… Who?… David Mills! – so I played the part of ‘Guy in a Suit’.”

David Mills & Tim Renkow in BBC3’s A Brief History of Tim

“Yes,” I mused. “Who wears a suit? So it’s either you or Lewis Schaffer. Strange it’s always you that gets the sophisticated parts and not him.”

“That’s because he doesn’t wear a sophisticated suit,” said David. “I love Lewis Schaffer – I’m not tearing him down, right?…”

“But?” I asked.

“…he would tell you as well,” said David. “It’s sort of a shabby suit.”

“Though he would be less succinct telling me,” I suggested.

“…and shiny,” David continued. “The suit. He’s had that suit for about 15 years. I try to keep mine up-to-date.”

“What else is happening in your life?” I asked.

“I’ve got a solo show – David Mills: Mr Modern – at the very chic Brasserie ZL near Piccadilly Circus on 23rd March.”

“Why is it called Mr Modern?

“Because it’s about modern life… and about me.”

“You do have your finger in a lot of pies,” I said. “If you see what I mean.”

“I find myself increasingly on TV talking about cats,” replied David.

“Why?” I asked.

“I did a thing called LOL Cats on Channel 5. They show videos of cats, then turn to a comedian who tells jokes, then they go back to the video and then back to the comedian. It’s a ‘talking head’ thing.”

“Are you an expert on cats?” I asked.

David admitted: “I know very little about pussy…”

“No,” said David. “I know very little about pussy. But I seem to have a nose for it. And LOL Cats went well, so they had me come back to do LOL Kittens.

“The guy at the cafe I go to every morning asked me: What were you doing on TV talking about kittens? And someone at the gym said: Why were you on TV talking about cats?”

“Cats then kittens,” I said. “They will have to diversify into other species.”

“There are still big cats,” David suggested.

“Have you got cats?” I asked.

“No.”

“Too difficult in London?” I asked.

David shrugged. “I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my entire life. 17 years I’ve been here. Sometimes, I have lived in London longer than most of my audience have been alive. Often they are students or other people aged under 22.

“There’s a risk with younger audiences that they won’t get my references, they may only have been in London six months and they may tend to be scared of anything remotely edgy.”

“Student audiences at the moment,” I said, “are very right-on PC.”

“It’s something,” agreed David, “that’s endemic across a lot of clubs where young people are the primary audience. They are very nervous about jokes that touch on any sort of identity issues – unless you are taking the ‘accepted’ position. I always try and tweak my audiences a little bit. Having come from a world of identity politics and having been through certain battles and marched on certain marches, I feel I have some justification to joke about that shit. But these people don’t have a sense of humour about sexuality or gender or race or…”

“Surely,” I suggested, “YOU can do gay jokes in the same way an Indian comic can do Indian jokes.”

“I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now,” says David.

“You can,” said David, “if the target of your punchline is heterosexuality. But not if the target is homosexuality. Even if you ARE gay.”

“So,” I asked, “if I were a Scots or a Jewish comic, could I not safely joke about the Scots or the Jews being financially mean?”

“I think you can,” said David, “but I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now. Particularly around gender. Gay comics invariably wave the rainbow flag.”

“You’re saying they can’t make jokes about,” I floundered, “I dunno, retro jokes about…”

David said: “It’s not retro to be critical, to have a critical take. It IS retro to be calcified in your position and unable to hear any criticism.”

“So you couldn’t,” I asked, “do a cliché joke about camp gays?”

“I wouldn’t want to. What I would want to joke about is the oversensitivity of the gay world and there is not a lot of interest in that at the moment.”

“What sort of jokes would you want to tell and can’t?”

“I do jokes about a drug a lot of gay men take – PrEP. They take it in order to then have un-safe sex – they don’t have to use condoms. It’s sort of a prophylactic for HIV. So I say: Of course I’m on PrEP. I am a gay white man. I demand a portable treatment for my inability to control myself. And You’re not getting your money’s worth on a gay cruise unless you come back with at least one long-term manageable condition. I try to collect them all.

“With those sort of things, people are thinking: Hold on! Are you making fun of people with HIV? It’s as if there is no ability for people to laugh at themselves.”

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Arthur Smith says Jimmy Carr is “working on a comedy algorithm”

Arthur Smith in a Soho alleyway

Arthur Smith at the Grouchy Club in a Soho alleyway

As Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, I was joined for this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast – in a Soho alleyway – by comedian Arthur Smith.

This short exchange cropped up:


ARTHUR
More and more, there are people creeping into the world who aren’t real. they’ve been fabricated by programmers.

JOHN
For example?

ARTHUR
Well, Jimmy Carr. I don’t think he’s a human being. He’s…

JOHN
Poor Jimmy Carr!

ARTHUR
No, he’s a synthesised creature working on a comedy algorithm that just creates jokes. But, obviously, there’s no feeling or soul or anything. And this is happening more and more. everyone’s job, soon, will be done by a synthesised creature and we’ll just be sort-of vegetables sat at home watching afternoon TV.

JOHN
But surely Jimmy Carr is a traditional old-style comedian, in fact. He tells jokes, which people don’t do now. There’s Jimmy Carr, there’s Tim Vine, there’s about three other people doing jokes and everyone else is telling stories.

ARTHUR
Yes. Because that’s all synthesised creatures can do, because they’re working on a series of algorithms, like I say. So they regurgitate the form of a joke.

JOHN
You’re not a joke man yourself?

ARTHUR
A man goes to a doctor. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop masturbating.”

“Oh no!” says the man. “Why?”

“Well,” says the doctor, “I’m trying to im…examine you.”

I nearly fluffed the punchline… I’ll do another one.

A man goes to the doctor with a bit of lettuce sticking out of his bottom.

The doctor says: “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Oh, no, I like an ancient joke.

JOHN
But does this mean you’re an algorithm?

ARTHUR
Yeah, but I’m a Barry Cryer algorithm and that’s a different kind of creature altogether.

JOHN
Well, Barry Cryer is a sort of a gag merchant and Jimmy Carr’s a gag merchant. I have to say I quite like the gypsy moth joke myself.

ARTHUR
Hang on, whose gypsy moth joke is this one?

JOHN
Jimmy Carr.

ARTHUR
Oh, yeah, that one! Well he’s got in trouble again, I noticed. He’s quite clever. It was a classic; he wanted to do a very short joke and the joke was a dwarf shortage. But, of course, he was on The One Show and got in trouble for that.

JOHN
And, when people complained, he said: “Oh, grow up!” which, I thought, was a double funny.

ARTHUR
Yeah, I agree. I agree they’re good gags. I just wish he’d… Yeah, but he’s not a human, is he? There’s no heart; there’s no soul, is there?

JOHN
David Mills, who you probably don’t know, was saying that he…

ARTHUR
Yeah, I know David Mills – the American – he’s brilliant.

JOHN
He was saying he’s going to try and incorporate himself more into his act, because he’s never really done ‘himself’ before.

ARTHUR
The thing is, he was constructed, that’s why. He’s a synthesised comedian; I told you.

JOHN
David Mills??

ARTHUR
No, not David MIlls. Oh! I see! David Mills is going to incorporate…

JOHN
Yeah, David Mills is going to incorporate personal stuff whereas, before, he’s just been a man sitting on a stool.

ARTHUR
Yeah, well I think, in the end, that is a good thing to do.

JOHN
Sit on a stool? At our age?

ARTHUR
Well, you’re better off with a back to it. But I think having something of yourself is what makes you unique as a comedian whereas, if you haven’t, then you’re just a synthesiser.


You can hear the full 25-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE, in which Arthur talks about his theory of mindlessness, writing for Frankie Howard, being in a Danish pantomime, why he may go trans-gender, Shakespeare, being pedantic, semi-colons, creative writing courses, Daphne Fairfax and his several half-written novels… plus he performs the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno in the original medieval Italian. Oh yes he does.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a financial bribe to win a Malcolm Hardee Award

Joz Norris

Shameless Norris tries to sway my principles

Yesterday, with the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations announced, I bumped into performer Joz Norris in the street, who tried to persuade me it was not too late for him to win for a Cunning Stunt Award.

“What’s your cunning stunt?” I asked.

“Although the nominations have been announced and I’m not in them, you could give me the Award on Friday anyway. That would be a cunning stunt.”

“Why should I?” I asked.

“Because I can give you £10 right now.”

“Times are tough,” I said. “It is a tempting offer. Let me think about it.”

Keep your eyes out for the Awards announcement on Friday and see what my conclusion was.

This morning, I got a Facebook message about the Awards from performer Ashley Frieze. He wrote:

Is there room in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for the “luckiest Fringe venue company”? – It has to go to the Freestival for losing one venue, then another, then all their acts, then having their poorly-attended venue broken into and set on fire… surely… I just wanted to nominate them for something, but “biggest clusterfuck of 50 years of the Fringe” seemed unkind.

I almost regretted the Award shortlist had already been announced on Monday because of some of the shows I saw yesterday.

Not quite… If any of the judges DID see a worthy show, it COULD in theory win because, as a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee, the rules are whatever rules we make up along the way.

(R-L) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and possibly deaf sound man

(Right-to-left) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and their possibly deaf sound man yesterday

The shows I saw yesterday started with former main Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Johnny Sorrow, performing with a man in a balaclava who used to be known as Sir Richard Swann and who is now known as Richard Drake. the last couple of days, he has been coming in to The Grouchy Club and sitting in the corner of the room in his red knitted balaclava saying nothing. He could grow to be an elephant in the room.

He and Johnny Sorrow are performing this year as Bob Blackman’s Tray. they previously performed as The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

Yesterday, when I came into the Three Sisters venue, I bumped into performer Ian Fox who, last year, was helping out the Bob Blackman duo as their sound technician.

“You’re not doing it this year?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “This year, they have a deaf sound technician.”

I think this was literally true. It would be par for the brilliantly surreal course.

While waiting to go into the Bob Blackman show, I just had time for a half hour chat with Irish-born writer Ian Smith, whom I blogged about last month. He lives in Sri Lanka, has just been working in Algeria and is over in Scotland for a week. But we were interrupted. He only had time to tell me that he once opened a Cuban bar in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and that, in 2012, the current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had his iTunes account hacked into and it turned out he was a massive fan of camp novelty group Right Said Fred. Ian wrote about it in his own blog Blood and Porridge.

“I am a big Heavy Metal fan,” Ian told me, “and you never get murderous dictators who are into Heavy Metal.”

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

At this point, we got interrupted by an American girl dressed as a showgirl. She was flyering for her show Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl which, annoyingly, I don’t think I can fit-in in Edinburgh (though I will see it in London).

The show sounds fascinating because it is the story of how she – Amelia Kallman –  went to Shanghai and opened China’s first burlesque nightclub. The Chinese authorities and the Triads were not amused.

Since relocating to the UK, she has lectured at Cambridge University, written a graphic novel, scripts for television and a book also called Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl.

Equally interesting was her husband Norman Gosney who was born in Bristol but lived, for 25 years, in the penthouse of the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York (where he and Amelia ran an illegal speakeasy The Blushing Diamond). It was a conversation we had no time to have, but Norman, Ian Smith and I have all been to North Korea at various points and, when you have, you always want to talk to fellow travellers about it.

There is a promo video for Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl on YouTube.

Other stand-out shows I saw yesterday included Patrick Monahan’s extraordinarily entertaining and energetic audience-thrilling romp The Disco Years. It is his first show where autobiography creeps in but, yet to come, there is still what I suspect will be a humdinger of a future autobiographical Edinburgh show.

Then I was able to catch the end of Spencer Jones’ show as The Herbert in Proper Job – wildly inventive prop-based comedy.

And, when I got back to my Edinburgh flat, there was a message from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith, currently roaming the streets of Edinburgh.

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

We are both enormous fans of gay (it becomes relevant in the next paragraph) American comic David Mills.

“During his show, “Sandra told me, “I said: Oooh look. The ISIS flag is behind you. It really did look like it.”

Actually, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a black flag with a PBH Free Fringe logo.

Equally confusing is a video that has appeared today on YouTube.

On Monday, we nominated Miss Behave for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for putting brown cardboard signs up around town with the hashtag MBGS (tangentially promoting Miss Behave’s Game Show). She claims that it is not her putting up these signs and now this bizarre semi-hidden-camera video has appeared on YouTube.

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China sponsors a Fringe comedy show. David Mills talks sex-change boxing.

The photo of Nicholas Parsons above my bed

The photo of Nicholas Parsons above my bed

Comedian Matt Roper is staying in my spare bedroom until the Edinburgh Fringe starts in August. In the middle of last night, he posted this on his Facebook page:

Well, friends. Here I lay on the bed of bewilderment in what is known as a cockroach hotel. I’ve known far too many of them in my time. The owners of such places tend to decorate bedrooms like mine with the strangest objects of paraphernalia. For example: who the hell is this grinning at me from the wall opposite my bed? I’ll be fucked if I know. 

This photo accompanies his Facebook post.

The face in an Istanbul hotel room

The face on the wall in Matt Roper’s bedroom

I should point out that Matt is in Istanbul for a week. But I will re-decorate my spare room so he feels more at home when he gets back. I have a much-admired framed portrait of Nicholas Parsons above my own bed.

Meanwhile, I have a backlog of blog chats to post and things keep happening to prevent me transcribing them.

Yesterday included being dragged willingly to the National Theatre by my friend Lynn, seeing Kate Cook’s excellent Invisible Woman show preview at RADA and (for a second time) seeing Sara Mason’s both funny and deeply traumatic show Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11) as part of the ongoing Edinburgh Fringe previews at the back of Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush. This was followed by Copstick telling horrendous after-show tales of a Somalian vagina crawling with maggots in Kenya. She has shown me the video too. I am lucky I do not remember my dreams.

Performer Louise Reay was in the audience and told me her Chinese language It’s Only Words Fringe show (which I blogged about appropriately on 1st May) has now been sponsored by the Chinese government in the form of The Confucius Institute – China’s version of the British Council.

Louise Reay, cleaning a great wall

Cleaning a great wall may have helped Louise Reay in China

“How did you get them to sponsor you?” I asked.

“I asked them and they said Yes,” Louise replied. “It’s a real lesson in just posing the question.”

“What did you tell them the show was about?”

“I didn’t. I just said: My show’s all in Chinese, but for an audience that doesn’t speak any Chinese as all. I think they thought it would attract new people to the Chinese language.”

“So they have no idea what your show is about and they’re covering your costs?” I asked.

“And then some,” said Louise. “I’ve taken four months off work.”

My day had started with sophisticated comic David Mills sending me an e-mail:

I’ve just confirmed UK-boxing promoter Kellie Maloney (formerly Frank Maloney) as a guest on my chat show / podcast The In Crowd with David Mills at the new Camden Comedy Room on 8th July. Can I entice you to come along?

David knows me well enough to know that I am not going to turn down the chance to see a chat show involving a transsexual boxing promoter. I asked him more about the show.

David Mills will be boxing clever

David Mills – will be strutting his stuff, talking boxing

“As you know,” he told me, “I’ve been itching to take the reins of my own chat show for ages and I’ve trialled The In Crowd with David Mills out and about a few times.  The new Camden Comedy Room has really got behind the show and will be recording it as a podcast as well. We’re sort of seeing how this goes before hopefully launching something more regular after the Edinburgh Fringe. I approached Kellie on Twitter and she agreed immediately.”

This seems to confirm what Louise Reay says. “It’s a real lesson in just posing the question.”

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And does that sardonic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green? Well, yes.

David Mills at the Soho Theatre Bar this week

David at the Soho Theatre Bar last week

Shortly after chatting with American comic David Mills in London, I met my eternally-un-named friend, who is a fan of David’s sophistication.

For some reason, I said to her – it may have been some after-effect of the flu – “And did that dark Satanic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green?”

“Not Satanic,” she corrected me. “Sardonic.” And she is, of course, right.

“Americans!” I said to David when we met at Soho Theatre. “So appallingly upbeat, so depressingly, eternally optimistic.”

“Don’t tar me with that brush!” David shot back.

Have I mentioned before in this blog that I have a shit memory? And there is now the continuing post-flu vagueness to add to my innate vagueness.

“Have I never done a full blog on you before?” I asked David.

“No,” he told me. “I have sort-of flitted in and out your blogs. I have been a bit player in your cyber life…”

“When did you come to the UK?” I asked.

“2000… The point is I am not 22. I had other lives prior to the one I have at the moment. I was the only person who said I was going to leave the US if George Bush got elected who actually did.”

“So was that your reason for coming here?” I asked.

“No. I came over in a different career in a whole different world and just stayed.”

“What was your career before?”

“Different.”

“And it was what?” I asked.

“Too tedious to get into,” replied David. “So I’m not going to. It was literally another life. I was a different type of person. Do you know how long it’s taken me to put that behind me?”

“How often I have heard you say that,” I told him. “What were you into? Business? Sex? Espionage? Butter-sculpting? International drug-running?”

“None of those things,” said David. “It was super-uninteresting.”

“You are an international man of mystery,” I said.

“I’m not going into it,” said David.

“I can keep this going for hours,” I told him.

“I was doing something else,” said David, “and had a breakdown and stopped doing that.”

“You had a breakdown?”

“No. I was being hyperbolic… Alright, I went off the grid and lived in Lewisham.”

“You did?”

David Mills

David is not a Lewisham man

“No,” said David. “Of course not. That is ridiculous. I certainly did not live in Lewisham. Anyway, I had been an actor and cabaret act and stand-up in San Francisco in the 1990s and then moved to New York to be a big star and was a huge failure and then stopped performing and got a professional job and that brought me to London and I did that career for about eight or ten years.”

“And that career was?” I asked.

“The other one,” said David. “But finally I decided I needed to get back on stage, because I was having a breakdown – a ten-year-long breakdown. So I got back on stage and the rest is herstory.”

“So,” I said, “you left the US, the place where all showbiz people dream of ending up…”

“I would like to have a career over there,” said David, “but it’s a weird, weird place. Super weird. Super fundamentalist. And, in terms of unspoken rules… You put a foot wrong in the US and they come at you.”

“But,” I said, “you’re talking about the middle, aren’t you? The coasts are more European. The East Coast, anyway.”

“Yes and no,” said David. “Compared to the middle, yes. But there are plenty of restrictions in comedy on what you can and can’t talk about. There’s a lot of consensus in the US. They talk about being divided. The truth is there’s tons of consensus. Anyone who has been there two weeks… they have all signed-up to this American vision. You can be in Britain for generations and you’re still not British.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “I think the opposite. You go down the East End in London and the son of some West Indian immigrant couple is talking like Hello, luv, ‘ow are you? to people and he’s become British after one generation. In America, there’s the Italian areas, the Swedish town, the German town, the Jewish thing…”

“There is that,” admitted David. “But they all believe the same shit. And, in the US too, no-one retains their accent. They become an amalgam of American. If they’re in New York for two weeks, they’re saying: I’m a Noo Yoiker! Here, when do you ever really become a Londoner?”

“That’s not true,” I argued. “Almost no-one in London was actually born in London.”

“Tell that to an East Ender,” said David.

“They’re all from the Indian sub-continent!” I told him.

“The point is.” said David. “The point is, let’s focus, John. I have a show happening here at the Soho Theatre from the 3rd to the 7th February. Me. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas. Me and my band.”

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas with edge

“Your band?”

“Yeah. Rock band. The Memes.”

“How many Memes are there?” I asked.

“Two.”

“Male?” I asked.

“One of them. I don’t see what gender has to do with it. There’s a guitar and a keyboard. We’re very stripped down.”

“That was my next question,” I said. “And this is what? A sophisticated 1950s Monte Carlo style cabaret show?”

“More 1970s scuzzy New York basement,” said David. “Because that’s me.”

“But you are Mr Sophisticated West Coast American,” I argued.

“There’s going to be sophistication,” said David. “Don’t worry. But I’m mixing it up. I’m sort-of bored with cabaret land. There will be some of that, but it’s gonna have an edge.”

“What sort of an edge?”

“Rock ’n’ roll.”

“You’re going to be wearing a leather jacket?”

“No. I’m going to look dynamite, don’t worry. The suit is the act, let’s be honest.”

“It’s a great act,” I said.

“It’s a great suit,” said David.

“And you are going to sing?”

“My version of singing. And jokes. Don’t worry.”

“Why is it called Don’t Get Any Ideas?” I asked.

“It’s a threat. I’ve got edge. Take a look at me. I’ve got edge.”

“When you started off in the US,” I asked, “were you always this sophisticated on-stage guy?”

Dave Allen - influencial in the US?

Dave Allen was influencial in the US?

“I always liked Dave Allen’s style,” explained David.

“Dave Allen?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, a stool and a suit. That sort-of says it…”

“You saw Dave Allen in the US?”

“When I was growing up, they showed his old British shows on PBS. I was influenced by him. And people like Paul Lynde, who was a big US homo in the 1970s. He was like – I don’t want to say Kenneth  Williams, but… He had this sort of bitchy kind of homo humour that was not overt but was certainly there. And I liked Stephen Colbert a lot. He didn’t wink with the jokes. He just told them in character and the audience had to get the fact he was joking. In the 1990s, he was around being funny as an actor.”

“This Soho Theatre show Don’t Get Any Ideas is going to be your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

David Mills - A view of life off-kilter

David Mills – always looking for an original angle – in Soho

“Edinburgh will be a version of this. I’m a topical comic, not political, so the topics change. Let’s focus, John. My show here at the Soho Theatre from this Tuesday coming to Saturday. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas.”

“Your mysterious previous career was not selling double-glazing?”

“No.”

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Last night, everything was normal… Or was it?

Charmian Hughes: The ghost of parties yet to come

Charmian Hughes: The ghost of parties yet to come

Yesterday, my blog was about surreality.

Last night, some reality returned. But only some.

I went to comedian Charmian Hughes’ Christmas party. in South London.

Passing through Blackfriars station, I heard a woman sitting on a metal bench with a younger man (possibly her son) say: “I want to have a proper chat and I can’t with you because you don’t drink.”

It was like a flat stone skimming across the surface of water. Briefly touching a few seconds of other people’s lives.

Comedian Lewis Schaffer met me at Peckham Rye station with his bicycle. We walked to Charmian’s. Lewis did not ride the bicycle. We talked of heart attacks, lungs and cholesterol levels. At one point, he said: “This is old men’s talk.” I had to agree. It is wise to agree with Lewis Schaffer. It saves time.

David Don’t at the party last night

Magic David Don’t at the party last night

At the party, Charmian’s husband, magician David Don’t, told me he had recently been asked to perform at a charity gig. As it was for a charity gig, he quoted a low fee. After the show, they sent him a cheque for triple the amount agreed because they had enjoyed his act so much. I do not know what this demonstrates in terms of charities, but it must demonstrate something.

Before I left, I was talking to very amiable Polish lady Ewa Sidorenko and to Karen O Novak’s equally amiable husband Darren. We talked of toilet bowls and taps. Charmian Hughes and David Don’t do own a genuine Crapper toilet.

Conversation turned from that to the consistency of ceramics and, from there, to the fact that the British – unlike Europeans – have a separate hot tap and cold tap in sinks, rather than have a logically more sensible mixer tap.

Karen O Novak & David Mills did NOT talk of Crappers & taps

Karen O Novak & David Mills did NOT talk of Crappers & taps

I think (though I may be wrong) that Ewa Sidorenko and I came to the conclusion that having two separate taps, with the risk of scalding one’s hand with piping hot water, fulfilled the triple traditional British benefit of identifying foreigners, humiliating them and maiming them.

On my way home, at Blackfriars station again, a young man who looked a little like Prince Harry asked me if he was on the correct platform for King’s Cross. I said he was, although the train actually passed through St Pancras not King’s Cross. We got on the train together and had a long conversation about his university course and job prospects.

StPancrasChristmasTree2013

This is St Pancras station last year not this year and is definitely not King’s Cross station

I told him I had once been on the same Thameslink line and heard a Japanese lady ask, as the train pulled into St Pancras if she was on the correct train for King’s Cross. To her increasing confusion, as she looked at the signs on the walls clearly stating ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL, three people told her: “This IS King’s Cross”.

Last night seemed to be a slightly strange evening, but I could not quite put my finger on why. Everything was normal.

But normality can be slightly abnormal.

During the evening, on trains, I saw two people with reindeer antlers on their heads. That is perfectly normal in London at Christmas.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, London, Surreal

It Might Get Ugly – Karl Schultz loves comic Janey Godley but not milk toast

Karl Schultz

Karl Schultz with his latest haircut & thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog chat with comics Karl Schultz and Joz Norris about their annual charity gig in aid of Karl’s charity. After Joz left, I kept on talking to Karl.

“You’re all about re-invention,” I said. “you’ve had a lot of different haircuts this year.”

“I get bored,” replied Karl. “I’m trying to think of different ways to change Matthew Kelly.”

“Are you still doing that Matthew Kelly character?” I asked. “I thought you had finished with it.”

“I’ve been doing it again recently, after a year of It Might Get Ugly.”

It Might Get Ugly was/is a series of comedy evenings organised by Karl in which performers have to go on stage and tell totally true 15-minute stories about themselves.

“You had Janey Godley on the show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“She,” said Karl, “was my favourite thing about Edinburgh. She’s got thousands of just amazing stories. What can you not like about her? I love Janey. She’s a comic who can handle anyone and she won’t be precious. She is so great. I can imagine her being an amazing actor. I fell in love with her the way I fell in love with David Mills when he first did it.”

“Very different comics,” I said. “What were you like when you started performing comedy?”

“When you start,” said Karl, “it comes as a shock. I was about 19 the first time I performed and you’re in this big nervous energetic space. It was like a heightened reality. I was thinking faster. I had different conversations going on in my head – what I was saying and what I was thinking – almost like Eskimo singers.”

“Eskimo singers?” I asked.

“Hitting different octaves,” replied Karl. “Then years go by and, even though you might be constantly surprised, shock doesn’t visit you as much. I believe shock is way more important to growth than something being ‘moving’. A moving gig is either good or bad, but a gig that shocks you has real impact.

“After four years of doing Matthew Kelly, I found that I wasn’t writing as much material as I should have. I had a bit of material but was improvising the whole time and Improv often stands for impoverished as much as improvised.”

“But you are continuing the character?” I asked.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“Yes,” said Karl. “What I’m enjoying with Matthew Kelly at the moment is playing with biographies. There is the character as himself. There’s Matthew Kelly telling stories about me when I was younger, almost as if Karl Schultz was the character. Then there’s me as Matthew Kelly, talking about experiences I have had as the Matthew Kelly character. And then there’s the sort of philosophy behind the whole thing. But it’s complicated to do that.

“I had this idea a couple of months ago… When you wake up, it takes you a couple of seconds to find yourself and I was obsessing over that and the idea that the day is a parasite and you, in that moment of awakening, are the host. So the parasite of the day lives through you as the host. It’s not comedic in itself, but I thought Matthew Kelly could be the day having fun on someone. It’s like a playful parasite. Even if I don’t communicate it to the audience, that can be what motivates the character.

“In a very American way, I subscribe to the idea of personal growth and the idea that a young artist should be trying to move his brain forward. That’s partly why I do all these different things: as a vehicle to move my personal philosophy forward.”

“What,” I asked, “helps you do that?”

“More than anything,” said Karl, “making mistakes and owning up to them. Nothing undermines something difficult to face up to more than accepting it. If you think: I am going to be visited-upon by dark clouds in my mind… If you can accept that, it completely undermines it.

Karl Schultz deep in thought

Karl Schultz is not going to Switzerland soon

“Two days ago, I had a dark night of the soul on the District Line between Temple and Bow stations and the way I got through that was just by accepting it. All the credence I wanted to give to those imaginings of trips to Switzerland… it was undermined.”

“Trips to Switzerland?” I asked.

“Well,” said Karl, “you know…”

“Oh,” I said, “Exit. So why did you start It Might Turn Ugly?”

“I wondered if I could create a performance space where you are watching someone do something that might move them forward and you are watching that play out. I told people: Fifteen minutes. No ‘material’. Try to be honest. The idea is that you should not be able to do it the next night.”

“What,” I asked, “did you want to be when you were aged 16? A novelist?”

“No. I wanted to be Nick Drake. If I hadn’t been a comedian, I would have been some jazz-inflected folk guitarist. I used to play guitar for about 8 or 10 hours a day.”

“Nick Drake is like Joe Meek,” I suggested. “More of a cult than generally famous.”

“Everyone wants to be a more famous version of their hero,” said Karl.

“So are you trying to fit musical styles into comedy?” I asked.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I think my thing is just the life I had. Being an only child, moving every three years.”

Karl’s father was a Salvation Army officer and moved location throughout the world every three years.

“Having different voices in different groups,” said Karl. “That’s my thing. Having an assimilative personality where I can change my accent. I’ve had many different accents. Negotiating and reconciling.”

“Fitting into things you don’t naturally fit into?” I asked.

“Trying to make things fit,” suggested Karl. “I’m obsessed with reconciliation. If you have an early life like I had, it can be very confusing, so you try to make sense of it, which might lead you towards philosophy, poetry and so on. What is very attractive about prosodic things is finding disparate meanings but bringing them together, making them work. Something like Matthew Kelly is synesthetic – it is supposed to be.”

“You want everything to be ordered?” I asked.

“No. Not at all.”

“You want everything to be ordered even though your act is surrealism and anarchy?” I tried.

“My act is not anarchic,” said Karl. “It’s surreal in the sense of being unreal. I take ‘surreal’ to mean dreamlike and what I’m really obsessed with is that type of hypnagogia.”

“Hypno-what?” I asked.

Karl Schultz tattoo

Karl’s tattoo – a hypnagogic fantasy of a dodo with flamingo’s wings and peacock’s feathers

Hypnagogia,” Karl explained, “is that state between wakefulness and being asleep where, as a child, you can just as easily be talking to your mother as a figure in a dream.”

“And,” I suggested, “you can know you’re dreaming yet think it might be real?”

“Yes. It’s a bizarre state. You only have to read anything Oliver Sacks has ever written about memory to know that you can appropriate memories, which is terrifying.”

“I remember,” I said, “being in a pram in Campbeltown where I was born, but I don’t know if I really remember it or if it’s something my mother told me about.”

“Everything for me,” said Karl, “is like a palette where you just play out ideas and let them run.

“What I’m obsessed with at the moment is neurophilosophy and the idea that, since the advent of cognitive science, our understanding of consciousness has moved on and so the language – the lexicon of philosophy – should catch up. What we know has moved on, but our language hasn’t. I think that’s exactly the same with comedy. It feels like we’re using Saxon language. We end up inventing words like dramady which is horrible.”

“What did you study at university?” I asked.

“Philosophy, but I was a real philosophy student in that I was a drop-out. I went off to become a comedian aged 20.”

“At least you didn’t study comedy,” I said. “I get twitchy when people think they can learn comedy.”

“Someone who’s a writer,” said Karl, “told me the other day: I knew more about writing before I started. Getting a degree in maths means that you are just as aware of how much you don’t know – and that’s the real education.

“When I came into comedy, I thought someone was going to go: Well done. Go to Level 2. I thought there were hierarchies and pyramids. But then you realise: Oh! It’s just a common room! You end up meeting the producers and commissioners and you can either have a really nice time with them or think they are milquetoast.”

“Milk toast?” I asked.

“Milquetoast. A bit cowardly. Not willing to take risks… But someone explained to me that is almost written into their job description.”

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Filed under Comedy, Philosophy