Tag Archives: David Mitchell

Hilary Clinton in drag. Warwick Davis on shortlist. “The Best Sex of Our Lives”

SimonJayThe last time I met Simon Jay, he talked about How To Survive Being Attacked With a Miniature Flame-Thrower For Being GayIn other words, he was plugging his autobiography – Bastardography.

“Remind me,” I asked him yesterday in the Soho Theatre Bar, “why are we meeting up?”

“I dunno,” replied Simon.

“Neither do I… How’s your book going?”

“Very well, It’s coming out in paperback next year. I have to go to Belfast to finish it. I’m writing two new chapters for the paperback edition.”

“Why?”

“I don’t ask these questions. I’m getting a free trip to Belfast. Who could say No to that?”

“They’ve started killing each other again,” I told him. “But you really want to tell me about the play you’re doing.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. I saw some Event thing on Facebook.”

Simon Jay - Universally Speaking

Simon Jay – Universally Speaking next month in London

Universally Speaking,” said Simon. “It’s five monologues. Originally it was written for IdeasTap. They asked me to direct these prize-winning plays, but then they went out of business. But I’m directing and producing them anyway in October for charity – for the UN Refugee Agency.

“I’m also developing another play – a one-man Titus Andronicus written by Peter John Cooper – possibly at the Southwark Playhouse and we’re looking for funding, because we’re going to get a ‘Name’ to star in it. Our money limit is Martin Clunes. We know we can afford him. Do you want to hear who else is on the short list? Warwick Davis, Matt Lucas, David Mitchell.”

“Warwick Davis is on the shortlist for Titus Andronicus?” I asked.

“It’s seen from the clown’s perspective,” explained Simon. “He only has about six lines in the original, but everything in this new play is seen from his perspective. It’s a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. All the bits we haven’t seen.”

“You could see if the Soho Theatre is interested,” I suggested.

“I don’t think they’d touch it with a barge pole.”

“Why?’

“Because it’s intellectual with a small ‘i’ – it’s harking back to a sort of different, older kind of one-man show. It’s more in the tradition of when John Gielgud used to do The Seven Ages of Man… but this time it’s with Martin Clunes.”

“Would you take it to the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“No. I’m doing three shows at the Fringe next year. I’m doing Mr Twonkey’s Jennifer’s Robot Arm, which I’m directing and acting in. And a show about Hilary Clinton.”

“A serious one?”

“Semi-comedy-serious. It’s satire, but it still tells a story, like Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho.”

“Hilary Clinton,” I asked, “would be played by…?”

“Me,” said Simon, “obviously.”

“Obviously,” I said.

“I suggested it to Battersea Arts Centre,” Simon told me, “and they rejected it. I think people are a bit worried about doing a big, prominent American politician. The whole impetus behind the show was…

Hilary Clinton

“…You wanted to dress up as a woman?” – “Obviously”

“…you wanted to dress up as a woman,” I suggested.

“Well, that, obviously,” agreed Simon. “But also I don’t think UK audiences have a very good engagement in American politics. They don’t understand Primaries; they don’t understand how to win states; they don’t understand how she could still be with Bill after he’s shagged half the world. It’s a good fun story.”

“Do you have a title for the show?”

“Yes… It’s Hilary, Bitch!”

“What’s the poster going to be?”

“A big picture of Hilary, maybe astride a bomb or having a Wikileak. It’s going to be very camp.”

“Surely not?” I said.

“…and she sings as well,” Simon added.

“It’s a musical?”

“They do all manner of stupid things to get elected. She danced on a show with Ellen DeGeneres… I’m not against Hilary per se. I want to assassinate her at the end, but I think that might be a bit…

“It’s the American way,” I said.

“The reason Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho worked so well,” said Simon, “is it’s not just a drag Thatcher. There’s a good story as well: about Section 28. I’m not copying. It’s SO different, because it’s about  American politics and it’s a living figure, so it will be updated. I’m really worried Hilary might not win the Primary. If she doesn’t, then the idea might change to Jeremy Corbyn: The Musical.”

“And your third show next year,” I asked, “is…?”

cThe Best Sex of Our Lives

Coming soon? – the poster artwork

“It’s called The Best Sex of Our Lives. I’ve been commissioned to write and direct it by a man called Rich in Sussex who came and saw my show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in 2013 and said I want you to write me a drag act and he paid me a couple of grand to write a full-length drag show but, once I had finished writing it, he was like: It’s really good, but I don’t want to do that any more. I want you to edit a novel I’m writing. Another couple of grand. Edited the novel. He said: I’m not writing the novel any more. Can you write an Edinburgh Fringe show? Cost everything for me and I’ll pay it. So I’ve written it. but now he’s being iffy again. So it might not happen but, if it gets to the point where we put it in the Fringe Programme, then we’ll do it.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“The A-Z of sex. All the different sexual practices.”

“What’s Z?” I asked. “Zebra?”

“It IS zebra. Do you know what ‘furries’ are?”

“Not necessarily,” I said.

“People who dress up as their animal alter egos.”

“A whole new world opens up to me,” I told him.

“I could tell you some things that would make your nose bleed,” Simon said.

“Provided,” I told him, “it’s only my nose.”

“You could be a butterfly,” Simon suggested. “You go to a party and people might put nectar on you. It’s basically weird, dress-up bestiality without the animals… Anyway, so I thought Sex sells in Edinburgh and I want to do a commercially popular show.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “a furry Hilary Clinton.”

“Oh God!” said Simon. “People put her face on porn. There’s a lot of that on there.”

“Where?” I asked.

“On the internet.”

Wikipedia’s illustration of Furries (Photograph by Laurence ‘GreenReape’ Parry.

Wikipedia’s illustration of two Furries (Photo by Laurence ‘GreenReaper’ Parry)

“Is The Best Sex of Our Lives a musical?” I asked.

“No. It’s vignettes.”

“A one man show?”

“No. Three actors.”

“Any animals?”

“No. They dress up as animals; they don’t fuck animals.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked.

“Sorry, John,” said Simon.

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Comic Philip Simon notices a Jewish change in the UK and fears for his knees

David Mitchell - not Philip Simon

David Mitchell, 2009 – not Philip Simon, 2015

A few weeks ago, I was a judge on the Last Minute Comedy Comedian of the Year awards.

The winner was Philip Simon.

“You mentioned in your act at the Awards,” I told him in Borehamwood this week, “that you look a bit like David Mitchell.”

“I don’t get mistaken for him in the street but, when I say it in gigs, there’s enough people who go: Ah! That’s what it is!

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

“The day after the General Election a few weeks ago, I did an Ed Miliband lookalike job where I had to eat a bacon sandwich. I was brought in late to replace a previous lookalike because they had decided the previous guy looked too Asian to be Ed Miliband.”

“You ate a bacon sandwich?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re Jewish?”

“Yes. I don’t consider myself a ‘Jewish’ comic, but I like that there is that niche I can fit into”

“And you were telling me,” I said, “that there’s been some anti-Semitism creeping into UK audiences.”

“I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitism,” Philip corrected me. “But it used to be I might mention in my set that I am Jewish and, depending where I was in the country, most people would probably think: Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know much about Jews. Tell me more.

“Now there’s a real sense of – intake of breath – What’s he gonna say? As if, by mentioning you’re Jewish, it means it has to be political. There is now a noticeable atmosphere that is created in rooms round the country that I don’t think was there a year ago.

“I have personal beliefs about the situation – I’ve got family in Israel; we’ve gone to Israel for holidays most of our lives; I believe in a self-governing two-state solution – but I don’t write jokes about it. I don’t want to talk about it on stage because there’s no comedy in it for me.

“Another Jewish comedian I know says he has also noticed a decline in the acceptance of Jewish comedians. And he’s not particularly in-yer-face Jewish or political. I don’t think it has stopped me getting any bookings, but it’s certainly an interesting new dynamic.”

“Well,” I said. “Now you’re an award-winning comedian…”

“Apparently so.”

“So offers have been flooding in?”

“E-mails have been filtering in. Someone did try and introduce me the other night as lastminute.com’s comedian of the year instead of Last Minute Comedy’s.”

“You’re doing your own show at the Edinburgh Fringe but not until next year?”

Philip Simon in Borehamwood

The real Philip Simon in Borehamwood has dating show plans

“Yes. It’s in its very early stages. It will be a show about Jewish dating and Jewish parenthood.”

“Is Jewish dating different from any other dating?”

“Oh yes. Laced with guilt. The premise I have is that we all know each other, so it becomes very complicated. You could never have a dark side to your life, because everyone knows everyone.”

“Surely,” I asked, “South London and North London must be separate?”

“Not now,” said Philip. “With Facebook, mutual friends pop up all over the place. If you go on a blind date and want to find out about the person, you just go onto Facebook and find three or four mutual friends – which could end up good or bad.

“The premise of my show is…Young Jewish boy, out on the dating world, meets someone, they get pregnant … All anecdotal…”

“And autobiographical?” I asked.

“Yeah. We have a baby. But things are going very very well. I mean, it’s not an EastEnders/Jeremy Kyle situation.”

“Is she a full-time mum?”

“She’s a clinical psychologist.”

“And you’re a comedian.”

“Yes. She is actually really good to take to a comedy gig, because she won’t necessarily watch me. She will watch the audience and can tell me at what point they stopped laughing or laughed more and she can read an audience far better than I can.”

“You used to be an actor,” I said, “but now – apart from occasional Ed Milibands – you’re mostly a comic.”

“Yes. I used to do a few TV bits, a couple of bits in sitcoms. I had three lines in My Family.”

“Not a series much admired by comedians,” I said.

“Well,” said Philip, “it was an American writer who came over here and said: This is the format they do in America, so let’s do our show like that.

“What would happen would be they would have a really good original script. Then everyone got their little paws on it – I want that joke – Let’s change that joke – and, by the time, it goes to air, it’s been edited to a different thing. When we did the read-through round the table, it was hilarious. Really strong comedy. But, by the time it was whittled down to the half hour that went out…”

“A bit bland?” I suggested.

“Yeah. But it was a good fun job to do.”

And you were in Peppa Pig on stage,” I prompted.

Not Peppa Pig but Philip Simon again

Not Peppa Pig’s daddy but Philip Simon in Borehamwood

“Yes, that was an amazing job – a year and a half of touring the UK, doing the West End. It was like Avenue Q where the actors were on stage holding the puppets and you could see both. We were onstage talking, singing, acting, dancing with the puppets. I was Daddy Pig, which was the biggest and I’m not officially allowed to say it destroyed my back, but it destroyed my back. I was attached to him with a kind of harness. It was just such a ridiculously heavy puppet. But there was an article in the Jewish Chronicle saying: Philip Simon Brings Home The Bacon.”

“And it may or may not have buggered your back.”

“I now do puppet workshops,” said Philip. “Teaching teachers how to take puppets into the classroom to work with the kids.”

“So what’s next for you?” I asked.

“I’ve signed up to do a stupid bike ride this weekend – London to Amsterdam via Harwich. We finish at Anne Frank’s house and get a tour of the house. We are cycling nearly 150 miles.”

For charity?”

“Yes. The Anne Frank Trust. It should be fun, but I’m a bit worried my knees are going to give way.”

“Have you cycled 150 miles before?”

“No. I’ve done London to Brighton for charity a couple of times in the past and that’s 60 miles. On this Amsterdam ride, the first day we do 80 miles and that will probably destroy my knees. The organisers are calling the route ‘undulating’. On Saturday, I will either be in Amsterdam or in Casualty at some hospital.”

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Why “Peep Show” led one American in Los Angeles to love British comedy

The current image on Naomi’s Twitter page

The current public  image displayed on Naomi’s Twitter page

I have had a Twitter account – @thejohnfleming – since March 2009 but, honestly, I have never got the hang of it. Nonetheless, people follow me – only 2,026 at the moment, but every little helps.

Naomi Rohatyn started to follow me last week. Her profile says: “Wildly unsuccessful comedy writer in LA. Aspiring to become wildly unsuccessful comedy writer in London.”

I thought this was fairly interesting as most comedy writers in London seem to aspire to be writers in Los Angeles.

Brandon Burkhart with Naomi with The Pun Dumpster site

Brandon Burkhart with Naomi with The Pun Dumpster site

But just as interesting was the fact she runs a Tumblr website called Pun Dumpster.

It is just a series of pictures of PhotoShopped graffiti on large waste containers.

So, obviously, I FaceTimed her in Los Angeles this morning.

“You like British comedy?” I asked.

Naomi via FaceTime from Los Angeles this morning

Naomi spoke via FaceTime from Los Angeles this morning

“I think the real obsession for me,” she explained, “started a couple of years ago with Peep Show. I think people of my generation in America grew up watching Monty Python… AbFab was on in the 1990s and even The Young Ones played here I think on Comedy Central in the 1990s.

“A couple of years ago I was just tootling around on Hulu and found Peep Show and now I’m obssesed. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about it. So then I became obsessed by everything David Mitchell and Robert Webb did and Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong have ever done and followed the threads. I could follow David Mitchell round all day and listen to his brilliance.”

“You know he’s taken now?” I asked. “He married Victoria Coren.”

“Yes. I hadn’t really been aware of her before. The only panel shows I’d watched were a fair amount of QI because, of course, Stephen Fry is brilliant, but then I sought out Victoria Coren’s panel show and she’s very funny and witty and… this is so embarrassing… I wanna pretend I have fine taste, but.. I was watching 8 Out of 10 Cats and she had this great riff on Goldfinger. David Mitchell and Victoria Coren are perfect for each other.”

There is a clip of Peep Show on YouTube.

“Where do you see all this stuff?” I asked. “On PBS?”

“All on my computer,” said Naomi. “On YouTube or Hulu or Netflix. All the panel shows have been on YouTube.”

“Have you got BBC America?” I asked.

“I don’t have cable. I just watch everything online.”

“Why UK stuff?” I asked.

“Part of why I love British comedy so much,” explained Naomi, “is what I perceive as bleakness in the British soul; a way of looking at the world with a knowing smirk. So much of British comedy starts from the premise that life is basically a series of humiliations and disappointments – whereas American humour is perhaps still uplifting at its core – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just doesn’t have the same gaping ennui, which is something I just love about British comedy.

Naomi Rohatyn

Naomi insists Americans hold no sole patent on stupidity

“I think we do political satire and social satire really well, but there’s still something missing – a different approach to the human experience. In scripted shows, we still tend to default to things that are ultimately uplifting or protagonists that are either utterly likeable or a a clear anti-hero – they’re not just flawed fuck-ups.

“There is also that stereotype – for a good reason – that British humour is wittier and more intelligent than some American stuff. That has a foundation in truth, though it’s not because Americans hold the sole patent on stupidity and ignorance. But I do think there’s a strange cultural rejection here for anything perceived as intellectual.

“Even if you look at something like (the British TV show) The Thick of It and (its US re-make) Veep. I feel Veep is smooth peanut butter as opposed to the chunky original.”

There is a BBC trailer for The Thick of It on YouTube.

“We do have this weird proto-populist rejection of anything that is too intelligent. In The Big Bang Theory – even though they’re supposed to be super-intelligent – it’s low-brow humour.

“When I watch Peep Show it is so grim and vérité, but then they make allusions to Stalingrad and I feel that would come off as somehow so elitist here or people simply wouldn’t get the references. It’s not part of discourse here except in academia. And there’s not such a culture of self-deprecation here as there is in Britain.”

“You’re a writer or stand-up or both?” I asked.

“I would say 90% writer and 10% performer. What I mostly am is a dork.”

“And you write for…?” I asked.

“Yeaahhh…” said Naomi. “We are still working on that.”

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

“Critical Social Thought,” replied Naomi. “Probably the subject least applicable to any actual career. It was the liberaliest arts degree one could get. Our joke was it made you even less employable than an English Major.

Naomi Rohatyn_selfie2

When she moved to LA, Naomi worked on the devil’s testicles

“When I first moved to Los Angeles (from San Diego) I started at the very bottom rung of the entertainment industry, production assisting on many horrible TV reality shows which are woven of the devil’s testicles. I did a lot of random crewing – art department, sound department, post production stuff. Then the 14-hour days started getting to me and I wasn’t writing enough, so I took a day job at a law school for a couple of years and I’ve gone in a straight downward trajectory and now I walk dogs for cash in hand to support my writing habit.

“I feel like now I have goodish contacts here in LA: a lot of friends many of whom do have representation and are legitimate, functioning, employable human beings.”

“What are you writing at the moment?” I asked.

“I’m working on a satirical travel book. A satirical guide to Britain for American travellers. All utterly worthless information – a satire on those Rough Guides.”

“Have far back does your British comedy knowledge go?” I asked. “Do you know British acts like Morecambe and Wise?”

“Yes. This was why Peep Show was such a great gateway drug because it got me into the history of the double act. That’s something we don’t have as much of.”

“Off the top of my head,” I said, “I have to think back to Burns & Allen.”

There is a clip of George Burns and Gracie Allen on YouTube.

“We had Nichols & May,” said Naomi.

“But, in the UK,” I said, “they were not really known as a double act. They were a film director and a writer and, in fact, sadly, Elaine May was not much known here.”

“That’s too bad,” said Naomi.

“Indeed it is,” I said.

“There’s Key & Peele today,” said Naomi, “but double acts seem more of a tradition in British comedy.”

There is a clip of Key & Peele on YouTube.

“I suppose there is a British tradition,” I said. “Reeves & Mortimer, Little & Large, Cannon & Ball… Do you know Tommy Cooper who, in Britain, is really the comedians’ comedian?”

“I don’t know him.”

“You wouldn’t want to live in Britain, though,” I said. “Living in Los Angeles has some advantages. For example, there is sunshine.”

“It is wasted on me,” said Naomi. “I don’t care about the weather, I don’t care about the beach. I can’t swim very well, I don’t surf, I don’t need sunshine. To me, rainy, cold, foggy miserable, dark, damp, grey Britain is perfect because it gives me an excuse to hate everyone and be in a coffee shop writing.”

“You should move to Glasgow,” I said. “You will love the weather and the fact you hate humanity will be much appreciated. If you go round being aggressive, you will fit in perfectly. In fact, if you like bleakness in the British soul… I think Scottish humour is much more dark and dour and straight-faced than English humour – Scotch & Wry or Rikki Fulton or Rab C.Nesbitt.”

“I’ve seen Frankie Boyle on the panel shows,” said Naomi, “but most of my concept of Scottish comedy – or Scottish life in general – is English comedians slagging it off – drug addicts and reprobates and fried Mars bars.”

“That is not comedy,” I said. “That is social realism and reportage.”

There is a clip from Rab C.Nesbitt on YouTube.

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