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Lynn Ruth Miller was in Sweden with screaming students and laughing dogs

Last week, indefatigable 85-year-old American comedienne Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, continued her ongoing de facto world tour with four days performing in Sweden. Here are her impressions…


I love going to Sweden because it has the cleanest air and healthiest lifestyle of any place I have visited yet in my non-stop world travels. The vegetables are organic and the animals have a very happy life until they are butchered – humanely – so they are tastier and less likely to mess up our digestive systems.

Lynn Ruth performing in a land of clean air & healthy lifestyle

The medical system is magnificent. If you have a strange and upsetting symptom (and, at my age, I have them every day) you take a photo of the place that hurts or itches or looks like it is about to fall off and open an app on your phone. You send that photo to a GP who discusses your symptom with you on the phone and then he or she phones in a prescription to a pharmacist near you. All fixed.

Pets are such big business that every pet owner has mega insurance for their animal friends. The animals are so well cared for that they are welcome almost everywhere, especially in the country towns.

The streets are immaculate and safe to walk at any hour of the night or day. But there is a downside: Swedish people take recycling so seriously that they do not have enough trash to use to create heat and energy.

One of the best things about Sweden, though, is their understanding of human psychology.

Everyone knows how tense and nervous students in universities are but only Sweden has done something about it. 

That is why, at 10.00pm, all activity in every university stops country-wide and the young scholars may be heard screaming, shouting and howling.

This is known as the ‘Flogsta scream‘.

OK, Scandinavia is known for its high suicide rate but that reputation is false for Sweden. Their suicide death rate is actually far below the United States and France.  

In 2011, the number was very high, but Finland beat Sweden by far this year.   

Part of the reason that the rate has decreased so dramatically in the past eight years is because the Swedish Tourist Board stepped in and decided that they would reach out to their lonely people. 

They created a free Lonely Line and called it ‘Dial-a-Swede’. 

If you called 46 771 793 336, you were connected to a random Swede anywhere in Sweden to talk about anything you wanted.  

However, now that they have the suicide rate under control, that number is unavailable. If you get depressed in Sweden these days, your only recourse is to call a Finn. 

He will listen because the Finns are always too drunk to hang up.

I arrived at the Arlanda Airport at 4:30 in the afternoon with an 8.00pm show at Kärleksudden, a restaurant overlooking a lovely lake in Norrtälje.  I was greeted by Magdalena Bibik-Westerlund and her beloved dog Zumo, part greyhound, part Labrador, mostly human.  

Not many comedy clubs in the world have this type of view…

It turns out that Zumo has his own medical team because he has a tendency to get rough elbows and dirty teeth. As thanks for caring for Zumo, his vets get free tickets to the comedy shows presented by the Stockholm Comedy Club. That is why the entire veterinarian staff came to the show along with another couple with two miniature whippets. 

The entire show was in Swedish until I got on stage when we switched to English. It was lovely to tell a joke, pause and hear joyous laughter, barks and growls all at once.

One of the other comedians, Naghmeh Khamoosh, is from Iran and does comedy both in Swedish and English. I was struck once more by how ignorant we Americans are who can only speak one language. Everyone I met in Sweden could speak at least three.

The next night, we initiated a brand new yearly event at Café Gamla Hotellet in Skebobruk. The Stockholm Comedy Club hopes to eventually establish an annual comedy festival there, out in the open with a beautiful view of the countryside.

The audience was a mature one, mostly in their sixties and seventies, which meant that I had to adjust the content of my set and the speed of delivery. English is not spoken as fluently by the older set in Sweden.  

This kind of challenge has become standard as I travel the world. People in other countries can understand textbook English easily, but speech filled with idioms and double entendres is often too complex. Also, the majority of this audience had never been to a stand-up comedy show before which meant they were uncertain about how to respond.

Saturday night was Ladies Night at the Bibik-Westerlund house and we four performers ate fresh strawberries and listened to stories of each others’ lives. Women really like to do that. Rosie’s story struck me especially.

She was shuttled from Switzerland to Sweden and back as a child. Her mother was a prostitute. Her father was a pimp. She was sexually abused and turned to drugs, alcohol and tobacco to shield her from her loneliness, her misery and her pain.

As I listened to her, I was amazed at what a positive and warm human being she became. So many people blame their upbringing for their lousy personalities and I was listening to someone whose life had been a nightmare. Yet she was as kind, cheerful and giving as anyone I have ever known. Rosie taught me that no matter what our history we have control over what we can become.

(L-R) Lynn Ruth, Jon Olsson and Naghmeh Khamoosh

Sunday night we all were invited to Naghmeh Khamoosh’s home for a feast. Naghmeh and her husband Morteza and their twin daughters were originally from Iran. The Iranian community is very respected in Sweden.  They are mostly professional people and are known for their beauty their graciousness and their excellent food. Naghmeh is a stand-up comedian which, to me, is amazing since she has also brought up her twin daughters and helps run a private heart clinic with her husband who is a heart surgeon. Dinner was magnificent and Zumo the dog was a perfect gentleman. He only ate the food we dropped on the floor. Everyone said he was THE perfect guest.

I have been invited back to Stockholm to give a dog-friendly New Year’s Eve show. It is obvious to me that Swedish dogs, unlike the rest of the world’s less-sophisticated canine population, enjoy good theatre and like to have a good laugh when they welcome in another year.

We humans want the same thing but we need alcohol to make it happen.  

All Zumo needs is a belly rub.

I am hoping I get a belly rub as well.

There is a hot 78-year-old Swede who has offered.


There is footage on YouTube of the ‘Flogsta scream’…

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Filed under Comedy, Suicide, Sweden

Pit bull dog attacks Calvin Wynter, theatre producer, in New York City

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

This morning, I Skyped theatre producer Calvin Wynter in New York City. He used to be an equity trader on Wall Street. We had not chatted for a while. I thought it would be interesting to hear how the comedy business is going in New York.

As is often the case, the conversation got sidetracked.

He had suggested I Skype him at 11.30am, UK time, so I did.

“It’s 6.30am in the morning in New York,” I said.

“I’m up at 6.00am five days of the week,” he told me, “and 4.00am on two days.”

“Why?” I asked.

“This time last year, I went to Vipassana, a Buddhist retreat. We don’t burn incense, we don’t wear flowers, we don’t wear diapers; we just sit in our regular clothes. If you can do the lotus position, fantastic. If you can’t, you sit in a chair.”

“You’re wearing a yellow rubber glove and a sling round your neck,” I observed.

“This is me after wrist and arm surgery.”

“Why?”

“Between Wall Street and now, I spent way too much time on the computer and so I didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome but I got some sort of pinched nerves. I ended up in hospital last year and a neurosurgeon noticed something, asked me to do a few things and said: Do you need an orthopaed referral? I said: No, as it happens, when I was attacked by the pit-bull, I got a… because, when you get your hands chewed on, they either call in a plastic surgeon or an orth and when you have your hands and leg and thigh bit away – like a 3 or 4 inch piece of my thigh was bitten away, the fat and skin…

“So I told him this and he then brought in a specialist. They did the test and then they ordered me a brace for a month but I went back and said: Look, you give the brace to most people because most people are afraid to go into surgery. You do it for them, they get a little better, it gives you time for them to get to trust you and then you do the surgery. He said: Yes. So I said: Just do the fucking surgery. And, in less than a week, he did the surgery.”

“I think,” I said. “I missed a link there. It was the bit where you said: when I was attacked by the pit-bull.”

“You didn’t know about that?”

“No. I have a shit memory, but even I would have remembered that.”

“OK. Well, this time last year – end of August, beginning of September – at the Vipassana retreat, I decided: Let’s lose a little weight. They feed you three meals a day. You got a choice of vegan and/or vegetarian and they’re delicious. You’re not starving. But I decided, because I was 245 lbs… I went through the three meals and measured out what was the amount of food you’re supposed to eat at the size I wanted to be. And I did hours and hours of walking. You’re in the country: streams, lakes, trees, all that stuff. And you’re doing chores when you’re not doing ten hours a day of meditation. After ten days, I lost 10 lbs. Then I lost another 10 lbs.

“So I lose all this weight, I’m dehydrated and I get the equivalent of the worst migraine I’ve ever had and I’ve never had a migraine – or maybe I’ve got a brain aneurism. So I’m rushed to the hospital. They perform every test possible and send me home thinking it’s a migraine and give me a strong Tylenol.

“When I call my doctor, she says: No, no. I want you to get some Aceterin. The next day, it gets really bad. So I think: If two pills are good, I’m gonna take four. Then six. I overdose. I start hallucinating. I mean, you know like Fantasia? I see a musical that I will create one day that will become the gold standard of musicals.

“But, in New York City, you never tell the doctors in the emergency room that you are hallucinating because they will put you on the psych ward and hold you for 72 hours. And, if they don’t have a psych ward, they will transfer you to one and the No 1 psych ward they like to transfer you to is Bellevue which is essentially like Bedlam in the UK.

“I remember a comedian I knew who won the big award in Edinburgh – he went to the British equivalent because he wrote his name in faeces on his wall. You know who I’m talking about.

“Anyway, I’m back in hospital again. They admit me. For six hours I tell them: I will NOT take any opiates. I was in so much pain they wanted to give me morphine and codeine. Not oxy cotton. No, they were going for like the strongest friggin’ pain pills they could give me. Finally, after six hours, I am told: We will have you committed if you don’t take it, because – you don’t know this, but – you are curled up in a ball in the corner of the bed. You are sweating profusely, you’re shaking, you’re mumbling and, every once in a while, you scream out so loud we can hear you down the hall.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“So I take the damned opiates,” Calvin told me. “And, after three days of taking them, it did lower the pain, but there was still excruciating pain. In the interim, they find my kidneys are now in renal failure and I had a macro pituitary adenoma. In other words, I had a tumour that was 1 centimetre in diameter at the centre of my head, right about where all the nerve endings are for your eyes, pushing back on my pituitary.

“Day Three of all this, I say: Fuck it! I get consciousness for a moment and I meditate solidly for an hour. You just observe and, for some reason, I kept observing one of my teeth up top and I remembered I was told to have the tooth removed but my insurance would not do an implant. Somewhere along the line, I forgot about that.

“So they remove the tooth and the headache is gone. So now they are working on my kidneys. They changed the meds. After ten days, I lose 10 lbs and I go out. So I had lost 10 lbs there and 20 lbs at the Vipassana retreat.

“Fast forward to May. I walk out of my door, I see a 98 lb woman who I later find out is a 28-year-old from Hawaii, half-Japanese, had never owned a dog before, was in New York City for the first time ever and had rescued this dog which was going to be killed the next day because it was too dangerous. She agreed to have a trainer, spent a lot of time with it before she took it home.

“I see that the dog is acting like an idiot. I make a sharp right turn. I meditate to calm my body so the dog doesn’t sense anything. It’s a pit bull. The dog leaps up. I shoot my left hand to block it.

“My cousin had been the national karate champion before Chuck Norris. My cousin was bodyguard to David Bowie, Mick Jagger right around the time hijackings were happening and celebrities were not able to bring their licensed gun-carrying bodyguards on planes with them.

“So I had lived with my cousin for a month. He had told me: If someone threatens you, you can talk to them for a while – you’re good at that – then you can run like the wind and very few people can catch you. The only time you need to fight is if the son-of-a-bitch catches you, which means he has nothing but ill-intent. Which means you have to kill him. One fast fell swoop. I’m going to teach you to kill people and, in the last week, I’m going to teach you how to kill dogs. With dogs, you break their nose; you jam it into their head; it’s a matter of seconds: they’re dead on the floor.

“Thirty years ago, pit bulls were not a problem. People owned German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers. They didn’t have pit bulls. A pit bull’s entire skull is like a biker’s helmet. You can’t break its nose and shove it into its skull.  The one thing you’re supposed to do with pit bulls is you grab them by the balls and you swing them in the air and neuter them. You bang ‘em in the eye, go straight for their balls, lift them and fucking castrate them right then and there. They will be in so much pain, bleeding profusely and you can get away.

“But I had a bitch… a female dog, right? I get a young female dog. So she gets my arm. Thank god I remember: Use the middle finger and the pointer finger of your hand. So I hit her in the eyeballs. She releases. The other thing my cousin had told me was: Run into traffic when you’re attacked by a dog. You will be able to dodge the cars; the dog will get hit.

“I get one lane out into six lanes of traffic and I, for some reason, take a second to look back. The traffic stops. The dog is coming after me. I get to the other side of the boulevard. As I’m putting my left leg onto the kerb, the dog leaps up, was going for my balls but grabs my upper thigh and was about to clamp in for the arteries, the bones and the muscles. Now I’ve got both hands bleeding, several major lacerations on my left hand, which is my dominant hand though I write with my right hand. I use both hands because both hands are free because she’s on my thigh. I blind her in the right eye, I partially blind her in the left.”

“Literally blind her?” I ask.

“Literally. I crack the right eyeball and there’s ooze coming out. I bang the left one, so it’s partially damaged. I break her right leg. And I take all of my body weight, holding my left arm with my right hand so it has maximum power, and I lunge dead-centre at her spine. I damage the spine. She falls to the ground. She has my blood all over her.”

“Now,” I said, “it’s almost 7.30am in New York. Where are you off to now?”

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but big on the Fringe theatre scene

“I’m headed off right now,” Calvin told me, “to have my teeth cleaned and also they did a biopsy on my jawbone. They performed dental surgery, removed the lesion and put it in for biopsy research. They called me on Friday which means I think I may have cancer. I don’t know. So far, everything that’s thought to have been cancerous was not – like the polyps I got from my colonoscopy. I had three polyps. No cancer. So who knows? Maybe the third time isn’t so good but, y’know look – I’ve had a shaved head before. I can have a shaved head again. I’m still Episcopalian, which is like your Church of England, but my philosophy is Buddhist which is essentially: What do we seek? Happiness. What is pain and sorrow? The route to happiness.”

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Filed under Dogs, Health, Medical, Religion

Cats on castors, dogs on wheels and Russian amputee mail order brides

As illustrated on doggiewheelchair.com

Dog wheelchair illustrated on doggiewheelchair.com

Yesterday, I blogged about my eternally-un-named friend’s desperate search for a slug-slaying hedgehog. I quoted what she said at a garden centre near St Albans. But I recorded more there.

I tend to quote people directly in these blogs. That is because I record them on my iPhone. But I always make sure they know they are being recorded.

However, I made an exception at the garden centre.

I was sitting having tea when my eternally-un-named friend said to me: “I’m just going to ask where you get hedgehogs from,” and off she went to the Information Desk.

After she had gone, I started listening to three people sitting at a neighbouring table. A middle-aged woman was talking. At the point I switched on my iPhone, this is what she was saying:

“He’s obviously shifted his centre of gravity so his leg, to compensate, is now in the middle of his bottom, instead of being on one side. It looks just like it’s a toy dog with two legs at the front and one at the back. And he goes along! It was only a week ago and he’s still wearing a collar because the stitches are all fresh, but he was shooting round the garden.

“The trouble was he hadn’t been able to use his other leg for so long, he was helpless, it was useless. That’s why it had to come off. So I suppose it’s nicer for him now. He’s not dragging this other leg around.

“It’s like he’s a toy on wheels. It’s something I’ve always wanted to see. Like a cat on castors. I suppose, at some time, someone must have amputated a dog’s legs and put wheels on them.

“Talking of which I think Karl, my cat, has got some wasting disease because he can lift his tail a the end of the day about halfway up but, in the morning, it won’t rise. He’s got quite a lot of wasting in his back. I mean, he’s not in pain, but there’s something going on.

“When you stroke him and play with the end of his tail, he’s totally unaware of it until you get about halfway up and then he’s got some sensation again. It’s like the last six inches is dead. If he trails it around, it gets dirty.

“When he walks over the chair, he arches his back a bit. He does look old. He looks tatty, but he’s very bright and bossy-eyed. No, that’s wrong.”

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” suggested one of the other people at the table.

At this exact point, my eternally-un-named friend returned from the Information Desk with news of hedgehogs.

But, frankly, I was more interested in hearing more of amputee cats and dogs.

Afterwards, I found there is a London-based website called DogsWheels.com which has pictures of and supplies accessories for – as the name implies – dogs whose legs have partly been replaced by wheels.

Their inspiration was Eddie’s Wheels in Massachusetts, who commendably supply mobile devices for paralysed dogs, cats and sheep. Their slogan is: WE TEST OUR PRODUCTS ON ANIMALS.

Finding this sub-culture was akin to, years ago, stumbling on the Russian Amputee Mail Order Bride site (which had been recommended as mildly eccentric by an article in the Daily Telegraph). Sadly, shortly afterwards, the entirely serious Russian Amputee Mail Order Bride site (it did what it said in the title) was taken over by a porn site and much spam ensued.

It seems unlikely that DogsWheels.com or Eddie’s Wheels will suffer the same fate, but non-one can tell how far human foibles will stretch.

Eddie’s Wheels has a video on YouTube HERE.

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Never perform comedy with intelligent dogs

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

The first rule of showbusiness is you never perform on the same bill as animals or children.

Last night, there was a very good line-up in the New Variety Lives! show at the Shaw Theatre in London. But what can you do when, also on the stage, unbilled, is ‘Sid Russell’, a small Jack Russell terrier who has bafflingly had over 1,730,000 hits on YouTube in a month – for just running up and down steps –

and who, last night, kept a blue balloon in the air by death-defying leaps upwards to bop it with his cute nose?

On any other night, top-of-the-bill US comedian David Mills, one of the smoothest new acts on the UK comedy circuit – indeed, he was New Act of the Year 2011 – would have been a difficult act to follow, but even a highly charismatic comedian is no competition for a leaping Jack Russell.

Compere Jo Brand, excellent new female comedian Tania Edwards, Nathaniel Tapley as cast-iron-TV-show-prospect ‘Sir Ian Bowler MP’ and New Zealand comic Javier Jarquin who had an excellent street-theatre-type act which I have never seen before and which built to a cracking climax – all those and more were trumped by an acrobatic Jack Russell terrier…

But then, earlier in the day, I had learned with others at the Fortean Times UnConvention all about the species superiority of Canine Intellectuals and Celebrated Talking Dogs.

Jan Bondeson was plugging his new book Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities and, if his book is anything like his one-hour lecture, it must be a cracker.

We had tales of Rolf, the militaristically-inclined German dog who could discuss religion and philosophy but who, at the outbreak of World War One, demanded he should join the German Army despite the fact he was a Yorkshire terrier.

And we had Don, an alleged talking dog who was so intelligent he was earning 12,000 marks per month in German music halls even before he went to the US in July 1912 to perform at Oscar Hammerstein’s famous Roof Garden theatre in New York, where he shared the bill with a man with a 9-foot beard and a troupe of dancing midgets. Don was insured for $50,000, kept profitably touring the US until August 1914 and met Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini and Buster Keaton.

At my school, I never got taught any of this in history lessons.

Apparently Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, taught a dog to say, “How do you do, grandma?”

And even the Nazis took an interest in super-intelligent dogs. When they transported Jews, any ‘innocent’ pet dogs were given to ‘good’ Aryan families and there were even Nazi research institutes for educated dogs.

All this came as enough of a shock to me yesterday without It being topped by ‘Sid Russell’ and his acrobatic, balloon-bopping antics.

I think I need to lie down.

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Filed under Comedy, Dogs, Strange phenomena, Theatre