Tag Archives: Dr Brown

Nathan Lang lost 2 Edinburgh Fringe venues but stayed a sketchy stuntman

Nathan Lang has lived in the UK for ten years now. He made his career debut as Pinhead in the Australian soap Neighbours.

“I have forgotten,” I told Nathan,” why we are chatting. Am I meeting you to plug your Edinburgh Fringe show?”

Performing One Man, Two Ghosts at the Edinburgh Fringe last year were (L-R) Nelly Scott, Annie Bashford, Nathan Lang)

“I thought you were more interested,” said Nathan, “in my juicy gossip about losing my Edinburgh Fringe venue twice… You saw One Man, Two Ghosts last year.”

“Oh yes,” I said. “And you were going to bring it back again this year. Three of you. Different cast.”

“We were promised a good time-slot at a venue in the New Town,” explained Nathan. “The management had seen the show last year and loved it. But then, around the time of early bird Fringe registration, the management changed; and the programming changed; and we lost the venue; and it lost us £100 because we missed the cheap deadline.

“Then we got in touch with someone who had also seen the show last year, loved it and was starting up a new venue. She asked us immediately before the final Fringe Programme deadline and the venue just fell through. Everyone has a different story why. I’m not blaming anyone. Just bad luck. A few shows in that venue got re-homed; some collapsed; we got a very good offer from Bob Slayer but couldn’t do it because it clashed with my other two shows. So the three of us decided not to do the show. There seemed no point compromising on a less good venue at bad times on scattered dates.”

“You still have two other shows at the Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s the sketch comedy show Jon & Nath Like To Party which you saw an early incarnation of. We’ve been previewing it for a year and had a very good Brighton Fringe.”

Playful Jon Levene (right) and Nathan Lang Like To Party

“What’s different from the version I saw?”

“The crap sketches have gone and been replaced by good ones. It’s really good now.”

“Sketch comedy is dead,” I suggested.

“No!” said Nathan. “There’s lots of exciting sketch comedy on the scene at the moment. It’s evolving beyond that episodic kind of style. It’s blurring into alternative stuff and character stuff. What has changed in our show since you saw it is we now have an underlying kind of…”

“Arc?”

“No. An underlying thread where we can communicate our selves and our relationship – the way we constantly try to thwart each other.”

“What’s the stage relationship?”

“We’re like brothers but we antagonise the hell out of each other and disagree about everything.”

“And your other show is?”

“My first solo show. The Stuntman. Surely, with that title alone, I should be eligible for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award?”

“But is it cunning?” I asked. “Do you do your own stunts? Is there an imminent risk of death? Death is always good for promoting a show.”

“Yeah,” said Nathan. “I do my own stunts. I am the Tom Cruise of clowning character physical comedy.”

“Hanging on the side of a plane?” I asked.

“Hanging drunkenly on the side of the bar while my own wind blows my feet up. It’s slapstick. It’s What if the stuntman were always a stuntman, even at home? But family friendly. Well, it is now. Except for the bit where I pretend to be nude for ten minutes.”

“But is there a potential death factor?” I asked.

“One stunt went too far the other night,” said Nathan. “The toothpick stunt.”

“The toothpick stunt?” I asked.

“The toothpick stunt. I impaled my head on a toothpick and, when I pulled it out, the red red krovvy started to flow. Half the audience were delighted; the other half were horrified.”

“Krovvy?” I asked.

Bicyclist Nathan often wears a crash helmet in everyday life

“Haven’t you read A Clockwork Orange?”

“Print is dead,” I said. “I’ve only seen the film.”

“You don’t know Nadsat?”

“Let’s get back to The Stuntman,” I said. “What’s the elevator pitch?”

Evel Kneivel meets Wile E Coyote in Technicolor.”

“With deep canyons to fall down?”

“Not on this budget.”

“Why The Stuntman?”

“Because I really wanted to do a one-man show and it came about through Dr Brown’s clown workshops.”

“Tell me you’ve not been to Gaulier,” I pleaded.

“I’ve not been to Gaulier,” repeated Nathan. “And that makes me feel insecure.”

“But you have done clowning workshops?”

Nathan is not averse to potty training

“Yes. In a Spymonkey workshop, Aitor Basauri told me: Nathan. A clown costume for you, you need three things. Hair slicked back. Outfit very tight to your body. And heavy boots. Aitor is so amazing. He’s such a brilliant clown. Spymonkey are my idols – my clown idols.”

“Is he Hungarian?” I asked.

“Spanish.”

“Why does not having gone to Gaulier make you feel insecure?”

“Because he and his style are exalted and to be Gaulier-trained seems to me to be the pinnacle of clowning tuition. And also I can’t afford it.”

“It seems to me,” I suggested, “like people go to France, get insulted by Gaulier every day, then come back to Britain, sit on a stage a stare at people until something happens. I could do that.”

“I did Dr Brown’s Clowning in Nature in Wales,” said Nathan. “That was great.”

“Arranged by Adam Taffler?”I asked.

“Yes.”

“What is Adam doing now?” I asked. “Last time I met him, he seemed to be organising a sex orgy with philosophical undertones on top of a skyscraper in Docklands.”

“I think there was an Intimacy Convention,” said Nathan.

“That’ll be it,” I said. “I’m still not clear why you decided on a stuntman character.”

“I thought being a stuntman would be playing against type.”

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Original version of BBC TV’s Pompidou series & a brief history of visual comedy

Matt Lucas (right) and Alex Macqueen in the BBC’s Pompidou

Matt Lucas (right) & Alex MacQueen in the BBC’s Pompidou

This Sunday teatime, Matt Lucas stars in the second episode of the ‘silent’ BBC TV series Pompidou.

The credits say it is written by Matt Lucas, Julian Dutton and Ashley Blaker.

Blaker produced Little Britain on BBC Radio, then wrote and produced Rock Profiles with Matt Lucas. They went to school together.

Multi-award-winning comedy scriptwriter/performer Julian Dutton started as an actor, then became a comedy scriptwriter for radio, but, he says, “I always made sure I performed in the things I wrote.” He appears in a later episode of Pompidou.

“I did stand-up for some years,” he told me yesterday. “I was an impressionist act on the circuit. Harry Hill encouraged me into stand-up when we were doing radio comedy. So I was doing this act, met Alistair McGowan, then Jon Culshaw and realised I was only No 15 or 20 or 25 in the country and the 25th best impressionist in the country does not get his own TV series.”

As a result, Julian turned more to writing, though usually appearing in the many shows he wrote.

Julian Dutton - Museum of Comedy

Julian Dutton – surrounded by comedy – in London this week

“So how did Pompidou come about?” I asked him.

“It originated as a character show,” he told me, “because I wanted to write a visual comedy that was very experimental and avant-garde, using some of the finest physical performers on the circuit – people like Dr Brown, The Boy With Tape on His Face, the Australian act Lano and Woodley – people like that who are under-used on British television.

“I approached everybody. I approached ITV, BBC, everybody. And then Matt’s production company took it on and it morphed into a more family-friendly, slapstick, mainstream entertainment on BBC2. It was decided that an avant-garde and experimental comedy show would be a little bit too niche.

“After that, the second incarnation of it was as a character sketch show like Little Britain, where Matt was going to play all the characters – like a visual League of Gentlemen: a day in the life of a town, but all visual.

“Then gradually, as the months went on, we pared things down and shaved bits off and ended up focusing on one character: Pompidou. It became more mainstream and family-friendly, rather than complex and avant-garde. But I’m happy with it being a family mainstream show, because I love family mainstream shows. It has become more Norman Wisdom and less Jacques Tati.

There is a trailer for Norman Wisdom’s The Bulldog Breed on YouTube.

“Was your series always called Pompidou?” I asked.

“Once it focused on Matt as a single character, yes.”

“What was the first Dr Brown type experimental version called?”

“The Dumb Show. The second title was The Shusssshhh Show.”

“And why the name Pompidou?”

“We wanted an international name and we thought, in the back of our minds, that the French still like mad clowns. Also there’s the pomp pomp-posity. From memory, I think he was originally called Mr Pamplemousse – French for grapefruit. The back-story is that he’s descended from French Huguenots.”

“It was always going to be a silent series?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Julian. “Well, non-verbal, because there is this distinction between silent and non-verbal. The reason I wanted to do a show without dialogue was basically because I grew up with loads and loads of non-dialogue shows on TV – Eric Sykes, Ronnie Barker, Marty Feldman – Every sketch show I remember when I was young had about 10 minutes of non-verbal stuff. There was a revival of it in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I first saw silent comedy when Bob Monkhouse had a TV series Mad Movies and BBC2 brought out a version of it with Michael Bentine: Golden Silents. They used to show Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd and The Keystone Kops.

“I was inspired not just by the old, silent comedians but by the new visual comedians – in particular Jacques Tati who, just after the War, re-invented visual comedy. Then there were Eric Sykes and Ronnie Barker, Marty Feldman… Dave Allen did tons of visual stuff. In every Dave Allen Show, there was about 10 minutes visual comedy – The Undertakers’ Race, tons of stuff.

The Undertakers’ Race is on YouTube.

“So that,” said Julian, “is where Pompidou came from, really. It struck me that, since Mr Bean – the last one was in 1997 – nobody had tried a visual comedy. And I had written tons and tons of children’s television.”

“You wrote for the Chuckle Brothers’ TV programme,” I nudged.

“Yes, I wrote for them for about four years,” said Julian. “The last three series. They’re a variety act family that goes way back to the 1930s (Their elder brothers are The Patton Brothers.) There were five of them. They were really the early British mainstream variety Marx Bros, though not as anarchic – I think the Crazy Gang were the equivalent of the Marx Bros over here.

“That’s how I cut my teeth on visual comedy, really. The Chuckle Brothers’ shows were deceptively difficult to write. They seem very simplistic and very very light-hearted and infantile, but their knowledge of physical routines was very impressive. When people see light entertainment on screen, they wrongly think that it’s light to create. But it’s not a light matter.”

“The Chuckle Brothers,” I suggested, “are maybe looked-down on by critics?”

“Clowning is a bit looked-down-on in Britain,” agreed Julian. “The French look on dumb-show mime as an art form. We look on it as just pratting about.”

“I suppose,” I said, “mime in Italy and France is an art form and, in this country, panto-mime is for children.”

“Exactly,” said Julian. “And that is why some of the reaction to Pompidou is… We are getting very good feedback especially from family audiences and we have had some very good reviews from people who ‘get’ it – that it’s a family, clown show. Some reviewers have criticised the show for appealing to children, as if that is a bad thing. But children make up the vast majority of the global TV audience. So why shouldn’t we be making comedy for children that stars a guy who was in an edgy sketch show (Matt Lucas in Little Britain)?”

Mr Bean was always accepted by adults, wasn’t it?” I asked.

Mr Bean was very heavily criticised when it first came out,” Julian corrected me, “because Rowan Atkinson had done Blackadder, which was very very ‘in’ with the university wits. Mr Bean was originally looked-on as a downward step for Rowan Atkinson.”

Julian Dutton - Keeping Quiet

Julian’s book on comics Keeping Quiet

“I bow to your superior knowledge of comedy history,” I said. “You’ve written a book about visual comedy – Keeping Quiet: Visual Comedy in the Age of Sound – which is coming out next month. Surely there have been lots of books before on the subject?”

“Oddly, no,” said Julian. “It struck me when I was working on Pompidou that there have been thousands of books about silent comedy, but they always stop at 1927. There has never been a book about the history of visual comedy after the advent of sound. Kevin Brownlow, Paul Merton, Walter Kerr – all the authorities – stop in 1927.

“But visual (non-verbal) comedy didn’t stop then. There have been books on the individual people, but there’s never been a comprehensive history of it as a distinct genre… And it IS a distinct genre. It’s not silent comedy. It’s visual comedy in the age of sound. None of it is silent. There’s sound effects, music gags… Laurel & Hardy introduced sound gags. Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati used sound gags: it’s a different type of comedy. People like Jerry Lewis, Norman Wisdom…”

“I used to like Jerry Lewis when I was a small kid,” I said.

“And European adults like him,” said Julian. “He’s a hero in France and Norman Wisdom is a hero in Albania.

“In the early 1960s, Norman Wisdom’s films were bigger at the box office than James Bond. I think he’s very under-rated as a subversive comic. At his height, in the 1950s, he was making very subversive comedy.”

“Which is why his films were acceptable in Albania,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Julian. “It was always at the expense of the British Establishment. It was as satirical as most of the Boulting Brothers’ films, which were seen as ‘serious’ satire. I think Norman Wisdom is exceedingly under-rated.”

“After Charlie Chaplin,” I said, “the two most successful British comedians worldwide were Benny Hill and Rowan Atkinson.”

“Absolutely,” said Julian. “Benny Hill’s early work was very very visual, very influenced by continental mime. Very under-rated. And there was a motive when we made Pompidou to make a comedy that would appeal to all nations. Visual comedy has sort-of exploded on the internet – almost all the viral YouTube posts are visual, are slapstick. But mainstream TV has not caught up with the fact we are living in a global visual age.

“Visual comedy is not just clowning. There has been some very experimental stuff. Ernie Kovacs in the 1950s was a television pioneer in the US and made silent TV sketch shows. Mainstream, primetime, early-evening NBC shows. And not just silent, but he made sketches with no human beings in them: comedy sketches with (stop-frame) household objects. This was surreal, avant-garde TV as art in the 1950s. And it was a huge, Emmy-nominated success.”

There are several Ernie Kovacs clips on YouTube.

“And now?” I asked. “After Pompidou, what for you?”

“I’m focusing on feature films now,” said Julian. “I’ve had a feature film optioned and commissioned and the scripting is underway. It’s a British-American animated comedy film. And I’m also pitching a live-action high-octane film to America.”

“American TV is very keen on British comedy at the moment,” I said.

“Funnily enough,” replied Julian, “I’m also writing a cartoon series for American TV called Little People that’s coming out at the end of the year.

There is a BBC TV trailer for Pompidou on YouTube.

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Adam Taffler produces comedy that is, this weekend, literally underground

Adam Taffler, underground entrepreneur (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

Adam Taffler, underground entrepreneur (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

So, yesterday I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get access to the underground chamber where performer Martin Soan and showman Adam Taffler are constructing a one-off venue for this Saturday. It is in Zone 2 of London.

“People who buy tickets  will get texted the location on the day, just like our last event,” Adam Taffler told me.

Last month Martin and Adam staged a Soirée in a Cemetery with comedian Stewart Lee headlining. I could not attend.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Phenomenal,” said Adam. “Completely sold out. It was in Tower Hamlets Cemetery. We did a walk among the gravestones lit by candles. We had fire breathers and an accordionist and people walked through the whole experience which immersed them in the fabric of the location and the history and then they sat down for the show. Because they were immersed in the location, I liked to think that affected how they received the performance. Certainly Stewart Lee said it was his favourite gig of the last three years.

“This time – this Saturday with Soirée Subterranea – we’re going to take people into the Hellfire Club of Sir Francis Dashwood.

Adam (left) with Martin Soan yesterday, preparing the secret subterranean venue

Adam (left) with Martin Soan yesterday, preparing the secret subterranean venue

“It’s in a secret underground chamber. It’s a historical location, so some of the acts will have a historical twist. At one time, it was the biggest tourist attraction in the world. On the first day it opened, 50,000 people came through.

“Sir Francis Dashwood is played by Phil Kay with twelve monks and artists – everything from Lucy Ridley and classical dance through to comics Ed Aczel and Nick Revell doing monk and nun based humour and there’s absinthe cocktails and it’ll be a giggle.”

“So,” I said, “a mixture of comedy, cabaret and music but without the Satanic sacrifice of goats and virgins. What’s the capacity?”

“About 120. They turn up at different times. We have this process of immersing people into the experience. They turn up in groups of about ten. When the audience is ready for a show, then we will go further with it than before. I’m going for this idea of immersive comedy. I don’t want people just to laugh. I want them to have a bit of a cry as well.”

Some underground laughs + some underground tears

Underground laughs. Underground tears

“What will they cry at?” I asked. “Will they get tortured by the monks of Medmenham Abbey?”

“Lucy is going to do this beautiful dance to Dido’s Lament,” said Adam. “And then the comedy will flip the energy right back up.”

“Who was Dido?” I asked. “Was she the one with the Minotaur?”

“I dunno,” said Adam. “But it’s a bit sad. She’s lamenting and there’s a harpsichord and a lady singing.”

“Are you going to put on these Soirée shows regularly?” I asked.

“I think we would like to do the shows every three months, maybe on an increasingly bigger scale.”

“And are you,” I asked, “still picking up random women in parks?”

Adam’s grandfather was a lady lifter – a strongman who, painted in gold, lifted women in the air.

Adam runs a company called Adamotions. The company slogan is: BEWARE YE GODS OF MUNDANITY, WE ARE ALREADY AT YOUR GATES!

“I have a new intern called Gabby,” he told me. “She’s great. We go round lifting up women together. I do the lifting. She does the photography.”

“You were in Vice recently,” I said.

Speed dating where you can’t say anything

Speed dating events where you can’t say anything

“Yes,” said Adam, “they came and reviewed my Shhh silent speed-dating event the other month – it’s on twice a month in Clapham and Islington. Good places for single professional people.”

“So are Iraq and Syria,” I said.

“So,” said Adam, ignoring this, “Vice came and were very complimentary, which was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a positive article by them about anything. Although the girl who wrote it did call Clapham “a kind of fuckwit caliphate run by Time Out” – But that’s a beautiful turn of phrase.”

“What else are you doing?” I asked.

“I’ll be doing more Clowning in Nature with Doctor Brown in 2015. The idea is we go to Burning Man and then we do a Clowning in Nature in California.”

“Where’s Burning Man?” I asked. “Nevada?”

“Yes. It’s the festival of festivals. You should go there.”

“They would burn me like Edward Woodward,” I said.

“We could arrange that,” said Adam. “My mate builds the structure.”

Oh Christ! Oh Christ!” I said in the best Western Isles accent I could muster. “And you are now managing the Greatest Show On Legs and occasionally performing with them.”

Adam with Matt Roper (left)  and Martin Soan (right) in The Greatest Show On Legs (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

Adam (centre) with Matt Roper (left) and Martin Soan (right) in The Greatest Show On Legs (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

“Yes. We did this lovely gig down in Totnes last weekend. What was really exciting was that lots of new gags and sketches came together. We’re planning to take the Legs back to the Edinburgh Fringe next year.”

“Are you involved with Pull The Other One in Leipzig?”

“No. Martin and Vivienne Soan do that, but I’m helping Martin with the planned festival in Leipzig, either in 2015 or 2016. It will be a week long or maybe a long weekend to start with. Start small and casual, but it’s such fertile ground over there.”

“So,” I said, “lots of fingers in lots of pies. Is there anything that links them all?”

“I’m excited by taking an audience further than they would expect to go,” said Adam. “I think if you ask people if they want to go somewhere new, they may say no. But, if you gently take them there and push them, they will love it.”

“That sounds like Apple under Steve Jobs,” I said. “He never did market research to see what the public wanted; they just made the product – like an iPad – and sold it. Supposedly because Henry Ford said: If I had asked the public what they wanted, they wouldn’t have said they wanted a motor car – they would have said they wanted a better horse.

“I think the same thing about the public,” said Adam. “They don’t really know what new thing they want but, when they turn up and are shown it, they can think: Yeah! That’s bloody brilliant! If you give them a name they recognise or something they recognise to entice them in, then you can give them more than they expect.”

As I left, Adam was talking to someone on his mobile phone. All I heard was:

“We have to speak to the friar. We need him to supply us with 120.”

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Why comedy writers and performers are different and clowns are not clowns?

James Hamilton at the Soho Theatre bar yesterday

James Hamilton – Soho Theatre bar yesterday

So yesterday afternoon I went to the Soho Theatre bar to talk to Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma about her weekly – always unique – Friday night Lost Cabaret shows in London.

It never happened.

I arrived early and found multiple Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee James Hamilton sitting at a table, writing his sketch group Casual Violence’s next show for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“How much have you written?” I asked.

“10%,” he said glumly.

“I was going to do a solo show this year,” he told me, “but I got talked into doing a Casual Violence one. Do you remember the Siamese Twin hit-men from Choose Death? I am giving them a full story. They work together as assassins until one of them decides he would rather be a baker instead. They fall out and decide to go their separate ways.”

Casual Violence 2014 Edinburgh show

Casual Violence: new 2014 Edinburgh show

“The Siamese Twins?” I asked.

“Yes,” said James. “It’s about the brotherly dynamic.”

Then Nelly arrived.

James and Nelly had never met before, but it transpired they had both been on Dr Brown/Phil Burgers‘ clown workshops.

Clown workshops seem to be trendy for performers at the moment but, as far as I can see, have nothing to do with clowns as any normal person would recognise the word. They are actually improvisation workshops under a ‘sexier’ title.

Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, James (a writer who performs) found the workshops more difficult than Nelly (a performer who can write).

“The people who could be themselves or a version of themselves on stage,” said James, “were the people who did best in the workshop and I wish to god I could do it. I loved the workshop and got so much out of it but I also really struggled. It was so difficult.”

“It is really difficult,” agreed Nelly. But those people had probably been to loads of these workshops and practised a lot of dropping it and ‘being with themselves’. Or hadn’t been to anything at all.”

“Yes,” said James, “a lot of people who did best in that workshop had never done any performing of any kind.”

“The people who find it hardest, I think,” said Nelly, “are people like actors or stand-up comedians. With actors, there’s always this mask: that they never want to show themselves. With comedians, they’ve always got to have a punchline. Stand-up is very wordy; it’s always about what they’re saying, not what they’re doing. Whereas, in clowning, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it and how you do it. It’s all about How not What.”

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma with James Hamilton

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma with James Hamilton yesterday

“It’s a very performance-driven thing,” said James, “whereas I tend to approach stuff from a very writery point of view. Writing is very introverted and thinking about ideas and not letting go. All the clowning stuff is very counter to that. Not in a bad way. But it’s the opposite of what you’re taught as a writer.

“I remember at the workshop,” James continued, “being told off because I had an idea before going on stage. So what I did for the rest of the workshop was every time I had an idea ahead of going on stage I would immediately dismiss it because I knew if I went ahead with that idea he would pull me up on it. He wanted people to go on stage with nothing and then find something.”

“Well,” said Nelly, “it’s OK for you to come on stage with an idea, but you have to be ready to drop it in a split second if the audience hate it. People who come on stage with an idea can be more in love with their idea than they are with the audience. It’s not necessarily that he wants people to come onto the stage with nothing, because some people literally don’t have anything and it’s boring. You need to have something. What’s your impulse? What are you thinking? But, if it doesn’t work, you just throw it out the window. You do whatever it takes to make the audience love you.”

“I think, when I do more solo things,” said James, “it will be more of an even balance but the way it works at the moment is I’m the sole writer for a group of people, so I need to bring stuff in. It doesn’t need to be perfectly finished. We play with it and develop it. But it does come from a very scripted starting point.”

“When I go on stage,” said Nelly. “I always have an idea of something. I’ll have a character and a costume or I’ll come up with a game and go on stage and play with that.”

“The fact people can do that is amazing,” said James. “It just terrifies me. Though in an appealing way. It makes me want to do it.”

“It doesn’t matter if you flop at some point,” said Nelly, “provided you bring the audience eventually to this place of magic and then they forget about the bit that flopped.”

James had told me earlier that he had been “talked into” doing a Casual Violence show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and, in a sense, the same thing had happened with Nelly and Lost Cabaret.

Zuma Puma (centre bottom) + her collective

Zuma Puma (centre bottom) + her collective

“I wasn’t going to go to the Fringe this year,” she told us. “I thought: I need a break. I’m going to be in Spain for the month lying naked on the beach or hitchhiking to Morocco and singing on the top of mountains until five in the morning. But then (regular performer) Dan Lees applied for a spot for Lost Cabaret at the Fringe and told me about it after we had been accepted.”

“So,” said James, “you will have to defer your month of naked hitchhiking to the top of mountains at five in the morning.”

“I’ll still do that,” said Nelly. “Maybe before I go to the Fringe.”

“You told me,” I said, “that you’ve been going for lots of castings recently.”

“Lots of auditions for short films,” said Nelly, “which I’m finding interesting, because a lot of writers are shit.”

“Are you cast as Girl 1 or Girl 2?” asked James.

“I’m usually cast as a femme fatale killer,” Nelly replied, “which is fun. I’m OK with that. But how many scripts are just so degrading to women?”

“Women are either in films to have sex or to be killed,” I said.

“There is a website called Casting Call Woe,” said James, “which has genuine casting calls which are horrendously sexist and awful.”

Currently on the site are these four descriptions of projected movies:

The actress would need an ‘Easy Access Skirt’ with leggings underneath so that the skirt could be lifted up and it would look convincingly like she was ‘being taken from behind. Consent to have fake vomit thrown on her. 

Please send a pic of your tongue so I can approve of your tongue length.

The egg shoots from her vagina and directly into the doctor’s mouth.

Bikinis will get this movie attention. Great acting will get it respect. 

“I got a script for a short film,” said Nelly. “Somehow they had got funding for it. I don’t know how. They were looking for an actress who could play seductive but bad and I thought Oh, I can play femme fatale no problem. But then I read the script and there is a scene where a female crime investigator is talking to me – I’m this girl who is covered in blood and freaking out – and she starts putting her hand up the girl’s skirt and fingering her. There was no conversation before the investigator starts randomly fingering the girl. And, in the next scene, her face is in the girl’s vagina – there’s a shot of the investigator’s head between this girl’s legs. What the fuck has this got to do with the investigation? And then she kills the girl. It drives me nuts. I will have to start writing.”

There is a Lost Cabaret showreel on YouTube.

and also a trailer for Casual Violence’s comedy.

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Aspiring clowns lured into Welsh goat-feeling cult by lady-lifting UK showman

Adam Taffler in Square this week

Adam Taffler, the showman, in Soho this week

This blog ends with me standing in Soho Square, London, when showman Adam Taffler says to me:

“John, I want to see you reclining on a litter, surrounded by beautiful girls wafting you with giant ostrich fans.”

“You see me as a sort of Cleopatra figure?” I ask.

“Like an emperor,” says Adam. “A loveable, aged emperor in a toga.”

It all started off with me meeting Adam at Bar Italia in Frith Street.

“It’s a good day,” he said to me. “Let’s go to Soho Square.”

Last October, I blogged about Adam’s new Shhh Dating speed dating venture in which the two prospective romancers could not speak to each other – they had to communicate visually.

There might be a slight sense of deja vu or deja read here.

Back in October, Adam was just about to stage Edinburgh Fringe hit Red Bastard’s show in London. And, again – at the end of this month – he is about to stage a Red Bastard show in London.

All this is happening through his company Adamotions, now with added business partner Sharney Nougher. Their selling line is Cultivating Hilarity and Humanity.

“We’re doing another Clowning In Nature with Dr Brown (aka Phil Burgers) ,” he told me.

“You were just about to do one last time,” I said. “What is it exactly? Dr Brown teaching people to be clowns?”

Dr Brown at one with Nature

Dr Brown is Clowning in Nature

“Sort of,” replied Adam. “We go out into what is pretty much the wilderness and do what Dr Brown says. He likes pushing the boundaries so this time we’re organising it for eleven days with a two-day break in the middle. Most of it is in this place called St Hilary just outside Cardiff and then we’re doing a two-day deep nature break in this wild place called Pennant Valley.”

“What’s a deep nature break?” I asked.

“There’s no phones down there,” explained Adam. “no electricity, just rivers. There are a few structures we’re going to live in: semi-permanent tents.”

“Wigwams?” I asked.

“No, they’re like lodges: wooden posts and canvas roofs. It will be really wild, nomadic, beautiful.”

“It sounds like a nightmare,” I said. “No internet access.”

“It’s different,” said Adam. “It’s not for everyone. If you wanna go for a normal course, then go to one of the ones Dr Brown runs in London where you go to the course and you go home afterwards. This one is fully-immersive. You go deeper into it. You go deeper into your relationship with everyone else and all the stuff around.”

“I feel like I might be sucked into some cult.”

“You are,” laughed Adam. “The cult of Dr Brown. He’s teaching people all his stuff, being in the shit, being totally present, finding the pleasure in every moment and all that kind of stuff. But using your whole environment. So, last time, you and I talked a bit about goats. Sometimes you blindfold each other, you go out and feel stuff and Whoa! There’s a goat! There are lakes. We’ll go and jump in lakes.

A previous Clowning In Nature group

Previous Clowning In Nature group apparently high on a hill

“When Dr Brown does his ones in Soho, he has people performing sun salutations on the street and running round the block in stupid costumes. This is the same type of thing but this time you’re in nature, so you’re rolling in the mud, you’re covering your face in clay, you’re jumping in the river.”

“How many people?” I asked.

“About 20 or 22 plus two chefs and Dr Brown and me and Sharney.”

“Pricey?” I asked.

“Because a lot of comedians can’t afford the amount of money it costs – £750 including all accommodation and food – we’re putting on a FUNDr.brownRAISER in London after the event finishes. It’s going to be Dr Brown and all the people who’ve been on Clowning In Nature in an open workshop/performance occupying a while building and all the money from that will go to a bursary system to subsidise people on low incomes to come on Clowning In Nature.”

“You should be an agent,” I said.

“I dunno, John. I’m a showman.”

On his website, Adam calls himself a “Social Entrepreneur with a focus on entertainment”.

Adam crowdsurfs in a previous incarnation

Adam crowdsurfs in one of his previous showbiz incarnations

“It’s in my blood,” Adam told me. “I used to go round festivals with my sauna. My granddad Leo Indra, the lady lifter, used to hold up golden painted ladies. I’m just carrying that vibe on a bit more. I dunno. It’s about making something interesting happen. How long are we alive for?”

“I’ll take a photo,” I said.

“I’ll pick up a woman,” said Adam.

He asked the girl sitting on the next bench in Soho Square if he could lift her up on his shoulders for a photograph. She turned him down, laughing.

He asked a girl on another bench.

Her name was Ashleigh Taylor.

She agreed, laughing.

Adam shows off his lady lifting skills in Soho

Adam shows off his lady lifting skills in Soho

“That’s my skill,” Adam said. “Getting people to do things they don’t think they want to do and then they really enjoy it afterwards.”

“I didn’t think you would get anyone to let you lift them up,” I said.

“John, I want to see you reclining on a litter, surrounded by beautiful girls wafting you with giant ostrich fans.”

“You see me as a sort of Cleopatra figure?”

“Like an emperor. A loveable aged emperor in a toga.”

“Can’t I be a loveable young emperor?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Adam.

Even Adam Taffler, it seems, has his limits.

But I am now looking for a toga.

And I feel obliged to mention that Malcolm Hardee used to tell a joke about a dyslexic who went to a toga party dressed as a goat.

Perhaps it was a mistake to mention it.

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Being a comedian is all about running blindfold into trees and wearing socks?

In my blog yesterday, performer/showman Adam Taffler was talking about co-running a week-long course with performer Dr Brown in which people were encouraged to run down hills while blindfolded and feel goats. When I talked to performer Martin Soan about this today, his reaction was:

Martin Soan acting sensibly this morning

Martin Soan acting sensibly away from trees this morning

“Well, that’s fairly normal, isn’t it?”

“I have never felt a goat,” I told him. “Have you?”

“Being brought up in East London,” he replied, “we didn’t have much access to goats. Perhaps I would have been more successful if I had felt a goat in my childhood.”

“But what,” I asked, “are you going to learn about comedy by putting on a blindfold and running down a hill?”

“It’s not about that,” argued Martin. “It’s about releasing yourself and your imagination and, above all, giving you confidence about yourself. As we both know, that’s what comedy’s all about. It’s all about going out there with confidence. If you haven’t got the confidence, no matter what you do, it’s not going to work.”

“So have you ever run down hills blindfolded?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Yeah. When I was a kid.”

“In London?” I asked.

“Yeah, we had hills in London, mate,” laughed Martin. “Sometimes, I used to blindfold myself and run into trees intentionally. Hackney Downs, Hackney Marshes – there were loads of brilliant hills there. Sometimes I used to tie my feet to a bicycle and go down what we used to call The Tits… Please don’t put that in your blog or, at least, find a PC way of putting it… There were these enormous two hills called The Tits and, at the bottom – right at the very bottom – we used to put a brick and the whole idea was to avoid the brick because, if you hit the brick, you were off your bike.”

“Or off your trolley,” I suggested.

Wanstead flats - scene of some arrow escapes

Wanstead flats – scene of some arrow escapes

“Another brilliant thing we did,” continued Martin, “was to make our own bows and arrows, go over to Wanstead Flats (a large open area in East London) with these really sharp sticks as arrows, point them directly up in the air and fire them and just cover your hands over your head and see how near the arrow got to you. The one who had the arrow fall nearest to them – or hit them – was the winner.”

“Would you recommend this sort of thing for comedy workshops?” I asked.

“Probably not,” said Martin, “but I’ve carried on doing that sort of stuff all my life. And this is a serious thing I’m saying now. I HAVE carried it on – just being stupid, just being ridiculous. What you need for all comedy genres – including political satire – is confidence and it sounds to me like that’s what those Dr Brown/Adam Taffler workshops are all about. It’s all about having fun, releasing your inner child and gaining confidence.

“When I saw The Short Man With Long Socks, I don’t think Britain was ready for him in terms of the comedy scene, but I do honestly think that now… I’ve been wanting to book him now for over eight years or more. Not managed it yet. Almost managed a couple of times, but he cancelled.”

“How tall is The Short Man With Long Socks?” I asked.

“Short,” said Martin.

The sock on Martin Soan’s right foot today

A short sock on Martin Soan’s right foot photographed today

“And what does he do?”

“Well, there are three sections to his routine,” explained Martin. “It’s him getting ready to ‘go out’… him ready to go out… and then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but…

“So is he a mime act?” I asked.

“I suppose he is in a traditional sense,” said Martin. “in that he doesn’t talk. There’s no story or narrative to it. He’s not a skilled mime artist. He just doesn’t talk. He’s more of a performance artist, really.”

“So why is it funny?” I asked.

“Why is anything funny?” Martin shrugged. “There were a lot of people who found it funny; I found it hilarious; there were some people who didn’t find it funny at all on the night. I’ve only seen him once – at the International Mime Festival in Moers about ten or twelve years ago.

“After we saw him, me and Vivienne (Martin’s wife) started getting excited and talking about We would really love to open up a club where we have these ‘different’ acts on.”

“So The Short Man With Long Socks inspired you to start your Pull The Other One club? I asked.

Martin and Vivienne Soan - inspired by one man and his socks

Martin and Vivienne Soan – inspired by one man and his socks

“He most certainly did,” agreed Martin. “I would say, at this point in time… I would say he is my top, all-time favourite act. He encompasses everything that I’m really very fond of.

“There are two things which are going to make me laugh in comedy. One – I’ve got to like the act: if I don’t actually know them personally, I’ve got to imagine I will like them. And then it’s also got to be surreal, anarchic or something like that to grab my attention.

“The Short Man With Long Socks is all that and more.

“You blogged a while ago about me wanting to get away from the traditional comedy that’s going on now and become a performance artist with a sense of humour. Well, now comedy, thankfully, is breaking down in Britain. It’s not just purely about stand-up. There’s a lot of clowning and mimes and performance art acts who are part of the new comedy scene.”

“But Dr Brown,” I said, “just comes on stage and does nothing, doesn’t he? He just looks at the audience.”

“Does nothing?” said Martin. “I suppose you could say that but, then, I would go along to a lot of male-dominated stand-up comedy and they come on and do a lot of nothing. It might include a lot of words, but what’s the substance? They might do incredibly well-crafted jokes and acute observational material but, y’know… you get full-up with stuff.

“For a long time now I’ve been desperate for other aspects to be brought into the world of comedy and for it to be a lot more imaginative, free, crazy, surreal, anarchic – all those things… Dr Brown doing ‘nothing’ on stage is debatable, isn’t it? When I see Dr Brown on stage, he may not appear to be doing much but there’s certainly a lot going on in my head. He’s creating stuff in my head – just like really good stand-ups do.

“A really good stand-up can suddenly open you up and transport you to other worlds in your head: new narratives going on in your head. That’s the sort of comedy that I like.”

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Adam Taffler on mute speed dating, feeling goats & a nomadic naked sauna

Adam juggling spaghetti  in Edinburgh in 2011

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh, 2011

I first met Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago when I was organising – if that’s the word – spaghetti-juggling in the Grassmarket.

He was promoting his own show, but joined in. This impressed me.

The next time I encountered him was at the Fringe this year, when I saw him as half of Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret with Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma.

But he is not only a performer. He is also a promoter. This weekend, he is staging a show and workshops by American act Red Bastard, who got a lot of attention and an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Then, on 20th October, Adam’s Adamotions company – slogan: Cultivating Hilarity & Humanity – gets together with comedian Bob Slayer’s Heroes company – slogan: Let’s have another drink! – to stage a performance of Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Adrienne Truscott’s Fringe show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

Last night, though, Adam enticed me along to see one of his Shhh Dating events – which are basically speed dating but you are not allowed to talk. Last night it was for 35-45 year olds. I was way out of my age range.

“You’re putting on Red Bastard this Friday,” I said to Adam afterwards. “So you’re not just a performer. You’re an entrepreneur.”

“Well, if I really like an act,” he said, “then I want other people to see it. Originally, we were going to do one workshop and one show with Red Bastard, but the bookings went so well we’re doing two shows and three workshops now.

“It’s happened on the back of what I do with Phil Burgers – Dr Brown – I run these retreats with Phil – Clowning In Nature – one-week immersive events. The idea is it’s beyond a workshop. Instead of just going for one day and going home, you’re all there together, living in the same place for a week and Phil takes people out into the nature. It’s not all just in the classroom. It’s blindfolded running down the hill and feeling goats and…”

“Hold on,” I said. “Feeling goats?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “At the last one, we did this blindfolded walk and I took the lovely Leanne Davis into this pen of goats and she was touching them but was so scared. Afterwards, she told me she’d had a phobia about goats since she was a kid (his words) but she got over it through doing that.

“After I’d done that with Phil, I wanted to do some work with Eric (Red Bastard) because I loved his act in Edinburgh.”

“He and Adrienne Truscott were the most talked-about people this year,” I said.

“And now I’m working with both of them!” said Adam.

“Do you come from a showbiz background?” I asked.

“My maternal grandfather Leo Indra was a lady lifter.”

“A lady lifter?” I asked.

Adam, last night, lifting two ladies

Adam in London, last night, picking up ladies

“He travelled round Europe in the 1950s with water revues, painted in gold, lifting up women with gold loin cloths. This was quite risqué at the time.”

“Sounds fairly risqué any time,” I said. “And on your father’s side?”

“My father’s father was a real businessman. He was the 12th of 12 children and came from a family which was so poor that, if you looked away at dinner, someone would steal your food… My mum is the matriarch of a community called Spirit Horse, which she set up.”

“A hippie thing?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t say ‘hippie’ – I’d say they were really intelligent people who are trying to re-invent culture. And my dad is a hardcore academic: he doesn’t get me at all.”

“An academic of what?” I asked.

“Financial accounting. He’s a socialist academic who travels round the world giving papers about stuff. A lovely guy.”

“You started performing at hippie festivals,” I said.

“Well, I studied Media Studies and French at the University of East Anglia,” said Adam, “but, mostly, I was promoting events and did the radio station. Before I left UEA, I asked people what they were doing – Oh, I’m applying to be a manager at Boots The Chemist – Oh, I’m joining the Civil Service – and it made me cry and shrivel up.

“When I left university, with three of my best friends, I set up a nomadic naked sauna at festivals and we toured that for five years and it was one of the best times of my life. We had these beautiful hippie audiences who would do whatever we said and every single show I did at a festival ended at about one in the morning with everyone stripping naked and painting their nipples gold and running through the fields.”

“You can’t get a better job than that,” I said.

“It really turned me on,” said Adam. “That level of permission and permissiveness and freedom. But how do you give that level of permission to a mainstream audience? I think you have to re-train the audience. That’s why I’m experimenting with all these different formats.”

“Including this dating thing?” I asked. “How did it start?”

“I had a job looking after ‘blank canvas’ spaces in central London,” explained Adam. “We had things like Gucci comedy fashion shows and…”

“What are blank canvas spaces?” I asked.

Adam (right) with Zuma Puma at Edinburgh this year

Adam (right) and Zuma Puma at Edinburgh Fringe

“You hire a space,” explained Adam, “but all you have is electricity and maybe some house lights, so you have to bring everything in for yourself. You have to decorate it and… it was mostly for fashion events and a bit of film, which was more interesting for me. So I would sell Sony a £50,000 space for a month to have an electronics trade show and… Well, it wasn’t that exciting… The stuff I loved doing was… I was looking after The Sorting Office in Holborn and we had You Me Bum Bum Train and I managed to get them an extra month of shows because I was so into them. I loved that bit. But I left my job. I thought I can’t pretend any more. I can’t pretend to be a normal fucking person. I’ve got to be myself.”

“Which is?”

“I like people coming together and experiencing each other. I like people being ‘real’ together.”

“That sounds a bit Californian,” I suggested.

“Well,” replied Adam, “this dating thing is my first attempt at doing it in a way that mainstream people can understand. When you take away words, you get to see people as they really are. That’s interesting. We’re all so protective. Which is OK. It’s OK. But I think, in these hippie festivals where I started painting everyone’s nipples gold and naked crowdsurfing and…”

I interrupted: “There seems to be a motif running through all this of nakedness.”

“It’s a metaphor,” said Adam.

“It’s a metaphor for psychological nakedness?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s the same thing; it’s like stripping away the stuff. If you can get an audience to act something out, then they become it. Audiences – at these hippie festivals especially – are all waiting to have permission to do the shit they want to do. In the festivals, I used to be able to give them that permission, to speak their exact language and it was incredible. Such fun.

“I’ve not yet found out how to do that with a really cynical, mainstream, alcoholic comedy audience, so I’ve decided to create my own audience now – and that’s what I’m doing with all these events.”

“How did you get the people who came to this silent speed dating thing tonight?”

“We’ve been in Time Out a couple of times, we’ve been in the Sun, we’ve been in the Daily Mail. Actually, the Daily Mail journalist really got this more than anyone else. We’ve been in the mainstream press and people from around the world have been contacting us wanting to set these things up.”

“So,” I asked, “the Shhh Dating is not just going to be in London? You’re going to expand into other places?”

“We’ve got people actively working on Brighton and Bristol. We’re going to do Cardiff; there’s someone in Berlin.”

Red Bastard is in London this week

Red Bastard on stage in London this week promoted by Adam

“And,” I prompted, “as well as Red Bastard this week, you’re co-promoting Adrienne Truscott’s show in a few weeks with Bob Slayer. Will you do other things with him?”

“We might do,” said Adam, “What I like about Bob is he’s creating this stage where any art can happen. He’s opening it up for true art and creativity to come true and that’s what really excites me. I love the renegade nature of it.”

“So what are you?” I asked. “A performer? A promoter? An entrepreneur?”

“I feel I’m a showman. I like performing shows, I like putting on shows. I was at my happiest travelling round from place to place with that nomadic naked sauna.”

“Other people you want to work with?” I asked.

“There’s a friend of mine – Joanne Tremarco – we trained together with Jonathan Kaye at the Nomadic Academy For Fools and she did a show called Women Who Wank. You might have heard about her, because she was dressed up as a vagina and there was a guy dressed up as a penis at Glastonbury and someone ripped his hat off and punched him. It went round the world – Man Dressed As Penis Gets Attacked.”

“The penis head had a hat?” I asked.

“Yes, he had a proper bell end bit,” said Adam.

“I think attention to detail is important,” I said.

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