Tag Archives: drugs

More drug news on deaths in Vancouver

Another busy day outside the Balmoral Hotel on Hastings Street

Another busy trading day outside the Balmoral Hotel on Hastings Street in Vancouver

Last weekend, I posted a piece from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, about the increasing drug deaths in Vancouver, especially from “the latest drug to hit the scene” – carfentanyl.

Today, Anna has sent me an update:


A man signing a sympathy card for another fentanyl overdose victim

A man signing a sympathy card for another fentanyl overdose victim

When I arrived at my music class on Monday, there was a small memorial out on the pavement in front of the community centre for a man who had died that morning from an overdose, while in the public toilets below.

There were candles, a teddy bear, several cards that people were signing and lots of cigarettes. Tobacco is a traditional offering for indigenous people.

Nearby a tall man, who said he was a friend of the deceased, was selling Tylenol 3s.

“T3s,” he was calling out quietly. “T3s,.. T3s…”

Other people walked past calling out a chorus of other drug names:

“Oxy, Oxy, Oxy,..”

“Methadone… Methadone…”

Empty prescription bottles at the entrance of the community center

Empty prescription bottles at the entrance of the community center

A pile of empty pill bottles stood at the bottom of a column of the community centre, the names scratched out.

The soaring overdose deaths have been declared a public health crisis in British Columbia. Even though the Downtown Eastside is saturated with ambulances, the rates that people are overdosing keeps climbing.

And it is now happening not just among the regular addicts but among casual users of cocaine and heroin. A dead teenager was found in a suburban Starbucks washroom.

Staff at downtown hotels are overwhelmed by the deaths of their residents and emergency services are training because pure fentanyl is fatal to the touch.

At the weekend, I saw my nephew who works at a hotel downtown. I asked him how he has been affected and he said he has had to deal with three deaths recently. The latest was a 23 year woman old whom he injected with the antidote… but she was already dead and could not be revived.

Amazingly, the people on the streets have not lost their sense of humour.

Hotel lobby on Hastings Street

A hotel lobby on Hastings Street

You see people having a laugh, making jokes about their friends. On cheque day – the day when people get their benefit cheques – many are especially cheerful.

I heard a ragged couple – a man and woman about my age – walking nearby. They may have had a drink.

“Look at that guy,” said the man. “Do you think when I get old I’ll look like him?”

“You ALREADY look like him,” his wife replied immediately.

They are dicussing fentanyl on the radio now. A documentary film maker is talking about a film he shot about a fentanyl maker: a character called Beeker.

Beeker shows on film how he can procure fentanyl online from Asia in five minutes.

The film by Robert Osborne airs on CBC television tonight: Unstoppable: The Fentanyl Epidemic.

I should add that the people here are not just roaming the streets looking to buy elephant tranquilizer (and fentanyl).

Heroin, cocaine and amphetamines are being adulterated with carfentanyl and fentanyl so people don’t know they are ingesting it.

Ambulances waiting for overdose patients on Hastings Street

Ambulances waiting hopefully for overdose patients on Hastings Street

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A new drug crisis and old memories

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog about dodgy Black Friday discounts at UK department store chain Debenhams.

It triggered a response from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She lives in Vancouver.

She wrote:


Anna Smith in Toronto

Anna was too young and not crazy enough then

You should come to Canada and get a Shoppers Drug Mart (chemist shop) card. You get to accumulate points each time you shop, which can eventually be redeemed for discounts. There are special days when you get double or triple the points, called Redemption Days!

They also hold monthly Seniors’ Days, when seniors get everything for 20% off plus free coffee and the chance to socialise with other seniors picking up their medications. You only have to be 55 years old to be a senior.

Not on the infamous Downtown Eastside, though, where I go to music class, shop, but have never lived or worked.

CBC News reports the problem

CBC News reports the problem

On the Downtown Eastside, you get to be a senior when you are 40 years old because the life expectancy there is only about 45. They might have to lower the age even further because of the fentanyl crisis.

600 people have died from overdoses in Vancouver this year and pop-up supervised injection tents have opened in the alleyways downtown. They don’t have a discount card for those but you get free Narcan (antidote) if you overdose. Emergency services have been very busy, sometimes reviving the same person three times a week or more.

The latest drug to hit the scene there is the elephant tranquilizer carfentanyl.

Accident in Vancouver

After a woman had just driven her scooter into a flat bed lorry

I recently saw an unusual road accident on the Downtown Eastside when I stepped off the bus on the way to my music class.

A woman had driven her scooter into a flat bed lorry (or whatever you call them there). I took a photo just after the woman had been lifted into an ambulance. She was alert, talkative and appeared to be uninjured, even though it seemed she had been dragged along on her scooter some distance by the truck.  Maybe she used to work in rodeo.

The junction of Main and Hastings in Vancouver

Main and Hastings is now ground zero for dugs in Vancouver

Main and Hastings is ‘ground zero’ for drug addiction in Vancouver. There is a lot of sales activity (of drugs and everything else) outside The Carnegie Center (community center) where I take my music class.

It is a bit annoying to use the toilets inside because so many addicts are inside and drug addicts have a different perspective of time. Sometimes they shout from inside the stall: “I won’t be long! I’ll be done in fifteen minutes!”

The Old Continental Hotel in Vancouver

The Old Continental Hotel in Vancouver in 2000 – demolished

One time, about 20 ago, I had nowhere to live so I went to a large hotel called The Old Continental at the north end of the Granville Bridge. The building was locked but then I saw a man, one of the residents, just leaving.

“Are there any rooms for rent in there?” I asked him.

“There are,” he told me, “but if you want to live here you have to be over 45 or crazy“.

So I was too young and not crazy enough to get a room… then.

Now the Old Continental has been demolished. Everything changes.

In 1974, ‘women’s music’ or ‘wimmin’s music’ had not yet been invented, so young lesbians had to dance to Herman’s Hermits and Bob Marley (mainly No Woman No Cry).

More on this in a later blog HERE.

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Chris Dangerfield, political correctness in comedy and recurring fishnet tights

Fishnet stockings (not tights)

Fishnet stockings – not tights. (Photograph by RJFerret)

Chris Dangerfield in Dean Street, Soho

Chris with shopping bag in Soho

When I met performer Chris Dangerfield in London’s Soho last week, he wanted to talk about how political correctness has gone mad and I wanted to talk about fishnet tights.

“I thought you were leaving the country,” I said.

“I did plan to go travelling for a couple of years,” he told me, “maybe forever. But my problem, John, is connection and going travelling is almost giving up connecting with people and having nothing permanent. I would just be a wanderer and get old and end up one of those blokes on a beach in Thailand with no hair.”

“That seems to be what I’ve done,” I said, “except for the beach.”

“This is the concern,” Chris said, “ending up like you. But business is going so well that, if I commit to work for the next couple of years, I’ll probably be able to retire well.

“This,” I asked, “is your lock-picking business?”

“Yeah. I just got a warehouse in America and we’re thinking of maybe doing something in Hong Kong. But what I wanna talk to you about is Gazza and his joke.”

We then talked about various subjects.

“I can’t post that,” I said. “It is not going to read well in print. It will make you look bad.”

“What?” asked Chris. “As in ‘bad’ not interesting or ‘bad’ meaning I look like a cunt?

“Yes,” I said. “I…”

Glasgow Police being uncharacteristically sensitive on Twitter

Glasgow Police being uncharacteristically sensitive on Twitter

“I don’t care,” he told me. “Put it all in. I’m done with caring about all that bullshit. The Glasgow police have got a Twitter account and they Tweeted – This is 100% true – They Tweeted We may pay you a visit if you Tweet anything illegal – that’s fair enough – unnecessary and unkind. The police Tweeted this! We may pay you a visit if you Tweet anything unnecessary and unkind. This is actually happening! It’s absurd!

“The Canadian comedian Mike Ward made a joke about some spastic kid and was fined $42,000. It’s bullshit. What is happening not just to comedy but to the world?… How was the Edinburgh Fringe this year? You’ve watched it go downhill for the last 16 years. Be honest now. It’s shit, isn’t it?”

“I don’t really see that much difference,” I replied. “You were supposed to be coming up for a few days this year. I was looking forward to that.”

“I thought about visiting for a few days,” Chris explained, “but I’ve just got too much work on. Hardeep sorted out a room for me with another friend, but her Facebook had fishnets and I thought: Oh shit!

“Fishnets?” I asked.

“Not Hardeep. His friend. I thought: I’ll be sitting in a room working and then only going out for a couple of hours. So I didn’t get up there. I’m thinking of doing a show next year.”

“Fishnet tights?” I asked.

“No, stockings,” Chris replied. “Stockings. No-one wears tights any more in my bedroom. I can’t be doing with them. They remind me of my mother. I would find my mum’s tights with her knickers rolled up in them at the bottom of the stairs. Eugh! Dark tan. Not black, not white, not pink, nothing sexy. But, nonetheless, if a woman arrives in my bed with tights on, they have to be removed. That’s a game changer as much as no hair on a woman.

“Where were we? My Edinburgh show maybe next year. I’ve been quite outspoken about the political correctness movement that is gaining so much power at the moment and I’ve lost a lot of friends through that. And some of them were my media contacts that I’d spent eight years building up. And they’ve become arsehole virtue social justice warriors. Really. A lot of them have gone. All just disappeared from my Contacts list.”

“So will you do a show next year?” I asked.

Rare sight - shy Copstick - at Mama Biashara

Kate Copstick might be involved with Chris

Copstick said to me: For fuck’s sake do a show up here – which was very nice of her. I said: If I do, I’ll need your help and she said something along the lines of Alright. You interrupted her on the Grouchy Club Podcast. She was about to market me as part of the… But you interrupted, mumbling something about biscuits…”

“Well,” I said, “that’s my role.””

“Let’s get back,” Chris insisted, “to political correctness being poison.”

“Net stockings?” I tried.

“I think this is going to snowball,” Chris persisted. “People are taken to court for really shitty jokes that are not racist, that are not harassment. It’s happening. There are lots of examples. There’s Guy Earle in Canada. A load of people heckled him. They introduced themselves into his show. They were the vampires at his door. He welcomed them in. He shouted back at them and they took him to court and won. This is madness.

“When I read the Top Ten Jokes in Edinburgh, they are lollystick jokes aren’t they? They are good for families. But that’s nothing to do with me. And that’s alright. I don’t expect it to all be about me. Far from it. But that’s what gets the Awards. Lollystick acts. The awards have the odd inoculation – a small amount of acknowledged evil that will make them feel better. It works like an inoculation. They take on a few people who are a bit risky to protect themselves against the generalised evil and generalised subversion.”

“You realise,” I asked, “that this blog is going to have nothing in it about political correctness – just fishnet tights?”

“Stockings!” said Chris. “The other thing, of course, is I’ve just finished writing a novel. The story is there. But it’s not long enough and it needs a lot of work on it.”

“That’” I told him, “is what women constantly say to me.”

“It needs as much editing as you do,” said Chris, “which is a helluva lot. At the moment it’s 58,000 words; I’m aiming for around 75,000. The book is the story of a man who goes to Thailand to get clean (of drugs) and gets a lot less than he bargained for.”

Chris Dangerfield in Thailand yesterday morning

Chris Dangerfield had some laughs  in Thailand

“Does he,” I asked, “try to kick his heroin addiction in a brothel?”

“Yes.”

“That always seemed a very bad idea,” I told Chris. “Doing it for real.”

Chris told me: “I set out to write it thinking it was about a man getting clean in a brothel. But it isn’t. It’s about childhood, nostalgia and connection. When you set out… When you define your enclosure and say It’s about this and contrive something, it doesn’t work. It’s not creative.”

“So,” I asked, “it has ended up being about the man and how he got to be who he is?”

“Yeah. To an extent. Or how he didn’t become what he should be. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done. It would be really nice if I got it published before next August and I would do a reading (at the Edinburgh Fringe). Then I can present it as fiction and avoid a lot of trouble.”

“How can you present it as fiction?” I asked.

“Well,” said Chris, “I mean, some of it’s fictional; it just has to be.”

“The more unbelievable something seems,” I suggested, “very often the more true it is. You have to tone down reality to make it believable.”

Coming soon – the last ever performance of his 2012 show

Chris had to downplay the actual reality to make it believable

“Absolutely,” said Chris. “That’s what happened with (Edinburgh Fringe show) Sex Tourist. I had to play it down. That was totally insane. I bought a gun. They’re plastic.

“When I finally came out of that methamphetamine binge, I took the gun back to the shop and said: Mate, I’m done with the gun. I really don’t need it.

“And he was all No, no, no. You can take it back to England and he took it all to pieces and said I’ll send it back to you in parts. I asked What do I do for bullets? and he said I can send you them as well.”

“Not plastic bullets?” I asked.

“No. Do you know blank keys are made out of spent bullet shells? They use a lot of bullets in practising and they collect them all, melt them all down and make keys in America.”

“Have you written a novel before?” I asked.

“I had one vanity publishing thing in my early 20s – Tired etc. It done quite well, got some good reviews, was in i-D, Loaded.”

“What’s the new one called?”

“A friend suggested Last Exit To Patong… You know, John, I don’t think you’re going to have a coherent blog here.”

“It’s never worried me before.”

“What? When I was smoking crack in Brown’s? Do you remember? I had to run to the chemist. I read that blog back and thought: Who is this? I was reading it, really excited, wondering: Oh shit! What happens next? And it was me.

“Tights,” I said.

“They’re horrible things,” Chris replied.

“Fishnet tights?” I asked.

“There’s nothing wrong with them. There’s nothing wrong with anything. Nothing’s good; nothing’s bad. But I have a relationship with them that I don’t want to re-live with a sexual partner… Look, when I’m coming down my stairs as a toddler on my hands and knees, at the bottom, I end up with my face in my mum’s gusset. That’s a phrase I never wanted to say. I can’t stand them. They’re a proper party-killer. Tight round the waist, gonna leave a mark and there’s a thread and a seam that goes round the fanny.”

“You know,” I said, “when you realise you shouldn’t have said something?”

“No,” said Chris. “No, I haven’t got to that stage yet.”

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Filed under Bad taste, Comedy, Drugs, political correctness, Sex

This week in Vancouver, the thief and the man with over-boiled eggs for eyes

Another day, another missive from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She writes:


Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna Smith had a half hour appointment with her pharmacist

I had a half hour appointment with my pharmacist today. She writes articles and wins awards and has me speak one-on-one to her foreign students, to get them grounded in reality.

I will walk in there and she will herd a student into her office, saying: “Monica, this is Anna. Go into the office and talk to her.”

Then the student will practise on me, asking if I know the side effects of the drugs and I tell them wild stories about my life in a friendly way so that, in future, they are not too shocked when they have to deal with comedians or mentally ill people or strippers…


Anna also told me about two encounters in Vancouver this week.


On the Main Street bus. I got in through the back door and, towards the front of the bus, I found a seat. A scavenger man and I silently fought for space.

I moved my new shopping buggy to make room for him. He had a larger wire cart, with filthy orange coloured paint peeling off in chips and odd dirty bits of stuff attached to it. He glared at me a bit and settled in. Then he gave a growl of recognition.

“Hey, Mike!”

Another grimy old man, seemingly assembled from globs of grey fabric, lifted his skinny head. His eyes looked like shiny, over-boiled eggs.

“Wher ‘ev ya been? In jail again?”

“Hospital.”

“Did you find a place to stay yet?”

“Percy House, down Cordova.”

“That’s a good place. Lucky you got in there. You heading there now,then?”

“Rrrrrgh…”

“Well, if they kick you out, you can always go stay with your wife. She would have to take you! Hahahahaha…”

“Rrrrghargh… Hah!”

“Well, I’m off to buy my dope now. Two hundred dollars a week.”

I got off the bus at Main and Hastings and slipped through the usual crowds. A big  woman was hawking cigarettes right at the corner.

After my music class, I waited for the bus downtown. A native guy with a gleaming face, his hair in a long ponytail, stopped his bicycle right in front of me. He had a small turquoise teardrop tattoo under one eye.

“Hello,” he said to me.

“Hello.”

“I’m a thief.”

“Really? What do you steal?”

“Cheese.”

“Good,” I told him. “When I can, I buy stolen Parmesan Reggio outside the Pennsylvania Hotel.”

“I make $180 by noon every day,” said the man. “I sell mild, medium and extra strong. Can I meet you sometime? Where do you hang out?”

“I take a music class at the Carnegie Centre,” I told him. “For women,” I added. “You should come see one of our shows. It’s called Women Rock.”

“I’m just on my way to buy some now,” said the man.

“Women?”

“Rock,” he said. “I’m a bit drunk.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “Here comes my bus.”

And he was gone.

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Promoter Adam Taffler: a man with some seriously alternative ambitions

Adam Taffler in London last week

Adam Taffler: man of many bright ideas

So, last week, I met up with admirably creative promoter and entrepreneur Adam Taffler. His company Adamotions has, in the past, been involved in creating Comedy in Cemeteries, Red Bastard masterclasses and Shhh Dating (speed dating without speaking).

“I went on an Enlightenment Intensive,” he told me.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You sit opposite someone for three days and they say Tell me who you are? and you speak for five minutes, then they ring a bell and you switch over.”

“How does that last three days?” I asked.

“You do eight sessions of 5 minutes, then you have a little break, then another eight 5-minute sessions and then maybe have a little walk. You don’t talk outside of this thing. Some people pop and have an enlightenment experience, where they experience themselves and the world as unity. But, even if you don’t get that, you travel somewhere quite interesting because you are asking this question: What is the truest thing I can say about myself right now? 

“By the end, after three days, even if you don’t have an enlightenment experience, things feel really weird. I walked into the kitchen and felt like I was coming down off acid. The bench was wobbling. It was a good thing they weren’t serving pizza.”

“Where was this happening?” I asked.

“At a Retreat Centre in Devon.”

“Strange things happen in Devon,” I observed.

“It’s great out there,” said Adam.

“Are you going to start promoting these things yourself?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. But I am doing some dinosaur bone-making workshops next week.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because I met a guy in Amsterdam.”

“Why does Amsterdam not surprise me as a location?” I asked.

“I went there to look at property with him,” Adam continued. “I was looking for somewhere to open a hot tub venture, because I did a hot tub venture in London last year. It was fantastic. Just a pop-up. It needs a home.”

“What was the point of the hot tub venture?” I asked.

Hot tubs held their attraction for Adam Taffler

Adam’s hot tubs last year were a hot ticket near the swans

“To give people an experience of… Well… actually, I started it as a restaurant and called it The Supper Tub. The idea was you sit in a hot tub and get delicious food. But the thing is people don’t really want to eat in a hot tub.

“What they want want to do is drink. So I set up this deck in Hackney Wick, by the canal. You sit there, music playing, swans and ducks swimming by and the waiter is bringing you cocktails. It was really lovely. I did it for six months. But it needed more of a home. So I went over to Amsterdam. It’s a really happening city. The whole north of Amsterdam is opening up like Hackney opened up ten years ago.”

“I wouldn’t,” I said, “think Amsterdam could open up any more. When I lived there briefly in the mid-1990s, everything was going on. There was hardcore sex, gun-running, hard drugs, drug-smuggling, diamond smuggling, everything you can imagine but it was basically a dull city. It was bankers and businessmen living in suburbia. And I was living off Haarlemmerstraat, near the middle of town.”

“That’s the thing,” said Adam. “You legalise everything and people just relax with it.”

“But you couldn’t find a hot tub location there?” I asked.

“No. So I asked the guy I was with: What else do you do? And he said: I make dinosaur bones.”

The skeleton of an idea: dinosaur bone making workshops

The skeleton of an idea: dinosaur bone making workshops

“Is there much demand,” I asked, “for artificial dinosaur bones?”

“More than you would think,” replied Adam. “He builds them for museums and stuff.”

“Are you telling me museums have fake dinosaur bones in them?”

“Some of them. But really he does workshops where kids can come along and build a whole velociraptor skeleton. That was the thing I was most inspired by.”

“What,” I asked, “do you do with a velociraptor skeleton once you’ve built it?”

“You can leave it there. Or the kids can take their bones home. Kids like to make stuff like that. Together, it looks pretty cool.”

“I imagine so,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Adam. “We are going to do some dino-skulls with adults. I’m just going to try it out. We’re going to have music with it.”

“You surely,” I asked, “have to take acid for this to work at its best?”

“Probably,” laughed Adam. “And then become one with the dinosaur. Have the Unity Experience and start stalking the bars of North London.”

“What have you really got me here to plug?” I asked.

Clowning in Nature with Dr Brown.”

“Where is it this year?”

“We’re going to Wales and doing nine days with him just outside Cardiff. He always wants to do longer and deeper. Ooh-err. That’s your type of sentence, isn’t it? We’ve got some pretty cool guest teachers lined up as well, but I can’t mention them yet. We’re doing a puppetry one as well with Iestyn Evans. He’s done stuff for CBeebies and Star Wars.

A previous Clowning In Nature group

Out of Clowning in Nature cometh Puppetry in Nature

Puppetry in Nature?”

“Yeah. Within Arts, you get an established orthodoxy about how you do things and the inspiration which took people to arrive at that orthodoxy is really good. That’s a really interesting place. But the place of orthodoxy can be quite staid.

“So the idea of Clowning in Nature and Puppetry in Nature is that we wanna take people into that space and discover something new. We want to see where the inspiration is coming from. We are not just teaching people This is how you do A, B, and C – We are opening up to new inspiration.”

“How long is Puppetry in Nature?” I asked.

“It’s a 7-day thing.”

“Does Puppetry in Nature not face a problem of wetness?” I asked. “Isn’t puppetry outside in the Welsh weather doomed to sogginess?”

Puppetry in The Lake is the really wet bit,” Adam replied. “We do a lot of stuff inside; we just do a few things outside. We have amazing farmhouses and yurts and saunas and food.”

“We love a good yurt,” I said.

“Would you like to live in a yurt?” Adam asked me. “How big is your garden?”

“Definitely yurt-sized,” I told him.

A yurt in Mongolia, not my back garden

I do love a yurt: this one is in Mongolia, not my back garden

“John,” Adam told me, “I am taking my hot tubs to some festivals this summer. You can come and we will put you up in a yurt. We will revere you as a god and you can have a whole hot tub to yourself. You can be yourself: just tell people some bad jokes every now and then.”

“When is this happening?” I asked.

“June. July. There is a great one called Wildfire. It’s an analogue festival – you have to give your phone in at the door.”

“I can’t do that,” I said. “I would need therapy. But yurts are always good news.”

“When I sold my first business,” said Adam, “a health food business called Of The Earth – I took a break and I joined the Nomadic Academy for Fools with Jonathan Kay and, after a year of that, I decided what I wanted to do was, with a couple of friends, buy a barge in the middle of the Thames, moored opposite the Houses of Parliament – a big lighter barge about 60 feet long, maybe 16 feet wide.

“We wanted to convert it into a home and venue and maybe, to be honest, a super-cool shag-pad. We did plans and the peak of it was probably in November 2010 or 2011 – we called it The November Project.

“I managed to get a yurt and loaded it on a dinghy and stuck it on the barge. I had twelve people from around the country – thinkers and improvisers – and we did foolish improvisations to work out what the boat was going to look like and how we were going to fund it and it was one of the most brilliant and wild things I’ve done – just having a yurt in the water so close to Parliament was just wonderful.”

“Did they not,” I asked, “object to alternative-thinking people being that close to Parliament in a floating yurt?”

“I think they were fine with it,” Adam told me. “But there were some dynamic issues between people which meant it didn’t really work. There is one guy who is still trying to do it.”

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh in 2011

Adam Taffler, juggling spaghetti for me at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, in 2011

“Have you performed yourself recently?” I asked.

“There was a character called Colonel Shirley Bickerstaff – a trans-gender geriatric colonel. I was really inspired by Nina Conti – the ventriloquism. I decided he would have a vagina in a box and would come out and sing this very beautiful song about falling in love with the vagina in the box. It was a love song. I did a few shows. It was pretty good. That’s it, really.”

And it was.

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Will – formerly Sarah, formerly Will – Franken on drugs and shooting himself

Will Franken outside King’s cross station

Will Franken outside King’s Cross… via the British Library

When I met American comic Will Franken at London’s King’s Cross station, he had come direct from the British Library where he had been reading original Elizabethan manuscripts. But his new passion is Sir Walter Scott.

“I’m reading the Waverley novels chronologically,” he told me.

“In order of publication?” I asked.

“In order of historical setting. His dialogue is wonderful. I always read them out loud. Even if I’m on a tube train, I’ll whisper softly to myself. It creates an oral-aural link. It comes out of your mouth, goes back to your ear and tricks you into thinking you wrote it, so brings it to life more. I’m going to mention that on the course.”

In a couple of weekends, on Sunday 21st February, Will is tutoring a 4-hour workshop for comedians: I’ll Be Your Mirror: Using the Layering Craft of Mimicry to Enhance Linear Stand-Up.

Last month, he ran one called: From The Classics To The Clubs: Bringing The Rebellion Of Satire Back To Comedy.

“Why are you doing these workshops?” I asked. “A desperate need for money?”

“Nah. I really enjoyed teaching, you know? It was years since I’d done it. I used to do a lot of teaching. We did a brief mimicry exercise in the Satire workshop, but I really want to flesh it out with a new four hours devoted to faces, voices, accents – telling people how to start big and scale backwards, when to go cartoonish, when to do nuance instead of cartoonish. Dialogue’s another important thing. A gruff voice and a sweet little voice and you can get a comic effect out of the juxtaposition of the two.

“I want to teach people how to take what I consider very dry, linear stand-up routines where it’s just set-up, set-up, punchline… and use what I call the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. If the audience is not going to laugh at the concept, they may laugh at the joke. If they don’t laugh at the joke, they may laugh at the face. If they don’t laugh at the face, they may laugh at the voice. Or they may laugh at all of them.”

“Are you hanging up your dress forever?” I asked.

Sarah Franken - “There was feeling like I was a poster child for transgenderism"

Sarah Franken, now hanging up her dress and wig

For six months last year, Will performed as Sarah Franken, in a dress and wig.

“Yes,” he replied. “Well, I haven’t got rid of the clothes. They’re still in my room.”

“The wig?” I asked.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t use that again. It’s all matted.”

“If you got a rocking chair,” I suggested, “you could perform the end of Psycho.

“I appreciate you treating this with such reverence,” Will told me.

“Have you seen The Danish Girl?” I asked. “Eddie Redmayne as a woman.”

“I wouldn’t see it,” Will replied. “It reeks of trying to get an Oscar.”

“He might get another one this year,” I said. “From cripple in The Theory of Everything to woman in The Danish Girl. That sounds Oscar-worthy. That could be the title of your autobiography: From Cripple to Woman. Have you ever been a cripple?”

“No. I’ve never broken anything. Not a single bone.”

“It might be worth breaking a bone just to get publicity,” I suggested.

“No. I hate pain. Though I shot myself in the toe with an air rifle one time.”

“Why?”

“To get attention. It didn’t work. I wanted pity. I think I was 11 years old.”

“What was the reaction?”

“I don’t know if I even told anybody. It hurt really bad. It really, really hurt and…”

“You say you think you may not have told anyone about it?” I asked.

“In my family,” explained Will, “if you’re not actually bleeding with a slit throat, nobody really gives a shit.”

“But you were bleeding with a hole in your toe,” I said.

Will Franken

“If you’re not bleeding with a slit throat, nobody gives a shit”

“No. There was no blood. It was a big purple bruise. I was barefoot. It was the summer. It was an air rifle. It was a bruise.”

“You missed,” I suggested, “the key to getting sympathy by not telling anyone.”

“I think I might have told my mom, but my mom was one of those people you could never tell anything bad to. I don’t want to hear anything bad! I just want to hear about good things! I think I might have told her: I shot myself in the toe. And she might have said: Well, that’s kinda silly.

“She might have a point.”

“She’s a great study in repression, my mother.”

“What did she tell you when you were a kid?”

“She used to tell me: Make sure you never drink, because your dad’s an alcoholic and you could end up like him. So, when I was 14, I couldn’t wait to drink, because I thought: Wow! I will get to be abusive to people and everybody will feel sorry for me cos I have a disease! Same thing when weed went around.”

“The only drugs I was ever attracted to,” I said, “were heroin and acid.”

“I was never attracted to heroin,” said Will, “though, when I was a kid, I saw the Sid & Nancy movie and I kinda liked the pity. It’s like that David Bowie line: It was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor. There’s something theatrical about it, you know?”

“What attracted me to LSD,” I said, “was the expansion of the mind, but what attracted me to heroin was the downer effect, not the upper.”

“I was a big fan of LSD,” said Will. “There was no future where I came from in the Midwest – Missouri – so you might as well drop acid. I did lots of LSD and peyote and…”

“Peyote?” I asked.

“That was a brilliant experience,” said Will.

“What is the difference in the experience,” I asked, “between peyote and LSD?”

Peyote cacti in the wild

Peyote cacti add that little something extra to a cup of coffee

“Well,” Will told me, “the LSD I took was blotter acid, so there was a lot of speed and strychnine in it. I think the peyote was much more vivid. Little cacti buttons; we put them in coffee.

“About four hours into the trip, at its climax, you vomit. That was actually the highlight. It felt so pure. Just opening your mouth and feeling it fall out but not feeling like vomit usually feels. It was like a great emptying and I had an actual out-of-body experience. I think I was 17 or 16 at the time.

“I was with some friends and not all of us were on it. We were all looking at some weird art book. I was there and I was also in the corner of the ceiling, looking down at me looking at the book with everybody else. A complete schism. But I couldn’t do peyote now even if I wanted to.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m an alcoholic and, if I had a trip, I would come out of the trip thinking: Hey! It would be nice to have some weed! Then, if there’s no weed around, I’d think: Well, I might as well get drunk because I can’t stand just naked emotions.”

“But you got wholeheartedly into the drugs,” I said.

”I’m one of those people who likes to get heavily into a lot of things. I was a woman for six months. For a year in 2009, I was a Catholic, but then I sobered up..”

“I was never interested in getting drunk,” I said. “I never wanted to drink to get drunk, which is what people do in Britain.”

“Did you ever drink AT somebody?” Will asked me. “I do that all the time. You think: Fuck her! and then you drink AT her.”

“No,” I told him, “I never did.”

Will Franken

“On some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind…”

“For me,” Will explained, “weed really freed-up some inhibitions. My iTunes are filled-up with recordings from way back when I was 14.

“I was into 4-track recording when I was a kid. I think one of the reasons I perform in the style I do is I learned how to speed up a pitch and slow it down and do three voices simultaneously when having a conversation.”

“So you have recordings of yourself on drugs as a kid?” I asked.

“Yeah. on some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind. And some of it’s really, really good.”

“There’s gold on those tapes,” I said. “Comedy, narrative and autobiographical gold… Is it OK to quote all this drug stuff?”

“Oh, I’m totally cool about it,” said Will. “All the trans activists who hate me for becoming Will again may go Hey! You know, I was disappointed when he stopped being Sarah and went back to being a man, but he does drugs! … You never know what people are going to like or dislike.”

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The Grouchy Club Podcast: “The Clintons are pure evil. Pure evil.”

With Kate Copstick away in Kenya, I talked to Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner today for the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. We talked about Jeremy Corbyn, capitalism, socialism, drugs, free comedy shows, Ireland, the BBC and much more, including the upcoming US election.

Among other things, Noel said:

“The electronic age is destroying us… America is a Third World country… How come there are very few right wing comics?”  

Here is a brief extract from elsewhere in the podcast:


Noel Faulkner after recording The Grouchy Club Podcast at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

Noel Faulkner, after recording The Grouchy Club Podcast at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

JOHN
Hilary Clinton’s going to win, isn’t she?

NOEL
The Clintons are pure evil. Pure evil.

JOHN
Bill?

NOEL
Oh yes. I don’t mind where he puts his cigars. He doesn’t use ashtrays. I don’t mind that.

JOHN
You were one of the ten most wanted men in America, weren’t you? Was that under Clinton?

NOEL
I was on the FBI’s most wanted list, but more than ten. That was because of my association with undesirables. So I was put on the list.

JOHN
Who was president?

NOEL
Ermm.. 1980s?

JOHN
Probably Reagan, was it?

NOEL
Yeah, Reagan, because I remember all the drug dealers used to vote for Reagan, because they knew he’d never legalise drugs.

JOHN
Really?

NOEL
Yeah. they had bumper stickers on their cars: VOTE FOR REAGAN. People would think they were Rednecks. They were going: Well, we don’t want drugs legalised, otherwise we’ll be out of a job… I have to say the drugs were (only) marijuana…

JOHN
Not proper drugs.

NOEL
… which is now legal (in parts of the US).

JOHN
You should go back to America. You’d make a fortune.

NOEL
No. It’s a police state. I do not want to be back in America. I do not want to be some MOFO accident as I’m stepping out of the car – Assume the position. Put your hands… BANG! and you’re dead. Aw! It was an accident!

JOHN
I suddenly thought… There’s an irony here, isn’t there? Are you allowed back in the US?

NOEL
No.

JOHN
And you’re not allowed back in America because of drugs…

NOEL
I’ve been deported twice.

JOHN
… but drugs are legal (in some states). So, if you wanted to go back to America to deal drugs in a legal way, you can’t do because, in the past, you’ve dealt drugs. That’s a bit ironic. the Americans don’t understand irony.

NOEL
It’s a bit like being a Catholic. It used to be a sin to have a wank or to murder somebody: it’s the same sin. That’s a bit much, isn’t it? It was. It was a sin to murder somebody and it was a sin to have a wank. Now the Pope, the other day, said: Oh! It’s all OK! You don’t even have to believe in God as long as you’re a good person. We’ve been trying to tell the fucker that for the last fucking forty years.

JOHN
I don’t think he said you’re allowed to murder people, did he?

NOEL
No. But I think wanking’s OK now… I hope so.

JOHN
Murdering all the little unborn children?

NOEL
Yes, yes.

JOHN
Oh! I see what you mean! That sort of murder. Not actually going round shooting people randomly in a supermarkets.

NOEL
Nah.


You can listen to the full podcast HERE.

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