Tag Archives: eccentricity

Remembrance of blogs past – More penis hammering and political nudity

A week ago, I posted a blog in which comic Louise Reay remembered an early gig in which a member of the audience got up and asked: “If I hammer a nail into my penis, can I get free entry to this club night for the rest of the year?” He was told: “Yeah! Sure!” So he hammered a nail into his penis – twice.

Comedian Erich McElroy now tells me: “I was there that night of the nailing – I was actually the act after the first attempt at nailing. The irony is that he did it to get free tickets, but it was a free entry show.”

A couple of days ago, I included in my blog a YouTube clip of comedian Malcolm Hardee standing in the 1992 UK General Election.

On Facebook, Mike Croft posted:

“I remember this day well because Malcolm suckered me into signing his candidacy application which made me his seconder/guarantor. I was a DJ at his club at the time. I glibly signed in the Up The Creek (comedy club) office and thought nothing further about it until election night when, as guarantor, I was expected to attend Woolwich Town Hall and oversee the vote count.

“I thought it would take half an hour or so but it took ALL BLOODY NIGHT! It didn’t help that I was a little (ahem) chemically altered and I was horrified realising that my role was seen as rather serious (and I was off my thruppennies).

“What this clip does not show is the frantic couple of minutes before the cameras went live to the nation for the count, when Jane (Malcolm’s wife) spotted that he had stripped naked and was lurking in the wings to take his butt nekkid place on the grand staircase of the Town Hall as the nation watched. We wrestled him to the ground and into his clothes JUST in time.”

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“One of the men tried to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener”

After yesterday’s blog, in which Louise Reay told the true story of a man banging a nail into his penis – as is the way when I have no time to write a considered and/or transcribed blog – today we have a hodge podge of glimpses into human life in 2015.

  • World Naked Gardening Day

    If you cultivate roses, you should always beware of little pricks

    On Facebook, comedy fan Sandra Smith informed me that today is the 10th annual World Naked Gardening Day. According to NBC’s Today programme in the US, the event “celebrates weeding, planting flowers and trimming hedges” naked. The event’s own website suggests: “freehikers can pull invasive weeds along their favorite stretch of trail. More daring groups can make rapid clothes-free sorties into public parks to do community-friendly stealth cleanups.”

  • Yesterday, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge Claire Smith told me that, at the Brighton Fringe, feisty 81-year-old Californian cabaret act and comic Lynn Ruth Miller has a new double act going with the owner of a fish and chip shop in Brighton. – “He supplies the fish and chips, she supplies the customers with wit and repartee. She is also holding an exhibition of her paintings in the chip shop.”
Anna Smith - Bobby The Duck

Bobby The Duck  + bandaged foot

  • From Vancouver, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith e-mailed me with her news: “Today I saw Bobby the Duck (previously mentioned in this blog back in October last year) and he has a sore webbed foot. Meanwhile, the fraud trial of Mike Duffy has started. He is a senator accused of crimes like spending too much public money on makeup. And Conni Smudge is hosting a weekly gay bingo night at Celebrities night club on Davie Street. Conni’s full name is Convenient Smudge and she seems to have a preference for blue balls. We have also been warned that planes are going to be spraying us with insecticide this morning.
  • Meanwhile, in London last night, I went to see a run-through of Charmian Hughes’ new show – When Comedy Was Alternative (The Laughs and Loves of a She-Comic) – which, in its present form, is a smörgåsbord of previously untold comic tales of Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel Club, Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky, Arthur Smith, Sean Hughes and the Glastonbury Festival.
  • At Charmian’s read-through, I chatted to comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly. He told me that, at a recent South Coast gig, he had seven copies of his most recent book of poetry stolen. Neither of us could figure out if this was a bad or (in publicity terms) a good thing.
  • “Sandra

    Sandra Smith (right) on QE2 ocean liner about 45 years ago

    Then, this morning, back home in Borehamwood, I got another e-mail from comedy fan and this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith about her days working on cruise ships. She told me: “I used to work in the dining room with a waiter called Billy. One morning, towards the end of service, he asked me to give him the very heavy silver coffee pot that I was holding. I watched him pour out the coffee, then saunter across the dining room to where the Assistant Head Waiter was having breakfast. Billy hit him around the head with the coffee pot several times, until he fell forward unconscious. Billy then came back to where I was standing transfixed and said: Sorry if I scared you, Sandy, but he’s been on my back. Within moments, several Masters at Arms appeared and Billy picked up a knife, but he was eventually overpowered and taken away. I never saw him again. On another occasion, two men were in competition for the attentions of a third. So one of the men tried to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener.

And this is the final version

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In L.A., The Dirty Girls plan a Funny Farty Yoga Party without Mr Methane

Mr Methane performs Frozen

Mr Methane performs Let It Go as a service to all the parents

Don’t ask.

I have had no time to write a blog today and I won’t before midnight.

Don’t ask.

So what follows is what happens when I don’t have time to write a blog before midnight.

Yesterday, I forwarded to my chum Mr Methane (the world’s only professional performing farteur) a piece which says that new research by the University of Exeter suggests smelling farts may be good for your health and may, indeed, prevent cancer. The study, published in the Medicinal Chemistry Communications journal, found that the hydrogen sulphide gas in rotten eggs and flatulence could be a key factor in treating diseases.

Dr Mark Wood was quoted as saying that, while hydrogen sulphide gas is harmful in large doses, this new study suggests that “a whiff here and there has the power to reduce risks of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, arthritis and dementia by preserving mitochondria.”

Mr Methane, a man with a high threshold of “nothing much happening here”, replied to my missive thus:

“Hope you are well. Nothing much happening here. I did a rendition of Let It Go from Frozen which has gone down really well on my Facebook page, I must have struck a chord with all the parents out there who are sick of it. It is quite an epic performance and includes some of the most powerful farts I have ever delivered.”

He then added, intriguingly: “I have had an invitation from The Dirty Girls to join them in Venice Beach, California, for some Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday 15th March. I think they possibly think I am another eccentric Brit living in Beverly Hills just down the road from Simon Cowell or Robbie Williams, as that is where all the eccentric showbusiness Brits live, it being the entertainment capital of the world as opposed to Macclesfield.”

The Dirty Girls’ website

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles – reaching out to Mr Methane

The Dirty Girls’ invitation to Mr Methane read:

“We are creating a funny, laughter-filled yoga event in order to introduce yoga to skeptics and to the Los Angeles Girls’ Club. We would love to have some farts performed during the yoga session. Is there any way to partner with you for our event?”

Mr Methane’s reaction to me was: “I think the Funny Farty Yoga Party will have to blow into Venice Beach without me, which is a shame really as I imagined myself starting a new farting fitness based career like that American Leo Sayer lookalike who was always on Jay Leno doing his OTT fitness routines. I can’t remember his name but he was in a few movies as well: Beverley Hill Cop I think.”

As a result of reading this I, of course, got in touch with ‘Amber’ in Los Angeles, who is helping to organise the Funny Farty Yoga Party. She sent me a press release:

“Dirty Girls Project is a new media platform devoted to the promotion of empowered, badass women of all ages. We create original content, synergistic partnerships and produce collaborations (both digital and physical) around topics such as art, adventure, fashion, entrepreneurship – the bad, the rad and the weird.”

Brussels Sprouts High Five

Brussels Sprouts High Five live!

Of the Funny Farty Yoga Party, the press release says: “The purpose of our event is to create a really fun, approachable environment demystifying the elite reputation of the yoga world… Dirty Girls Project is teaming up with ambassador Courtney Barriger from Brussels Sprouts High Five… BSHF has worked with The Midnight Mission, St. Francis Center, YWCA, Free Arts for Abused Children and has run a shoe drive for Kochi India.”

No, I have no idea what a shoe drive is either.

Brussels Sprouts High Five have a Facebook page which explains: “We are a volunteer army in the city of Los Angeles,” and exhorts:  “Join us in the kitchens, the housing projects, and on the streets.”

The Funny Farty Yoga Party press release continues: “The event will kick off with a laugh therapy session to break the ice, then we move into a guided yoga session. The crowd will include a diverse group of people from all walks of life, to express that yoga is for everyone. We will have a Native American flute player during the yoga.”

I have sent Amber my Skype details.

I feel, as this all happens eleven days hence, there may be more news of the Funny Farty Yoga Party in this blog. And, indeed, more of Mr Methane. He tells me:

“I’m working on Boyzone – No Matter What – as my follow-up to Let It Go, It will be either a Fart Friday or Windy Wednesday upload sometime soon.”

The Dirty Girls’ video Jungles of Bitches is on Vimeo.

I feel I live a comparatively very humdrum life.

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William Shatner becomes matchmaker for Janey Godley’s daughter + goat foam

Sometimes, some questions are better left un-asked.

Yesterday, I saw a Tweet from William Shatner (yes, he of Star Trek fame) to his 2.04 million Twitter Followers about my chum Janey Godley’s daughter Ashley. It read: Wanted: One decent boyfriend for @ashleystorrie. Aristocrats preferred. Enquiries and credentials to: @JaneyGodley

WilliamShatner_JaneyGodley_Tweet_CUT

The thought of Janey Godley’s bloodline entering the British aristocracy has its good points and its bad points.

Yesterday evening, I had to take my eternally-un-named friend to the Accident & Emergency Unit at Lewisham Hospital. Nothing life-threatening: just a bad fall and possible rib fracture. This was bad news and good news.

No X-ray. They don’t do anything for rib fractures. Just muscle damage presumed and it takes maybe six weeks of pain before it mends itself.

There have been stories of the breakdown of the British A&E system and waiting “only” four hours to be seen if you are lucky. In fact, it only took 50 minutes to see the first medical person and 70 minutes to see the main doctor. So around two hours in all. Either we were lucky or my standards are falling. Presumably if my eternally-un-named friend’s arm had been hanging off and pouring blood, it might have been faster.

But the late A&E visit and an early-ish start today means a quick blog.

Luckily, when I got home at 2.00am last night, an unprovoked e-mail from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, was waiting for me. Here it is:


Hi John,

The Penthouse, Vancouver

Penthouse strip club,  Vancouver

This isn’t really a story, but the marquee in this picture – SOMEONE HAS GOT TO DIE – caught my attention yesterday. (Today it has gone back to normal.) The Penthouse was the best strip club in Vancouver for many years. It is now one of the only ones left. I enjoyed working at The Penthouse in the late-1970s and mid-1980s. The owner, Joe Filippone, was shot to death. There is a good book about the place by Aaron Chapman called Liquor, Lust and The Law. They sell the book at the club. I liked working there – good food, good dressing room, good stage, good money… and Italians are good to work for in that capacity. They have plenty of women around, so they don’t act like there’s a shortage.

Adam Taffler, underground entrepreneur (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

Adam, the object of Anna’s admiration… (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

I have never met Adam Taffler (whose grandfather was a strongman and who has occasionally appeared in this blog) but I can relate to him. Especially the lady lifting. I used to lift up ladies all the time when I was 17. I don’t know why. I enjoyed grabbing women around the hips or waist and lifting them a few feet off the ground. Of course I asked them first. Most of them said Yes, and they thought it was fun,. Nobody had ever done it to them before. But, until I read about Adam”s grandfather, I had no idea that I could have made a career out of it.

And the fact that Adam’s granddad was in those sea spectacles… My first job in a club involved sitting on a swing that came down from the ceiling on chains. A bouncer would lower the swing, I would get on and then he would push a button and the swing wound up, up, up. I would pretend to be tipsy and everyone would wonder if I would fall off. I like those basic things like lighting and machines and costumes. I have always had an enjoyment of that kind of stuff… fake waves, hoisting machinery, mermaid tails lying around in dressing room closets…

Anna Smith - Does Adam Taffler have any helpful hints on how to keep my mouth shut ?

Photo of a previous incarnation of our Canadian correspondent  Anna Smith Her suggested caption is: Does Adam Taffler have any helpful hints on how to keep my mouth shut? (Adam runs silent dating events)

I found a mermaid tail on the floor of  the closet of the dressing room at the Gargoyle Club in London. Nobody used the closet because the centre of the room had long rails made of plumbing pipe to hang our costumes on. There were hundreds of empty hangers dangling on the plumbing pipe rails with shreds of 1960s and 1970s costumes trailing off them. This was in the 1980s. Our costumes were more minimal of course.

Also, didn’t Adam Taffler do things with goats?

Goats are very clean and intelligent. I thought a pygmy goat would be good for sailing – so I could make foam for the espresso. It’s just a fantasy of mine. I spent my entire adult life avoiding that white powder people put into coffee because I thought it was poisonous and made out of petroleum. But, a couple of years ago, I tried it and it’s delicious. It’s like ketchup. I didn’t know what it was and it looked so bloody. I had no idea what it tasted like.

Goats are like actors. They delight in the sound of their own feet, so they would like running around the deck of a wooden boat.


I have little-to-no understanding of how Anna would extract foam from pygmy goats but, as I said at the start of this blog, sometimes, especially with Anna, some questions are better left un-asked.

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What was it like to be a finalist in the New Act of The Year Comedy Awards show last night in Bloomsbury, London?

I told comedy act Candy Gigi I was likely to go to the final at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night but, at the last minute, could not go. So this text correspondence ensued late yesterday afternoon:

Last night in London, the final of the contest

Last night in London, the final of the contest

Candy Gigi: I’m shitting it. That’s what I’m feeling now. Literally SHITTING IT. Can you tell I’m nervous? I’m gonna make a mess of every loo that I walk past today. My bowels are OK now actually. Later they’ll let rip no doubt. Anyway, out of the 550 people in the audience tonight, 549 of them are going to be my mum’s friends so, if nothing else, I know there will at least be support from people. Loud Jewish people too. The best kind of audience, really.

John: All that chicken soup. No wonder you’re on the loo.

Candy Gigi: Ha. You can put this in your blog. My mum said to me this morning as soon as I woke up: “Candy, why DO you hold a celery like it’s a baby and put it to your breast? Do people ACTUALLY find that funny? Do you HAVE to do that tonight? I don’t understand it.” – As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, now I have to think about how I can make breast-feeding celery make sense. I didn’t ask to be born.

John: I should Google for some knob gags ASAP. After the show, tell my answerphone what happened. I will get back home very very late.

Candy Gigi: My dad’s driving so I’ll do it in the car home.

John: Get your dad to shout things out while he’s driving. It may not get in the blog, but it will scare the shit out of pedestrians on zebra crossings.

Candy Gigi: He probably would do that anyway. When I was younger, I used to walk him down the road on a dog lead and he would bark and pretend to be a puppy. Welcome to my life.

John: Now THAT’s an Edinburgh Fringe show. Or a career for you in certain parts of Soho.

Candy Gigi: All true. Explains a lot, really, doesn’t it?

John: Still doesn’t explain breast-feeding the celery. But that’s probably for the best.

Candy Gigi: You’re probably right. Would it not be a fair argument if I just put it down to me not wanting the celery to wilt?

John: I think an explanation of how and why you keep a stick of celery in a non-flaccid state is probably something for an entirely different type of show. If you actually explained it in any way, of course – ironically – it would lose its point… not that there is one.

Candy Gigi: I couldn’t explain it as I don’t understand it myself. It’s like an out-of-body experience and I’m watching someone else do it.

John: You mean an out-of-body in-body experience.

Candy Gigi: Yeah. Except I don’t put it in as it isn’t circumcised and my mum would kill me. If I’m going to go for celery, it had bloody better be Jewish.

John: Kosher celery? There might be a market for that.

Candy Gigi: Celery is good for chopping, so could easily be converted. That’s why I chose celery. Out of all the vegetables, it’s the closest to marriage material.

John: The normal vegetative material for comedy is cucumber. The word is funnier than celery, though not as funny as banana.

Candy Gigi: Yeah, but cucumber is everybody’s cup of tea, whereas celery is the underdog. And I love an underdog.

John: I will take some time to find a double meaning in that. Bananas are always funny in any context.

Candy Gigi: Yeah, bananas are OK. But not as useable as celery.

This morning, I woke up to this text message:

Candy Gigi

Candy Gigi – Different. And “different is unsafe”

Candy Gigi: I’m so sorry I didn’t call your answerphone last night. I ended up getting the train home late as I needed to ‘network’ but basically I didn’t win. I think it’s because I genuinely scare the shit out of everyone, including myself. I get up there and literally lose the plot for five minutes and people don’t know what to do with that.

I’ll never be a winning act and I’ve realised that’s OK. What I do is different and different is unsafe and I like not being safe. It makes me feel safe. I can find my own little audience who know what’s going to happen when I get up there and who enjoy that.

That’s all I want. A little group of kooky people who like vegetables and unhinged women. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.

John: Now you join the ranks of those other New Act of The Year losers including Harry Hill and Eddie Izzard. It ended their careers in much the same way. They were too niche. Who has ever heard of them now?

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Vaginal knitting and seven new morals which I learnt in the last seven days

The last seven days have been a week of oddity and surrealism…

Blackfriars station proudly proclaims its modernity

Blackfriars station proudly proclaims solar power, but is cold

LAST THURSDAY

I am at the new Blackfriars station, which spans the River Thames. It cost millions and took forever to build. There are solar panels built into the roof. A large ad proudly says: The biggest solar bridge in the world. Generating up to 50% of the station’s energy.

Yet, on the side of the platforms, the glass only reaches halfway up to the roof, allowing gales to blow in over the top from the Thames on both sides at head level. It will be Arctic in midwinter.

Moral: Even people who know what they are doing do not know what they are doing.

Freedom Pass - You can come but you can’t go

Freedom Pass – You can come but, for some, you cannot go

FRIDAY

I get around. The London transport area is divided into six zones. I know two people. Both are over 60 years old. One lives in Peckham, South East London. One lives in Elstree in the north west, which is in Zone 6, within the M25 orbital motorway which encircles London.

Because he is over 60+, the person in Peckham can get a Freedom Pass which allows him free travel within London. The 60+ person in Elstree cannot get a Freedom pass because he lives in Elstree, which is in London’s Zone 6 but is postally in Hertfordshire not a London borough. So the 60+ person in Peckham can visit the person in Elstree for free. The 60+ person in Elstree has to pay £8.90 to visit the person in Peckham. On the same trains.

Moral: Even well-meaning bureaucracy will bugger you. 

Greenwich Christmas tree netting 1

Human Christmas netting: first insert your human in the tube

SATURDAY

I am in Greenwich, in a rush to go somewhere. As I pass a collection of Christmas trees being sold on the pavement, I notice a group of people are putting one of their friends into a Christmas tree netting machine to take photographs. Very funny, I think. I take two photos quickly on my iPhone and hurry on.

Greenwich Christmas tree netting 2

Human Christmas netting: then push him in

I later think: Perhaps they actually did put him through and netted him up. I should have stayed to take the third picture.

Later still, I hear that his friends did indeed truss him up in a net and he was last seen hopping along the road.

Moral: Always hope for a climax, even if it is late coming.

SUNDAY

I am phoned by a market research company “on behalf of the Metropolitan Police” wanting to ask me questions related to “social research”. I ask: “Are you cold-calling me?” – “Yes,” the man replies.

Telephone Preference Service logo

TPS will protect you against SOME calls

I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) so that companies are not allowed to cold call me.

“What law allows you to cold call me?” I ask.

“We do not need to act under any law,” replies the man.

“So you are telling me you can act outside the law?”

“No”

“So you are telling me that any market research company can phone me up and ask me questions without me asking them to?”

“We are not doing market research; we are doing social research,” said the man.

Émile Durkheim, early social researcher

Émile Durkheim, early social researcher… Perhaps turning in his grave due to bullshit

I later find out from a Facebook Friend that social research companies “are actually required by law to only call randomly generated numbers, so that survey results cannot be skewed.” He had worked for a social research company and told me: “I don’t now how many times I had to explain that to someone as they swore down the phone at me about being on TPS (by company policy I wasn’t allowed to put the phone down unless they did first.) In the case of social research where it is important that no bias appear in the results, as said, it is the law that the numbers have to be randomly generated. Therefore TPS cannot apply, and these companies are exempt.”

It appears that the TPS covers sales and marketing calls but not calls carried out by market research companies who are doing social not market research. So a market research company doing marketing research cannot call you but a market research company doing social research can.

I had asked the man on the phone: ”So any social research company can phone me up and ask me questions which I have to answer?”

“It is voluntary,” he told me.

“So fuck off, then,” I told him and hung up. As I now understand it, I should not have hung up because, if I did not, he could not end the call and would have to still be holding on, however long it took.

Moral: The law is an ass out of which turds emerge.

StPancrasChristmasTree2013

A safe picture of St Pancras station in London

MONDAY

I am at St Pancras station and see that the police who occasionally meander around the station carrying sub-machine guns are now doing so in threes. This seems a bit excessive. They also walk close together, Surely this makes them an easier single target? I want to take a picture of the police officers, but decide it might be unwise.

About one minute after this, I go into the Gents toilet. A man dressed as a banana is telling a man at the hand drying machine that using the hand drier spreads germs into the air. I want to take a picture of the man wearing the banana suit in the Gents toilet, but decide it might be unwise.

Moral: Bananas always have comic potential, especially in toilets.

MargaretThatcherQueenSoho_flyer

Gay girl Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

TUESDAY

I see Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho at Theatre 503 in Battersea. It is described as “a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza”. For me, as a heterosexual man, this does not bode well. But it is absolutely gobsmackingly good with jaw-dropping levels of production and direction. Amazing. You should see it. The script whizzes along. The production and direction are out of this world. Amazing for a Fringe show. Staggering.

Moral: The old and new meanings of the word Gay can sometimes coincide. 

Il Puma Londinese - whatever that means

Il Puma Londinese – whatever that means

YESTERDAY

Comedian Giacinto Palmieri persuades me to go see a show at an Italian-language fortnightly comedy club in London’s Soho called Il Puma Londinese Lab or, more fully, Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese. I neither speak nor understand Italian. Giacinto tells me I should go because he knows I like new experiences. Within reason. Buggery and long mime shows are beyond my limitations.

I have directed Czech TV voice-overs in Prague and Danish/Norwegian/Swedish TV voice-overs in London. Usually, with European languages, the intonations are the same even if you don’t understand the words. In North Korea, they might as well be talking Martian and I suspect they often are. North Korean TV announcers have a breathless excitement because (I presume) they are overwhelmed by the honour of living in such historic times ruled by such godlike people. But back to Italian comedy.

Romina Puma warms up the audience last night

Romina Puma warms up her Soho audience last night

Il Puma Londinese was tremendously enjoyable. It was started and has been run for the last two years by the energetic Romina Puma (not to be confused with Canadian Puma Zuma who runs the Lost Cabaret comedy evenings). Romina Puma could enthuse the inhabitants of a mortuary into being a joyous comedy audience up for a night of fun (although I would advise her against this).

Who cares if it sounds racist or xenophobic or cliché – Italians always sound excitable and exciting when they speak because there are more syllables spoken per second than in average English delivery; and the up-and-down variation in tone tends to be greater. It is in the nature of the spoken language.

Il Puma Londinese ended in a sing-song

Il Puma Londinese ended in a very festive sing-song italiano

Last night, there were three English speaking acts sandwiched in the packed Italian bill at Il Puma Londinese. The equally packed audience included a group of Spaniards who enjoyed it as much as I did.

I even picked-up on a few Italian words which I could half-understand so that I half-knew what was being talked about. The words Nigelissima, Coke and vaginal knitting stood out.

I may have mis-heard that last phrase.

Although perhaps not.

The audience laughed a lot.

Moral: Italians and Italian comedy clubs are fun. But listen carefully.

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Shooting the wings off angels with dead musical comic The Amazing Mr Smith

Martin Soan uplifted outside the Salvation Army in Nunhead

Martin Soan uplifted in London yesterday

Yesterday, Martin Soan was performing outside a bizarre bazaar at the Salvation Army Hall in Nunhead, South East London.

He is off to Switzerland on Tuesday, where his Greatest Show On Legs comedy group are having a five-day mini-tour of five cities.

“I’m going to Poland,” he told me.

“I thought you were going to Switzerland with the Greatest Show On Legs?”

“I am, but I’m also going to Poland later.”

“Why?”

“Teeth.”

“Teeth?”

“False teeth.”

Martin Soan with a smile on his face

Martin Soan is going to get a new set of teeth

“Why are you going to Poland for false teeth?” I asked.

“Because they cost £10,000 here,” replied Martin, “and I can get them in Poland with a third off.”

“But will they reach?” I asked. And surely the cost of travelling to Poland is…”

“No,” Martin interrupted, “because when I am in Leipzig, Poland is only a 60 Euro train trip away.”

“But you’re going to Switzerland,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin.

Then we started talking about The Amazing Mr Smith; I blogged about him yesterday.

East Cliff, West Bay, Bridport in Dorset

Mr Smith died on beach at foot of East Cliff, Bridport, Dorset

His body was found exactly a week ago – on Sunday morning – on the beach below East Cliff on West Bay, just south of Bridport in Dorset. The beach was used in the title sequence of the BBC TV series The Fall and Rise of Reginald PerrinMr Smith had fallen or jumped over one hundred feet off the cliff. The cause of death was “multiple injuries”.

The Dorset Echo reported: Many dog walkers and residents were shocked to find the East Beach car park full of police vehicles and an ambulance and forensic team vehicles and said it reminded them of some of the scenes filmed for the popular television drama Broadchurch last year.

Mr Smith’s website today, with photos by Barry Stacey

Mr Smith’s website today, with message “He will be sadly missed R.I.P.” and photos by Barry Stacey

“When I first met him,” I told Martin, “he was a research scientist – vivisection – and because – obviously – he did not want to mention that too much, we never really talked about what he did during the day.”

“He stopped doing that years ago,” Martin told me. “He did micro-biology as well, so he filled-in a bit with that and I think he made a packet of money from something-or-other. He was into the early stages of whatever-that-is. I didn’t understand it. I don’t understand it. But I think he maybe had some sort of patent.

“I knew him for years and years.” Martin continued. “I did various village hall shows with him, stayed at his house and had beautiful evenings in his shooting gallery.”

“His shooting gallery?” I asked.

“It was just gorgeous,” said Martin. “Just some of the best evenings I’ve ever spent. He had this air rifle and a bit of a garage at the back – a huge workshop for all the bizarre projects he was always doing.

“He told me: I’ve got this lovely little porcelain angel; come round the back with me. It was about six inches high with wings. So he put it at the end of the workshop and then I saw there were lots of bits of broken porcelain on the floor.

“He cocked his air rifle and said: I’m going to take the right wing off… He put a bit of music on and we just pared this angel down, shooting bits off with the air rifle.

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

Next time you come down, he said, make sure you bring some stuff. So I brought down a little bunny rabbit and we shot its ears off. I’m going to take the bunny’s right ear off, he said. Ph-teeeww!! Then we smashed the thing to pieces with a shot straight through the heart. All these little porcelain figures. It was just so much fun.

“He was a lovely, lovely man; I had wonderful evenings with him and all we did was play music, have a few beers and shoot the fuck out of airy-fairy bunny-wunny porcelain ornaments.”

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The birth of new comedy talent and the death of an amazing British eccentric

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret show

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret

I went to see Zuma Puma’s weekly Lost Cabaret show last night, definitely one of the most consistently weird shows in London.

One member of the audience – Jeff – let out that he had been off work for seven weeks due to stress. He was rather withdrawn and shy. He ended up – of his own accord – stripping his shirt off and dancing on the stage.

Weird is the word. And Lost Cabaret manages to be consistently weird every week I have seen it, thanks to MC Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott. Last night her mum was there from Canada. I can see where she gets her charisma from.

Jeff, Jody Kamali & Zuma Puma’s mum last night

Jeff, Jody Kamali and Zuma Puma’s mum shook it last night

Lost Cabaret is the sort of show people (including, sometimes, moi) forget when they say comedy acts are not as bizarre and eccentric as they used to be.

Sadly, yesterday was also when I found out via a report in Chortle that The Amazing Mr Smith had died last Sunday.

His body was found at the bottom of a 100ft cliff at West Bay in Dorset.

There is a showreel of his eccentric acts on YouTube.

He was never widely known but, as Chortle reported, he toured America five times, as well as appearing in shows in Holland, Germany, Norway and Jordan.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

I first saw him when I auditioned him for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross in 1987. He would have been 39 then; he was 65 when he died last weekend. So it goes.

His birthday was on April 1st and, in the mid-1990s when I was working in Prague, I sent him an unsigned birthday card on the basis he did not know I was in Prague and he would wonder who had sent it. We talked and met after that, but there was never any mention of the birthday card. Why would there be? For some reason I now wish I had told him I sent it.

Derek Smith was a quiet man – a research scientist when I first met him. But he would get up on stage and play The Blue Danube on 32 condoms or have the entire audience sing along to the theme tune of The Dam Busters while someone spun a propeller attached to his nose or perform Also Sprach Zarathustra – the theme from 2001 – by stamping his feet on the floor.

Scots performer Alex Frackleton, now living in the Czech Republic, told me yesterday:

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

The rather shy, gentle man who gave sound advice

“He was a lovely man. Unique. I met him at a folk festival.

“I was performing my Ballad of Michael Malloy poem – it is 36 verses long and it takes about 5 minutes to perform. Afterwards, he came up and introduced himself as Mr Smith. I thought that was a bit eccentric at the time but I’m a kinda live & let live kinda guy, so what the hell?

“He told me I should do the sounds of the environment around the poem. So the screech of the brakes of the taxi, the nee-naw sound of the ambulance, the hissing sound of the gas when they put Michael Malloy’s head in the oven – all these sounds should be conveyed as part of the poem, part of the canvas I was painting on stage (his words).

“I told him I wasn’t musical, couldn’t sing nor play a musical instrument to save myself and he told me that it didn’t matter because I had vocal cords and no-one said I had to sing or blow a trumpet! I am very sad to hear about his death.”

Writer and film producer David McGillivray told me:

Mr Smith in the recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith at home in a recent Vimeo mini-doc

“I saw him in Crouch End. He was completely different from all the other acts on the bill. I said to my partner, Let’s book him and he agreed. We ran Stew’s Cabaret in Hackney in the 1980s. He was a delightful eccentric.”

TV producer Danny Greenstone said: “Ah, a shame indeed. What a lovely fella he was… And how brave, too, to have graced Game For A Laugh more than once…”

Club-runner Steven Taylor told me: “He did a gig for me and was very funny and a thoroughly good chap. A gent.”

And Derek was a gentle man. Immensely likeable.

There is a 6’30” mini-documentary film about him on Vimeo by his friend Alan Deakins, although Derek mostly stays in character as Mr Smith.

In the mini-documentary, he says:

“Stand-up comedians these days at these alternative comedy clubs: they’re really worried that other people are going to steal their material. I don’t have that worry. Anybody could do this. Anybody could do my own act, but they don’t, do they?.. It’s nice to be able to make people laugh, isn’t it, really? You stand there and you’ve got a hundred people or so in front of you, all laughing, and that’s quite a nice feeling.”

R.I.P. Derek Smith – The Amazing Mr Smith.

So it goes.

The 7 minute audition tape (with very bad sound) shot when I first saw him perform is on YouTube

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Humanity, humour, farting, eccentricity and tragedy at the Edinburgh Fringe

Sal Monello - a creator of fringes at The Fringe

Sal Monello – cutter of hirsute fringes at The Fringe

Yesterday morning at the Edinburgh Fringe, as Irish comedian Christian Talbot was trying to get me to talk coherently for his Seven 2 Ten podcast, I got a text message from American comedian Lewis Schaffer saying:

Sal, the comic barber, is cutting hair for free during the Festival.

Thus I later found myself in Fringe Central sitting on a chair with Sal Monello standing behind me holding sharp, pointed scissors saying:

“I come from Corleone in Sicily.”

“As in The Godfather?” I asked politely.

“Yes. My surname is not Monello… Monello means ‘villain’ or ‘naughty boy’. My father genuinely did escape from the Mafia. In my comedy set, I make it funny but it was rather tragic. My father was in the Communist Party and his name was put on a hit list in 1955 and he had to leave the country. They were going to kill him.

“Ironically, my dad killed himself when he was 66. He had managed to keep his life together while he was working and brought up us seven kids. The minute he retired, he thought Fuck, my life is over.

“He did all sorts of jobs: fork-lift truck driver, railway line worker, hospital porter. The job we liked best was when he worked in a chocolate factory. He used to cut my hair with clippers to keep the cost down and I ended up being a hairdresser. I’ve only been doing comedy for three years. My marriage broke down after 25 years. We divorced two years ago, but my wife left about three and a half years ago. She ran off with a Polish taxi driver. I still love the woman, that’s the problem – fucking damaged me. In order to stay sane, I threw myself into comedy, because you can totally absorb yourself in it.

“I set up gigs, performed and got so involved in it very quickly but, one day, I looked down at my shotgun – I shoot – and thought I’m going to kill myself.

“But then I had visions of him with his arm round her saying in a Polish accent: Oh, it is terrible tragedy. Clearly he was insane. He probably better off where he is. But now we have a lovely house and business.

“So I thought Fuck you, mate – I’m not going to shoot myself. And I didn’t.

“I stayed sane through comedy.

Sal had some cutting remarks yesterday

Sal Monello shared some cutting insights with me yesterday (photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

“When I started doing comedy, I quickly found people have to believe what you say.

“I actually lost my virginity to a whole family. I fucked a whole family when I was 17 – well, not the dad. But the mother – she was a widow – and her three daughters. I screwed all of them. That’s how I lost my virginity.

“If I tell people that on stage, they don’t believe me but I’ve learned that, if a say someone in my hairdressing chair has told me the story, they’ll believe me because they know people are prepared to talk to a hairdresser. I’ve got that unique angle: I can be anybody.

“I’m not doing a show at the Fringe this year but, next year, I want to do a show called A Free Haircut. I’ll get people up on stage and I’ll do a full haircut while telling stories.”

At this point, my former temporary Edinburgh flatmate Andy Zapp passed by:

“My gorilla is arriving tonight by plane,” he told me.

“He must be a very well-off gorilla,” I said.

“Yes,” said Andy Zapp.

“Is he a gorilla-gram?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Andy. “A stripper-gorilla-gram.”

A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane yesterday

A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane’s act yesterday

Then I went to see my new temporary Edinburgh flatmate Mr Methane’s first show at Bob’s Bookshop – part memories of his life professionally farting around the world; part fart demonstrations.

He had managed to get a full audience on his first day with little publicity. The outside door was left open for ventilation; passers-by occasionally looked through the window at what was happening in the front room of Bob’s Bookshop. Oddly, they only occasionally appeared surprised.

“Farting doesn’t get any easier,” he told his audience. “I’ve been doing this since I was 15. After school, I moved on to a sensible career on the railways, followed by a bit of japing around and then into full-blown – if that’s the right word – showbusiness when I was 25.”

As he lay back on the table and splayed his buttocks under his green and purple costume, he explained: “What we do is we open the sphincter muscle – you lads from Glasgow, we’re talking about the turd-cutter here.

Bob Slayer was saying to me last night Comedy isn’t easy. There’s a crafting. Comedians can work on a joke and it might not be funny for three years then, one night, they just change a couple of words or put a pause in and everyone laughs hysterically. It’s a craft. And then they see me come on stage, I get me legs in the air, I part me buttocks and rip one off and there’s a big laugh from the audience. It seems easy.

“But it’s bloody hard after you’ve farted for a bit to carry on talking. What I do is difficult and I do train a lot. It gets harder as you get older because your body gets less and less subtle. But I do a lot of yoga and stretching the hamstrings, trying to keep the abdominals tight which, at 47, is becoming difficult. Still, I think I’m in reasonable peak farting condition.

“I used to be able to do a full lotus position in yoga, though I can’t do it any more. But, when I could, I noticed I was naturally double-jointed and, when in this position, I could breathe both fore and aft.

Mr Methane, pumping prodigy, prepares to Fart A Dart

Mr Methane, the pumping prodigy, prepares to Fart A Dart

“At school, I became a pumping prodigy in the lunch hour. We used to break into the squash courts and I used to fart How Much Is That Doggie in The Window and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in exchange for pocket money.

“As you can see, I’ve not progressed 30 years later. A lot of people want to be on stage: Come over here! Look at me! I’ve always thought I want to be a train driver. But always I get pulled back to being on stage. I’m like a reluctant farter.”

If Mr Methane is a reluctant farter, Tim Fitzhigham is a wholehearted eccentric.

Tim Fitzhigham discussed increasingly prestigious eccentricity

Tim and increasingly prestigious eccentricity

I went for a chat with him last night after his Challenger show which has had extra dates added. We were talking about him appearing on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show next Friday (23rd).

He is currently thinking about juggling ice on the show, although this may change, as I have already booked Mat Ricardo to juggle spaghetti.

We also talked about him appearing on my Fringe chat show next Wednesday afternoon, at which point he told me about an extra big charity show – only just announced – happening next Wednesday (11.59pm till late) at the massive McEwan Hall venue.

“I had a chat with Charlie and Ed who run it for the Underbelly venue,” Tim told me, “and they have given it to us for free.”

Tim occasionally does OTT gigs called Maxwell’s Fullmooners with Irish comic Andrew Maxwell. Next Wednesday’s charity gig is called PaulMooners: A Fullmooners Moontacular and co-stars Terry Alderton, Ed Byrne, Jason Byrne, Phill Jupius, Lady Carol, Glenn Wool – and John Bishop coming specially up from London for his only appearance at this year’s Fringe. Plus other names to be announced.

Why would they all appear on a Fullmooners show re-named PaulMooners?

Because the show is raising money for Paul Byrne, the highly-respected director of both Tim Fitzhigham’s Fringe show and Andrew Maxwell’s Fringe show. Paul, aged 36, has just discovered he has cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“It was only diagnosed after the first Edinburgh show and we’re all more than a little bit shell-shocked,” Tim told me last night.

Paul Byrne has returned to London to embark on an intense course of chemotherapy. Tickets for next Wednesday’s Paulmooners charity show are £15 and can be bought from all five of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival box offices – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just The Tonic, Pleasance and Underbelly.

In the midst of comedy, real human life goes on.

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Edinburgh Fringe: a meeting with the Archbishop, singing with cerebral palsy and Tim FitzHigham’s latest kink

David Mills: meeting the archbishop

The 1960s were my era, but I never took hallucinogenic drugs.

In Edinburgh every August, I don’t have to.

Yesterday someone told me they bumped into the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Edinburgh Fringe. The real one.

Under normal circumstances, I might think this was an attempt to get an unlikely porky posted in my blog.

But these are not normal circumstances. This is the Edinburgh Fringe. Surrealism is all around. And the message came from suave American man-about-comedy David Mills.

“Hey John!” his e-mail started.

“I flyered the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Royal Mile!” it continued.

“As he passed,” David explained, “I said Rowan Williams! and the woman he was with turned and said Yes, it’s really him! and they both stopped for a chat. I asked him what venue he was playing but he just laughed. Some sweaty basement I expect. As we talked, he seemed very interested in the half-naked students doing an excerpt from Richard the III nearby. Then he took my flyer and walked on.”

Half an hour later, I got an e-mail from the anonymous Poster Menace whom I blogged about earlier this week. His e-mail’s subject heading was GIANT PENIS.

Giant cock banned in a city full of pricks

“I saw a giant penis being refused entry to the Gilded Balloon venue,” the e-mail read, “because the owner’s show was at a different venue. This is appalling cock discrimination.”

It seems not unreasonable to me… both the barring and the concept that a cock was trying to get into the Gilded Balloon. Edinburgh is awash with pricks going into venues.

Again, lesser mortals might have queried the story, but The Poster Menace had attached a photo.

The receipt of this e-mail and photo was followed by an hour of semi-sanity when I went to see a Flanders & Swann tribute show featuring last year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nominee Tim FitzHigham.

Half an hour later, as I turned a corner, I bumped into Tim FitzHigham.

“John!” he said.

He may have been mistaking me for someone else.

Last year, I blogged about how he managed to break various parts of his body for his Fringe show.

“The average has slipped this year,” he said sadly. “Only two injuries. Well, I say two. There are a few more. But two main ones.

Tim FitzHigham and his newly kinky finger

“I have a slit tendon in my finger – like a ligament. It doesn’t quite straighten any more. Used to be ramrod straight. Now it’s got a kink in the end of it. The other breakage is a fractured toe but that’s the same toe I fractured for last year’s show, so I don’t really count that. It must sound like I’m recycling old material.”

“It does sound to me,” I said, “like you’ve been a bit lazy at damaging yourself this year.”

“But then,” he said, getting enthusiastic, “there’s frostbite for a show I didn’t end up doing. Three toes; both feet.” He paused and thought about it a little. “I suppose that’s less than ideal,” he added.

“They dropped off?” I asked.

“No, I’m still got ‘em,” Tim said , perking up again. “I’ve still got the toes. They’re on my feet where they were. I have to go… My other show… Stop The Pigeon at the Pleasance…”

I thought that was enough eccentricity for one day but then, an hour later, almost inevitably, I got an e-mail from Bob Slayer. It read:

Bob Slayer: wide-eyed, not so innocent

“I seem to have a new ending for my show – a man called Alan with cerebral palsy singing a medley of his favourite tunes. He beautifully soundtracked the finale of the naked lettuce lady show two days ago and he returned for more yesterday. He has the voice of an angel.

Phil Kay is turning up tomorrow for four days at the Hive. These are his only full shows at this year’s Fringe and they aren’t in the Fringe Programme because he only decided to do them after the deadline.

“In other news I am considering becoming a proper comic.”

That’s Edinburgh in August – performers telling odd stories and throwing in a bit of blatant publicity.

I hope Bob Slayer does not become a proper comic. What a loss that would be.

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