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Nathan Lang: what it’s like to be an Edinburgh Fringe comedy performer

Nathan Lang performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this month in two shows – his solo comedy show The Stuntman and Jon & Nath Like to Party with Jon Levene.

He also worked as a technician on the show Dirty White Boys, saw other performers’ shows and appeared in yet more people’s shows.

The Fringe runs for 3½ weeks. This is part of the diary he kept which, I think, gives a flavour of what it is like for a performer at the Fringe.


DAY 20

Woke up early and went to see Derek Llewellin and Julian Roberts’ show Chores. So good seeing Derek and Julian again and got inspired to be skilful. Assembly courtyard glowed and sparkled in the sun with all the nice people in it and I dreamed of escaping the sewer. Went grocery shopping which, as the day went on, turned out to be a mistake. 

The Stuntman was OK but not amazing. Jon & Nath was worse – a small unresponsive crowd.

Got drunk and played pool with Claire & Nicky (The Kagools) and my groceries. Ended up with a huge Glaswegian ex-con who insisted on playing with us. Tried really hard to make conversation with him. Eventually he looked sideways at me (literally) and said “Why so many questions, pal?” I shut up and let him beat me (at pool).

Needed to sober up, went to my favourite health food cafe on Grassmarket and had a wrap. Mesmerised by a veteran flamenco guitarist playing inside, he never broke eye contact, taught me to be passionate in every moment. His name is Jesus and he lives in a remote Spanish village. He only brought one CD cos he thought no-one would be interested. 

Inspired, I strode through the sewer with my groceries. Teched Dirty White Boys. Schlepped my groceries home. The spinach wilted.

DAY 21

Did some marketing work on my posters, attributing 5 stars from one review to a quote from another and announcing my final 3 shows as extra dates. 

The Stuntman had a comedy industry person in and two catatonic guys in the front row. I tried several times to engage them before realising they were with their carer. Show failed to launch. Went to The Free Sisters. Laini saw something in my eyes and gave me one of her therapeutic hugs, which really worked. 

Jon & Nath’s dream show – everyone had seen The Shining.

Jon & Nath had a dream show, possibly the best one ever. Audience was totally on board and everyone had seen The Shining. The show was a 5-star but the collection bucket at the end read like a 2-star.

Watched Marny Godden’s show of unbridled joy with a tasteful touch of struggle. 

Came home, napped hard, then whipped up a stir fry of greens and had time to eat 2 gulps before rushing off to tech Dirty White Boys. Met Laini, drank beer and talked about films. Came home via the chip chop.

DAY 22

Woke up feeling very rough. 

The Stuntman had his dream show. Audience created a game with me that made it impossible to move on. Riding waves of laughter. They even laughed through the Dad speech, which has never happened before. 

Jon & Nath went OK. A woman screamed at Jon to stop after the first slap but everyone shouted her down chanting for more. 

“I had to drop my pants in the window…”

Got to Audrey the Mobile Vintage Cinema totally saturated. All the acts crammed into the cab to wait and I had to drop my pants in the window to get changed. Did one of my best gigs ever to twenty people. They carried Stuntman through his hoop. Had permission to push a lot further into the obscene with Faith Healer. Magic gig. 

Watched first half of wonderful Disney burlesque. 

Teched Dirty White Boys. Sneaky hug with Pete Nash in the underpass. Rotating Rostrum cabaret, did more Faith Healer and reckon I’ve now got 10 minutes of my next show. Bumped into Harry Carr and talked about letting go of these shows. Saw flatmates through the window of a bar; they bought me pints. Listened to the case for Trump voters from a Trump voter. Sausage, chips, cheese and curry sauce. Yummy shame.

DAY 23

A Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award cock-up

Woke up inspired and a bit delirious. Had a brilliant idea that I would award myself the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for awarding myself the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. I have no right to do this, especially as these awards no longer exist. Messaged John Fleming to advise him of my plan. He said it could not be officially recognised. Still obviously delirious, talked Shelley through the genius of an award ceremony stunt where the awarding of the prize itself guarantees my eligibility, nomination and victory. 

Watched Lisa Klevemark’s Lemons and won a bottle of lemon essence. 

Another amazing Stuntman show. He’s found his groove in the last few days. 

Football & comedy do not mix

Jon & Nath started with a full house but we were nervous, as a football game started on the screen at The Free Sisters halfway through our show. At 5.25pm half the audience left. Then the football started and – through noise bleed – no-one could hear us, so people kept leaving. Walkouts became the joke of the show. Managed to get a laugh saying with more walkouts we become more niche and our price goes up. (Thanks Mark Dean Quinn for that one.) Hardest work we’ve ever done. Even during the bucket speech about 10 people ran out. From a full house of 120 we ended with 30 and hardly any of them paid us. Turns out our price went down. 

Had truly shite cocktails with Laini. Went home for a nap, pizza and whisky. Went out despite every fibre of my being wanting to stay in bed. 

Teched Dirty White Boys.

Rotating Rostrum gig was diabolical, I was too shaken and delirious to make any sense. The Faith Healer got properly heckled by Freya the Beagle, she really didn’t like him or probably that joke I made about her on Day 0 either.

Beer at Bob’s bus with Dan Lees and Paul Vickers. Mused on the benefits of flop shows.

Power-walked home and crashed.

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Phil Jarvis, Consignia and the value of not publicising a Fringe comedy show

The Edinburgh Fringe finished yesterday.

Fringe performers Phil Jarvis and Consignia have occasionally turned up in this blog. I think you might call them – eh – erm – unconventional, even by Fringe comedy standards. In 2016, they won an Alternative New Comedian of the Year award.

I once attended one of their late shows in Edinburgh at around 1.00am in the morning. When it ended after an hour, they decided they would immediately repeat it in its entirety, which they did. It ended around 3.00am.

At the Edinburgh Fringe last year, they staged as the final show in their run, one in which they did not turn up, because they were on a train back to London. I think they may have publicised the fact they would not be there. Maybe they didn’t. No-one knows if any audience turned up.

Consignia are named after the failed re-branding of the UK Post Office in 2001-2002 – which BBC News at the time described as “The most ruinous decision since the biblical scam that saw Esau swap his birthright for a bowl of stew.”

That referred to the Post Office’s choice of name, not the comedy group who have not yet, as far as I know, featured on BBC News, although they may have appeared on Crimewatch.

A random promotion image for Consignia’s Lemondale show featured a hole in the road

This year, Consignia were, again, performing a run of shows – titled Lemondale – at the Edinburgh Fringe and Phil Jarvis revealed to me that their marketing strategy, ever original, was: “We are not promoting the run until it’s finished.”

That did not altogether happen. See below..

Consignia’s membership varies much like the vivid events in a surreal dream. This year, in theory, they were: Andy Barr, Alexander Bennett, Phil Jarvis, Sean Morley, Mark Dean Quinn, Alwin Solanky and Nathan Willcock.

They billed their show as: “about potholes, lemons and lost utopian ideals. A late night/early morning fever dream for fans of concrete.”

These hour-long daily shows started at 1.45am in the morning.

A couple of days ago, lamenting the lack of any reviews, Phil Jarvis said he would write his own review of the show. I suggested he write about the overall Fringe experience. 

Now he has done. Mea culpa.


Phil, promoting the movie Kes in Lemondale

Our show this year was called Lemondale. We were in the Banshee Labryrinth’s Cinema Room. It was what is called a ‘ghost show’: a show that is not listed in the main Fringe guide. We did not make any flyers or posters this year, so relied on people just turning up, possibly thinking that a film was on. The Banshee Labryrinth had great footfall through the night and had shows running throughout the evening, so people (we hoped) would pop in after seeing the shows before us.

By July, I had co-written two full shows that had both been canned as Consignia member Nathan Willcock sensibly took up the offer of paid work instead of going to Edinburgh. 

Originally, the show was going to be about the history of a fictional New Town told by a monorail that falls into eventual decline. 

But Mark Dean Quinn came to visit me before Fringe and we chatted over some ideas. In effect, Mark became the director of Lemondale.

I had spent about three hours in a queue at Stansted Airport for a Ryanair flight and that became the starting point –  how you cope with the boredom of waiting in an airport. 

The day of the only preview we did in London, Mark delivered a two page script that was the backbone to the show.

Consignia’s Lemondale – Don’t ask who or why

I started trolling a bit too much on Facebook’s Edinburgh Fringe Performers’ Forum. Eventually, I got myself banned from the forum. So I decided to set up my own Facebook forum with the same name. It would prove quite handy.

I get quite bored of having to repeat the same show each night, so we started to add things. 

For example, Alwin Solanky, an integral member of Consignia, failed to turn up on time for the first show. So we added the fact Alwin hadn’t turned up into the show. With Alwin in the room, we would get the audience to chant ‘Where is Alwin?”. 

Eventually, Alwin would get to the stage, don a bird mask, and then be pelted with bread that had been handed out to the audience. 

Sean Morley became a member of Consignia halfway through the run, so we decided to change the show more. 

We made it an ASMR experience. 

(An Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine, creating ‘low-grade euphoria’.) 

We started whispering and shushing the audience whenever they laughed and amplifying ourselves eating fruit and downing beer slowly. 

Actor Danny Dyer made some comments

We also had a menu screen behind us: from the DVD Danny Dyer’s Football Foul-Ups. Every now and then, Danny Dyer would interject with some comment that would somehow seem fitting in the bread-filled mess.

No journalists seemed up for coming to the show so late at night.

So Nathan Willcock (made head of our shoestring PR) approached the online blog The Mumble who said he wanted £25 to come and review it. Nathan said we would try and fund the £25 after the show but The Mumble didn’t seem happy with that idea and said he wouldn’t come. You can’t even buy a journalist these days!

We seemed to be getting about 20 to 25 people in every night for this 1.45am show. 

The Edinburgh Fringe Forum provided an interesting opportunity when a presenter from BBC Radio Leeds asked if anyone from Yorkshire wanted to appear on his show. 

Sean Morley lives in Sheffield, so he ended up delivering an ASMR interview on a lunch time show on BBC Radio Leeds.

Consigbnia’s final Lemondale show (Photo by Sean Morley)

I am not sure if this brought any curious people from Leeds to Edinburgh for a show at 1.45am but, when we brought the show back for a final time on the last Saturday of the Fringe, we had a packed room.

I have learnt that you do not need to go in the Fringe guide or even flyer to get people in to your show. 

Oddly, the time of our show worked in our favour and the location of a great venue was probably what really made it work for us. 

Also, having Nathan Willcock in control of our Social Media helped – with such gems as reTweeting the fact that the Consignia Twitter page is now blocked by poet Pam Ayers.


Next year’s Edinburgh Fringe show from Consignia is claimed to be entitled Welcome to Dungeness.

Next year – The Dungeness B nuclear power station in Kent

Dungeness is a piece of coastline in Kent with one working nuclear power station and one abandoned nuclear power station. The Guardian has called Dungeness “the desert of England, though experts observe that, lacking both the dearth of water and the extreme differential in night and day temperatures, it fulfils none of the desert criteria.”

Phil Jarvis says that his next planned solo project is to create “a coffee table book on UK motorway service stations at night time”.

I pointed out to him that there is already a book – Food On The Move: the Extraordinary World of the Motorway Service Area – written by David Lawrence, a “writer, broadcaster, educator and collector who holds a doctorate in motorway service area history, design and culture.”

Phil’s response?

“Looks good, but I would do mine at night time.”

He is a man with a mission and the determination to carry it through.

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Lynn Ruth Miller, 84-year-old, on her striptease act at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Audiences screamed, cheered”

In the past few months, globe-trotting American comic Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has blogged here about her recent gigs in PragueDublinBerlin and Paris.

Now, as this year’s Edinburgh Fringe enters its final week, she tells us about her most recent gig in Scotland’s capital…


Lynn Ruth in the Best of Burlesque show (Photograph by Carole Railton)

I spent three exhilarating evenings in Edinburgh as part of Chaz Royal’s Best of Burlesque production. My audiences screamed, cheered, whistled and yelled… but I could not hear them.  

I had left my hearing aid at home.

Women often say that doing burlesque empowers you and I have always questioned that until those three stellar nights when I rocked the house in the beautiful Palais du Variété tent at George Square Gardens.  

As I removed one layer after another singing my song about women and courage, I listened to the kind of adulation I never got when I removed my nightie for either of my husbands.  

No-one ever cheers for me when I manage to climb the stairs and emerge from the tube station.

I don’t get people stamping their feet when I pay for my groceries and use my own bag to carry them home.  

But, when I take off a pair of overalls at a burlesque show, the crowd goes mad.

That, my friends, is POWER.

By the time I had completed my run for Best of Burlesque I was certain I could march into Parliament and clean up that Brexit mess or hurry over to the White House to put Donald Trump in a corner until he came to whatever senses he has left. 

I had the balls to do ANYTHING.

I went to North Berwick to do an hour’s cabaret at The Fringe by the Sea Festival the Sunday after my Edinburgh triumph and was so super-charged and confident that I managed to sing ten songs almost in tune and only forget half the words. I was a success.

The bravado, the hubris, the sense of self-importance I got from prancing around in silk and tulle during that North Berwick hour to 28 sympathetic senior citizens carried me through as if I were a shooting star illuminating the universe instead of talking about all my failed attempts at love.

I was empowered. The audience clustered around me afterwards and one lovely woman said: ”It was so refreshing to hear someone your age talk about sex.”

I told her: “Darling I was talking about THE ABSENCE of sex… Didn’t you get it?”

But, of course, she didn’t and I haven’t either… not for years.

All those failures to impress, to make a mark, to show my mettle… all those empty moments when I hoped my charm would be noticed…  are now in the past.  

I have become a burlesque sensation. I have stripped and emerged triumphant. 

Eat your heart out Mae West 

I know a hard man is good to find, but I don’t need one.

I have balls…

Oh, and…

The trick to stripping is to come on with so many clothes that no matter how many things you take off, you still are fully covered when the music stops.

I proved that you don’t have to be naked to make people think you are taking your clothes off. 

Surprise!

(Photograph by Paul Adsett)

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Comic Becky Fury, who married comic Arthur Smith, has won multiple Awards

Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe saw the last Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, but it is good to see former winners upholding Malcolm’s  penchant for creative inexactitude.

There is an admirable piece of not-altogether incorrect publicity on display in Edinburgh courtesy of Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury…

She won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016 for seeming to claim in her publicity she was a finalist for the main Last Minute Comedy Award in Edinburgh… In fact, she had been a finalist for a totally different award from a similarly-named but totally different Last Minute lot (a small club no-one had heard of). She also put her Fringe poster on the Tinder dating site on the basis that she would either get additional audience members or a steady supply of young men or both.

After the Fringe was over, a mate of Malcolm’s then saw her perform in a pub in South London and gave her something which he also called a Malcolm Hardee Award.

So, on her posters and flyers this, year, Becky is honestly, if misleadingly, claiming again (arguably truthfully) that she was a 2016 Last Minute Comedy Finalist while adding that she won two Malcolm Hardee Awards in 2016.

She also has, on her posters and flyers, laurels for winning – this year – the ‘Arthur Smiffy Award For Show That Is Probably Very Good But I Haven’t Seen Yet’.

This Arthur Smiffy (for which, read Arthur Smith) Award might or might not be true as she ‘married’ Arthur Smith in Cumbria this year as part of a comedy show. Note that she ‘married’ him not married him.

In publicity, punctuation can make all the difference.

It is good to see traditions being upheld.

I think Malcolm would have approved of all this.

After all, with Arthur Smith, he did once write a review of his own comedy show, submitted it to The Scotsman newspaper under the name of their esteemed comedy critic… and they published it.

Cunning Stunts are to be encouraged and cherished in Edinburgh and elsewhere in the show business.

Becky’s show is titled The Apocaloptimist.

And, strangely, Fury is her real name.

I think.

That’s what she says, anyway.

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John Dowie on Bowie, Bolan, bicycles, drinking, drugs, poetry, prose and book

John Dowie is not an easy man to describe even without a hat

I worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas with John Dowie’s sister Helga.

His other sister is writer/director/actor Claire Dowie.

John wrote an original short story for the Sit-Down Comedy book which I compiled/edited with late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

But John Dowie is not an easy man to describe. 

He is a man of many hats.

Wikipedia currently describes him as a “humourist” and says:

“Dowie was among the inaugural acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. In 1978 he contributed three comedic songs to the first Factory music release, A Factory Sample, along with Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and Cabaret Voltaire… As a director, he worked on Heathcote Williams’ Whale Nation and Falling for a Dolphin, as well as directing shows by, among others, Neil Innes, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Simon Munnery and the late Pete McCarthy… His children’s show Dogman, directed by Victor Spinetti, was described by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker as the best show he had seen in Edinburgh that year. Dowie went on to write and perform Jesus – My Boy which was performed in London’s West End by Tom Conti.”

Basically, John Dowie has been about a bit and is unclassifiable but wildly creative. 

We had this blog chat to talk about his new book, The Freewheeling John Dowie, the Stewart Lee blurb quote for which reads:

“Great cycle of life and love and death”

“In the ‘70s, John Dowie invented Alternative Comedy. At the end of the ‘80s, he abandoned it. In the ‘90s, he sold all his possessions and set off to cycle around Europe indefinitely, meaning Dowie’s love of Landscapes and Life is matched only by his hilarious hatred of himself and others.”

Author Alan Moore adds: “This appallingly funny and delightfully miserable man delivers hard-won insights into the great cycle of life and love and death from the vantage point of a great cycle… I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”

Alas, in our chat, I started off with good intentions, but, as I tend to, meandered…


DOWIE: This book my first prose work.

FLEMING: You did wonderful prose for the Sit-Down Comedy book.

DOWIE: That was a short story. This is my first full-length prose work aimed for the page rather than the stage.

FLEMING: So why now?

DOWIE: When you’re riding your bike in a quiet place – pootling along a country lane or whatever – your mind wanders and you enter strange thought patterns you don’t expect to enter and I like that and I thought: This would be a nice way to tell stories, just gently ambling along with twists and turns.

FLEMING: Picaresque?

DOWIE: Is that the word?

FLEMING: I dunno.

DOWIE: Picking a risk, I think, is what you’re saying.

FLEMING: How has the book done?

An early John Dowie Virgin album by the young tearaway

DOWIE: Hard to tell, but I think it’s doing OK. It only came out in April. I check the Amazon sales figures approximately every 47 seconds. It started at around 45, then Julian Clary Tweeted about it and it went straight up to Number 3. It’s doing OK now. There has never been a massive demand for my work. The world has never beaten a path to my particular door. As long as it sells slowly but consistently, that’s fine.

FLEMING: Did you find it difficult to write?

DOWIE: It was for me. What I was more used to in writing verse or jokes was getting feedback from an audience. When you write prose for the page, you have not got that, so it is very difficult to judge.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between writing for poetry and prose?

DOWIE: No idea. I would not say I write poetry – I write verse.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between poetry and verse?

DOWIE: I think poetry takes more time to understand or is more difficult to understand.

FLEMING: So writing verse it dead easy, then.

DOWIE: Well, comparatively easy for me, because my stuff always rhymes. Use a rhyming pattern and you’ve got a way of telling a story.

FLEMING: So you see yourself as a writer of verse and…

DOWIE: Well, I only wrote it when the kids were little.

FLEMING: To distract them?

DOWIE: As a way of punishing them if they were not behaving well.

“Do you want me to read you one of my poems?”

“No! No! Please don’t do that to me, daddy!”

“You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time…”

It was just a thing to do for a while. You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time. Luckily, for me, this has never included doing mime. I did do a couple of mime sketches in my youth, but they weren’t real mime.

FLEMING: What sort of mime were they?

DOWIE: Well, it WAS doing things without words, but it wasn’t being a ‘mime artist’ and being balletic about it.

FLEMING: Mime artists seem to have disappeared. They call themselves ‘clowns’ now and go to Paris and come back and stare at people. I only ever saw David Bowie perform once…

DOWIE: … doing mime… Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex… I saw that too.

FLEMING: I loved Tyrannosaurus Rex; not so keen on T Rex.

DOWIE: I’m a big Tyrannosaurus Rex fan.

FLEMING: Whatever happened to Steve Peregrin Took? (The other half of Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Marc Bolan.)

DOWIE: He choked on a cherry stone and died in a flat in Ladbroke Grove.

FLEMING: A great name, though.

DOWIE: He nicked it from Lord of the Rings. Peregrine Took (Pippin) is a character in Lord of the Rings. Steve was his own name.

FLEMING: Steve Jameson – Sol Bernstein – was very matey with Marc Bolan.

DOWIE: They went to the same school. Up Hackney/Stoke Newington way… Marc Bolan was a William Blake man.

FLEMING: Eh?

Warlock of Love: “It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written”

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got Marc Bolan’s book of poetry: The Warlock of Love. It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written. That may be a good or a bad thing.

FLEMING: You have an affinity with William Blake?

DOWIE: Not a massive affinity other than he was a one-off.

FLEMING: He was a hallucinating drug addict.

DOWIE: Well, we’ve all been there. And we don’t necessarily know he was hallucinating. He might have been supernaturally gifted.

FLEMING: Now he has a plaque on a tower block in the middle of Soho.

DOWIE: Well, that’s what happens to poets, isn’t it? Plaques on buildings. I like his painting of the soul of a flea.

FLEMING: I don’t know that one.

DOWIE: There was a girl standing next to him and she said: “What are you doing William?” and he said: “I’m just sketching the ghost of that flea.”

FLEMING: Does it look like the soul or ghost of a flea?

William Blake’s soulful Ghost of a Flea

DOWIE: A big, tall, Devilish type figure.

FLEMING: Are you going back to comedy in any way?

DOWIE: Well, it hasn’t gone away. There’s lots of comedy in the book.

FLEMING: On stage, though?

DOWIE: What I don’t like about actual performances is that they hang over you all day. You are waiting for this bloody thing to happen in the evening and you can’t do anything until it’s over but then, when it’s over, all you wanna do is drink.

FLEMING: I think that might just be you.

DOWIE: No, it’s not just me.

FLEMING: Performing interrupts your drinking?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Most days I can start drinking when I get up. I don’t have to wait till half past bloody nine in the bloody evening.

FLEMING: Have you stopped drinking?

DOWIE: I drink a bit, but I try to keep it outside of working hours which is why (LAUGH) I’m not so keen on gigging.

FLEMING: You going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

John will be in North Berwick, near Edinburgh, during August

DOWIE: No. But I’m doing Fringe By The Sea at North Berwick.

FLEMING: Ah! Claire Smith is organising that – It’s been going ten years but she’s been brought in to revitalise it this year. What are you doing? A one-off in a Spiegeltent?

DOWIE: Yeah. A 40-minute reading from my book and then a Question & Answer section.

FLEMING: What next for creative Dowie?

DOWIE: I’m waiting to see what happens with the book.

FLEMING: It’s autobiographical. Will there be a sequel?

DOWIE: Depends how long I live.

FLEMING: At your age, you’ll die soon.

DOWIE: I’m not going to die soon!

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Maggy Whitehouse, comic and vicar: “Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley”

“I was at the end of my rope with Christianity…”

Yesterday’s blog was a chat with Maggy Whitehouse, stand-up comedian and freelance vicar/priest.

It was intended to be about her comedy, but strayed into religion… Here it continues…


JOHN: So, at home, you have an Isis and Mary altar? Isis the Egyptian god, not the Islamic fundamentalists.

MAGGY: Yes, Isis and Mary represent the Great Mother, because it’s all one Great Mother and one Great Father. The idea is she stuck her husband’s body back together after he was all carved up and she managed to conceive a child from it.

I studied New Testament Greek and really got into it and then I met a Jewish guy and he was at the end of his rope with Judaism and I was at the end of my rope with Christianity and my teacher of healing sent us off to this guy in London who was teaching Kabbalah, which is Jewish mysticism. So I started studying that.

JOHN: The Madonna stuff?

MAGGY: No. There are two sorts of Kabbalah. Hers is based in the 16th century and takes the theory that, when God created the Universe, he made a mistake. 

Mine is based in Biblical times, which is that, when God created the Universe, it was all perfect and we screwed up. Well, not even that, because Jews don’t believe in Original Sin, so how could Jesus?

Independent Maggy marries a Sikh man & a Christian woman

Anyway, there I was, doing this New Age stuff, doing funerals and my now-husband’s best friend was murdered in London and he and I were members of the same Kabbalah group. He asked me to do the funeral for Jon and my (Christian) bishop was in the congregation and phoned me up the following week and said: “OK, God told me we need you and you need us.”

I told him: “You must be out of your mind.”

But he was a guy after my own mind who was saying: Christianity has lost EVERYTHING. It’s all meant to be about love, inclusivity, kindness, simplicity. So I decided I would train. And I did.

JOHN: The Old Testament and the New Testament appear to me to have totally different gods. The Old Testament teaches “an eye for an eye”… The New Testament teaches “turn the other cheek”.

MAGGY: One thing is we only have one Hebrew testament. There used to be dozens and dozens and dozens of versions of it. But they pulled it all together into one after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. So we don’t know what the original text was.

We DO know that there are an awful lot of edits. And also, in ancient days, they read the text on four levels: the literal, the allegorical, the metaphysical and the mystical. If you take the texts out of the literal sense, they’re all about the psychological development of the soul. 

JOHN: You don’t sound especially Christian to me; just generically religious.

MAGGY: I am a very passionate follower of the teachings of Jesus… But he never once asked us to worship him. He said: “Follow me.”

JOHN: Buddha tried that. It didn’t work. I am not a god. I am not a religion. Do NOT worship me. But now loads of people clearly worship him as an idol.

“90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley”

MAGGY: Of course it doesn’t work. The thing about faith is… If you like the look of it, you’ve got to go on the journey, go through all these Road to Damascus moments.

Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley. If you are a proper seeker, you travel to Finchley. But 90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley, so they will find somebody who HAS been to Finchley and worship them. And, if they can’t find someone who has been to Finchley, they will worship the signpost… And that is what religion is.

I was Church of England, but now I am an Independent. We have been associated with part of the liberal Catholic Church, but I am actually ‘an independent’.

JOHN: If you don’t follow the rules of a specific recognised branch of Christianity, surely you are a heretic?

MAGGY: Of COURSE I am a heretic. The Methodists in West Devon use me – I’ve got two services this Sunday – 11.00am and 6.30pm – which is very decent of them. They heard me on BBC Radio Devon: I did a year there as a presenter. But my local rector, who runs the Anglican area can’t use me, because he would get lynched. 

JOHN: Not literally.

MAGGY: Not literally.

JOHN: So you are only really recognised as a proper person by the Methodists?

MAGGY: I’m not really recognised by them, because I can’t do communion for them. I just showed up, lay on my face on the floor in my white robe and got my hands and brow anointed.

JOHN: Ooh! A white robe. Sounds kinda Druidy.

MAGGY: I COULD be Druidy. The wonderful thing is, if you do this mysticism, this direct experience of what you perceive to be the divine, you can converse with anyone of any faith and none – And that’s what it’s about.

Maggy’s first book – about a different type of journey

JOHN: You have written seventeen books, mostly about religion and spirituality.

MAGGY: I’m writing a new book at the moment: Kabbalah and Healing. I have to deliver it to the publisher by the end of September; published the beginning of next year.

JOHN: I suppose we should mention you doing stand-up comedy as, supposedly, that is the bloody reason why we are sitting here chatting in the first place. How did you get into comedy?

MAGGY: I do spiritual workshops and events and things like that to make a living. People kept saying to me: “You’re very funny; you should do comedy.”

There was a comedy course in Birmingham half a mile from me that cost £50. I went along and I was the oldest person by 35 years. At the end, there was a showcase and, a week later, I was asked to back Hal Cruttenden on an Edinburgh Fringe preview at Kings Heath in Birmingham.

I started doing unpaid gigs after that. But then I moved to Devon. Six months later, I got cancer – non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That was a massive Road to Damascus healing journey too.

JOHN: Edinburgh Fringe?

MAGGY: I did one Edinburgh run in 2014 when I had only been performing comedy for 18 months and I had the cancer at the time. I went to Edinburgh as a bucket list thing. I had to rest all day, do my hour at night, then go back and rest. So I didn’t really get the Edinburgh experience at all.

JOHN: Will you go again?

MAGGY: At the moment, I am trying to get together four priests including me to go to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 – There’s Ravi Holy, a rector in Canterbury; Kate Bruce, who’s chaplain to the RAF at Brize Norton; and Mark Townsend, who’s an ex-Anglican but still a vicar who is a magician.

Maggy performed at the Monkey Business comedy club in London earlier this month

JOHN: So where else do you go from here? Another Road to Damascus?

MAGGY: I have no idea where I go from here. I basically thought: I will give the comedy five years and see what happens. That is almost up now.

I don’t know where I’m going.

I am writing the book; I am doing spiritual workshops; I am pottering along quite happily in comedy.

And I am happy.

I am incredibly happy. 

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There is much more to Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers than just surreal comedy

Having a hearty breakfast with Mr Twonkey

I met up with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey over breakfast to talk about his show Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein but, initially, we got sidetracked by the three gigs he recently played at the Prague Fringe – in the Museum of Alchemists.


JOHN: What is the museum like?

PAUL: It’s a lovely place. It’s got a lot of… not waxworks… fibreglass dummies of alchemists.

JOHN: I like Prague.

Mr Twonkey was a cover star at the Prague Fringe

PAUL: Oh, it’s a beautiful place. we always give money to the Infant Jesus of Prague. They change its clothes every day; it has different jackets and stuff. The more money we gave, the busier the show got. 

JOHN: Did he bleed more if you gave him more money?

PAUL: He doesn’t bleed, but he smiles. He is in a little glass box in a little church just over the Charles Bridge. He is small, but he has big fluffy coats and very flamboyant clothing. 

JOHN: It’s not a small statue of Liberace, is it?

PAUL: It does look like Liberace, but it’s Jesus. It’s one of those things like his eyes are following you round the room.

JOHN: His stigmata are following you round the room?

PAUL: Yeah. But the more money you give him, the more people come, you know?

JOHN: Anyway, you are performing your Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein at the Bill Murray venue in London next Thursday. Is that the same show you did in Brighton?

PAUL: Slightly but not totally different. It’s finding its feet. I have different terms for my shows now. The current show is an Arrival show. But I also do Gateway shows.

JOHN: What are they?

PAUL: A Gateway show is where you find a way in or a way out. With creative ideas, I find sometimes you get trapped. You get a formula for doing something and then, over time, that formula becomes stale, so you feel trapped by it. A Gateway show shows you don’t actually have to do it like that.

In another show, Mr Twonkey spent Christmas in the Jungle

You experiment with a new format and, if that works then, after that, you can have an Arrival show which I think is the most exciting type but it’s also potentially The End. In which case you need another Gateway show. Unless I have two Arrival shows, which is what I’m thinking.

I wonder if that’s possible.

JOHN: Maybe Liechtenstein will have a fire escape.

PAUL: Yeah. That would be great: if I could have two Arrival shows. 

JOHN: …and a fire escape show, like West Side Story.

PAUL: It makes sense in my head, but…

JOHN: So what you did before feels a bit stale to you now?

PAUL: Well, my first three shows – Twonkey’s Cottage, Twonkey’s Castle and Twonkey’s Kingdom – were like a trilogy and the idea was I was only going to do that. I was telling the story of the mythical character Twonkey. But the trouble was no-one understood what I was going on about; no-one was following the story. In some respects, you had to have seen the show before to fully understand the threads in the other show.

JOHN: What was the over-all narrative of the three shows?

PAUL: It was following the journey of Twonkey, who was an accountant… well, a dragon, really… Basically, a dragon who moved from a castle and got more and more powerful. He started off in a cottage, then had his own castle, then had his own kingdom. 

Mr Twonkey had a colourful and successful Blue Cadabra

Then I broke away. I killed Twonkey off after the third show. So the dragon died and I became Mr Twonkey. I became the essence of Twonkey. What I realised was that Twonkey was not a dragon but a state of mind. That freed it up. I had a Gateway show – Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra – which I had quite a bit of success with.

After that, I did a series of shows in that kind of formula…

JOHN: How many?

PAUL: Eh… How many were there?…Two?

JOHN: You’re not quite sure?

PAUL: No. I did Twonkey’s Private Restaurant, which was an extension of Cadabra. In Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, there was a log flume park. Then Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel was the one I got the Malcolm Hardee Award for. That was a Gateway show, because that was the first time I introduced the idea of an interwoven narrative throughout the over-all piece. 

I have carried on with that since and the new show – Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein – probably has the most clear narrative I’ve had.

JOHN: And you are doing that at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: Are you playing Fringe By The Sea in North Berwick while you’re up in Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, but not as Twonkey. I’m doing my band stuff. Paul Vickers and The Leg.

JOHN: Your band is active again?

PAUL: Yes. We are recording an album at the end of June.

Paul Vickers (right) and The Leg: part of a body parts boom

JOHN: Why are they called The Leg?

PAUL: There was a boom in Scotland of bands named after body parts. There was Wounded Knee; there was Withered Hand; and so there was The Leg. There was also Frightened Rabbit.

JOHN: That’s a body part?

PAUL: No. Not a body part. But it fits in somehow.

JOHN: Fringe By The Sea sounds good.

PAUL: Yes, an odd mix of acts. The Sugarhill Gang. Mica Paris. Lewis Schaffer, David Steel and Roy Hattersley.

JOHN: David Steel and Roy Hattersley? The politicians?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: They’re singing…?

PAUL: No. Sitting in chairs and speaking to people.

JOHN: Roy Hattersley should join your band.

PAUL: Well, he had the reputation of spitting a lot… on Spitting Image… My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: As a prop for your Twonkey show?

PAUL: She says it is. Though I haven’t got anything with a seagull in my act at the moment. 

Paul/Twonkey has been known to use occasional props

JOHN: She makes your props.

PAUL: Some, yes. And Grant Pringle makes the bigger ones.

JOHN: Is he related to the Pringles crisp dynasty?

PAUL: No. I think he is related to Pringle The Slayer.

JOHN: Who?

PAUL: Pringle The Slayer was a Borders Reiver. He had people locked up in a tower near Galashiels. I wrote a piece about Pringle The Slayer for Border Life magazine. I used to write for that. We interviewed David Steel for that too. Local interest. I also did Border X-Files, which was about  aliens and ghosts.

JOHN: That was a separate magazine from the one David Steel was in?

PAUL: No. It was all local interest. There was a lot of going to manor houses and talking to rich old ladies and there were photos of horses and green fields. It was the most successful thing we did after the music magazine failed. When BritPop deflated, the music magazine went down and we went into local publishing. But then the band took off and we were alright.

JOHN: What was the music magazine called?

PAUL: Sun Zoom Spark, named after a Captain Beefheart song.

JOHN: Ah. How are you enjoying your baked beans?

PAUL: They’re very nice.

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