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I ask about Musical Comedy Awards but get sidetracked by exploding intestines

Tamara Cowan was the one who brought up the intestines

“So,” I said, “he now lives in Austria or wherever, but you are his representative here on earth.”

“I think my official title is Creative Director,” Tamara Cowan told me, “but it’s sort-of producing and being The Man on The Ground. I am The Man on The Ground. We do it together.”

“How,” I asked, “did the annual Musical Comedy Awards start?”

“Ed Chappel set it up on his own nine years ago, when he was at Warwick University as part of an Events Management thing. He started it with online entries then hired out the Pleasance, Islington, for the final. The first one was won by Adams & Rea (no longer together as an act).

“The next year, Ed and I were both flyering for Bound & Gagged (comedy promoters) up at the Edinburgh Fringe and he thought it would be really fun to have live heats the next year. I had just had half my intestines chopped out and I was at home recuperating. I was lying there thinking: I don’t really know what I’m going to do when I get back to London. And he texted me saying: Oh, you seem to be good at comedy/chat stuff. Do you want to come and help me with it next time? In fact, I didn’t know anything about comedy.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you need to have half your intestines out?”

“Well, it was actually only a third. I exaggerated.”

“Even so,” I said, “it still begs the question Why?

“They had twisted.”

“Isn’t that what intestines do?” I asked. “Why had they twisted?”

“I don’t know. They twisted and then they got a bit infected and the doctors had to lop a bit off. Apparently it only happens to very young babies and very old people.”

“How old were you?”

“I was 25.”

It was this or a picture of intestines – Ed Chappel publicising the Musical Comedy Awards in 2009.

“The doctors,” I asked, “never mentioned why?”

“I did loads of research and it didn’t really explain it.”

“The doctors never said exactly why they wanted to chop bits out of you?”

“They had done scans and seen it had twisted and exploded.”

“Exploded?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have trouble digesting things now?”

“No. I have to eat quite a lot of fibre to make sure I ‘go’ regularly but, basically, it holds as much as it holds and, if it has less room to hold it, it will just push it out quicker. Tell me you are not going to write about this.”

“Probably.”

“Oh dear.”

“You were in hospital…”

“Yes. As the NHS was a bit overstretched at the time, I ended up updating my own chart sometimes because no-one else was.”

“The chart thing hanging on the end of your bed?”

“Yes.”

“You updated your own chart?”

“Yes. I opened it up and saw all the pictures and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Your own intestines?“

“Yes. Open. Urghh! That near-death experience put me off acting.”

“Acting?”

“I did an MA at Mountview.”

“So you were an aspiring actress?”

“I was. But that near-death experience put me off. I thought I don’t want to be an actress and then I found comedy and thought This is more fun.”

“So you had a third of your intestines out then decided to move into comedy? There’s a pun there somewhere. We just have to find it.”

“Belly laughs?”

“Mmmm…”

“Gut instinct?”

“Could be.”

“So you moved into comedy but not as a performer, despite the fact you had wanted to act.”

“Well, going to drama school put me right off wanting to go on stage. Then having a near-death experience made me want more of a tangible career.”

“Why did learning to be an actress put you off being an actress?”

“It made me quite self-conscious because you over-thought everything. And, after the near-death experience, I wanted to actually do things rather than rely on people employing me. Rather than have casting directors decide if I was going to do something, I wanted to decide myself to create stuff and do things. And I found the Musical Comedy Awards at that point. It meant I could be in charge of making something actually happen and putting on productions.”

“You wanted to be in control of your own destiny?”

“Yes.”

“So, you organise the Musical Comedy Awards annually but, the rest of the time, you are…?”

“An assistant agent. I’ve been with Hollie Ebdon for almost two years now. I used to work in corporate property, but I gave that up because it was horrible. Have you ever worked in corporate property?

“No…. Anyway, you decided you wanted to be master or mistress of your own destiny so, after having a third of your intestines out and deciding not to be an actress, you went into corporate property?”

“No. I went into theatre administration and then got accidentally found and offered a job by a cool and fun property company but then they got capital investment and it all started turning a bit horrible. Then Hollie’s thing came up and she was the first person who had given the MCAs an opportunity because she had been doing the booking for the Wilmington Arms in Rosebery Avenue where we did jam-packed musical comedy days with people like Abandoman. That was in 2010.”

“You said earlier that, when you started, you knew nothing about comedy.”

“Well, when I finished at London Metropolitan University, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe and worked with Bound & Gagged for the summer, like I said, and someone had to explain to me who Stewart Lee and Nicholas Parsons were. I really didn’t know anything about comedy.

“Then I went and got a job at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, tearing tickets. Through that, I met Tracey Collins – Tina Turner, Tea Lady – and Charlie, who helps with the MCAs.  And this year we are magically ending up back there because there was a delay with the Underbelly. So, after ten years of not working at the Lyric, we’ve all ended up doing the Musical Comedy Awards Finals there this coming Monday.”

Everyone’s back at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue, this year

“That is fairly weird,” I said.

“Yes. And then Ed Chappel found this bit of paper – an obituary for his great-great uncle, who was a famous actor in the early 20th century – and his great-great uncle’s first West End production was Of Mice and Men at the Lyric Theatre.”

“So you’ve been doing the Musical Comedy Awards for eight years. Getting bored?”

“I love the variety. Musical comedians are a mixture. You get people who are basically comedians but who can play a bit of music. Then you’ve got cabaret people. Then actors who are all-rounder triple-threats: acting/singing/dancing.”

“Is it easier,” I asked, “to hide weak material if you are a musical comedian? Take (I named an act). Their material is OK but their personality is so overwhelming you almost don’t notice some of their material is weak.”

“But isn’t that the same with stand-up comics?” Tamara suggested. “It’s all in the balance. If you had someone else doing Stewart Lee’s material, it wouldn’t be as good without his stage charisma and timing. In some ways, yes, musical comedy is easier because you do have a kind of energy level that comes with playing the musical instrument, but it is harder as well because you have a lot more balls to juggle and make it click and work and get the audience to buy it.”

“There are no real musical comedy shows on TV,” I prompted.

“I think,” Tamara responded, “that a musical comedy show would work well on TV, but I don’t think they want to take a risk.”

“Maybe because it sounds expensive ,” I suggested. “Like putting on 42nd Street.”

“But,” said Tamara, “it can be very cheap. It’s usually just a… well, a white guy in his early 30s with a guitar. People get musical comedy and musicals mixed up.”

“You still have no urge to pluck a ukulele yourself?”

“No. I’m almost tone deaf. I can’t sing in tune. I can appreciate music but I can’t do it myself. I used to play the saxophone. I wasn’t too bad but it did give me an awful rash on my bottom lip and you don’t want a rash on your lips when you’re a teenager. And it is almost impossible to do musical comedy if you have something in your mouth.”

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Music, Theatre

April Fools jokes can rebound on jokers

I am doubtful I would make a good woman.

It is April 1st today and yesterday I thought about planting a story I was changing gender and wanted, from now on, to be known as Jean Fleming.

But, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered setting it all up believably and the self-publicity was not necessarily all positive.

April Fool jokes can turn and bite the begetter.

As I write this, it is 09.30am and already April 1st stories have appeared, a couple good, one bad.

At 00.25am this morning, comedy club-runner Martin Besserman posted a Facebook message saying:

An excellent idea, because it is just about believable, especially at 00.25am in the morning. I almost fell for it, because Martin is an increasingly prestigious man, or so he tells me. In any case, what you remember longer-term is Monkey Business being associated with some sort of up-market area.

That man in the white suit on the left is a hologram. Or not.

When I woke up an hour ago, I had a Facebook message from Dan Berg of go-getting comedy streaming company NextUp saying:

Hey John, Hope all’s well! I remember you sat in the front row for our gigs so thought you might like this – a lil bit of NextUp technology which launched today so the front row is never too far away… http://lologram.co.uk

It was touting a new concept in which you can project video holograms of comedians in any location.

Exactly the sort of thing he and NextUp might do and it projected a PR image of a futuristic forward-thinking company. A comedy hologram called Lologram sounds like a great name. Good PR for NextUp.

Detailed but backfiring?

I also received an email from the Edinburgh Fringe which announced that they are building a roof to cover the area of the Royal Mile sponsored by Virgin Money… and they want you to fork out money to crowdfund it… So they have a financial sponsor (Virgin Money) and they want punters to help finance the financial sponsor.

A good April Fools joke – maybe – but one which rebounds as bad PR for the Fringe, given that it makes you wonder yet again what Virgin is actually sponsoring. Not the Fringe Programme, where a 40-word entry costs £300-£400 for 40 words and costs an arm-and-a-leg for a quarter page ad.

The seed is also planted in your brain (even though you know it is not true) that Virgin Money are calling themselves sponsors but do not have enough money and are asking ordinary people for crowdfunding to make what they do seem better.

April Fools jokes should be jolly, but not leave a funny PR taste in the mouth or egg on the face.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Marketing, PR

David Mills, chic gay comic with a nose for pussy, gets chatty about PrEP etc

Next Wednesday, American comic David Mills starts The Mix – the first in a monthly series of chat shows at the Phoenix Artist Club in London.

“You’ve got a bit of previous with chat shows,” I said, “with Scott Capurro and then with Jonathan Hearn.”

“And,” David told me, “I had a chat show with another comic in San Francisco maybe 20 years ago – Late Night Live – with this hilarious woman called Bridget Schwartz.

“She has since given up comedy. A great loss.

“We had big local San Francisco politicians, some of the big newscasters and drag queens – the same sort of thing I’m trying to create here. Not just people from the comedy world, but people from politics and culture and newsmakers.”

“So The Mix will not be all comics?” I asked.

“No. That’s why it’s called The Mix, John. Next Wednesday, we will have comic Jo Sutherland and the writers of Jonathan Pie – Andrew Doyle and Tom Walker who plays Jonathan Pie – and London’s Night Czar Miss Amy Lamé who will be talking about the night-time economy.

“For the second show on 19th April, we are currently negotiating to get a controversial politician and we already have comic Mark Silcox and Daniel Lismore, who is the current reigning Leigh Bowery of the world – like a crazy creature who has come out of some couture closet. A sort of Art Scenester. I don’t want it to be all comics. It’s The Mix.”

“Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?”

David Mills in his photograph of choice

“No. I won’t be playing Edinburgh this year. I’ve been going back to the US a lot – more regularly – so I haven’t been spending time writing a new show. I’ve been gigging in LA, gigging in New York, also I have family out there. Trying to make my way. But it’s a bit of a challenge to make your way in LA if you’re only there for two weeks every three months.”

“You could,” I suggest, “get a position in the Trump administration. He’s running out of people to nominate. Do you know any Russians?”

“There was Denis Krasnov,” said David.

“He seems,” I said, “to calls himself Jack Dennis now.”

“He’s the only Russian I know,” David told me. “He used to be on the circuit in London, then he went to New York. but I don’t think he can get me into government. Well, I don’t want to be in the Trump administration, but I’d work for Milania – perhaps as a stylist or a gay best friend.”

“You are in bigtime Hollywood movies now,” I said. “Florence Foster Jenkins. What part did you play?”

“The gay friend.”

“A lot of acting involved?” I asked.

“It was a real stretch for me, John, because… I don’t have friends. For research, I had to hang around with people who have friends and let me tell you – I don’t know if you know anything about friends, but – they’re a lot of work. There’s a lot of lying involved. Lots.”

“Where was Florence Foster Jenkins filmed?”

“All over. North London, West London…”

“It was supposed to be New York?”

“But filmed in the UK, which is why I got the job. They needed an American gay friend in London. So there’s basically me or Scott Capurro and Scott wasn’t around.”

“Stephen Frears directed it,” I said. “Very prestigious. So you might appear in other films.”

“Well, I’m in the short Robert Johnson and The Devil Man directed by Matthew Highton and written by Joz Norris. Guess who plays The Devil Man.”

“Joz Norris?”

“No. They needed someone with a suit. Who looks good in a suit?… I always get those parts. When Tim Renkow did the pilot for A Brief History of Tim, they thought: We need some guy in a suit… Who?… David Mills! – so I played the part of ‘Guy in a Suit’.”

David Mills & Tim Renkow in BBC3’s A Brief History of Tim

“Yes,” I mused. “Who wears a suit? So it’s either you or Lewis Schaffer. Strange it’s always you that gets the sophisticated parts and not him.”

“That’s because he doesn’t wear a sophisticated suit,” said David. “I love Lewis Schaffer – I’m not tearing him down, right?…”

“But?” I asked.

“…he would tell you as well,” said David. “It’s sort of a shabby suit.”

“Though he would be less succinct telling me,” I suggested.

“…and shiny,” David continued. “The suit. He’s had that suit for about 15 years. I try to keep mine up-to-date.”

“What else is happening in your life?” I asked.

“I’ve got a solo show – David Mills: Mr Modern – at the very chic Brasserie ZL near Piccadilly Circus on 23rd March.”

“Why is it called Mr Modern?

“Because it’s about modern life… and about me.”

“You do have your finger in a lot of pies,” I said. “If you see what I mean.”

“I find myself increasingly on TV talking about cats,” replied David.

“Why?” I asked.

“I did a thing called LOL Cats on Channel 5. They show videos of cats, then turn to a comedian who tells jokes, then they go back to the video and then back to the comedian. It’s a ‘talking head’ thing.”

“Are you an expert on cats?” I asked.

David admitted: “I know very little about pussy…”

“No,” said David. “I know very little about pussy. But I seem to have a nose for it. And LOL Cats went well, so they had me come back to do LOL Kittens.

“The guy at the cafe I go to every morning asked me: What were you doing on TV talking about kittens? And someone at the gym said: Why were you on TV talking about cats?”

“Cats then kittens,” I said. “They will have to diversify into other species.”

“There are still big cats,” David suggested.

“Have you got cats?” I asked.

“No.”

“Too difficult in London?” I asked.

David shrugged. “I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my entire life. 17 years I’ve been here. Sometimes, I have lived in London longer than most of my audience have been alive. Often they are students or other people aged under 22.

“There’s a risk with younger audiences that they won’t get my references, they may only have been in London six months and they may tend to be scared of anything remotely edgy.”

“Student audiences at the moment,” I said, “are very right-on PC.”

“It’s something,” agreed David, “that’s endemic across a lot of clubs where young people are the primary audience. They are very nervous about jokes that touch on any sort of identity issues – unless you are taking the ‘accepted’ position. I always try and tweak my audiences a little bit. Having come from a world of identity politics and having been through certain battles and marched on certain marches, I feel I have some justification to joke about that shit. But these people don’t have a sense of humour about sexuality or gender or race or…”

“Surely,” I suggested, “YOU can do gay jokes in the same way an Indian comic can do Indian jokes.”

“I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now,” says David.

“You can,” said David, “if the target of your punchline is heterosexuality. But not if the target is homosexuality. Even if you ARE gay.”

“So,” I asked, “if I were a Scots or a Jewish comic, could I not safely joke about the Scots or the Jews being financially mean?”

“I think you can,” said David, “but I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now. Particularly around gender. Gay comics invariably wave the rainbow flag.”

“You’re saying they can’t make jokes about,” I floundered, “I dunno, retro jokes about…”

David said: “It’s not retro to be critical, to have a critical take. It IS retro to be calcified in your position and unable to hear any criticism.”

“So you couldn’t,” I asked, “do a cliché joke about camp gays?”

“I wouldn’t want to. What I would want to joke about is the oversensitivity of the gay world and there is not a lot of interest in that at the moment.”

“What sort of jokes would you want to tell and can’t?”

“I do jokes about a drug a lot of gay men take – PrEP. They take it in order to then have un-safe sex – they don’t have to use condoms. It’s sort of a prophylactic for HIV. So I say: Of course I’m on PrEP. I am a gay white man. I demand a portable treatment for my inability to control myself. And You’re not getting your money’s worth on a gay cruise unless you come back with at least one long-term manageable condition. I try to collect them all.

“With those sort of things, people are thinking: Hold on! Are you making fun of people with HIV? It’s as if there is no ability for people to laugh at themselves.”

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Agent/manager Hollie Ebdon’s Strip Light, big shout-out & Comedy Project

Angelic agent/manager Hollie Ebdon

Angelic Hollie Ebdon has a Comedy Project

So, last night was the first Strip Light show at London’s Museum of Comedy.

“It’s monthly?” I asked Hollie Ebdon of Ebdon Management.

“Yes. Tamara Cowan, who runs the Musical Comedy Awards, and I decided to set up a production arm together – Strip Light Productions. And the Strip Light show is a monthly night at the Museum of Comedy every first Thursday until August, when we go up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“It’s a stage production company?”

“Yes. Live production company. We are interested in developing acts that could tour. We felt there was a bit of a gap in the market for acts that maybe aren’t quite so straight stand-uppy and for people who want to do more interesting concept nights and make them into something bigger.”

“And, separate from that,” I said, “you’re involved in The Comedy Project.”

“Yes. Starting on Monday and every Monday for a month there are Comedy Project shows at the Soho Theatre. It’s a separate thing. It’s not part of Strip Light or Ebdon Management. The Comedy Project has been going longer even than I have been working. It was started by actress/comedy writer Rosalind Adler in the late 1990s and has continuously pushed through loads of great new comedy writing.”

“So just the same thing year after year?” I asked.

The Comedy Project 2017

Not the same annual thing: it has evolved

“No. It’s sort of evolved. There was a time when judges came in to give feedback, but the acts were kind of uncomfortable with that.”

“It was a competition?” I asked.

“No. But I think it maybe felt a bit confrontational getting feedback in a room with an audience.”

“So you run it with Rosalind Adler?”

“The last couple of years we’ve been doing it together.”

“And the idea of the Comedy Project,” I asked, “is two new scripts – one by an experienced writer and another by a less experienced writer?”

“It doesn’t matter, really,” Hollie told me. “It’s a balancing thing. It’s the mixture of the scripts and how they sit together. We don’t want to put anything too similar on together. We want acts that will complement each other tonally. So something surreal might sit next to something that could be a big BBC1 sitcom.”

“The object,” I asked, “is to find a TV sitcom?”

“The object,” said Hollie, “is to get the scripts seen by industry people who might take an option on one of them… to present the writers to commissioners – so they can learn who they are before they are pitched to them. And for the acts to be able to hear their scripts performed. They get so much feedback and they can really see what’s working.”

“They are all your clients?” I asked.

“No. Only three are my clients. We do a big shout-out to other agents and lots of other comedy writers.”

Hollie Ebdon acts

Ready to cross-pollinate

“Why are you,” I asked, “a presumably hard-headed agent, touting the work of other agents’ clients? – You can’t make any money out of them.”

“You gotta share the love,” Hollie explained.

“But,” I said, “if Fred Bloggs, a writer or actor from another agency gets a break from this, you get nowt.”

“Yeah, but that’s life. My writers and performers will cross-pollinate with other agencies’ writers and performers. It’s a community and a great thing to be able to do. I’m always going to support new writing, whoever it is.”

“You could always nick someone else’s clients,” I suggested.

“I think my eyes are good enough to pick out the best talent without having to take it off anybody else. I have a little bit of a spine left, despite being an agent, so I try my best.”

“It takes time,” I suggested, “to make money.”

“Nobody starts as a money-maker. You do have to put the time in. Things don’t happen overnight.”

“How did you become an agent?”

“The agency has been going just over 2 years. I used to work in TV production as a runner and was going up to co-ordinator level, but then I got the hump because I wanted to be a producer and I didn’t feel I was being pushed in that direction.”

“You go for the quirky end of the market,” I suggested.

“Not on purpose. I don’t feel like that. And I don’t like the word quirky. They’re just different; more interesting; unique voices.”

Ed Aczel

Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ed Aczel – What?

“Anyone who wins the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award is quirky.” I suggested. “You have Ed Aczel.”

“But he’s so inspiring,” said Hollie. “Everybody I ever put him in front of says: I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, but I want him. He gets cast in great films, Call The Midwife, whatever.”

“Are your parents in showbiz?” I asked.

“My dad’s a plumber.”

“He has loads of money, then,” I laughed. “There’s more money in plumbing than most showbiz.”

“He only recently retrained in his 50s,” said Hollie. “Before that, he used to work in a print finishers in Hackney where, essentially, you cut up flyers. He’s happy now. Everyone needs a plumber.”

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The anarchic post modernist comedy group named after the Post Office. Not.

The interior of Cafe Diana in Notting Hill

The interior of Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill

Consignia won last year’s Alternative New Comedian of the Year title. The comedy group are Phil Jarvis, Andy Barr, Nathan Willcock and now “newcomer Jason Bridge”.

Phil and Nathan had tea with me in Cafe Diana – a culinary shrine to the late Princess of Wales, opposite the Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in London’s Notting Hill and near the brutalist Czech Embassy. It was their choice of venue. Also present was Dec Munro, one of the begetters of Angel Comedy’s Bill Murray club.

Dec has let them have an entire afternoon of six previews at the Bill Murray on Sunday 5th February – from 1.45pm to 6.00pm, unless they repeat everything twice, in which case who knows?

The logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Publicity logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Consignia were performing in Swansea last night. If I had been more efficient, I could have posted this blog before then to give the gig a plug.

But I wasn’t and didn’t.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I saw their show The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show twice. Well, I had little alternative. When it got to the end of their one-hour slot, they simply did the whole show again from beginning to end. When we met at Cafe Diana, Nathan was feeling ill and was very tired. Our conversation, under walls covered in photos of Princess Diana, went like this:


Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

JOHN: I was surprised when you repeated the show in Edinburgh that there seemed to have been a script.

NATHAN: The Leicester Comedy Festival is the last time we will do that show.

PHIL: Yeah. Saturday 25th February.

NATHAN: And, after Leicester, we will do something new for Edinburgh this year.

PHIL: At the Edinburgh Fringe, I want to do an unofficial Dinner For One tribute show. I am trying to get the smallest room I can and put a table in it with six people round it.

JOHN: Isn’t the whole point of Dinner For One that he is serving things to non-existent people?

PHIL: But you could have someone playing the tiger rug and people playing the people who aren’t there.

JOHN: This show would run the whole duration of the Fringe?

PHIL: It would be a one-off. There would be a knees-up, because that’s what the show is.

JOHN: Is it?

PHIL: I think it is, yeah. A melancholic knees-up.

JOHN: A sort of Chas & Dave with tears?

PHIL: (TO ME) We are waiting for Bridge.

JOHN: Bridge?

PHIL: Jason Bridge.

JOHN: Like Godot?

PHIL: Mmmm…

JOHN: But, apart from your Dinner For One with six people, what is the new Consignia show for Edinburgh?

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis pay homage to Princess Diana

Nathan Willcock (left) & Phil Jarvis pay homage to Lady Diana

PHIL: Panopticon.

JOHN: Why is it called that?

PHIL: It has to be more pretentious than last year’s.

NATHAN: We have a gig booked in Norwich for it already.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: We did it last year. That’s where last year’s gig found its feet. Before that, The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show was a disaster.

NATHAN: I went to university in Norwich.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: I’m going to run a gig in Basingstoke.

JOHN: What? Into the ground?

PHIL: Probably. It’s a regular monthly gig.

JOHN: Called…?

PHIL: Goat.

JOHN: Because it will make people feel horny?

PHIL: No. It’s just a name.

DEC: Someone named their rap album Goat.

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

PHIL: I think there’s a band called Goat as well.

JOHN: And an animal.

PHIL: If you put the words ‘a Comedy Club’ next to it, it says ‘Go at a Comedy Club’.

NATHAN: Nobody says: “Go at a comedy club.”

PHIL: I do.

NATHAN: You should call it GOAT 2 – “Goat 2 a comedy club.”

JOHN: So why call yourselves Consignia?

NATHAN: We didn’t have a name in Edinburgh last year, but now we have retrospectively given ourselves a name.

JOHN (TO NATHAN): Are you going to fall forward unconscious into that soup or what?

Nathan Willcock was feeling a bit ill

Nathan Willcock alas did not fall into his soup

NATHAN: It’s very hot.

JOHN: Why did you choose the name Consignia?

NATHAN: It was going to be the new name of the Post Office but they got rid of it, so we thought: We’ll have it.

JOHN: You didn’t think of calling yourselves The Post Office?

PHIL: It’s not as funny.

NATHAN: With Consignia, only a few people remember it happening. It was so stupid. I had to check with people: Did that actually happen?

JOHN: Ah. So it IS suitable for your shows, then.

NATHAN: We are hoping to get into a high-profile legal battle with the bloke who thought up the name.

PHIL: We like faded things.

JOHN: Is that why you invited me here?

NATHAN: We like pointless, meaningless things.

PHIL: That is why we like brutalism in architecture.

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy

Nathan Willcock and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy in London

JOHN: Are you sure you are not misunderstanding the word? It is not just beating-up people in the street.

PHIL: We want to perform at The Comedy Store.

JOHN: In the Gong Show bit?

NATHAN: Yes. They film you and you can pay £5 to get a copy. We could probably use it in our new show: about us being booed off. We will just stay on stage.

PHIL: They will be gonging and we will just stay on until the bouncers come on to get us. They will think about it a bit.

NATHAN: Basically, we want them to get violent… and then we will see if we can still get the video.

JOHN: You really do misunderstand what Brutalism is.

NATHAN: He still hasn’t turned up.

JOHN: Who?

PHIL: Jason Bridge. He will be with us in Leicester. With my son.

JOHN: You have a son?

PHIL: No.

NATHAN: Do you remember anything from our show in Edinburgh?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: The one you sat through twice.

JOHN: No. I do remember the second time was a revelation because I thought: I’ve never seen anything like this before.

PHIL: Do you not remember me covered in blood wearing a gas mask, holding my son?

JOHN: No. I thought I must have dreamt that.

PHIL: You saw my penis.

JOHN: Did I see it twice?

PHIL: Yes you did.

JOHN: I don’t remember it.

NATHAN: My girlfriend hates that.

Nathan Willcock Facebook header image

Can you spot Nathan Willcock in his Facebook header image?

JOHN: His penis?

NATHAN: No… Nicholas. Because Nicholas is covered in egg and mud…

JOHN: His son?

PHIL: …and guacamole…

NATHAN:…but I refuse to throw it out. It’s in our cupboard.

JOHN: Why is guacamole funny? All those Al Queda prisoners in there for years on end…

PHIL: Do you not remember our show at all, John?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: You remember we put a carrot and some humus on stage…

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: …and then played a really slowed-down version of Daphne & Celeste and then walked off stage and the audience just looked at this carrot and humus.

PHIL: One night, we couldn’t find any humus. We could only find discounted guacamole.

NATHAN: That was the night the second show happened – the X-rated one – the night you were there, John. We did everything naked.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And, instead of putting a carrot in the guacamole, we put Phil’s penis in it and put a microphone to it.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And guacamole is a bit spicy so Phil said it hurt quite a bit.

PHIL: I had a mild burn for the rest of the Fringe.

Phil Jarvis

Phil Jarvis felt off-colour during the Fringe

NATHAN: That’s how committed we are.

JOHN: And your girlfriend is not keen on this?

PHIL: His fiancée now.

JOHN: (TO NATHAN) Oh! Congratulations.

NATHAN: She asked me.

JOHN: How did she ask you?

NATHAN: She took me to Belgium.

JOHN: Is that a euphemism I don’t know? I have heard “took me round the world” but never “took me to Belgium”.

NATHAN: Ghent. She didn’t go down on one knee. She just gave me a ring underneath the belfry.

JOHN: Is that another euphemism I haven’t heard?

NATHAN: December 9th. The wedding. It’s going to have a Christmas theme. We had a load of crackers delivered the other day.

JOHN: In January? For your December wedding? That’s forward planning.

NATHAN: She’s very organised. We have put the soundtrack for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show up on Bandcamp and you can buy the full album for £1,000. You can also download individual tracks for free.

JOHN: It is all commercialism with you, isn’t it?

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Simon Jay on the inauguration thoughts of the OTHER President Donald Trump

Simon Jay - Donald Trump

Simon Jay’s show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Simon was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

For about nine months, Simon Jay has been getting noticed for his one-man show Trumpageddon in which he riffs as the esteemed President Elect, who gets inaugurated this Friday.

“Are you doing anything to celebrate?” I asked Simon via Skype this morning.

“I’m going to go on Facebook Live,” he told me, “and, at 5.00pm (UK time), as you watch the inauguration on TV, you’ll be able to hear his thoughts streamed via Facebook Live –  as voiced by me.”

“When you first started doing Trump,” I said, “you must have thought: I want Trump to be elected President because I can get a four-year-long act out of this.”

“I was hoping he would LOSE for two reasons. One, obviously, for the good of the planet. But also because, genuinely, I think he has a very limited shelf-life as effective satire. It will become less effective.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there are three possibilities. One: he will get shot. Two: he will get impeached. Three: he might turn into a good President because you don’t want a nice, principled man as President. Jimmy Carter, apparently nice man: ineffective President. Richard Nixon, a right shit: internationally, a pretty good President.”

“I think that’s a little over-simplistic view of American politics!” laughed Simon.

“That’s my speciality,” I told him. “The trouble is Trump is not a hard, cynical politician. He’s a little schoolboy throwing tantrums and trying to bully people… So do you feel an affinity to him? How do you ‘become’ Trump?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “it’s like drag. You put on the orange make-up, put on the suit and red tie and flop the hair about.”

Simon Jay being made into Donald Trump

“It’s like drag. You put on orange make-up and flop the hair”

“You wear a wig as Trump?” I asked.

“No! It’s my own hair. Unlike him, I actually use my own hair.”

“He wears a wig?” I asked.

“It’s monkey glands,” Simon replied. “Implants, like Elton John. Trump’s hairline goes in two different directions. Half of it grows from one angle and the other half from another angle. It’s like M.C.Escher hair.”

“And his psychology?” I asked.

“He’s so easy to play,” said Simon, “because he thinks everyone loves him. No matter what happens or what I say, I will be loved – so it’s perfect. It’s a wonderful narcissistic power trip.”

“How,” I asked, “do you put yourself inside his mindset?”

“I just go blank,” explained Simon. “It’s a kind of Zen state, because he doesn’t say anything particularly. His verbal mannerisms are just so airy, it’s almost like Beat Poetry – the same couple of phrases and words over and over again. It’s not like thought, is it?”

“He really IS like a school kid stamping his feet,” I said.

“Well,” said Simon, “if you look at his childhood, he used to bite his nannies and attack them. Terrible anger issues.”

“Have you,” I asked, “watched Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live?”

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

Alec Baldwin in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

“Yes. It is really interesting to see Saturday Night Live go a bit further in its takedown of a politician, but it’s still nowhere near like our satire. We are a lot more horrible to our politicians. Saturday Night Live say: Oh, Trump is obsessed by money and is a bit sexist! On Spitting Image, we had Thatcher as Adolf Hitler, gassing people! They could be a bit tougher. When Tina Fey did Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was still a nod and a wink and the real Sarah Palin actually appeared with her.”

“Trump has gone wrong on the PR,” I suggested, “by attacking Saturday Night Live. Politicians have to be seen to laugh with comedy digs.”

“But maybe Trump is very clever,” Simon replied. “Everyone is reporting: Look at him! He can’t even take a joke! That distracts people from the politics: Look! He’s appointed this cabinet that are going to roll-back so many things. They’re pro-life, anti-gay, racist. People are talking less about that when they’re talking about him and Alec Baldwin.”

“So,” I asked, “how do you differ from Alec Baldwin?”

“I’m nowhere near as famous!” laughed Simon, “and I have nowhere near the same influence.”

“Will you be doing 20-minute spots in comedy clubs as Trump?”

“No, because it’s not an impression; it’s a whole hour-long show. It’s a characterisation in its own surreal world. So seeing it for a few minutes would not work in the same way.”

“Is there a risk,” I asked, “that you get so typed as Trump in the next four years that Simon Jay will lose-out as a performer?”

“Yeah. I’ll do other projects. I want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe and do Trump AND something else. Everyone is advising me against doing two shows again, but I would like to.”

“So your Trump show at this year’s Fringe…?” I prompted.

Orange is the new black in the US Donald Trump Simon Jay

For voters in the USA, it seems orange really is the new black

“The Trump thing has been taken on by a proper producer now – James Seabright – so it will be more packaged and slick though it will still be the same raw, slightly unpalatable truth it was last time.”

“Any reaction so far from the man in the Trump Tower?” I asked.

“No,” said Simon. “Part of the previous show was a bit where I was molesting a rabbit and I got the audience to take pictures of it and said: Can you Tweet the pictures to me? meaning me. But some people sent them to the real Donald Trump. So he maybe has a lot of photos of me looking like him, molesting a rabbit, but I have had no complaint from him yet.”

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Malcolm Hardee, the squatters and the upcoming Cunning Stunt in Edinburgh

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock

In November and December last year, I posted a series of blogs about the late comic Malcolm Hardee’s former floating pub/comedy club The Wibbley Wobbley.

There were squatters living on board in November.

In December, the boat was towed away from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe to nearby South Dock Marina and, a few days later, towed away to be scrapped.

This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.

“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”

“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”

“Any leftovers?”

“No. Only mice.”

“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.

“We could, but we have standards.”

“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe(Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”

“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”

“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”

“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”

“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”

“Physically?”

“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”

“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”

“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”

“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.

“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”

“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.

“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”

“What?” I asked.

“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”

“What does it mean?”

Darryl the Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre Bar

Darryl the Saintly Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”

“What?”

“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.

“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”

“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”

“What was in the fridge?” I asked.

“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.

“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.

“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.

“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Malcolm would have approved of what you are doing.” (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”

“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”

“Did he ever find out?” I asked.

“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”

“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.

“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”

“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.

“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”

“From…?” I asked.

The interior of the Wibbley Wobbley during the occupation by squatters

Interior of Wibbley Wobbley during the squatter occupation.

“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”

“She lived in a nearby flat?”

“Yeah.”

“And threw rocks?”

“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”

“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”

“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.

“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!

“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”

“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.” 

“Not in those exact words?”

“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”

“And the future…?” I asked.

“We have been inspired by Malcolm and an anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”

“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

One of the increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Awards

“And the stunt is…?” I asked.

“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.

“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”

“Legal, I think.”

“How disappointing,” I said.

“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”

“Between time and space?” I asked.

“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.

“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”

“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”

“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”

“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”

“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”

“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”

“Absolutely,” said Darryl.

transformerdiy

“Anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe”

 

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