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Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

Exactly one month ago, I posted a blog about how performer Sara Mason had lost her Leicester Comedy Festival venue next February because, after the programme had been printed, the venue owner decided he did not want her Beginner’s Guide to Bondage show to soil his floorboards.

I asked Sara this week about the effect of the blog.


SARA: It had a wonderful effect. First of all, I was interviewed in the Leicester Mercury. Then I got on BBC Radio Leicester. And then Big Difference managed to book me into Just The Tonic at The Shed for the same slot on the same night – Valentine’s Night at 9.30pm. Then another venue owner who had been ignoring all my emails rang me up and offered a venue – too late. So clearly notoriety in your blog had an effect. Meanwhile, this week, I am doing A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage at Kentish Town in London – this coming Friday and Sunday.

Sara’s show CAN be seen in Kentish Town in London on 14th and 16th December

JOHN: So people who don’t want to traipse to Leicester in February can see it in London this week.

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe again next August?

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: What are you doing with it between February in Leicester and August in Edinburgh?

SARA: I might do it again in Brighton in May. But I also have a new idea I would like to do.

JOHN: Oooh…

SARA: An Intermediate Guide to Bondage would be interesting, because then I could look at the oddities that people have, like mummification and the…

JOHN: Whoaa! What?

SARA: Mummification with cling film wrap. À chacun son goût.

JOHN: This is not for beginners?

SARA: Well, in A Beginner’s Guide, you would not really want to cover the more out-there fetishes. Even a Pony Boy or Pony Girl might be a bit too much.

JOHN: Whoaa! again.

SARA: A Pony Boy. You put a bridle on them and, hopefully, a butt-plug with a tail and then you ride around on them or make them pull your carriage.

JOHN: Why ‘hopefully’ a butt-plug?

SARA: Well, because not everyone wants a tail butt-plug. They have a bit in their teeth and they go Neeeiiiggghhh! Neeeiiiggghhh! You crack the whip as you ride them. Neeeiiiggghhh! Whinny! Whinny! all that sort of stuff. It’s hardcore. It’s a bit more than anything in The Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: If you are teaching people about bondage, should there be ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? 

SARA: Possibly.

JOHN: Would there be a third show after A Beginner’s Guide and An Intermediate Guide?

SARA: An Advanced Guide? Well, some of these fetishes are more understandable and approachable than others. Some are more for the diehards. Mummification, I think, is quite funny. And then, of course, there are rubber fetishes.

Angelic Sara Mason at the Soho Theatre Bar

I told you about going to Torture Garden and a couple came in, both dressed up as frogmen or women. They were completely encased in rubber from head to toe. One was tall; one was short; but it was impossible to tell which was the man and which was the woman.

JOHN: With flippers?

SARA: Yes. And, after a moment, they opened a little zip in their crotch, mounted a stirrup table and began copulating. The noise was squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak like a very squeaky bed. Not very frog-like. That would have been more…

JOHN: …riveting?

SARA: Yes. But the amazing thing was I still couldn’t tell which one was a boy. After a while, they climbed off and zipped themselves up. I had to stop and just laugh. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

JOHN: Why have you got a bit of rubber on your finger? Is that a fetish?

SARA: No.I have a poorly finger. It is kinesiology tape. It has a stretch to it and is good for inflammation but I think I have arthritis, which is neither sexy nor mistressy, though luckily it is my left hand.

JOHN: A big relief for us all. In A Beginners Guide, you play the role of Mistress Venetia. Are you developing that character?

SARA: I am thinking of making her an agony aunt because, at the end of my show in Edinburgh this year, I did suggest that, if anyone wanted private lessons, I could oblige. And quite a number of girls did approach me to say they would like private lessons in domination. They wanted to learn to be a bit more ‘dom’. So that was intriguing because I had put it in as a bit of a joke but, in fact, I did have a few takers. There probably is a niche market out there for ladies who want to learn the business.

JOHN: Any other offers to audience members?

SARA: I have offered free fistings to any Brexiteers in the audience.

JOHN: So what is Mistress Venetia’s character?

Sara as “lovably dotty” Mistress Venetia

SARA: She is a ‘dotty’ dominatrix.

JOHN: How dotty?

SARA: Well, she’s lovably dotty.

JOHN: She dots the eyes and crosses the tease?

SARA: She’s a bit dotty because some of her ideas are really quite ‘out there’.

JOHN: The show is billed as comedy. Is it comedy because you put in lots of jokes or because what you are talking about is not quite as serious as the customers think?

SARA: I think what they do IS quite funny. A lot of it is very funny.

JOHN: But, in the real world, the men being dominated presumably don’t think of it as being humorous.

SARA: There can be a lot of laughter in the dungeons. If you don’t like laughing, you wouldn’t enjoy a session of domination with me.

JOHN: …if you were a real dominatrix and not a performer.

SARA: …if I were a real dominatrix and not a performer. (LAUGHS) I think you use your own personality no matter what you do. Mistress Venetia is dotty and quite funny. If you approach domination and say this is a very frightening, traumatic, torturous thing then, OK, I am not gonna wanna play with you. You are not my type of playmate. My type of playmate wants excitement, joy and doesn’t mind if I take the piss out of him.

JOHN: Sometimes literally.

SARA: Exactly. In the show, Mistress Venetia says she doesn’t mind the occasional golden shower. It can be quite refreshing. But scat is a kink too far from me. I don’t judge anybody for whatever their fetish is. Everybody has the right to whatever sexual expression they want and, certainly, if you’ve never tried something, you have no right to judge about it.

There are certain things that are not my cup of tea but good luck to the people who want to do them. Scat is not for me.

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Michael Livesley: The Bonzo Dog’s Viv Stanshall & understanding masculinity

Michael Livesley has been reviving the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Vivian Stanshall’s iconic show Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End  for nine years with sundry Stanshall-related co-stars.

Now, he is doing two final shows – on December 7th (next Friday) at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London and on December 12th at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.

The Daily Telegraph described the show as “a combination of Downton Abbey and Gormenghast set to music”.

We had a chat in a Wetherspoons pub in London.

Why is he doing two more shows? 

Why is he stopping?


MICHAEL: I can’t do any more. Nine years of having someone else in yer head is enough – especially when that person is Vivian Stanshall.

Viv Stanshall: the original Sir Henry

It’s a lot of work and it has kicked open a lot of doors for me and it’s great fun but it’s enough. We did the album with Rick Wakeman and Neil Innes. We did the Bristol Old Vic with Stephen Fry. We’ve done the London Palladium, the Glastonbury Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve done the Millenium/O2 Dome in London. A lot of other stuff. And we will be filming this one at the Bloomsbury Theatre for a Sky Arts thing.

JOHN: So why?

MICHAEL: In March this year, I was living in a village between Winchester and Andover in Hampshire – which is where we recorded the album in the shed – and it was great. But ultimately you run out of road in these places. There was nothing happening, so it was time to move back to Liverpool and I thought: Let’s put something in the work diary – and it’s the 40th anniversary of Sir Henry.

JOHN: And what happens after these two shows?

MICHAEL: There’s a Rodney Slater’s Parrots gig at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool on 14th December. And I am doing the Edinburgh Fringe myself next year.

JOHN: Doing what?

MICHAEL: A show called Half the Man because I’ve lost five stone in three months and I intend to be half the man by the time that happens and my stand-up, when I do it, is all about my observations of being brought up by a single mother and a grandmother: the challenges of establishing your manhood within that female environment.

That’s why I hang out in Wetherspoons: so I can hang out amongst real men. These places are almost like social breweries, because they filter out the impurities in society like me and give us somewhere to reside for a while. It’s a place that’s essentially filled with wounded gazelles: divorced men, single men, who salt their wounds with warm lager. I fit right in here.

JOHN: By drinking?

Michael, in Wetherspoons, has given up drink

MICHAEL:  I am treating myself to beer today because it was my birthday last week. But, other than this, I’ve not drunk beer since August.

JOHN: And you are giving up Sir Henry too…

MICHAEL: I’m not denigrating it in any way – it’s fucking genius, but it’s not mine. It’s a bit of imposter syndrome. But, paradoxically, doing it has enabled me to find my own voice in a strange way: it gave me the vehicle to get on stage in front of people.

I sort of made a compromise when I was 16 to be a musician rather than a performer and this gave me the excuse to take it on. That’s partly what I want to explore with Half The Man. There’s a conversation to be had about what masculinity is and isn’t.

JOHN: You are gonna talk about ‘Northern folk’?

MICHAEL: Well, talk about growing up in the 1980s, growing up in the North without a dad in a very small village in Lancashire where it was all Catholic and shit… it was no picnic… Some people have a really tough life. This was NOT a really tough life.

JOHN: But…?

MICHAEL: But because me mum weren’t married, it used to rile the teachers in this Catholic school. Our side of the street were Catholic and the other side were Protestant; and we’re only talking about the 1980s. I remember standing in the front room with the curtains shut when the Protestants were on their Walk.

JOHN: The Catholics had a walk too?

MICHAEL: It was kind of like a Virgin Mary thing with a cart with stuff on it.

The teachers at my school had also taught me mum and all me uncles and aunties. I would get a school book and there would be me auntie’s name in it from 30 years back. The teachers were all long past retirement. There was a guy who taught me in the 1980s and he had been in the First World War! Fuck knows how old he was! He had a yellow streak in his hair because he always had a fag in his mouth. He reeked of whisky and had yellow teeth and used to beat the shit out of us.

I saw him take a little girl who sat next to me out to the front of the class and he pulled her knickers down and bare-bottomed smacked her. She was a 5-year-old! Real men don’t beat children. That ain’t masculine! That’s just complete and utter barbarism.

There is a whole confusion about what masculinity really is. The sort-of imposition of masculinity in those communities was completely at odds with what I believe masculinity is.

There was one murder in the village where I grew up. 

JOHN: How many people in the village?

MICHAEL: About 300 or 400. It was a mining village.

JOHN: What was the murder?

MICHAEL: This guy – Mulligan – murdered his girlfriend in the local woods. His dad was the village wife-beater. This sounds like bullshit but there WAS a village wife-beater. Everyone knew he did it. He was the guy whose wife had a black eye going for the bread on a Sunday morning. Everybody knew it and everybody tolerated it.

My mum used to say that men love women but they don’t like them. That ain’t true in general but in that village – that little place – I think it was.

Anyway, so when Mulligan stood up in court and they asked him why he’d murdered his girlfriend, he said: “I thought that’s what you did.”

That is true.

And you can buy into that, because all he had seen all his life was his dad knocking bloody hell out of his mum.

And that is quite incongruous because, in the world I grew up in, the women were in charge. Everyone colluded in the illusion that men were in charge but they were not and I don’t think that’s a peculiarly Northern industrial thing. I think that goes across the animal kingdom. And the frustration and anger that that situation brings about with the section of the population that are physically stronger is… Well, that’s the kind of world I grew up in. 

When I was 16, I started working in a pub and, on a Sunday morning, they would put trays on the bar with black pudding and tripe and cheese – a peculiarly Northern Catholic thing which I had not been aware of at home, because alcohol played no part in my upbringing. 

Until I started work, I was not aware of 50% of life, because I was brought up in a 100% female household. It was a male thing. On a Sunday, men went to the pub, ate meat and left the women at home.

In my home, we had a half-bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky that me grandad won in the Catholic club in the 1970s that remained untouched until me mum met the man they called Barry and then it went within a week. 

JOHN: The man they called Barry?

MICHAEL: Her boyfriend. My mam met the man they called Barry when I was 13. He was just a fucking alcoholic wanker. 

JOHN: Is he still alive?

MICHAEL: No. Everyone’s dead. That’s the crazy thing about the North. Within about 20 years, every fucker’s dead. There’s no longevity.

JOHN: So this is your next year’s Edinburgh Fringe show – with a few laughs thrown in.

MICHAEL: In one of your blogs, you said every successful Edinburgh comedy show needs a dead dad story!

JOHN: Yes, at about 40 minutes into the hour…

MICHAEL: I’ve got nothing BUT dead dads, not that I’ve ever met me dad.

JOHN: I saw a show the other day and the comic wasn’t good enough to sustain 60 minutes. The show sagged at about 32 minutes and I thought: You need a dead dad story in there…

MICHAEL:  After nine years of doing someone else’s work, you end up with this big backlog of things you wanna say yourself.

JOHN: And you now have nine years’ experience of how to say things.

MICHAEL: Yes. I had no father figure to explain where I should fit in… it’s all that stuff I want to explore… and doing Sir Henry has given me the legs to realise how to do that.

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Comic Sara Mason is being paid NOT to perform her hit Fringe show in Leicester

This show is not happening – at least, not in this venue, not on that date, possibly not in Leicester…

JOHN: So you no longer have a venue for your show at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February.

SARA: That’s right.

JOHN: Because?

SARA: Because the CEO of the venue I was booked in suddenly flatly refused to have me perform.

JOHN: Because?

SARA: He or she didn’t say. But he or she did say he or she would not be persuaded and he or she was obviously horrified by the subject matter.

JOHN: So he or she accepted your show and then changed his or her mind?

SARA: Well, the wonderful Big Difference Company had programmed it in the venue as a Valentine’s Day show – which I thought was a brilliant idea – and the CEO then looked at the line-up after the brochure had been printed – and absolutely, categorically would not allow me to perform.

JOHN: You had already paid to go in the brochure…

SARA: Yes. The CEO totally, categorically agreed to pay me a figure I won’t divulge NOT to perform the show at the venue.

JOHN: Can you perform it somewhere else in Leicester?

Sara, surprised by the sudden cancellation

SARA: At this point, most venues are full – the brochure has been printed. I started discussing a venue for this show back in August – before my run at the Edinburgh Fringe had finished – and the brochure deadline was mid-October. 

JOHN: What’s the title of the show?

SARA: A Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: One might think the CEO could have got a hint of the subject from the title.

SARA: Possibly. But I suppose it could have been about a housewife ‘chained’ to the kitchen sink.

JOHN: Or someone who just liked James Bond films.

SARA: Indeed… I am sure we would have sold out on Valentine’s Day night. People are interested in the subject. That’s the thing about this show. Audiences are interested. But the critics don’t want to know. The press don’t want to know. The publicists at the Edinburgh Fringe didn’t want to represent me. I tried to get a publicist. Couldn’t get one. Yet, at the end of the day, I was sold out every single performance.

JOHN: I’m never totally convinced about the value of publicists at the Fringe.

SARA: I felt I would never get reviewed at the Fringe if I didn’t have a publicist. And I wasn’t. And that was – is – the reality. To book a tour for this show is possibly impossible.

JOHN: Though your show got audiences in in Edinburgh – which is no mean feat.

SARA: My show is a feminist and funny look at all the weird and wonderful kinks that people can have. It’s not judgmental and it’s not for the raincoat brigade. One chap from the raincoat brigade came to see it in Edinburgh. He came in his raincoat with a plastic bag and sat by himself in the crowded back row. He walked out after about ten minutes and complained to the manager that he thought the show was very sexist and anti-male – particularly, I assume, anti white, middle class men. I felt I should put that quote on my programme! He was the only person who has ever been offended, apart from a Tory lady who was offended by what I said about Boris Johnson.

JOHN: Which was?

SARA: I said that I would like to use my massive strap-on on him. Usually, that gets rounds of applause and shrieks of laughter, particularly in Scotland, where they are not very fond of Boris or Brexit. But there happened to be a party of Tory voters in who – although they liked the show… Well, one lady felt morally upset that I was bringing politics into my show. 

But a dominatrix is a human being with a political opinion and it’s my show and I can say what I like. Without a doubt, all of the dominatrices I have ever met were Left Wing and all of their security guards were Right Wing.

JOHN: Security guards?

Sara’s show CAN be seen in London on 14th and 16th December in a Kentish Town venue

SARA: They all have security. Someone to answer the door and security at night. Sometimes they are ex-Army and usually they are Right Wing. I think dominatrices tend to be Left Wing.

JOHN: Why?

SARA: (LAUGHS) Maybe because they like beating rich toffs for money.

JOHN: So the Tory lady who went to your show did not object to the title or subject of the show.

SARA: No. Just me dissing Boris Johnson.

JOHN: Did you have the ‘dead dad’ bit that all successful Edinburgh shows are supposed to have?

SARA: I included a sad story, yes. But the Tory lady who didn’t like my Boris Johnson references said she didn’t understand why there was a deeply-upsetting, sad moment. My reaction was: Well, you don’t understand how you write a play or a comedy show. There is always a climax and then a resolution.

JOHN: Indeed.

SARA: If you are writing a play, you call it the climax. In comedy, it’s the ‘dead dad’ moment and then you get them back laughing again.

JOHN: The show was a success in Edinburgh…

SARA: It sold out. There were queues down the street. Hardly any of my friends could get in to see it – Only if they told me when they were coming and I physically reserved them a seat.

JOHN: Who were the audience in Edinburgh?

SARA: In the main, young – under 26 – and more women than men. On the few nights when there was a bit of a geezerish crowd – a chav crowd – the sort of guys who sat in the front row hopin’ I’d get me tits out – they didn’t laugh half as much and I didn’t enjoy performing to that crowd at all. 

Sara in costume at the Edinburgh Fringe

I had one night when it was a predominately male audience with a few of these geezers sitting in the front – they were quite big and made me feel quite threatened. After that, in every performance, I would pick either couples or a group of girls who didn’t look too frightening and ask them to sit in the front row. So I couldn’t be heckled by people who had come to the show for the wrong reasons.

The thing is it’s a Fem-Dom show. Which part of Fem-Dom didn’t audience members understand? Did they not know I would be taking the piss out of certain men? Not in a horrible way, because my show does not judge even the slightly yuck fetishes. We live in a free society. 

Nowadays, we have transgender, transvestite, gay shows. We have all types of things. But it seems like ‘kink’ and bondage is still an unpronounceable thing. Why should that be so? Let people do what they like in the bedroom. We can laugh and giggle. I show my delight at people’s eccentricity. Everyone has a right to express themselves.

JOHN: Did you aim your show at a particular type of person?

SARA: I have a friend who is a theatre director and he told me: In your show, reach out to the ‘vanilla’ couples in the audience and let them know it’s OK to experiment. It’s not abnormal. So I end my show with a little speech to the vanillas, offering them a little role-play exercise they can do with each other to discover if they are sub or dom or neither or vanilla or double vanilla. 

JOHN: Or strawberry whip.

SARA: Exactly. I give them that speech and they seem to enjoy that.

Three years in the making, the design for the publicity flyer went through some changes when it was a Work in Progress

JOHN: How do you know so much about the subject of bondage?

SARA: I take the Fifth Amendment, but I spent three years writing this show. Everything in it is true. Even ‘the nose man’.

JOHN: The nose man?

SARA: The nose man needs his nose to be stimulated in order to achieve any sort of gratification. Now – look – that is quite amusing, you have to admit.

JOHN: Does he think it’s amusing?

SARA: No. But it is a known fetish. It’s called nasophilia.

JOHN: Well, people sometimes like their ears fiddled with – that’s aural sex.

SARA: There is a fetish for everything.

JOHN: You mentioned rubbish.

SARA: ‘Rubbish Boy’ likes you to put him in a wheelie bin and cover him with rubbish.

JOHN: Smelly rubbish?

SARA: Any kind of rubbish. So my character in the show – Mistress Venetia, the ‘dotty dominatrix’ – one time she put him in the bath tub and covered him with all the rubbish from the flat and he wanked himself to completion. Of course, I made him clean it up afterwards – half a bottle of bleach – he loves that. 

Another time, Mistress Venetia put him in a pair of ballet tights and taught him some ballet moves. Bend-down-stretch… bend-down-stretch. She taught him a pas de chat and he was leaping all over the dungeon. That is a true story. He said it was the best day of his life. The real man is quite chubby and had never been asked to do ballet before.

JOHN: So the good people of Leicester are not going to hear any of this.

SARA: Not without a venue, they aren’t.

(… THIS STORY HAD A HAPPY OUTCOME… READ MORE HERE )

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Romanian musical comic Dragos aka Titus and a theory of universal comedy

I blogged about Dragoş Moştenescu almost exactly a year ago – around four weeks after he arrived in the UK from Romania.

In Romania, he was a TV star, appearing in his own hit TV sitcom La Bloc for seven years and more than 700 episodes.

This coming weekend, he will be starring in his almost two-hour show All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.


JOHN: You have been in the UK for almost a year now…

DRAGOS: Yes. I came to London because – first – the language. And second because – no matter what your field of work – if your performance is good, then they will accept you here. Britain – especially London – is already a mix of cultures. I like it. I have decided to move here for good, with my wife and kids, maybe next year – my son and twin daughters – non-identical. One is blonde; one is brown-haired.

JOHN: The Leicester Square Theatre event on Saturday is a one-man show?

DRAGOS: Not quite. The Romanian comedian Radu Isac is opening for me… and Luca Cupani from Italy, who won the So You Think You’re Funny contest a couple of years ago.

JOHN: Why do you bill yourself as Titus and not Dragos?

DRAGOS: Titus is my middle name and I think, when British people see a poster, Titus is easier to pronounce and keep in mind and Dragos is more East European so I think is not so appropriate whether or not Brexit happens.

JOHN: I can’t think of any big-name Romanian musical comedians in Britain. So I guess that’s your Unique Selling Proposition.

TITUS: I would try to put being Romanian to one side. I doubt that being Romanian is a selling point.

JOHN: Well, it makes you stand out from the opposition.

TITUS: I am not really trying to compete with very well-known and very talented stand-up comedians in the UK. I do not do stand-up comedy. What I do is more of a one-man show where music is involved and live piano and non-verbal moments. Like a pantomime, more-or-less. Musical comedy and non-verbal.

JOHN: So your act can appeal to anyone…

Titus/Elton as you won’t be seeing him on Saturday – possibly

TITUS: Yes, this is why I keep everything on the stage to general topics – family, kids, money, iPhones or technical things which have taken over our lives lately. I speak about Count Dracula, who is an international icon.

JOHN: And you do some songs as Elton John, who is known internationally.

TITUS: I won’t be doing Elton John on Saturday. Well, maybe as an encore. But I am trying to show people how I can combine music and comedy more generally. If I am only known for doing Elton John, I will never make a name for myself properly. Elvis Presley impersonators only get known as Elvis Presley impersonators; people do not even remember the name of the performer.

JOHN: Your Leicester Square Theatre show is an attempt to get seen by influential people.

TITUS: Yes. My next step has to be to try to get an agent, which would ease things for me. You cannot thrive by yourself.

JOHN: I heard about one agent who said they would not represent a 26-year-old performer because she was too old. Agents tend to want young, inexperienced people so they can mould them and take credit for their success.

TITUS: Being older than 26 has its downsides and upsides. My 20 years of television and performance experience means I don’t need to build up my performance or act in the same way a 26 year-old has to.

JOHN: Do you own La Bloc, the Romanian TV sitcom?

TITUS: Yes. I was not only the producer and an actor in it, but I created it. I created it from a blank page to what it became. It ran daily Monday-Thursday for roughly seven months a year over seven years – over 700 episodes.

JOHN: That’s a lot of sevens and a lot of plot lines.

TITUS: Yes. I developed a team of about ten writers.

JOHN: Not seven?

TITUS: No.

JOHN: How does British comedy differ from Romanian comedy?

TITUS: What we do not have in the Balkans so intensely or so consistently is one-liners. Here in the UK there are a lot of one-liner comedians: punchline after punchline after punchline. Short jokes one after the other.

JOHN: At the Edinburgh Fringe, the successful shows in the last ten years or more have tended to be story-based. The comics have to fill an hour and that is very difficult with just gags, unless you are Jimmy Carr or Milton Jones or Tim Vine. 

TITUS: Yes. I went up to Edinburgh this year to see shows and there were several shows like this. They were doing a type of storytelling where you do not necessarily have to laugh every two or three minutes. They build you up a little bit, then there is a good section of laughs and they end with an idea.

JOHN: And they love a bit of autobiographical tragedy in comedy shows at the Fringe. There is the ‘dead dad’ moment…

TITUS: Dead dad moment?

JOHN: The audience tends to lose concentration after about 40 minutes, so you suddenly throw in some unexpected tragedy like your father died of cancer – it has to be true – and the audience is grabbed by the throat and pay attention again. Their emotions fall off a cliff and then you build them up again to an uplifting, happy ending.

Titus: “Comedy equals Truth plus Pain”

TITUS: Yes. Comedy equals Truth plus Pain.

JOHN: Truth plus Time?

TITUS: Truth plus Pain. What is Pain? It’s Truth and, if you can extract comedy from this, that is genuine, pristine comedy.

JOHN: I suppose the classic cliché comedy gag is someone slipping on a banana skin although, in the real world, that is not funny; it’s tragedy. So you are laughing at someone else’s troubles, from relief they are not yours.

TITUS: Exactly. In Henri Bergson’s book Laughter, he breaks the mechanism down to the basics and he explains how and why people laugh. He states there that punishment or accidents apply on human subjects and…

JOHN: I guess one reason why people laugh is the unexpected. A release of tension. Even if it is tragic, like slipping on a banana skin, they will laugh because it is unexpected. People laugh at one-liners for the same reason: because the punchline is unexpected.

TITUS: Yes, the book How To Be Funny Even If You’re Not is interesting. It mentions the Rule of Three.  

JOHN: And it does always tend to be better with three. Two or four don’t work. It’s all in the…

TITUS: …timing. 

JOHN: That is universal. But if, in Romania, there was no tradition of punchline-punchline-punchline comedy, what was.… In Italy, they had Commedia dell’arte… What was the tradition in Romania or the Balkans in general? Storytelling?

TITUS: More-or-less, yes. Monologues. Not necessarily told from your own perspective, which British and American stand-up routines are. In our monologues, you can talk about something that happened to another guy or it can be pure imagination and fiction.

JOHN: We had that sort of tradition in the Victorian and Edwardian music halls and in the 1930s – Stanley Holloway and others. There are storytelling nights cropping up in London now – Spark, Natural Born Storytellers and others. Have you seen any of those?

TITUS: No. But this is what I do in my show. A sort of storytelling. I come up with a kind of a theme, make a statement, a premise, build it up a little bit, then turn to music.

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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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Filed under Age, Burlesque, Cabaret, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Sex