And here (risking copyright infringement) is what they reckoned…
Who was Bloody Norah and why is she used as an exclamation?
Bloody Norah was originally called Norah and the maid for the wealthy Duke Wodingtonshire in the 17th century. She earned the name Bloody Norah after she killed a servant of the duke with a stick of celery. When the Duke caught her repeatedly slapping the bloody corpse with the stick of celery he shouted “Oh dear god, you’re all bloody, Norah….” and, after beating her, he banished her to a basement cell for 3 years.
When the 3 years was up, the Duke set her free but Norah insisted on working for the Duke. Reluctantly the Duke gave her a job cleaning the stables only to find 4 days later she had killed another servant, this time with a kettle. When the Duke found her once again maiming her victim with the dented kettle, he cried, “Oh, bloody Norah!” and grabbed a horseshoe in an attempt to kill Norah.
After a long struggle, Norah escapes, leaving the battered Duke cussing to himself: “Bloody Norah!”.
The expression came from the Duke himself, as he would tell the story of Norah to all he knew and would always refer to her as “Bloody Norah”.
As the Duke aged he grew senile, he would be heard talking to himself and shouting: “….BLOODY NORAH!!!!……”. And, as people around saw him still as a respected figure in the community, they all started saying “Bloody Norah!” as they all thought the Duke has invented a new cuss word. It has stuck until the present day. (Ronnie, Essex, UK)I think Norah’s up there with “Gordon Bennett”, “Christchurch Cathedral” and “Blood & Sand” as a way of pretending not to swear once you’ve started. Similarly “God blind me” has become “Cor Blimey” and “By Our Lady” has become “Bloody” (Chris Bourne, Brussels, Belgium)‘Nora’ is not a woman’s name but a form of the word ‘horror’. The phrase started off as “flaming horror” (or “flipping/bloody etc horror”) as a cry of dismay/disbelief. In the normal Cockney manner, the final ‘g’ and the opening ‘h’ were dropped to produce something that sounded like “flamin-orror” and that in turn over the years became “Flamin’ Nora!”…or “Bloody Nora” as a stronger alternative. So Nora wasn’t a person at all but the result of an accent. (David, Weybridge, England)During the 1990s in England a surge of mock-Cockneys arose and with it also surged their use of the irritating rhyming Cockney slang. This was one of the expressions that came about then; you will not find reference to it before then. (Laura Evans, Plaistow, London, UK)“Bloody Nora!” has been used in the London area for many years, in the same way as “Gawd Blimey!”. In the 1970s I recall an incident in a pub when a female friend arrived inappropriately dressed. When someone remarked “Bloody Nora!”, a Durham associate asked, “Oh, is her name Nora?”. The expression had obviously not travelled that far north. (Rob Harrington, Leyton, London, UK)
Basically, no-one really knows…
For example, the first explanation cites ‘Duke Wodingtonshire’ – a title which, as far as I know, has never existed.
The phrase was in common usage well before the 1990s. And “flamin-orror” turning into “Flamin’ Nora!” when said in a Cockney accent sounds more like something Dick Van Dyke might say in Mary Poppins rather than a real Cockney pronunciation.
“Blood and Sand!” – which I have never of heard before – is more cocktail than Cockney.
My eternally un-named friend is also not convinced it is possible to kill anyone with a stick of celery.
If it IS possible, I can only pray she never finds out details of the technique…
…and that talented storyteller ‘Ronnie from Essex’ writes a novel or a screenplay sharpish, incorporating the celery…
A widespread Facebook linguistic gag of unknown origin…
What a load of bollocks the English language is.
I was talking to my eternally-un-named friend about the apostrophe (or not) in ‘It’s”.
“It’s” = It is.
But the possessive of it – “its” – for no logical reason – has no apostrophe.
No rhyme or reason.
I think I was over 30-years old when I found out the correct spelling is LIAISE not LIASE.
English is designed to confuse foreigners… and sometimes native speakers.
I told my eternally-un-named friend: “English is mad. Even the so-called ‘rules’ are mad. There’s that saying Don’t forget it’s I before E except after C… But the truth is, although it is always E before I after C, it is not always I before E before C…
“That is how Britain won an Empire,” I told her, with some authority. “The British just confused foreigners into submission by teaching them the English language…although the way the English kept the Empire subdued for so long was by persuading other countries to play cricket – the most boring game on earth… The Scots never fell for this so we were never subjugated…”
I said all this, as I say, with some authority but, of course, my eternally-un-named friend – ever a dogged online researcher – came up with a quote to prove me wrong:
“As it turns out, for every ‘ceiling’ there’s a ‘concierge’, a ‘conscience’ and some ‘celibacies’. And for every ‘deceit’, there are ‘deficiencies’, ‘delicacies’ and ‘dicier’ things… The iciest glaciers make idiocies out of the conceit of Except after C.”
I tried to argue that ‘concierge’ is not really fully an English word, but I was outnumbered by her examples…
So I was having tea with a chum at St Pancras station in London and somehow the subject of ‘transitioning’ and trans-gender came up. I can’t remember why and I can’t remember if I am supposed to type or say transgender or trans-gender or transexual or trans-sexual. I think at least one or more ways of typing or saying the words is guaranteed to offend at least one or more people.
“Actually, I was transgender when I was a teenager,” my chum told me.
“Did you have your willie cut off?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “I never had one.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t think there was any transing involved.”
“That’s very offensive,” she said.
“To you?” I asked.
“No, not to me,” she replied. “But to some people.”
“Trans-sexual I understand,” I said. “It involves adding bits on or taking bits off. And transvestite I understand. But trans-gender sounds like some Northern rail franchise.”
“That’s very offensive,” my chum said.
“Which?” I said. “Trans-sexual or transvestite or the Northern rail franchise?”
“All three,” she told me. “I hear Eddie Izzard no longer calls himself transvestite because some people find that offensive. Now he calls himself transgender.”
“Has he had his willie cut off?” I asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Does he sometimes wear men’s clothes and sometimes wear women’s clothes?”
“Men’s and women’s clothes are constructs imposed by the patriarchy,” my friend said.
“I’m confused,” I said.
“You are transfixed,” my friend said.
“Do I need to have my willie cut off to be transgender?” I asked.
“Are there hyphens involved if you type the word?” I asked.
“Depends what the word is,” my chum said.
“I would quite like to identify as a slightly overweight West Indian lady,” I said. “I like the accents. Very warm and cuddly.”
“People would find almost all of that offensive,” my chum said.
“That’s racist,” I said.
“No it isn’t,” my chum said.
“Not trans-anything?” I asked.
“Transgressive,” my chum suggested.
“Can I identify as Bobo the Clown,” I said.
“That might be OK,” my chum said. “But you might need to do a clown course.”
“No,” I said. “I mean a proper clown. Not just sitting staring at people until they do something.”
In the last few weeks on this blog, 84-year-old London-based American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller has been documenting her globetrotting gigs – in Prague, Dublin and Berlin. Her next international stop is Edinburgh for the Fringe.
I have just received this message from her:
We leave Paris today and my lust for romance is gone. I bought me a brioche to love. It winked at me in a patisserie in Montmartre and I could not resist. It was a bit costly, though. – When WILL the day come that I do not have to pay for love?
That message came with the diary she kept during her week of performances there:
Lynn Ruth Miller at Palookaville in Paris
I am in PARIS!
There is something about this place.
Maybe it is all the wonderful things I have read about it… Maybe it is the glorious sound of the language… Maybe it is all the quaint outdoor cafes on every street.
Whatever it is, Paris is magic and I am here. I am here with Sarah-Louise Young who can speak this lovely language and understand what everyone is saying.
We are staying at a gorgeous flat in Montmartre that has a crystal chandelier in the bathroom and a fancy coffee maker that I am still trying to figure out.
Whatever happened to percolators?
We are here with a lovely man who wants to make a documentary about me.For reasons I cannot fathom, he thinks the world needs to know about a ditsy old lady who is addicted to chatting on stage with a microphone.
We three took a stroll to a lovely restaurant with wine, food and endless conversation. It is really very hot in Paris this week so we ate outside and made our plans for the time we are here.We are preparing for tomorrow, when we acclimatise ourselves to the pace of life in this hot, humid, exciting city and get ready for my first gig here: French Fried Comedy.Yes, that is what it is called.
French Fried Comedy Night is English stand-up comedy in Paris with guest host Adrien Arnoux, and “your favourite local comics” Robert Hoehn, Wary Nichen, Noman Hosni and “special” Lynn Ruth Miller at Le Paname – Art Café!I am coming up in the world! Or am I?
The show itself was a real test of my comedic endurance. Our audience was a dozen people in the basement of a bar and café, Le Paname. Unfortunately, there were only three people there who could speak English besides the comedians.
I spent nine agonizing minutes on that stage chattering away to people who all had blank expressions on their faces as they smoothed their coiffures (we are in Paris) drank their absinthe, fiddled with their cell phones and exchanged bored looks with one another.
The guy in the front row was Russian and had absolutely no concept of what I was saying. He stared at me as if I were a relic from the local museum. His girlfriend patted his hand and tried to smile encouraginglyto me, but she was German. A joke does not exist in her language.
Thankfully, a couple from New Jersey who sat huddled in a far corner got my jokes. Thank goodness SOMEONE did. They were on their honeymoon and had decided to take a break from whatever romantic thing they were doing to have a laugh.
“Good news for me was that I could understand everything…”
Robert, the man who runs the show, is from Minnesota and calls himself Ro Bear. (It took me a while to get that joke).
The good news for me was that I could understand everything he was saying because his accent is so like my own.
I was told I got the most laughs in the evening but, I assure you, you could count the chuckles I inspired on one hand.
Robert wrote me later to tell me this had been his fourth worst gig ever and I handled it like a pro. I shudder to think about the agony of the other three.
I am in PARIS!
We three walked up at least a thousand steps to the very top of the city to see Sacré-Cœur, a breathtakingly beautiful church that overlooks the city. We lunched and dined in outdoor cafes drinking wine and talking and just being Parisian. Not easy for a Jewish yenta from Toledo, Ohio.
Thursday was the gig that actually brought me to Paris.
Sebastian Marx and I have been corresponding for four years about my doing English comedy here. I was supposed to do his room last Fall but he changed nights at the last minute and I could not change my Eurostar reservations in time. Which meant that, although I had come to Paris to do a gig, I ended up spending more money in four days than I had spent in a year, dining in outrageously expensive places designed to bilk the tourist instead of telling jokes to English people who left their hometown to absorb a little Gay Paree. This is the life of a performer.
This time, though, I got here on the right night and actually did a gig that I had begun to think was my ever-receding utopia.
“Former speakeasy with a sexy atmosphere”
The show began at 10.00 pm at Café Oscar in Montmartre. It is a former speakeasy with a sexy, dark atmosphere, lush velvet draperies, tiny sparkles of light so you can make out the drink you are served and baroque paintings of a bunch of women who evidently had just had a fresh bikini wax.
And the audience understood English.
Actually, very few of them were from English-speaking countries.They came from Sweden, Morocco and (mostly) from France; the native English-speaking people were from Ireland and the UK, but there were very few of them… maybe four in an audience of about 25. The comedians were all Jewish except for one man from Dublin, Darach McGarrigle.
I did a solid ten minutes plus… and finally got some laughs… in French, of course.
The good news is that Sebastian does a solo show in English on Saturday nights and I am opening for him this Saturday.It is on a boat and, since I am terrified of the water and cannot swim, this blog may very well be my swan song.
Friday night, Sarah-Louise and I planned to sing our songs at Palookaville, an adorable music open mic place run by Steve Cass. I went there on that last trip and it was delightful and very, very fun.
However, this time we three trooped over there way too early.
I am beginning to realise that French time is even more relaxed than Jewish time. We were supposed to arrive at 6.00pm and we managed to get there at 7.00pm. The place was not even open. However there was a board outside announcing that I would be telling everyone jokes.
We waited a half hour for someone to appear and finally Steve arrived, laden with groceries and let us into the place. It was obviously still in disarray from whatever had been going on the previous night. There were dead flowers in dirty vases, empty candle-holders and a candelabra dripping with wax. The keyboard was cluttered with unwashed glasses and cords and the sound system was sitting unplugged in the middle of the room.
We decided that, since the place was obviously not audience ready, we would nip out for a magnificent French dinner with atmosphere.
So far on this trip, we had not actually managed to find anything that we felt was REALLY Parisian, although ALL our meals have been delicious.
“We all loved the food so much we forgot to check the time”
Anyway we did locate a place in Montmartre that was unusual and charming called Chez Prout. But we all loved the food we were served so much we forgot to check the time and so we missed returning to Palookaville to sing our songs.
From what Steve said when we left, there was not much hope of an audience anyway.
Evidently, there is a lot of soccer going on at the moment and, in France, if it is a choice between a laugh and a goal, the goal wins.
Saturday in Paris is always special and we lunched, wandered through art galleries and then I went to La Nouvelle Seine to open for Sebastian Marx’s show, A New Yorker in Paris, in the hold of a boat on the Seine. It was truly a good experience with all the laughter I always dream of getting and want to kill myself if I do not.
We ended up at Chez Papa, a jazz place beyond wonderful with food to die for and an atmosphere like you always hope to find and never do. The jazz was from the American songbook so, of course, I loved it.
Both Robert and Sebastian have invited me back, so this trip is the groundwork for more croissants, espresso and coq au vin… not to mention a few comedy gigs to aid my digestion.
The paperback is already on Amazon and the e-book comes out on Friday.
I talked to her. This is what happened.
Any punctuation mistakes are mine, not her’s… erm… hers.
JOHN: So you won’t be a fan of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses… Does punctuation matter? I don’t think spelling was uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary, was it? Before that, all that mattered was that other people understood what you meant. Same with punctuation, isn’t it?
“Not a book for GrammerNazis. They would take offence”
SUSAN: It’s not a book for GrammarNazis. They would take offence at the levity. I’ve done a couple of opening sections about Tribe 1 and Tribe 2. Tribe 1 are the GrammarNazis and Tribe 2 are the rest of us.
JOHN: So who is going to buy the book? The GrammarNazis are not going to buy it because they think they know everything and the illiterates won’t buy it because they can’t read.
SUSAN: It’s for people who just need a quick answer. I wrote it because, as a tutor, doing training courses, I have always wanted to look for examples.
JOHN: Examples of… ?
SUSAN: Say, for instance, brackets. You don’t want to wade through a whole load which has everything you DON’T want to know about brackets but one thing you do. So I have split everything into sections. It is quick and easy.
If it takes two minutes to look something up, you will do it.
If it takes ten minutes, you will blag your way through.
JOHN: You are a tutor. Whom do you tute?
SUSAN: I did have a stint at university mentoring students in newspaper production and, well, there’s publishers’ staff. People who just need a bit of a refresher. When they’re editing. Grammar, punctuation, whatever.
JOHN: Surely sub-editors should not need tutoring? If they don’t know it, they shouldn’t be employed.
SUSAN: Well, the thing is, sub-editing is now an entry job. When I was first training on newspapers, you started as an editorial assistant or a junior reporter – you started as a junior writer in any form, served your time – your apprenticeship, so to speak, of about three years – and then they considered you expert enough to be paid full wage. After that, you could segue into subbing.
But, once it all became digital, the software became the prerequisite – It became Must be Quark friendly or, now, it’s Must be InDesign friendly. The software became the reason you were getting employed and the language skills became secondary.
Often, now, people are taking or are given a job as a sub-editor so they can do a hop-over into the writing side. It doesn’t make any sense to me – or anyone else I know. You’ve got juniors put in the position of changing the work of writers who are presumably more experienced. And they now do need to know more than they once would have done. In the past, the sub-editors would have been much more experienced.
JOHN: So we have all these illiterate sub-editors?
SUSAN: I wouldn’t call them illiterate.
JOHN: Different publications have different house styles, so punctuation rules don’t really mean anything, do they? For example… Single quotation marks or double quotation marks?
SUSAN: Well, some of that is house style but often, in the UK, we would generally use single quotes first, then doubles within singles. The Americans would do singles within doubles.
JOHN: Oh… I always do the American way, alas.
SUSAN: And how do you introduce a quote? With a colon or a comma? A colon is very journalistic.
JOHN: I do whatever looks better in a particular sentence.
JOHN: You started off as a…?
SUSAN: A lowly junior reporter on a magazine called Display International and another one called Do It Yourself Retailing.
JOHN: You did that because you wanted to be a great writer?
SUSAN: Well, I found out very quickly that I wanted to be a sub-editor. On a newspaper or magazine, if you find a subject you are prepared to write about for the next 30 years – medical, cinema, crime, whatever – then you are fixed. If you can’t find that subject, then you are better off being a sub-editor, because there your joy is in the process and the language not the subject. You can do your job on any subject and still love the process of writing.
JOHN: You wanted to be a sub for the rest of your life?
SUSAN: I certainly did for a hefty while. Then I thought: Aaah! Perhaps I should write something myself. And that’s when I started doing the screenplay thing. There was The Kiss, a romantic comedy.
JOHN: Was that filmed?
SUSAN: We raised the money for it about four years ago – all $15 million of it – but the trouble was it all came from one investor and the trouble comes when one investor thinks he’s been hanging around too long and he takes the money elsewhere.
JOHN: You have written five screenplays.
SUSAN: I have, but I am turning them into novels. One I am going to do as a play.
JOHN: Three are already award-winning and they have not even been made.
SUSAN: You can win lots of screenplay awards without them getting made.
JOHN:Make Punctuation Your Bitch is not your first book.
SUSAN: It was, but I’ve taken it down because I’m going to update it.
JOHN: Are there punctuation differences between the British and Americans?
SUSAN: Yes. And there are Canadian and Australian differences as well. Sometimes they side with the Americans and sometimes they follow us. I have some in the book. The Americans put time at 3:30 with a colon and we do 3.30 with a dot; but now we are starting to take on the colon.
JOHN: In lists, I was always taught that, if you have A, B, C and D, you should never have a comma between the last two – A, B, C, and D – because the commas are standing-in for the word ‘and’. So, by adding a comma, you are actually saying “A and B and C and and D”
SUSAN: That’s not quite true, because it’s ‘The Oxford Comma’… Called that because it was created by Oxford University Press.
The example given in my book is: “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela”. That actually means – without the second comma – that his parents are the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.
But, if you put a comma after the Dalai Lama – “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela” – you have differentiated between them.
JOHN: But one comma isn’t worth losing sleep over, is it?
SUSAN: I have a story at the front of my book about the Five Million Dollar Oxford Comma.
There was a dairy in Maine where they had a contract that did not have an Oxford Comma in it. Their drivers sued them about what the contract actually meant and the drivers won $5 million in back-overtime.
There was another case between two telephone companies where there was a comma in dispute and, again it cost one company $2 million.
JOHN: So correct punctuation is here to stay.
SUSAN: I think, in 30 years time, apostrophes won’t exist.
SUSAN: But I think the smart money is on semi-colons dying out first.
JOHN: You will have to constantly update your books. Your next one is…?
SUSAN: There might be a Make Structure Your Bitch book.
JOHN: What is structure?
SUSAN: Structure in writing. So the inverted pyramid thing will come in there. And structuring sentences and paragraphs and how to keep the reader hooked.
I like the English language. Even – or perhaps especially – when it approaches the abstract.
Yesterday, there was a message meandering around Facebook which people were re-posting and which said:
If you’re reading this, even if we barely talk, comment with a memory you have of us. After you’re done, post this on your wall. You’d be surprised with what people remember about you.
It seemed fairly pointless, so I posted a version which said:
If you’re reading this, especially if we have never met, comment with a completely fictional memory you have of us. You will be visited by angels and small woodland creatures wearing corduroy culottes.
Below is the result: a series of unconnected, often surreal, almost abstract thoughts which I find strangely comforting and mesmerising.
I have partially anonymised the respondents, all of whom are highly admirable people. A few of them I have actually met, but they have not let that get in the way of their literally fantastic free-flowing thoughts…
MIKE: We met when I caught you giving my unicorn a hand job. Things went steadily downhill from there.
PAUL: Fight Club.
DARREN: You looked better dressed as Mary Poppins than I did as Batman.
ALEX: You used to steal my tuck shop money at school. You also taught me Geography.
ANIL: Remember when we got really pissed and killed that copper?
KEARA: I am so happy about that time I never slept with you. I will treasure that moment forever. Thanks for the memory.
ROBERT: Do you remember that time we got stuck on the train outside Bognor Regis? They wouldn’t open the doors until the engineer came and everyone sat around singing Abba songs. I think your dancing went a bit far, mind you.
ALI: We had booked you for the wedding reception but you were not what was expected. Tracey thought it was Bob Fleming from The Fast Show. We are indeed divorced just as you predicted.
STEPHEN: Imagine my surprise, when but a small orphaned boy in Calcutta, your family would take me in and bring me up as one of their own. I didn’t mind sleeping in the wardrobe and was an honour to polish your shoes. I even came to enjoy the beatings. The handcuffs didn’t chafe much at all.
PETER: I lent you £7,075. Are you ready to pay it back yet?
ANDREW: Our eyes met… what the rest of me was doing I don’t recall.
KERRY: I was the getaway driver when you and Jeremy Paxman robbed that Kardashian bint. I was dressed as a badger and you wore black… Ah yes, I remember it well.
LINDA: Auditioning for Girls Aloud. You joined the Spice Girls. I joined Take That.
RODERICK: Meeting you in person.
DOIREANN: I was an unwitting and rather stupid rodent stuck down a well and you fished me out and gave me some food. I briefly acknowledged your help then ran away and continued my stupid rodent life. Sorry about that. I developed a sense of remorse, uncharacteristic of rodents, so that may be my comeuppance!
STEFANIA: I still have your corduroy culottes….
MARTIN: It wasn’t my only homosexual experience, but it was my last.
ALEXIS: Why don’t we see culottes anymore?
JONNY: We had a Star Wars themed wedding, I was the butch, you were the bitch and Mr and Mrs John Fleming lived happily ever after in a galaxy far far away.
TRIONA: I remember the teeth.
KATE: Don’t beat me again with your meatstick, daddy!! Sorry, just had a bit of a flashback there…
A.J.: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; we were fighting a battle for good against evil. On the Sega Mega Drive in 1992.
IAN: …and then you brought out the handcuffs and I said: “Unless you’re a cop you can forget it.”
ALIAS: Remember that time in the late nineties when we were testing out those prototype virtual reality goggles and we got trapped inside the elk hunting simulation after the computer became self aware? Good times.
ANDY: As my slightly older alter ego YOU need to post the fiction stuff as you only exist as my plausible deniability.
ROSIE: When Barbra Streisand didn’t know when to go home.
KENNY: I did actually meet you once, but you were too busy filling Les Dennis’ trousers with Marmite in the lobby of Yorkshire Television.
JANE: Crikey, I remember that time in Goa when we trod on a snoozing python… but it didn’t seem to mind it was so doped, thankfully.
EVELYN: So glad you told me there was loo roll flowing from my skirt tail. Complete gentleman. Thank you.
SIMON: You went all improv. We had to leave the scenes on the cutting room floor. Shame, as I thought that your SpiderBat look was something the audience of today would want to see.
COLIN: ‘Nam ’67.
JEZEBEL: We’ll always have Paris. One day, we may be forced to take it back.
JAMES: You were an extremely tender lover and taught me so much. I’d certainly never considered doing THAT with THOSE before.
KEV: I was the one who nudged your petri dish and helped you discover penicillin.
HENRIK: It was in an earlier life. You were one of Napoleon’s generals, I was a bumblebee who just happened to fly by.
GEOFF: There was that time in Bogota when some local dropped mescaline into our drinks and we lost a weekend in dreams.
DONNA: Now I just want a cute woodland creature!
JACKIE: I taught you the meaning of the word respect, then I barked like a dog…
ALASTAIR: We were both competing at the Annual Cherry Pit-Spitting Championships. There was a lot of phlegm flying about!! (I give Ariane Sherine some credit for that – not the flying phlegm, I mean me getting this idea – I remember her calling you John Phlegming in one of her Adventures Of A Stand-up Comic.)
ZHURONG: I only added you because I thought you wrote James Bond.
NOEL: That time we used to run guns for the Zapatistas into Chiapas. Crazy times!
ZUMA: That time you gave birth to a creepy baby and said: “It’s not mine”. Hah so funny!
George Egg irons out some problems with his upcoming show
George Egg started performing when he was still at school. Now he is 42 and he could win the Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe this year because he has never ever performed there before.
“I’m an Edinburgh virgin,” he told me last week. “I’ve never even been there as part of a show. I went up to visit maybe ten years ago, but I’ve never even been part of a package show.”
“You did your first paid comedy gig at Malcolm Hardee’s club Up the Creek in Greenwich?” I asked.
“Yes. When I was 19, in 1992. I had been doing street entertaining by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich for about three years before that. I started doing street entertaining when I was still at school. I did my first show when I was doing my GCSEs. Then I did an Art foundation course at St Martin’s in London, while doing street entertaining in Covent Garden. Then I moved to the University of Brighton, but I would come back to London at weekends to play Covent Garden to pay my way through my degree, which was in Visual & Performing Arts.”
“So,” I checked, “you never had to do anything other than performance because you were always able to support yourself?”
“That’s the thing,” said George. “I came out of university without any debt and never had to do an office job or anything like that. Do you remember Brian?”
“Do you remember Brian?”
“As,” I asked, “in used-to-live-in-Malcolm-Hardee’s-house Brian?”
You too can become your own George Egg
“Yes. I saw him last month, backstage at Glastonbury. He still does Covent Garden and does the new street entertaining pitch in front of Tate Modern. He was an absolute inspiration to me when I started – surreal, prop-based. He had a chicken on a pump-up rocket… You know when you get a Coca-Cola bottle, fill it with water and then pump it up with a bicycle pump and it flies up in the air?”
I nodded as if I did know.
“Brian’s finale was that,” explained George, “but with a rubber chicken on it. And he used to attack a music stand with nunchucks and just smash it to the ground. Really surreal stuff.”
“And this,” I asked, “inspired you to even better things?”
“Yes. He told me I should play at Up The Creek and, for about three years, I only got booked there because other clubs said my act was too odd. But I was earning so much doing street entertaining it didn’t matter. When I was working at Covent Garden, I knew loads of people who went up to the Edinburgh Fringe for the summer and came back loaded with money – while all the comedians who went up there lost loads of money.”
“What was your street act?” I asked.
“Magic. I used to do the razor-blade eating, then bring it all out threaded on cotton. And the nail-up-the-nose trick. Then, when I started getting more contract stuff and festivals abroad, I did the thing with the coat hanger, which Malcolm mentioned in his autobiography.”
“Remind me,” I said.
“For my finale,” George explained, “I used to put a coat hanger through my ear lobe and hang everything on it – my pants, socks, the works. So I am naked. But they’re all hanging down the front, so it’s quite modest. As I walked off, people would catch a sight of my back naked.”
“But your Edinburgh Fringe show this year,” I said, “is not that?”
George’s Fringe poster for Anarchist Cook
“No. The show is called Anarchist Cook. I’m genuinely passionate about cooking and, doing the comedy circuit and staying in hotels for weekends all over the place, I never wanted to spend money on hotel food – it’s overpriced and rubbish quality – so I started seeing what I could cook in hotels using just their irons, kettles, trouser press and so on.”
“What did you do with the trouser press?” I asked.
“You’ll have to come and see the show,” said George. “It stimulates every sense. You can smell the show when I’m cooking it. You can see it. You can hear me talking. You can touch and taste when you eat the food I cook.”
“Any sixth sense?” I asked.
“It stimulates your sense of humour,” George suggested.
“You could be in line to be a TV chef?” I asked.
“Well,” said George, “I do a food blog online. I got an agent about a year ago and she’s set me up with loads of meetings about TV things, but there’s always this sense I’m not normal enough for them. They’re friendly and then nothing comes of it. They want it all to be conventional and accessible.”
That was George Egg, surprisingly doing his first ever show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Andy Zapp finds himself in London’s Regent Street last week
Andy Zapp, musician-turned-comedian has performed at the Fringe before, but is not going this year. Instead, he going on a Center Parcs holiday with his grandchildren and daughter.
“I took out my one-man show in January,” he told me. “That went alright. It was a work in progress. Didn’t have a title. I need to get more on the emails and do more schmoozing, but I’m a bit too old for that at 67. I gig a lot. I’m still trying to get a sense of who I am on stage. Been doing bits of writing, connecting with who I am, but it’s a slow old game. I’ve been doing comedy four years now.”
“Are you still doing music gigs?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m struggling with how you incorporate the music into the comedy; trying to get a club set together – you can’t sing with a harmonica in yer mouth.”
“I see you,” I said, “as an ageing Mississippi Blues man. Pity about the colour, but you can’t have everything.”
“Well,” said Andy, “an ageing Polish Mississippi Blues man born in Wales. That’s maybe my unique selling point. I’m still working towards pushing the boundaries.”
“You should,” I suggested, “do the autobiographical heroin show.”
“Yeah, but it’s more than that, isn’t it?” said Andy. “If the audience likes me, I can get away with murder. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing stuff around fisting. It just came out of the conversation and got quite ridiculous, really. It went from I’m a GILF – Good In Lots of Fings – to Grandad I’d Like to Fist and we were on a roll after that. About 23 minutes of ad-lib there, so that was good.
“I did the Palace Theatre with Russell Brand – where Les Misérables used to be – 1,400 people – and that was a really lovely gig. It was a fundraiser, a really great experience. When the jokes land, the laughter comes rolling down. He’s a nice bloke, Russell. Helpful. Puts his money where his mouth is. Helps people. Very kind. Very approachable. And the shit they write about him in the papers is just that – shit. He just tries his best.”
“I’ve never met him,” I said, “but I like the way he seems to love the English language.”
Andy Zapp – surprised by the changes in the English language
“Though words change,” said Andy. “I was on-stage in Southend and I mentioned ‘plating this bird’ – cunnilingus – and they’re all looking at me and loads of them got their iPhones out and are looking up the definition of ‘plating’. And they go Earghh! Because, on Google, ‘plating’ is now squatting down on a sheet of glass and doing a crap while someone is looking up from underneath the glass. So no wonder they thought I was disgusting.”
“That,” I suggested, “could be your angle. You are old enough to have seen the language change.”
“I’m just trying to be more consistent, really,” said Andy. “I’d like to get better; I think I’ve got something to offer; I’m enjoying it.”