Tag Archives: Eric

Oz comedy news: mermaids in Perth and British Laughing Horse in Adelaide

Marcel Lucont and mermaid in tank in Perth

Comedy promoter Alex Petty of Laughing Horse and Edinburgh’s Free Festival tells me he has no news of Bob Slayer more up-to-date than my blog of yesterday, when Bob had fled Perth for Coober Pedythe opal-mining centre of the world.

“I last saw him heading for the Outback with Jimbo and a goat in a van,” Alex says. “I’m hoping he survives the trip (and more importantly the Outback survives Bob) and he makes it to the Adelaide Fringe, which starts on the 24th.

“Perth is a relatively little town, but it clearly couldn’t handle the over-the-top charms of Mr Slayer, who managed to out-drink everyone and get in trouble in his first two days in the town even with the limited about of drinking time available (half the bars close at 9pm for god sake). Bob has promised to behave for Adelaide. Let’s see.

Perth is a great little Fringe. A baby Fringe that will hopefully grow over the coming years. Probably what Edinburgh was like 50 years ago, but with sun, mosquitoes and expensive beer. The size of the Fringe fits the city perfectly. Unlike Edinburgh. It’s well worth visiting British performers thinking about doing Perth as well as Adelaide and Melbourne. (but let’s hope it doesn’t grow too big!).

Eric and Marcel Lucont had great runs and Marcel was last seen swimming around a tank with some mermaids. You don’t get that in Edinburgh; there would be ice on the water.”

Alex’s Laughing Horse, Alan Anderson and Nik Coppin are running the Austral venue at the upcoming Adelaide Fringe.

Alex says: “It seems odd to me that, in Adelaide, performers can travel half way around the world, put on paid shows and come home with a profit and a tan – both of which are near-impossible in Edinburgh. I’m getting into Adelaide to build the venue and hoping it will be a warmer version of what I do in Edinburgh with the Free Festival.”

Alex, never one to hold back on publicity, says: “We’re bringing Free Festival acts Nik Coppin with his Shaggers show, David Lemkin, Blues singer Mike McKeon, storyteller Sameena Zehra, comic John Scott. It’s great fun to get these shows from their freebie venues in Edinburgh to the other side of the planet. And of course Bob Slayer… possibly… if he gets there.

Alex is also bringing over to Adelaide the much-admired-by-me German comic Paco Erhard (blogged about here) and also Hollywood comic and actor Craig Shaynak, a sturdily-built chap who once threatened to beat me up over what he perceived as a lukewarm review by me of an old show of his which I wrote for the Chortle website. I think he was joking. He has always otherwise been terribly friendly to me. And he is very funny. An excellent performer. I cannot praise him enough. I love him. I want us to have babies together. He may not have been joking.

I notice Alex is also staging a Laughing Horse pick-of-the-Fringe show and has (as he did at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe) blatantly stolen the late Malcolm Hardee’s idea of prefixing the title with “Aaaaaaargh!” so it gets an early alphabetical listing in the programme.

It’s blatant theft!

He has nicked Malcolm’s idea!

Malcolm would be proud of him.

And I think I could beat him in a fair fight.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy

British comedian Eric, in Australia, has brief encounters with drunk Bob Slayer

British comedian Eric and newborn baby in Australia

“We’re getting on like a house on fire,” someone said as they watched a house burning in yellow flames.

With my sleep-patterns disturbed, that very unusual thing has happened again: I remember part of my dreams last night.

People were arriving in a big room for the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Someone said they were looking for “more overton.”

I could not understand what this meant.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the by-now-Edinburgh-Fringe-veteran comedian Eric has been having his sleep patterns disturbed by his new baby Erica. This is not a dream. More a welcome nightmare.

“My whole day is taken up looking after the little one,” he told me in an e-mail over a week ago. “I hardly go out, unless it is to the shop to buy food. The only conversation I have is about the little one, who incidentally seems to take having her nappy removed as her cue to let loose; she managed to get it all up my arm and halfway across the kitchen the other day.”

He had a respite last week, though, when he flew solo from Adelaide to Perth for a series of shows at the Perth Festival. Or, as it turned out, one of the Perth festivals.

It is relevant to mention at this point that British comedian Bob Slayer was supposed to be sending ‘reports’ on his progress in Australia to this blog, but has gone AWOL.

These are extracts from Eric’s diary of last week:

Monday 6th February

I arrive in Perth from Adelaide in a 31 degree heat to find an elderly lady being given a good sniffing-over by one of the airport security dogs. Aha! I think, The only drugs you are going to find on her will have been prescribed by her doctor! But this dog is not looking for drugs; it is a ‘fruit dog’ and this old lady looks a likely suspect to be smuggling in a nectarine or a kumquat. I walk quickly past them hoping the dog does not smell the mango flavoured ice cream I spilt in my lap from the in-flight meal.

Walking across the concourse I bump into Ollie Simon, who is just leaving for Sydney having completed her duties as manager of the Axis of Awesome, an Aussie trio of talented musicians/comedians who are performing at the Fringe World Festival Perth (FWFP) – not to be confused with the Perth Festival, which does not start for another four days yet nor the Perth Fringe Festival which, according to the publicity, was initially due to replace the Fringe World Festival Perth (FWFP) in 2012.

Then I bump into Alex Petty (of the Edinburgh Free Festival) and Bob Slayer. Alex also arrived in Perth this afternoon, but from the UK, so he is significantly more jet-lagged than me. Bob looks like a man who has been here since he was deported for stealing bread and is none too happy about it. I later learn from Alex that Bob has been banished from the Fringe World Festival Perth (FWFP) and has had all his shows cancelled. I try to talk to him about it, but all I get out of him are animal noises.

We head off to see Marcel Lucont’s last show at the FWFP but, when we arrive, there seems to be some debate among the security staff as to whether Bob Slayer is allowed in. After a lot of talking into radios and one girl slipping away to make a discrete phone call to the festival director, Bob is finally issued with a ticket.

Tuesday 7th February

I arrive at the RTRfm radio studio at 7.10am to be interviewed. The interviewer is a guy called Peter Barr, a lovely chap and we chat for several minutes. (Listen here)

Later, I see a show called Polly’s Waffle. I arrive late and have to sit in the front row. Everyone else in the front row is swathed in plastic sheeting. I find out why a few minutes later when we all get covered in food, thrown at us by the very comely Summer Williams.

Marcel Lucont invites me to join him for some supper at an Italian restaurant and I arrive to find Bob Slayer licking a painting on the wall.

Wednesday 8th February

It is my first show today. After the show, I have a drink in the venue’s beer garden and receive a text informing me that Bob Slayer has been refused entry to the Treasury Beer Garden and I am summoned to join him at the Brass Monkey. So I head across town.

On arrival, I find Slayer, his face covered in Emulsion (apparently as a cheap alternative to sunscreen) sitting in the outdoor courtyard rocking backwards and forwards on his chair. He looks up, sees me, slips and jams his hand in between his chair and the railings. He ponces a pint off me and then just sits in silence drinking the beer I have just bought him and rubbing his hand. He is clearly in some discomfort.

Thursday 9th February

I go to Fast Eddie’s for supper with Alex Petty. Walking back across town towards our respective accommodation, we find a single stiletto abandoned on the pavement. A few yards away is a poster advertising Jelly Wrestling.

Friday 10th February

Bob Slayer was last seen tethered to a goat being put in the back of a van, smelling like he has been liberally greased in goose-fat.

I join Alex Petty at the Lucky Shag. I break my own golden rule of foreign travel and have a British beer: a pint of Hobgoblin Ruby – it is not easily found and it is a stonking good ale.

The barmaid has some difficulty pouring it and, after several unsuccessful attempts to stop it bubbling up and overflowing, I ask if there is anything I can do to help. She looks me straight in the eyes and offers to “suck the head off for me.” Then, seeing the look on my face, realises what she has said and we both blush furiously.

Saturday 11th February

As I enter my venue to do my show, the security guard warns me that I have to behave myself tonight or he will throw me out again…

“What do you mean throw me out again?” I ask.

“I had to throw you out last night as you had had too much to drink,” he answers.

“No you didn’t,” I protest. “I didn’t even have a drink here last night!” But it is no good, he is convinced that he ejected me the night before and there appears to be nothing I can do to convince him it wasn’t me.

I wonder: Has Bob Slayer been dressing up as me and causing trouble? Surely not…

I go on to St Georges Terrace, where trapeze artists are suspended high above the city throwing out feathers to mark the opening of the Perth Festival (which, if the posters are anything to go by, translates as the Perth International Arts Festival 10 Feb – 3 March). There are a LOT of feathers – and I mean a LOT of feathers – there are hundreds of people covered in the things and, when the crowd eventually disperses, it looks like a blanket of snow has fallen across the city. I feel that as they have gone to so much effort that it would be inappropriate to point out that today is actually the 11th.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Dreams, Drink, Theatre

How a comic’s Christmas baby was born rather late in Australia’s summer sun

I woke up this morning to about six inches of snow as far as the eye could see. Things are said to be worse in the Ukraine. Well, they are. People are dying from the cold.

Things are allegedly better in Australia.

I say ‘allegedly’ because I prefer the snow to the sun – probably a consequence of being partly brought-up on a hill in Aberdeen. There was a block of flats involved.

But I digress already.

I mentioned in passing in a blog a couple of days ago British comedian Eric, who has recently become a father in Australia.

A few people thought my blog was rather sketchy – “At least you could have mentioned the baby’s name,” someone said to me.

Eric is in Adelaide at the moment, but flies to Perth tomorrow to the Fringe World Festival, where he will tell tales of his past as a submariner.

Then he flies back to the Adelaide Fringe, 24 February to 18 March.

So the new baby will be well-travelled very early.

Eric met the new baby’s mum Helen when he was performing his show at the Adelaide Fringe back in 2010.

The baby was due on 18th December last year and the plan was to fly out from Britain to Australia in October, have the baby, then have a typical Aussie Christmas morning on the beach followed by a BBQ.

But, Eric told me this week in an e-mail from Oz:

…the baby had other plans and when we woke up on Christmas morning, she was still in residence in mummy’s tummy and didn’t show any signs of joining us any time soon. So we went to the beach as planned, with Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody blasting out of everybody’s radio. It was the first time I had ever taken any notice of the line, “Are you waiting for the family to arrive?”

While we were at the beach we phoned the hospital, as there had been some water that wasn’t provided by the sea… and the midwife told us to go to the hospital.

 Although they let us out again, we had to go back first thing on Boxing Day (or Proclamation Day as they call it here).

So, at 7.00am, we packed our bags and set off.

As we got to the end of the drive we were flagged down by our elderly neighbour. I thought: Oh! How nice! She is waving us down to say Merry Christmas and wish us well for the delivery!

But, instead, she said: You’ve got to help me! I’ve got no electricity!

She was making Christmas dinner and it was going to be ruined if I couldn’t get the oven back on. So I spent the next few minutes sorting out her electricity supply.

It was something with apricots apparently…

As we set off again, the car radio was playing Johnny Mathis – When a Child is Born.

Twenty-six long hours later, Johnny’s prediction came true.

A water birth if you’re interested.

And she is the most gorgeous little baby girl. Well, according to everyone we meet anyway. Although I must admit I do agree with everyone. And I’m not biased.

We debated names for her… Well, I say we debated… Her mother told me what she was going to be called and I agreed. As I met Helen when she came to see my show, it is perhaps only right that the baby’s name should be meaningful.

So she is now called baby Erica.

Her poos are mustard colour

* * *

So tomorrow, rather worryingly, Eric, Helen and Erica are heading towards Perth where, by all accounts, British comedian Bob Slayer is proving the truth of his show’s title Bob Slayer Will Out-Drink Australia.

What happens in the coming week when there is a triple culture clash between Australia, Bob Slayer and baby Erica and family, I dread to think. Eric tells me:

I played cricket with Bob at the Comedians’ Cricket Match back in the UK last May (my blog about it is hereand we were under strict instructions to wear ‘whites’. The opposition laughed as Bob strode to the crease dressed from head to foot in black, then promptly stopped laughing as he hit their star bowler for six! That’s the thing with Bob: you never know what he is going to do, either onstage or off…

Stay tuned.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Parenthood

Three comedians & a baby in Australia + the problem of German stereotypes

(Part of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Things are looking up Down Under.

I got a message yesterday from Australia, which started:

Carlsberg don’t do Press Releases, but if they did perhaps it would read…

It then told me that amiable British sub-mariner turned stand-up comedian Eric had had a baby. Well, Helen had. This somewhat belated (it arrived on 31st January!) ‘press release’ read:

Tuesday December 27 2011 at Flinders Medical Centre, Adelaide, South Australia …. 09:03hrs ACDT (23:33hrs Monday 26 Dec GMT)

Blonde Hair. Blue Eyes. Both mother and baby are doing well. After a process that began on Xmas morning at 9am Both parents are tired but absolutely delighted.

Sorry we couldn’t notify you before, but we are exhausted and so are our phone batteries. This info is somewhat belated, but as you can imagine our lives have been literally turned ‘upside down’. We have been trying to send you this for a while now…

I also got a message from a euphoric Bob Slayer in Australia saying:

Hey, Mr John, The Drum magazine wrote a nice feature on me on page 21 in their centre spread and I had an interview on RTRfm Radio in Perth. I like to think that I managed to be surprisingly funny, considering it was 8:25am. I did not know before this there were two 8.25s in the day. My first show is tonight, tickets seem to be selling at a beautiful rate and I have negotiated free beer from the venue!

Comedian three in this blog is Paco Erhard, who is taking his 5-Step Guide to Being German show to the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festival after a one-off at London’s Leicester Square Theatre on 13th February. This is the show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last August and wrote about in a So It Goes blog and in Mensa Magazine (Paco is a member).

On his re-designed website, he quotes a line of mine:

Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

“Quoting a nonentity like me smacks of desperation,” I suggested to him. “And you have five star reviews you can quote from reputable publications. Festivals Review said you were one of the ten best shows at the Fringe!”

“Well,” he replied, “your quote expresses too nicely how I want to be seen to not use it.”

So what will Australians make of Paco’s German show?

“I try to refute German stereotypes,” he tells me, “but, ironically, I actually have quite a bit of difficulty making people believe I’m really German. I don’t look or sound stereotypically German enough, especially outside my solo show – ie in normal comedy gigs.

“Some people watch my act for 20 minutes, hear me talk about being German and they’ll still think Why is this Irish guy pretending to be German? It’s a weird, paradoxical situation. Should I put on a German accent and dye my hair blond, in order to convince people that Germans are not like they think?  It’s ridiculous that I should have to desperately convince people I am German, thereby conjuring up all the stereotypes that they allegedly hold about Germans, just in order to then blame them for thinking what I have just brought up and then telling them what we’re really like. Okay, this is an extreme description, but there is a bit of that involved in some comedy club gigs that I do.

“That’s why I like festivals more at present, because there the people come to see my show because they are interested in the topic and it is established well before the show that I am really German. That way I can just be myself more or less. However, I do have some sort of accent, so if I don’t say anything about where I’m from, they’ll sit there more focussed on trying to find out where my accent is from than on my comedy. Maybe I should just use my real name, Erhard Hübener. But I wanna see the MC who can pronounce that or the punter who will remember it after the gig, no matter how much he liked me. I could be on TV every day and, in the credits, I’d probably still be called The German guy. Oh well.

“I don’t think my show is a show about stereotypes. I try to go beyond that. But I do address the stereotypes at the beginning of the show. It’s important to me to do that in a clever, deconstructive, ridiculing way (although I still have one or two in there that are a bit naff… but hey, they get a laugh and I’m a whore…)… it would be a lie to say I don’t do stereotypes at all. However, I think you have to address them to get them out of the way. It would be silly to pretend they aren’t there. And, especially when talking to people who still cherish some of those stereotypes somewhere deep in their hearts, you have to pick them up where they are… they won’t follow you on the journey of your show if you depart from a point of knowledge or an attitude that they don’t have yet.

“I am off to Adelaide and Melbourne on the 21st of February and I think doing the Australian festivals will make me a much better comedian. In my comedy here in Britain I still lean on the (alleged) British-German conflict too much, which is one thing I really want to get away from. I was strongly influenced by my five or six years of being a compere to those Sun-reading package-holiday imbeciles in Majorca, most of whom I actually liked, but a considerable amount of whom gave me a lot of (stupid) shit about being German.

“Some Brits seem to think that they have a sense of humour or know how to be funny (there’s a difference between these two) when in reality they are just stupid, unoriginal and offensive. (But it’s okay, you know, because everybody knows that, just like fish, Germans don’t have feelings.) So I came to Britain thinking I would be up against a lot of hostility just because of my nationality and that I’d better talk about being German a lot and also giving them a bit of a hard time for being British. While I realised quickly that British people in Britain were very, very different from the ones I had encountered on Spain’s beaches, that old feeling of hurt and defensiveness paired with a certain aggressiveness remained with me for quite a bit of time and I think hasn’t completely gone away yet. It was a real epiphany a few months ago when I realised that most Brits actually quite like the Germans.

“Anyway, this whole issue won’t be, well, ‘an issue’ in Australia. Which will be a relief, a challenge and an adventure all rolled in one. I’m free of all that old We don’t like each other bullshit, that subconscious unrealistic feeling that somehow there is a rift between me and the audience (that I then involuntarily fortify by addressing it implicitly). I can’t use that as a crutch anymore. All of that material I had best forget about doing in Australia. They won’t care. So I will have to dig deep within myself for the things I really want to say. Which I already did to a large degree at the Edinburgh Fringe last August. But I know my show can definitely be further purged of all that. And I have a lot of stuff I’ve been wanting to say for a long time… and I will say it now in Australia. Also, I will improve the show’s structure a lot for Australia. And then I’ll bring all that back to Britain. (And also I will have free rein to say some rough things about Britain without hurting anybody’s feelings or getting bottles thrown at me :-D)

“I will need quite a bit of new material for Australia, but I see that more as an opportunity to finally use some great material I’ve been writing for years and that I never got to do.

“I have some concerns, but they are less to do with the art, than the marketing. I’ve been bitching about having gotten a lot of grief from Brits about being German, but being ‘a German comedian’ simply is a fantastic selling point in Britain. I do think I had a good or maybe even very good show in Edinburgh, so yes, I delivered, but I think lots of people came because GERMAN COMEDIAN stands out of the crowd more than “British white middle-class comedian, number 2417”. It’s a selling point and it helps me. Not when I’m on stage – then I better be funny – but to get people into my shows. And I don’t know if this selling point is quite so strong in Australia. They live on the other side of the world, so their attitude to Germany is bound to be very different from Britain’s, which has had a direct relationship with Germany – in good times and in bad ones – for centuries. They might not go for it as much. Who knows? I hope they do.”

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Germany, Racism, Theatre, Uncategorized

You meet the most extraordinary people at the Edinburgh Fringe

Everything at the Edinburgh Fringe is inter-linked.

Do I look Jewish?

American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer had a bit of schtick in his Edinburgh Fringe show last year which he is not using this year – well, he won’t after reading it here.

He would ask a man in the front row of his audience: “Are you Jewish?”

Depending on the reply, he then said either “That’s great,” or “That’s terrible,” and added, “It must be terrible to LOOK Jewish and not to BE Jewish.”

Yesterday I was crossing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and a still small voice asked: “Are you Jewish?”

Two bearded men were standing at a table dressed in black and wearing skull caps.

“No. Sorry,” I replied.

Three steps further on, I reconsidered my reply and turned back.

“But what would you have said if I were Jewish?” I asked. “What are you selling?”

“Nothing, But are you Jewish?”

“No, but I know someone who is a Jewish American comedian.”

The young man on the left was smiling. The older man on the right was not smiling; he never smiled. I think he was probably Israeli rather than Jewish.

“You know someone who is Jewish?” the man on the right said suspiciously.

“Do I know someone who is Jewish?” I asked. “Yes. He’s a New York Jewish comedian.”

“Give him this, then” the jollier Jew said, handing me a leaflet.

“He can come on Friday,” the unsmiling presumed Israeli said reluctantly.

The leaflet said:

Come join Chabad for your Shabbat live experience!

All in one Shabbat Dinner, Fun, Laughter, Friends, Great food. Lots of L’chaims and much more.

I was tempted to convert.

There was a Jewish thread running through the day.

A little later, I got chatting to highly charismatic part-Iranian actor-comedian Jody Kamali from Bristol who told me he had to get an Iranian passport and change his passport name to Sam (well, that’s what it sounded like) when he visited Iran otherwise they would not have let him in; there was a drawback to this because they might then have forced him to do three years military service in the Iranian Army.

That is not part of the Jewish thread to the day, but I also got chatting to Jody’s director. I have no idea what his name is. That is one of the quirks of the Fringe – you can have terribly interesting conversations with fascinating people but forget to ask their names. Anyway, he had a moustache, was tall and was not part-Iranian…

We are back now to being Jewish… well, Jew…ish.

What he was – indeed, is – is Jewish-Scottish-Portuguese; he speaks Portuguese to his mother and is living in dream accommodation while in Edinburgh – the Austrian Consulate.

I forgot to mention he is also part German/Austrian. His grandparents were Jews in Germany before the War. They managed to get out when Hitler was on the rise and moved to Austria. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to my mind, but, throughout the War, they pretended to be Catholic and went to a Catholic Church.

“So I’m Jewish and I’m a Catholic,” the director said to me, shrugging. “The guilt, my dear! the guilt!”

You do meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories at the Fringe and Edinburgh can be a very small place, throwing up one degree of separation.

I spent last night with Charlie Chuck.

I will re-phrase that.

I spent yesterday evening with Charlie Chuck, starting at a launch for the SpaceUK venues at Surgeon’s Hall and I had a fascinating chat with their sound supremo Wayne. I forgot to ask his surname. This is the Fringe. He had vivid stories of growing up as a Forces child – his father started in the Forces on the Borneo campaign and ended with the Falklands. As a child, Wayne wanted to be a Queen’s Messenger because it was well-paid and meant travelling the world with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

He has an extraordinary knowledge of the ethnic ebbs and flows of history. You would think he was a history teacher in ‘real’ non-Fringe life. In fact, he owns a record label in Manchester. He says there are 13 record labels in Manchester and he vaguely knew 24-Hour Party Person Tony Wilson – now there was an extraordinary person if ever there were one; I encountered him very peripherally at Granada TV in the 1980s.

Wayne also knew late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s brother Alex, a music executive… as did SpaceUK boss Charlie Pamment who, in one of his former  professional incarnations as an agent, remembered putting Malcolm Hardee on at the Raymond Revuebar in London’s Soho. Now that must involve anecdotes worth dining out on!

One can but hope against hope that Malcolm turns up as a character in Michael Winderbottom’s planned movie Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica.

Charlie Pamment told me that his SpaceUK venues are staging the largest number of shows at this year’s Fringe – 229 separate productions. Other operators have more venues, but SpaceUK has more shows.

After that, Charlie Chuck and I we were off to the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party at the Counting House, future scene of the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 26th August.

Never underestimate the power of a random blatant plug.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party seemed to be less a party than a full-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony staged in a pub complex on a hot night. The throngs were so large that I never did find comedian Eric, whom I was supposed to meet. A regular audience member at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek club in Greenwich, he was persuaded by Malcolm to become a stand-up and used to be a submariner.

But I did bump into singing Hitler comic Frank Sanazi and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award inspiration Gill Smith and Scots comic Keara Murphy who, like Janey Godley, is not playing a full Fringe show this year but has picked up seemingly endless one-off gigs in town.

The Free Festival launch party was some crowded sweatathon which seemed to merge together an extraordinarily large family birthday party, the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Swedish sauna. I stuck my head into the performance area – the Ballroom – looking for Eric, and you could have grilled a sausage by simply holding it in mid-air over the audience.

Comedian, blogger and sometime professional photographer Ian Fox was taking photos for Laughing Horse at the event and, for a time, had to abandon taking photos in the Ballroom because his lens steamed up. He showed me three photos which he said had been taken within three seconds.

The first showed the audience but with a cream discolouration area rising from the bottom.

The second was starting to be blobbily out-of-focus all-over with the condensation.

The third was an abstract of giant blobs – taken at a point at which the water particles had overwhelmed the lens.

I felt very much like the lens.

It is easy to be overwhelmed at the Fringe.

Then my phone rang.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s son Frank.

“I thought you were in South Korea,” I shouted.

“I’m back for a few days,” he told me. “Then, next week, I am off to see Poppy in Palestine.”

Poppy is Malcolm Hardee’s daughter.

The late great would have been chuffed his kids are globetrotting.

Let us not get into any discussion of whether or not a passing reference to Palestine continued the day’s Jewish thread. To quote Malcolm:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Because, round the edge… fish.”

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Filed under Comedy, Racism, Scotland, Theatre

The comedians’ cricket team goes down swatting

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the village of Staplefield in West Sussex, to see the annual cricket match between the locals and a comedians’ cricket team organised with Germanic efficiency by Frank Sanazi.

I am not a great lover of cricket. I think the British Empire may have been built by armies going to foreign countries and insisting that the locals played cricket with the English/British until they lost the will to be independent and handed over their countries and natural resources rather than play another match.

But this cricket match and this cricket team was different.

Yorkshire comedian Keith Platt inexplicably dressed as a footballer.

Former submariner Eric was wearing a tennis headband when he fielded but black-rimmed Groucho Marx glasses as a batsman. He claimed these were not comedy props and he needed them, but I wasn’t totally convinced as he developed the hint of a strange gangling run when he wore the Groucho glasses.

Meanwhile, Bob Slayer dressed in black with a normal white sun hat on his head which, when erect (the hat, that is), oddly made him look like a rather down-at-heel TV celebrity chef wearing a rugby strip. He did, though, manage the impressive multi-tasking triumph of drinking at least one pint of beer while fielding.

I had to leave during the second half to see a friend who told me tobacco companies had been discovered putting sugar in their cigarettes to make them more addictive.

And, mid-evening, Frank Sanazi texted to tell me that the comedians had lost by 69 runs – 209 to 140 – but that Bob Slayer had finished 31-not-out and was “now a comedy cricket legend, as he developed a batting style called ‘swatting’ in which he maniacally tried to bash every delivery like he was Zorro.”

An interesting cricket match.

Now there’s an oxymoron.

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Filed under Comedy, Sport

The Three Golden Rules of Comedy

The percentage likelihood of strange things happening is almost always mis-quoted by the media. For example, the odds against any one specific person being killed by a pig falling on his or her head are VERY high. It is very unlikely ever happen to you yourself or to any specific, named individual. But the odds of some one person being killed by a falling pig somewhere in the world at any time during your lifetime are much lower. It is highly likely to happen

Shit happens all the time to everyone. All sorts of unique, bizarre, seemingly impossible shit. Which brings me to comedy improvisation.

I am a tad wary of improvisation groups perhaps because, when I was a student, I used to go most weeks to see shows called Theatre Machine supervised by Keith Johnstone at the Freemason’s Arms pub in Hampstead. Keith later went on to create Theatresports. His earlier Theatre Machine shows were so effective and so entertaining that it arguably ruined me for any other improvisation groups.

The other problem is that, by their nature, improvisation groups are often reliant on their audiences for inspiration.

On Tuesday, I went to see The Couch at The Miller pub behind Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge. The venue has different impro groups each week and this week there were nine improvisers – possibly four people too many but all very good and – strange but true – they included Mensa’s former financial director Neil Goulder.

They were uniformly good as performers and improvisers, but two of their sketches showed the difficulties of the art. Two good punters suggested two good sketches, but one routine was doomed from the start by its very origin.

The successful one started with pulling one punter out of the audience and asking him about his childhood to provide the bare bones of the sketch. It turned out that, as a child, his hobby was, in all truth, keeping and breeding small creatures – principally snails, butterflies and wood lice. This was a pure gift for the comedy improvisers. It also turned out that the punter’s brother had accidentally trodden on and killed his favourite snail called (I’m not sure this can be true) Eric. Starting from those basic facts, the improvised comedy sketch could almost not fail. And it didn’t.

The other sketch, though, was doomed from the start because its original basis was so deeply bizarre that nothing the troupe could ever improvise could ever have made the story stranger. Funny haha stood no chance of outshining funny peculiar and it reaffirmed my belief that, if you pluck a punter at random from anywhere – a bus queue, a venue audience, the cheese aisle in Tesco – they will have the most extraordinary true stories in them. Because shit happens to everyone. All sorts of unique, bizarre, seemingly impossible shit.

This particular punter was asked what his most disastrous romantic date had been.

There was a pause before he replied: “Oh, there have been soooo many…”

The audience laughed.

He then talked about a date in which he had taken his prospective girlfriend to a restaurant. Halfway through the meal, she had an epileptic fit. He tried to help her as she writhed on the floor. But the other diners and restaurant staff thought he had been in some way responsible for what had happened – they thought perhaps he had given her Rohypnol or some other drug. The police were called and dragged him off into custody.

This sounds like the perfect basis for a dark comedy because it is so bizarre, but it was and is too bizarre. There was and is no way of exaggerating the reality into comedy. The truth was so beyond belief that there is no way of manipulating it and comedy usually requires the re-arrangement of reality. When the improvisers tried to recreate the event in three different movie genre styles it was partly successful but ultimately anti-climactic.

The improvisers had and have my sympathy. They stood no chance, through no fault of theirs, which exposes the odds against improvisational comedy being successful; by its nature, it is always hit-and-miss; you are sometimes totally dependent on the audience. The only thing that might have worked would have been to follow the late Malcolm Hardee’s Three Golden Rules of comedy as expressed on page 173 of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

1. If in doubt, wobble about.

2. If that don’t work, fall over.

3. If that don’t work – knob out!

The third is, perhaps, not a practical option for everyone.

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