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Mel Moon – a Sick Girl dicing solo with death away from the Edinburgh Fringe

Mel at home yesterday, with husband Chris

Mel at home yesterday with husband Kris

Comic Mel Moon is being admitted to hospital this afternoon and she is having her throat cut in the operating theatre at 9.30am tomorrow morning.

The Edinburgh Fringe is going to be even more chaotic than usual this year, with some shows not appearing at all and a lot of acts performing at different times and in different venues to what is billed in the official Fringe Programme – all because of the Cowgatehead debacle. (See past blogs if you have to.) But some shows, dates, times and performances have changed for other reasons.

Back in a blog in February this year, Mel talked to me about her show Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death which was to be co-presented with Philip Nitschke of Exit and would discuss her (since changed) decision to commit suicide with advice from Exit.

Now Philip Nitschke is billed as doing the Dicing with Dr Death show solo.

Why the change?

“These things happen,” Mel told me, when I went to her home in Sussex yesterday afternoon. “As is often the case when you work with someone you don’t know, things don’t always work out the way you would hope… I dunno… We were so different. So very different. Even down to some of the things we believe in. Now there are two shows. I wish him the very best of luck. He has put a lot of money into it. We got the Caves for him as a venue and he’s staying there.

“I am doing my show at the Counting House, 8th-30th August at lunchtime – 12.15pm – thanks to the amazing Alex Petty, who ran to my rescue and offered me a fair old chunk of venues.”

“So you,” I said, “are doing your own solo autobiographical show on much the same subject. Which is called…?”

Sick Girl – same title as the sitcom Kate Copstick and I are working on for a TV production company.”

“And now,” I said, “you are going into hospital for an operation…”

“Yes. I’ve been through a bit and I’ve never really been scared before – not scared-scared… but… I spent a good chunk of time wanting to die. And now I don’t want to die. So it would be Sod’s Law if this was the thing that did me in.”

“The operation is going to take nine hours?” I asked.

“That’s the maximum,” Mel explained. “They told me the minimum will be 5 or 6 hours but to expect 9 because of the complications I bring to it.”

“Why the operation?” I asked.

“It’s a combination of factors. I had a car accident in 2008 which caused a bit of disc damage in the neck. Three or four of them dislodged, but it was fine. It was no big deal. I was young, I had a few injections for pain and eventually it stopped hurting.

“Then I got this disease – PGF (polyglandular failure) – and started living off steroids… What do steroids do? – They weaken the bone. In high doses, like I’ve been taking for the last three years, they certainly do. So I’ve been taking a couple of other drugs to protect the bones, but it’s not done enough because there was a weakness there already.

“So all those little discs have started to break up and now they’ve taken ones either side with it, so I’ve now got a neck that is slamming on all the different root nerves. So I don’t feel my hands. They’re just numb. I have no real grip and, if I hold my hand in any position for too long, it starts to twitch. And now I don’t feel anything in my lower arms, so I have burns on my arm where I have leant on the iron without realising.

Burns and a cut on Me Moonl’s arm

Cut & burns: Mel’s un-feeling arm and elbow

“There’s no point them doing a bone graft because I still have to take the steroids and, in a few years time, the same problem would happen again. So they’re going to take away the damage in the neck and rebuild the neck using some titanium rods and some of these… I saw one… it was like a blue disc. I don’t think the discs are titanium, but I’m not sure.”

“The rods are replacing a bit of your spine?” I asked.

“I guess so,” said Mel. “The truth is I have not pushed for too much information.”

“I don’t think I would want to know anything,” I said.

“In January,” explained Mel, “I went for what I thought was a routine appointment to discuss having the next injection, because I’d been getting a bit of pain. They’d been giving me injections in the neck. Even though I didn’t feel my fingertips, the nerve pain deep in my arm was bloody awful.

“It was an orthopaedic surgeon and he said: I’m really sorry, but the option of giving you injections has gone. We need to operate and we need to do it quick. If you have it done, we can’t guarantee that the problem will go away, but we can guarantee it won’t get any worse. If you don’t have it done, we guarantee you will lose your hands within a year.

“So I signed the form, got out of there, cried my eyes out and made arrangements to have it done. It’s my throat they’re cutting. That’s the bit that gets to me.”

“They don’t,” I asked, “go in via the back of the neck where the discs are?”

“No. They say it’s safer to go round the front. That way, they’re less likely to hit the spinal chord. They cut on a crease in the neck and I’ve got loads of them from my fat.”

“Worth it, though,” I said.

“There are two incentives for the operation,” Mel told me. “One, obviously, is I don’t want to lose my hands. The other is I would really like to reduce the amount of morphine I take.”

“How much morphine do you take?” I asked.

“A shitload. I divide it between two doses. I’m on slow-release morphine. So, in the morning, I take between 70 and 90 milligrams. And I take some at night. So between 180 and 190 milligrams a day.”

“And you still get some pain?”

“Yes I do. I have different type of morphine for breakthrough pain but, if I took that as well, I wouldn’t be able to talk, so I use codeine, which I find as beneficial.”

“How long will you take to recover from the operation?”

“Well, they want you out of there as bloody quick as possible. The SALT team (Speech And Language Team) come to see you the next day and, as soon as you can speak, swallow and have your drains out, you can go.”

“I would keep schtum,” I suggested.

Mel Moon performing on stage

Mel Moon performing on stage

“No, I want to get out of there as quick as possible. The hospital I’m in is in Haywards Heath. But they’re moving to Brighton so, if I don’t recover in eight or nine days, I’ll be moved as well and I don’t want that.”

“Have you a poster or flyer for Edinburgh yet?” I asked.

“No. I thought I was doing the show with Dr Death, but now I’m doing my first solo show with no sponsor, no poster, no flyers. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for anything, including my accommodation, but the Independent newspaper asked me to write an article for them.”

“About the disease?” I asked.

“About everything that’s happened,” said Mel. “I was so excited. It should be published next week.”


Filed under Comedy, Medical

‘Sick Girl’ Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death for Edinburgh Fringe Comedy

Mel Moon with her Bassett hounds

Comic Mel Moon at home with her Bassett hounds yesterday

In this blog last month, critic Kate Copstick mentioned that she was involved in an Edinburgh Fringe show about suicide with Philip Nitschke of Exit and stand-up comic Mel Moon who, Copstick said, “suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.” So obviously, yesterday, I chatted to Mel Moon.

“What’s your disease?” I asked.

“PGF – polyglandular failure, but mine isn’s auto-immune.”

“POLYglandular failure” I said. “Every bleedin’ gland?”

“It’s like a big series of collapses,” explained Mel. “It basically means my endocrine system shut down.”

“And,” I said, “this is curable because Western medicine can cure anything…”

“No,” said Mel, “it’s not curable.”

“But it’s not necessarily terminal?” I asked.

“It kills,” said Mel, “but it’s not terminal because ‘terminal’ means there’s a natural progression to death whereas, with my disease, it would be very sudden. It would just be BASH! – Game over. My life is shortened as a result of the medication I take. That’s just the way it is – part of the risk of taking the injections that mean I’m able to get up and about.”

“And your partner Chris gives you 14 tablets every morning?” I asked.

“Yes, to get me going and then I take over. In the afternoon, I take another 6 tablets and then another 10 at night. And I also have an injection at 6 o’clock every day.”

“In your bottom?” I asked.

“No. The behind injection is the emergency one, which is a bit weird – I’ll be incoherent, dizzy, babbling, unable to make sense, but I’ve got to inject myself in the behind. Whereas the other injection that’s not life-saving is dead easy.”

“And your Edinburgh Fringe show in August is with Philip Nitschke, who is the founder of Exit?”


“Not to be confused with Dignitas in Switzerland?” I asked.

“You don’t go to die at Exit,” explained Mel. “They advise you on the tools to die at home. Most people don’t want to have to go to Switzerland.”

“If you do a comedy show about this,” I suggested, “it’s going to be a difficult idea to get the balance right .”

“Yes. We do want to preview it a lot,” said Mel, “because, with the content being quite sensitive, we are going to need to tweak it to make sure nobody is overly affected. What we don’t want is to glamorise the subject in any way – and we certainly don’t want people coming to the show who think they are going to receive an education in how to kill themselves. It is not about us projecting our views onto them.

“We want to preview it at some good comedy venues, because that’s the audience we are aiming for: the everyday person who is a bit curious and I guess death is the ultimate thing we’re curious about – we know it’s going to happen.”

“You used to be a musical comedian,” I said. “How long have you not been gigging now because of the illness?”

“I took two years out,” said Mel, “but I’m back working now.”

“And the experience has changed your comedy?”

“Massively. You can’t go though something like this without being changed. I still love nothing more than getting out the keyboard and singing a few filthy songs. I love it and I love getting up there and being funny about things that don’t really matter. But I’m not playing any music in the Edinburgh show; there’s no comedy songs, no comedy poetry.”

“You originally intended this as a sitcom,” I said.

“Yes. A sitcom called Sick Girl, which would look at the hilarity of a complete family unit having to cope with something tragic. Every family at some point has experienced tragedy and that’s where the comedy is. There’s a lot of humour there. In how they deal with it. It’s whether they fall apart.

“The actual fact is your family fall apart before you do. My mum actually said these words: Why is this happening to me? I remember looking at her and thinking: This is not happening to you, it’s happening to me.

“I distinctly remember saying to her when I got diagnosed: Don’t tell anybody. I want to get this through my head first. Cos grief does two things. It can act as a repellant: people just run a mile from it. Or it can magnetise those that really like to bask in grief. I saw my sick friend today. Oh, it’s awful… Oh, it must be so hard for you. Can I have a picture? – Can you bollocks! No, I’m pissing blood in the toilet at the minute.

“I wanted to discuss that: friendships and relationships and how they are severely affected when someone faces something which may take their life – what happens with your partner, your kids, your friends. They all want the best for you, but they can come at it in a completely inappropriate way. Everybody thinks they can cure you. Have you tried nettle tea… I read a book: you don’t want any acid in your diet… Someone said: You know, a lot of people take marijuana for pain. And I thought: I take that much bloody morphine every day I’ll give it a go. But I can’t say it had much effect.”

“You’re prescribed morphine?”

“Yes. I’m on oxycontin – which they call the posh man’s heroin because it’s pure – and oxynorm. Two types of morphine – slow release and fast release.”

“So what is the structure of your show with Philip Nitschke?” I asked.

“It’s called Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death and it’s about a doctor/patient relationship. Most doctors want to heal you, whereas this doctor actually assists you in ways to snuff out your life. It’s like a dual autobiographical account of our stories in chronological order. There is a tiny section about who I was before and then we move into my diagnosis and other reasons people might choose this particular way. Then we move into medications and drugs that help and also ones that… get the desired result.”

“Can you legally say that on stage?”

“Well,” replied Mel, “everyone knows that (she named a drug) is the number one choice for that sort of thing. But you can’t get it. It’s impossible to get it. So we can freely talk about it.”

“How will you present the show?” I asked. “Both of you standing on the stage together?”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit – aka Dr Death

“I will be at one side of the stage. He’s at the other. The spotlight interchanges between the two of us, with a central point where we can step in and do something together. And we can use a screen behind us to show photographs.”

“And this is in the Comedy section of the Fringe?”



“Well, come on. What’s the best friend of tragedy? Comedy. They’ve been together forever. Pathos is a wonderful friend of comedy as well. There is nothing funny about death and, believe me, I would know. We’re not laughing at me or what Philip has done with other people. We are laughing at the general reaction to the things that have happened and also, when you give an autobiographical account of something like this, the comedy is in the detail.

“It might not be funny that someone has to have a life-saving injection in order that they don’t snuff it and leave behind two small children, but it is funny that someone has to draw a cross section in a biro pen on someone’s backside because otherwise they don’t know where to give the injection.”

“You told me the other day,” I said, “that you might have a problem with one section.”

“Yes, there is one section that I’ve tried reading out to my family and, as yet, I’ve not made it through without crying. There are some sections of the show where I’ve deliberately flowered it up a little bit to make it easier for me to deliver.

“It’s about the night I made a decision to end my life. You could put years between me and that moment and it will always be emotional and I have to get up there on stage and somehow not get emotional to allow the audience to.”

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Drugs, Medical, Suicide

It Might Get Ugly – Karl Schultz loves comic Janey Godley but not milk toast

Karl Schultz

Karl Schultz with his latest haircut & thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog chat with comics Karl Schultz and Joz Norris about their annual charity gig in aid of Karl’s charity. After Joz left, I kept on talking to Karl.

“You’re all about re-invention,” I said. “you’ve had a lot of different haircuts this year.”

“I get bored,” replied Karl. “I’m trying to think of different ways to change Matthew Kelly.”

“Are you still doing that Matthew Kelly character?” I asked. “I thought you had finished with it.”

“I’ve been doing it again recently, after a year of It Might Get Ugly.”

It Might Get Ugly was/is a series of comedy evenings organised by Karl in which performers have to go on stage and tell totally true 15-minute stories about themselves.

“You had Janey Godley on the show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“She,” said Karl, “was my favourite thing about Edinburgh. She’s got thousands of just amazing stories. What can you not like about her? I love Janey. She’s a comic who can handle anyone and she won’t be precious. She is so great. I can imagine her being an amazing actor. I fell in love with her the way I fell in love with David Mills when he first did it.”

“Very different comics,” I said. “What were you like when you started performing comedy?”

“When you start,” said Karl, “it comes as a shock. I was about 19 the first time I performed and you’re in this big nervous energetic space. It was like a heightened reality. I was thinking faster. I had different conversations going on in my head – what I was saying and what I was thinking – almost like Eskimo singers.”

“Eskimo singers?” I asked.

“Hitting different octaves,” replied Karl. “Then years go by and, even though you might be constantly surprised, shock doesn’t visit you as much. I believe shock is way more important to growth than something being ‘moving’. A moving gig is either good or bad, but a gig that shocks you has real impact.

“After four years of doing Matthew Kelly, I found that I wasn’t writing as much material as I should have. I had a bit of material but was improvising the whole time and Improv often stands for impoverished as much as improvised.”

“But you are continuing the character?” I asked.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“Yes,” said Karl. “What I’m enjoying with Matthew Kelly at the moment is playing with biographies. There is the character as himself. There’s Matthew Kelly telling stories about me when I was younger, almost as if Karl Schultz was the character. Then there’s me as Matthew Kelly, talking about experiences I have had as the Matthew Kelly character. And then there’s the sort of philosophy behind the whole thing. But it’s complicated to do that.

“I had this idea a couple of months ago… When you wake up, it takes you a couple of seconds to find yourself and I was obsessing over that and the idea that the day is a parasite and you, in that moment of awakening, are the host. So the parasite of the day lives through you as the host. It’s not comedic in itself, but I thought Matthew Kelly could be the day having fun on someone. It’s like a playful parasite. Even if I don’t communicate it to the audience, that can be what motivates the character.

“In a very American way, I subscribe to the idea of personal growth and the idea that a young artist should be trying to move his brain forward. That’s partly why I do all these different things: as a vehicle to move my personal philosophy forward.”

“What,” I asked, “helps you do that?”

“More than anything,” said Karl, “making mistakes and owning up to them. Nothing undermines something difficult to face up to more than accepting it. If you think: I am going to be visited-upon by dark clouds in my mind… If you can accept that, it completely undermines it.

Karl Schultz deep in thought

Karl Schultz is not going to Switzerland soon

“Two days ago, I had a dark night of the soul on the District Line between Temple and Bow stations and the way I got through that was just by accepting it. All the credence I wanted to give to those imaginings of trips to Switzerland… it was undermined.”

“Trips to Switzerland?” I asked.

“Well,” said Karl, “you know…”

“Oh,” I said, “Exit. So why did you start It Might Turn Ugly?”

“I wondered if I could create a performance space where you are watching someone do something that might move them forward and you are watching that play out. I told people: Fifteen minutes. No ‘material’. Try to be honest. The idea is that you should not be able to do it the next night.”

“What,” I asked, “did you want to be when you were aged 16? A novelist?”

“No. I wanted to be Nick Drake. If I hadn’t been a comedian, I would have been some jazz-inflected folk guitarist. I used to play guitar for about 8 or 10 hours a day.”

“Nick Drake is like Joe Meek,” I suggested. “More of a cult than generally famous.”

“Everyone wants to be a more famous version of their hero,” said Karl.

“So are you trying to fit musical styles into comedy?” I asked.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I think my thing is just the life I had. Being an only child, moving every three years.”

Karl’s father was a Salvation Army officer and moved location throughout the world every three years.

“Having different voices in different groups,” said Karl. “That’s my thing. Having an assimilative personality where I can change my accent. I’ve had many different accents. Negotiating and reconciling.”

“Fitting into things you don’t naturally fit into?” I asked.

“Trying to make things fit,” suggested Karl. “I’m obsessed with reconciliation. If you have an early life like I had, it can be very confusing, so you try to make sense of it, which might lead you towards philosophy, poetry and so on. What is very attractive about prosodic things is finding disparate meanings but bringing them together, making them work. Something like Matthew Kelly is synesthetic – it is supposed to be.”

“You want everything to be ordered?” I asked.

“No. Not at all.”

“You want everything to be ordered even though your act is surrealism and anarchy?” I tried.

“My act is not anarchic,” said Karl. “It’s surreal in the sense of being unreal. I take ‘surreal’ to mean dreamlike and what I’m really obsessed with is that type of hypnagogia.”

“Hypno-what?” I asked.

Karl Schultz tattoo

Karl’s tattoo – a hypnagogic fantasy of a dodo with flamingo’s wings and peacock’s feathers

Hypnagogia,” Karl explained, “is that state between wakefulness and being asleep where, as a child, you can just as easily be talking to your mother as a figure in a dream.”

“And,” I suggested, “you can know you’re dreaming yet think it might be real?”

“Yes. It’s a bizarre state. You only have to read anything Oliver Sacks has ever written about memory to know that you can appropriate memories, which is terrifying.”

“I remember,” I said, “being in a pram in Campbeltown where I was born, but I don’t know if I really remember it or if it’s something my mother told me about.”

“Everything for me,” said Karl, “is like a palette where you just play out ideas and let them run.

“What I’m obsessed with at the moment is neurophilosophy and the idea that, since the advent of cognitive science, our understanding of consciousness has moved on and so the language – the lexicon of philosophy – should catch up. What we know has moved on, but our language hasn’t. I think that’s exactly the same with comedy. It feels like we’re using Saxon language. We end up inventing words like dramady which is horrible.”

“What did you study at university?” I asked.

“Philosophy, but I was a real philosophy student in that I was a drop-out. I went off to become a comedian aged 20.”

“At least you didn’t study comedy,” I said. “I get twitchy when people think they can learn comedy.”

“Someone who’s a writer,” said Karl, “told me the other day: I knew more about writing before I started. Getting a degree in maths means that you are just as aware of how much you don’t know – and that’s the real education.

“When I came into comedy, I thought someone was going to go: Well done. Go to Level 2. I thought there were hierarchies and pyramids. But then you realise: Oh! It’s just a common room! You end up meeting the producers and commissioners and you can either have a really nice time with them or think they are milquetoast.”

“Milk toast?” I asked.

“Milquetoast. A bit cowardly. Not willing to take risks… But someone explained to me that is almost written into their job description.”

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