Tag Archives: Frankie Boyle

Edinburgh Fringe: Jim Davidson (the C word is a term of affection in Scotland)

At the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon, conversation between me, my co-host Kate Copstick – doyenne of comedy reviewers – and comedians in the audience turned to comic Jim Davidson.

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Copstick said that a non-British comedian who did not know anything about the great entertainer had seen his current show at the Edinburgh Fringe and had told her it was fantastic.

“He loved it,” said Copstick. “He said Jim Davidson was a great comedian and was just like a normal bloke, doing blokey comedy.”

“Maybe…” said audience member/comedian Matt Price. “I think he’s technically good, but…”

“Have you seem his show this year?” asked Copstick.

“No,” said Matt.

“Well don’t judge,” Copstick told Matt.

“I can’t avoid judging,” said audience member/comedian Paul Ricketts, “because I’ve worked with him. I know he’s a cunt.”

“But half the comics on the alternative scene,” said Copstick, “are cunts…”

“I know,” said Paul.

Matt Roper (left), Copstick, Paul Ricketts at Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick with Paul Ricketts (right) outside Grouchy Club

“I’m sorry,” Copstick said, apologising to two ordinary members of the public from Tasmania who were inexplicably in an audience otherwise filled by comedy industry people. “Cunt is a term of…”

“It is,” I explained, “like an Australian calling someone a ‘bastard’ – It is a term of affection in Scotland.”

“A lot of comics start a bit cuntish,” said Copstick, “but it takes many, many years…”

“A lot of hard work,” agreed Paul.

“…to become a total cunt,” concluded Copstick. “I think it is a very dangerous thing to judge what somebody is like on-stage by what they are like off-stage. If I did that, most people at the Fringe would be getting one-star reviews from me, because they are arseholes.”

Jim’s panto Sinderella - see what he did there?

Jim’s Sinderella – See what he did there?

“It is though,” said Paul, “very hard to divorce the art from the person when that person has annoyed you so much. I worked on Jim Davidson’s panto Sinderella at the Cambridge Theatre – I was a wood-pusher – I was working backstage – and I was on the verge of getting off with this wardrobe mistress, who was a very good friend of his.

“I went back to her place – gorgeous blonde – and she put on a video of the previous Jim Davidson pantomime and, after 20 minutes, I just thought No! I had to pretend to go to sleep – and turn down the sex – because I couldn’t stand it. That is real punishment and he doesn’t even know he’s done it.”

“What was wrong with watching the video?” I asked.

“It is a well-known fact,” said Copstick, “that Jim Davidson appears in very few comedians’ wank banks.”

“What about Jim Davidson’s Funeral?” I asked.

Jim Davidson’s Funeral - put  the ‘ham’ into shambolic

The show that put the ‘ham’ into shambolic

“Well,” Copstick said, “among the many things I loathe – because I have lived long and every year the list of things I loathe gets longer – quite high up is performers who come up to the Fringe and only do one day.”

A couple of nights ago, I saw the terrifically funny one-off show shambles that was Jim Davidson’s Funeral, perpetrated by comedy double act Ellis & Rose. They won an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award last year for a publicity stunt in which Rich Rose punched Gareth Ellis in the face causing actual bodily harm simply so they could get publicity by claiming he was attacked in the street by a punter outraged by their performance of Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

Kate Copstick failed to see Jim Davidson’s Funeral this week but, no matter, Ellis & Rose wrote a 5-star review of their own show claiming it was her review and posted it all over the internet. It read:

Ellis & Rose have cemented themselves as arch-villains of the Edinburgh Fringe… I’m now quitting as head critic at The Scotsman, as nothing is worth reviewing after this  – Kate Copstick

Another fake Broadway Baby hits the stands...

Another fake Broadway Baby hits the stands

I can’t see this fake review making it to the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award short list.

Nor the fake issues of Broadway Baby – another one appeared yesterday – as Barry Ferns got an award for the original idea last year.

A more obvious attempt to get a Cunning Stunt Award happened a few days ago when Frankie Boyle fans were enticed to the Pleasance Dome by the implied promise of a ‘secret gig’ by their comedy hero.

At the gig, comic Luke McQueen walked out on stage, said “Give me a cheer if you’re excited about seeing Frankie Boyle”, then explained that he (McQueen) could not get an audience for his own show, so he had to lie to draw a crowd.

McQueen told the Chortle comedy website: “They weren’t very happy. But I was confident, once they heard my comedy, the mood would change. To my surprise, it didn’t. They seemed quite upset that I wasn’t Frankie Boyle and began to leave. I offered to do a bit of Frankie’s material if they stayed but they weren’t interested. Some people said some pretty mean things as they left.” He told Chortle that the response was ‘demoralising’ but said he might try again: “Maybe I’ll try a bigger venue like the O2 and saying it’s Michael McIntyre. I think his audience will be more patient.”

As I told the Grouchy Club audience yesterday afternoon: “There is a heated debate to be had next Monday about whether stupidity is any barrier to being nominated for or indeed winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. It is arguable that it may be a positive advantage.”

“I love cunning stunts,” said Copstick, “that are done by people who are clearly idiots… Ellis & Rose are clearly idiots.”

Gareth Ellis (left) & Rich Rose at Jim Davidson’s Funeral

Gareth Ellis (left) & Rich Rose at the Funeral. Jim Davidson allegedly criticised them as “intellectuals” – but are they merely idiots?

“They’re not idiots,” I remonstrated. “They’re just mentally deranged.”

“No,” argued Copstick. “It’s a fine line, John, but I think they’re idiots.”

“I think it’s desperation,” isn’t it?” said Matt Price. “Everyone’s desperate to get…”

“Desperation is good for comedy,” I suggested.

“Why not spend ten years learning how to be a comedian, though,” asked Matt, “rather than thinking about fame?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “If you had the choice – ten years at the coalface or come up for one day and do Jim Davidson’s Funeral for self-publicity?”

“Oh no,” said Matt. “I’m not knocking those two…”

“Well obviously, if you were a cunt,” said Copstick, “you would do Jim Davidson’s Funeral.”

“And remember,” I pointed out to the two Tasmanians, “that the word ‘cunt’ is a term of affection.”

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Comedian Ivor Dembina on the comparative pain of Jerry Sadowitz, Frankie Boyle and Lewis Schaffer

Comic investigator Liam Lonergan

Comic questions from Lonergan

My last two days’  blogs have been extracts from a chat Liam Lonergan had with comedian and club owner Ivor Dembina for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

This is a final extract.

____________________________

Liam Lonergan: How long have you been doing comedy?

Ivor Dembina: Well I came into it in the early 1980s. I was the second wave. The first wave was Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall, The Young Ones and all that lot. They got going in 1979. I would have come in about 1982, 1983.

Liam: So, since you started stand-up, have you been able to sustain it as a career or have you at any point had to have another career?

Ivor: Well, for thirty years I’ve earned a small living from it. The money has come primarily through running little clubs and promoting gigs. I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve been abroad a couple of times. I’ve never earned much serious money from it. I’ve never really sought to. That’s been secondary. But some people have got very rich out of it. No question. I mean, some of ‘em are multi-millionaires.

Liam: Russell Brand.

Ivor: Well, Russell Brand, Russell Howard. Harry Hill must be worth an absolute fortune. Frank Skinner.

Liam: Harry Hill had the golden handcuff contract with ITV where he was getting I think it was £10 million over three years.

Ivor: These are people that, when I last worked with them, I gave them £50. Steve Coogan. Y’know, these people they’re millionaires many times over. And just work it out for yourself. An agency like Off The Kerb, when they got £20 million out of the BBC for Jonathan Ross they got 15% of it. They got £3 million for one deal.

Someone like Russell Howard was charging £40 a ticket for – I can’t remember exactly but – something like an 18,000 capacity venue for 55 minutes work… Micky Flanagan does four nights at the O2. You see a poster with Micky on it. Then a week later you see the same poster only this time it’s a DVD of the show. The people who go and buy it provided the laughter track. Now they’re going to buy the DVD.

Ivor Dembina on the pendulum swings of UK comedy

Ivor Dembina: Was he too left-leaning for TV?

Liam: Did you ever make an attempt to penetrate that side of it? Did you ever wanna get into TV?

Ivor: I was never a gagster. Television never wanted me and I never wanted TV. I thought I’m not bad as a live comic. I’m worth seeing. I think I write quite interesting jokes. I just don’t think telly’s for me. Yeah, there are times when I think I wouldn’t mind some of that. The things that I really envy about people who have made it on television are they don’t have to bust their balls to get an audience. People will turn up because they’ve been heard of. And they get to play in nice venues because, obviously, if you’re playing a West End theatre, the whole atmosphere is designed to make you look good. You’ve got perfect sound. The lights are great. The audience is comfortable. You haven’t got people walking in and out of the bar. You haven’t got a PA that’s gonna collapse on you. You haven’t got a group of drunks in the front row. You haven’t got to deal with it. You just go on and do what you do. To me, it’s the only incentive for fame: that you’d get invited to play in nice rooms.

Liam: So what would be a really good night for you?

Ivor: Well, I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe last year playing a small fifty seater venue and it sold out throughout the run. And I was amazed. I was genuinely shocked that fifty people wanted to come and see me every night. I’m not being modest here. I thought: Bloody hell. Well maybe my show’s not that bad. I’ve just got used to failure. I don’t resent it. These are choices that I’ve made. A lot of the people who have had good television careers, they’re very talented, they’re very funny. I mean, Frank Skinner’s an incredibly funny guy. And, in his way, so is Michael McIntyre. It’s not my taste but McIntyre’s great.

Liam: With that sort of demographic.

Ivor: It really works, yeah. But I’m more interested in comedy as an art form where, basically, you’re communicating something human to the audience or sharing something with them. I think that tends to work, roughly, in auditoriums up to about a maximum of 200 people. This arena comedy, I just don’t get it. One of my favourite comedians of all time is Woody Allen. If he came over here and did a theatre I would do my best to get a ticket. But, if he was on at the O2 Arena, I wouldn’t go. What’s the point?

I think what’s happened with me is that, in London… I’m a bit like Lewis Schaffer. Quite a lot of people sort of know who I am. Quite a lot of those like me. They might come and see me again.

Liam: You’ve got your own dedicated following, as Lewis Schaffer seems to have. The thing I found quite remarkable with Lewis was that everyone who was coming up to the door he knew their names. Instantly. He was instantly on first names terms. And it was like he’s cultivated this atmosphere that was, sort of, a tree house gang.

Lewis Schaffer: creating a cult

Lewis Schaffer: creating his own cult?

Ivor: You used the word cultivated. It’s interesting. If you break down the word cultivated you get the word cult. What he’s trying to do is create a cult of Lewis Schaffer, which is beginning to work a bit but ultimately his problem now is… we’re not in that main world of agents or TV or…

Liam: Well, that’s my main angle. It’s people who are just outside of…

Ivor: At the moment people like me and Lewis qualify. You could say that Stewart Lee is very interesting to observe at the moment because he was in that position but now he’s got his own TV series and he’s had his show on at The National Theatre. Mark Thomas is a bit like that. On the one hand he’s Leftie, he’s got his credentials. But he’s ‘appy to knock out a DVD or pop up on telly. Jerry Sadowitz is another one. He’s great. He’s way outside… He’s absolutely brilliant. He’s fantastic.

Liam: Lewis Schaffer said he thought Jerry Sadowitz was good but he thought he lacked humanity. He thought he was just… just pitbull teeth. [Lewis Schaffer disputes he ever said this – SEE HIS COMEBACK HERE]

Ivor: I don’t agree. I think Jerry has got a great humanity. Whenever I see Jerry I never think You’re cruel. Never think that. I get that sometimes when I watch Frankie Boyle. I think he plays to people’s cruelty. But I just think Jerry’s dead funny.

Liam: Jerry seems real. Someone who’s quite embittered. Someone who’s got a chip on his shoulder, who’s punching upwards.

Ivor: He’s letting us see his pain. And that’s fine. Whereas I think with someone like Frankie Boyle it’s more of a case of What can I say that’s going to really wind people up? And he does it and he does it very well. But if you go look at a Frankie Boyle video and you cut away to the audience, they’re exactly the same sort of people who are laughing at Michael McIntyre. It’s cruelty for the masses. Whereas Jerry is showing us his pain and making us laugh at it at the same time. What I think Frankie Boyle does is Let’s have a laugh at the pain of others. Big difference.

Liam: That’s why I thought it was good with Lewis Schaffer because even though it comes across as quite polished like Mort Sahl or the old…

Ivor: The old vaudeville…

Liam: … there is a neediness. There is that sort of ‘revealing himself’ that I think is very attractive.

Ivor: He just needs to relax a bit. Relaxation isn’t his strength.

Liam: Do you feel, in your own personal… Do you think pathology… does that feed into, into your act?

Ivor: One of the myths in comedy is that all comedians are somehow depressives or manic depressives. It’s just bullshit. Obviously some people have definitely experienced mental health problems. Spike Milligan, Tony Hancock. Russell Brand has been very open about his addictions. But when we were talking about Jerry Sadowitz… he puts his pain on stage. He allows you to see it but it’s got nothing to do with mania or psychosis or mental health.

It’s about putting pain onstage in a way that other people will appreciate. Not to upset them. Peter Hoopal once said to me: “You can show ‘em the scars but never show ‘em the wounds”.

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Gay Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Now Linked To Sight Gags for Perverts

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

“It’s not a play. It’s not a musical. What is it?” I asked writer Jon Brittain at Bar Italia in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon.

He co-wrote and directs Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which this week starts a 4-week run at Theatre 503 in Battersea.

“Well,” replied Jon, “we describe it as a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza. The idea behind it is that Margaret Thatcher, played by a man, has become a cabaret singer and she tells you the story of how she went from being Prime Minister to cabaret singer.

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matthew Tedford stars as Margaret Thatcher, queening it up

“Basically, we tell the story of Section 28 – the law that stops councils funding the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It’s Margaret Thatcher, played by my friend Matt Tedford (who co-wrote the show) and two dancers in hot pants and moustaches who dance along to songs and play all the other parts in the show while never really wearing anything more than hot pants and moustaches – including when they play women and children.

“My girlfriend Laura was very confused about the whole thing. We rehearsed in our living room and I think having to hear the voice of Maggie Thatcher all the time got a bit grating for her.”

Jon also directed John Kearns’ award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Jon Brittain (right) with John Kearns

Jon Brittain (right) with comic John Kearns

“John and I did a double act together at UEA – the University of East Anglia,” explained Jon, “and he’d been in a lot of plays I’d directed.”

“Was there,” I asked, “much difference between directing Sight Gags For Perverts and Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho?”

“Not much,” replied Jon. “John and Matt are both really spontaneous. John knows where he wants to get to and, if something happens in the room, he will respond to it… and Matt’s very much the same, even though Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a much more rigid script and much more about the story.

“John’s Edinburgh show was much more about the experience and he could go off in different directions. His show was deceptively stupid, but he’d thought about it loads and it was very intricately layered and worked-out. There was a really powerful emotional feeling behind it: a real sadness and loneliness and desperation behind the very silly, seemingly stupid, surreal stories he was telling.”

“But you have directed straight plays as well,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jon. “Directing comedy is different from directing a play… With a play, you’re saying Stand here… Do this… As the director of a comedy show, you go in and suggest There is a problem here: how are you going to solve it? and the performer is the one who has to come up with the solution.

John Kearns in Sight Gags For Perverts

John Kearns in the award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts

“During my time in Edinburgh with John, we had a lot of conversations about the end of his show and how to tie together the loose ends. I made a lot of suggestions as to how he could do that and then I went away and came back at the end of the run and he had solved the problem in a way that was entirely different to any of my suggestions. But I think my useful function was asking the questions and pointing out the problem.

“I think there’s a temptation in theatre plays to say everyone has assigned roles – the actors do this; the writer does this; the director does this – and no-one crosses-over into other people’s fields. Whereas I do a lot of crossing-over. I direct my own stuff and do the sound design and, in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Matt acts and writes and there’s a lot of crossing-over.”

“How did the idea for Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho come about?I asked.

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher – Queen of Soho poster

“Matt hadn’t performed in about five years – not since university. He’d been a civil servant and other things. I held a Hallowe’en party in 2012 and he came along dressed as Margaret Thatcher – in the same costume he uses in the play – with a wig. He looked amazing. He had a pint of milk in his handbag that he would pull out and say: Would you like some? No, it’s not for sharing.

“Then I was asked if I wanted to write something for a night of short plays – Thatcherwrite – a few months after Margaret Thatcher’s death. So I asked Matt to write something with me.

The original night

The original night when Margaret Thatcher first appeared

“We wrote a 15-minute version which he performed on the Thatcherwrite night. Most of the other plays were, by-and-large, quite serious. A play about the Falklands War. A play about the housing bubble.

“So we thought it would work if, at the end of the night, suddenly an announcer went: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for your headline act of the evening – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho! – and she comes out and sings YMCA with two backing dancers in hot pants. Just make it, on the surface, as stupid and silly and ridiculous as possible. Though there is a point underneath, because it is about Section 28 and gay rights and what she could have done if she’d chosen to.

Two dancers who always keep their moustaches

Margaret Thatcher + 2 dancers never without the moustaches

“From our research – which we pretend not to have done but which we did do – it sounds like she had gay friends and was OK with them as individuals, but she supported this legislation and so, with our play, we imagine what might have happened if she’d actually supported gay causes. That’s underlying it, but we try to do it in the most ridiculous, stupid way possible so that any kind of message is buried deep down.

“Even during the most po-faced emotional monologue we have in it, in the background there are dancers doing the most disgusting dance moves, grinding and slapping their arses in slow motion.

“One of our male dancers plays Jill Knight, an MP in the 1980s, but in a bright pink cardigan still wearing his moustache and we have Peter Tatchell as if played by Ray Winstone.”

“You are not interested in performing yourself any more?” I asked.

“I’d be really interested in doing some story-telling,” said Jon. “About five years ago, I did stand-up very loosely for about a year and then very often for about a year and, at the end of that, I just wasn’t having fun. The reason I stepped away from it was I didn’t really have a ‘voice’. I could write stuff, but there was no unified point of view when I performed and I didn’t feel I could find it.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that a writer of plays can change into different voices, but a stand-up comedian can’t switch from warm-and-cuddly one moment and Frankie Boyle the next.”

Jon Brittain - a working playwright

Jon Brittain – a working playwright who knows his Ps and Qs

“Yes,” agreed Jon. “And I felt confident writing dialogue for stage plays and more confident of the worth of it. When I was writing jokes, almost every single one I thought: I don’t know if this is going to work. When I write a story, everything in that is working towards the telling of the story. I felt much more confident and comfortable with that. So I would quite like to return to standing up on a stage – but telling a story not jokes.

“I don’t really subscribe to the barriers between comedy and storytelling and theatre anyway. It’s people in the industry who like to put the barriers up so they can figure what section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme it goes in and what person from what TV Department should go and see it.”

“If they still had such things,” I asked, “what would you write in your passport – writer, director or performer?”

“I don’t really act at all, though I do the voice of Winston Churchill in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho – I do the voice and someone else operates a portrait where the mouth moves.”

“Like Captain Pugwash,” I said.

“That was the aesthetic we were going for.”

“But obviously without Seaman Staines…”

“Only backstage,” said Jon.

I think I’m a writer first and the directing comes out of that. I’d really like to direct more stand-up comedy and direct in different media – film, stage, live comedy. But I think I’m going to take a year off theatre and just write television scripts, because I’ve started making a bit of headway. Me and Suzi Ruffell have written a sitcom script that’s in development.”

“You’ve worked in TV already haven’t you?” I asked.

“I did six months at Cartoon Network,” replied Jon, “which was like in a writers’ room. It was called The Amazing World of GumballI worked with James Lamont and Jon Foster who wrote The Harry Hill Movie.”

“Do you get repeat fees on the Cartoon Network programmes or was there a buy-out?” I asked.

“Oh, there was a total buy-out. When my agent sent me along, the first thing said was: Whatever you do, do not create any characters!

“Wise advice,” I said. “When people are dead like Margaret Thatcher, it’s always comforting.”

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“Being a stockbroker is like being a comedian”: Russia Today’s Max Keiser

Max with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

Max (right) with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

If you want to see the heir of the late American comedian Bill Hicks performing, where do you look?

Not in British comedy clubs where Bill Hicks is the comedians’ comedian. Certainly not in America,  where Bill Hicks only came to most people’s attention fairly recently.

Perhaps one place to look is a television programme transmitted three times a week on the RT channel (The channel used to be called Russia Today.) American presenter Max Keiser is RT’s economic guru; he fronts his own show: The Keiser Report.

Max Keiser (extreme left) on 10 O'Clock Live

Max (perhaps suitably on the extreme left) on 10 O’Clock Live

Last month, he was a guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You. Last year, he was a guest on Channel 4’s comedy series 10 O’Clock Livepresented by Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. 

Jimmy Carr came up to me after the show,” Max told me yesterday in Soho. “He was very nice and wanted to know more about my views on the economy. A few weeks later, I was having lunch over at his place – beautiful house, beautiful tennis court. He had me up there to talk about gold and silver. He said he was prepared to buy a ton – that’s 32,000 ounces – of silver. Since that lunch, the price has dropped about 50%. So that’s probably why I haven’t heard from Jimmy since then.”

“And you’re a fan of Bill Hicks,” I said.

“If anyone is a big fan of comedy and they watch my show on RT,” said Max. “they’ll recognise that I borrow heavily from him. I liked Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and that raw, unvarnished truthfulness is something we’ve always tried to strive for in The Keiser Report. It’s just very raw and sometimes it works not from having people’s funny bone tickled but because they are uncomfortable.”

Max Keiser presents his Report on Russia Today TV

Max presents Keiser Report next to Boris Johnson’s City Hall

“But The Keiser Report,” I said, “is a current affairs show – a news show covering business and finance – that is not normally a comic area.”

“At this point in time,” replied Max, “the financial world and the banks are so pathetically corrupt that it’s impossible to cover them without having, to some degree, a satirical view. Very few things which banks do, in this country at this point, are legal. Virtually 100% of everything all the Big Four banks do is illegal.”

“Could you be pushing this angle because you’re a presenter on the Russian government’s own TV channel?” I asked.

“Well, the show is produced by Associated Press,” said Max. “which is an American company. The show is recorded at a TV studio that’s part of London & Partners, which is London Mayor Boris Johnson’s public relations division. And we make other shows with Associated Press which are sold to other outlets. We sold a show to Press TV.”

“Thats worse!” I said. “That’s the Iranian government!. These are dodgy people we are talking about.”

“These are fine international news organisations,” said Max. “We’ve done a show for BBC World News. We did shows for Al Jazeera English.”

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English, Doha

“Ah, now,” I said. “Al Jazeera English is a very, very good news channel, though I don’t know about the Arabic version.”

“When we were in Doha where Al Jazeera English is based,” said Max, “there was this famous car park with the Al Jazeera English building on one side and the Al Jazeera Arabic building on the other and they really did not get along. So there is a perpetual stand-off in Doha and occasionally executives would be taken out to the car park and…”

“Beheaded?” I suggested.

“…left to their own devices,” continued Max. “And that’s not easy to do, because you need an exit visa. So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.”

“What show did you make for them?” I asked.

“We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.”

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?

“Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still seems to want to be fighting the Cold War. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the US, they still think it’s 1970. They don’t understand that Russia and the Russian economy has leapfrogged well beyond what was happening during the Cold War, well past the Soviet Union. They are very entrepreneurial in Russia and the TV network is very savvy. They have a bigger reach than the BBC – over 800 million. I think they’ve really taken the top position in the world right now as far as global international satellite and cable TV is concerned. And whatever we can do to support that, we’re happy to do. In this country, I would say the relationship with the Soviet Union is quite strained. Other countries have moved on from their Cold War perception.”

“You’ll get a Hero of the Soviet Union medal,” I told Max. “You’ve had other comedians on The Keiser Report, haven’t you?”

Max Keiser (right) interviews comedian Frankie Boyle on Russia Today

Frankie Boyle (left) interviewed on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Yes, we’ve had Frankie Boyle. I’m a big fan of his. A no-holds-barred comedian who’s willing to take big risks.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I think he and I talked about the state of the media.”

“But you’re a business show.”

“Yeah, but so much of business now is driven by perception and that perception is driven by the media. The Stock Market – whether it’s the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones – it’s a hologram driven by perception. There’s no actual equity in those markets; it’s completely a bubble puffed up on zero collateral.”

“What were you before being a TV presenter?” I asked.

“I started out as a stockbroker for Paine Webber on Wall Street in the early 1980s. Before that, I was at New York University and I was doing stand-up comedy. I made the transition from doing comedy to being a stockbroker at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period.”

“Why?”

“Because, surprisingly, being a stockbroker is not that much different from being a comedian. You’re telling stories to people, going through a lot of stories quite rapidly and you are essentially getting people not to laugh but to say: Give me 1,000 shares. To get to that moment, you use the same techniques as a comedian: pacing, word-choice, empathy.

“I was at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. Rich Hall was doing improvisation down in the theatre district. Robin Williams was at Catch a Rising Star. On the West Coast, you had Steve Martin. It was the beginning of that huge new wave when comedy became the new rock ’n’ roll and then TV shows came out of that.

“Watching Robin Williams work was pretty remarkable. During that time, before he went on stage, his ritual was to line up seven or eight Kamikaze cocktails. They’re extremely potent alcoholic concoctions. As the MC was about to introduce him, he’d just go Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang and down those suckers and then hit the stage with all that energy.

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser is into a post “Comedy is Rock ’n’ Roll” period

“Now we’re into a post Comedy is rock ’n’ roll period. I’m hoping we’re getting back to the more politicised comedy – the Lenny Bruce type of comedy – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway. A lot of people who do comedy here in London go to the United States and come back and tell me: It’s great; it’s all very funny; but it’s homogenised. They’re all doing the same kind of jokes, which is because of this huge thing called TV: the sitcoms. They’re looking for a certain type to fill a certain spot and there’s 10,000 comics trying to get that one spot and they’re all doing the same act.

“I love the comedy here in London, because it’s completely different. There’s a lot of political edginess to it. A lot of comedians here identify themselves as ‘left wing’. In America, there is no left wing. There’s only slightly right-of-centre and extreme right-of-centre and the fanatical right.”

“Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I went for the first time last year.”

“You should do a show up there,” I suggested.

“I would like to take a show up there though, if I do, I’d have to workshop it here in London beforehand. But I’ve already been doing my Stand-Up Rage show in cities around the world: Dublin, Los Angeles, London.

“People are fans of my rages on The Keiser Report and this is a 60-minute rage without any control whatsoever. I go into a fugue state in a white rage. Afterwards, I literally have no memory of what I’ve said. It’s a cathartic experience and the audience, in many cases, achieve a level of ecstasy.”

There was a slight pause.

“So you don’t have a script,” I asked. “You just go off on a rant?”

“I start off on one basic idea,” explained Max, “and I will refer to headlines and each usually triggers a good ten minutes of rage. Then, to catch my breath, I will maybe cut to a 20 second music or video blurb.”

“And you rage about politics?” I asked.

“It’s about the bankers and the banksters because, when you have this merging of the private banking interests and the political interests otherwise known as Fascism… I mean, London is the capital of financial terrorism. This is where the financial Jihadis congregate.”

“You do good headline,” I said.

“If you go down to the City of London,” continued Max, “they have the madrassas – otherwise known as HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. These are the madrassas of banking fanaticism. They pursue market fundamentalism which says they can blow themselves up and others around them – not to seek THE Prophet but some profit.”

(The Keiser Report is transmitted on RT, with editions also available on YouTube)

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Filed under Cold War, Comedy, Economics, Finance, Russia, Television

The road to Hell – my defence of sexist, racist and (yes certainly) rape jokes

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Frankie Boyle’s autobiography

As I write this, comedian Frankie Boyle is still in the High Court. He is suing the Daily Mirror for libel after they called him a “racist”. His barrister says it is perfectly OK to call him “vile” but not a racist.

His barrister told the jury that, during his Channel 4 Tramadol Nights show, Frankie had told a joke which contained the word ‘nigger’. The thrust of his argument was that racist words do not necessarily mean racist thoughts. Frankie Boyle, his barrister said, was attacking racists in the joke. Context is everything.

Almost a fortnight ago, I wrote a blog headed In Defence of rape jokes though, in fact, it said that I do not like rape jokes, as I have known and worked with three women who were raped as children and, by and large, the people who tell rape jokes are bad comedians going for a cheap (shock) laugh.

I wrote: “Trying to ban rape jokes is like trying to put sticking plaster over a symptom to hide an unsightly abscess, not cure the problem. It is the wrong target. The aim, surely, should be trying to stop audiences laughing at rape jokes.”

My So It Goes blog was picked up and reprinted a week later by the Huffington Post (though dated by them as 4th October).

In response to that Huffington Post piece, I got this e-mail from the people at ‘Rape Is No Joke’ (whom I had not named):

___

Dear John Flemming, (sic)

I am writing to correct a number of inaccuracies in your article ‘In Defence of Rape Jokes’ regarding our campaign ‘Rape Is No Joke’.

We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes and we do not believe a ban on something will fundamentally tackle an issue.

We are not calling for the subject of rape to become a taboo that is never mentioned in comedy. We are against jokes that trivialise the issue and the victim (which the vast majority of jokes about rape do).

Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues as part of our campaign.

Our aim is to educate and tackle the, increasingly common, attitude that rape is something to be laughed at.

Obviously comedy isn’t the biggest offence facing women. However, comedy doesn’t exist in a bubble, it often reflects and has an effect on attitudes in wider society. Rape jokes add to the culture of dismissal and trivialising of rape that exists all too often in wider society. Whilst 80,000 women in the UK are raped every year, only 15% of them report it. Many of the other 85% are scared they won’t be believed or taken seriously. We want to start to tackle that culture. And we want to be able to enjoy comedy without misogyny.

We would be grateful if you could edit your article accordingly and remove the claims we want to ‘ban’ rape jokes.

Yours Sincerely,

_________

Now, far be it from me to criticise well-intentioned people, but this e-mail says: “We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes… Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues”

If that ain’t advocating a ban on rape jokes, then daffodils are fish.

Good intentions. Bad idea.

The problem with banning any joke about anything is that who defines what the subject or the object of a  joke is? No rape jokes would, presumably mean no jokes – or sarcastic comments – about some of the late Jimmy Savile’s appalling activities. And, as I said in my original blog, where does it end? If rape jokes are banned then, surely, you must also ban jokes about murder. And, if you ban jokes about certain subjects told live on stage then, logically, you have to ban those same jokes on television and ban them in books, magazines and newspapers. Pretty soon, you will be trying to avoid people reading unacceptable comments previously expressed by burning books.

Today, comedian Rowan Atkinson is in the papers attacking the Public Order Act and “the creeping culture of censoriousness” and the “new intolerance”.

Rowan Atkinson attacks – in the Daily Mail today

According to today’s Daily Mail – not a publication known for criticising the police – a 16-year-old boy was recently arrested under the Public Order Act for peacefully holding up a placard reading ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, on the grounds that it might insult Scientologists.

In 2005, the Daily Mail points out, an Oxford University student was arrested for saying to a policeman: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?” Thames Valley police said he had made “homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by”. And a 16-year-old from Newcastle who growled and said “Woof!” to a labrador within earshot of police was prosecuted and fined £200 (later over-turned on appeal).

If the policing of public morality is happening at this unimportant level to this ludicrousness, then how much more oppressive would be the policing of any ban on more serious things – like jokes about rape?

Frankie Boyle’s barrister has been saying in court that the comedian has been called “racist” for telling jokes which were actively aimed against racists.

In a comment on my Facebook page about the Frankie Boyle court case, comedian Richard Herring observes:

“In none of the examples I have seen is Boyle using the words in a context other than to highlight other’s racism. If he is racist for just using the word, then anyone saying, ‘saying the word Paki is racist‘ is racist. So presumably everyone involved in the court case can now be called racist.”

Rowan Atkinson said yesterday: ‘The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm… can be interpreted as insult.”

The same can be said of jokes about rape. In my original blog, I linked to a superb piece of comedy by Janey Godley in which she referred to the fact that she herself was repeatedly raped as a child. This could, very clearly, be labelled a ‘rape joke’ though, in fact, it is not in any way making a joke of rape.

Banning any jokes about anything is a bad idea. Trying to get comedy club owners to ban comedians who (they believe) tell or have told or may tell ‘rape jokes’ is not just a bad idea, it is actively dangerous. Where does the censorship end?

Freedom of speech includes the right to be offensive.

The road to totalitarianism – to a police state – is partially paved with the good intentions of well-meaning people.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system, Racism, Sex

Comedian Lewis Schaffer gets attacked for his allegedly woman-hating blogs about TV presenter Justin Lee Collins

Lewis Schaffer – sexist or vulnerable?

Last night, I got a call from Lewis Schaffer.

“The shit’s hit the fan,” he said. “I don’t want to be Frankie Boyle. I don’t want people to be mad at me. Well, just a little bit. That’s my default position. My parents were always mad at me. That meant they were paying attention.”

Last Friday, Lewis wrote a blog which started:

According to the Daily Mail, British comic Justin Lee Collins is on trial for “Harrassment (Causing fear of violence)” for calling his girlfriend a “fat dog” and telling her she was “riddled with cellulite”.

The blog was headlined: No man ever used the words “riddled with cellulite”. A defense of Justin Lee Collins.

The next day, Lewis followed it up with a blog headed: Justin Lee Collins attempts murder while Alan Carr watches. Believe it or Not!

“People are complaining that I’m defending violence against women,” Lewis told me. “That I’m a woman-hater, that I don’t understand what domestic violence is.”

“So what is your view on domestic violence?” I asked.

“That it’s best kept in the home,” said Lewis. “On stage, that’s funny. Maybe in print, people don’t know it’s a joke.

“People are viewing me like some archaic male chauvinist. I’m not. I don’t like people getting upset with what I write. My goal is to make people like me. The trouble with comedy is that, if you try to get people to like you, they don’t like you; and if you try to get people to hate you, then that doesn’t work either. Some people are saying to me – John, you yourself have said to me – I should be like Frankie Boyle and get into arguments, but I don’t want to get into arguments with people.”

“But,” I said, “that’s your schtick. On stage, you are confrontational. You tell the audience they are crap; you tell some audience members you don’t like them; you tell them you hate Jews, then you explain you’re a Jew and tell jokes about the Holocaust. That’s confrontational.”

“It isn’t confrontational,” Lewis argued, “because it’s interactive. They can see my face. The trouble is I write my blogs in the privacy of my own home and people can’t see my face when they read a blog.”

“So,” I said, “if you tell a live audience they’re crap, that’s OK because they can see your face and your eyes when you say it and you can see them, so you can control their perception of you?”

“Yes. It’s a very complicated situation,” said Lewis.

“I’ve seen you say on stage that you don’t like women,” I told Lewis. “But, of course, the audience knows that’s not true because they can feel the comic attitude. But a lot of your act on stage superficially is about how awful your ex-wife was and women are.”

“Yeah,” agreed Lewis, “it is about that but I think, at the end of the show, people realise who the real loser is – and it’s me. They walk away thinking I feel sorry for that woman being married to that man.”

“You have had some people walk out of your stage shows outraged, though,” I said.

“I have had many people walk out of my shows,” said Lewis, “and usually they walk out not after what I say but in anticipation of what I’m going to say because they think Oh my god! I can’t listen to this!”

“And in fact,” I suggested, “if they stayed and listened to more, they would realise it’s more balanced.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis. “It’s balanced. I don’t blame my ex-wife for everything. At the end of the show, people see that. They see I’m a flawed human being.”

“So your basic problem,” I suggested, “is that you’re used to saying things in a conversational way… You tend to talk WITH the audience in your shows, not just talk TO them… It’s a dialogue… But, when you put the same words down in cold print, people can’t read between the lines.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis. “A lot of what I do is tongue-in-cheek and most people realise that when they see me.”

“But they don’t necessarily see that in an individual blog?” I asked.

“If they read all the blogs, they realise that. The problem is I do care. I never do a blog that everyone agrees with. If I were to do a blog that says women are oppressed, some people would disagree. When I write a blog about Justin Lee Collins being pilloried and that no-one is speaking out for him…

“What I was reacting to in my blog was the sense of imbalance that’s being projected about Justin Lee Collins. I don’t know the guy. If I met him, I might not even like the guy. Anybody who screams at women… I’ve never done that… I withdraw into my own shell when people are attacking me. I’ve never ever screamed at a woman.”

“So give me an example of how people are criticising you…”

“Well, they’re saying that I’m… Well, one well-known female comic didn’t even have the nerve to say what she didn’t like… She asked if any comedians were going to speak out against me. It was one of the Tweets. But she didn’t come out and say I don’t like what this guy said. She didn’t say that, but she was thinking that, probably…”

“So,” I asked, “have people actually said to you in the flesh that you are blogging bad things?”

“No, just on the internet,” replied Lewis. “It’s the power of the Tweet. The irony is that, behind closed doors, I went a little mental and crossed a line I shouldn’t have done and, behind closed doors, they’re going all mental on me. Everyone’s in the privacy of their own little iPhones and iPads so they can say and write and do things that they wouldn’t say and do in real life. If they spoke to me, they’d know… They know me…

“Yeah, I am bitter. I do hate women. And I love women too. Women hate women. Life’s complicated and I’m even more complicated. I am famous for my bitterness. I’m bitter about men too. This blog happened to be bitter about women. There’ll be a future blog that’s bitter about men. Just wait…”

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Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Misogyny, Performance, Sex