Three things have always held me back from a glittering and financially wildly successful career in showbiz: I’m not gay, I’m not Jewish and I’m shit at schmoozing.
Ooh – and I’m spectacularly lacking in any discernible performing talent of any kind.
However, I can bullshit quite well after many years of turning occasional sows’ ears of TV schedules into silk purses in on-air channel trailers.
Someone bemoaning the naivety of North Korean government propaganda in the 1980s once said to me: “You can only do good propaganda if you do NOT believe in what you’re saying. The trouble we have here is that these people believe what they’re saying.”
So, with that in mind, let me tell you all about my glamour-filled afternoon in London’s showbizzy Soho district yesterday.
After lunch, I went to St Martin’s College of Art in Charing Cross Road, forever immortalised in Pulp’s Top Ten hit Common People – “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge… She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College”.
(See what I did there? It might have sounded irrelevant, but you get tiny amounts of reflected glory from selective name-dropping. Unless that name is Gary Glitter)
The comedian Charmian Hughes was already at the photo studio in St Martin’s, getting publicity shots taken for her upcoming Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments.
(Always mention quality show names in passing and, again, you will get some slight reflected glory. Never mention inept productions unless it’s the current IKEA TV ad and even then only if you’re trying to capitalise on shitloads of previous hits on your blog.)
I was at St Martin’s to get photos taken of myself for use as publicity at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I know, up there in August, I will be directing one show, producing another and chairing two debates.
(Always self-promote, however crass it seems. All publicity is good publicity, unless it involves Gary Glitter.)
Director Mel Brooks once told me (name-drop) during a very brief encounter:
“Always open your mouth when you do it – a publicity shot. It makes you look happier, more extrovert, more full of confidence and that’s half the job!”
A female comedienne, who had better remain nameless (never annoy the Talent) once told me:
“Don’t allow the photographer to take shots of you from a level lower than your chin because a shot taken looking upwards at your face will accentuate any double chins, jowls and flabby bits.”
And I learned a lot once by going to a photo shoot with the very lovely Isla St Clair (name-drop) who was a revelation (give credit where credit is due), offering the camera a continually changing range of angles and expressions for the photographer to choose from.
I am not a natural and I tried my best at St Martin’s, though I seem to have trouble doing that old Hollywood standby – looking over my shoulder at the camera. My neck – like my good self, perhaps – seems to be either too thick or too stiff.
(Self-deprecation can be appealing in the UK, though don’t try it in the US – they see it as lack of self-confidence.)
I hate photos of myself. I may be turning into a luvvie, but I have always realised one thing – I am very definitely not photogenic. (Again, use self-deprecation sparingly if you have a US audience)
Towards the end of the photo session, I started jumping in the air, something The Beatles (name-drop) did much more successfully on a beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1963. My legs are not as good as the 21 year old Paul McCartney’s. (name-drop combined with self-deprecation)
At the very end of the session, I was pouring water into my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it turned out not to be. Don’t ask.
After that, I went off to Leicester Square to have tea with stand-up comedian, qualified psychotherapist and occasional PR/marketing guru Shelley Cooper. She told me she has accidentally developed a new on-stage confidence and I advised her to adopt a new approach to performing her comedy. I told her:
“Don’t think of writing comedy material. Instead, think of what really, genuinely gets up your nose, go on stage and rant about it and, through personality, natural comic tendencies and experience, the comedy element will add itself in.”
(That’s more than a bit pompous and a therefore a bit iffy, but the pro factor of being seen to give advice to a psychotherapist probably just-about outweighs the negative factors.)
As I left Shelley outside the Prince Charles Cinema, she turned left, I turned right and almost immediately I bumped into John Park, editor of Fringe Report – he is the man who did not design the Baghdad metro system. I always think he did, but he didn’t. It’s a long story. I still lament the passing of his monthly Fringe Report parties. Fringe Report also gave me an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’ – basically an award for being the best awarder of awards – something which has always endeared them and him to me. (True, but beware of too-blatant crawling to John Park)
John P told me he has written a play about love called Wild Elusive Butterfly which the Wireless Theatre Company will be recording in the next couple of months for internet streaming and download.
(Always plug something which sounds like it may be very good in the hope of some reflected glory.)
“Is it all singing, all dancing and with a dolphin in it?” I asked John P.
“You know?” he asked me. “Someone mentioned it?”
“We have a porpoise,” John told me.
“You have a purpose?”
“We have a porpoise – in the play. You know the story of Freddie the Dolphin?”
“There was a court case where a man was accused of assaulting a dolphin because he…”
“Ah!,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “The dolphin-wanking case! I loved it.”
In 1991, animal-rights campaigner Alan Cooper was accused in Newcastle of “outraging public decency” with local aquatic celebrity Freddie The Dolphin by masturbating the dolphin’s penis with his armpit.
“In court,” explained John, “one of the Defence Counsel’s angles was that a dolphin’s penis is a means of communication.”
“I heard it’s not uncommon,” I said. “All round Britain, dolphins are swimming up to people and sticking their penises in the swimmers’ armpits to have a wank. People are too embarrassed to complain or even mention it and you can hardly prosecute a dolphin for sexual harassment. I think that the…”
“Anyway,” said John, “it was a great line and I felt had to have it in the play. A dolphin’s penis is a means of communication. A great line. Although, in my play, it’s a porpoise. I think they may be different.”
“Everyone needs a purpose,” I said.
“I think I have to be going,” said John, looking at his watch.
(When in doubt, make up dialogue, but keep it close to what was actually said and try to add in a dash of self-deprecating humour, if possible. Unless you are trying to impress people in the US.)
Glamour? Glitz? Showbiz sparkle?
I live it every day, luv.
While we were walking through Soho, Shelley Cooper said to me: “That was Suggs.”
“On that corner, back there. That was Suggs of Madness talking to Boy George’s ex-boyfriend.”
“Did he recognise me?”
“It’s unlikely,” Shelley said.
“I suppose so,” I agreed.
By the way, the dolphin man was found innocent after several expert witnesses were called.