Tag Archives: geek

So, there is this Jewish comic who does not mind hecklers… provided they pay

Conspiratorial comedian Hayden Cohen in Tenerife this week

Conspiratorial comedian Hayden Cohen in Tenerife this week

Back in February, I wrote a blog about an anonymous comedian who had decided NOT to perform at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe because of the financial complications it always involves and the balance of creative risk-taking.

The then-anonymous comedian was Hayden Cohen who, last year, rather successfully performed his Age of The Geek show in Edinburgh.

He has now changed his mind and he will be performing his new show at the Fringe – Secrets of the Elders of Zion (which I blogged about in January).

I Skyped him in Tenerife this week…

Quite why he was in Tenerife wearing a white hat, looking like a dodgy South American dictator from the 1950s and surrounded by the sound of twittering exotic birds, I did not dare ask, in case he was involved in some secret conspiracy. But I did risk asking:

“Why did you change your mind about not going to this year’s Fringe?”

“I was desperate to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award,” he replied immediately.

“And how are you going to do that?” I asked this man who will clearly go far in showbusiness.

Symbol for a Cunning Stunt Award?

Edinburgh symbol worthy of a Cunning Stunt Award?

“I was going to try and get a gigantic Star of David,” he explained, “and hand out flyers that said: Sshhhhh…. It’s a secret! but I don’t think that’s cunning enough to get a Cunning Stunt Award. Maybe I need to offer free head-shavings, where you can get a Star of David shaved into the back of your head. Or a little tattoo just on the neckline.”

“Or have a number tattooed on your arm,” I suggested.

Hayden ignored this and told me: “I’m going to be at the Paradise Green venue. I’m actually paying. I think it has to be a pay venue. I think, if it was in a free venue, it would definitely attract the crazies.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Just because people are interested in stuff to do with Zionism and Jews. It’s difficult. I’m playing off that whole Jewish stereotype thing anyway, aren’t I? I don’t mind hecklers, in fact I quite like funny hecklers, but what I don’t want is people stopping other audience members enjoying the show. I just feel someone could start Oh I think blah blah blah… and going off on one.

“I don’t mind discussing or arguing with people – I love it – but, if people have paid to see a show, other audience members are likely to tell then to shut up and, frankly, if someone wants to pay money to heckle me – well – good for them; why not? I’m getting their money,”

“So you’re expecting to be heckled?” I asked.

“The show is only offensive if you want to take it as offensive,” Hayden said. “I’m not out to offend anyone but, at the same time, I’m a bit sick of mainstream comedy that doesn’t have bite any more.”

“Why did you change your mind about going to the Fringe?” I asked. “Have you won the Lottery?”

“No,” said Hayden. “It’s just I won’t be losing anywhere near £4,000. I’ve got a chance of breaking even – a chance. I’ll still probably end up losing money, but it won’t be too bad. At worst I might lose about £1,000 tops.”

“You do it for the love of it?” I asked.

“It actually annoys me when people say We do comedy for the love of it,” replied Hayden. “I think Well, yeah… I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it. But, at the same time, I think performers are being exploited at the Fringe. There’s a risk-reward ratio with anything. You invest in it; and it pays off or it doesn’t.

Hayden Cohen at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

Hayden Cohen at 2012 Edinburgh Fringe

“My issue with the Fringe is that, just to beak even, you have to have a 75% paying capacity audience – that’s what I figured out for my own shows. You hear about Aaaaaa Bbbbbb who loses £7,000 every time she goes up and it’s nuts.

“Like anyone else, I will have crafted my show for months. I’ve crafted my performing art for years. And to go out on stage at the Fringe with likely zero chance of making money. I’m charging £7 and £5, which isn’t a lot, but it’s not pennies either. The punters think we’re making money and we’re not. How can you continue to go back?”

“Well,” I said, “there’s that eternal chance you’ll get spotted and it will change your life.”

“Alright,” said Hayden. “Maybe I’m a hypocrite! If a big venue or agency snapped me up and said We love your show, Hayden, but you need to take all that Jewish stuff out and we’ll pay you £50,000 to do it, would I say No? Probably not.”

“So that’s the golden apple dangling at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “It’s all potential sunshine and happiness.”

“But,” said Hayden, “this show, artistically, scares the life out of me.”

“Every silver lining had a dark cloud,” I said. “The weather is always ‘interesting’ at the Fringe.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Jewish

The Secrets of The Elders of Zion and daft feminists at the Edinburgh Fringe

Hayden Cohen at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

Hayden Cohen at Edinburgh Fringe, 2012

After I saw Hayden Cohen’s show Age of The Geek at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, he interviewed me for his podcast.

Yesterday, he was passing through Borehamwood and popped in to see me at my home but, this time I asked him questions.

Obviously, the first thing I asked him what he was working on.

“I’m doing Secrets of the Elders of Zion,” he told me. “I can’t decide if it’s for the Edinburgh Fringe or not. I still don’t know what works at Edinburgh and what doesn’t – maybe no-one does. The concept is that I’m trying to become a member of the Elders of Zion, but I can’t find who I need to speak to, so I decide to start up the UK branch myself. The stage show would be like a members’ open day, to get people involved. I don’t know how far I want to take it in the real world. But I’m thinking of contacting the Chief Rabbi.

“I’ve seen Jewish performers do Jewish shows and it’s either Yeah! I’m proud to be Jewish! or I hate Jews!… I want to do something that’s kinda both. I did a free scratch performance of Secrets of the Elders of Zion at the annual Limmud Conference at Warwick University last month and I came out bleeding a little bit from that. But I now know what works and what doesn’t in the show.”

“And after that, it’s…?” I asked.

Feminisn’t,” said Hayden.

Feminisn’t?” I asked.

Feminisn’t,” said Hayden. “That’s the next show after Secrets of the Elders of Zion, if I can find a way to do it without alienating half of my demographic. I get irritated by sexism. It annoys me but, at the same time, I feel there are certain issues that blokes are scared to address… but, if I can do it in a funny way… What I was thinking of doing was going to as many different organisations and to as many different women as possible who define themselves as Feminist.

“A lot of religious women feel empowered even though the Feminist movement would argue the last thing they are is empowered. But they say: Well, it’s my choice to cook and clean and not do all the main praying in the place of worship. I want to contrast that with, say, the Women’s Institute people and the women who say Being a woman is just a construct of society; there is no gender.

“I already know what I want the end to be – I want it to be that anyone who thinks they know what Feminism is clearly doesn’t understand Feminism.

“It annoys me when Feminists say Oh, we want women to be able to choose whatever they want and, when a woman decides to choose to have a family, they then say Oh, well that’s anti-Feminist!

No it’s not. No it’s not at all.

“At the same time, I want to do it a way that’s not quite as ham-fisted as what I’ve just said, because that will end up offending people. I want to do it in a fun way and it’s difficult to get that balance.”

“So you see yourself basically as a comic doing serious material?” I asked.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to make it with my style of stuff,” said Hayden. “I don’t want to be type-cast. Some people have said You should do Age of The Geek 2 and I did think of Age of The Geek 2: The Cash-In Sequel, but that requires Age of The Geek to be much bigger than it is.

“It sounds weird, but I want to be a guy like Phill Jupitus. Not really categorised as anything specific. Neither is Craig Charles now. They do lots of different things.”

“Well,” I said, “Craig Charles has done Coronation Street on TV and Phill Jupitus has been in Spamalot and Hairspray in the West End after starting as Porky The Poet, so I see what you mean. The money is in TV, though.”

“Money would be lovely,” said Hayden, “but it’s not about the money. You see the same faces again and again on TV panel shows and all the bite’s gone. The bite has disappeared from TV. Where is it? You’ve got Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which I love.

“But the style I‘d like to emulate – not emulate, build-upon – is George Carlin. He was brilliant. The fact that he philosophised in a funny way that was never contrived. I still can’t figure it out. I’ve watched it loads of times and tried to think Can I do anything like that? but, every time I try, it just comes out like a rant.”

“But your rant,” I said, “might end up as good as his non-rant. If you copy someone else’s style it won’t work but, if you do the same basic skeleton of a concept in a different way, it can work because it will be you.”

“I don’t know where I fit,” Hayden told me. “Age of The Geek was not really a standard show. It wasn’t yer ordinary stand-up and so I felt a lot of people didn’t know what they were expecting.

“I got very frustrated when some people went Oh, I loved the poetry but I hated the songs and others went The songs were really good; hated the poetry. It feels like you can’t win. This is now my rant. It seems like everyone wants to pigeonhole you. You’re a stand-up comedian. Or You’re a writer. Or You’re a musician… Why?

“You can understand bureaucrats wanting to pigeonhole themselves, because they like the structure and clarity of it. But people in entertainment??? I don’t understand why… Well, I do understand from a practical viewpoint. If you say you’re a comedian, then someone who wants a comedian will get you in. But there needs to be something more – your favourite word – anarchic.

“I’ve done an album of straight music and I feel like I’m doing more comedy because people have said Oh, you’re a comedian! and it’s just too much of a headache to say It’s a bit more complicated than that… People don’t like that.”

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Jewish

How to badly interview a good geek self-help guru, techno-nerd and ‘creatin’

Leila Johnston yesterday – often interrupted

Rule One of interviewing someone. Do not interrupt them with your own ideas.

In December 2011, I wrote a blog asking Leila Johnston what she actually does.

Yesterday, I met her in the main street in Borehamwood and asked her again. The answer seems to be Everything. She is certainly not boring yet, despite this, she is going to be talking at an up-coming Boring Conference about living in Greenock and having IBM posters on her bedroom wall when she was six years old.

Next month, she will be talking about Making Things Fast to BBC Radio staff at Broadcasting House in London… “I’m trying to cast myself as a sort of geek self-help guru,” she tells me. “It’s a kind of modern motivational talk.

“Also in November, I’ll be doing the same talk for a thing called The Monday Club run by someone from The Idler… and I’m hosting a panel of computer art pioneers from the 1960s at the Site Gallery in Sheffield… and I’m doing an investigation into people’s ghostly experiences for Den of Geek‘s Den of Eek night… and I’ve been asked to come up with a data art installation for a wall in an office at Broadcasting House… but, In December, I don’t plan on doing anything except maybe getting a dog for my new semi-rural lifestyle. And sending out lots of pitches, of course. And editing The Literary Platform. And working with a magician and illusionist.”

Leila’s reference to her “new semi-rural lifestyle” is because, just over six months ago, she went up to Sheffield for three months to work on The Happenstance Project which aims to insert people from the world of technology into arts organisations.

“There are three participating art galleries,” she told me yesterday, “and I was put in the one in Sheffield. It was a residency. Like an artist-in-residence.”

“A nerd-in-residence,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Leila laughed. “There was a lot of debate about the word ‘technologist’…”

“Is that what you are?” I asked. “A technologist?”

“Well, that’s part of the way I cast myself, I suppose,” she answered.

“Really, though,” I said, “you’re half-and-half. You’re an arty writer and a nerdy geek.”

“There’s a phrase being used at the moment,” Leila told me. “A ‘creative technologist’. Which is quite a nice thing to be, because it implies you’re given a bit of freedom to invent stuff.”

“Some new word will be created,” I said. “A ‘Creatologist’ maybe, though that makes it sound like you don’t believe in Darwinian evolution.”

“A creatin, perhaps,” laughed Leila. “Maybe I’m a creatin. It’s only in the last year or two that people have accepted there are people like me who can help bring arts into a digital era, because a lot of arts organisations are still working in really archaic, inefficient ways. They don’t really know anything about the possibilities of technology. There’s a whole world of creative tools they don’t really understand.”

“Every art gallery could have the Mona Lisa on their walls,” I suggested.

Leila laughed. “You can’t get very close to the real thing anyway,” she said.

“You could have 3D printed, 18-squillion pixel versions on the walls of different galleries around the world,” I suggested.

“You could recreate the whole Louvre,” said Leila, not exactly convinced.

“Duplicate the Getty Art Collection in Los Angeles around the world,” I suggested.

“Make every art gallery into a sort-of super-villain’s lair,” laughed Leila.

“It could be sponsored,” I suggested. “The walls of every Tesco could be like the Louvre… Capitalism at work.”

“Mmmm…” said Leila.

“When I walked round Moscow under Communism,” I said. “It was dull. Lots of posters and banners, but all the same. Art which might have been cutting-edge in 1917 but wasn’t now. Everything had stagnated. It was a literally decadent society. Not colourful. It was all red, white and grey. The buildings were grey; the street art was red-and-white. In medieval times, the Medicis sponsored the best creative artists and they took months or years to make pieces of art which were stuck on one wall in one building forever. Nowadays, in the West, advertising agencies pay the best visual artists and the most creative minds bundles of money to work for them. So, walking round the streets, when you’re waiting for a train in the tube, when you’re watching TV, you’re surrounded by constantly-changing, highly-creative advertising art. It’s like you’re living in a constantly changing art gallery. Capitalism at its best.”

This, you see, is a perfect example of how not to conduct an interview… to give your own opinions instead of finding out the other person’s.

“Mmmm…” said Leila. “Interesting.”

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Mmmm…” said Leila.

“I don’t think I realised you were managing editor of The Literary Platform,” I said, trying to get back on course.

“Well,” said Leila, “after Happenstance, which was a three-month thing, I decided to stay in Sheffield because I liked it so much and one thing I got involved in was The Literary Platform. It’s a website which showcases projects involving new technology and storytelling. If somebody’s made an amazing iPad app that is somehow interactive and you can tell a story… or there’s something about the future of reading and eBooks… things like that. It’s got a business side and a creative side, but my own posts are all about the creative side. I’m always looking for new projects to showcase and people to feature.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“There’s a guy I’ve just interviewed,” Leila told me, “who is going to (the late Poet Laureate) Ted Hughes’ house for a few days and he’s going to be filmed with a web cam and just write whatever anyone asks him to.”

“Cheques?” I suggested.

“Well,” Leila said, “like Write me some copy for my website… Write me a story about this… People can send in suggestions and he will have to write whatever anyone wants and it’s for charity. Good, but a bit weird. Closing himself off in this house on his own.”

“It’s like he’s trying to be the David Blaine of writing,” I suggested. “What did you study at university?”

“History of Art,” Leila told me. “And then English for my Masters.”

“So you’re writing letters as two Victorian ladies…” I prompted randomly.

“Yes, we’re doing it with SAEs,” Leila explained. “I’ve got two digital receipt printers which are connected to the internet – so they’re like fax machines – and me and my friend Tim, who I write loads of things with, are writing letters to each other as characters called Elspeth and Lottie. They are like Victorian ladies who happen to own these electronic printers and all they write about are their friends who are in long-running 20th century TV shows.”

“And you have written an interactive opera about the Minotaur,” I said, changing the subject. “Minotaur! – The Moosical.”

“It’s quite nerdy,” Leila said. “It’s a rock opera.”

“…as opposed to some fat Italian woman screeching?” I asked.

“Exactly,” agreed Leila. “It’s not an opera at all and some of the songs are quite Elvis/rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s geeky, it’s about hacking, radiation, a big maze, a heartbreaking love story between the Minotaur and Pandora who’s a woman afflicted with a curse of emitting toxic force fields so people can’t get close to her. Then there’s Theseus, who wants to marry Pandora. We’ve written quite a lot of songs and some music because we’re not musicians, but we might do it with puppets.”

“Where might this be put on?” I asked.

“If we can figure out a way of recording and playing the songs, then we might be able to do something at a geeky comedy night.”

“You should put it on at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested, “and stream it on the internet, if you can figure out some way of charging 1p or 2p per view.”

“Have you seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” Leila asked.

“No,” I replied.

“It’s really funny,” said Leila. “The Jason Segal character’s dream is to put on a tragic puppet musical about Dracula using the ‘Count’ character from The Muppets.”

“If you can get the bloke who did the giant puppet for War Horse,” I said, “you could do it at the National Theatre.”

“Somebody I know said he might be able to get it on Radio 3,” Leila said, “but my hit rate with producers is… They tend to get busy on other things or they leave their job…”

“Why are you thinking of radio?” I asked. “As a pilot for a TV show?”

“No,” said Leila, “just to get something made. In itself. Maybe it could lead to something else.”

“You work for a magician,” I said. “Do you want to talk about what you do for him?”

“No,” said Leila.

“Did I tell you I’ve been to North Korea?” I asked.

“Ah…” said Leila.

Leave a comment

Filed under Computers, Humor, Humour, Internet, Technology, Writing