Tag Archives: Germany

What happened when award-winning Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week

Becky possibly possessed by a dead actress.

When Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Becky Fury told me she was going to Berlin for a week and offered to share her insights with me, I leapt at the chance and said Yes.

Though it is always a risky strategy saying Yes to anyone who has won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

I have just received this missive from Becky which is more a thesis on support of the arts but is worth reading for the unexpected (at least by me) twist in it…


I woke up in Berlin yesterday. 

I meant to. It was not some happy, drunken accident.

I woke up in an arts space which calls itself the new Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) and I put my coat on – the wrong way round, I was informed. But the coat served its function that way for a few more hours, so maybe it was not the coat that was the wrong way round but the perspective of how the coat should be on that was inside out.

Facade of Kunsthaus Tacheles at Oranienburger Straße, Berlin

‘Tacheles’ is a word – רעדן ניט בולשיט – meaning ‘speak no bullshit’ in Yiddish. So I had broken the only rule of the space before breakfast.

The old Tacheles grew out of the rubble of the Second World War, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a space in East Berlin.

It was named in Yiddish as a memorial to its pre-War Jewish inhabitants who had never returned.

The new space is beginning to be like the old one but the artists there are having to deal with just making the space habitable rather than being able to create art. Putting into place the basic blocks of the artistic ecosystem which develops in a space which, like a rainforest or peak bog, has taken years to evolve. In the same way that you can’t just make a rainforest from scratch, you can’t do that with a creative space.

These spaces should be protected as important habitats to protect cultural biodiversity.

PROTECT THE PUNK is unlikely to be taken up as a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund. But something needs to happen. The eviction of the Freespace ADM in Amsterdam (Becky blogged about it here last year) was halted by the UN, who said that the space was a protected reservation.

If the World Wildlife Fund can’t do it, maybe one of the charities that allows you to indirectly adopt a child could run an adoption campaign for alternative artists. You could get updates on how well your alternative artist is doing, if it has been successfully released into the wild and how global re-population is doing. 

The British government used to run a similar scheme. It was called the dole.

If you have an issue with people claiming the dole, then throw away most of your favourite music because those artists were funded and had the space to do what they were doing because they were at some point in their career scamming the dole.

A staircase inside the Kunsthaus Tacheles building in Berlin (Photograph by Shaun7777777 on Wikipedia)

However, really, the most important fundraising needs to go into  protecting spaces where this art is created. Pop stars would do well to think less about the Rainforest or Africa and more about cultural reservations in the developed world, because it is in these places that the sounds and styles that go into the creation of commercially manufactured music are poached.

The commercial stylists and producers and ‘creative team’ are essentially poachers that go into these wild raw spaces and poach ideas. They return with skins and trophies that go into creating the latest look for whoever is being pushed to the top of what is left of the singles chart. Without these spaces, they wouldn’t have a career. They would do well to encourage people to save them.

Really, the important issue is the space. The individuals there can support themselves in lieu of the government doing it. The government never does anything that shows foresight beyond preserving their next term. It needs a charity which deals with protecting habitats like the RSPB.

 We need a  Royal Society for the Protection of Artistic Birds. 

Birds and Blokes.

I am using birds as the collective noun.

These artistic birds are endangered and they need to have their habitat protected otherwise the diversity will decrease and all the beautiful, wild, exotic, interesting species will die off and we will just be left with the equivalent of pigeons and seagulls – less sensitive, aggressive species that can survive in the barren cultural climate and environment that we have manufactured. 

I am not suggesting that Rentokil should be called in to deal with infestations of pop stars. 

I would just like to see pop stars on the list alongside rats and wasps on the side of the Rentokil van. 

If Rentokil could turn up at a Justin Beiber concert and trap him in a big net, I would pay for an overpriced stadium ticket to see that gig.


When I received that missive from Becky, I asked her if she had any photos she had taken of herself at the Kunsthaus Tacheles. She replied:


A Becky selfie on a train in Berlin

I didn’t take any there. I do have one of me on a tube train.

And one (above) that makes me look like maybe I was possessed by one of the former inhabitants of the Tacheles – a minor Hammer horror actress that died there… on stage in a dance interpretation of the Communist Manifesto.

I left some photos with the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid and didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.

I told you when I left for Berlin that I would see where it might lead me… Back to Berlin Airport, apparently, and then back to London.

Anyway. Now I can learn lines for my next show or just fanny about on Facebook in London. So that’s what I’m doing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller; 85 years old; 3 cities in less than 72 hours; and chicken soup

85-year-old stand-up comic Lynn Ruth Miller has been off on her jaunts again again… Here she is…


Lynn Ruth Miller at The Shoals’ Christmas party

Tonight is New Year’s Eve. I will be making chicken soup and consoling myself that I am me.

December 13-16 was my proof that I still have IT.

I used to think it was the thrill of performance that has kept me in this comedy merry-go-round for 15 years, but it isn’t really that. It is the richness and depth of each visit I make to a different place; it is my amazement when I meet people who are so very kind, brave and giving. We tend to think that those kinds of people are not around anymore but I discover them every single day.

On December 13, I was booked to perform a comedy show at The Fiddlers Pub in Bonn, Germany, run by Andy Valvur 

You do not fly to Bonn, however. You fly to Cologne, which is exactly where I was the week before.  

I came out of border control, which in Germany is simple and fast (they have other things to do than harass old women… sadly not so in Britain). 

For me, Andy Valvur is a breath of San Francisco though he is actually from Estonia.

Andy, like most of us in this business, is unique. That is why we become comedians. We are all fuck-ups at anything else. Andy speaks something like four languages fluently. I am in awe of his talents. The idea of anyone being able to do effective comedy that depends on nuance and double entendre in more than one language stuns me.   

His wife is now working at a high-paying job somewhere very distant from Germany and they see each other every few months which, he says, is a perfect arrangement. I can certainly understand that, since my longest relationship was two stormy, miserable years where I spent most of my time either starving myself or ducking behind a chair to avoid getting a back eye. Any other possible partnership I have considered has never lasted more than about ten challenging minutes. I am convinced that had Tommy and I lived several thousand miles apart, I would still be married. He couldn’t hit me from across an ocean.

Andy told me he preferred doing films and voice overs rather than comedy, but the owners of The Fiddlers Pub in Bonn asked him to run a comedy night and that is what he does now. It is evidently very successful and has a loyal audience that returns very often to see what is going on in the English-speaking comedy scene.

“…a loyal audience that returns very often to see what is going on in English-speaking comedy”

The bill this time included James Allan, a relatively young man who had both hips replaced at the same time; and Casey James who works at the European Space Agency in Cologne. 

The audience was very small and most of them were German… which means English is a second or even third language.

I knew it would be a challenge to get them to laugh and I was right.  

I got chuckles and I got smiles.

But no-one had to change their underwear (except me of course: after all, I AM 85) However, I got lots of compliments and another glass of Riesling when I finished my 45 minutes. So maybe… just maybe I did good.

I left early for my 1:30 plane back to Southend Airport in the UK. Cologne airport was not crowded and I managed to get a cup of coffee and a croissant before boarding the plane. Sadly, the German idea of a croissant would make Frenchmen commit suicide. Each one weighs more than a loaf of bread and your teeth have to be in excellent condition to bite through it. Security, though, was smooth sailing. Unlike in the UK, the Germans don’t think I have an atom bomb tucked into my bra.

It was important that my flight landed on time because I had to catch a 6:30pm train to Bracknell that evening for the second leg of this weekend.

But the flight was an hour late.

I got home at 4.00pm, unpacked, got the laundry started, changed clothes and went to St Pancras station to catch the train to Bracknell.

I love the South Hill Park Comedy Cellar in Bracknell. They treat each comedian like he is the king of England (if there was one) and this time Katherine Webb (she books us) gave us all a Christmas cake. I felt loved and very legitimate. Their audience wants to laugh and the room is just the right size so you can really talk to them and shake up their pre-conceived notions.

And that was what I did.

I managed to catch the late train back and was home in time for a quick midnight dinner before I packed again for Birmingham the next morning.

This event is a my favorite gig of the year: the Shoals Christmas Party.  

The Shoals are a group of swimmers who go on trips together, have parties and sometimes swim.

I met Mark, their organizer, in Leicester two years ago when I was hosting the bike comedy show there and he invited me to do this gala for him. His father is the DJ and Mark Hillier is the spirit that keeps the men in the group excited about their projects.  

“The Shoals are a group of swimmers who go on trips together, have parties and sometimes swim. Every member is a gem.”

Every member of the club is a gem. I know several personally and each one is a true English gentleman in every sense of the word. When I go there, they take care of me from the moment I get off the train until they drop me at the train station to go home.

I change clothes at Jim Clay’s home. Among his many attractions is a grand piano in the living room and a dachshund named Dexter. 

The event is very special with comedy, dancing and a few cross-dressers to liven up the evening.  

Whenever I see men in huge binding bras that don’t fit, stuffed with gobs of cotton and hairy legs crammed into high heels I gave up years ago, I wonder why on earth they put themselves through so much torture. Giving up those very items has actually freed me from back pain, bunions and sclerosis.  

This time, when the event was over at midnight, I spent the night at Keith Nolan’s home and it was the most educational evening I have had in a very long time. 

Keith is involved in city planning and talked about the demographics of making a neighborhood. I never realized all the factors that have to be considered and how crucial things like a near-by shop or a bus stop is.  We also talked about our social responsibility to one another and how important it is for our own well-being to care about the welfare of others.

I left Birmingham that Sunday morning brimming with hope for the world and filled with love for humanity. I arrived at Euston station on time. I embarked suffused with brotherly love determined to do my part to make it a better world… and was immediately plunged down to earth when I tried to get some groceries at the Sainsbury’s there.  

It is an example of a tiny store that is part of a larger chain and relies on the Sainsbury imprimatur for its customers. It was out of everything and filled with staff too busy moving what was left from one shelf to another to help even when asked.

T.S.Eliot: a wise man but one who never had to face the reality of the Sainsbury’s store at Euston station

T.S Eliot says mankind cannot tolerate too much reality. I reached my limit while doing shopping at the Euston Sainsbury’s and it was downhill from then on.  

When I got to the bus, I asked a man if he would help me with my case and he walked away from me, used the back door to get on the bus and sat right across from me. I felt very elderly. After all, after 85 years don’t I deserve someone to lift a case for me?    

The answer is I do not.  

But the UK has spoiled me so much I expect it and am actually puzzled when it doesn’t happen.

When I finally got home, I realized that I had been in three cities in less than 72 hours, done three different and successful shows and remembered all the words to all the sets I did. Most people can’t even get their Christmas shopping done in 72 hours.

Though, of course, neither can I.

Southeast Asia is next…

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Jewish comic Lynn Ruth Miller on Hanukkah in Germany and #MeToo

London-based American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues to guest-blog here as she tours the world. Last week, she was in Germany…


Manuel Wolff invited Lynn Ruth to his Boing Club in Cologne

I flew to Cologne to perform at Manuel Wolff’s Boing Comedy Club.

75 years ago, to say the very name ‘Germany’ made my family cringe.

Now, in 2018. I was celebrating my version of Chanukah in that very country and loving it. It is a new world isn’t it?

Lisa, Manuel’s assistant, and I walked the lovely, clean streets sparkling with holiday lights… December in Cologne is alight with Christmas though, to my surprise, I didn’t see a menorah anywhere. Are the Jews still in hiding there?

Since Lisa and I are liberated, modern women, our conversation crept to the big issue women are facing today: the #metoo movement. Our concerns were women’s status in the arts and how we can achieve a level playing field in our professions. Our conversation was especially interesting to me because Cologne was the start of the outrage that blossomed into #metoo. Remember?

New Year’s Eve 2016 in this city, hordes of North African men assaulted white women who were out on the town, celebrating. The press blamed it on the discrepancy between western cultural mores and those in Africa.

“The relationship with a woman, so fundamental to Western modernity, will long remain incomprehensible to the average [refugee or migrant] man,” declared Algerian author Kamel Daoud in Le Monde.

But the #metoo movement has confirmed that it isn’t men of color or rich men or poor men; it is MEN who use women as toys. And that sweeping statement is the root of everyone’s uncertainty about the validity of this plethora of women who have accused men of sexual assault in their past. Every rational person knows that it is only the attitudes of  SOME men, but certainly not ALL of them.

“The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference”

Lisa and I discussed the opportunities for woman to achieve prestige and affluence as easily and quickly as men in Germany and the UK. Both of us are in fields where inequality of opportunity is most apparent. The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference. We two were fighting the same anger. We both have experienced gross injustice in the system, limiting the progress we were trying to make in our careers.

I often wonder if these glass ceilings are more excuses we make for people simply not appreciating our talents. The answer is that it is impossible to be sure.

Statistics certainly support the theory that women have less of a chance to progress in any field or earn as much income for the same work. To me, just being aware of this and talking about the insult that creates is a huge step forward. In my day, this dichotomy was simply accepted. It was a man’s world.

After we finished trying to fix society, I went to my hotel, took a nap and tarted-up for my headline performance at Manuel’s Boing Comedy Club.

The show Manuel creates is fast-paced, professional and funny. He is a superb host and knows just how much to involve his audience, who are mostly German but fluent in English with a mixture of English-speaking students and a smattering of people from all over the globe. The comedians made a point of coming up to me and introducing themselves to me. The audience loved to laugh and the comedian who preceded me was so professional I was terrified to have to follow him His name was David Deeblew. He finished his act by juggling plastic bags in the air while he spoke. I am someone who can barely walk in a straight line when I am sober. You can imagine how intimidated I felt.

Headlining at a show with two intervals means that I must amuse a pretty drunk and very tired audience. Thank goodness it worked and everyone laughed (or I THINK they did. My hearing is definitely NOT what it used to be).

The best part of the evening, though, was afterwards.  

Lynn Ruth and the godfather of stand-up comedy in Germany

All the comedians stayed afterwards to drink and talk about anything and everything. One of the people who stayed was Johnny ‘Hollywood’ Rotnem, an American who is the so-called godfather of English stand-up comedy in Germany. He was the one who started the clubs that are now all over the country. Comedy in German has really taken off here despite the fact that everyone thinks Germans do not have a sense of humor. The number of successful clubs in the country proves that stereotype wrong.

I will be back in Germany soon to do Andy Valvur’s club at Fiddlers Pub in Bonn. Andy is a former San Francisco comedian who knows all the people who were the big names in comedy when I was there.  

We had a place called The Holy City Zoo where Robin Williams among many others cut their teeth on stand-up comedy. Famous people like Will Durst, Johnny Steele, Larry Bubbles Brown, Michael Meehan… all of them began there.

Andy came to my show at Boing Comedy and I felt like I was experiencing a bit of comedic history when I spoke to him about how comedy has expanded, improved and changed.  

Comedians today no longer stick to the rigid set-up/punch-line formula.  I think that is a mistake. Too many words spoil the joke just as too many cooks spoil the broth.

The next morning, I had to get up early to catch the plane to Frankfurt for my two-day comedy workshop and show.

After I arrived in Frankfurt, I crashed until 3.00 pm, then set out for the comedy class. This was a group of ten people who had tried comedy before and wanted a boot-camp kind of refresher. They were from a variety of countries and only two of them spoke English as their first language.  

It must be unbelievably difficult to do humor in a different language from your own, but these people were up for it and all their jokes had huge potential. The two hour class actually lasted four hours but I am satisfied that we gave everyone the personal attention they needed.  

The next day, their assignment was to bring in five minutes of material to practice for a show that night. I thought these people had huge potential and I was very excited to see what the result would be of our intensive joke analysis.

Four of the students joined me for dinner after the show and I got to know them a bit better.  

“It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer”

In the group was Tom from Finland, Pedro from Portugal, Julian from Germany, Clem, a lovely woman from France, Kirthy from India and me from America. It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer together and talking about comedy as a profession even though all of the others work at other jobs. We drank a lot of alcohol. It helped.

The next day was our final class and then the show. We all critiqued each other and, to my delight, all the criticisms incorporated what I had taught: short set ups, strong punches, direct sentences.

The group not only had to master language differences but they had to let go of material they loved that wasn’t working well. They did it and the show was great.  We all went out for dinner afterwards to celebrate.

I had a 7.00am flight back to London and had to battle the German version of Ryanair. For some unknown reason, my backpack registered something lethal and not only did they keep me standing for a half hour waiting for the police to come but, when the officious inspector went through the backpack, he just tossed everything in a pile and let me put everything back together. Of course, there was nothing in the bag but a notebook of jokes, a lot of tissues (just in case) and an American passport.

That might have been what set the detector off. America is not popular these days.

The incident was truly minor, but I was terribly upset and couldn’t seem to regain my equilibrium.

I suspect this is why psychological warfare is so effective. I had done nothing but was made to feel like a dangerous criminal.  

The good news is that the rest of the trip home was lovely and I managed to get through UK passport control relatively quickly and home to bed because I had to get to Top Secret Comedy Club that night.

Which I did.

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Frank Sanazi, hijab stripping and Jesus Christ flying in for Hitler’s birthday gig

Pete covers up a nasty spot on his neck Frank Sanazi

Pete covers up a nasty or potentially Nazi spot on his neck

This blog was supposed to be posted on 1st April, until I realised there might be a credibility problem if I posted it on that date.

I had a chat with Pete Perke aka Pete Sinclair aka Pete Cunningham aka Tom Mones aka Frank Sanazi. Frank Sanazi sings like Frank Sinatra but looks like Adolf Hitler.

“So,” I said to Pete,  “you are going over to Austria as Frank Sanazi to celebrate Hitler’s birthday.”

“Well,” he said, “Kulture Banane,  the Austrian boylesque troupe, have become massive in Austria and have asked me to go over and do my show Das Vegas Nights (Zis Time We Win) on 18th April, two days before Hitler’s birthday. Actually, I only recently realised that Hitler was born on 20th April, which is Aries. That would make him a genuine Arian.”

“They’re just boylesque?” I asked. “Not Nazi boylesque in short trousers?”

“Well,” said Pete, “one of the guys – he could be a woman for all I know – performs a hijab act which is basically strip burlesque.”

“You’ve played Frank Sanazi in Berlin, haven’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah. Five or six times.”

“How do they react?”

“The first time I did it, the crowd were a bit…”

“Stunned?” I suggested.

“Well, I was told they loved it, but you can never tell with German audiences. There’s not laugh-out-loud vocal appreciation. When I play to an older crowd in Germany, they can be uncomfortable-squirmy a bit, but the young crowd just find it hilarious. Time has moved on so much they don’t feel part of anything their forefathers did.”

The Awards Show was a rally for the middle classes

Frank Sanazi at the 2014 Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

“I suppose Hitler will never die,” I said. “Malcolm Hardee and I booked The Rockin’ Gorbachev on a couple of TV shows and, of course, his career died when Gorbachev got ousted. But you’re not just a one character act.”

“Yes, I’ve diversified,” said Pete. “I do a lot of straight singing and I have Frank Sanazi and Tom Mones (an old Tom Jones).”

“How is your Vladimir Putin act doing?” I asked.

“I’m not sure if he has legs,” said Pete. “Putin is still very ‘in’ at the moment. As long as he keeps in the spotlight, I’m OK. At the moment, I sing Ukranian Men (to the tune It’s Raining Men) But Crimea River (Cry Me a River) is an obvious follow-up. And then there’s Putin on The Blitz (Putting On The Ritz).”

“Are you doing him at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?” I asked.

“No,” said Pete. “This year I’ve got the Voodoo Rooms to take my whole Iraq Pack show. I’ve got Pete Storm playing Dean Stalin (Stalin singing like Dean Martin) and I’ve written a great song for George who’s going to play Osama Bing Crosby and Saddami Davis Jnr is singing Arranged Marriage to the tune of Love and Marriage:

Ar-ranged marriage
Ar-ranged marriage
To a woman called Fatima Mohammed
This I’ll tell you mother
She looks just like her brother

“I wrote a new song recently for Osama Bing Crosby. He said he needed a song on his own because we were just doing a duet:

I have heard to the Taliban
You are now a forgotten man
Well, dead Jew ever
What a swell party this is

“So I wrote him:

How unlucky can one guy be
They shot her, then they shot me
Like the New York Times said
Ain’t that a shot in the head?

“I’ve never,” I said, “heard you ever talk about getting bad reactions from audiences.”

A singing Hitler - Less offensive than a dead Elvis

A singing Hitler – apparently less offensive than a dead Elvis

“I used to do an act called Dead Elvis,” Pete told me. “I used to come out of this coffin in a mask with worm holes cut out and I did send-up songs: Are You Hungry Tonight? (Are You Lonesome Tonight)… and The Burgers Went Straight To My Heart… those sort of songs. And I got more stick for doing that than I ever have for Frank Sanazi. Because people love Elvis so much they treat him like Jesus. I stopped doing that act because I was getting so much grief for it.”

“And you’re trend-proof,” I said. “because you play the comedy circuit, the cabaret circuit and the fetish circuit.”

“Yes,” said Pete. “There’s a Festival of Sins show this Saturday, a new fetish night. It ran before, five years ago. It was always overshadowed by the Torture Garden but Festival of Sins was possibly the second biggest in London – run by a guy called David de Vynél and he’s re-kickstarting it. It went tits-up when he married the woman he ran it with.”

There is a clip on Vimeo from the Festival of Sins show in 2010.

“I performed at his wedding and the wedding cake was an entire woman just covered in cake: you had to eat the cake off the top of her. It was very well-presented. This guy turned up – the best man – completely stark bollock naked. All he wore were a couple of little bits of tinsel round his penis and a couple of baubles for balls. And he had a massive dong – I think that’s why he went round naked.”

“Just to annoy people?” I asked.

“Mmmmm….,” said Pete.

“I went to one Torture Garden years ago,” I said. “I blogged about it.”

“I remember one Torture Garden,” said Pete, “where there was a guy in a cage and he had a Superman-style cape on and nothing else and he was peeing on people as they walked past. The other thing they had was like an iron lung from Barbarella with perspex over it, so you could put your hands in the gloves and feel whoever it was inside.

“And you know those things they have in Post Offices? Big thick latex things that hang down. I think they do it for health & hygiene. They have them in abattoirs – almost see-through plastic that you can push our way through…”

“Your local Post Office,” I said, “is more interesting than mine.”

“Well,” said Pete, “they had these people just chopping meat up. They had carcasses of sheep. I don’t know how they got away with that, because blood was spattering over everybody as they were going through.

“A couple came in when I was performing- I only knew they were a man and woman because of their size and shape. They had full Nazi outfits on and full gimps masks with zips so you could just see their eyes. They sat right in front of the stage when I performed, watched me for about 25 minutes, then stood up, clapped their gloves together and walked out. It was the most surreal thing.”

“Who else is on the bill with you for the Hitler birthday gig?” I asked.

“Jesus Christ is flying over from Glasgow,” said Pete.

There is a clip on YouTube of Frank Sanazi singing Strangers On My Flight.

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Teaching the Germans British humour?

Martin promoting tonight's show in Leipzig

Martin promoting a previous Leipzig show

Last night, before this month’s ever-original Pull The Other One comedy show in South London, I talked to Martin Soan who organises both it and the Pull The Other One shows in Germany. He and his wife Vivienne have so far staged three in Leipzig this year.

“What’s next?” I asked.

“A lecture in Leipzig,” Martin told me.

“On what?” I asked.

“British comedy.”

“To whom?” I asked.

“Leipzigians,” said Martin.

“In general?” I asked.

“What we’re going to aim for,” explained Martin, “is the working class. The history of comedy in Germany is very interesting.”

“Is it?” I asked. “The British cliché is that the Germans have no sense of humour.”

“Yeah, but that’s total bollocks,” said Martin. “What IS true is that, traditionally, they have not had anybody entertaining the working class. Traditionally, the working classes were just supposed to work. Their thing was sausages and beer not comedy and cabaret, which was for the middle class.

“Before the First World War, Leipzig had about 20 dedicated cabaret and comedy theatres – variety, kabaret and comedy – which were frequented by the intelligentsia and the middle classes. Some of them still exist today – there are two or three in the middle of town. The acts they have are very skilled and crafted acts – magicians and stuff like that.

“Me and Vivienne met some elderly Leipzigians and they told us that, traditionally, the working class have never had their version of music halls or comedy clubs.”

“They didn’t,” I asked, “have any equivalent of our music halls in the late-19th century?”

“No,” said Martin. “Now, obviously they have television, but their heritage was not live entertainment. So we are going to try and reinvent ourselves for the working classes of Leipzig.”

“How?” I asked.

Vivienne Soan even promoted the show to statues

Vivienne Soan promoting a previous comedy show in Leipzig

“We’ve opened up a show in the Louisiana bar, which is a working class bar and we are going to do our next Pull The Other One show there in December. We’re going to go away from all the students, away from all the middle classes.”

“And,” I asked, “you are going to do a lecture on British comedy in the pub?”

“An education in British humour,” said Martin. “Yes. Just me and Vivienne. We are basically just going to do a show, but Vivienne is going to have a lectern, notes and it starts off with her talking about how we have always had to import everything into Britain and we did actually, at one point, import humour.”

“We did?” I asked.

“Well, Mr Punch came from Italy. That’s where we start and then we’ll go through gags, a description of each different genre of comedy and I’ll upstage her, then I’ll do a bit at the lectern and she’ll upstage me. That’s the show, basically, but it’s gonna be very low-key because we don’t wanna put on a show-show because we don’t want to frighten them off.”

“It sounds like an excuse for a piss-up,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin, “but with entertainment. Even the working classes over there are very, very academic. And, for me, it will be a break from the comedy scene here, which is getting a bit claggy.”

“Claggy?” I asked.

Soiree in a Cemetery

After the success of cemetery comedy, underground comedy

“It’s stagnating a bit. There must be something different out there. That’s why I enjoyed doing our Soirée in a Cemetery the other week. It was different. The next one’s at the end of November.”

“In a cemetery again?” I asked.

“No.”

“Where’s the next one?’

“Subterranean.”

“Where?” I asked.

“It’s a secret,” said Martin. “It’s underground.”

“It certainly is,” I said.

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Lest we forget: West Berlin in 1985 and the Belsen concentration camp in 1945

Sonny Hayes

British entertainer Sonny Hayes lives in Berlin

In yesterday’s blogI quoted London-based Dutch comedian Jorik Mol on Wagner.

I received a comment from Berlin-based British entertainer Sonny Hayes saying:

“I love his take on Tristan und Isolde, “…it is like coitus interruptus without the coitus. This chord is never released – never”. We did an event in the 1970s where, for background, we combined bits of finales from Wagner, Richard Strauss et al, where the last note began the next finale and then we looped it – a never-arriving climax and very loud. It worked well, was very uncomfortable and one woman had a hysteric breakdown.”

In 1997, Sonny married Russian magician Galina and formed a professional partnership that still continues.

I Skyped Sonny in Berlin at the weekend.

“Anything glamorous coming up?” I asked.

“At the end of January, we go to Hawaii for ten months…”

“Lucky bastard,” I said.

“…which we’ve just found out is very radioactive,” continued Sonny. “The after-effect of the nuclear power plant exploding in Japan. It’s not safe to eat fish, which I was looking forward to.

“We’ve been working for some time on a solo theatre show called One For The Road which we premiered in Germany last month and we’ll be touring that after we finish our variety shows in Hawaii.”

“When did you move to Berlin?” I asked.

“In 2009, we came to work for a year at Friedrichstadt-Palast, a revue theatre, in a show called QI which was extended for a second year and then we decided we liked it here. Before that, we were living further south in Hessen.”

During the Cold War, Germany was divided into West and East Germany and Berlin was divided into West and East Berlin. The problem was that Berlin was deep within East Germany. So, to drive from West Germany proper to West Berlin, you had to travel along designated roads.

A publicity picture from around the time of Sonny’s first Berlin visit

A publicity picture around the time of Sonny’s first Berlin visit

“I remember the first time I came to Berlin in the mid-1980s,” Sonny told me. “I was working for CSE (Combined Services Entertainment).”

“We played in Helmstadt, the military police headquarters for policing the Berlin Corridor. The senior officer there was a Brigadier Gerrard, who was very impressive. I later saw him in the World at War TV series. He gave us a briefing about what to expect when we went through. And everything he said did happen.

“He told me: A Russian guard will salute you, then walk round your car then salute you again. That did happen and I gave the guard a Boy Scout salute.

“The brigadier said: At the time of night you go through, they’re going to want to do some black marketing with you. Under no circumstances are you to involve yourself in this kind of thing… But, as he was saying this, he had his thumbs in his belt and I could see he was wearing a Russian belt.

A tale of two cities - and of two countries - in the Cold War

A tale of two cities – and of two countries – in the Cold War

“You weren’t allowed to speak to anybody or to have any contact with anyone from East Germany. If you were in an accident, you weren’t allowed to get into a Russian or East German ambulance and you weren’t allowed to deal with the police.

“We were given a loose-leaf folder to take with us. If the police stopped you, you had to close the windows of your car, lock the doors and sit with your arms folded until they got really annoyed. Then you opened your folder on the first page and there was a Union Jack printed on it.

“Then you waited until they got really annoyed again and you turned to the second page where there was a smaller Union Jack and, written round it in three languages was We don’t accept you as a country. We don’t accept your authority – basically it said You don’t exist for us. We were told: You don’t speak to them unless they get a Russian officer and, unless you’ve killed someone, they are not going to get a Russian officer.”

“Did you have any problems?”

An East German GDR border scout apparently photographing grass along the border

An East German GDR border scout

“Not really. They did want to exchange bits of military gear – badges and emblems and things – for Western goods. I think I traded some chocolate for some badges. They unscrewed light bulbs and there were things inside the lightbulbs and in the hems of the curtains.

“You had to go to a hut to hand your passport in for checking. There was a small hatch and a hand came out and you could see there was an East German uniform on the arm, but you couldn’t see any more than that.

“They gave you two hours to drive through to Berlin. You didn’t drive too fast because that would mean you were speeding and you didn’t drive too slow. If you didn’t arrive within two hours, they sent a convoy out to look for you.

“Brigadier Gerrard was a super interesting guy; just a regular kind of hero of that generation. I liked him very much. He just did things his way and only followed the rules he wanted to follow. He spent a lot of time with the Russian officers drinking. They would bring vodka and he would bring whisky, which they much preferred.”

“All this happened in the mid-1980s,” I said. “Maybe 1985 – and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 – so it was quite near the end.”

“Yes” said Sonny. “I was there in 1990 with Circus Roncali and you still needed a passport to go through the wall from West Berlin to East Berlin. Circus fans would have a minibus and take a bunch of us out from the show and treat us to dinner in the East. It was very cheap to pay for things with West German marks.”

“Brigadier Gerrard sounds like a real character,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sonny. “He was in a tank regiment and drove his tank through the wire at Belsen.”

I saw the film footage of Belsen when I was about 11 years old: an impressionable age. I hope it remains the worst thing I ever see in my life. I think, in other concentrations camps, the film cameras did not go in with the first troops; they went in slightly later, so the scenes are slightly less horrific. At Belsen they filmed what the first troops first saw. I remember a pile of corpses like skeletons. Then one of them got up – just a skeleton with thin skin stretched between the bones – and started to stagger around like a newly-born zombie foal.

Former guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial, April 17–18, 1945

Former guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial after the liberation of Belsen in 1945

“We’d done a deal with the guards,” said Sonny, “that the guards would leave before the Brits came and took over the camp, though there were still a few people there: mostly Hitler Youth, as I understand it. Brigadier Gerrard had to shoot at least one of them.

“He said they didn’t really know what to do; they just contained the situation. Later the Americans came and they reacted a bit more emotionally. I think they released some of the remaining guards at the same time that they released the women and I believe the prisoners just tore the guards apart.

Nazi doctor. Fritz Klein stands amongst corpses in Mass Grave 3 at Belsen

Nazi doctor Fritz Klein stands knee-deep in corpses at Mass Grave Number 3 in Belsen

“Brigadier Gerrard said they released some Poles who had been prisoners of war in the camp and they went out and started killing Germans at random so, in the end, he had to send out a detail to round them up.

“He told me that, on Friday nights, British soldiers used to go down and smash every window in the town. Every week they smashed the windows; every week they were repaired; the following week they were smashed again. By this time, Brigadier Gerrard was the High Sheriff of Bergen-Belsen and he said he found out about what was happening by accident so he called the mayor in and asked Why didn’t you tell me about this before? and the mayor just shrugged.

“It was extraordinary meeting someone who had been there and experienced history.”

Indeed.

Lest we forget.

So it goes.

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Filed under Cold War, Germany, Nazis, war, World War II

Why do Germans laugh at an arguably tragic film about comic Lewis Schaffer?

Lewis Schaffer behind the Source Below door yesterday

Lewis Schaffer hides behind the Source Below door yesterday

What is happening to me?

Yesterday’s blog was about me failing to record a Skyped call with someone in Germany. I claimed a recording snafu had happened on only one other occasion. Then, last night in London, I buggered-up a recording of a post-Lewis Schaffer Soho solo show conversation.

This was the last of Lewis Schaffer’s Tuesday/Wednesday night Free Until Famous shows at Soho’s Source Below for 2013. He is back in January, after the venue allows space for Christmas parties, karaoke nights and the like.

We ended up after his show at a well-lit restaurant in London’s glamorous West End.

To be exact, upstairs at the Kentucky Fried Chicken just off Leicester Square.

Marina, Alex and Lewis last night

Marina Dulepina, Alex Mason and Lewis Schaffer last night

The ‘We’ were Lewis Schaffer, two of his entourage – Heather Stevens and Alex Mason – and Marina Dulepina who was heavily involved in the production of director Jonathan Schwab’s short film titled Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous.

“In Britain,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “the film wasn’t considered a comedy. It was considered to be very serious here. But, when they showed it in Germany, they thought it was hysterically funny. The bits where British and American people are in tears over the plight of Lewis Schaffer’s tragic life, the Germans see as a moral victory of the oppressed worker over…”

“What?” I asked.

“I dunno,” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “I’m making this up. But, in Germany, people did laugh at me.”

“You’re a Jew,” I said.

“They laugh at Jews in trouble,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Did people not laugh, Marina? It’s considered a comedy in Germany. Here, it’s considered a tragedy. The tragedy of Lewis Schaffer.”

“Why is it considered a comedy in Germany?” I asked.

“Ask Marina,” said Lewis Schaffer.

Marina was both shy and Latvian

Marina Dulepina was shy and Latvian last night

“She’s too shy to tell me,” I replied.

“That’s because she comes from Latvia,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “She comes from Russian parents and the Latvians are racist against the Russians because of forced colonisation after the War and…”

“Back to the Germans,” I said, “and don’t mention the War.”

“The reasons the Germans liked it are…” said Lewis Schaffer. “Why was the film funny, Alex?”

“It wasn’t!” said Alex Mason.

After this point, although my iPhone claimed it was recording, it did not.

Basically, from then on, Lewis Schaffer talked about what people thought of him… Marina coyly explained about the situation in Latvia… Alex Mason made some highly intelligent observations none of which I can remember… Lewis Schaffer talked about what other people thought of him… Heather mentioned she had been recognised by someone she didn’t know because he had seen her photo in my blog… and Lewis Schaffer talked some more about what other people thought of him.

Entourage member Heather reacts to another Schafferism

Entourage member Heather reacts to yet another Schafferism

Marina then explained that the original idea had been to make a film about a boxer.

I was not clear how this had changed into a film about a comedian, but thought it more interesting not to ask.

Then Lewis Schaffer talked about what people really thought of him and Heather buried her head in her arms.

It seems that Jonathan Schwab and Marina Dulepina had realised after first seeing Lewis Schaffer’s show that the more interesting film story was about Lewis Schaffer himself rather than about a stand-up comedian.

Lewis Schaffer was insistent – with some justification – that he is interesting because he is no different on-stage and off-stage and then talked about what people really think of him.

“People laughed in Germany,” he told me. “Did people laugh in Germany, Marina?”

Heather buried her head in her arms on the table.

I left after about an hour, at which point Alex Mason was explaining to Lewis Schaffer how bitcoins are created. Marina Dulepina appeared to be about to nod off and Heather had her head buried in her arms on the table. Lewis Schaffer was admirably continuing to maintain his American accent. It’s amazing how he does it.

It is a pity I failed to record what was said. There was a good blog in there.

This man could snore for the United Kingdom

This man could snore for the United Kingdom

But, on the other hand, I would have had to transcribe it.

Swings and roundabouts.

On my way home in the train, a large young man was fast asleep and snoring like an earth-boring machine tunnelling from Brownhills, in north Birmingham, to Alice Springs in Australia. Or possibly somewhere else.

Life is a trial.

Jonathan Schwab’s 10-minute film about Lewis Schaffer is online.

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Filed under Comedy, Germany, Humor, Humour, UK