Tag Archives: hippy

Just one of many hectic months in the trippy life of Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma

I stopped writing this blog daily at the end of last year. I thought it would give me more time to do other things. But, as is to be expected from the Third Law of Surreality, I am even more tied-up.

Nelly Scott in London over a month ago

Nelly Scott being low-key in London a month ago

Over a month ago, I chatted to performer Nelly Scott, aka Zuma Puma. It was the day before she left London on a one-way ticket for France. She wanted me to mention her web series Grumpy Lettuce.

“We’ve got 14 episodes in all,” she told me. “We’ve got ten released. There were seven in the first season and then we waited until February and then started releasing the next batch. We might come back with a third season, but we’re also writing short films and a feature. It was a wild, really crazy, long journey. It took so long! The editing!”

The same might be said about this blog.

“You’re going to France for an indeterminate length of time?” I asked her over a month ago.

“Well, yeah,” she told me. “I just got a one-way ticket. There’s a swami staying in my house right now.”

“A what?” I asked.

“A swami.”

“Is he sitting in your house or levitating?” I asked.

“He’s pretty much levitating. He’s reading all of our palms, telling our fortunes, giving us life insights. It’s great. He came to stay the night and he’s been there for about two weeks now.”

“How does one get a swami?” I asked.

“Basically,”Nelly told me, “you make a friend who has invited a swami over to this country to stay and then, when the swami arrives, your friend’s house is in complete chaos, so he sends the swami to you and then you have a swami and it’s kind of hilarious, because there are five of us in the house and we all are kind of swami-sitters. We pass him around.

“One day, I took Swami to see Big Ben. And the other night, I accidentally took him to a hip-hop night. I thought it was a hippy night but, when we showed up, there was hip-hop in a really cool space. He thought it was hilarious. He said: Nobody is going to believe that I came! He was taking pictures. All these really beautiful women were coming over and giving him hugs and saying: Wow! You look like some spiritual guru!”

“Did he bop?” I asked.

“No. He liked lying on a couch and watched. He observed.”

“And,” I asked, “you call him Swami? You actually say: Are you hungry, Swami? Do you want a cup of tea, Swami?

“Yeah,” replied Nelly. “We know his name, but we just call him Swami, because that’s how he was introduced to us.”

“He’s from India?” I asked.

“No, he’s from Panama, but he’s been living in India for the last many years, living in caves and…”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“In Elephant.”

“So,” I said, “ he’s moved from the caves of India to the Elephant?”

“Yes. But he’s going to Spain soon. I’m going to meet up with him there. It’s kinda like he’s my brother, my uncle and a strange caveman all in one.”

“Why France and why a one-way ticket?” I asked.

Zuma Puma with the Grumpy Lettuce logo

Nelly as Zuma Puma promoting the Grumpy Lettuce logo

“Because I have a crazy friend who is a muralist and she met a man who lives in France and she said: Come stay with us and we will build a puppet. I am developing a one-woman show, but I keep questioning what its purpose is.”

“What sort of puppet?” I asked.

“It’s gonna be a creepy baby.”

“A glove or a string puppet?”

“I don’t know. It might be a harness puppet. Last time I met up with this friend, she convinced me to go to San Francisco and, when I showed up, the people she was staying with were so not-cool with her inviting me because she had never told them she invited me.

“I ended up homeless, sleeping in a tent in central San Francisco. Before that, I spent my nights looking for parties. I would go into a party and, before the party ended, go to a quiet corner and fall asleep cos, at the end of a party at 3.00am, you are not going to go over to a nice young lady who is asleep in the corner and tell her to go out into the streets where it’s cold in December.

“I did that for about two weeks – crashing parties where I didn’t know anybody. I would just pretend I was part of it, then fall asleep in the corner… until I found the tent.”

“Why have I not had a life like this?” I asked.

“You still can,” said Nelly. “You can meet Swami… Swami lives like that. He has no plan ever and he just lives in caves and does fire ceremonies all over the world.”

“So,” I said, “you are going to France just for the hell of it?”

“I guess,” said Nelly. “And to find new inspiration. I am going on a quest to reconnect with my creativity. I am going to go, live it and come back with all these stories.”

That was over a month ago. So, yesterday, I thought I had better catch up on what has happened since. I got this reply:

“You silly, ridiculous man, hahahah! Since we spoke, I have gone to France, devised a show, made a weird music video for music we have yet to find, travelled to Spain where I stayed for 4 days on the top of a quartz crystal mountain with seven women as a tag-along, then travelled down Catalunya and filmed for ten days with my dear friend Swami – the Fire Keeper movie – returned home, did a voice-over job, started an improv intensive to refresh me and am already one third sold out for my very own clown intro workshop called Clown Life which I will be facilitating April 23rd & 24th at the Pleasance Theatre in London.

“Here’s the Facebook link: Clown Life Weekend Intensive, London and the ticket link: https://billetto.co.uk/clown-life-weekend-intensive

Zuma Puma - Clown Life

“Grumpy Lettuce is still happening. We have the final two episodes of Season 2 to be released in the next few weeks. They had to go on hold, obviously, because of my going away but we will start to release them again in the next few weeks.

“Here’s the link to our YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF2TqFBtMiEyuU1TFaUfbsg and the last episode we released. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHLGnLWfcw4 ”

I feel exhausted just reading about what Nelly Scott has done in the last month.

I am unworthy.

I have wasted my last month.

Where can I find a cave?

What will Nelly do next?


Filed under Comedy

My blog post tragedy is still no excuse for posting this photograph from 1967

In today’s blog, I was going to post a Skype chat I had with someone in Germany. But I just listened to the recording of our conversation and he is inaudible.

It is because I do not normally use headphones but I did on this occasion because there was feedback or howl-round or whatever it’s called. Although it seemed OK at the time, the insertion of the headphones cut off my recording of his side of the conversation.

I think this is only the second time I have buggered up an interview.

The only similar experience I can remember was interviewing film producer David Puttnam about 25 years ago for the movie trade paper Screen International. For some unknown reason, the reel-to-reel tape machine did not record.

So I made up David Puttnam’s quotes from memory. Someone later told me that Puttnam had told a friend the printed interview was one of the best he had done: because he was not mis-quoted.

Sadly I cannot do that on this occasion because the chat involved vivid memories of detailed events.

So, in lieu of a blog, Here is a photo of me in 1967.

I have no excuse:



Filed under 1960s, Blogs, Nostalgia

Why the ‘free’ shows at the Edinburgh Fringe are not free and why I prefer to see cheap comedy shows by unknowns

The Royal Mile during Edinburgh Fringe, 2008

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, where rambling rivals this blog

Yesterday, I talked to writer Nick Awde for my blog while he interviewed me for a book he is writing.

In lieu of anything better, here are some of the things I told him for his book. His book will be better. We started talking about the Free Fringe and the Free Festival at Edinburgh and the whole concept of ‘free’ and I started rambling…


I’m old enough to remember the 1960s and, as a callow youth, I worked in the Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was just someone’s garage. You brought along your old unwanted books to the Free Bookshop; other people came along, picked them up and went away and everything was free.

You can’t do that on a large scale. It’s OK to do hippy-type free on a small scale or in a village atmosphere, but I don’t think it could work on a large scale in a large community.

I don’t know much about Saudi Arabia but I think it’s quite generous to its own citizens – not to immigrant workers, but to its own citizens – so, if you’re a Saudi Arabian, you get lots of things given to you by the government for free. But the reason they can do that is because they’re making squillions of dollars out of the oil. You need money to make it go round.

Without some form of money – or method of valuing things and exchanging things on the basis of value – ‘free’ will not work.

‘Free’ will only work if there is money involved in ‘free’ – or some other reward equivalent to money.

The Stones in the Park

1969: The Stones in the Park

I think. if it’s a free model – and if you are not making money out of it – then it has to be based on getting publicity from it. The free concerts I went to in Hyde Park in the 1960s had acts like Pink Floyd and Fairport Convention. They weren’t getting money, but they were getting publicity. And the free concerts only worked when they were on a small scale. After the Rolling Stones played one of the free concerts in Hyde Park, the gigs staggered on for a bit but soon ended.

‘Free’ works fine in a small village-type atmosphere but, once you hit mass volume, it can’t be sustained. The overheads of doing ‘free’ are too great.

In Edinburgh, the Free Fringe and the Free Festival are not actually free: you don’t pay in advance, you pay at the end of the performance if you want to.

Now Bob Slayer has come up with the phrase ‘Pay What You Want’ – which is a much better description of what is actually happening at the free shows in Edinburgh.

I don’t know the politics in detail but basically, as I see it, Peter Buckley Hill of the PBH Free Fringe is very idealistic and wants to be a hippy and everything is Hey-Hey Yo! Free, man! but, in fact, it isn’t free because there’s lots of fund-raising up-front from money-raising shows.

Alex Petty of the Free Festival, I think, wants to build his version as a more economically viable proposition – not making large profits, but being more business-like about it. So he charges small amounts to cover the cost of the production of the booklet, for example.

PBH says, Oh, no! Everything is free! but, in fact, he’s covering that cost up-front with fund-raising gigs before the Fringe starts. So they’re both covering their costs. They’re just covering them in different ways.

The ‘free’ show model is demonstrably exportable because Lewis Schaffer has been using the same principle for his Free Until Famous Soho shows in London over maybe the last three years. I don’t know how long he has been doing it, but he is performing his 400th ‘free’ Soho show tomorrow night. So the concept is economically sustainable. And other performers have been using the same format of the bucket-at-the-end.

But it is not a new idea: it is simply indoor busking. You attract an audience and you do your performance. At the end, you do a pitch of Hey! If you’ve liked the performance, give me some money. Outdoors, the audience throw money into the busker’s hat. At the ‘free’ shows, they throw money into a bucket at the end.

Edinburgh: pretty but with great big potential storm clouds

Edinburgh: only the weather is free in the Athens of the North

The Free Fringe and the Free Festival have been very good for the Edinburgh Fringe, because they are a throwback to the way the Fringe used to be: you can take a chance on seeing a show on a whim and if it’s rubbish it’s rubbish. You’ve wasted an hour of your time, but you haven’t wasted your money really because, at the end of a ‘free’ show, you can pay £5 or 20p or nothing, depending on what you thought the show was worth.

In olden days, you went along to the Edinburgh Fringe to see new, original, experimental performances which might or might not work and you would take a risk when choosing shows.

Now, if you are paying £10-£12 per ticket at the ‘paid’ venues, you don’t want to see experimental things – and the performers can’t risk doing experimental things if the punters are paying for £10-£12 tickets.

If you are playing the Pleasance Grand – a 700 seater – at £10 per ticket, neither the audience nor the performer can take a risk.

On the other hand, it is a free show, the need to justify the cost of the ticket doesn’t exist, the expectations of the audience are lower and the restrictions on the performers are less… so there’s more chance of something original coming out of it.

Even if you are a fairly high-profile comedian performing at a ‘paid’ venue, you may well lose £10,000 because of the cost of accommodation, the PR, the print and publicity, the cost of the venue and your manager and agent probably screwing you rigid on the profit and the VAT.

Whereas, if you play ‘free’ shows, you can live in a scummy flat or hostel and don’t even necessarily need to print flyers though you do still have to pay £400 to be listed in the main Fringe Programme. If you’re lucky, you may get £3 per head from your audience of ten or twenty punters each day for maybe 26 days. You might make a slight profit at the end whereas, if you were playing the ‘real’ Fringe, you might lose £8,000.

For audiences watching free shows, the attraction is being the first. You may see a brilliant act two years before he or she appears on TV and becomes famous. You get the thrill of ‘discovering’ that performer, which boosts your self-esteem.

But both sides – audience and performer – accept it might be shit.

Michael McIntyre, much-admired

My much admired Michael McIntyre

I admire Michael McIntyre. He is absolutely brilliant. I was watching him on TV last night. Absolutely brilliant. But, if it’s a choice between me seeing a costly Michael McIntyre type stage show at the Fringe and a show by someone who’s not famous who might be original and funny, I would choose to see the unknown person, because I know that Michael McIntyre will deliver a 100% flawless, homogenous show.

I’m more interested in Alpine-like comics performing a show with troughs and peaks.

There was a now well-known comic whose act used to be 40% rubbish, 40% passably OK, 15% good and 5% genius. He was worth sitting through the 95% of other stuff to see the 5% of genius, because those performing peaks were wonderful.

If you see a brilliant, top-of-the-range TV name who’s made millions, he (or she) is not going to have peaks like that. It’s all going to be beautifully slick and professional but have no unexpected creative peaks.

The more expensive a show is, the more likely it is to be homogenous – or, to use another word ‘bland’.

I suppose the difference between ‘free’ and ‘paid’ at the Fringe is that ‘paid’ is always going to tend towards the bland, whereas ‘free’ very often will tend towards the interesting.

Might be good; might be shit; but, even if it’s shit, it might be interesting.

Also, in free shows, you are more likely to get knob gags, which is always a good thing.


Filed under 1960s, Comedy, Edinburgh