Tag Archives: Holland

Comic Lynn Ruth Miller in Amsterdam meets a man she stimulated 12 years ago

The unstoppable 85-year-old London-based US comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues her travels. Last time it was Glasgow. Next time, it is New York. This time it was to perform for a week in Amsterdam… where she met a man from her past… Here she tells all…


Amsterdam is a fun city and this trip was even more rollicking than ever.

The local food is execrable which makes it more amazing that all of the natives are tall, blonde and exceptionally healthy.  When I walk down the street dodging between the bikes, I feel like all of them are Snow Whites and I am the dwarf.

The typical foods are things like deep-fried meatballs with a mustard dip, gooey pancake sandwiches and thick greasy Dutch fries. The Dutch actually hunger for raw herring and deep-fried sweet dumplings. Their comfort food is stewed mashed potatoes, cabbage and kale topped with a fat greasy pork sausage. I cannot believe any of them have a waistline much less any teeth. Evidently their metabolism considers these delicacies to be the equivalent of sprouts on whole grain toast.

In addition, Dutch people are very reserved.  When they hear a joke they nod approvingly and say: “That is funny” (in Dutch of course). But they do not laugh. That type of uncontrolled reaction is reserved for the tourists.

As is getting stoned.

Dutch people do not do marijuana.

They are very smart business people. Pot is good money. Their motto is: “Let the tourists get high. We need to keep our wits about us so we can make a profit.”

“It was a beautiful experience, but quite a challenge…”

On my first night in Amsterdam, I headlined at The Comedy Cafe. I have worked there before and it was a beautiful experience, but quite a challenge. The audiences were at least 70% native Dutch which means that English was their second language. They got the jokes all right, but they needed time to process the punch lines. This meant that I was two jokes ahead of them. I had to adjust my pace so they could absorb what I said.  

It was a huge challenge and an exciting one because, when you succeed in making them get the humor, you have overcome a huge hurdle in your presentation. The last time I managed three times out of five and the truth is that it is those two failures that have haunted me ever since. I guess that is why I call comedy an art instead of a craft. You have to have that instinct that knows the pace, the emphasis and the time to pause for each individual audience.

I was very, very worried about this new performance because of the mixed reactions I got the last time, but this was a very different crowd. The show was run by Tim van’t Hul who has joined several other comedians to form a troupe called The Comedy Embassy. They put on English shows at comedy venues on their empty nights.

And the Comedy Cafe has become an all-English club. It was founded by Bob Maclaren who is a magnificent comedian. When I was there two years ago, he presented both English and Dutch language shows. Thursday night was his only all-English show. Now, Tim and his group fill in the extra nights with their own comedians. They are all young, upcoming performers and, although the quality varies, the enthusiasm is wonderful and the shows are always a delight.

Because all the shows are now in English, tourists make up most of the audience. On the first night, there was a group of about 20 men in the audience who were there on a training weekend to learn internet marketing techniques. They had evidently decided to take in some comedy after their dinner. They were from all over Europe, but most were from England. 

When I saw them, I was terrified. My comedy makes fun of men and there were hardly any women in the audience. Those I saw were obviously on a date and were unlikely to encourage emasculating humor. It destroys any hope of a happy ending (so I am told, of course).

But I had forgotten that there is nothing the British like better than to excoriate themselves. The more you insult them, the more they love you. I think it is a male thing. You cannot get a British man to admit he has one good quality. To do that is in bad taste. And this self-flagellation seeps into the rest of their lives. 

They celebrate the people who defeat them like Guy Fawkes. They gobble up fish and chips and complain that they have horrid teeth and bulging bellies. They do not know how to express disapproval. They shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes when you do something they think is gauche, like laugh out loud or rattle a newspaper. They are the prototype of up-tight. And this audience was very British.

I got on stage with the help of a pulley and a rope and discussed my views on male inadequacy, blaming men for the state of society and all my personal failures in life. I was greeted with thunderous applause so loud I actually heard it.

The man who didn’t want to be a comic at one point…

After the set. I went to the bar for a drink. A man named Kees van Amstel said: “I have something to show you.”  

Naturally, my first reaction was to explain I wasn’t interested in seeing his, but then he bought me a drink and explained that, back in 2007, he was in Edinburgh at the Fringe, having a terrible time getting audiences for his comedy show. (And who among us cannot relate to that?)

He was terribly discouraged and ready to give up the whole project when a friend of his took him to see a late night show to take his mind off his troubles. I was in the line up for that late night show.  

He said: “I watched you having so much fun up there on stage and I thought If that old woman (I was a young chick of 74 at the time) can have so much fun AT HER ADVANCED AGE and be that funny, why am I complaining about low attendance and huge monetary losses?  I have plenty of time to create my dream.

So, that night, he went back to his Edinburgh flat and wrote a blog (HERE it is, in Dutch) about the ancient hag who inspired him to continue has career and not give up too soon.

(BLOG EXTRACT: “Old School kicks ass! Ze sluit af met een liedje over hoe sex is als je man net een niertransplantatie heeft gehad en krijgt het grootste applaus van het festival. Ik sta perplex. Lynn Ruth Miller. Om 2 uur ‘s nachts. Fucking hell, ik ben eigenlijk helemaal niet oud. Find of the Festival.”)

That incident was twelve years ago.

Now, he has his own shows and is on the board of directors of Toomler, the other major comedy club in Amsterdam. He decided to take a night out to see what the competition was doing. He did not know I was on the bill.   

“When you got on that stage,” he told me, “I said to myself I KNOW that woman. And then I remembered that time so many years ago when you changed my life.”

When you are at the Edinburgh Fringe, slogging from one open mike to another, you never think that you are accomplishing anything more than getting a couple of bums on a few seats for the show you are doing. It certainly never occurs to you that someone might actually remember you twelve years after they hear you perform.  

I cannot even remember something that happened twelve minutes ago much less twelve years ago. I assure you both my husbands instantly forgot everything I ever said within seconds of their departure from my life.  

And here I was talking to a man who remembered everything I said twelve YEARS ago.

I have always believed that I do comedy because I love it and that is all the reward I really need. But that man gave me something far more valuable than 20 Oscars and 50 Nobel prizes. He made me feel that I was actually part of a bigger picture, one that tells the world they can do whatever they want to do if they just get out there and do it.

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More injured and bloody comedians cause chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe

Casual Violence - concentrated comedy

Casual Violence – injured minds, bloody strange, very funny

James Hamilton of comedy sketch group Casual Violence has been nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award in two consecutive years for his bizarre writing. This year, Casual Violence are performing not one but two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

When I first saw one of Casual Violence’s shows, I wrote of  James: “I think he might need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. There’s something very original in there – I just don’t know what the fuck it is”

My opinion has not changed.

Yesterday afternoon, I was heading to see the new Casual Violence show House of Nostril at the Pleasance Courtyard when a tall young man handed me a flyer for Alexander Bennett’s Afraid of the Dark with Jorik Mol.

For some reason, I asked: “Are you Jorik Mol?”

“Yes, John,” he replied.

“People keep telling me I should meet you,” I said.

“We met a couple of years ago,” Jorik said.

“I have a shit memory,” I told him, “Where have you been?”

“I was in Amsterdam for a year,” said Jorik.

“I’m not surprised,” I said, “You’re Dutch.”

Jorik Mol up against a wall at The Pleasance

Jorik Mol – very pleasant at The Pleasance yesterday

“I was convalescing from clinical depression,” continued Jorik, “I basically spent a year in a haulage container doing voices to myself.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because what else is there to do in a haulage container? I also read Tolstoy’s War & Peace.”

“You mean the big metal containers they transport on ships?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You need money to afford a haulage container,” I suggested.

“You don’t,” said Jorik. “I was given one. I was a student at the University of Amsterdam and they give them out to people who either live very far away from Amsterdam or who are strange. The containers have all been turned into flats. There’s a window at the front and a window at the back.”

“When did you stop living in a container?” I asked.

“I’m still officially living in a container in Amsterdam,” Jorik told me. “But I’m moving to London next month, going back on the comedy circuit and starting to study a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.”

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

“Is that where Jeremy Bentham sits stuffed?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Jorik.

“And you’ll be gigging on the side?” I asked. “Comedy is difficult.”

“No,” said Jorik. “People say comedy is easy but, when you’ve been through severe clinical depression and hospitalisation, maybe everything is easy.”

“Ah…” I said. “Stand-up comedians and mental hospitals…”

“Mental hospitals are great,” said Jorik. “I was punched in a mental hospital. People in the mental hospital really fucking hated me.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because,” said Jorik, “I’m young, I can speak and I can read novels. There was a guy in the mental hospital who was like the alpha male – he was like a white van man. He thought I was threatening his position in the ward. There were seven completely inert people there, three of whom had regular ECT treatment. So there wasn’t a lot of pride to rule over as the Lion King he thought himself to be.

“One day I woke up late, because I was on a lot of medication, and I was about five minutes late for finger painting or whatever I was supposed to do and the guy just came up to me and just knocked me out.

“I am pretty proud that I am so viscerally annoying that I annoyed someone out of severe inert depression.”

“It sounds like good training for playing comedy to British audiences,” I said.

“Absolutely,” said Jorik.

It turned out he and I were both at the Pleasance to see Casual Violence’s House of Nostril, as was uber-mindreader Doug Segal (he, of course, already knew in advance that we were going to bump into each other).

It was a full house as, indeed was Casual Violence’s other show – Om Nom Nominous at the Voodoo Rooms. It is their ‘greatest hits’ show which I also saw yesterday and, inevitably, it was very weird, very funny, strangely dark, strangely melancholic and the full house pissed themselves laughing.

PekkaStrangeboneComedyShowpiece

Pekka & Strangebone’s accident-prone Fringe show

I also saw Pekka & Strangebone’s Comedy Showpiece at the Voodoo Rooms – another odd sketch show with a dash of darkness added to basic (this is a good thing) silliness. There were three cast members. One had twisted his ankle – the bone had popped out then popped back in again. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day. Another of the trio had fallen onto a piece of broken glass in the Meadows and gouged a great bloody hole in his hand. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day.

When I came out of their show, I told them they should try to get publicity on the basis of being the most accident-prone show in town – or the show with most accidents soonest. Then (this is true) I checked my iPhone for e-mails and there was one from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It was headed:

PLEASE, NO MORE INJURED AND BLOODIED COMEDIANS…

I thought I started to hear the theme music from The Twilight Zone.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards disasters

The increasingly medically challenged Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show

Then I opened another message. It told me that Miss Behave – who broke her heel in Dublin a few weeks ago and is compere of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August… is NOT.

The message read:

“Not possible for me to stay without cutting my foot off and clubbing myself to death with it.”

Miss Behave, rightly, is going back to London to recuperate rather than continuing to damage herself by leaping around Fringe shows in Edinburgh.

I asked Janey Godley – the comedienne who can handle any situation – if she could compere the Malcolm Hardee show instead. She said Yes. Yippee!

Then I opened another e-mail…

It was from Andy Dunlop, the President of the World Egg Throwing Federation. He will be supervising the Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August. Except that he will not be…

The e-mail said:

Andy Dunlop in happier days

President Andy Dunlop in happier days

I am meant to be in Australia right now but I am not…..

My wife is unwell and starts Iodine 131 radiotherapy on Friday. Currently she is exhausted, can’t sleep, faints a lot, is over heated and very very grumpy.

As from this Friday she will also be radioactive for some considerable time and in quarantine at home for at least 14 days. This prevents her from being left alone, cuddling cats or sleeping with husband. She is upset about item 2.

My suggestion that I bugger off to Edinburgh for a few days may lead to suffering from a beating and probably divorce although it would reduce my risk of cross contamination by gamma and beta emitters.

I am unable to predict her recovery and thus am unlikely to make it for the 23rd but John Deptford, our World Vice President, is available due to his Russian Visa not coming through.  He is better than I at compering. Can he crash at yours?

I said Yes.

But it is going to be a crowded night in my Edinburgh flat on Friday 23rd August.

There will be me, John Deptford, Martin Soan, Mr Methane.

Four men and one bed.

It could be a Richard Curtis comedy.

If Mr Methane farts, he may die.

Perhaps all of us will.

So it goes.

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Britain is full of immigrants

Allegedly, the USA is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ where any immigrant can arrive with nothing and create a new life for himself or herself with unlimited potential. But you cannot become President if you were not born in the USA.

What’s that all about?

I have a British friend whose parents were Indian – they arrived and settled here in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. She told me (and I admit I was surprised) that she had never experienced any racial discrimination in the UK. She never encountered it until she lived in the USA.

It does seem to me – in a vast generalisation – that the US is a land of separated peoples. They define themselves as Irish-American or Swedish-American or African-American and they tend to retain their original nationalities in social clubs and by living together in areas, sometimes ghettos.

In Britain, after a couple of generations, people define themselves as British.

People talk about Britain having a 2,000 year history – since the Romans invaded. But that’s bollocks. The Romans didn’t even control the whole of Great Britain – the main island of the British Isles. They invaded and controlled what is now England, the lower part of Great Britain; for a very brief time they controlled parts of what is now Lowland Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall is south of the current border); they never fully managed to control Wales; and, as many have, they pretty-much gave up at the very thought of controlling Ireland.

Last century, actor Gordon Jackson was the definitive Scotsman. He played the butler Hudson in the original ITV series of Upstairs, Downstairs and, whenever movie-makers wanted a Scotsman in their film, he was their first call. He epitomised Scottishness.

Occasionally I used to work with one of his sons. When he (the son) reached his 40th birthday, he told me that, the older he got, the more Scottish he felt.

“Where were you born?” I asked.

“Hampstead.”

Hampstead is in North London. But then, if you are the son of Gordon Jackson, you are going to feel Scottish. His mother was Scots too and, though brought up in London, they had a holiday home in Pitlochry.

I remember standing in an office in the London Weekend TV tower looking out at a misty, drizzly South Bank and Westminster scene and saying to this Son of Gordon Jackson:

“Now that is dreich.”

“Definitively dreich,” he replied.

Dreich is a Scots Gaelic word which is virtually impossible to define in English. You have to see what it describes if you want to understand it.

There is an interesting theory that the Welsh – or, at least, the people in the middle of Wales, the mountainous parts, the parts that ironically get at bit uppity about being called British and insist on keeping the Welsh language afloat – are actually the only remnants of the original British, pushed back into that western bump of Great Britain by successive invaders from the south, east and north of the island.

The original British were killed-off or bred out of existence perhaps 1,500 years ago.

Basically, everyone in Britain is an immigrant except, possibly, the forefathers of a few Welsh people.

In the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the point is often forgotten that King Arthur was killed. The invaders, in reality, won. The losers possibly fled West.

My surname is Fleming so, at some point, my forebears came from Flanders/Belgium/Holland. But, despite an uncalled-for English accent, I am Scottish. The Scots and Irish are allegedly Celtic but, to my eyes, are clearly Scandinavian – pale skin, light hair, sometimes freckles. I used to have dark brown hair and a ginger beard. That’s Scandinavian.

The Welsh are said, like the Scots and Irish, to be Celtic; but the Welsh are in generalised physical terms nothing like the Scots and Irish – they tend to have dark hair, for one thing.

The Celts, again in very general terms, came from Central Europe. So they are sort-of German though, when I worked in the Czech Republic, the locals reckoned the Celts had actually come from what is now the Czech area of Central Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon English are from what is now Germany – the result of invasions by the Angles and the Saxons.

A Danish TV director I know, who worked with both me and Son of Gordon Jackson, told me he once drove round Yorkshire and recognised most of the names of the towns and villages: they were either recognisable Danish names or bastardisations of Danish names.

Hardly surprising, given that Denmark ruled most of England for so long.

To be a racist, you need to be ignorant of history. To talk of “racial purity” anywhere requires a deep ignorance of history. To talk of “racial purity” in the UK requires a remarkable level of crass stupidity.

I am old enough to remember TV documentaries about the last Yiddish language newspaper closing in the East End of London. Some of the street signs there – around Brick Lane – used to be in Yiddish; now they are in Bengali. Limehouse in East London used to be a Chinese area. Now there’s a little Chinese area in Soho (artificially created, it has to be said, by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone). Everything is constantly changing.

The English language has thrived on constant new inputs from foreign languages; it is constantly changing. The ‘British people’ (whatever that means) have thrived on constant new cultural inputs and there is constant, vibrant change. Britain is constantly being re-born. Unlike the USA, we seem to have integrated and assimilated our immigrants over time. Admittedly we have had longer.

Britain, depending on how you define it, didn’t even exist until 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I of England) or 1707 (when the Act of Union was signed). The flag which the British Army flew at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 in support of their Hanoverian monarch was not the current Union flag. The current so-called ‘Union Jack’ did not exist until 1801 when another Act of Parliament united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland.

If/when either Northern Ireland or Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom and becomes independent, then the flag will have to change again.

No-one in Britain is, when it comes down to it, actually British. We are all immigrants. The British are long-dead, except perhaps for a few distant relatives in Machynlleth.

What “Britain” means is a moveable feast.

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