Tag Archives: Human Loire

Whither comedy? Comics in cowls and fowl-mouthed government ministers

Yesterday, the second annual very well-organised British Comedy Guide’s  Big Comedy Conference in London was mostly about sitcom-writing and actor Neil Pearson posed an interesting question to writers Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin, which was Why comedy writers often write in pairs but drama writers almost never do?

Turbaned comic Phil Kay at last night’s Soirée Subterranea

Turbaned comic Phil Kay hosted Soirée Subterranea last night

No-one had an answer to this question beyond the tentative suggestion that you have to try-out comedy on another objective person to see if it is actually funny and it helps to have someone else to bounce ideas off. This is true enough but surely much the same applies to drama plots and (in that awful US phrase) emotional arcs?

Soiree Subterranea

Brunel was known for his large shaft but did not foresee this

I had to miss the very end of the 9½ hour Big Comedy Conference in Clerkenwell to get down to Rotherhithe in time for the start of Martin Soan and Adam Taffler’s Soirée Subterranea where the secret location, only revealed to ticket-buyers on the day, was the disused access shaft to the Thames Tunnel – the first public tunnel under the River Thames (Rotherhithe to Wapping) constructed 1825-1843 by Brunel.

Dan Lees provided a cheese-themed Papal blessing

Dan Lees provided cheese-themed Papal blessing for the mass

The Thames Tunnel Shaft aka The Grand Entrance Hall aka The Great Bore (it was a tunnelling wonder of its time) is under the Brunel Museum. It is apparently half the size of Shakespeare’s Globe and used to host shows by acrobats, tightrope walkers and ‘serenaders’.

Robed and hooded comedians last night

Assembled robed and hooded alternative comedians last night

Last night, amid grey plastic robed and hooded ‘monks’ hiding various alternative comedians, there were chanted comedy routines, a medieval singing trio, classical(ish) dancing, lutes, accordions, three stand-up Isambard Kingdom Brunels and much more. Oh – and it got quite cold, something I had not reckoned with, despite knowing it was in a large underground concrete-and-stone chamber.

The Human Loire pours Rice Krispies into his trousers

The Human Loire pours Rice Krispies into his period trousers

The highlight for me – indeed, the highlight of almost any evening for me – was Michael Brunström as The Human Loire (France’s longest river) reciting a section of The Knight’s Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with correct Middle-English pronunciation while eating Rice Krispies and milk from his medieval trousers.

The Three Isamabard Kingdom Brunels

Never in Canada’s Delta: Three Isamabard Kingdom Brunels

I returned home to yet another e-mail from this blog’s Canadian correspondent: Anna Smith. For unexplained reasons, she was in the not-totally-vibrant Vancouver suburb of Delta and told me:

“Delta is known for its mud, ditches, boat ramps and pumping stations. Front page news here is BARN FULL OF POTATOES ENGULFED IN FLAMES. The report says: More than twenty firefighters battled the blaze for three hours. No injuries were reported.

The public has a right to know these things...

Front page news in today’s tabloid

Meanwhile, back in the less parochial UK, this morning’s Mail On Sunday front-paged the story: MINISTER STAGED OBSCENE COMMONS DEBATE FOR A BET.

This is a story about the British government’s Communities Minister, Penny Mordaunt, making a speech on poultry during a debate on Parliament’s Easter Adjournment.

As reported by the Mail On Sunday, she “said ‘c**k’ six times, ‘lay’ or ‘laid’ five times and mentioned the names of at least six Marines officers during a debate on poultry welfare.”

Last week, the Mail On Sunday reports, she “confessed to the stunt” while receiving a prize at The Spectator magazine’s Parliamentarian of the Year Awards. Her award was for a speech earlier this year during which she uttered the words ‘penis’ and ‘testicles’.

Whither comedy?

 

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Why I am interested in comedians

Today’s issue of Metro

Today’s issue of the daily Metro newspaper

Today’s Metro newspaper contains a feature on The Giants of Comedy to which I was asked to contribute a piece on “the weirder acts to look out for”. Metro describes me as an “alternative comedy champion”.

In this blog, I try to tell short stories with a rounded ending about interesting people doing interesting (mostly creative) things. Very often they are comedians. Very rarely do I write about myself although regular readers might be able to make up a patchwork impressionistic picture of my life.

You might wonder why am I interested in weird comedy acts.

Or you might not.

I have mentioned in past, dimly remembered blogs that I tried to commit suicide when I was newly 18 and that I was briefly in a mental hospital.

So why do I enjoy watching comedy?

Throughout my life, most of my income came from the promotion departments of TV companies. I was employed to write words and edit trailers which would persuade people to watch TV programmes – trying to manipulate their perception so that the ratings would be higher.

I am interested in the use of words and the manipulation of perception. So I am interested in how sentences and performances can be structured to make audiences laugh and the different reasons why people laugh – or, indeed, cry – timing, surprise, unexpected twists, incongruity, recognition, whatever.

Occasionally but rarely, in random spurts, I have kept diaries.

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

This morning, because of the Dave Lee Travis court verdict yesterday, I looked up my diary for around the suicide attempt/mental home time. The reason – possibly pompous – was connected to two quotes which came to my mind:

1) “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” (L.P.Hartley)

2) “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (Lots of French people)

These are some edited extracts from my diary. The first is when I was in hospital after my failed suicide attempt. I tried to kill myself with tablets on a Friday.

“My parents visited me every day in hospital. On the Sunday, they brought me fruit. And, to cut it, one highly-polished, silver-shining, sharply serrated-edged knife. And, after they had gone, I looked at that knife and looked and looked and picked it up and looked. I ran my finger along the serrated edge and looked and ran the edge along my wrist and looked. And felt the point against my finger and against my wrist. And I only just managed to give it to a nurse.

“Which is why, when I got out of hospital, I panicked and my insides were like kitchen crockery in a house above a tube-train tunnel. And it was very difficult to keep a straight face. I could not think straight and my mental reactions were so slow. That horrified me. It was like being in Death Valley with the noonday sun three times closer than it should be.”

At that time, if you tried to commit suicide – especially aged 18 – I think there was a tendency to suggest you might want to go into a mental home.

And I did want to rest, to be away from people, because I was so nervy and because I was afraid of what I might do if I did not go in.

When I went in, a doctor ‘interviewed’ me and suggested I could talk to his students when he gave a lecture later in the week. But I just wanted to be alone.

They gave me ‘happy pills’ and sleeping pills that first night and I went from deep depression to a sky-high high before I went to sleep. But I did not want to be high.

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

In the mental hospital, I wrote this:

“The Mad Hatter pops in: a James Joyce with a blue Embassy cigarette coupon stuck in his greased hair. The lights go on at a quarter to four and then go off again. No-one has entered the room. The mad room.

My Little Lady by The Tremeloes plays at quarter volume on the wartime radio. When I came in last night, it was violins and classical music on the radio, like a TV play about old people dying, dead in seaside boarding houses in the off-season.

“My right side throbs. It is Visiting Hour. Or something. People talk in whispers. It is late afternoon and the afternoon has gone to greyness.

“This morning, an enormous pigeon threw itself against the windowpane of the door, saw where it was and fled away. Before I arrived here, the clear-skinned 23-year-old boy threw the red vinyl table through the window and was caught by a nurse. The friendly, backward boy gets violent occasionally. He throws teacups and saucers, matchboxes and plastic orange juice bottles.

“When he talks to me, he keeps wanting me to be the active, adventurous type. He keeps saying how active he was and how he liked exploring, finding ruins and exploring remote bogs. He and his family – his three sisters and one brother – were nomads around Europe in the last, hard decade.

“He tells me his mother is such an incredible mixture. His girlfriend Evie is from Chelmsford. He tells me he met her in Occupational Therapy. But now she has gone to OT in Exeter. She used to visit him.

“He sings the song Me My Friend as Be My Friend. With gusto. He says he misses Evie. He tells other people I am his friend and keeps telling me to tell him if he talks too much. He sits there in his wheelchair with his eyes of water. Sparkling. Nothing else. Just water.”

There is a clip on YouTube of Family singing Me My Friend.

“The male nurse in the ward tells me he has a strong right hand. He says he ‘does it’ twice a day or twice a week. Depending on how he feels. He asks have I ever let anyone else do it. He goes on and on. He tells all the patients this and talks about going to out-buildings with them.”

I discharged myself from the mental home after a day but nothing that happened there seemed strange.

Several years later, I went back to Claybury Asylum to interview a doctor for a piece I was writing. As I sat waiting in the corridor, the only way you could tell patients from staff as they passed by was the speed at which they walked: the patients walked slower, because they were sedated and had no purpose.

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Yesterday, DJ Dave Lee Travis was found guilty of groping the breasts of a woman – then a TV researcher, now a ‘TV personality’ – for around 15 seconds in 1995. On TV last night, a Sunday Times reporter (who never brought charges and was not involved in the court case) said he groped her too. It seemed a very 1960s or 1970s thing to do. But it happened in 1995.

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So why do I like comedy?

Because I am laughing at life, not with life.

I like dark humour. I am fascinated that ‘unacceptable’ and non-funny subjects like rape, murder, death, drug addiction and madness and all the rest can be made to be funny. And I like surrealism : the twisting/manipulation of reality into meaninglessness. For example, in this morning’s Metro, I mentioned that The Human Loire says he is the only French river playing the UK comedy circuit and that his act includes enunciating passages in Middle English from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while pouring milk onto Corn Flakes inside his trousers. It also includes using a hammer to nail grapes onto a large cut-out of Justin Bieber’s face while gargling Sophocles’ Ode To Man using Listerene antiseptic mouthwash.

When he does this, the surrealism makes me laugh.

When other people TRY to be surreal by doing equally meaningless things, I do not laugh.

Why?

I do not know but I would like to know.

So I watch comedy.

At the recent Edinburgh Fringe, there was one show where I laughed out loud (a rare thing) throughout. It was Johnny Sorrow performing as part of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. A couple sitting to my left sat mostly stone-faced throughout.

When Johnny imitated the sadly mostly-forgotten comedy act Bernie Clifton prancing around in an ostrich costume I laughed out loud. When he said Don’t talk to me!… Don’t talk to me! I laughed out loud.

Why?

I do not know. I just found it overwhelmingly funny.

The other factor in being interested in comedy, of course, is that people who perform it well – who have true originality and who are not just copying what they have seen on TV as part of a business plan – are mostly, in some way, damaged.

Damaged people are interesting people.

But then, when you get to know them, most people are damaged.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Suicide

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards short list is announced at the Edinburgh Fringe

The short-list for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe has been decided amid a flurry of red noses and custard pie fights between the judges. In roughly alphabetical order…

Malcolm Hardee Show 2014

The three nominees for the main
MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY
(which is awarded to performers not to shows)
are:

The Birdmann
in A Man Like No Man
4.00pm at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop

Candy Gigi
in I’m Not Lonely
4.00pm at The Hive

The Human Loire
(aka Michael Brunström)
1.00pm at Cowgatehead


The three nominees for the
MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD
for best (cunning) stunt promoting an Edinburgh Fringe act or show are:

Luke McQueen
for persuading people that comedian Frankie Boyle was playing a secret gig at the Pleasance, then revealing that the gig did not feature Frankie Boyle at all but was a Luke McQueen gig. There was reportedly an element of disgruntlement in the audience. A brief debate between the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges seemed to decide that stupidity was possibly a bonus in being nominated for a Cunning Stunt Award. Irate audience members can find him at the Pleasance Courtyard at 8.00pm in a show called Now That’s What I Luke McQueen.

Mark Dean Quinn
for bringing originality to the vital yet under-rated art of flyering for two shows. To ‘sell’ Ben Target’s show, he handed out blank strips of paper to passers-by. If they asked why, he gave them a small card with show details. This meant the right audiences self-selected themselves for the show. He also flyered for the ACMS (Alternative Comedy Memorial Society) by standing with his head in a cardboard box full of flyers. People were inclined to take them. He also flyered last year for a non-existent Fringe show. If we had heard of this last year, I would have certainly nominated him for that. As I wrote re the previous nominee, stupidity is a plus point.

Christian Talbot
– another award for creative flyering – for getting his 12-year old daughter Kate to wander up to strangers in the street, looking sad and distraught, asking them “Have you seen my daddy?” then, if they say No, handing them a flyer with details of where they can see his show – which is called Hello Cruel World (8.20pm at the Underbelly, Bristo Square).


All this brings us to the increasingly contentious
ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

Last year, we did not present this award because we did not think anyone deserved it.

However, the award had already been made, so – given that it is in the form of a £ sign with a bite taken out of it, we awarded it under the name THE POUND OF FLESH AWARD to Ellis, who was beaten up by his double act partner Rose so that they could claim he was beaten up in the street by a punter irate at their Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

This year, we have decided to nominate two acts for this trophy and, depending on who wins it, we will call it by a different name.

The first nominee – for the ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD is the amazing crowd-pulling Luisa Omielan. Over the last year, she has been touring with What Would Beyonce Say? This year, her new Fringe show is Am I Right, Ladies? (10.15pm at The Counting House)

If the other nominee wins the trophy, it will be called the ACT LEAST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD. The nominee for that is Fringe legend Peter Buckley Hill, who created the Free Fringe and spawned all the other copies of the ‘free’ model in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere. Unlike most acts, Peter has heroically never aspired to make any money from the Fringe and has staunchly defended his free model. His unlisted-in-the-main-Fringe-Programme show Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians is 9.35pm at Canons’ Gait.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The three awards for Comic Originality (left), Cunning Stunt (right) and the Million Quid Award

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Stand-up comedy with Sophocles and Justin Bieber during World Cup football

Michael Brunström nails grapes on Jusin Bieber’s face

Brunström nails grapes on Justin Bieber’s face

Last night, I went to see Stand Up Greek Tragedy in Brixton, South London – one of the regular Stand Up Tragedy nights organised by Dave Pickering, a man with an obvious and commendable taste for the bizarre.

Last night’s wildly diverse show somehow included genuine Oxbridge Classics scholar Michael Brunström aka The Human Loire (recently blogged about) using a hammer to nail grapes onto Justin Bieber’s face – well, a large cut out of it – while gargling Sophocles’ Ode To Man using Listerene antiseptic mouthwash. Fears that Michael may go mainstream seem unfounded.

Joz Norris bath

Joz Norris claimed to have mis-calculated act

The show ended with Joz Norris (recently blogged about) taking his clothes off to sit in a plastic container he had brought along simply so he could do an Archimedes/Eureka gag.

Joz claimed not to have thought-through the fact that, by STARTING his act with this, he had to perform the rest of his routine disrobed with a pink plastic shower cap on his head.

Somehow, it seemed natural that the show should end with the whole audience (including Joz sitting in his plastic container) singing along to Jarvis Cocker and Pulp performing Common People.

The show will be uploaded as a podcast on the Stand Up Tragedy website but, alas, sans visual surrealism.

My night was not yet over, though, because it was the first night of the World Cup in Brazil and, outside Brixton tube station, I passed as a man holding a two-foot tall cuddly penguin was in mid-argument with a man who had one-and-a-half arms. His left arm was cut off into a stump at the elbow. I have no idea what started the argument but, when I passed by, the Penguin Man was saying:

a football

a football

“…didn’t go to a fucking interior design school.”

To which the man with one-and-a-half arms almost visibly spat: “Brazil is the fucking HOME of football.”

“IN MY ARSE!” shouted The Penguin Man.

“AND THAT’S WHY!” shouted the man with one-and-a-half arms.

The penguin remained mute and immobile throughout.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Surreal