Tag Archives: humor

Douglas Adams talks. Part 1: Life before “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

In 1980, I interviewed writer Douglas Adams for Marvel Comics. The result was published as a two-part piece in the March and April 1981 issues of their Starburst magazine. I am republishing the interview in four parts in this blog. Here is Part One…

Douglas Adams at home in 1980. Later, he claimed: “You actually managed to make me sound fairly intelligent, which I think is a remarkable achievement on your part.” (Photograph: John Fleming)


Douglas Adams has made it big. He is 6’5″ tall.

He was born in Cambridge in 1952. When he was born his father, a postgraduate theology student, was training for Holy Orders but friends persuaded him this was a bad idea and he gave it up. He wanted to do it again recently but was again dissuaded.

This philosophical bent seems to have been passed on to young Douglas because, at school, he says, “They could never work out whether I was terribly clever or terribly stupid. I always had to understand everything fully before I was prepared to say I knew anything.”

It was while still at school that he decided to become a comedy writer-performer after seeing John Cleese on BBC TV’s The Frost Report.

“I can do that!” he suddenly thought. “I’m as tall as he is!”

He appeared regularly in school plays and sometimes was asked to write. “I felt I ought to,” he says. “I used to sit and worry and tear up pieces of paper and never actually write anything. It was awful. I’ve always found writing very difficult; I don’t know why I’ve wanted to do it. Sheer perversity. I really wanted to be a performer and I’d still like to perform. I was a slightly strange actor. There tended to be things I could do well and other things I couldn’t begin to do. I couldn’t do dwarfs; I had a lot of trouble with dwarf parts.”

He went to Cambridge University largely so he could join the Footlights, the student group which had spawned many of the people he most admired — the writer-performers of Beyond the Fringe, That Was The Week That Was, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, Monty Python’s Flying Circus etc.

During university vacations, he built barns and cleaned chicken sheds to make money and, for the first time, started to write seriously (if that’s the word). He was involved in the creation of two Cambridge revues — Several Poor Players Strutting and Fretting and The Patter of Tiny Minds.

The original idea for The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had come to him before he went to university, when he was drunk at a camp-site near Innsbruck, while travelling round with The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Europe in his rucksack. But it was years before the idea came to fruition.


JOHN: After you left Cambridge, one of the things you did was collaborate with Graham Chapman of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

DOUGLAS: That’s right. I wrote with him for about eighteen months on a lot of projects that mostly didn’t see the light of day. And those which did actually didn’t work awfully well.

JOHN: Which ones did see the light of day?

DOUGLAS: Well, we wrote and made the pilot for a television comedy series. The series itself never got made because Graham got more involved back in Monty Python again. This was really during the Python lull and nobody was quite sure what the future of Python was going to be.

So we wrote this sketch show called Out of the Trees which actually had some very good material in it, but just didn’t hang together properly. Graham was the sort of lead and there was also Simon Jones (who played Arthur Dent in BBC TV’s Hitch-Hiker) and Mark Wing-Davey (who played Zaphod Beeblebrox). It was shown once on BBC2, late on Saturday night, against Match of the Day. I don’t think it even got reviewed, it was that insignificant. There were some very nice things in it; it just didn’t stand up. The structure for it hadn’t really been found.

JOHN: What else did you do with Graham Chapman?

DOUGLAS: Curiously enough, the thing we virtually came to blows about was his autobiography. He wanted to co-write it. He actually went through about five co-authors, of which I was the first, and really I didn’t think it was getting anywhere because I didn’t think it was the sort of thing you could do as a pair. It came out recently (A Liar’s Autobiography) and it’s good. I think there’s one very bad section which was the bit he and I co-wrote.

JOHN: It must have seemed a great opportunity. Writing with one of the Monty Python stars.

DOUGLAS: Yes, the promise of that period. I thought: This is terrific! This is my great break! And, at the end, there was nothing to show for it except a large overdraft and not much achieved. And I suddenly went through a total crisis of confidence and couldn’t write because I was so panicked and didn’t have any money and had a huge overdraft paying the £17-a-week rent. So I answered an advertisement in the Evening Standard and got a job as a bodyguard to an Arab oil family.

JOHN: But you were still sending off ideas to The Burkiss Way on Radio 4…

DOUGLAS: Yes. Simon Brett, the producer of The Burkiss Way, asked me if I’d like to write some bits for it and, at that stage, I just felt I’m washed up. I can’t write. I may as well accept this fact now. But he insisted, so I sat down and wrote a sketch which, I thought, would prove to everybody once-and-for-all that I could no longer write sketches. And everybody seemed to like it rather a lot. (LAUGHS) The one thing I’d spent all the summers since Cambridge trying to interest people in was the idea of doing science-fiction comedy; I couldn’t get anybody interested at all.

Simon was the only person I hadn’t gone to with the idea. And, after I’d done these bits for Burkiss, he said to me, quite out-of-the-blue: I think it would be nice to do a science fiction comedy series. It was extraordinary. And so it carried on from there.

JOHN: It was around this same time you got involved with Doctor Who.

DOUGLAS: Well, after we’d done the pilot of Hitch-Hiker, it took a long, long time before BBC Radio decided to go ahead and I was desperate for money. So I sent the first copy of that Hitch-Hiker script to Bob Holmes, who was then script editor of Doctor Who and he said: Oh yes, we like this. Come in and see us. So I talked to them for a long time.

JOHN: You sent it in as a Doctor Who idea, or . . .

DOUGLAS: No, just to sort of say: Here l am – This is what I do. And I ended up getting a commission to write four episodes of Doctor Who (The Pirate Planet)…

…but it didn’t really work out as something which was going to fill in that gap, because that took a long time to come through too. I eventually ended up getting the commission to write the rest of Hitch-Hiker and the Doctor Who episodes simultaneously in the same week. So that became a serious problem. (LAUGHS) And I got through the first four episodes of Hitch-Hiker and then I had to break off to get the Doctor Who episodes done – so I did those at a real gallop. And, at the end of that, I was totally zonked. I knew a lot of what was going to happen in the last two episodes of Hitch-Hiker but I just couldn’t sort of get myself to a typewriter and just needed help and a sounding-board just to get it done.

JOHN: So John Lloyd (now producer of Not The Nine O’Clock News) helped you write parts of episodes 5 and 6…

DOUGLAS: Yes…

… CONTINUED HERE

The BBC Radio 4 production team recording an episode of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy on 19th May 1979. (Left-Right) studio manager Lisa Braun; Douglas Adams; studio manager Colin Duff; production secretary Anne Ling; producer Geoffrey Perkins; studio manager Alick Hale-Monro. (Photograph copyright © BBC)

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Talking about sex lives in loud voices. An overheard conversation in a train.

Keeping track of changing social mores

I was in a train yesterday. A couple of women were talking. They were talking very loudly, oblivious to people around them. I was sitting two seats behind them and could hear the conversation clearly. I had no alternative. They obviously knew each other but had not met for a while and were catching up with each other’s lives.

Well, I was not really listening, but it was when I heard the exchange…

WOMAN ONE
So what have you been doing?

WOMAN TWO
I went to a BDSM workshop and I quite liked it.

WOMAN ONE
Oh

…that I started paying attention… and I switched on the microphone of my iPhone a few sentences later.

Yes, that is very reprehensible of me. What can I say?

What follows is a verbatim transcript. All I have done is remove a few details which might identify the two women – names and places.

NB… The end is 100% exactly as it happened.


WOMAN ONE
I would like to marry him if I was to have a husband but I don’t think he wants to marry me. I got to the point where I realised OK, I’ve had my joy with this and it’s really not working for him but I do want to be with him so I got a lot of what I needed and now I’m back to monogamy. I don’t know if that’s what I want full stop. It’s just that’s what works for us at the moment. And he is dating someone, which is great.

It gets him out of the house – otherwise he’s always round the house in an armchair playing a Star Trek computer game. So it’s quite nice when he goes out.

Like he went out with this woman. He likes her and she likes him, you know. He went out with her the other weekend. I had the whole house to myself all day.

WOMAN TWO
Oh nice.

WOMAN ONE
I watched ukulele players. There’s a really great ukulele player. She sings songs. There’s a song she sings called I Want To Get Laid. She’s a comedian. I think she’s really funny. She’s really great and she interviews really well. And I watched other stuff on YouTube.

The thing is, when he is in, he doesn’t even think what channel I wanna watch. He will just sit there and be in his own little world with his gadgets.

WOMAN TWO
Oh, right.

WOMAN ONE
So it’s really nice when he’s out of the house, so I’m all for it and whoever he wants to go out of the house with is fine.

WOMAN TWO
That gives you some freedom and space.

WOMAN ONE
Yeah and then, when he got back, I was like: “I’ve got a question in mind. Do you mind if I ask you?” – “Yeah, what is it?” – “What happened? Did you get laid?”

He said: “Where’d that come from?”

I said: “Well, it’s kinda come from a song I watched on the ukulele.”

He said he hadn’t got laid. He’d gone to the cinema and I said – she lives in a house share – “You do know you could have taken her to a hotel?”

I just want him to have a good time, really. Despite the fact he and I drive each other up the wall, there is so much strength to it and it has survived so long… I just want him to have a good time.

(WE THEN PASSED ANOTHER TRAIN AND THE NOISE MAKES THE RECORDING INAUDIBLE. IT PICKS UP AGAIN WITH…)

WOMAN ONE
So when did this happen? There’s some really beautiful… I’ve never been into latex…

I am thinking about getting some kind of gloves so I can wash my hands without water touching my hands. Just for the winter; my hands are cracking everywhere. So you went to a workshop?

WOMAN TWO
Yeah. I absolutely loved it. It’s so beautiful. Explaining how you’re giving away the power.

WOMAN ONE
Where did he do the workshop?

WOMAN TWO
At his home just outside London, so it was very intimate. About twelve of us.

WOMAN ONE
A small group.

WOMAN TWO
Yeah. It was nice. I quite liked that.

(THE TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENT THEN SAID WE WERE APPROACHING THE NEXT STATION)

WOMAN ONE
Let’s have a drink. Why don’t we have a drink? Are you part-time?

WOMAN TWO
Cool.

WOMAN ONE
OK. Good.

WOMAN TWO
It’s a new way to carry my bicycle.

TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENT
If you see something that doesn’t look right, speak to staff or text British Transport Police on 61016. We’ll sort it… See it. Say it. Sort it.


I PRESUME THIS IS THE YOUTUBE SONG WHICH THE FIRST WOMAN CALLED “I WANT TO GET LAID”…

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Comic Becky Fury proposes marriage while chatting to me at a Pret a Manger

Becky Fury with stars in her eyes – well, one

Yesterday’s blog was about my first stage appearance at Martyn Sadler’s new comedy club in East London. Malcolm Hardee Award-winning comedian Becky Fury had performed there a month before – on its opening night.

I had tea with her at a branch of Pret a Manger yesterday afternoon. I thought we were going to talk about the new club – and we started on that – but then the subject changed unexpectedly.


JOHN: When I was at Martyn’s club, the audience was a bit rowdy. What were they like when you performed there?

BECKY: There was a stag party in one corner and they were getting the most attention. You know I have the horn…

JOHN: Yes. How did you deal with the situation?

Becky backstage at Martyn’s opening night

BECKY: So I have this horn in my back pocket which means I can squeeze one of my breasts and make a honking sound as I squeeze it. Audiences like it… I nearly turned that bit of my act into a full, very aggressive striptease to keep them quiet but I knew Martyn wasn’t allowed to do that. He has been told that his licence doesn’t allow him to have strippers.

I was going to do it, but then I realised I hadn’t shaved my legs, so I backed away from that, which was a massive shame.

JOHN: So how did you quieten the stag party?

BECKY: Natural charm.

JOHN: What was Martyn doing while all this was going on?

BECKY: He was round the back wearing his fedora. Hanging round the bar talking to people. You know what he’s like.

The Stables bar at Granada Television buildings in Manchester

JOHN: He was like that when I worked with him at Granada TV in Manchester. Always in the Stables.

BECKY: The Stables?

JOHN: The staff bar. What was your impression of Martyn when you first met him?

BECKY: That he is always an act. He is always playing the part of Martyn Sadler.

JOHN: You first met him in Edinburgh a couple of years ago…?

BECKY: Yeah. I met him and we ended up having a drink in a Wetherspoons in Leith and these two Scottish guys were giving me shit because I was swearing. They said they didn’t want to hear that sort of language. They were really nicely sharply suited and booted. I went over and apologised to them but they told me to Fuck off and that I was being rude.

JOHN: In those exact words? “Fuck off”?

The Wetherspoons at the Foot of the Walk in Leith, Edinburgh

BECKY: Yeah. In Leith Wetherspoons at half twelve in the afternoon!

JOHN: Some people have no sense of irony.

BECKY: Yeah. They just really pissed me off.  So I picked up a bottle of ketchup off a table and said: “Oh, it would be a shame, wouldn’t it, lads, if someone got ketchup all over their nice, smart jacket.”

JOHN: How did they react?

BECKY: They kind of freaked out and the manager came over and said: “Just sit down, right?” and it calmed down. But what Martyn did a few minutes after that was he got his glasses…

JOHN: His spectacles?

BECKY: Yes. And he got some ketchup, squirted it across the top of the glasses, put the glasses back on his face and walked past them on the way to the toilet and looked at them with the ketchup dripping down over his eyes and he said: “I told her to watch her language too, lads, and this is what she did to me.”

JOHN: And they…?

BECKY: They grabbed their fucking coats and ran off. Well, they didn’t run – but they exited sharpish. And that is why Martyn Sadler is amazing.

Martyn Sadler (top right) at his new club in East London

JOHN: You like his anarchic tendencies.

BECKY: Yeah. Maybe I should propose to him via your blog. He says he likes pranks.

JOHN: ‘Becky Sadler’ has a nice ring to it.

BECKY: Exactly.

JOHN: You would have your own club to perform in.

BECKY: Yeah. It sounds like a good match to me.

JOHN: A match made in…

BECKY: …Headinburgh… Will you marry me, Martyn?

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Is David Mills the Dolly The Sheep of Dave Allen, Bob Newhart & Gore Vidal?

So I had a chat with David Mills, the American comic who lives in London, and we had trouble getting fully on-subject.

“My memory is shit,” I said, “and I have forgotten. How long have you been over here?”

“Seventeen years.”

“Are you here forever?”

“Well,” David joked, “now all these people are going down in Hollywood…”

“That’s not the best phrase to use,” I suggested.

“…there is,” he continued, “a lot of opportunity for middle-aged silver foxes like myself.”

“British TV?” I asked.

“If you’re not British,” said David, “you only get so far here. Look how long Tony Law’s been at it and yet he can’t get that regular spot on a panel show. The last one to manage it was Rich Hall.”

There can only be one David Mills in the UK

“Maybe,” I suggested, “there can only be one biggish North American ‘name;’ on TV at any one given time. Like you can only have one gay person ‘big’ at any one time – Graham Norton on BBC1, Paul O’Grady on ITV, Alan Carr on Channel 4. Maybe the most to hope for would be one big name American per channel.”

“Mmmm…” said David. “I think they’re happy to have people who come over from America. Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s always one or two. But the ones who are here… The attitude is: Who wants to listen to an American living in Britain talking about the UK? People want to hear Americans who live in America talking about America.”

Bill Bryson,” I suggested, “wrote about the UK when he lived in the UK. But, then, he was a writer, not a performer – different audience.”

“And writers have a longer shelf life,” said David. “Stand-ups can come very quickly and go very quickly.”

“Last year,” I started, “you were in the Meryl Streep/Stephen Frears film Florence Foster Jenkins…”

“Let’s not talk about that,” said David. “It’s too long ago. I can’t flog that horse any longer.”

“It must have done you some good,” I suggested.

Florence Foster Jenkins led David on…

“Well, that led me on to other things, I’ve had some big auditions with (he mentioned two A-list directors) and  (he named an A-list Hollywood star) is making a new film and I went up for the role of the baddie’s sidekick. A great part. But this film – I read the script – is so bad it might become infamous. I thought to myself: I really want this! I really want to be in this! I would love to be in an infamously bad film! That would be so much fun. But no.

“Are you a frustrated actor?” I asked.

“That’s where I started, but no I’m not – though I would be happy to do more. More and more is being filmed here, because the pound is low, they get a big tax break and the acting and production talent here is so high. I was up for a small role in the new Marvel Avengers film and the new Mission Impossible film.”

“Do you have another film part coming up?”

“Yes. It’s for TV. But it’s Showtime and Sky Atlantic.”

“You have a small part?”

“My part, John, is perfectly adequate.”

“This is an acting role in a serious drama?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s that serious.”

“But you’re acting seriously. It is not a red-nosed, floppy-shoe clown role?”

“I’m playing a version of me, John.”

“Sophisticated, then,” I said. “Suave. What were you in Florence Foster Jenkins?”

“A critic. Well, I wasn’t a critic, but I was critical.”

David Mills (left) and Gore Vidal – brothers under the skin?

“You were like Gore Vidal?” I asked.

“I would love to play Gore Vidal,” said David.

“Well,” I suggested, “now Kevin Spacey’s film about Gore Vidal has gone down in flames…”

“My Edinburgh Fringe show next year is called Your Silence is Deafening. It’s about being a critical person. I love people but that doesn’t mean I’m not critical. I am critical and I think that is good. The problem with the world is no-one likes critique.”

“Critical or bitchy?” I asked.

“They are different things,” said David.

“You don’t want to be ghettoised as being gay,” I said.

“No. I really don’t.”

“Your influences are interesting,” I said. “I never twigged until you told me a while ago that you partly model your act on Dave Allen.”

“Well, the act is different, but the look is inspired by him.”

“And you are very aware of the sound of the delivery.”

“Yes. A lot of things I say because I like the rhythm of the joke and the sound of it.”

“Are you musical?”

David with Gráinne Maguire and Nish Kumar on What Has The News Ever Done For Me? in Camden, London, last week

“No. But, to me, it’s all about precision. When I’m writing jokes or a show, it’s almost like a melody. I write it out and I do learn the words and I repeat the words. A lot of comics find a punchline and there’s a cloud of words leading up to it and those exact words can change every time. For me, that’s not the case. I may deliver it a little bit differently, but the wording is really important to me, because there’s a rhythm that takes me to the punchline.”

“You are a good ad-libber too, though,” I suggested.

“To an extent. But I am more heavily scripted than a lot of acts. Some other scripted acts are contriving to seem off-the-cuff, but there is something about that which, I think, feels wrong. I am trying to refer to a specific style – Dave Allen here and, in the US, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, people like that. They went out and had scripted routines and it felt more like a ‘piece’ which they presented, instead of shuffling on stage and I’m coming out with my observations. I aspire to the old school style: I have brought you this crafted piece and here it is. 

“Bob Newhart was so subtle and he had such an understated brilliance. He was able to get great laughs out of a short look. So studied and crafted. He developed that. You could put Bob Newhart in any situation and he would bring that same thing.”

“Yes, “ I said, “Lots of pauses and gaps. He looked like he was vaguely, slowly thinking of things. But it was all scripted.”

He’s not like Max Wall or Frankie Howerd…

“In British comedians,” said David, “I thought Max Wall was super-brilliant. And I love Frankie Howerd.”

“And,” I said, “the odd thing about him was that all the Ooohs and Aaahs were scripted.”

“Of course,” said David, “I have to do a lot of shows where I am still working it out, so it’s less crafted, but it’s all aiming towards me ‘presenting’ something. I think a lot of acts are not aspiring to do that. They are aspiring to a more informal kind of connection with the audience.”

(For those who do not remember Dolly The Sheep, click HERE)

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A comedy fan on a musical trip to Chattanooga gets very, very, very cold

Samantha Hulme works with horses (they are not pictured)

This week, I got an email from comedy fan Samantha Hulme. She works with horses in Lancashire.

“I have got a two week job in Chattanooga,” she told me, “and, when I finish there, I am going to have a road trip for ten days.

“I am going to go to Nashville, Tuscon, Memphis and New Orleans. I am going to have a total and utter music fest…”

I suggested she might want to share her experiences for this blog.

On her arrival, she sent me a photo of the luggage belt at Chattanooga Airport.

Yesterday, I got a message saying that, on her first day in Chattanooga, she had been in a cryogenic chamber.

She told me:


The relevant cryogenic chamber on Day One in Chattanooga.

It was approximately minus 264 degrees in that chamber. Shall I repeat that? Minus 264 degrees.

At that temperature, there is no moisture in the air, so it does not penetrate the skin.

The correct clothing for this is not a huge North Face jacket or salopettes. It is sports wear: shorts, sports bra, special woollen socks and slippers and special mittens plus a nose mask and wool wraparound hat.

I felt slightly concerned when my very lovely teacher uttered the words: Don’t forget to breathe. 

An unrelated sign at a church with a very hot pastor in Chattanooga

The first chamber is the holding chamber to prepare you for the temperatures in the second chamber. This was not in any way, shape of form a warm-up.

The thought Holy crap! did go through my mind as I entered the first chamber… then I am an ex-postal worker. I can do this!

When I hit the second chamber, my trachea appeared to close.

I went from repeatedly saying in my head Breathe!… to thinking This is the weirdest cold feeling I have ever experienced… to laughter.

After I leapt out, I felt energised.

It was terror and fun mixed together


Exactly how this fits into the concept of “a total and utter music fest” for a comedy fan, I do not yet know. But further missives will, with luck, follow.

The last message I received from Samantha said: “Off to see a comedian now.”

I know no more than you, dear reader.

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Israeli comics: “It’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh.”

In a couple of weeks, on Wednesday 4th October, the annual Comedy International conference and showcase is back in London.

Representing Israel in the showcase are three comics: Yossi Tarablus, Yohay Sponder and Shahar Hason. The night before (Tuesday 3rd October), they are performing a one-off full-length show From Israel With Laughs at the Seven Dials in Covent Garden – “People can see us for an hour and a half rather than just 10 minutes each,” Yossi told me on Skype from Tel Aviv.

Yossi Tarablus

“Will I – a non-Jew – appreciate it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he told me. “Shahar and Yohay have just returned from their Edinburgh Fringe show and from the Asia Comedy Festival in Singapore. It’s not going to be Jewish/Israeli stuff. People who don’t know Israel and who aren’t Jewish can come and still have a blast.

“We will be doing international stuff that works that we have performed all over the world. My show is a lot about family and kids and marriage. A wife is a wife and a child is a child and dating is dating. We are doing adjustments, but we won’t be doing material that we would be testing on the crowd. We respect the crowd. We do our homework.”

“Are the three of you similar in style?” I asked.

“No, we’re very different in style. It’s a great mix of comedians because everyone is at a different stage in life. I am the only one who is married; the other two are single.”

“How,” I asked, “is the comedy scene in Israel?”

Yohay Sponder

“The English-language stand-up scene in Tel Aviv and in Israel has really taken off. In the last five years, when we started this endeavour, we didn’t know how it was going to pan out. We started with an open mic and then expanded to another more professional evening and then another evening in Jerusalem and another evening in Tel Aviv. There was was a time when you could go to see English-language comedy in Israel four times a week. Now you can see it three times a week, which is great.”

“You said,” I pointed out, “when we started this endeavour. What endeavour?”

“We wanted Israel to be a base,” explained Yossi, “a hub for international comedy like there is in Amsterdam and Berlin and, of course, I’m not even talking about Anglo places like London and New York. We want to go out and perform all over the world. And we want international comedians to visit Israel. We have a lot of people who speak English here, a lot of expats from the US and the UK. So we have enough of an audience for weekly shows.”

Shahar Hason

“I presume touring American Jewish comedians already include Israel?” I said.

“The production company that is bringing us to the UK is the one which brought Louis CK and Eddie Izzard and Jim Jefferies to Israel and they’re producing Chris Rock’s upcoming tour in Israel in January. So they bring a lot of A-listers to Israel. And Abi Lieberman brings three comedians with him every six months to do charity shows in Israel. Seinfeld was here a year and a half ago.”

“So how,” I asked, “is Israeli comedy different from New York Jewish comedy?”

“I think,” said Yossi, “that a lot of New York Jewish comics are Woody Allen-esque. Very smart, very sophisticated, very funny and more like Eastern European Jews. They are maybe a little bit more self-deprecating: classic Shtetl Jews.

“Israeli Jews, in their comedy, are a little bit more – as Israelis are – more direct. We appreciate political correctness, but not in comedy. We don’t have a problem laughing at anyone. Laughing at our wars; criticising the other side; criticising ourselves.

“I think being in a country that is constantly in a state of… alarm… makes you less vulnerable to… eh… I mean, what can happen? We are here. We have survived everything. So we don’t care about… I mean, subtleties are fine, but we just want to have people laughing, bursting out laughing, forgetting the news, any tension in the streets or even any economic crisis. People come to comedy clubs to forget. People come to comedy clubs to laugh and have a great hour-and-a-half, to forget all their troubles.

“So we are there to punch you in the stomach and to make you laugh and we want to do that in a way that will make you disconnect from the news. We don’t do a lot of stuff about politics or about current events which might trigger you to something a little bit more traumatic. We don’t want that. We just want you to laugh because your life is pretty-much like ours. Finding a common denominator with the audience is something we look for as much as possible.”

“New York Jewish humour IS self-deprecating,” I said, “whereas I think maybe the superficial image of Israelis is that they are very self-confident.”

“Self confident and less politically correct,” agreed Yossi. “Looking at stuff without any buffers. So – Boom! – in your face. That is the Israeli mentality. Straight talking. If we don’t like this guy, we say we don’t like him. In Israel, we are really afraid to be a hypocrite. If we say we are afraid of Arabs, it’s straight. We are afraid of Arabs because we have a problem with the Arabs. You know? What can you do? It’s not an evening of poetry. It’s an evening of comedy.

“People have asked me about anti-Semitism or anti-Israeli feeling— if we have encountered anything – but, when you do comedy, it’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh. We just want people to have fun.”

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Thomasses got 10 million hits & 18-year old Brit girl played the Hollywood Bowl

Sarah and Nick – We Are Thomasse – 8.00am in Los Angeles

Time differences are a bitch.

I got an email from Nick Afka Thomas of Anglo-American comedy sketch duo We Are Thomasse.

“We will be at the Leicester Square Theatre on Wednesday Sept 27th at 9.30pm,” it said. “A lot has happened since your last blog on us! We now have 10 million views on our videos, have worked with Jason Mraz extensively, and have monthly shows in Hollywood at Second City, plus regular shows in New York.”

So I Skyped Nick and his wife Sarah Ann Masse at 4.00pm London time. But they live in Los Angeles. It was 8.00am there and they were still in bed.

“You have a new beard,” I said to Nick. “Is that permanent?”

We Are still Thomasse in the Batman caves

“No,” he told me.

“We just,” Sarah explained, “filmed a caveman sketch, so he grew it for that. In the Bronson Caves in the middle of Los Angeles, where the Batman TV show was filmed.”

“Your online videos are getting very successful on Facebook and elsewhere,” I said.

“The last 18 months,” said Nick, “we have had 10 million views.”

“How do you do that?” I asked. “I can’t do that.”

“I think something that is current helps,” Nick explained.

“We always,” Sarah added, “say there is no formula. But we have been able to replicate the success we had on 4th July now twice. We are British and American and a couple and we have put out these 4th July videos about Britain and America being awkward exes and people seem to respond. We are obviously well set-up to write those and maybe not a lot of people put out comedy videos for 4th July.”

“And you went viral on Facebook,” I said, “and all over the place.”

“This year,” Sarah replied, “a fan told us: They showed your videos at our town on a huge big screen before the fireworks display!” We were amazed. And we just did a comedy festival in Austin and a lot of people there told us: Oh! We watched your videos on 4th July at the party we were at! We seem to have tapped into something.

“But you really can’t predict what is going to be super-well-shared. One of the biggest hits we had besides the Britain-&-America one is the series called Feminist Fairy Tales. I think that just taps into something that matters to a lot of people. It only got about a million views, but it got a lot of press coverage.”

“The latest viral video,” Nick explained, “doubled our Likes on Facebook, but it has probably tripled our viewing figures. There is definitely some exponential curve where bit-by-slow-bit you can reach a broader audience and then I guess it starts to break out.”

Sarah added: “We got offered an audition the other day, straight to our email, from someone who  seemingly had just seen our stuff online. We can see it IS having an effect on our career and moving us in the direction we want to go in.”

“Which is eastwards,” I said. “You are playing London and Paris.”

“And Madrid,” Nick added.

“And a secret show,” Sarah added, “just north of Amsterdam.”

“Why is it a secret?” I asked.

“Because,” said Sarah, “the location is undisclosed until you purchase tickets.”

“Ah!” I said.

Anglo American comedy – Nick & Sarah sticking together

“And, as well as our shows,” Nick said, “we are doing workshops for the Oxford Revue and also in London and in the Netherlands.”

“And in Madrid,” Sarah added. “We have three workshops that we teach and we create custom ones as well.”

“The three are?” I asked Nick.

“Producing Digital Comedy, Sketch Writing in The We Are Thomasse Style and Acting For Sketch. We also have an E-mail List now – subscribe.wearethomasse.com

“One thing that will be interesting at Leicester Square,” said Sarah, “is that we met this 18-year-old beatboxer from London – Shamime Ibrahim.”

“Where?” I asked.

“At Jason Mraz’s big birthday concert at the Hollywood Bowl. She came out on stage in front of 15,000 people and beatboxed and we were completely blown away.

“We became fast friends and she is going to open for us at our show in Leicester Square and do the beatbox music between each of our sketches.”

“As you know,” said Nick, “our sketches are very, very fast-paced.”

“That’s for sure,” I said.

“We do about 30 sketches in an hour,” said Sarah. “A good mix of British and American comedy and, in Leicester Square, we will be doing some of our viral videos live – some other things which have had millions of views.”

“You are also doing regular monthly shows at Second City in Hollywood,” I said.

“The third Thursday of every month,” said Nick. “They have three bases – Chicago, Montreal and LA.”

“What do you do at the Second City gigs?” I asked.

“A 45-minute show of 25 sketches,” explained Sarah. “We have been there for over a year now.”

“And you also do regular shows in New York?”

“We perform there,” she said, “4-6 times a year – at the People’s Improv Theater.”

“You used to live in New York,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sarah, “but our audiences there are now packed with strangers.”

Nick laughed: “As soon as we left New York, we were huge there!”

“Talking of being big,” I said. “How come this 18-year-old from London was performing at the Hollywood Bowl when you met her?”

“She had,” said Nick, “just finished her A-levels in London on the Wednesday morning, was on a plane to Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon and was performing to the crowd of 15,000 in Los Angeles on the Saturday.”

“That doesn’t quite explain how,” I said.

“We had,” he explained, “been making, producing and co-writing sketches with Jason Mraz to promote the Hollywood Bowl show.”

“Jason,” explained Sarah, “was recording and was talking to his producer and they decided they’d like some beatboxing and his producer said: Oh, you know, there’s a girl at school with my daughter. Let me see if I can find her. So she was at home doing her homework and, within hours, she was beatboxing with this Grammy Award winner at The Rhythm Studio in London.”

“The Rhythm Studio,” said Nick, “is also where we are going to be doing one of our London workshops.”

“Well plugged,” I said.

Then, I guess, they went back to sleep.

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