Tag Archives: humour

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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How to perform a comedy show to an audience with dementia in a care home

Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project

So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…

“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”

“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”

“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”

“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”

“And these shows lead to?” I asked.

“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”

“What is limbic?” I asked.

Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)

“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”

“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”

“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.

“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”

“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”

“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”

“At what age?” I asked.

“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”

“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.

Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea

“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”

“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”

“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”

“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”

“Of course you can,” he told me.

“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”

“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.

“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.

“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”

“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”

“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”

“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.

October 2nd Benefit before the gig on 9th

“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”

“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”

“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”

“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.

“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.

“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.

“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”

“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”

Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”

“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”

“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”

“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”

“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.

“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”

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Comedian Malcolm Hardee’s two bids to get elected as Member of Parliament


Today is General Election Day in the UK.

Below are three extracts from the late Malcolm Hardee’s increasingly prestigious autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (reviews HERE), published in 1996


Politics has never had any great effect on my life. I remember when I was a kid Labour seemed ‘common’ and the Conservatives seemed ‘not common’. That seemed to be the case.

When I was a kid, I remember a Mr and Mrs Minns.

On the left side of their bay window, they had a poster saying:

VOTE CONSERVATIVE

And on the right side:

VOTE LABOUR

I wondered how they got on together. They seemed very happily married.

Malcolm Hardee’s election reaction

I stood for Parliament in the very important Greenwich by-election in 1987 when Rosie Barnes stood for the SDP and Deirdre Wood was standing for the Labour Party. Everyone expected Labour to win in Greenwich but Rosie Barnes won.

I was supported by The Rainbow Alliance, who were loosely linked to The Monster Raving Loony Party. They linked up on this election and I met David – Screaming Lord – Sutch. He was broke and living with his mum at the time. He was ringing up from phone boxes trying to get his £500 deposit together.

The Rainbow Alliance was run by a peculiar old hippy called George Weiss. He had got a lot of money from his parents who were in the jewellery and silverware business and he’d blown it by gambling and betting on himself winning these elections, which he never did. I think he is convinced that one day he will win. He wanted computer-based referenda and Peace and Love all over the world. He always wanted to be a ‘personality’ but never managed it. His idea of humour was carrying a Gonk about – one of those stuffed toys that were popular in the 1960s.

George had come to the Tunnel Club which I ran and he wanted Jools Holland to run for The Rainbow Alliance in Greenwich. Jools didn’t want to appear to be a fool, so said he didn’t want to run but agreed to be my sponsor and Rainbow George put up my £500 deposit.

I ran for election under the banner THE RAINBOW ALLIANCE BEER, FAGS AND SKITTLES PARTY and we got an enormous amount of press and TV coverage because everyone thought it was going to be the last by-election before the General Election.

It was a good laugh, especially when I went to the count. The Great British public’s ignorance knows no bounds. It must be the easiest thing in the world to put an ‘X’ next to a candidate’s name. Some people had put ticks. A few had put marks out of ten. Some had voted for them all.

I got 174 votes. I beat the Communist Party. And I beat the National Front, which takes some doing because there’s strong support for them in the area.


In fact, Malcolm’s memory about the exact number of votes he received was – much like Malcolm – not exactly 100% dependable…

Numerical accuracy put on one side, Malcolm continued…


At that time, the comedy agent Addison Cresswell was very left wing and was handling all the Red Wedge tours. He phoned me up and went mad at me because I was standing. He thought I’d take votes from the Labour Party which might have an effect if it was a close-run thing. In the event, their candidate lost by a lot more than 174.

If I had thought more seriously about it, part of my Manifesto could actually have won it for me. This was Bring Charlton Athletic Back to The Valley. Charlton is the local football club and The Valley was their ground. At the time, they had to play at Crystal Palace’s ground. If I had got the whole of the Charlton Football Supporters’ Club on my side, I would have got enough votes to win it. Four years later, they did form a Valley Party for the local elections and they did get a counsellor in and did get Charlton back to The Valley.

My other Manifesto ideas were a cable car for pensioners to the top of Greenwich Hill (This has since been successfully suggested by the Millennium Committee)…Proper rides at the funfair and proper prizes….Bringing proper fog back to London for old times’ sake….And concreting the Thames so people can travel about easier.

I’ve always felt detached from politics because Government represents authority whether Labour or Conservative. The strangest thing I noticed, when I was in prison, was that prisoners always had a better deal under a Right Wing government. Parole came in under a Conservative government. One-Third and later One-Half Remission came in under a Conservative government. I also used to think that, when a Conservative government was in power, the prison officers themselves were happier and therefore the prisoners got treated better.

*  *  *

I stood for Parliament again in the 1991 General Election and put up my own money because you get a free mailout to every constituent in the borough. That’s about 42,000 people in Greenwich. I simply selected the addresses of people who might turn up to Up The Creek and got a mailout to about 10,000 people for nothing. Normally it would cost £2,500 in postage alone; it only cost me my £500 Election Deposit which I lost by standing.

*  *  *

I’m thinking of running for Parliament again and think I have a bit of a chance this time. Someone once called himself the Literal Party at a by-election and he didn’t lose his deposit because a lot of people voted for him thinking he was the Liberal Party. He had used the same typeface as them on his election literature. He got loads of votes. Nearly got in. The real Liberal candidate complained because he reckoned he would have got in if this bloke hadn’t ‘stolen’ his votes.

So I’m going to call my party Old Labour.


In fact, despite writing the book in 1995, Malcolm (and I) got the date wrong. The General Election was in 1992 not 1991. There is a BBC News clip on YouTube of that 1992 Greenwich election result being announced, with Malcolm reacting behind the officiating electoral officer.

 

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Human pups, video nasties, stuffed rats, Dead Elvis and sex – with Tony Hickson

I bumped into Tony Hickson at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden and he asked me if I wanted to hear about Dogboy – his ‘dogumentary’ film – not a documentary, a DOGumentary – about human pups. So, a few days later, we met at the Soho Theatre Bar. The up-market glamour of my life never ends.

“Human pups?” I asked.

“You must know what they are, John.”

“There is,” I said, falteringly, “some sub-culture where people dress up in furry animal costumes and have sex.”

“No,” said Tony. “Those are Furries. The human puppy thing is mostly latex and a bit of bondage stuff and dog leads and that sort of thing. One of the people in the dogumentary used to be a Furry.”

Tony Hickson directed the new DOGumentary

“Why did he change?” I asked.

“He was drawn to the dog thing, dressing up with the mask and all that.”

“Do they dress up as specific dogs?” I asked. “Are there human chihuahuas and human King Charles spaniels?”

“Now you are just,” said Tony, “being silly.”

“No,” I said. “When you say ‘dress up as a dog’ do you actually mean fur and ears and …”

“More a PVC suit with a dog’s head,” said Tony. “PVC or leather. Not fur.”

“Rather un-dog-like, then,” I suggested. “More BDSM.”

“I did ask them,” said Tony, “whether it was sexual or not. They said it wasn’t. They said it was about being in the headspace of master and servant and roleplaying.”

“How did you stumble on this sub-culture?” I asked.

“I was driving along the seafront at Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear and one of them was walking along and he was on a lead. So I stopped and asked: Can I make a documentary about you?”

“Was he on all fours?” I asked.

“No, just walking normally.”

“That’s not being a dog at all!” I complained.

“But,” explained Tony, “if you were on your knees, it would take you ages to walk along the seafront.”

Dogboy with his ‘handler’ shopping in Newcastle city centre

“How long is the Dogboy dogumantary?” I asked.

“22 minutes. I made it for Made Television in Newcastle and their slots are 22 minutes.”

“They screened it?”

“No. They didn’t like the subject matter though there’s no sex in it and it’s not dirty in any way.”

“Have they transmitted other stuff of yours?”

“Yes. A documentary about gurning. I won the South East England Gurning Championships.”

“In the DOGumentary,” I asked, “were the people OK with being identified?”

“One of them never takes his mask off, but his handler doesn’t wear a mask.”

“That’s the official name, is it?” I asked. “Handler?”

“Yeah.”

“What do they do? Just walk along seafronts?”

“They go to meet-ups with other pups.”

“Do they smell each other’s bottoms?”

“I never asked that.”

“Do they urinate on lamp posts?”

“I never asked that. You are going a bit Channel Five here, John.”

Dogboy plays with his bone and ball in Tony Hickson’s film

“I still can’t get my head round what they do. Do they just walk along seafronts and go to meet-ups where they bark at each other?”

“No,” Tony replied. “They play with their rubber bones and their balls.”

“Have you tried any of this yourself?” I asked.

“No. Personally, I can’t really see the point.”

“Do women get involved?”

Yes, but it’s mostly just men.”

“So not much bitching?”

“No.”

“Do they go dogging?”

“I never asked that.”

“So you have made documentaries on gurning and this human puppy thing. What else?”

“I normally make short cartoons. I did make a horror film called Nasty Splurty Brains in 1992 but didn’t start submitting it to festivals until about 2002. It was banned in Scarborough.”

“Banned in Scarborough?” I asked. “Surely not. Why?”

“In 2004 or 2005, there was going to be a film festival in Scarborough called Whitby Shorts and the Council were humming and hahing: Oh! You’ll need a licence and the films will need to be licensed! which was bullshit. So I thought: How can I turn this to my advantage? The BBFC have got a list of video nasties and there’s a copy on Wikipedia, so I added Nasty Splurty Brains at the bottom of the list. Then I wrote to the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association saying: It’s on the list of video nasties! and they got onto Scarborough Borough Council and it was banned because it was on the BBFC list.”

“That’s an interesting piece of alternative marketing,” I said.

Where’s Mary? – legally, Tony’s short film obviously can’t say.

“I also made a 10-minute puppet film called Where’s Mary?” said Tony.

“Who is Mary?”

Mary Bell.”

“Oh Jesus!” I said. “Let’s keep off that!”

“It did not get banned,” Tony continued, “but I got a lot of heat. A few death threats.”

“What was the basis of the film?” I asked.

“A child killing other children. A puppet film. Originally, it was going to be more esoteric and experimental, but then I shifted it to puppets. I sold it to the Horror Channel. They went bankrupt.”

“Your other films?” I asked.

I Suck Your Guts – full of movie moments we will never share

“I started making a feature film called I Suck Your Guts around 2012. It was about time-travelling Nazi zombies. But it never got finished, because I fell out with the writer.

“I studied TV and video production at college in Newcastle and worked in corporate video in the late 1980s.

“I stopped making films when I came to London in 1991 because I just ended up working in shoe shops and record shops. I got back into film-making in about 2005 because I started to enjoy it again. Shall I tell you about Dead Elvis?”

“Oh, go on, then.”

“I first started performing as Dead Elvis when I left the circus.”

Circus boy Tony on trapeze at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle

“The circus?” I asked.

“Before I was an actor, I was in the circus. I trained as a trapeze artist and ended up doing knife-throwing and fire-eating for Zippo’s Circus and at a circus called The Foolhardy Folk up in Norfolk.

“I did about five years in the circus but then I got bored. The novelty wears off. Then I came up with a cabaret idea called Dead Elvis around 1998, based on a 1980s drag performer called Dead Marilyn. He did Marilyn Monroe… after she was dead.”

“Did you have much success as Dead Elvis?” I asked.

“I was in a programme on Channel Five.

Dead Elvis supported the 1998 Scottish football team

“And I was in the 1998 Scottish World Cup video as Elvis – not Dead Elvis, just normal Elvis.”

“Why did they have Elvis in the Scottish World Cup video?”

“Because it was filmed at Prestwick Airport, which is the only place in the UK that Elvis ever visited.”

“And Dead Elvis?” I prompted.

“When I did live events, people hated it. I used to sing Suspicious Minds and there’s a part where the lyrics say Dry the tears from your eyes and I had this plastic Madonna on stage which squirted water out of its eyes. And I would sit on a toilet and pull the chain and there was a pyrotechnic which exploded and blew glitter everywhere. But the audience just didn’t get it and I would get booed off stage and I thought: I’m wasting me time here.”

“Would you revive the Dead Elvis to perform it again today?”

“No. There’s lots of people doing it now. Even when I was doing it, there was the Lesbian Elvis, there was the little one – Elfis –  and there was Elephant Man Elvis. Then there was El-vez (the Mexican Elvis) and there was Harry Singh – he was the Sikh Elvis, back in the 1980s with Don’t Step on My Popadoms.”

Tony as Dead Elvis in Jesmond Graveyard on New Year’s Day 1997, shortly before getting thrown out for climbing on graves

“You seem to have had a few careers,” I observed.

“Round about 2008 or 2009 I was a paparazzo photographer in London. I did get Kate Moss once, when she came out of a taxi. I had thought it was going to be Jarvis Cocker but it was Kate Moss and Pete Doherty was with her and she had his guitar in her hand so it looked quite cool.

“As she walked by, I was pressing the button on my camera and the flash didn’t go off and she said: Yer flash is really shit and, for some reason I apologised to her – Oh, sorry.

“On my way home, I threw my flash over Waterloo Bridge into the water. Pete Doherty was always pissed, he always looked like a bag of shit so pictures of him were guaranteed to sell.”

“But I get the impression,” I said, “that you really want to make movies now.”

“In 2015,” Tony told me, “I did a Masters degree in screenwriting at the London College of Communication.”

“And you have made films since then?” I asked.

Ratty etc – such stuff as dreams are made on

“There was Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader. I made it in 2015. It was screened at about five film festivals including one in China and at the Anča International Animation Festival in Slovakia.

“It uses rats. Proper rats. The rats are dead. One of my hobbies is taxidermy, so I just bought a rat, two mice and a gerbil from the local pet shop and stuffed them. They were dead before I stuffed them.”

“Do pet shops,” I asked, “sell dead rodents?”

“Yeah. For snake food. Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader is good. It’s quality. People hated it though… Obviously.”

“Did the stuffed rat move?” I asked.

“Yes. I moved it with me hand. Like a puppet. There was a film festival in Brighton where they brought in kids from the local autistic school.”

“Please tell me you didn’t stuff them,” I said.

“No. But one of the kids saw Captain Ratty on the screen and he freaked out. He had to be taken from the hall. He didn’t like it. But it is a good film. Highly recommended.”

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