Tag Archives: IKEA

Yesterday was a bad day for watching others work at the coalface of comedy

Yesterday, comedian Janey Godley (of whom more later) said to me about the superfluous ‘tasks’ in the first episode of ITV1’s Show Me the Funny: “Finding someone called Michelle in a street in Liverpool does not mean you are a good comedian; it takes no comedy talent.”

Bloody right.

What on earth is the point of this show?

For no logical or demonstrable reason (apart from copying a not-very-good old TV format where comics performed in front of ‘difficult’ audiences) this week our mis-used nine comics had to perform five minutes of new material to soldiers at Catterick army camp.

Four minutes into the show, the scripted voice-over said pseudo-dramatically – “They’ll be a tough audience to please.”

Maybe. But it was not until 29 minutes into the show that the comedians actually started to perform to the audience.

Why oh why oh why do they not just Show Me The Funny?

Perhaps next year, when television screens the 100 metre race at the Olympics, the race itself will be preceded by 30 minutes of watching the athletes learn how to juggle fruit… and we will only be allowed to see glimpses of the race itself.

In this show, where the format involves writing five minutes of new material, we only get glimpses of the acts performing that material. The longest any of them got was two minutes; most got significantly less than one minute; the shortest appeared to get around 4 seconds.

Last week, I said the problem with this show was that the producers could not see the wood for the trees. We are now into another week, another simile. It is now clear they are just barking up the wrong tree.

The producers are so busy showing us irrelevant production values that they do not have any time left to show us the funny. And, because they have chopped the comedians to pieces in the edit, the person who actually comes across strongest is judge Kate Copstick whose tongue is as sharp as her Scotsman reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe. La Copstick has clearly been chopped-to-hell in the edit as well, but she still shines forth a beacon of light in her Cruella de Vil world.

Perhaps I am just becoming a grumpy old man.

A least Show Me The Funny showed us glimpses of what we were supposed to be seeing.

Yesterday, I was invited along by Sky TV to what they called a PR “junket” – which my dictionary defines as “an extravagant trip or celebration”.

Sky say that, by 2014, they will be spending £600 million on British programming and that “original British comedy provides cornerstone of Sky1 HD autumn schedule” this year.

Well, all I can say is they’d better hurry up and get their publicity act together.

I was one of six mostly-mystified people with an online presence – I think we were each supposed to be highly influential in our blogs and websites – and we were invited to “round-table interviews” with some of the talent involved in the new Sky comedy shows.

What a disastrous bit of PR. Are companies just suicidal nowadays?

“What shall we do today?”

“Oh, I know, we will see how we can damage our own brand image.”

Four months ago, I blogged about the disastrous recording session for IKEA’s ‘comedy/Friends’ commercials – it is an old blog which still gets a few hits every day or so.

IKEA promised to ply their Family Card holders with plentiful food and drink if they attended the endlessly unfunny recording of their TV ads. The food and drink which was not supplied made Southern Sudan seem like a land of milk and honey.

Sky did not promise any food or drink, so I can’t complain about the small bottles of water which were probably supplied by the excellently-run hotel where the junket took place and not by Sky.

But I can bitch about the lack of any discernible organisation.

The story was that they would screen clips from possibly four shows, then there would be these “round table interviews” with the talent. Presumably the idea was that, from these glimpses of the shows and sparkling quotes from the talent, we would write glowing online pieces which would spread the word on how good the ‘products’ are.

This was supposed to happen 5.30-7.00pm – “arrive at 5.15pm” we were told. The very efficient hotel staff showed us into a padded room. I should have started to worry at this point.

Around 5.45pm, the first appearance was made by a Sky person – a head popped round the door to say “We’re running a little late” and then disappeared.

The first ‘talent’ came into the room accompanied by a PR lady just after 6.00pm, we turned to the TV screen but there were no clips.

Perhaps later, I foolishly thought.

So we rather awkwardly asked questions of the talent who brilliantly plugged their unseen show. This was repeated with three more different groups of talent being ushered into the room (with large gaps of emptiness between) each with a different, mostly mute, PR lady. We had four bunches of talent from three new Sky series; the talent from the fourth show seemed to have wisely done a runner.

It was a magical mystery guess as to who would come through the door next. Sometimes, as they entered, we were told which show they were on; sometimes we had to guess from their faces and the single sheet press releases we had on each show.

For the record, the shows were The Cafe, Mount Pleasant and Trollied. The billed people from the Spys sitcom must have gone on an undercover mission elsewhere. It was only when we asked at the end that we discovered they were not turning up.

The show people were all rushed through to a tight deadline because, having started half an hour late, the Sky PR machine did not want to end late because they had other things to do. Poor Jane Horrocks and Jason Watkins had to try and ‘sell’ their show Trollied (set in a supermarket) in seven minutes, which they did brilliantly. But what do you ask about a show you haven’t seen which is set in a supermarket?

I asked if, because they were used to performing in studios, it was more difficult to act in the ‘real’ supermarket which Sky had built for the series.

Jane Horrocks said she had done so many ads for Tesco she felt at home in a supermarket.

I like Jane Horrocks.

But quite what we were talking about no-one really knew. Which brings us back to Janey Godley, who was one of the six influential online people invited to the junket and who said to me (I paraphrase extensively):

“You have to see clips to know what the tone is. You can shoot one idea in any number of ways. You can have a great idea badly done and it’s crap. You can have a bad idea brilliantly done and it’s wonderful.”

No clips meant we had no idea what we are supposed to be helping Sky TV promote.

I felt like asking if any of the talent had had their phones hacked by News International.

The “junket” lasted under an hour; one of us had come all the way from Devon to attend.

It all ended with a brief head popping round the door again to thank us for coming. Someone asked: “Are there any DVDs so we can see the shows?”

“Oh,” the surprised PR replied: “Send us an e-mail if you want one.”

I think a basic rule-of-thumb should be… if you are trying to kick-start good word-of-mouth in hopefully influential online sites and blogs… then show us the product.

Show Me The Funny fell at the first hurdle because it failed to Show Me The Funny.

Sky TV, trying to promote their TV shows, fell at the first hurdle because they wanted good word-of-mouth but failed to show us anything at all of the programmes.

And whatever happened to outright bribes of canapés, knick-knacks or, at the very least, an inflatable Jane Horrocks doll?

Word-of-mouth works both ways.

I will listen with interest to Janey Godley’s weekly podcast this Wednesday – after only a year, it gets over 100,000 downloads per week via multiple sites – having built on the success of her blog which, since 2004, had built up to over 500,000 hits per week on multiple sites.

I left the excellent central London hotel hosting the Sky junket – the Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place – I recommend it highly – thinking the highly-trained if rather overly-smiley hotel staff should have been arranging the PR.

Then I thought:

“Shall I slag off this shindig or not? If I do, they will never invite me to another one.”

Big decision.

“What have I really got to lose?”

The answer was obvious:

“A bottle of still water but no knick-knacks or inflatable Jane Horrocks doll.”

Lackaday! Lackaday!

Do the words Brinsley Schwarz mean nothing nowadays?

(Janey Godley’s weekly podcast also talked about this Sky junket – 10 mins 20 seconds in)

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, PR, Television

IKEA TV ads end up in the toilet at IKEA Wembley

The recent IKEA TV ads are currently playing in the toilets at the IKEA Wembley store.

I do have to say that this does show an admirably objective aesthetic judgement by someone at the company…

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, PR, Television

I am getting a Scottish passport – with Sean Connery

American comedian Lewis Schaffer recently Tweeted a #ff recommending this blog for its “casual xenophobia and non-casual name-dropping”.

Well, for sure, when Scotland gets independence, I am going to get a Scottish passport as soon as possible because it will be safer than a British or (by then) English passport.

If your aircraft gets hijacked or you get involved in any other terrorist mass hostage situation, the first people to be shot are the Americans – obviously – or sometimes the Israelis who, for some semi-mystifying reason count as Americans in such situations.

The next to be shot – depending on the former colonial history of the people with the guns and the bad attitude problem are either the British or the French.

The last people to get shot are likely to be Irish or Swiss passport holders… The Irish because even the most uneducated terrorist has probably heard of the IRA and you don’t shoot your own; it’s like Toyota owners being polite to each other on the roads in Britain. And the Swiss are fairly safe because even the most uneducated terrorist is likely to know the Swiss are neutral in everything and have never done anything – they did not even invent the cuckoo clock.

It’s also probable, of course, that most terrorist organisations bank with the Swiss and you don’t want to annoy people who are giving you a good interest rate and hiding your identity from the CIA, the NSA and MI6.

So I am going to get a Scottish passport when Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom.

I have no idea why Lewis Schaffer – who continues to appear on stage every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in London’s longest-running solo comedy show at The Source Below in Soho – should complain about name-dropping.

But, then, he’s a New York Jew.

What does a colonial kid like that know?

Marilyn Monroe once reportedly asked Laurence Olivier when being served doughy things at a Jewish dinner while they were filming The Prince and The Showgirl in London:

“What are those?”

“They’re matzoh balls, Marilyn,” Olivier told her.

“Gee, Laurence,” she replied, “Don’t they eat any other part of a matzoh?”

Also has the otherwise street-savvy Lewis never heard of adding random Tags to blogs to try to get extra hits? I haven’t even mentioned the racist Britney Spears animal sex tape scandal involving Prince William, Kate Middleton and Justin Bieber referred-to by the porno stand-up comics in the inept IKEA ad currently running on British television but obviously not on the hardcore sex channels nor on Colonel Gaddafi’s cage-fighting Libyan TV channel? The one with the trans-sexual goldfish. Nor have I mentioned granny sex (popular with Lewis). Nor Japanese schoolgirl facials.

What is it with the Japanese and sperm?

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Internet, PR, Sex

How to pretend in a blog that you are successful in showbusiness by targeted, relentless b***sh****ng…

Three things have always held me back from a glittering and financially wildly successful career in showbiz: I’m not gay, I’m not Jewish and I’m shit at schmoozing.

Ooh – and I’m spectacularly lacking in any discernible performing talent of any kind.

However, I can bullshit quite well after many years of turning occasional sows’ ears of TV schedules into silk purses in on-air channel trailers.

Someone bemoaning the naivety of North Korean government propaganda in the 1980s once said to me: “You can only do good propaganda if you do NOT believe in what you’re saying. The trouble we have here is that these people believe what they’re saying.”

So, with that in mind, let me tell you all about my glamour-filled afternoon in London’s showbizzy Soho district yesterday.

After lunch, I went to St Martin’s College of Art in Charing Cross Road, forever immortalised in Pulp’s Top Ten hit Common People – “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge… She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College”.

(See what I did there? It might have sounded irrelevant, but you get tiny amounts of reflected glory from selective name-dropping. Unless that name is Gary Glitter)

The comedian Charmian Hughes was already at the photo studio in St Martin’s, getting publicity shots taken for her upcoming Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments.

(Always mention quality show names in passing and, again, you will get some slight reflected glory. Never mention inept productions unless it’s the current IKEA TV ad and even then only if you’re trying to capitalise on shitloads of previous hits on your blog.)

I was at St Martin’s to get photos taken of myself for use as publicity at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I know, up there in August, I will be directing one show, producing another and chairing two debates.

(Always self-promote, however crass it seems. All publicity is good publicity, unless it involves Gary Glitter.)

Director Mel Brooks once told me (name-drop) during a very brief encounter:

“Always open your mouth when you do it – a publicity shot. It makes you look happier, more extrovert, more full of confidence and that’s half the job!”

A female comedienne, who had better remain nameless (never annoy the Talent) once told me:

“Don’t allow the photographer to take shots of you from a level lower than your chin because a shot taken looking upwards at your face will accentuate any double chins, jowls and flabby bits.”

And I learned a lot once by going to a photo shoot with the very lovely Isla St Clair (name-drop) who was a revelation (give credit where credit is due), offering the camera a continually changing range of angles and expressions for the photographer to choose from.

I am not a natural and I tried my best at St Martin’s, though I seem to have trouble doing that old Hollywood standby – looking over my shoulder at the camera. My neck – like my good self, perhaps – seems to be either too thick or too stiff.

(Self-deprecation can be appealing in the UK, though don’t try it in the US – they see it as lack of self-confidence.)

I hate photos of myself. I may be turning into a luvvie, but I have always realised one thing – I am very definitely not photogenic. (Again, use self-deprecation sparingly if you have a US audience)

Towards the end of the photo session, I started jumping in the air, something The Beatles (name-drop) did much more successfully on a beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1963. My legs are not as good as the 21 year old Paul McCartney’s. (name-drop combined with self-deprecation)

At the very end of the session, I was pouring water into my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it turned out not to be. Don’t ask.

After that, I went off to Leicester Square to have tea with stand-up comedian, qualified psychotherapist and occasional PR/marketing guru Shelley Cooper. She told me she has accidentally developed a new on-stage confidence and I advised her to adopt a new approach to performing her comedy. I told her:

“Don’t think of writing comedy material. Instead, think of what really, genuinely gets up your nose, go on stage and rant about it and, through personality, natural comic tendencies and experience, the comedy element will add itself in.”

(That’s more than a bit pompous and a therefore a bit iffy, but the pro factor of being seen to give advice to a psychotherapist probably just-about outweighs the negative factors.)

As I left Shelley outside the Prince Charles Cinema, she turned left, I turned right and almost immediately I bumped into John Park, editor of Fringe Report – he is the man who did not design the Baghdad metro system. I always think he did, but he didn’t. It’s a long story. I still lament the passing of his monthly Fringe Report parties. Fringe Report also gave me an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’ – basically an award for being the best awarder of awards – something which has always endeared them and him to me. (True, but beware of too-blatant crawling to John Park)

John P told me he has written a play about love called Wild Elusive Butterfly which the Wireless Theatre Company will be recording in the next couple of months for internet streaming and download.

(Always plug something which sounds like it may be very good in the hope of some reflected glory.)

“Is it all singing, all dancing and with a dolphin in it?” I asked John P.

“You know?” he asked me. “Someone mentioned it?”

“Eh?”

“We have a porpoise,” John told me.

“You have a purpose?”

“We have a porpoise – in the play. You know the story of Freddie the Dolphin?”

“I don’t.”

“There was a court case where a man was accused of assaulting a dolphin because he…”

“Ah!,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “The dolphin-wanking case! I loved it.”

In 1991, animal-rights campaigner Alan Cooper was accused in Newcastle of “outraging public decency” with local aquatic celebrity Freddie The Dolphin by masturbating the dolphin’s penis with his armpit.

“In court,” explained John, “one of the Defence Counsel’s angles was that a dolphin’s penis is a means of communication.”

“I heard it’s not uncommon,” I said. “All round Britain, dolphins are swimming up to people and sticking their penises in the swimmers’ armpits to have a wank. People are too embarrassed to complain or even mention it and you can hardly prosecute a dolphin for sexual harassment. I think that the…”

“Anyway,” said John, “it was a great line and I felt had to have it in the play. A dolphin’s penis is a means of communication. A great line. Although, in my play, it’s a porpoise. I think they may be different.”

“Everyone needs a purpose,” I said.

“I think I have to be going,” said John, looking at his watch.

(When in doubt, make up dialogue, but keep it close to what was actually said and try to add in a dash of self-deprecating humour, if possible. Unless you are trying to impress people in the US.)

Glamour? Glitz? Showbiz sparkle?

I live it every day, luv.

While we were walking through Soho, Shelley Cooper said to me: “That was Suggs.”

“What?”

“On that corner, back there. That was Suggs of Madness talking to Boy George’s ex-boyfriend.”

“Did he recognise me?”

“It’s unlikely,” Shelley said.

“I suppose so,” I agreed.

By the way, the dolphin man was found innocent after several expert witnesses were called.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Crime, Movies, PR, Sex, Television, Theatre

The bum-numbing recording of that IKEA ad and the Auschwitz Factor in live audience shows

What is it with my blog about the TV recording of the IKEA ad which I posted on 10th March – almost a month ago?

I have been blogging seriously (perhaps that’s the wrong word) since December and I now get fairly healthy hits on my blog but, yesterday, the hits went through the roof and early this morning – between midnight yesterday and 0230 this morning – the IKEA blog on its own got more hits than I normally get in an entire day.

Who is up at 0230 apart from me, burglars, comedians and the incontinent?

The answer seems to be that people were re-Tweeting the link to the blog and, also, I got an e-mail from someone saying “Loved your blog… have passed it around the ad industry”.

Maybe ad men have weak bladders and like to see other ad people score own goals.

The hits went even more apeshit later this morning when people other than incontinent ad men woke up.

The irony is I have still not seen the actual ad itself on broadcast TV – only the version on YouTube.

My friend who went with me to the recording is equally bemused about the number of hits on my blog and clearly – possibly permanently – emotionally scarred by the IKEA recording experience, appears to have turned to hallucinogenic drugs because yesterday he asked me:

“Do you think it was a real ad? I’ve not seen it on TV. You’ve not seen it on TV. They surely can’t be broadcasting a furniture ad on television making a joke about women weeing themselves? Maybe they were just pretending to make an ad for some reason and were filming our reactions to it for some other reason. It can’t have been a real ad.”

“But,” I told him. “It’s IKEA. They’re Swedish. They’re not known for their surreal humour.”

“It just can’t have been real.” my friend replied. “Maybe they were researching something. Maybe it was an experiment of some kind. You were there. Did it look like they were filming a real ad.”

“Well…” I said.

But I’m increasingly pleased I was there.

Someone commented yesterday that they couldn’t understand why the audience at the recording didn’t leave.

It’s a very interesting question indeed.

Partly the answer is, I think, that only people on the ends of rows in audience seating can leave without drawing attention to themselves; partly I guess it is because, if a couple leave, it feels to them that it is they who are are the odd ones out, not the people who stay. Partly it may be that, in a bad situation, you simply hope against hope that the horror will diminish.

I guess the main answer is that there is some strange human urge not to move in awful situations: like rabbits in an oncoming car’s headlights. When people are herded together in large groups in a forest or in a camp and know they are going to be killed, by and large, they don’t run. They walk to their deaths. It’s the Auschwitz Factor. I’m sorry if that offends anyone by trivialising the Holocaust, but it’s true. I know they thought they were going into showers at Auschwitz, but the general principle is true. Given the option of certain death if they stay or probable death if they run, people tend to choose certain death. People in forests dug their own graves and stood on the edge of the pits waiting to be shot.

I once sat through Luchino Visconti’s movie The Damned in the totally full late lamented Hampstead Classic cinema. It was the dullest film I have ever seen in my life and, trust me, I have sat through some dull films. Killer Bitch may have had – errm – “mixed reviews” but one thing it certainly ain’t is dull.

The Damned runs 155 minutes: that’s two hours and a very long 35 minutes. It was so dull that, after about four minutes, I actually started to time how long it would be before someone in the movie went into an exterior scene. But I sat through the whole godawful 155 minutes. My problem was I was in the middle of the front row in the balcony and, being British, I didn’t want to cause chaos and draw attention to myself by leaving and getting people to stand up all the way along the row.

It was also a revelation to see how anyone could make a film with mass murder, rape, orgies, Nazis, nudity and every excess you can possibly imagine into such a bum-numbingly dull movie.

Alright, The Damned is the second dullest movie I have ever seen. I actually DID walk out of Football as Never Before (Fußball wie noch nie) after about 40 minutes of tedium. There are limits which even I have.

But, in general, after a certain time has passed, people will sit through something really bad until the bitter end. And ‘bad’ can be good in a masochistic way.

When a really truly bad bad bad comedian is on stage, it draws other comedians who huddle together at the back of the room to watch the car crash of a performance happening in front of their eyes.

In 1980, Peter O’Toole appeared in a stage production of Macbeth at the Old Vic in London which was said to be so awful that people queued there and around the country to see it. I tried to buy a ticket at the time. You couldn’t get one anywhere. It was a box office smash.

As someone who has been involved in live audience shows for TV and for stage – and who spent 20+ years making TV promotions – I was fascinated at the IKEA ad recording to see how inept the production could get and if there were any way they could manage to pull the thing together.

I wanted to see the whole ghastly thing through to the end in case there was any glorious climax where the production team pulled something unexpected out of an invisible hat or the audience turned on the production team, tore them limb from limb and ate their entrails with tomato ketchup (not that there was any tomato ketchup).

After wasting a certain amount of time, you have to calculate if spending more time may result in a lower waste-per-minute average. How that is calculated will probably be studied by some university academic on a £1 million grant. If you hear of that happening, please tell me as I’d like to share a bit of that dosh and make my IKEA ad time worthwhile.

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Movies, PR, Television

IKEA – the dreaded ad revealed at last

I wrote a blog almost three weeks ago about the chaotic recording of a TV ad for IKEA.

Apparently the ad is now on air, though I’ve not yet seen it.

If you have seen the ad but not read the blog, you may want to read it here.

If you have read the blog but not seen the ad, you might want to see it here.

Or maybe not.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ad industry, Television

How to rip off an incompetent ad agency with only fish and a Japanese rock band: advice from Bob Slayer

In response to yesterday’s blog about the chaos surrounding the shooting of IKEA’s latest TV commercial, rock ’n’ roll comedian Bob Slayer sent me this fine example of how other people’s incompetence can make you money… I highly recommend watching the video he mentions.

Bob says of yesterday’s blog:

__________

I have had similar ‘fun’ times with advertising agencies and, one year, made quite a lot of cash out of a German agency on a campaign for Shockwaves hair gel.

They really liked some videos I had made for the Japanese band I was managing – Electric Eel Shock – and so they flew me and a crew out to Japan to make some more. We had a lovely time and did a load of filming for a TV series called How 2 Fish Rock & Roll Style

When we got back to the UK and all the money had been spent, the ad agency suddenly told us that Shockwaves could not use any advertising with live or even fake fish in it.

Proctor and Gamble, the company who owned Shockwaves, had a company-wide rule that no animals could be used in their marketing – the reason being that they didn’t want to rattle the cages of any animal rights campaigners. They already had enough problems because of the amount of shampoo they claimed that they needed to squirt into rabbits’ eyeballs on a daily basis just so that we can have a squint-free shower in the morning.

When it came to the ad agency settling my invoice, instead of paying me the remaining 25% I was due, they paid me 100% – which I kept as a cancellation fee.

We were only one part of a bigger campaign – all of which had to be binned because the ad agency guy had not got it cleared by the client before starting to spend money.

I think the agency had to carry all the costs and the guy behind it got the sack…

Here is one of the videos we made with Electric Eel Shock for How to Fish Rock & Roll Style. As you can see, we were mostly pissed and high when making them.

We took all mention of Shockwaves out of the other videos – but I liked it in this last one, so I  left it in and added a cheeky disclaimer at the end.

They asked me to take it down but I ignored them…

__________

But enough of Bob Slayer.

Back to me again – John Fleming. The one with the very active Facebook page you can befriend and the less active Twitter feed you can follow…

Can I point out that Electric Eel Shock provided a lot of the music for last year’s culturally significant movie Killer Bitch and that they and Bob Slayer appeared in the film? Bob was killed by having his head smashed in. One of the band members was killed by having a fish stuffed down his throat.

He likes big fish.

A lot.

He enjoyed filming the sequence.

Just thought I’d mention it.

Normal blogging will resume tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Movies, PR, Record Industry, Television