Tag Archives: Irish

Comedian Christian Talbot is sh*te at being Irish + news of an ISIS fundraiser

Christian Talbot at Soho Theatre yesterday

Christian Talbot was drinking Coke at Soho Theatre yesterday

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Christian Talbot was in London yesterday so, before his flight home to Belfast, I had a chat with him.

I thought: There will be a blog in there somewhere.

Maybe I was wrong.

Maybe I was right.

Christian won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award last year with his 12-year-old daughter Kate because of her excellently cunning flyering for his show. I can’t be bothered to repeat the story. This year, Kate is appearing on stage herself.

“She’s been plaguing me,” said Christian, “for the last few weeks saying: I want to do stand-up. If we go to the Edinburgh Fringe, can I do a spot?

“So she’s going to be in a one-off children’s gig at the Freestival. I was also in touch with Comedy 4 Kids, who are running a gig at Assembly and Kate’s been offered a spot on one of their shows. And Bob Slayer has offered her a gig on his double-decker bus.”

“Has he got a name for the double-decker bus yet?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. I told him to call it The Folly.”

“I suggested Desmond,” I said. “How’s your wife?”

Kate Talbot (right) with mum Gayle: future comedians both?

Kate Talbot (right) with mum Gayle: future comedians both?

“Oh, Gayle’s doing a comedy course at the moment,” said Christian. “So she might be doing a gig in Edinburgh too.

“She says I’m hellbent on embarrassing myself by getting better comedians from the family on stage.”

“Didn’t she used to be a boxer?” I asked.

“She did used to work in a box factory,” conceded Christian.

“Does she not,” I asked, “realise there’s no money in comedy?”

“She just wanted to do it for a bit of fun, because she likes the writing. I don’t know that she will ever do a gig. She’s telling me she won’t. But then there’s Edinburgh in August.”

“Why,” I asked, “is she doing a comedy course but then says she’s not going to perform a gig?”

“She’s just awkward. Stubborn. That’s my wife. She’s contrary.”

“From County Contrary?” I asked.

“I’d like her to do a gig,” said Christian, ignoring me. “I think she’d be very good.”

“What is your show called?” I asked.

Christian Talbot ponders the title of his Ediburgh Fringe show

Christian Talbot ponders his Edinburgh Fringe show title

Christian Talbot is Shite at Being Irish. I’m really bad at being Irish. I can’t speak Irish and all Irish traditional music sounds the same to me It’s all Diddly-diddly-aye. I also don’t ‘get’ Gaelic Football and hurling.”

“Oh,” I said, “hurling is great. It’s beautiful! I used to make TV trailers for it when I worked in Dublin. Hurling in slow motion is like ballet – but interesting. I’m amazed people don’t get their heads sliced off. Gaelic Football’s graceful too. They were made for television slomos”

“A bit violent: all of them,” said Christian.

“Wildly dangerous,” I agreed. “But, in slow motion, graceful…”

“Like one of those martial arts films,” said Christian.

“Hurling and Gaelic Football,” I said enthusiastically, “are much more exciting than soccer and don’t let’s even mention cricket, the world’s most boring game.”

“I just never got into them,” said Christian, who was born and brought up in Dublin. “My dad wasn’t particularly Irish; he always watched the BBC, so I always liked Monty Python and I’ve never been a mad drinker.”

“Heard of any stunts for Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Well,” said Christian, “I see Bec Hill is renting out space on her body. If you give her clothes – like a teeshirt with an ad for your show on – she’ll wear them. She’ll wear a different set of clothes every day during her show: clothes that other people have given her to publicise their show during her show.

“And, it’s not for Edinburgh, but did you hear about Sean Hegarty over in Northern Ireland? He had a competition on his Facebook page for people to name his show in Belfast and he said whatever got the most likes would be the title… They picked ISIS Fundraiser, so now he has to go through with it under that title. Someone told me there were threats made against the venue.”

Sean Hegarty faces up to his publicity stunt

Sean Hegarty faces up to reaction

Christian told me that yesterday so, obviously, this morning I got in touch with Sean Hegarty.

“Yeah,” he told me. “The show’s going ahead on April 13th with that title, unfortunately. All press is good press, though, and I’m using it to my advantage. I’ve got in contact with the isis charity in England who support young people against sexual exploitation. So I’m hoping to do a collection for them at the end of my show. I’ve also been in contact with the police who are completely behind me and understand the predicament I’m in.”

I feel we may hear more of this.

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The early days of the Comedy Store and the alleged toilet habits of Irishmen

Tunnel Arts - Malcolm’s early management company

Malcolm Hardee’s early agenting company

In a couple of blogs this week, I quoted from a chat I had with performer Tony Green about the early days of alternative comedy in London. He remembers those days; I don’t really.

Around 1985/1986 I was a researcher on ITV show Game For a Laugh and was looking for bizarre acts. It was around that time I must have met the late Malcolm Hardee, who was agenting acts through his Tunnel Arts organisation (though the word organisation may be a slight exaggeration).

And I have a vague memory of Eddie Izzard standing in a doorway in the narrow alleyway housing the Raymond Revuebar in Soho trying to entice people into an upstairs room where he was running a comedy club. I do not remember the acts, I just remember it was rather small, brightly lit and desperate and I seem to remember the smell of seemingly irrelevant talcum powder.

“When the Comedy Store first started…” Tony Green told me, “…when anyone could go – it was Peter Rosengard’s idea – it would be a Saturday night and somebody would say:

What are you doing tonight?

I dunno really.

Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green back in the early days…(Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

You want a few free drinks? Well, there’s a place round the corner called The Comedy Store. They’ll give you a few free drinks if you get on stage and, if you do well, they may even book you and you’ll get more than a few free drinks and you’ll meet quite a lot of other comics.

Alexei Sayle was the compere. He became a writer after that. Probably gave up the ghost realising he couldn’t change the world because it’s not possible. It’s like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Tony Allen took over from Alexei and I was very happy when Tony was there because, if people gonged me off, Tony would say I’m not gonging him off because I like what he’s got to say, whereas Alexei wasn’t always quite so kind.

“You never knew what you might get on those Saturday nights. It could be quite riotous. We’d get some really nutty acts there – as far as I was concerned, the nuttier the better. Some of the people were terribly boring, but some weren’t.

Keith Allen was probably the best at that time. And there was Chris Lynam sticking a banger up his bum with The Greatest Show On Legs.

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel Club, Malcolm Hardee watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photograph by Geraint Lewis)

“My old friend Ian Hinchliffe had taken in a lodger – Captain Keano’s cousin.”

I should mention at this point that I never knowingly saw Captain Keano – a Covent Garden street performer friend of Eddie Izzard – but this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith last year told me in a blog:

“Captain Keano (Paul Keane) used to print his own money – headed The Bank of Entertainment – and give away the pound note sized currency instead of business cards. The notes had on them his phone number, a drawing of himself and the promise printed thereon: I WILL DO IT ALL – ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CALL. How innocent.”

“What did Captain Keano’s cousin do?” I asked Tony Green.

“I think his profession was that of horse-breaker,” Tony told me.

“What?” I asked.

Tony Green today remembers his early days

Tony Green today remembers tales of Irish toilets

“Breaking-in horses in Ireland,” replied Tony. “He had a very heavy Irish accent. He wasn’t always that easy to understand. A nice man, a very very heavy drinker, and as strong as an ox.

“Anyway, he needed somewhere to live and my friend Ian Hinchliffe, being the big-hearted man he was, said I’ve got a three-bedroomed place. You can come and stay with me – meaning for a few weeks.

“But, seven months later, Captain Keano’s cousin was still there.

“He was paying rent, but the problem was… I dunno… This will probably sound racist. It isn’t meant to be… There’s an Irish pub near where I live… Somebody once said to me: When you go to the toilet, why is there always shit and piss all over the floor?

“Well, a lot of Irish people I know won’t sit on the seat, because they’re afraid of getting diseases, thinking somebody sitting on that place before them may have had some kind of sexual disease. So they tend to stand on the toilet seat. Sometimes the shit – forgive me, faecal matter – would miss the toilet seat and go down the side of the toilet and very few men would actually pick it up.

“Keano’s cousin had this habit – When he went to the toilet, he would piss all over the floor and I think Ian put a sign above the toilet saying IF YOU MUST PISS – AND, OF COURSE, YOU MUST – WOULD YOU PLEASE DO IT HORIZONTALLY AS OPPOSED TO VERTICALLY.

“I’m not sure that made any sense, but he was actually saying: If you’re going to piss all over the floor, would you please wipe it up, because it’s driving me round the bend every time I myself go to the toilet. 

“After seven months Ian, possibly emulating the man’s Irish accent, told me: He’s the divil of a divil and I want him out.

“I said: What do you want me to do? Get some big, heavy team in to throw him out? He knows he’s got to go. It was supposed to be three weeks; it’s been seven months. You should never have offered it to him in the first place. That kind of hospitality is not always a good idea.

“So Ian was phoning me all the time and phoning Chris Lynam all the time.

“Eventually, Chris drove over there one night at three o’clock in the morning:

Where is he?

He’s asleep in that bedroom.

“So Chris went into the bedroom and packed Captain Keano’s cousin’s clothes into a suitcase. Chris is not the biggest of men, but he managed to throw this big horse-breaker out of the front door – he was half unconscious, from what I heard and still somewhat drunk.

“When he woke up in the morning, he was outside Ian’s front door. Ian told him he wasn’t letting him back in: he had to find somewhere else to live and he’d see him in the pub later that day. And Ian phoned up Chris to thank him for what he did.

“Next time I saw Chris – about two weeks later – I told him: That was a really good thing you did, Chris, because the man was driving Ian round the bend. But, the thing is, Chris, you’re not that big and he’s an ex-horse breaker…

“Chris looked at me in amazement and said: Did I do that?

“Chris had no recollection of doing it. I don’t know where Chris was that night in his headspace, but Ian was eternally grateful.”

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, Racism

My bedroom pin-up Nicholas Parsons and the Irish navvies in Shepherds Bush

Brian Damage at home with his painting

Brian Damage, comedian & artist, at home with his paintings

So I was talking to Brian Damage, comedian, musician and artist…

“I started as a drummer,” he told me, “because my dad brought home a drum kit. I joined a group and our first gig was for Butty Sugrue. He had put on a Muhammad Ali fight in Dublin in 1972, but he was really an Irish circus strongman who used to pull buses with his teeth and, in London, he ran the Wellington pub in Shepherd’s Bush.”

Butty reportedly died trying to carry a fridge up stairs at the Wellington pub.

So it goes.

“The pub was the size of a tennis court,” Brian Damage told me, “and Butty used to put on cabaret. The gigs used to be full of Irishmen – lots of navvies – standing. His wife was an actress and her agent also represented people like Nicholas Parsons, Joe Lynch (who was a big star at the time because of his TV series Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width) and Diana Dors (a major British film star). So you would get Diana Dors and Nicholas Parsons playing to a big room of Irish navvies in Shepherds Bush.”

I have a portrait of Nicholas Parsons above my bed

TV presenter & comedy straight man Nicholas Parsons’ portrait hangs proudly over my bed

“Nicholas Parsons was doing a stand-up act at the time?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Brian told me. “There was this tennis court sized room full of Irishmen and he’d tell a joke, then say: Right, that didn’t go down very well. But, of course, being Irish, it probably went over your heads… Fuck me, how they booed him!”

“He played there more than once?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Brian. “He was very persistent. It’s an admirable trait.”

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Extraordinarily original acts at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

Red Bastard on the cover of local magazine The List

Red Bastard on the cover of local magazine

I saw four extraordinarily vivid acts at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday.

The first was the much-talked-about Red Bastard, who manages to combine mime and verbal attacks on his audience with bits of psychology, philosophy and the hint of a dodgy cult thrown into the mix.

Oddly for a performance artist, Red Bastard also managed to work in a big dig at the Fringe itself. The one thing that was unoriginal in his act was to say that everyone involved in shows at the Fringe – the venues, the publicists, the technical people, the management, the agents – all make money – everyone except the performers. But somehow he made even that sound unexpectedly original.

The late-night vivid act I saw was Bo Burnham.

In 2010, we gave him the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award as ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’. We were right to do that. The extraordinary thing is he manages to attract large audiences of almost rock music mentality with a comedy act of genuine originality.

The moment Doug Segal ‘sold’ his idea to Copstick

The moment Doug (right) ‘sold’ his suggestion to Copstick

Sandwiched vividly between those two acts was mind-reading Doug Segal, who abandoned the normal format of his show I Can Make You a Mentalist.

Usually, a random member of the public is chosen (sometimes by throwing bricks into the audience) to be on stage and to ‘do’ the mindreading etc.

Last night, that member of the audience was pre-chosen: Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Critic Copstick becoming a mentalist with help from Doug

Copstick becoming a mentalist with Doug yesterday

This was a lesson in how to get publicity and a near-guaranteed good review for your show. Doug collared Copstick outside Bob’s Bookshop the other night and (I did not hear the exact words but) ‘sold’ her on the concept of actually taking part in his show one day.

Yesterday, that happened and Copstick was so baffled afterwards – “I have absolutely no idea how he did any of that,” she told me when she came off stage – that I cannot believe he will not get a good review.

Of course, it only works if you have a good show to begin with.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about word-of-mouth.

Scotsman journalist Claire Smith told me she had, as she came out of a show, met the next act going into the venue. It was a “dangerous harpist” act who had never been to the Fringe before and who was unbilled in the main Fringe Programme.

Claire thought this sounded like something I might like. She told me. I went. I did.

The performer is Ursula Burns.

Ursula Burns performing at the Piano Bar in Edinburgh

Ursula Burns playing her Paraguayan harp at the Piano Bar

She was born in the Falls Road, Belfast, in 1970 – not a good time or place to be born.

“Bombs, shooting, war. Miracle that I actually survived,” she tells her audience (several of whom have never heard of the Falls Road).

“Total and utter war zone,” she tells them in her Ulster accent. Then she switches to a Spanish accent to say: “Now I will sing my song for you: Being Born.”

Her aunts play the piano and sing; her grandfather was a fiddle player from Donegal; her dad “sings funny songs in bars”; and her mum plays the harp – which is why Ursula never wanted to play the harp while she was a child.

She sings comic songs while playing a very glamorous Paraguayan harp. Her songs include I’m Your Fucking Harpist and Get Divorced and Join The Circus.

When she was 14, she actually did run away from home to join the circus – “They were dark, dark times,” she told me – and, when the Fringe ends, she is going to France with the Irish Tumble Circus.

Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

Ursula, circus-trained, plays her harp on stilts in Belfast

She cannot read music but she can stilt-walk and taught herself to play the harp only when she was an adult. She accidentally won an Irish music comedy award.

During her show, she says:

“People think, because I play the harp, that I’m actually cultured. They think I care about the history of the harp and how many strings it has. They think, because I play the Paraguayan harp, that I know stuff and I’m cultured. But, actually, I just do it for the money.”

Her show is called Ursula Burns: I Do It For the Money, which is true – because she has to support her 9-year-old son who is, she says, very successfully flyering for her in Edinburgh “because he is cute and everyone likes him on sight”.

After the show – in Fingers Piano Bar at 3.10pm daily (except Mondays) until 24th August – she told me:

“I had always written funny songs and I’ve always composed music, but I never associated what I was doing with ‘Comedy’. Then I accidentally won the Irish Music Comedy Awards last year.”

“Accidentally?” I asked.

Ursula wins award (photo courtesy of thecomedyscoop.com)

Ursula accidentally wins award (photo – thecomedyscoop.com)

“I uploaded a couple of videos to YouTube,” Ursula explained. “The Hospital Song  and It Does Not Rock (aka I’m Your Fucking Harpist)

“People shared them round and a comedian in Belfast – Stephen Mullan – used it in his comedy night and he said You should forward your video to the IMCA Awards, which I’d never heard of.

“I tried, but the deadline was the next day – in March last year – and I couldn’t do it. But another guy had forwarded my details and just got in before the deadline.

“The IMCA people got in touch with me and asked me to come down to Dublin and play in the finals… and I won. I only had two funny songs at that point but, in the next month, I wrote the hour-long show.

“I had accidentally got on the comedy circuit and I found that really difficult, because I was getting up there with a harp, sandwiched on the bill between two stand-up comics. I found the comedy world quite rough; I didn’t understand it; I was a fish out of water. They were all men and I’d turn up in a ball gown with a harp. I’d won this award and people were looking at me: Go on! Prove yourself! I need good sound and some of these gigs wouldn’t even have proper sound set-ups.

“The comedy scene doesn’t pay very well. I live off gigs; I live from gig to gig. There’s months where there’s nothing coming in and my life is expensive – I have a 9 year-old son. That’s why I wrote the song I Do It For The Money. I’ve been performing all my life. I’ve paid my dues. Everyone who was on the scene when I was learning my craft has either got famous or given up, but I’ve hung in there.

UrsulaBurns_van

Ursula packs her gear into her van after the Piano Bar gig

“People said You’d go down well at the Edinburgh Fringe but, at a basic, bottom reality, I couldn’t afford to come here. So I applied to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a grant and I only found out I was getting it at the very end of June (too late to be in the Fringe Programme) and I only got the money the week before I arrived. I couldn’t have come here without their help. Sustaining yourself as an artist with a child is hard and ends do not always meet.

“When I first started,” said Ursula, “I would write really violent lyrics and put them with beautiful melodies and I would be travelling round with bands in vans. I’ve played everywhere from the Albert Hall to tube stations.

“The thing for me about the harp is breaking down the boundaries and comedy is just another aspect where I can do that. I don’t imagine that I will stay in comedy. I need to explore all things in all directions.”

She is a stilt-walking harpist who won an Irish comedy award by accident…

Only in Edinburgh during the Fringe…

Midnight Mayhew in Edinburgh last night - Don’t ask

Midnight Mayhew in Edinburgh last night – Just don’t ask

Perhaps the oddest thing I saw yesterday, though, was in the early hours of this morning at Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem show (though even he admits it is not a ‘show’) when surrealist Doctor Brown met flatulist Mr Methane. Neither had heard of the other.

The initial conversation went along the lines of:

Mr Methane: You won the Perrier Comedy Award last year without saying anything?

Doctor Brown: You fart?

Eventually, a bemused understanding was reached.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Ireland, Music

Gay love hopes of two Celtic comics dashed at Israeli killer’s comedy gig

Daphna Baram providing killer last night

Daphna Baram – killer comic last night

I went to Miss D’s Silver Hammer last night – the weekly London comedy night run by Israeli comic Daphna Baram who tends to successfully deter any potential hecklers by pointing out in advance that she has diabetes and has been trained to kill by the IDF. Not, as I at first thought, the International Diabetes Federation but the Israeli Defence Forces.

Next Monday, she has an entirely Irish group of comedians performing her day-after-St-Patrick’s-Day show, but she did pretty well on the Celtic line-up last night too.

I was there to see Irish podcast supremo Christian Talbot perform and also because he and Daphna Baram had mightily pushed to me the talents of camp-ish Dubliner Al Porter.

Also performing were two Glaswegians – non-gay Gary Sansome (soon to de-camp to Australia) and extremely talented and gay-in-both-senses-of-the-word Larry Dean.

Al Porter - ooh yes, missus, t’be sure

Al Porter last night, ooh missus, t’be sure

Al Porter was, indeed, as good as Christian and Daphna had told me. Both reckon he will become very successful very soon and he well might do, though one can never tell.

Talent is usually never enough but sure Al has the gift of rapid patter in depth, great audience controlling charm and very good clothes sense (never something to underestimate with this sort of act).

He claimed on-stage that the only reason he had accepted the gig was to meet the afore-mentioned gay Glaswegian Larry Dean who tragically, between booking and performance, had become tied-up in a monogamous relationship, thus scuppering Al’s cherished hopes.

In other circumstances, I might have thought this was part of the act.

Sadly, I fear the wreckage of Al’s shattered dreams may have been a reality.

I had been told there was an element of Frankie Howerd in Al’s act. I could see very faint traces, but only because the idea had been planted in my mind. The delivery was so fast, so smooth and so overwhelming that the act was nothing like the blessed Frankie.

Oddly, what last night reminded me of was seeing an early-ish stage performance by Steve Coogan at Manchester University Students’ Union in what, I guess, must have been 1992.

There was something about the self-confidence of the delivery and movements, something about the sharpness of the costume and something of the ambitiousness behind the eyes which reminded me of that 1992 Steve Coogan both on and off stage.

Christian and Daphna may be right.

Al Porter may well be very successful very fast.

But, as I say, you can never tell.

Sometimes talent – and even sharp, driving ambition – are not enough.

On the other hand, if I were being superficial – “perish the thought” as my dead father used to say (before his death) – a flamboyantly gay, brightly dressed, highly-self-confident Irish comedian with strong audience empathy is a good starting point and a good selling point for English and American audiences.

I expect to see him on the David Letterman show within five years.

Or maybe Al will have his own chat show in Ireland or the UK.

But my comic expectations are often dashed.

And, as I oft quote: Nobody Knows Anything (Saying © William Goldman, 1983)

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Irish comedy podcaster Christian Talbot laments the state of current British TV

Christian Talbot

Christian Talbot does not take his clothes off

Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewed at the King’s Head in Crouch End, London, by Irish comedian Christian Talbot for his weekly podcast Seven 2 Ten.

It should appear online in two or three weeks.

Comedian Daphna Baram was sitting in on the conversation.

As I was recording Christian recording me – just in case there was a blog in it somewhere – I managed to ask him a few questions.

“You said you didn’t think your act was bizarre enough for Bob Slayer to book you at The Hive during the Edinburgh Fringe last year,” I said. “Why?”

“I don’t take my clothes off,” Christian laughed.

“So how would you describe your act?”

“Cheerily grumpy,” suggested Daphna Baram.

“Grumpy, introspective, confessional,” suggested Christian.

“Why do your podcast?” I asked.

“It’s a blatant rip-off of Marc Maron’s WTF in America,” replied Christian.

“So,” I started to say, “you’re doing it to be famous…”

Christian Talbot at the King’s Head yesterday (Photograph by Daphna Baram)

Christian recorded his podcast in London yesterday (Photograph by Daphna Baram)

“No, no,” interrupted Christian. “Not at all. I just thought I’d like to hear a version of WTF for Irish comedians, because I’m interested in comedy. I’m like yourself, John. I’m really interested in comedy and I’m really interested in comedians. How they tick and how they go about the process of writing, performing. The different personalities. I’m just a big fan. I enjoy talking to the guys who’re just starting out doing open mic spots, talking to seasoned guys who’ve been doing it for years, the promoters, the writers. I get a huge amount of personal enjoyment out of it.”

“Is it going to get you anywhere?” I asked.

“No. I wouldn’t imagine it will.”

“You seem fairly sane,” I told Christian. “This is not good news for a comedian.”

“I’m quite sane, but I’m quite…A lot of comedians are quite sane.”

I raised an eyebrow as far as I could. You will not hear it on the podcast.

And, after the podcast was recorded, Christian and I had another chat.

“People like Dara Ó Briain,” I said to him, “had to come over here to England to succeed in Britain. They couldn’t stay living in Ireland and do it.”

“You have to travel,” Christian agreed. “There’s Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain… and now Jason Byrne is starting to make inroads over here. No, I don’t think you can make it big over here without being over here.”

“So you’re going to have to move,” I suggested.

“Well,” Christian mused, “it depends what your ambitions are. I don’t know if my ambitions stretch that far. I like coming over here and doing gigs, maybe getting a little bit of recognition. But I’m 40, I’ve got a wife, a 10-year-old daughter. Unless something amazing was going to happen… and, realistically, the chances of that happening are very very slim at this stage…”

“When did you start performing comedy?” I asked.

“About two and a half years ago,” Christian told me. “I’ve always been a comedy fan. I really don’t understand why I didn’t do it sooner. I should have. It’s always been in the back of my mind that I’d like to.”

“And the trigger was…?” I asked.

“I think it was the late 2000s,” said Christian. “I looked around and saw what was on the TV – and there were comedians that I liked – but you looked at some and thought How has this guy got on the TV? I can be funnier than that.

“The public seemed to want really very bland stuff then… and maybe now.

“My first comedy stand-up heroes had been people like Billy Connolly and Ben Elton – I thought Ben Elton was wonderful on Saturday Live and Friday Night Live – Fry & Laurie, Jo Brand… I don’t think you could have called any of them bland.

“I mean, Julian Clary – how could you have Julian Clary on TV now doing what he was doing then. There’s no place for him to do that. Or even Harry Enfield doing Loadsamoney or Stavros. They simply would not put him on television now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I think people are much too afraid of… Everything now is being scrutinised for being sexist, racist, homophobic… And, don’t get me wrong, I would be fervently anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist too… But they want to put on television only those shows which will appeal to the most amount of people, which is not necessarily a good thing.

“Their thinking is Now we’re going to cater for the audience rather than Hey, let’s do this and, you never know, this might become their new favourite thing.

“I think if I was a teenager now, looking at what’s out there, I don’t think I would have a favourite comedian. I don’t think there would be anybody out there that really, truly excites me on the television. I think they’re OK. I’d go Yes, he’s on the TV, he’s famous, he must be quite good but there would be nobody out there that would have me going Wow! I want to BE him!

“There are comedy shows on BBC3 which don’t have to get big ratings,” I suggested.

“There is some good stuff,” admitted Christian. “Live at the Electric is good. People like Nick Helm. OK, OK, I’ve just gone against my argument. People like Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds and Nick Helm. Russell Kane’s alright.

“But just think how hugely influential things like Saturday Live and The Comic Strip were on a whole generation of people. Not only did they inform your comedic sensibilities but also politically and socially as well. Those were comedians who were saying things about politics, particularly Ben Elton, but even Fry & Laurie. Even if it was subtle, there was a message there. There was a social message there. They got involved in things like Comic Relief and Live Aid.

“Even though programme like Friday Night Live didn’t get huge ratings, the people it got to were teenagers and young people and the influence they had was huge and immeasurable and I think we’re still getting the repercussions.

“But we don’t have anything like that in comedy at the moment. There’s nobody sticking their head above the parapet.”

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Ireland, Television

Irish YouTube sensation Rubberbandits in shock BBC Jimmy Savile revelation

(This was also published by the Huffington Post and on Indian news site WSN)

Rubberbandits bagged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

Rubberbandits bagged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

Last August, Irish musical/comedy duo Rubberbandits won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are currently over in Britain performing at London’s Soho Theatre this week and next week.

I thought it would be jolly to chat to them for this blog, because I thought there might be a chance they would pay me money in a belated, after-the-event bribe to win the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. Sadly, they preferred to do the interview by e-mail. Below is the result. I am a sadder, none-the-wiser, man.

At the time of writing this blog, their YouTube video Horse Outside has had 9,991,031 views.

Why will you only do email interviews?

We never said we only do email interviews. We said we only do face-to-bag interviews by Females.

Why the name? Shouldn’t you be called The Plastic Bag Bandits?

In Ireland, people often use plastic bags as rubbers and also carry their groceries in rubbers.

Are you THE Rubberbandits or THE Rubber Bandits or just Rubberbandits or Rubber Bandits? Why?

Rubberbandits, We don’t know why. But we know we were influenced by The Prodigy becoming Prodigy in 1995.

What’s with the bloody plastic bags on your heads anyway?

It started off as a way of frightening rats out of a house and then we kind of left them on permanently.

Has the YouTube tsunami of views on your video stuff had any good effect?

Yes, the opposite effect of a tsunami ironically.

Has the Japanese tsunami had any good effect?

Yes, actually. A lot of independent music CD warehouses were destroyed and it reduced competition in the Irish music market for a month or two. Our CDs were intact.

Has your increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award had any good effect?

Very good for our fans’ arguments in pubs back home when we get compared to Jedward.

Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back to you next week.

Yes, but only in cold war Russian money.

Why do you (and other people) think you’re funny?

We’re not funny. We’re hardcore gangsta rappers. We have no idea why people laugh at us.

What type of comedy do you do? Is it like Miranda?

It has been described as battered comedy. Like normal comedy but if it was battered and deep-fried. Miranda would get a ride.

Are you rich?

Not yet filthy, just small but grubby.

Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week. Honest.

We can give you 50 now and we’ll give you the rest four months ago. However there’s interest at 100% so technically you should owe us 200 quid by now.

Will you ever be rich? Would becoming ‘very rich’ mean you’re very good performers. If not, why not?

We will be rich. Not from performing, though. From our lucrative hot air balloon business where we encourage Americans to spit on roundabouts from 1,000 feet and take bets.

Would doing a big TV series or a movie be ‘selling out’?

Yes it would, so we’d counteract it by peppering the TV series or movie with gay sex scenes to regain some integrity and edge. Like Danny Dyer did in Borstal Boy.

Would you have been as happy just being successful in Ireland, land of your fathers?

Our fathers are from Malta. We are using Britain as a gateway to the Maltese comedy scene.

Are you playing the Edinburgh Fringe again this year?

A bit too early to say. We were told to stay away from Scotland after we fellated a tern in Orkney.

Are you performing for six-to-eight minutes on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year? If not, why not.

See tern fellation above.

Can you lend me £100? I really will give it back to you next week.

When you give us back our £200 that you owe us from four months ago, we can talk.

What’s next? How can you keep your act fresh?

We just throw the bags into a washing machine and Hey Presto!

Have you any good Jimmy Savile stories to increase the hits on my blog?

He had a spy camera on the end of his cigar. He used it to secretly film the camera man while he was on Top of the Pops. There’s a rule in the BBC that if you are filming while being filmed then you are entitled to tell the Board of Directors a big secret and, if they ever utter it, they grow a set of donkeys’ ears.

Explain the Irish ‘Troubles’ in two short sentences.

This piece of bread is just normal bread but this other piece of bread is haunted by the ghost of a bearded man from the Iron Age. Let’s fight about it.

How would you describe the people who watch you on YouTube and come to see your shows? Are they different types?

In Ireland, they are young drunk people who don’t know how to be quiet when we talk. In England, they are older beard-rubbing people who treat us like a monkey in the zoo that can talk.

Do people in the high-rise flats in North Dublin estates really take their horses up in the lifts?

Horses have an intrinsic fear of lifts, however they are quite adept at climbing stairs.

Why are the Irish funny?

Because we take the English language,  pull its pants around its ankles and ask it to walk sideways like a Saxon crab.

Can you juggle spaghetti? Would you like to try on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year?

Spaghetti juggling is racist to Italians. It would be like Morris dancing and not taking a fancy to your cousin after a bottle of elderflower wine. Or caber tossing in an Erasure T-shirt.

Seriously. Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week.

OK, here you go. But we’ve drawn missing teeth on the Queen’s grin.

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, Music

Bad language, cocaine smuggling and cavorting nuns in south west Ireland

All this week I have been in the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry in the south west of Ireland – and I have been trying to figure out some way of blogging about it without seeming to be making an Irish joke.

The English make ‘Irish’ jokes.

In Ireland, they make the same jokes about people from Kerry.

The reason for this is presumably because it so so isolated. I am told an electricity supply only reached the populated island of Valentia, opposite where I am staying, in around 1963. The mobile phone signal here varies from eccentric to non-existent (mostly the latter) and, as for high-speed broadband, you can pretty much forget it. Modems tend to be dial-up and publicly-accessible WiFi in pubs and suchlike is a futuristic concept.

But it is always good to be in Ireland.

I am Scottish. I was born in a west coast fishing town and my parents grew up in two different seaside villages in south west Scotland – all of which look and feel exactly the same as Irish seaside villages. So I feel at home in Ireland.

I worked in Dublin in the 1990s. When people used to come over from England, I made sure they knew four of the key linguistic features of the language.

1) You must never talk of the larger of the two British Isles as “the mainland” – Never ever say you have come over from or are going back to “the mainland” – This will get right up people’s noses.

2) British-style football is called “soccer” in the Republic of Ireland – “Football” here refers to Gaelic Football.

3) Never, in a pub, ask for “plain crisps” when you mean salted crisps. Crisps here (as in Irish pubs on the “mainland”) are assumed to be cheese & onion or salt & vinegar. And those two are usually the only choice.

4) Finally, more difficult to explain in print, the Republic’s national flag – the three-coloured green, white and orange flag – is not pronounced with a short initial syllable but with a long one. So it is not said to be a “trick-olour” – it is pronounced like the two words “try colour”.

Some things have changed since I last worked here. In Kerry – and, the locals tell me, now in the rest of he Republic – you are taxed on the amount of rubbish you produce. As an inevitable result, people put padlocks on their wastebins to prevent other people putting extraneous garbage into their bins. There are also tax discs on rubbish bins.

Worse still, there is a high tax on chocolate which must surely, at some time, create cross-border chocolate smuggling. When I was in Dublin, Galway etc in the 1990s, there was a fairly hefty black market trade in cigarettes because of the tax difference north and south of the Border.

The Good News upside to all this, though, is that there are no Council Taxes/rates.

The landscapes here can be spectacularly other-worldly. Apparently J.R.R.Tolkien used to come on holiday here and sketched the Skelligs – two eccentrically pointed islands (I am told) before he wrote Lord of the Rings. They certainly look like some fantastical alien planet style Middle Earthly peaks.

I have been living in a house not too far from Ballinskelligs. When I get up in the morning, there are sheep on the hillside outside with red letters of the alphabet painted on their wool – to show which have been tupped. Some farmers use red, some green, some other colours; and occasionally one farmer’s cheap green dye has been known to run in rain resulting, I am told, in green sheep.

I am also told that, rarely but occasionally, the sheep with red letters on their wool can stand in an order which accidentally spells out a word. The people I am staying with swear they once looked out their window over breakfast and saw six sheep standing in the field spelling out the word FLEECE as if they were in some animal version of Countdown.

People around here often do not make wills and, when they die, any old cousin or familiar hanger-on can claim a bit of the estate, not just the immediate family, so disputes can drag on for years. Even when a will is made there can be problems.

Recently, a local man died and, in his will, he left his house to his son but one room in the house to his daughter. The brother and sister have since fallen out. The people I am staying with do not know how the sister gets to her room via the rest of the building which the brother owns if the brother decides to be really difficult about access.

But a harsher reality sometimes intrudes even here.

Recently, two £500 million cocaine shipments (ie together they were allegedly worth £1 billion) were intercepted within two weeks, both coming in by boat.

In the first case, in keeping with Kerry, the smugglers put petrol into a diesel engine, the ship broke down and broke up on the rocks. Packages of cocaine were washing up ashore all over the place like Whisky Galore!. If anyone found a bundle, they could be made for life. A spokesman for the Gardai (the police) said these sort of shipments were happening not just in this area but in several parts of Ireland every week. It was just a matter of luck if they were able to intercept occasional ones.

When I was here in the 1990s, I was told there was a problem intercepting drugs shipments because the Coastguard had boats and were responsible for guarding the seas, while the Gardai were responsible for inland security, including rivers, but had no boats.

So drug runners would bring shipments in around the Shannon area either by air or by sea and then use the Republic’s extensive river system to transport them to other parts of the country and to the North. If the Gardai wanted to intercept or chase them, they had to find some local with a boat and beg, borrow or negotiate a deal to rent it.

Inevitably things which seem to be likely plots from a sitcom like Father Ted become reality here.

Twenty or thirty nuns regularly take their summer holidays down the road from where I have been living and they used to wear their black and white habits while here (they no longer wear the habit on holiday). They were called “the penguins” by locals and could be seen cavorting on the beach.

“Ah! The penguins are on the beach!”

Someone I know here – who swears this is 100% true – says she was on the beach one day and heard two nuns shouting to each other:

“What’s the water like, Sister Mary?”

“Feckin’ freezin’!”

My chum (a practising Catholic) was shocked a nun would say “feckin”.

I am more bemused by the fact nuns were cavorting on the beach at all.

Who knew nuns took summer holidays? Not me. What else do they do on their holidays?

“Well,” my chum explained to me, “of course they have holidays. And lots of priests go to Cheltenham over the St Patrick’s Day weekend to bet on the horses. Maybe 80% of the people at the races that weekend are Irish, the local shops accept Euros and the place is awash with priests in dog collars.”

“But didn’t Jesus throw money-lenders and money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem?” I asked.

“Maybe,” came the reply, “but I am more worried about the ‘feckin’ nuns. What sort of language is that?”

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Filed under Crime, Drugs, Ireland

London is no longer an English city and who won World War Two anyway?

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Recently, John Cleese told an Australian interviewer: “London is no longer an English city… it doesn’t feel English.”

Last night I saw Arnold Wesker‘s 1959 play The Kitchen at the National Theatre in London. It was two hours twenty minutes long.

Good acting; showy direction; but it could have done with at least an hour cut out of it, an actual central plot added in and a decent end line with a point.

What was interesting about The Kitchen, though, was that it was set in the – no surprise here – kitchen of a large restaurant in 1959 with characters who were, in alphabetical order, Cypriot, German, Irish, Italian, Jewish, West Indian and I think others… oh and English.

London, according to John Cleese, is not an English city in 2011.

But London was not an English city in 1959.

London has not been an English city for centuries – Jews, Huguenots, Flemings, Kenyan Asians, Poles, Albanians and, before them, Saxons, Normans, Danes and many many others all flooded in on different waves of immigration and invasion including the English.

The truth is, of course, that London was never an English city in the first place.

London was created by the Romans – a load of bloody Italians with all the foreign hangers-on who made up their army… all of them coming over here without a by-your-leave, taking our jobs and women and opening corner shops all over the place.

The Angles and the Saxons came later, lowering property prices in Londinium and Camulodunum – or Colchester as someone-or-other eventually re-named it. Camulodunum was not even a Roman town; the Celts had been there before the Italians arrived with their legions and ice cream shops.

The idea of London or anywhere else in ‘England’ being an English or even a British city is a myth, just as the idea that the British (and, as always, arriving late) the Americans won the Second World War is a myth.

The ‘British’ forces included Australians, Canadians, Czechs, Indians, New Zealanders, Poles, South Africans and many more troops from around the British Empire and elsewhere.

I remember a historian (an Italian one) telling me about the siege of Monte Cassino in Italy towards the end of the War. As he put it:

“A large Allied army composed of Americans, Moroccans, Algerians, Filipinos, Indians and Poles stormed the Cassino front.”

After the War, he got to know a German Panzer commander who had fought at Cardito, a hilltop a few miles away from Monte Cassino. The German remembered:

“We used to wonder each morning what colour the men coming up the hill would be that day. Coloured men of many races came up in waves. At the end of May, the Poles made it up to the top of the hill; they were the only other tall, blond men around apart from us.”

The Second World War was not won only by the British and the Americans.

And London, founded by the Romans, was not even originally an English city.

The English were and are just one group of foreign immigrants among many.

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Filed under History, Racism

The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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Filed under History, Newspapers, Politics, Sex