On the next four Wednesdays, there is filming at the same Islington venue of an Italian-language show for the internet.
And, on 28th November, there is another Il Puma Londinese show at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden.
So I chatted to Romina…
JOHN:Il Puma Londinese ran until October 2016 then stopped. Why?
ROMINA:Giada Garofalo had been helping me with the night and she went back to Italy. I was too tired. I needed a break. And when I came back from the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I said: I’m not going to do comedy any more!
JOHN: But now you’re back again. What made you start again in September this year?
ROMINA: Well, it’s what you like to do and you miss it after a while and you need to carry on. It was a show I did in December 2018 for Radu Isac, the Romanian comic. He had a free slot in one of his shows and asked me to perform all in Italian. It went really well.
JOHN: So Il Puma Londinese is back again in Camden on 28th November with stand-up acts in Italian and in English.
JOHN: But The Puma Goes Wild – The shows in Islington/Angel. They’re not straight stand-up comedy shows…
ROMINA: I wanted to do something different. So I am the only stand-up. The others are all surreal, weird, character, impro, sketch – all other styles. I’m trying to create an English/British following because, before, my audience were mostly Italian.
JOHN: And the Puma Goes Wild nights are in English.
ROMINA: Well, they can perform in any language they like. French, English, Italian, Spanish – any language. If it’s that type of comedy – surreal, impro – people will more-or-less understand in any language. Whereas, with stand-up, you need to know the language.
So far, I’ve always had an improv group who perform in Italian. All the others have been in English, including me.
JOHN: Would mime groups perform in English?
ROMINA: I still haven’t had a mime.
JOHN: What were you doing when you were having a break from comedy?
ROMINA: Recipe videos… Italian recipes online. There are lots of recipe/cookery groups on Facebook.
JOHN: And getting a following?
ROMINA: From America mainly. I was doing it in English. An Italian recipe, Italian cuisine, but in English.
JOHN: Any chance of a TV version in Italy?
ROMINA: Well, as you’ve mentioned it, there is an Italian online TV service based in London – Tele Londra – and this Wednesday in the Puma Goes Wild venue in Angel – we are recording a competition show – Il Puma Londinese Approda su Tele Londra – four episodes with me as MC, all in Italian.
JOHN: A competition show?
ROMINA: Two acts will compete against each other. The audience decides who wins. The final will be recorded on 4th December.
JOHN: Recorded. Not live.
ROMINA: At first, they wanted to stream it all live, but then they were too worried about the signal.
JOHN: Will there be further ones after the initial four?
ROMINA: We will show it to people and see if we can find a sponsor for next year.
JOHN: Other plans?
ROMINA: I am preparing a new stage show.
ROMINA: Well, the title is Freewheeling. It’s mainstream, light, fun. I’ve been asked to do the show in Italy next year, in Turin.
JOHN: Where are you from?
ROMINA: Near Milan.
JOHN: Oh, just round the corner from Turin. That would be your first time performing in Italy?
ROMINA: With a full hour show, yes.
JOHN: Why Turin?
ROMINA: I know a girl who runs a comedy night there and she asked me. I would also do it in London.
JOHN: And at the Edinburgh Fringe next August?
ROMINA: I’m not sure I’m keen on Edinburgh any more. After my last one – It’s All My Mother’s Fault – I… Well, you spend a lot of money just to be in the brochure and it doesn’t really help to get audiences in, so what’s the point? My plan is to go round the UK on my own – various cities – without festivals, getting people in via Facebook and so on.
I just shared my ideas on why Copstick is so important – to remind us of the need to be passionate about comedy – The fact that comedy and the arts in general should be about passion. So the passion that she’s bringing to her criticism I think is very important. It is very important to remind us of that. And (speaking to Copstick) also the original way of thinking you are bringing to it and that you apply to this one as well – to the way you approach problems in Africa. I really see…
This is the Mama Biashara charity?
It was just… (a) it was absolutely glorious and (b) it was really well written.
Your English is so good.
Somebody posted a link to that article with the comment: Who is that cunt? And I was really offended by that little, vile word.
JOHN & GIACINTO (together) Who!
After six years in comedy! Come on! Hopefully this will get me a bit more known.
Hopefully, the next time I do something like this, they will say: Oh! I know that cunt!
You could put on your posters That Cunt.
Giacinto has spawned, really, what is turning into an entire genre because, the author of that brilliant interrogative Who is that cunt? followed it up with – well, it wasn’t really – a satirical take on…
I would have expected something better from him. It was a kind of vicious but not particularly well-written parody of Giacinto’s…
I’m a parodied author now. It’s amazing. I feel like I’ve done a Bruno Ganz.
Exactly. And now, just before we went on… iPhone or…
…or whatever we’re on…
… I got an email from the inimitable, indomitable Lynn Ruth Miller and she has, in turn, written a letter parodying Michael Legge’s
We don’t know if Steve Bennett has accepted it yet. I hope he will.
We hope that Steve…
Who is Steve?
Steve Bennett of Chortle. You’re really just here as a footnote, aren’t you.
Any time someone mentions anything, it’s Who’s that?
This is the parody letter Lynn Ruth wrote…
A LOVE LETTER TO MICHAEL LEGGE
This is a Tinder message to Michael Legge whom I do not know and who is young enough to be my grandson but it is a Tinder message nonetheless.
I read his message to the lovely Steve Bennett and I must say I wouldn’t mind a bit of a to-do with Steve as well but for the fact that my vagina resembles the Sahara Desert during a drought and Steve still has a bit of juice left in him, or so he thinks……and I make it a policy not to disillusion the young.
Lynn Ruth Miller wants to rub some matzo balls
As I read Michael Legge’s overwhelming desire for coitus with an innocent like Steve Bennett, I realized that what he needs is a tryst with a woman of a certain age to teach him how true sexual satisfaction is achieved.
I would like to dunk us both in a chicken soup bath and rub Michael Legge’s matzo balls in my kishke.
He would experience a kosher sensation that would set his holishkes afire because MY horseradish has such a sizzle, you wouldn’t believe. It is after all, home-made.
I do not expect to feature at his next show or anything like that but I assure you he will lust after my k’nadles and thirst for a bit of my particular, sensual brand of borscht so much he will forget his punch lines. It was my mother’s recipe and reduced my father to a pile of gribenes, every time she flaunted it. I will become an irresistible red-hot chotchke to Michael Legge and he will succumb, And who can blame him?
I will massage him with layer after layer of hot schmaltz to push his boundaries. I promise he will be overwhelmed with schpilkes that only I can ease with my adorable little latkes even as I butter his bagel.
Ah, Michael! Once you have tasted my sparkling little shalota and savored the intense pleasure of my gedempte fleisch, all those traife peccadillo’s you thought were the real thing will fade into oblivion and you will discover a passion only a kosher maidle with a luscious kugel can provide.
I must admit I have not worked in a morgue but I assure you that I will be in one far before you will and I will make sure there is a soft, velvet little babka to warm the cockles of your heart or your cock whichever you prefer. You can count on me.
I have not compared notes with Kate Copstick and of course I will move aside for her if she prefers to smother you with greibenes or give you a good bublitchke in your nether region. But always remember that it only takes one taste of the American brand of gefilte fish to make a man out of you.
I hope you will forgive the phonetic spelling in this Tinder message to you but I am so overwhelmed with the urge to schtup your brains out that I cannot be bothered to consult a dictionary.
So what do you say, Michael? Are you as temped by my offer as you are by Steve Bennett’s bum? Do you honestly think that your letter to Steve was half as creepy as that lovely idealistic young man’s accolade to Kate Copstick or my delectable offer to you?
There are still some of us who believe in hearts, flowers and a bit of charoset to give life the flavor it deserves. If you do, too, I’m your little girl.
Last night, in London’s Soho, I went to fortnightly Italian language comedy night Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese. They usually have at least one English language act.
This is the fourth of their shows I have been to and I understand about a quarter of one percent of what is going on in the Italian parts. But the atmosphere is hugely enjoyable and, to illiterate me, the shows are like watching abstract comedy performance. I watch the visual performance and can appreciate the structure of the emotional delivery of the words and feel the emotional meaning of the words, even though I don’t understand the words.
Last night I went with comedy critic Kate Copstick, who is multilingual – she can speak English, Italian, Swahili and Glaswegian. She has written guidebooks to Italy.
“Did you understand 100%?” I asked.
“Maybe 90%,” she told me. “But, in Italian, people take a lot more words to say stuff so, in a way, to get the gist, you only need to understand 90%. One of the wonderful things about Italian conversation is it’s ‘Big’. You maybe say things twice or in three different ways. You just say more than you would in English.”
“Earlier today,” I said, “I was talking to someone about Irish English and it’s often more meandering than most English English and Irish people have told me it’s because the Gaelic is not a succinct language: it, too, needs more words.”
“There is just such fun in saying things in Italian,” said Copstick. “Alex Martini (the compere) was terrific – great energy and quintessentially Italian – which is a GOOD thing. Really, really likeable. But a night like tonight also proves there is an element to comedy that goes beyond the words. I didn’t understand 100% but I laughed more than I do in a lot of good English language gigs. It’s the feeling of fun and enjoyment and laughter.
(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show
“Those two girls – Romina Puma and Giada Garofalo – warm, funny, confident and out there – they really brought the audience into it all. Very warm, very female, very anecdotal.
“If you translated their set into English, it’s just very anecdotal, chatty, kinda Sarah Millican-ish. But the energy and the whole character of doing it in Italian just pulls you in so much more.”
“I have an English friend,” I told Copstick, “who worked in Tokyo then married an Italian and now lives in Milan – so she’s good at languages – and she told me the only way to speak Italian is to ‘live’ the language. You can’t just say Italian words with English speech rhythms: you have to almost perform Italian. Saying the plain words just doesn’t work.”
“Absolutely,” said Copstick. “Giacinto Palmieri is warm and wonderful when he performs in English but, in Italian, it’s like someone has lit a fire under him. In English, he is black and white; it Italian, he is in colour.
“What your friend said about ‘living it’… the minute you translate the Italian words into English in your head, it’s not as funny. The whole approach to the story and the whole way of telling stories in Italian is just different. Literally – to coin Frank Carson’s old phrase – it’s the way they tell ‘em.”
Copstick found herself unable to resist my captivating wit last night (Photograph by Giada Garofalo)
London-based Italian comic Giacinto Palmieri told me I should meet Luca Cupani from Bologna. So I did. Yesterday afternoon. With Giacinto.
Luca moved to London at the end of January this year to be a comedian.
“In Britain,” Luca told me, “comedy is a huge thing, so I looked for an Open Mic night online and I found this King Gong night at the Comedy Store. They gave me a spot at the end of February. They seemed to think I might be frightened, but I had never heard of the King Gong night or the Comedy Store.
“I would like to also be an actor, but it’s not that easy because of my accent and because, when they look for an Italian actor, they want someone who looks like an Italian, not like me. At Twickenham in November, I did an open audition for the new Star Wars movie…”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” I said, “but you do look a bit like an alien.”
“I thought,” said Luca, “if they chose Chewbacca and Yoda, they can’t be too fussy about looks. I queued at Twickenham Studios at five in the morning along with 15,000 other people for six hours and the audition was just entering a blue tent and exiting the other side in three seconds.”
“Why couldn’t they just look at pictures?” Giacinto asked him.
“I dunno,” shrugged Luca. “They just wanted to meet someone. But I thought: The Comedy Store can’t be worse than this.”
“And was it?” I asked.
Luca took the risk of being crucified at his first UK gig
“There were about 400 people in the audience,” he replied, “and they were not nice and, listening to the comics on before me, I didn’t get half of the jokes because of the cultural references.
“Someone said something I didn’t understand and people laughed. Then someone said something I didn’t understand and they sent him off. I didn’t know what was the secret to stay on stage.
“When it was my turn in the second half, maybe I was helped because they were a little… I wouldn’t say drunk, but they…”
“I think you can say drunk,” I told him.
“Well for some reason,” said Luca, “they liked me. I started talking about everything. I would have sold my mother to stay on stage. I did not sell her, but I stayed on stage and I won the show, the King Gong. It was my first time and I was so scared and I survived and won.
“So they gave me another five minute spot in June that I did and that went not so bad. At the end the owner, Don Ward, told me I have funny bones. I had to look it up in the Urban Dictionary. He told me to keep doing it and I would have another spot in November but just five minutes again because he told me: Your English is not that good.”
“I was improvising,” explained Luca. “I can’t write jokes in English so, if I want to find new material, I have to go on stage. In my room, I can’t find any joke. I need to be on stage and under pressure or under fear and I start saying something funny and people laugh and that gives me energy.”
“You’re a very good improviser,” Giacinto told him.
“I find it difficult to translate the jokes I say in Italian into English,” explained Luca, “and it is different the things that trigger laughter here. In Britain, I realised there are some subjects or topics you should not mention: if you talk about things like cancer.”
“Are cancer jokes OK in Italy?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Luca. “You can make a joke about anything.”
Giacinto disagreed: “Romina Puma (organiser of Il Puma Londinese Lab) always tells me it’s easier for her to talk about disability in London than it is in Italy. She tells me people here are more ready to mix comedy and tragedy. I don’t know the Italian comedy scene now. But it is true there is more sensitivity here about racism and sexism.”
Luca’s upcoming improvised Fringe show
“I did some jokes about cancer at the Comedy Store,” Luca added. “They laughed. But, if you talk to other comedians, they say: Don’t say this; don’t say that.”
“You can,” I said, “make a joke about anything if you deliver it in the right way. What can you not say in Italy?”
“In Italy,” said Luca, “we don’t have something like stand-up comedy in the Anglo-Saxon way. It’s more like you have to portray a character maybe like Commedia dell’arte… You have to be the lazy postman or the rich businessman. You create this character like a stereotype and you do some jokes around this. In Britain, you are yourself and you talk about your vision of the world.
“In Britain, everyone who is black plays the race card; he talks about being black. Everyone who is Indian talks about being Indian. Women: We are women. But, if you are not one and you say a joke about them, you are sexist or racist. If you are a white man, you cannot talk about black people or make a joke about women.”
“But,” I asked, “in Italy you can talk about North Africans arriving in Sicily by boat?”
“If it is disrespectful, no,” said Luca. “But you can…”
“In Britain,” I said, “the Scots joke about the English, the English joke about the Welsh, people from the north of England joke about southerners…”
“Though not on stage now,” said Giacinto. “That’s more in the pubs. The butt of the jokes in Italy are the Carabinieri – the military police.”
Luca (left) and Giacinto pose for me in Camden yesterday while an attractive lady casually picks her nose behind them
“Yes,” agreed Luca.
“So,” I said, “in England, jokes about stupidity are about the Irish; in the US, they are about the Polish; in Ireland, I think they are about people from Kerry…”
“And,” said Giacinto, “in Italy they are about the Carabinieri. Yes.”
“So not about people from other areas?” I asked.
“Italian history,” said Giacinto, “is so localistic. People were for centuries closed inside very small communities. Probably the Carabinieri used to be from the South traditionally so maybe there is a bit of anti…”
“People from the South,” said Luca, “tend to represent people from the North as stubborn and Yes, they work but they’re not that smart. The South portrays themselves as We know how to live. We are smarter, brighter. In the North they are slow.”
“The impression I get,” I said, “is that people in the North of Italy think people in the South are animals and people in the South think people in the North are Germans.”
“Yes,” said Luca. “People in the North think they are like the Germans and are perfect, but they are not. Part of my family is from Sicily.”
“I have got myself off-subject,” I said. “Back to you, Luca. You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. You’ve never been to the Fringe before. Never been to Scotland before. And it’s an hour-long improvised show…”
“What ,” Giacinto asked me, “did you think of the preview of my Wagner show the other week?”
“I thought it was very good,” I said. “I didn’t have any misgivings about it because I thought: If the worst comes to the worst, there will be talk of women with horns on their heads.”
Giacinto: enthusiastic Wagner Fringe show
“Wagner,” suggested Luca, “helps you connect with your inner hero.”
“You are my personal hero,” said Giacinto, “because what you are doing – improvising an hour show – is crazy.”
“I would do a show about my sex life,” said Luca, “but basically nothing happens. I dated a woman who works in a bank and she just asked me about the Mafia for three or four hours.”
“One day,” said Giacinto, “I am going to do a show called All The Women Who Didn’t Sleep With Me (Abridged). The unabridged version would be too long.”
“Your Wagner show,” I told Giacinto, “is actually ideal for the Fringe because it is a show performed by an enthusiast. In Edinburgh, the big thing is to latch on to a subject, then make it personal in some way.
“If the punters are sensible,” I continued, “even if they don’t give a shit about Wagner, they’ll think: Oh! Women with horns and a man with a sense of humour! That’s worth seeing! If someone’s an enthusiast, you know he’s going to be excited about the subject and will try everything to enthuse you and the hour is going to be interesting and, in this case, funny.”
“I know you don’t do reviews,” said Giacinto, “but, if you can manage to squeeze these words into your blog…”
“Did I not mention it before?” I asked.
“No,” said Giacinto, “you never mentioned my preview.”
“Oh fuck,” I said.
“But I’m still going to invite you to parties, don’t worry,” Giacinto told me.
“Parties?” asked Luca.
“John,” explained Giacinto, “says he doesn’t do reviews because he wants to be invited to parties by comedians.”
“You might have just managed to get into my blog,” I told him.
There is an award-winning short film featuring Luca Cupani on YouTube. (It is in Italian)
Otto Kuhnle (centre) and his flyerers. Don’t mention goats.
Yesterday morning, the lovely photographer Kat Gollock took pix of me at Fringe Central for the weekly piece I will be writing for Three Weeksthroughout the Edinburgh Fringe. The first issue is out on Wednesday.
Afterwards, I was sitting talking to Giacinto Palmieri about his show Pagliacciowhen I was hailed by 2009 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Otto Kuhnle, whom Three Weeks (nothing to do with me) called “bloody brilliant” – and he is. He had just arrived to perform his Ich Bin Ein Berlinershow (starting today) for the next 22 days. It is billed – I am sure correctly – as an hour of Teutonic mirth, music and gnome juggling.
“Ah! You are Otto Kuhnle!” said Giacinto. “I did not recognise you without your hat!”
This is Otto’s fifth time at the Fringe. Before, he has performed with fellow German Henning Wehn.
“So this is your first solo show in Edinburgh,” I said to him after Giacinto had left. “Why now?”
“I have a little son,” he said. “Two and a half years. So the last two years I have been a little busy. This year was the first time my wife allowed me to leave the house for a month. The little child now starts to eat. Father has to earn the food.”
“And your show this year is…” I prompted.
“…a little autobiographical,” he continued. “I talk a little bit about Berlin. It’s a little bit tribute to my home town. Ich Bin Ein Berliner.”
“A Berliner is a sausage, isn’t it?” I asked. “They say President Kennedy got it wrong.”
“No, no,” said Otto. “In Berlin, ‘Berliner’ does mean a citizen of Berlin… But, in south Germany, it’s a doughnut.”
“I didn’t realise your show is not going to be straight variety this year,” I said.
“It’s half-and-half,” Otto told me. It’s really like a variety show, but all the things I am doing have a certain link to my life, the fall-down of the Wall and so on. It’s in the style of a variety show, but I am doing all the acts and also being the compere.”
“And your two friends?” I asked, nodding over to two men in shorts sitting on a sofa.
Otto admires the groin flap for his flyers
“I have imported two flyerers from Austria,” he told me. “One is a promoter who owns a theatre in Vienna; the other is a comedIan and both have never been to the Fringe before. I trained them in a little mountain hut far away and in little villages in Austria. I gave them fake flyers and they flyered everywhere to convince the villagers to do this and that. This was tough training and now they are prepared for the Fringe.”
“They flyered the goats in the hills?” I asked.
“Don’t mention the goats,” said Otto.
The flyerers were very polite and showed me the flaps in front of their groins in which they hold Otto’s flyers.
“Women in the street are very keen to take a flyer,” one of them told me.
But back to my earlier conversation with Giacinto Palmieri.
I blogged back in February about Giacinto’s show Pagliaccio which, he said at the time, “is about comedians living together at the Edinburgh Fringe and sharing a show and working together and it is a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between the comedians.
Giacinto prepares to fend off punches
“The problem with writing autobiographical comedy shows,” he told me yesterday, “is that your characters don’t stay on the stage. I have this ‘baddie’ in my story – an Italian actor. I paint quite a nasty picture of him. And now I am really worried because he wants to see the show but he does not know he is in it.”
“Will he recognise himself?” I asked. “He’s an actor. He might think This is such a horrible person it can’t be me.”
“But I even say the name of a show he was in,” Giacinto explained. “He is very, very recognisable. He wanted to come yesterday, but I made the excuse that I was too nervous because it was the first performance. I said I prefer if you come later in the run.”
“Can you remove the references to him without destroying the entire show?” I asked.
“Of course I can,” Giacinto replied. “But there are a couple of good jokes in there. It is a tough call. Would you choose avoiding a libel case or keeping a good joke?”
“A good joke,” I said immediately, “because the libel case brings more publicity. Is he Italian?”
“Yes. And he’s quite big,” said Giacinto, “which is what worries me more than a libel case.”
“Usually, people can get away with anything by saying it’s ‘comedy’,” I suggested. “You say you stretch descriptions and exaggerate reality to create a comic point of view.”
“But, from a physical point of view,” said Giacinto, “if I get a punch…?”
“If you get punched,” I said, “you have to make sure he punches you after you have alerted a photographer from The Scotsman. You have to ask him to give you some notice he is going to punch you – perhaps a couple of days.”
“Lewis Schaffer was punched last year,” said Giacinto, brightening up.
“No,” I said. “that was a couple of years ago. And he wasn’t punched. Someone smashed his iPhone and he punched the guy. He said it was very empowering. Years ago at the Fringe, comedian Ian Cognito insulted Ricky Grover’s wife and Ricky – who used to be a professional boxer – knocked him out. The next day, though, Ian Cognito did admit he had been in the wrong.”
“If he comes to my show – the Italian actor,” continued Giacinto, “maybe instead of removing references to him, I will exaggerate. I might try to make it even more sarcastic.”
“You could make him part of the show,” I said. “You could say: That’s him sitting there.”
“I’m not sure about that,” said Giacinto.
“He can’t react badly or complain,” I persisted. “It’s a comedy show and he’s an actor. He has to be seen to take it in good spirit. He’s an actor. He’ll be the centre of attention. He’ll love it!”
“That’s true,” said Giacinto gloomily, clearly unconvinced. There was a pause, then he livened up:
“Of course!” he said. “Opera! This situation reminds me of the stone guest in Don Giovanni. He comes uninvited as a ghost because he’s dead and he comes as a statue.”
“You will be dressed as Pagliacci,” I said. “No-one will actually punch anyone dressed as Pagliacci.”
“But I have more problems,” said Giacinto, reverting to gloom. “The female in the story in my show is also in Edinburgh this year. It is all a bit sticky. It is all a bit… What’s the word…?”
“Dangerous,” I suggested. “I should leave town if I were you.”
As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I had a drink with Italian-born British-based comedian Giacinto Palmieri – after seeing the first try-out of his show Pagliaccio which he will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.
Giacinto is one of life’s natural quotables:
“It’s a love story,” he says, “but it’s a double love story because it’s also a love story for the Edinburgh Fringe itself.
“The Fringe is an intense experience. It is like those war veterans who spend the rest of their life talking about what they did in the War. People think Why? The War is a horrible thing – but it’s the intensity they are missing. Once you have done the Edinburgh Fringe, the rest of your life just looks bland.”
This will be Giacinto’s fourth year at the Fringe.
“This is my first attempt to do a thematic narrative show,” he told me in a Soho pub. “I was doing joke-joke-joke comedy but, as a member of the audience, I started to discover and love thematic shows. There was a mis-match between what I was doing and what I really like. So I set myself the goal of writing a thematic show.
“Edinburgh is such a strong experience, it really stimulates your writing. I started to write this year’s Edinburgh show the day after the Fringe finished last year; some material I even wrote during Edinburgh itself. I wanted to start writing fresh from the Edinburgh experience without waiting for January or February like most comedians.”
“Most comedians seem to start writing around 25th July!” I said.
“Yes,” he laughed. “Or on the train up to Edinburgh! It’s true.”
“But I really wanted to express the intensity of being there and the fact that people are up in Edinburgh to express their emotions, so anything can happen there. Once you open the bottle, you don’t know what comes out. Once you go there to express yourself every day for three-and-a-half weeks, you don’t know what you will discover about yourself.
“My show is about comedians living together and sharing a show and working together and it is a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between the comedians and I play with the similarity between that situation and the plot of the opera Pagliacci which is about a travelling group of clowns.
“So it is a love story about another performer I became romantically interested in at last year’s Fringe, but also about the craziness and intensity of the Fringe itself.”
“The Pagliacci cliché,” I said to Giacinto, “is that all clowns are sad.”
“There is clearly some truth in that cliché,” he replied. “One of the best responses I have ever seen on the comedy circuit was when a comedian asked a member of the audience What do you do for a living? and the reply was I’m a therapist and the comedian simply asked So why am I doing this?
“You do need to wonder why we are all doing this.”
Giacinto has been in the UK for eleven years (and is now a British citizen) but he has only been performing comedy for the last four years. Before that, he was a full-time I.T. consultant. That seems a bit weird to me – coming to a foreign country, pursuing your career for seven years, then becoming a stand-up comic.
“It is even weirder than that,” he tells me. “The first time I went to Edinburgh was as a member of the audience. I absolutely loved it and saw 30 or 40 theatre shows but only one comedy show which I did not even like. So I did not know comedy at all. I discovered it later. I was in a pub in London and saw there was a comedy show upstairs and I went and I was mesmerised because I discovered how much creativity and energy there was in it. It looked very fresh. I was fascinated by that level of comedy, not by the professional level on TV.
“When I started, my models were the comedians who were one or two levels above me on the London circuit, not the Big Names.. I discovered the Big Names quite late.
“I had always liked writing. I started writing a fake, mock anthropological study of the British tradition of the corporate Christmas party and – completely by mistake – I emailed it to the MD of my company and he liked it so much he read it in front of everybody during the Christmas party. And it worked very well. People liked it. People laughed. But he did not mention my name. He thought he was protecting me. But I would have liked the recognition.
“So, at the same time, I discovered the comedy club scene on the one hand and my comedy writing instinct on the other hand. I put the two things together. I thought why not take my material and convert it into a stand-up comedy form and perform it myself?”
“But,” I asked Giacinto, “people from I.T. have a different mindset to comedians, don’t they?”
“Ah, of course,” I said, nodding sagely and hoping Wikipedia had an entry I could look up later.
“Philosophy,” Giacinto continued, “is what I studied at University, so there is a connection between my interest in logic and philosophy which can be brought into the I.T. arena because computer programming is applied logic and many jokes are based on paradoxes and self-reference. So, if you like logic, you will probably like word gaming, paradoxes and so on.
“That is why, until now, as a comedian I have always been very academic, very much inside my head, very much philosophical – it has been about language and so on. Which, of course, is very much part of my personality and my way of looking at things.
“The fact that English is not my native language is a difficulty – an obstacle of sorts – but it is also a great opportunity, because you can play with it. I can see in the English language things which a native speaker cannot see. Every foreigner is able to see cultural things which a native cannot see.
“Most foreign comedians in Britain are foreigners but still native English-speakers. They are Australians, Americans, New Zealanders and so on. I have the advantage, as a non-native English speaker, of being not only able to see British culture but the English language itself from a fresh point of view.
“I played with that as part of my act for a long time. This new show Pagliaccio does not play with language so much. It is a love story, so is more universal.
“My comedy was very abstract, so I decided to try to be more personal, to go more into the emotional side of things. And people told me one of the reasons I always had problems with women was because I am too much inside my own head.
“It is true comedy is a journey of self-discovery, in a sense. I am trying to discover the emotional side of me. It is frightening. Once you open the bottle, you don’t know what kind of genie will come out. It might be a good genie or a bad one.”
“One great cliché,” I suggested, “is that the way to get a woman into bed is to make her laugh.”
“Well, it hasn’t worked for me!” laughed Giacinto.
“The comedian Andrew Watts – a very very clever guy – wrote an article. His theory is that women use laughter as a way to communicate a sexual interest in somebody. In a comedy club situation, maybe onstage I can get a bigger laugh than a very good-looking comedian but, if you go for drinks with the girls afterwards, I am pretty sure the good-looking comedian will get bigger laughs in the bar. Pretty sure. Because women are sending signals.
“Getting a woman into bed by making her laugh… That was my hope, but I lost that hope: I don’t think it’s going to work for me.”
“The press will love your show in Edinburgh,” I told Giacinto: “A love story with laughs actually set during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.”
“Perhaps,” he mused.
“Maybe you should call it Pagliacci – An Edinburgh Fringe Love Story,” I suggested.
“Perhaps,” he mused. “Perhaps. Perhaps women will like it.”
Yesterday afternoon, I flew back to London from Milan. The English girl in the next seat on the Ryanair flight was at university in Italy. We were talking about the bureaucracy there. Italy is a good place to visit. Not a good place to live because of the bureaucracy.
“I’ve never known inefficiency like it,” the girl said. “I thought England was bad… but Italy…!
“It’s the lying,” she continued. “Constant lying. If they actually said something would take two months, I might be irritated. But they say it will take ten days, knowing it will take two months, then I’m just very, very angry. It’s like they enjoy it.”
That morning, on a motorway near Bergamo, I had been talking to my friend who lives near Milan about the cliché of Italians.
“They’re very conventional,” she said. “The way they dress, the colours of the cars they drive. The neatness of the way they dress. The women’s make-up. It’s like they obey the rules they think are expected of them.”
“What about the cliché of bad Italian drivers?” I asked. “I’ve never driven in Italy, but they never seem to me to be as bad as the stereotype. There’s a problem in Rome, but it’s because they have enormous wide-open street junctions and no traffic lights. The system’s haywire, not the driving.”
“I tell people who come here,” my friend said, “that the most dangerous thing on Italian roads is to drive slow. You have to drive fast because everyone else does. If you drive slow, they will go straight into the back of you. You have to drive with confidence even if you don’t have any.”
“They drive far too close to the car in front,” I agreed. “No braking space if anything happens.”
“They ignore all the rules on the road,” my friend said. “It’s like they think they’re expected to disobey the rules of the road, so they all disobey the rules because that’s the rule. They weave in and out and use the hard shoulder. They tailgate like they have a death wish. I’ve been overtaken a hearse at traffic lights. He ran the red light at great speed, with the cross on the bonnet wobbling.”
“It’s the legacy of the Ben-Hur chariot race,” I suggested.
“Mmmm,” my friend said as we were overtaken on both sides by speeding trucks.
I have a bit of a soft spot for lovable rogues and morally ambiguous characters. I think Malcolm Hardee, the late ‘godfather of British comedy’, might fall into that category.
If someone else had done some of the things he did, it would have been appalling. With him, people who knew him just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh… It’s only Malcolm being Malcolm…”
As in ‘real life’, so in politics.
I worked in Ireland fairly regularly for a few years in the 1990s and it seemed that, every time I landed in Dublin, there was some new scandal or exposé involving gun-running, womanising, hard-drinking, horse-race-fancying, dodgy-dealing former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
You could not but laugh at some of his scams and I think Irish voters had a tendency to shrug and say, “Oh… It’s only Charlie Haughey being Charlie Haughey…”
In the same way, the diaries, comments and escapades of womanising wayward British Conservative MP Alan Clark were always a joy to read because he was so rich (he lived in a castle and had inherited his father Lord Clark of Civilisation’s millions) and had such a superiority complex and was so inwardly secure that he did not give a shit what he said about people and events – he tended to tell the normally unspeakable truth about them – except on one occasion when he admitted he had been “economical with the actualité”. All this to the detriment of his career.
Boris is currently Mayor of London, but you feel he may suddenly re-invent himself as a Richard Branson balloonist or an Evel Knievel daredevil costumed figure or start a travelling circus with himself as ringmaster. He is a fascinating character because the word “buffoon” has been occasionally applied to him but he used to simultaneously be an effective editor of the Spectator and a reputedly very hard-working and efficient constituency MP as well as being a regular on TV shows like Have I Got News For You. The first two alone each require a high level of efficiency – just being editor of the Spectator would be enough for most serious people. But then there are also the stories of him having “an eye for the ladies” and saying jokey things about Liverpudlians.
The common thread through all those people seems to be womanising, which brings us to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Silvio’s brightly-coloured and joyously eccentric OTT reign is coming to an end amid national financial collapse, dodgy business dealings and scandals involving sex parties. I have always had a sneaking admiration for Silvio – who won some early respect by building up a major media empire before he lost that respect by becoming a politician. Yesterday, I asked an English friend living in Italy for almost 25 years what the view of Silvio was over there now.
“He was a rogue,” she told me, “but he admitted he was and everybody knew he was. I think Berlusconi’s view on his own peccadilloes was always, Ooh! All you Italian males out there – You know you would all do what I’m doing if you could!… and the Italian public, by and large, seemed to shake their collective head and say: Oh! The rich and powerful! Look how they live! and accept it.
“But, since the continual revelations of call girls and the sheer number of women who have come forward to say they have been paid for favours by him, the general public response seems to have changed to seeing Berlusconi as a dirty old man. Although people do still think, How on earth does he get the energy to do all that when he’s 75 and supposedly running not only the country but also the biggest commercial enterprises in it?
“I think he has not seen this change in public opinion and does not understand it. Whereas before he could get away with saying, Look how successful and wealthy I am – That’s why I’m worthy to run the country, now he can’t get away with that because all his business associates are seen to be dodgy at best and illegal at worst.
“The last straw was the interplay of exchanged looks between Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France at the International Monetary Fund’s recent emergency meeting. They were asked if they had been given sufficient assurances from Berlusconi about austerity measures in Italy. Instead of answering (both were listening to simultaneous translations on headphones), they looked at each other and broke out in grins, then half shook their heads as if in mirth and said, unconvincingly, Yes, yes.
“It was a moment of national shame here in Italy.
“It was confirmation that Berlusconi had become a laughing stock among other international politicians. That’s definitely not macho. That’s deeply offensive to the Italians’ frail sense of worth. The footage was repeatedly screened here on TV every night for one reason or another and that’s why it has stuck in the national psyche as something to be embarrassed about… and Italians do not like being embarrassed!
“Berlusconi was the only European leader as far as I know not to condemn Gaddafi over the months of conflict in Libya. Never did he say a word against him, and why is quite obvious: he had privately-owned joint-venture companies with Gaddafi who was his trusted ‘friend’. Only last year, Gaddafi came to Italy and was treated like royalty. There were hundreds of beautiful young girls hired by Berlusconi to be present at Gaddaffi’s public appearances and about fifty of Gaddaffi’s horses were shipped over with him to parade in Rome and demonstrate the friendly relationship the two had. Berlusconi still hasn’t made a statement on the situation in Libya.
“This morning’s national newspaper the Corriere della Sera prominently displayed a zoomed-in shot of a piece of paper in front of Berlusconi on his desk during the no-confidence vote he faced in the Italian Parliament and he had written 8 TRAITORS which is how he sees the people who voted against him.
“He ‘gave’ them high positions in local and national government, but it still wasn’t enough to buy their co-operation.
“Berlusconi sees himself as an independent who doesn’t need to play by the rules because he’s above the law. He doesn’t live in Rome; he lives in Arcore (near Milan in northern Italy) and takes private helicopters back and forth. He doesn’t need to keep up appearances, he was and still is too powerful to bow to that kind of thing.
“Two weeks ago he flew to Russia to attend Vladimir Putin’s birthday bash at a dacha in remote countryside and gleefully told the Italian Parliament he would be unavailable that weekend as he was with his good friend Putin. He was particularly eager to let them know he wasn’t using state-funded transport to get there… He doesn’t need to. He is a multi-millionare.
“The saddest part about Berlusconi however is that – despite all this – there’s no-one better to take over from him. There is no viable alternative at all. Berlusconi has given Italy more stability than it had ever had since World War Two ended.
”It is just a pity he is who he is.”
Silvio Berlusconi is perhaps the perfect example of someone who has always had within him the seeds of his own destruction. And an example of how major financial, corruption and sex scandals may weaken you but being laughed at may ultimately bring you down.
Comedy can be mightier than the sword.
Though, in the case of Boris Johnson, it may actually get him re-elected.
“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.
So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?
For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.
When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.
If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.
What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.
I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.
I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.
The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.
“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.
“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”
“London,” he said.
I did not get the job.
Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.
As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.
At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.
At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.
In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.
It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.
“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.
“No idea,” he told me.
We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.
It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.
It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.
One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.
“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.
By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.
Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.
My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.
So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.
But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.
Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.
But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.
It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.
My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.
Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.
The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.
Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.
English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel – S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.
While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.
Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.
Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?
Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.
Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.
What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?