Tag Archives: Italy

The award-winning comic who almost joined the French Foreign Legion

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the Awards last night

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the SYTYF Awards in Edinburgh

Luca Cupani won the already prestigious So You Think You’re Funny? contest at the recent Edinburgh Fringe.

This Saturday, he appears with fellow Puma Londinese Italians as part of the launch weekend for Bob Slayer’s Blundabus in Hackney.

Next July, Luca goes to the mega-prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.

“Part of the prize for winning So You Think You’re Funny?” Luca told me, “is to go to Montreal and appear in a showcase for British comedy and I will have the spot as the up-and-coming British comedian.”

“So you,” I said, “an Italian, are representing Britain.”

“Yes,” said Luca. “This year was really a UKIP comedy. The runner up in So You Think You’re Funny? was Yuriko Kotani, who is Japanese. What I like about the UK is that I manage to win a competition despite my accent and broken English. This would not happen in Italy.”

“Don’t let the Queen down,” I said.

“She’s the head of Canada,” replied Luca, “and she’s not Canadian. This year, America’s Got Talent was won by an English ventriloquist.”

“And my chum Mr Methane, the farteur,” I said, “was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent, despite having nothing to do with Germany.”

“Ah,” said Luca, “but he speaks an international language.”

“You were an actor in Italy,” I said to Luca, “before coming here to do comedy. Why did you become an actor?”

“I was not happy with my job.”

“What was your job?”

“I was a freelance editor at a publisher. Not a bad job, but it did not pay very well. I thought: I’m not going to do this forever. I was already 35 and still living at home with my parents. I loved my parents but my mother was very possessive. When you do something that is boring, you sit at a desk and work and get up and ten years have passed and you do not have any memory of this.

Luca cupani took a selfie in London this week

Luca Cupani took a selfie in London this week

“Since I left that job, I now remember almost every single day, because every day something new happens. Sometimes horrible things like my mother dying, my father dying. But also sometimes beautiful things. New people. So I was looking for a way to get out of my boring job. And I thought: Why not join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Errrrrrr,” I said, surprised.

“I would never have joined the Italian Army,” said Luca, “because I’m not particularly patriotic. To be honest, Italy should be ruled by someone else. But, in the French Foreign Legion, they don’t bother where you are from. So I thought: Why not? It seemed a safe place to hide.”

“Did you mention this to your mother?” I asked.

“I tried. I thought about running away, but my father was disabled and I could not leave him alone.”

“But,” I said, “if you had joined the French Foreign Legion…”

“I just had this idea,” said Luca, “that, if something went wrong, I would join the French Foreign Legion.”

“Perhaps you should still consider it,” I suggested. “There must be an Edinburgh Fringe show and a book in it…”

“You can join the French Foreign Legion until you are 40 or 50,” mused Luca. “The transition from being a freelance editor or proof reader behind a desk to becoming a comedian or an actor did not change things too much money-wise – and uncertainty about the future was pretty much the same – but now I feel more free.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide not to join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Because it is so boring. I checked the website and the entry pay was only something like 200 Euros more than I was earning – to stay in French Guinea in the jungle – and you had to learn French. That could have been good, because I would have learnt another language, but you also have to sing and I sing terribly.”

“They sing?” I asked.

“They sing a lot,” said Luca. “Even before dinner. I learned one of their songs: Adieu vieille Europe…”

“Is it,” I asked, “one of the strict rules of the French Foreign Legion? You have to sing?”

“Yes. And then you have to iron your own uniforms. It is a clash between being macho and being quite camp. Their uniform is unique, so they make a lot of effort into putting the pleat correctly in it when you do the ironing. You have to put a lot of effort into the ironing and then, maybe, you have to kill someone.”

“Kill someone?” I asked.

“You have to, maybe. I don’t know. My favourite group in the French Foreign Legion were the Pioneers – the people who make bridges.”

Sappers?” I asked.

French Foreign Legion Pioneer wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather apron

French Foreign Legion Pioneers wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather aprons

“Yes. There are very few of them.”

“I guess there are not many bridges in the desert,” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Luca. “Their symbol is an axe and an apron open on one side. I don’t know why it is open on one side. And a long beard.”

“A bird?” I asked.

“A beard. A very long beard. And they hold axes and wear aprons. They seem very proud of their aprons.

“I also decided not to join because a friend of mine knew someone who had been in the French Foreign Legion and he was not happy and he left before his contract ended because he was heavily bullied. Apparently they were ‘fond’ of him.”

“Fond of him?” I asked.

“They fancied him,” explained Luca. “And I know men can fancy me. And so I thought: Mmmm. If I am in the jungle in French Guinea and find I am the most attractive ‘girl’ in the battalion, they will never get my heart but still they can…

“…get your butt?” I suggested.

Luca nodded.

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Filed under Comedy, France, Italy, Military

Serious comedy – Why this blog was mentioned in an academic bibliography

A serious publisher is desperate for comedy

A serious publisher is desperate for comedy

It is a cliché that comedy is getting to be a serious business. But that won’t stop me writing it again.

This morning, I got an e-mail from Brunel University’s Centre For Comedy Studies Research saying  that Palgrave Macmillan publishers are actively looking for academic comedy books. By coincidence, yesterday afternoon, I had a chat with Italian comedian Giacinto Palmieri.

He is in the first year of a three-year PhD research project for the University of Surrey at Guildford. It is on the self-translation of stand-up comedy – comedians who translate and adapt their own material from one language to another – and he had sent me a short section he had written which was centred on a blog I wrote in December about going with comedy critic Kate Copstick to the fortnightly Italian-language London comedy show Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese.

“We must meet up and do a blog about it,” I told Giacinto. “It will seem like I am increasingly prestigious because my blog is in someone’s bibliography. Also, it’s the perfect academic thing – where you are studying the act of studying.”

“Well,” said Giacinto, “your blog entry was partially about the experience of watching my set. So I wrote about your blog’s reaction as part of my research and now we are discussing, for another of your blogs, my act of writing about your blog. I love circularity.”

Giacinto and I chatted at King’s Cross

Giacinto & I chatted at King’s Cross station. I don’t know why.

“I think,” I said, “when this conversation becomes part of a new blog, you should write about that too in your research.”

“I will,” said Giacinto. “It will be like Escher. Mirrors inside mirrors inside mirrors.”

“And,” I suggested, “when you write some more research about this new blog, I can write another blog about that… Anyway… Why did you decide Copstick and I were worthy of inclusion in your academic research?”

“Because you were observing bi-lingual comedy and that gave me the idea of observing you observing it and analysing your perspectives and expectations.

“Copstick said of me: In Italian, it’s like someone has lit a fire under him. In English, he is black and white; in Italian, he is in colour.

“Of course there is something objective there; I am not saying it is all a projection of expectations. But comedy is not just a performance. It is always an interaction: a projection of something meeting an expectation of something. It’s a dialogue. Why is she experiencing me as more in colour? Is it because I am performing differently? Or her expectations are different? Or because she likes Italy? It is probably a mixture of all these things.

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after a Puma show

“All of us regulars at the Puma Londinese are sort-of developing our material in parallel in both languages. Some routines are born in English and translated into Italian. Some the other way round. Some stay in one language and are never translated.”

“So,” I asked, “have you done some of your English material in Italy?”

“Yes, but only in English. I want to do it in Italian now, because it’s interesting for my research. But, of course, comedy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So, if I do material in Italian in Italy, I’m also dealing with different expectations and different types of audiences, different types of comedy clubs. That bit scares me the most, because I don’t really know the comedy scene in Italy.”

I said: “You told me sometime that Italy didn’t have a tradition of stand-up, gag-telling comedy… that the tradition was character comedy…”

“and sketch comedy,” added Giacinto. “Yes. Stand-up comedy is emerging now as some sort of alternative.”

“Why research this idea of translating comedy?” I asked.

Giacinto Palmieri costumed

Giacinto in a previous Edinburgh incarnation as Pagliacci

“First of all to describe the phenomenon,” explained Giacinto. “It is a subject that has never been studied: I found a gap in the scientific literature and it’s a gap I can fill because I have direct experience of it and I can observe other comedians doing the same.”

“No-one has ever done this research before?” I asked.

“Not as an oral form. There has been research about sub-titles and dubbing but none, as far as I know, about adapting stand-up comedy from one type of oral form to another. The Guardian recently published an interview with Eddie Izzard, but I don’t think the phenomenon has been studied academically.”

“Even dubbing is bizarre,” I said. “I always wonder what happens with the James Bond films, which are full of English language puns. There’s a bit in Diamonds Are Forever where a girl says her name is Plenty O’Toole and Bond says: Named after your father, perhaps? Now that must be impossible to translate because it revolves round O’Toole being a surname. I mean, in Goldfinger, presumably Pussy Galore must have had no double-meaning outside English. What was it in the Italian version?”

“I think it is kept as Pussy Galore,” said Giacinto. “In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the character is called Alotta Fagina.”

“But translating puns in Bond films must be impossible,” I said.

“You look for a way to replicate the same kind of wordplay,” explained Giacinto. “In a way, puns are the easiest jokes to translate, because you don’t have to keep the meaning, you just create a new pun in the other language.”

“So,” I said, “it doesn’t matter what the joke is, provided there is a line which provokes a laugh at the same point in the action?”

Giacinto at the Christmas Puma show

Giacinto at the Christmas Puma show

“Yes,” said Giacinto. “Some are so brilliant in Italian, you wonder what the original was. In Young Frankenstein, there is a brilliant pun in Italian but I have no idea what the original was. A lot of things are lost in translation, but a lot of things are also found in translation. Translation is a creative activity and if it is done by creative people – by comedians and so on – it is a great chance to express new comedy ideas.”

“Have you delved into this before?” I asked.

“A few years ago, the comedian Becca Gibson organised a literary festival in Earl’s Court and invited Delia Chiaro from the University of Bologna, one of the biggest experts on the translation of humour. Becca booked me to do stand-up comedy during the event, because she knew a lot of my material was based on language. As a result, Delia invited me to do the same during a conference about translation at the University of Bologna. So I discovered there were these two fields – Humour Studies on one hand and Translation Studies on the other which, of course, overlap in Humour Translation. And I realised, if I researched the way comics translate their own material, it could be a way to bring together all these threads of interest.”

“It’s the ideal research for a stand-up comic,” I suggested. “You can write about yourself.”

Giacinto’s image for his Leicester show

Giacinto’s image for his Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Yes,” agreed Giacinto, “I am doing research which is partly about me doing comedy, but I can also do stand-up comedy routines about me doing research about me doing comedy. I am performing my Ride of The Wagnerian show at the Leicester Comedy Festival this Saturday. I am probably skipping this year’s Edinburgh Fringe because I will be too busy with my research. But I am planning to do a show at the Fringe in 2016 about my research. My plan is to call it Giacinto Palmieri needs a PhD For It.

I laughed.

“You see?” said Giacinto, “The show is working already.”

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Filed under Academic, Comedy, Italy

Farting in Italy, nudity in Canada and the dead in the trenches of World War I

Blood-red poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Blood-red ceramic poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Today is Remembrance Day.

I forgot until I switched on the BBC News after lunch and saw the Tower of London’s moat filled with the 888,246 ceramic poppies.

There are two unrelated posts in this blog today – about cultural events in Italy and Canada. It ends with poppies in Vancouver.

My farting chum Mr Methane has returned to the UK bearing a gift for me: a fridge magnet of Pope Francis – the only current world religious leader to bear a striking resemblance to 1980s British TV gameshow host Jim Bowen.

I mentioned in this blog last Friday that Mr Methane – who farts around the world professionally – was in Italy but I could not say why. This was because the Italian TV show he was appearing on wanted him to be a surprise for viewers and presumably they thought my increasingly prestigious blog, being widely read in Italy, might give the game away.

But now they have put the Mr Methane clip online on Vimeo, so I can tell you that, last Saturday, Mr Methane surprised the nation that gave us Punch & Judy and The Renaissance.

Mr Methane performed to an unprepared Italian nation on primetime Saturday night Television

Mr Methane performed to an unprepared Italian nation on primetime television last Saturday night…

It was, perhaps surprisingly, Mr Methane’s first appearance on Italian TV.

“Did the audience know you?” I asked him yesterday.

“There was a buzz as I entered from stage right,” he told me. “The sort of buzz that tells you people in the audience know exactly what you are going to do. I think this shows that the power of the internet and YouTube over conventional TV is growing.”

“Did the Italians,” I asked, “react in any different way from other countries?”

“Well, it’s definitely different from Norway, Sweden, Finland, France or Germany,” said Mr Methane, “but its hard to say how exactly. It was certainly a more open, intellectual and civilised approach to the subject than Simon Cowell could manage.”

(Mr Methane was invited to appear on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. There is a clip on YouTube. It has currently had over 33 million views.)

“I think the nice bit on the Italian TV show,” said Mr Methane, “was the ending. We managed to wheel out a few old jokes that may possibly be almost as old as the fart joke which, you will remember, Michael Grade discovered was the world’s oldest joke

“The set up on Saturday was:

Panel:  Are You Married Mr Methane?

Me: No

Panel: I wonder why not.

“Then we all laughed hard at the razor-sharp wit of the judging panel while at the same time enforcing some social stereotypes and norms – a good thing to do on a traditional Saturday night family TV show and a good way of smuggling farting into the format.

“I was worried that the main host, Seniora Mara, might mess up on the cake routine as there had been no rehearsal but she positioned the candles very well for a first-timer. She seemed to have an empathy with what was going on. This could be because she has a degree in chemistry, but it is more likely because she is just an intellectual and open-minded European. I mean, could you imagine Amanda Holden being able or willing to pull that one off – She’d be worried shitless about her image etc etc etc.

Les Dennis on Cardiff Bay in 2010. But does he fart? (Photograph by Ben Salter/Wikipedia)

Les Dennis on Cardiff Bay in 2010. Does he fart dramatically? (Photograph by Ben Salter)

“In the early 1990s Bobby Davro told me that Les Dennis (Amanda Holden’s former husband) could perform the art of Petomania. I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg but about a decade later I was working on a Sky TV show with Les Dennis so I asked him about what Bobby had told me and he confirmed it was true although he said he had not tried it for a few years and didn’t know if he still had the abililty.

“So, to be fair on Amanda, as she lived with a man who possessed the gift of petomania, maybe – just maybe – I’m being a bit harsh about her ability to be able to hold candles up to a man’s arse while he farts them out. But what happens in the privacy of a person’s relationship should stay that way, so I can only speculate using the information available and come to the conclusion that while such a scenario was possible it probably never happened.”

“Did you try to speak Italian on the show last Saturday?” I asked.

“I spoke a little at the end to say Thankyou to the viewers but, for all I know, I could have been saying: I want to fuck a dead hamster.”

“What’s next?” I asked.

“A French TV show about super heroes is in the offing,” Mr Methane told me. “We just need to see if we can work the money and travel – I’m hopeful we can do as I really like the sound of the project and they seem to like the sound of me.”

Pope Francis on my fridge with a picture of my home town

Pope Francis on my fridge with a picture of my home town

“Thanks for the fridge magnet of Pope Francis,” I said. “Have you ever performed for any religious groups?”

“No,” said Mr Methane. “Although I was once thinking of reaching out to that market by releasing an album of faith-based recordings entitled Touching Cloth. In the end, I decided not to as I respect other people’s beliefs and would not want to offend them.”

Meanwhile, yesterday I also received news from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She told me: “I met an exceptional 23 year old man this summer.

“It was in a park on the waterfront in Vancouver. He was apparently from Dublin, but wasn’t. He said his name was Eddie.

“I told him: There’s a song with your name – Eddie Don’t Like Furniture.

“He surprised me by saying: I HATE that song.

You KNOW that song? I asked.

I know it and I hate it, he said, clenching his teeth.

On Pender Island, there was a man who disliked furniture

On Pender Island, there was a man who disliked all furniture

“I met someone on Pender Island, near Vancouver, who reminded me of it. He hated furniture too – partitions, anything resembling furniture at all…. He ripped them all out…He did it to a caravan and he did it to a fiberglass motor cruiser – right down to the bulkheads. He even did it to a Boston Whaler. He tore all the seats out until there was nothing left but the hull and a shredded-looking steering column. Like a maniac, he steered it through the shipping lane across the Georgia Straight from Pender Island to Richmond standing up as if it was a scooter. He never wore belts or shoelaces. He thought they were bad for the circulation.

“When people sink boats deliberately I try not to become overly involved. I loaned somebody my axe once and I never got it back.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

Anna Smith is thinking of a book

“Maybe I should write a book with nothing but isolated paragraphs like that I think I could easily write a short string of striptease stories as I have told them many times over, just never written them all down.

“People do seem to enjoy those.

“The places I worked in… Very strange.

“I once performed a striptease at a library in Don Mills, an affluent suburb of Toronto. And I broke my foot flying off stage into a crowd of uranium miners in Northern Ontario. I was happy that happened on a Saturday, because it meant I only missed two shows out of the week.

“People in Vancouver are taking their clothes off in November for no particular reason and standing around outside the art gallery. The naked people are doing it because they want children to have a future and they told me it was not a protest but a Vigil for Vulnerability.

The Man in The Lego Mask & cape (Photograph by Anna Smith)

The Man in The Lego Mask & cape (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“I took photos.

“The man with the Lego mask and cape is Simon Leplante.

“He said he had made 50 of the Lego and chicken foot masks and given 48 of them away, mainly to women artists. He told me that he had performed a dance recently at a downtown nightclub and left the stage strewn with tiny bits of Lego.

“Outside the art gallery, the naked vigil enlivened the afternoon for a street vendor selling tourist trinkets. He shouted:

You gotta LOVE the art gallery!

People in Vancouver are taking off their clothes (Photograph by Anna Smith)

The Vancouver Vulnerability Vigil (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“The Vulnerability Vigil was originated by a woman from Victoria, British Columbia. The man in the photo with the tattoos is an art school model. They were very friendly and appreciative that I took many photos with their own cameras.

“Then a burly young security guard emerged from the art gallery but he did not call the police nor ask them to clothe themselves. He merely asked if they could move to a spot slightly to the west, as he said they were too close to the gallery restaurant.

“So they did.

“After I paid my phone bill I went to the library. There was an information fair outside the library where activists were promoting a movie about peyote and handing out stickers of opium poppies to remind us of the victims of all the wars.”

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Filed under Canada, Catholic Church, Eccentrics, Italy, Television

John Cage: the avant-garde composer who won millions in TV gameshows

(A version of this piece was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

Martin Soan trawling the internet for John Cage

Martin Soan trawling the internet for tales of John Cage

I blogged yesterday about a chat I had with comedian Martin Soan.

When we were chatting, he mentioned he had read somewhere that avant-garde American composer John Cage had once won five million lire on a TV quiz show by answering questions on mushrooms.

Surely not, I thought. It sounds like an urban legend. But it turns out to be true.

John Cage puts flowers into a bathtub of water

John Cage puts flowers into a bathtub of water on US TV

John Cage’s first appearance on national TV in the US was when he appeared on I’ve Got a Secret, a show in which the panel had to guess what contestants’ secrets were.

John Cage’s secret was that he was going to perform his own musical composition involving a water pitcher,  an iron pipe, a goose call, a bottle of wine, an electric mixer, a whistle, a sprinkling can, ice cubes, two cymbals, a mechanical fish, a quail call, a rubber duck, a tape recorder, a vase of roses, a Seltzer siphon, five radios, a bathtub and a grand piano.

This planned musical performance caused a “juristictional dispute” between two of the trade unions who were involved in the show. There was a dispute over which union should have the responsibility of plugging the five radios into the power supply.

This was resolved by John Cage, who said: “Instead of turning the radios on, as I had written to do, I will hit them every time I was supposed to turn them on. Then, when I turn them off, I will knock them off the table.”

His composition was entitled Water Walk, explained Cage, “because it contains water (in the bathtub) and because I walk during its performance.”

John Cage (right) on I've Got a Secret in 1960

John Cage (right) on the I’ve Got a Secret gameshow in 1960

The show’s presenter said: “Inevitably, Mr Cage, these are nice people (in the audience) but some of them are going to laugh. Is that alright?”

“Of course,” John Cage replied, “I consider laughter preferable to tears.”

That was John Cage’s first appearance on national TV in the US.

But the year before – 1959 – he had appeared on the Italian TV quiz show Lascia o Raddoppia (Double or Nothing).

Cage was in Italy to see the composer Luciano Berio who, at that time, worked at Studio di Fonologia, the Italian state broadcaster RAI’s experimental studio for audio research.

As a result, John Cage ended up making five appearances on the Lascia o Raddoppia gameshow, in which he answered questions on his specialist subject ‘poisonous and edible mushrooms’. He also provided musical interludes with his own compositions.

Reviewing his first appearance on the show, Italian newspaper La Stampa reported: “John Cage, an American very fond of mushrooms, left a very good impression. The lanky player revealed that he had begun getting into mushrooms while walking in the Stony Point woods near his house. He is now in Italy to perform experimental music concerts and play an extremely weird composition of his made of shrill squeaks and dreary rumbles via a specially-modified piano. Mr Cage sat by a special piano tweaked with nails, screws, and elastic bands, drawing unusual chords from it. The piece was entitled Amores and it sounded like a funeral march.”

Part marine

“A cross between a baseball player & a marine”

On his second appearance, La Stampa reported that Cage looked like “a crossbreed between a baseball player and a marine” and “was a sort of institution within New York University circles a while ago. Everywhere he went, students with a Jerry Lewis hairdo and their female mates in blue jeans forsook their books and gathered around a jukebox… That’s where Cage showed his incredible capabilities: he goggled his eyes with a disappointed face, he spread his long arms and uttered weird guttural sounds from his mouth. The students happily danced to the rock ‘n’ roll music around him… He once dragged a student marching band through the streets of New York, attempting a bizarre imitation of what jazz used to be at the beginning: only the police managed to stop Cage’s tumultuous enthusiasts.”

On his third appearance, according to La Stampa: “Before facing the 640.000 Lire question – which he answered brilliantly – John Cage performed an experimental music concert specially composed for the Italian TV audience. The piece, if we could call it such, was entitled Water Walk.” The result, said La Stampa was “a carnival bustle. The audience enjoyed the joke and applauded… It seems that John Cage is about to repeat the piece in all the Italian cities where he will perform his concerts. After which – he jokingly claimed backstage – I can commence my truck farming business.

John Cage (right) on Lascia O Raddoppia in Italy, 1959

John Cage (right) demonstrates his musical talent, 1959

By the time he got to the five million lire question, La Stampa was even more enthusiastic, saying: “John Cage, the great American mushroom expert, looked a lot more determined. During the first question he had to complete the analytic key of the ‘poliporacee’ (a mushroom species) from which four names were deleted. He did it without hesitation, as well as adding the name, colour, shape, width and length of a particular mushroom whose picture was shown to him. The very last question, the 5 million one, shook his nerves and turned his blood cold. John Cage had to spell all 24 names of the white-spored ‘agarici’. Twenty-four questions in one! A very tough question, even for a real mushroom expert. However, John Cage – a little bit sweaty this time – quickly pronounced all of them in alphabetical order. A triumph! While he was receiving audience applause, he thanked the mushrooms and all the people of Italy.”

At the time, five million lire was worth around $8,000 and Cage used the money to buy a piano for his home in New York and a Volkswagon bus for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

John Cage died in 1992.

So it goes.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Italy, Music, Television, US

I don’t mind being called a lady, but I am not English, despite the Italian slur

Does this chin make you think I am an English lady?

Last night, I flew back to the UK to what seems to be a tsunami of publicity – on BBC Radio 2, on French TV, in UK newspapers and online about my fellow Scot Janey Godley’s ‘Train Tales’ Twitter saga.

I myself wrote about Janey’s allegedly public-privacy-invading Twitters (soon, perhaps to become an Edinburgh Fringe show) in this blog and in the UK edition of the Huffington Post two days ago… and the US edition of the Huffington Post re-visited the story in a second article yesterday.

Janey is very good on publicity. And she is not alone.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned some of the stories in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

Italian-born, mostly British-based comedian Giacinto Palmieri commented:

“I think what is missing in Italy is the newspaper market ‘segmentation’ between broadsheets (most of which nowadays are tabloid-size) and tabloids. So, Corriere della Sera and Repubblica are a mix of ‘serious’ articles of the type you could find in the UK in the Guardian or the Telegraph but also the kind of gossip you mentioned. Having said that, it’s also true that politics in Italy is often about personalities, so political reporting tends to be quite gossipy in nature.”

I prefer to think of it all as admirable Italian eccentricity.

Yesterday, in a shopping centre in Milan, I spotted a tanning salon where people go to get fake tans. The temperature was 102F and sun is not an unknown phenomenon in Italy.

“A tanning salon? Is this some new thing?” I asked my English friend who has lived in Italy for almost 25 years.

“No,” she told me. “They’ve been here as long as I have.”

“Why would Italians want fake tans?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” she said. “It’s a mystery.”

Giacinto Palmieri was born and grew up in Milan. I asked him what he thought of my view of Italians as ever-so-slightly eccentric – in an admirable way.

“I’ve been following your reports from Milan with great interest,” he told me. (He will go far.) “They remind me a bit of what I’m trying to do with my own comedy as an Italian in Britain: showing how things that are too familiar to be noticed in the eyes of the ‘natives’  can be shown as surprising, weird and (hopefully) funny in the eyes of an outsider.

“Having said that,” he continued, “I have also enjoyed observing the observer and I need to confess a mental association you might not find very flattering.

“There is this comedian in Italy called Enrico Montesano who, a long time ago, had a character called La romantica donna ingleseThe romantic English lady. She was a comedic equivalent of the mother in A Room With a View. Her catchphrase (uttered in a strong mock English accent) was ‘Molto pittoresco’ – ‘Very picturesque’ – a comment she found suitable for almost everything she saw.

“I don’t know what Montesano’s source was, but the character was spot on. It really seemed to capture something true about the English visitors’ view of Italy. Please don’t take it as a criticism: your remarks are, indeed, very interesting and often funny. Besides, nobody can be held responsible for his free associations.

“By the way, I tried to find a seamless link into a casual mention of my Edinburgh Fringe show Giacinto Palmieri: Pagliaccio at the Newsroom, 2-26 August, 7.00pm… but I couldn’t find it.”

Relentless publicity is a vital thing for any comedian: which is unfortunate, as an awful lot of comedians – Pagliacci indeed – are ironically so lacking in self confidence that they are terrified of the self-exposure in print and in the media that they confusingly crave on stage.

But Giacinto Palmieri, like the unstoppable force of nature that is Janey Godley, is different and will clearly go far.

Well, he will in this blog.

But not if he calls me English again!

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Filed under Comedy, Italy, Marketing, Newspapers, PR, Twitter

The curious case of Belgian schoolgirls & dogs which did not bark in the night

My early morning reading: better than Jehovah’s Witnesses

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in my friend’s house just outside Milan. There was a ring on the bell at the gate.

“It’ll be the missionaries.”

“Missionaries?” I asked.

“Christians.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

“Same thing. Missionaries.”

In fact, it was a man handing out the latest issue of the local revolutionary Communist party newspaper Lotta Communista (The Communist Fight).

So yes, missionaries.

“Are the Communists strong around here?” I asked.

“They used to be,” I was told. “There is a new Morman Temple opening round the corner, maybe this year.”

Religions seem to be finding Italy a fertile ground. Always have, I suppose.

In the afternoon, I went to the hilltop town of Bergamo with my friends. There were a group of perhaps twelve young schoolgirls going round one of the squares, asking people to wear a pink jacket and then taking photographs of them.

“Why the pink jacket?” I asked the schoolgirls.

“We are all from different schools,” I was told, “but we all come from Belgium. You go to a camp and you meet people and you do stuff for them. we are at Camp Lovere. It is a water camp. We do water sports there.”

“And the pink jacket?” I asked.

“It’s a game that we play in the city,” I was told. “We are in different groups, all battling against each other. There are other groups who have to make sure people wear pants… like swimming shorts. We have to get pictures of things and we also have to collect some Italian food and create a human pyramid. And we have to teach a tap dance to somebody and to wrap someone – an Italian – in toilet paper and take a picture.”

“And if you win?” I asked.

“We win two bowls of ice cream,” I was told. “But we have to go now.”

Belgian schoolgirls build the human pyramid

They rushed across the square. Two men were persuaded to kneel on all fours on the ground and six girls formed a human pyramid with them.

As we were driving out of town, my friend saw two greyhounds.

“They are lovely,” my friend said. “There is an Italian association which rescues greyhounds from Irish racetracks. Did you know the greyhounds get killed after they stop winning races?”

Later, as we ate our evening meal in the garden beside our house, a man started shouting and a woman started screaming in fear in the large house across the road.

I looked at my friend.

“He is shouting at her I will kill you! and she is screaming. It does not sound good.”

But the four dogs owned by the man in the house across the road were not barking so, presumably, it was not an unusual occurrence.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Italy

John Terry, racism & the Afro-American

News from home while insects bite

I am in Milan for a week.

Yesterday, I was laughed-at for wearing long trousers in the 84F degree heat. Last night, we ate watermelon at an outside restaurant and the mosquitos ate my accusers’ legs.

There is a God and he lives in northern Italy.

Meanwhile other life goes on.

The UK newspapers this morning are full of footballer John Terry being found innocent of racism for calling Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt”. I really do not know what I think about this case. My mind is split.

In my heart, I feel he should have been found guilty but, on the other hand, I know that if he had called a Cardiff-born footballer a “fucking Welsh cunt” he would not have been prosecuted. This implies that it is no longer illegal to use the words “fucking cunt” (something I was found guilty of in a Crown Court in Norwich in the mid-1990s, when the appeal judge said the use of the word “cunt” was “clearly obscene” in the phrase “Your client is a fucking cunt”), but it is now possibly a criminal offence to use the word “black”.

This unsettles me.

Especially as an English friend here in Italy has told me that he heard his 14-year-old son (who speaks English at his international school) call a British rapper an “Afro-American”. When my friend mentioned that he thought the rapper was actually born in Brixton, his son told him he could not call the rapper “black” because that was a racist word. So he called all black people, wherever they came from, “Afro-American” because they all “originally came from Africa”.

Where the American bit comes in I am flummoxed to explain.

In other news from home, I am now getting my annual e-mails from American comedian Lewis Schaffer being indecisive about the design of the flyers for his Edinburgh Fringe show.

I see all his designs carry the line

SPONSORED BY PETER GODDARD. HE’S A NICE GUY

with a photo of the aforementioned Peter.

I blogged about it when this interesting piece of sponsorship was first suggested to Lewis and I am not quite sure if it warrants another Cunning Stunt nomination for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Or not.

As I type this, I am eating toast and drinking tea near Milan.

In Syria, people are being killed.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Football, Italy, Racism