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The Sex Life of a Comedian is to be revealed by Lulu in print-on-demand

A week ago, I wrote a blog blatantly plugging the fact that Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology written by 19 comedians which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee, is now available as an iBook from iTunes and in a Kindle edition.

I said two of the Sit-Down Comedy contributors were considering publishing print-on-demand books. Now a third tells me he, too, is doing the same thing. He is currently checking the proofs.

Dave Thompson co-wrote a very quirky short story for Sit-Down Comedy with Jim Tavare and tells me:  “I am about to publish my novel The Sex Life of a Comedian via Lulu.com after having fallen out with a ‘proper’ publisher.”

Dave explains: “It was what I witnessed at the London book launch of another comedian’s book that made me realise what a shambles I’d got involved with. And then I bought a copy of a book by another comedian I knew and it was bursting with errors. There were so many mistakes, it looked like it hadn’t been proof read…

“From what I hear from other people who get involved in publishing books, publishers rival comedy promoters for incompetence and greed.”

Dave is highly-original. He has written for Ben Elton (they have been friends since schooldays); ITV’s BAFTA Award winning series The Sketch Show with Jim Tavare; Harry Hill’s TV Burp; and, uncredited, for many other Big Name comics. He has even amazingly written for the newly-enobled (as-of today) Sir Bruce ForsythTime Out called Dave “one of the finest joke writers in the country”. But, to the public, he is mostly known for the Tinky Winky incident in 1997.

He played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the world-famous children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired after American fundamentalist tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell warned parents that handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because “he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol”. Ragdoll, the show’s British production company, decided that Dave’s “interpretation of the role was inappropriate” and sacked him.

In Kazakhstan, the Teletubbies are still banned by order of the president who considers Tinky Winky to be a pervert.

The Sex Life of a Comedian is about a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Well, at least no-one in the television or comedy worlds has to worry about it being autobiographical, then.

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What is success? Global fame, Simon Cowell or a big fish in a small pond?

Yesterday, 20-year-old American comedian Bo Burnham started a two-week tour of England. He has his first album out, has been commissioned to write a movie, MTV recently ordered a television pilot from him and, in January this year, he finished Number One in Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown in the US – a public vote on the twenty greatest Comedy Central performances. But he is still mostly unknown in the UK, despite being that new phenomenon ‘an internet sensation’ and winning the much-publicised Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe.

I wrote a blog a while ago about Ken Dodd which started off “Morecambe and Wise were not famous” and mentioned, as an aside, that “fame is relative and mostly regional

One response was from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing farter. He has performed all over the place and, at various times, been fairly famous in Sweden and in Japan because of his television appearances there. Far more famous than in Britain, where farting in peaktime is still frowned on.

He responded to my blog by saying: “I always find it interesting when I go abroad and do a TV show with a person who is that country’s Steve Wright or Jonathan Woss – a big fish in a small pond but none-the-less raking it in. My problem has always been that awareness of Mr Methane is spread globally rather than condensed in a certain geographical area which makes it harder to get bums on seats and make some serious money.”

The Scots comedienne Janey Godley has had a Top Ten bestselling hardback and paperback book in the UK and regularly (I have seen the figures) gets over 500,000 worldwide hits per week on her widely-posted blog. But if she were to play a theatre in, say, Cleethorpes in England or Peoria in the US, she would not necessarily sell out the venue’s tickets in the first half hour they went on sale, because she has had relatively little English TV exposure and her fame and fanbase is spread worldwide not concentrated locally.

To be a big ‘live’ star in a country, you still have to be on that country’s television screens fairly regularly. A massive internet following may not be enough for you to make shedloads of money on tour. I would lay bets that some amiable but relatively talentless British stand-up comedian who appears on a BBC3 panel show will make better box office money on a UK tour than the equally amiable and immeasurably more talented Bo Burnham who is, indeed, that legendary beast ‘an internet sensation’.

In 2009, Mr Methane was on Britain’s Got Talent. Several clips of that appearance have been posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing, one of those clips

has had over ten million hits. But those ten million plus people are spread across the globe, so how does Mr Methane, in that awful American phrase, ‘monetise’ the awareness of his existence? He can market products online, which I know he does very successfully but, if he were playing a live venue in Peoria, would he fill the auditorium?

The result is that, as Mr Methane observes, you can often make more money and be more ‘successful’ by being a big fish in a small pond rather than being an internationally recognised performer. Financially, it is usually still better to have 10 million fans in the UK than 30 million fans worldwide.

iTunes, YouTube and other online phenomena are still in their infancy and may well change all that and Bo Burnham may be one of the trailblazers.

The now-dying record business created international stars selling millions of discs worldwide who could tour on the back of that success. But without television exposure and with only a few exceptions, that has not yet happened for comedy acts. You still need local TV exposure.

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The printed book is dead… and libraries… and newspapers… but literacy lives on my iPad!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented transsexual comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read. She is thinking of publishing it online via a print-on-demand site.

I am also thinking about re-publishing the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an online print-on-demand book. The costs are so low as to be negligible and the percentages to the writer are much higher – on a traditionally printed paperback book the author usually only gets 7.5% of the cover price. People can buy a print-on-demand book as a well-produced traditional paperback or download it from iTunes or Amazon.

Traditional paper books and physical libraries in towns and cities will soon be dead. A book is not bought because it is an object, it is bought an experience or for information. Content is king. The printed word is not dying – it is thriving on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, mobile phone texting, everywhere. But the printed book will die.

The husband of a friend of mine is the straightest person I know. For many years, he never watched ITV – only BBC TV -because ITV was not respectable, merely a young whippersnapper upstart TV station. Yet he is now thinking of investing in an iPad or the duller and much more limited Kindle because, that way, he could take a whole library of books with him on holiday and read anything he likes when he gets there.

Ultimately, Project Gutenberg and its ilk will put almost all out-of-copyright fiction online; and Wikipedia and Google and the web in general give ultimately unlimited access to known facts. Yes, there are old books, newspapers and magazines with content which cannot be accessed online, but only because they have not yet been digitised.

Online publishers have no reason to ever declare any new ‘book’ out-of-print because the online file can remain in cyberspace forever at no extra production cost. The traditional paper book is dead and so are traditional physical libraries.

A library is just a building to keep books in. Unless they re-invent themselves as leisure centres for the printed word and computer gaming, they will soon be dead too.

What is worrying the printed media industry more immediately, of course, is what is happening and what will happen to newspapers, whose printed, paid-for editions are sliding down a seemingly bottomless pit in circulation terms.

Newspapers were always printing yesterday’s news but there used to be no alternative.

But why should I buy a print newspaper carrying out-of-date news when I can watch live street demonstrations in Cairo or around the Middle East on 24-hour live TV news channels? Why should I buy a UK newspaper when I can read other UK news sources free online and get access to Australian, Chinese, Russian and US print sources free online? AND watch Al Jazeera, BBC TV News, Sky News, Press TV from Tehran or, god forbid, the terminally dull Russia Today channel direct from Moscow?

On my iPad, I have apps giving me access to the Huffington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Straits Times and the Moscow Times. I can access a wider variety of sources worldwide via my Fluent News, Pulse News and Stuff apps. I get daily news update e-mails from The Scotsman and from China Daily.

Why should  buy a newspaper except for a free DVD?

On the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s launch less than a couple of weeks ago of his iPad-only newspaper The Daily is interesting, though it is only available le in the US at the moment. If, as rumours say, he really does price a future full UK daily electronic newspaper automatically delivered to you every morning at a cost of only 79p per week…

Well, even I might be tempted… but it’s still going go be news I can get elsewhere for free.

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Is “Killer Bitch” worse than hardcore pornography and what does the dead poet William Blake know about it?

The actor Jack Nicholson said of film censorship: “The reality is, if you suck a tit, you’re an X, but if you cut it off with a sword, you’re a PG.”

As if the power of the tabloid press to overcome common sense and logic needed to be proved, consider the case of the movie Killer Bitch. (I was always a fan of early Roger Corman movies…)

This much-pre-publicised modern-day B-movie was attacked before it was even finished as “vile” porn by newspapers from London to Sydney to New York to New Delhi (yes, literally those places) by journalists who had never seen even a single frame of it. Indeed, the attacks started in the News of the World just two weeks after shooting began: subsequent news reports assumed what had been written the the News of the World was true.

Despite this, when the movie was eventually submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (the UK film censors), I didn’t actually expect much of a problem. It was a  low-budget film, so there was no wildly explicit gore – lots of fake blood but no OTT gore, no bullets exploding on bodies, no exploding heads – and the sex, it seemed to me, though much hyped, was not especially explicit – not by current standards.

There IS a sequence in the film which shows actual sexual intercourse but it was edited soft-core and is far less explicit than many a Hollywood studio movie. Almost everything that is seen to happen in Killer Bitch had been passed by the BBFC in a more extreme and more realistic form in previous films and, since 2002, the BBFC have in fact been passing hardcore sex scenes for general distribution. Why the Daily Mail has never picked up on this as a sign of the utter disintegration of British moral culture I don’t know. I think the BBFC started doing it so quietly that, by the time the Daily Mail twigged, it was old news and not worth attacking.

As it turned out, though, there were major problems with the British film censors over Killer Bitch. We were told the BBFC was very concerned at the “content of the movie” and it was screened at least four times to various combinations of censors, eventually including the Chairman of the Board. I suspect it was just a case of a movie with a high-profile tabloid reputation being referred-up because each person was too scared to take the risk of passing it himself/herself…. At one point, a BBFC Examiner sent an e-mail to the UK distributor saying it was “more likely than not” that there would be several cuts.

I was amazed when I found out what they claimed the problem was. We were told there were two areas of concern:

The first was a glimpse of part of the erect shaft of porn star Ben Dover’s penis at the beginning of the movie. This gobsmacked me. Apart from the fact neither the director nor I had ever noticed this and the censors must have gone through it frame by frame with a magnifying glass (no reflection on Ben Dover), I have still never spotted the offending shot in the movie. The BBFC have been giving 18 certificates to hard core sex scenes (erect penises; visible sexual penetration) since 2002. This was, apparently, a glimpse of part of a shaft.

The second problem was the scene which had got the tabloids worldwide into such a tizzy when (without ever having seen it) they had denounced it as a ghastly and “vile” rape scene. What the BBFC was worried about was not the actual sex scene itself (which was not a rape scene at all) but the pre-amble to the sex scene, in which leading lady Yvette Rowland initially resists Alex Reid then melts in his arms.

I understand the BBFC’s worry to an extent though, really, it’s not much more than 1950s/1960s James Bond sexism – a rugged hero takes woman roughly in arms; kisses her; she resists very briefly then melts in his mouth. Arguably sexist, but repeated a thousand times in other movies: hardly a hanging offence. Especially considering what the BBFC have been passing uncut since 2002. This is one description by  critic (not by me) of Willem Dafoe’s 2009 arthouse film Antichrist which was passed uncut by the BBFC:

“After knocking him unconscious, Gainsbourg bores a hole in Dafoe’s leg with a hand drill and bolts him to a grindstone to keep him from escaping. Then, she smashes his scrotum with some sort of blunt object (the moment of impact happens slightly below the frame). We don’t actually see his testicles become disengaged from this body, though it’s implied. Next, she brings him to a climax with her hands and he ejaculates blood (yes, it’s shown). But that’s not all! Later, in an extreme closeup — lensed by Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle! — Gainsbourg cuts off her own clitoris with a pair of scissors.”

The girl’s masturbation of the erect penis is in close-up and is real plus it’s an erect penis that is ejaculating blood.

Killer Bitch and Ben Dover’s imperceptibly-glimpsed bit of shaft should almost get a U if Antichrist gets an 18…

There IS a rape scene in Killer Bitch (which in no way glamorises nor diminishes the horror but it is not the scene the tabloids got into a tizz about). And someone DOES get his cock cut off in vision. But apparently neither of these scenes worried the censors.

What seems to have worried them was the movie’s reputation. It worried everyone. It was, ironically, passed uncut by the BBFC, but banned from display on the shelves of ASDA, Morrison’s, Sainsbury, WH Smith, Tesco and others (although most of those sell it online). It was even withdrawn by iTunes after two days on sale for rather vague reasons. HMV remained a sole beacon of high street retail sanity and online retailers like Amazon and Play.com never had any problem.

Is the movie Killer Bitch really so much worse than hardcore pornography? Or did tabloid perception overcome reality?

William Blake wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is.”

But, then, what the fuck did William Blake know about anything?

Although he did know a lot about dreams… and I do think it’s slightly odd no-one has noticed Killer Bitch can be seen as an OTT surreal dream by the heroine who may or may not awake, terrified, from unconsciousness early in the movie.

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What Sells Tickets?

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

Well, whenever I’ve seen an Edinburgh Fringe presentation, the simplified version is that the Fringe Office claim their research shows posters don’t get bums on seats (but do impress the media if the posters are gigantic), flyers can get some bums on seats especially if the flyerer is the performer or the performer’s daughter/son/close personal friend… and most people decide what to go see on the basis of what they read in the Fringe Programme.

But now there’s new technology.

The recent show Keen & Khan: Starstruck! played only three nights, got no media publicity yet was full to the each night (on the last night, overflowing). What seemed to have happened was that there was extensive Tweeting about it, especially among scientific Twitter groups, the specific target audience.

Scots comedian and author Janey Godley, who has blogged very successfully since 2004 and who now, like several others, has started to distribute free podcasts via iTunes… has also now brought out a free Nokia app so that people can read her blog, watch her YouTube videos and download the podcasts on their Nokia phones.

Within three years, I suspect live internet streaming of some of the less tightly-scripted Fringe shows may start to have an impact on ticket sales. If you have a heavily or totally improvised show, then streaming the show every night may not dissuade people for putting bums on seats but actually be more likely to whet a potential audience’s appetite to see the live, real thing.

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