So I tried ChatGPT again with the same question, to see if it was consistent.
I was a bit miffed that, although it reassuringly seemed I was still alive, it entirely incorrectly said I had been born in 1947 (among other false facts), so I tried again:
Well, at least I am still alive, I thought, so… Fourth time lucky…
As I had now died a second time – admittedly a year later than the first time, I thought I had better give up while I was ahead. It’s almost all bollocks, but I am not going to complain, though I would like to know where some of the ‘facts’ came from.
Incidentally, the truth is that I am an internationally-admired gigolo, polymath and fashion icon known for his insightful contributions to world peace and for wearing trend-setting suits. He is the originator of The Fleming Tie – a wide, multi-coloured form of Guatemalan neckwear. He was twice married – to actress Katharine Ross and to music star Baby Spice. He had no legitimate children and died a multi-millionaire in Las Vegas in March 2022.
With luck, ChatGPT will now assimilate that knowledge into its database…
Stand-up comedian and comedy club promoter Janet Bettesworth has published her first novel Mercenaries.
The blurb says it “plunges into the no-holds-barred dark world of Airbnb machinations” in which “Carla, a comedian, and Louise, an actress, are bribed by an elderly landlady, Alice to… extract revenge… A mélange of gruesome memories emerges as events unfold”.
And… “This plot line walks a tight-rope on a roller-coaster! And includes all you need to know about Butlins Holiday Camp Margate, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, racism, Airbnbs, #MeToo, bribery, the Royals, insects, coffins, croissants, failed comedians and revenge.”
Janet started creating the book by posting a series of her portraits of characters on Facebook (I blogged about it in 2020) and asking people to suggest their backgrounds.
So I had a chat with Janet and fellow comic Peter Stanford at her undeniably prestigious book launch in South London.
JOHN: So why write this book?
JANET: The genesis was when I won £1,000 in a writing competition.
JOHN: From whom?
JANET: The Oldie magazine. The topic was The worst job I’ve ever had.
JOHN: Which was?
JANET: Being a waitress at a Butlin’s holiday camp in Margate. I had to go to the Garrick Club where The Oldie held their Award thing. I went with (comedian) Will Franken.
The evening dragged on and they hadn’t told me when the presentation was going to happen. I really needed to go to the loo and thought: When on earth is it going to be time to give out the prize? Everyone was drinking away so I thought I’ll quickly just nip to the loo and the next thing I knew there was a banging on the door of the toilet and it was Will Franken…
JOHN: This was the Ladies toilet?
JOHN: Was he dressed as a lady?
JANET: No. But, by the time I got back, they had lugged (comedy icon) Barry Cryer on to fill the gap because there was no Me to be seen anywhere… Barry Cryer was in the middle of one of his parrot jokes but they kind of wheeled me on and I looked a bit shamefaced… When they wrote it up in The Oldie, it was all my fault this had happened: the person who didn’t really know what they were doing.
PETER: One would have thought they would have checked you were there before making the announcement…
JANET: Exactly! OR told me when it was going to happen.
JOHN: … or done the presentation in the toilet.
JANET: Before all that, I had been going round the room talking to various people who didn’t know anything about me. But, after the presentation, everyone was incredibly much more friendly. So I talked to Maureen Lipman and also to this really nice woman called Elizabeth Luard and she said: Have you ever thought of writing a book? And I said I genuinely felt it was beyond me.
I’d read hundreds of books and quite often I would be so full of admiration for the writer but I would think it was one step too far: I wouldn’t be able to do it.
JOHN: So why did you do The Oldie competition if you weren’t interested in writing yourself?
JANET: Well, I could write short things. Like for comedy writing….
But Elizabeth Luard said: If you can write something like the short Oldie piece, all you need to do is get ten more bits of that length and sew them all together.
JOHN: So the book is not so much a novel, more like a series of vignettes.
JANET: You’ve not read the book, have you?
Former art teacher Janet’s portrait of Peter Stanford…
PETER: Do you even own a copy of the book?
JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and can’t read books. I can write them, but I can’t read them.
PETER: You could always buy it and not read it…
JOHN: When is the audio book coming out?
JANET: Actually, a blind friend of mine asked the same thing. But I’ve never had anything published before and I’m completely new and it’s a strange world to me. My husband reads to me every single day, usually in the afternoon. I love being read to and he loves reading things out loud. We’ve read the Diaries of Alan Clark and…
PETER: Does your husband do all the voices?
JANET: Yes. He always does the voices. I have actually had part of Mercenaries read out loud by a voice artist: Seanie Ruttledge.
He read out the very first bit, which is quite pornographic.
JOHN: That’s a good start. If they read the first five pages, they’ll get some porn.
JANET: Oh, there’s plenty more after that.
JOHN: Why is the book called Mercenaries?
JANET: One of the themes is the difference in outlook between the generations. You have two women – the slightly younger generation – who are tangentially in the comedy or acting worlds. One of them is a vegan and she is very Me Too; and the other one is an elderly woman called Alice. So it’s the way she is viewed.
JOHN: Autobiographical in some way?
JANET: I am 77 at the moment. When I was about 68, that’s when I started doing stand-up comedy and, in a way, going to all these gigs was a bit like going back to my youth. The kind of atmosphere of going to all these gigs was like a kind of renaissance, in a way.
Janet’s impression of me as an East End street trader…?
JOHN: It gave you a new lease of life?
JANET: Yes. And it gave me a sort of different prism to see the world.
JOHN: And the relevance of that to the book is…?
JANET: Well, they’re both aspects of me.
JOHN: So, if you’re describing different aspects of yourself, did it make you understand something more about yourself?
JANET: (DUBIOUSLY) I suppose so, yes. The hard part was trying to put it more together so there was some sort of plot.
JOHN: The easy bit was the pornography?
JANET: I dunno.
JOHN: You are an arty person as opposed to a wordy person. You were an Art teacher…
JANET: (DUBIOUSLY) Is it not possible to have both interests?
JOHN: Yes, but I thought maybe you were a fulfilled arty person and an unfulfilled wordy person.
JANET: I suppose.
JOHN: Have you an idea for another book in your brain?
JANET: I did have the other day, but…
JOHN: I know. I can’t remember what happened yesterday.
JANET: All the proceeds are going to the Ukraine, by the way.
PETER: The book was published after the Russians invaded Ukraine.
JOHN: So the profits go to Ukraine charities for how long? Forever?
Janet checks the Ukrainian song’s lyrics…
JANET: Why not? Until Ukraine stops needing it, I suppose.
JOHN: So, if it’s all going to Ukraine, you’re going to earn nothing from this.
JOHN: So are you going to write another book?
JANET: I don’t know. I just have to wait for…
(AT THIS POINT, PETER PULLED OUT A PIECE OF SHEET MUSIC…)
PETER: We can sing. Here’s a song in Ukrainian. 19th century.
(JANET, WHO CAN READ MUSIC, STARTED SINGING “A PRAYER FOR UKRAINE”…)
She studied Fine Art & Photography at Hornsey College of Art.
Everyone inevitably makes instant judgments on people’s characters at first sight: solely on their looks. But we seldom see ourselves as others see us.
Comedian, art connoisseur and Grouchy Club regular Janet Bettesworth recently announced: “I’m going to write a novel by doodling the characters first.” She studied Fine Art and Photography at Hornsey College of Art.
She is currently posting drawings – she calls them ‘doodles’ – on her Facebook page and asks three questions for Facebook Friends to answer about each unknown person sketched. For example:
What is his name?
The love of his life?
His taste in furniture?
I recognised the 25th sketch was of fellow Grouchy Club regular Peter Stanford. Janet’s questions were:
Peter Stanford – airlifted to safety after a farming incident?
What’s his name?
His most recent airborne experience?
Way of organising a picnic?
His name is Nils, he was airlifted to safety after a farming incident. Picnics for him are rye bread & herring & fermented ale.
He used to get gigs as a Brian Blessed looky-like until he accidentally boarded an EasyJet to Finland, where he found a lot more work playing Santa to tourists, and now he drinks mulled wine all year round.
And, from Peter Stanford himself:
Definitely one of the gods in your novel. Cranach looks down at the mortals giving the Deserving pieces of good luck and mugs of tea. He is rarely airborne as he can transport himself between the godly and earthly realms instantaneously. His worshippers organise ‘Picnics’ (feasts held indoors in the colder months and only outside in high summer) for the poor and homeless – and anyone else – in his honour as part of their devotions, instead of building temples. When he was appearing on earth, he drank mugs of tea, which he shared with other people. “Don’t build any temples”, he told them. “Just organise picnics and tea.” The cult is always in danger of dying out.
A few days later, Peter pointed out to me that No 30 in Janet’s series looked a lot like me, though with different-shaped spectacles. I had a look and thought: Well, bugger me, that does look like it’s me!
The three questions Janet asked of her Facebook Friends were:
The answers seemed to reflect more on the personality of the commentator rather than on me and tended to reflect British people’s somewhat unhealthy continuing obsession with Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Glenn Thoresby. What he really thinks of Boris Johnson is unprintable here; enough to say he believes that the British people have been lied to mercilessly by this entitled upper-class toff who doesn’t give a monkey’s: a feckless, narcissistic, utterly irresponsible public school product, a marionette of Dominic-whom-nobody-voted-for-Cummings. Glenn’s chances of winning the Lottery are nil as he doesn’t buy the tickets. He believes they are an exploitative tax on the poor who, (like Brexit voters) think they have a chance to turn their fates around on a million to one statistical odds. This doesn’t stop him from buying raffle tickets occasionally, though, especially when the prize is a good bottle of plonk and/or the beneficiaries’ cause is a good one.
This is a cracking picture. I think his name is Peter Egg and he’s a foodie: a London restaurant critic who is zealous about plant-based foods to the extent that the smell of animal products cooking now makes him gag. Restaurants where he dines now have to put him in a separate room and block the doorframe with towels and wet loo paper to stop the offending molecules reaching his nose. He thinks Boris is an execrable pig or walking pork roast. He has no chance of winning the Lottery as he never enters. It only penetrates his consciousness when he goes to the theatre and sees its logo at the bottom of programmes for plays it has funded.
Janet Bettesworth – Edinburgh Fringe, 2012
Dimitri Dennis Zabaroski. He won’t win. He doesn’t do Lottery. Hates the foreign man who won up the road… they should fuck off back home. (Both parents immigrated to Luton in the ’50s.) He works at car plant locally and knows a lot of foreign people abuse the system. Likes Prince Andrew and his confidence. Likes Borris and wants to have a flag pole outside his house with Farage and Union flag. Council refused planning application. All foreign.
This is Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge, known to his closest friends as 3Pee. He is a second cousin, once removed to Boris. He is immensely proud and fond of his childhood pal, with whom he roasted chestnuts and netted little jars of frogspawn when the families got together for camping trips. They frequently got their shorts mixed up, being almost identical in size and shape. They still swap Christmas jumpers, particularly the ones gifted by Rachel as she seems to find the ones with the rudest slogans… Piggott has enjoyed a varied career, which includes a brief spell as a fluffer in a Hollywood porn production company (he was sacked for making badly edited and shaky copies on his secret camera which discreetly attached to his paisley patterned cravat). He also worked as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong, normally stationed outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon but few tourists engaged his services due to his extremely eccentric hats and comedy Chinese moustaches… He eventually made his fortune writing haiku messages predicting the purchasers’ marriage prospects onto extremely dark and gloomy canvases which sell for many dollars all over the USA. In his own way, therefore, he has already won the lottery so has no need to buy tickets on the weekly National Lottery, which he disdains with a passion – matched only by that of his antipathy to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.
I contacted Janet, because I thought it would make an interesting blog to run her drawing of me with strangers’ character assessments of what this unknown person might be like.
But there was a snag…
She told me it was NOT a sketch of me at all: in fact, it was a sketch of her husband! She said he found the comments amusing – He does despise Boris Johnson, but he does do the Lottery.
Now Janet HAS included a sketch of me. Sadly with less interesting comments/suggestions.
Does this Jewish man appreciate a good, well-shaped calf?
Her questions were:
What is his name?
His over-riding passion in life?
Way of dealing with problems?
The responses include:
Manny Silverman. Loves small investments. Still dining out on making £35,000 on ‘Britcoin’ a couple of years ago. Cigars and coffee are how he copes with life’s complexities. Don’t mention the time he passed on Apple shares, though.
Godfrey was a prostate specialist and his hands could reach parts that others… but now volunteers at his local city farm delivering calves – His approach to life? He always gets stuck in and is happy to get his hands dirty
This is Howard Silver. He’s a nice East End Jewish boy now living in Southgate. He’s a life-long socialist and lives in a rented housing association flat that he got through Rachel, one of his cousins who works there. He doesn’t own anything, aside from the clothes on his back and a few sticks of furniture, all the books on Communism he’s read were borrowed never bought. He’s lifelong Labour, red through and through but was recently upset by the growing anti-Semitism in the party so he voted green for the first time ever in protest. He’s what Yiddish speakers would term a poor old nebbish.
His name is Frank Gibbins. He thinks that the world has become strange, impersonal and unnecessarily complicated… He seeks solace in the simplicity of nature and its instinctive laws, eg. the way that the ducklings follow the mother duck, the unquestioned authority of the silverback gorilla in setting the direction of his troop and keeping it in order… He likes to sit in the park for hours, observing the behaviour of humans as they centre themselves in selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful autumnal leaves or wander around oblivious to the creatures of the forest…Sometimes he’ll draw them in his book and imagine their thoughts.
Constantine Gras – because he looks the spit of a friend of mine called Constantine Gras. Well, what he’d look like in about 30 years. He’s tall – maybe 6’2. He’s an artist/filmmaker.
Who are these people? (Photograph: Jez Timms via UnSplash)
Clive Earnshaw. Son of a bookkeeper and an apiarist, he has inherited a calm demeanour in all kinds of crisis situations, which served him well in his job as an emergency medical technician. His overriding passions in life are his sibling’s children, for whom he would do anything. His search for meaning led him to a retreat in the North African desert and he converted to the Sufic branch of Islam. His way of dealing with problems (apart from whirling) is to quote soothing aphorisms such as: This too will pass. He is deeply peaceful.
The trite lesson to be learned from all this?
People see totally different characters and backgrounds in exactly the same faces. Initial assumptions about people can – and very often are – wrong.
Peter Stanford’s view my sketch was:
This is Derek Milchman, a friend of No 30: that one which looks like him. They sometimes swap glasses and pretend to be each other. If this is a humorous book, with hilarious results; if a grim book, this leads to a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.
Janet replied: “I am not entirely in agreement. For students of phrenology and physiognomy, it may be observed that No. 30 has a receding jawline, whereas No. 39 has a protruding one. I do like the idea of a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.”
Comedy critic Kate Copstick, recognised me: “This is John Fleming!!!” And Peter Stanford asked Janet: “So what role are you going to give him in the novel?”
A “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait
She replied: “If you’re referring to the author of the Malcolm Hardee biography, the hands are too big and seem to be coated with some kind of white substance.”
Janet also told me that she had included a “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait – No 31 in the bunch.
And below are three more of her drawings.
Janet tells me: “I do two types of doodles – one where I’m basing it on a real person, and the other where I do random scribbles with my eyes closed, then a face gradually emerges out of the chaos, like seeing faces in the fire – that way is by far my favourite…”
One final comment and query from one of Janet’s Facebook Friends sums it all up, though: “I keep wondering why you’re writing a novel when you’re so ‘geniusly’ good at drawing – Or are you even better at writing?”
Yesterday’s blog revolved around a blog posted two days ago in which Kate Copstick had described the terrible plight of teenage brides in Kenya but finished with a lighthearted reference to the size of a kitten’s testicles.
Reader ‘Glenda’ had commented that “unfortunately, the witty remark about a cat’s balls is what registers on the reader’s mind and the serious issue concerning these African women is simply forgotten.”
In yesterday’s blog, I wondered if jokes in serious pieces demeaned the subject. A few of the comments on this were:
No, perception & timing & intent. A lot like robbing a security van John. (comedian Del Strain, via Twitter)
Yes and make them affordable to the masses.(Griff, via Twitter)
Depends on the quality of the joke. (Andrew Fox, via Facebook)
I had almost completely forgotten the kitten balls. But not the women.(Anna Smith, via WordPress)
Glenda’s comment is absolute bollocks (coincidentally). The levity at the end of the blog if anything throws the serious content into relief. Why do people have to be needlessly disparaging and superior, i.e: “It’s all very worthy and honourable, Kate Copstick blogging about the plight of these African women . . .”(comedian Janet Bettesworth, via WordPress)
Actually, I think Glenda has a point and I can see both sides.
I did think, when I posted Copstick’s diary piece, about chopping off the end bit re the kitten for the very reason Glenda gives. But I did not because I thought it would misrepresent what Copstick wrote, plus it did add a bit of jollity, plus it gave a plug to Malcolm Hardee and would mean something extra to a section of the blog readership. Other responses have been:
It’s oversimplifying to say the piece ends with an “adolescent remark.” It actually ends with some quite melancholy paragraphs about the late friend’s number being changed and the consolation of symbolically “making order from chaos”. The final details of the cats provides a beautiful counterpoint to this melancholy. It’s a very well written piece and anyone who forgets the main point so easily is probably going to forget it in a few moments away. (Cy, via WordPress)
Life goes on. In the midst of difficulty and death the small humorous things still raise their heads, ask to be observed as part of our reality. To help people effectively and constructively, I assume you have to be pragmatic and matter of fact, not hand-wringing which wouldn’t help anyone but which is easy enough to do from the comfort of our armchair viewing.(comedian Charmian Hughes, via WordPress)
Levity is an absolute necessity in what can be considered a very dark subject and I agree with Katie in her opinion regarding light and shade. It does raise the question regards what subjects can humour be added to and where we, as a society, draw the line.
Take the very dark subject of paedophilia. Many jokes have been told by comedians about the Catholic Church and their approach towards priests who have abused vulnerable youngsters for decades, yet similar jokes about such showbiz individuals as Jimmy Savile face a barrage of criticism.
Perhaps it’s related to proximity or maybe the identification of individuals makes something much more personal and intense than an organisation. It is probably a very big discussion about what subjects are taboo amongst comedians and at what point a particular subject is deemed acceptable.(Alan Gregory, via WordPress)
Once I went to see Mark Thomas and I was really impressed by the combination of sincerely-felt idealism on one hand and irony on the other. After the show, I had a brief chat with him and he explained that the secret is taking the cause seriously while never taking seriously you fighting the cause. It’s a form of dissociation. On the other hand, people who are not able to do so and cannot poke fun at their idealism often become unintentionally ridiculous. Think of Don Quixote. Or Peter Buckley Hill.(comedian Giacinto Palmieri, via email)
It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for Copstick and me, as we both had diarrhoea and had been told not to mention the Holocaust.
There was a high percentage of comedians in the audience at yesterday’s live show and one asked: “What makes a good Edinburgh Fringe show?”
“Honesty and passion,” Copstick told her, “both of which are in increasingly short supply, because now too many people just want to be on telly. They don’t really want to be stand-up comics. They want to be presenters, so they’re just looking for the shortest possible route through all the nastiness, which is stand-up.
“The most wonderful shows I’ve seen are all about passion, about honesty. I saw shows in tents, halfway up The Mound; I saw shows that only lasted 15 minutes. They’re the special ones. What the Fringe is for, especially now we’ve got the Free Fringe, is passion and honesty and doing what you want to say your way.
Giada Garofalo and Janet Bettesworth after yesterday’s show
“If it’s your first time, then it’s finding out what sticks to the wall. NOT thinking: Ooh! I’ll do an hour by numbers because it’s just what the Fosters judges are looking for. There are hundreds of those shows at the Fringe. It’s about finding out what your USP is. A comic should have a real, burning personality and a voice that should not be like anybody else’s – otherwise, what the fuck are you doing as a stand-up?”
I added: “What’s going to be interesting, by definition, is something the audience has never seen before. If you’ve seen it before, it’s not going to be as interesting. If a comic is doing something vaguely similar to someone else, they should dump it.”
“Unless,” Copstick argued, “you’re doing it much better than them.”
“Even so,” I said, “it wouldn’t be THAT interesting. If you’re doing it better, you’re probably doing it in a slightly different way.”
The Grouchy Club will be back at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, running daily 14th-30th August at 3.45-4.45pm.
Copstick makes a point in the second Grouchy Club podcast
Later yesterday, in the Grouchy Club podcast, Copstick made an appeal to stand-up comics:
“If anyone has a comedy show that is on between 3.00pm and 5.00pm, then do feel free to get in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and try to get me to come and see your show before 14th August. If you are one of these highfalutin comics with some expensive PR who is going to turn round and say something to me like: Ummm… (insert name)’s show is not quite ready yet; we’d like you to come after the 19th, then fuck you!
“If your show is on between those two times – 3.00pm and 5.00pm – I can only really come before the 14th, because I would not want to leave John on his own, because he might not be on form. At the moment, his creativity is leaping out in diarrhoea-coloured fluid from his little clenched bottom as we speak.”
And that is why Copstick is the doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers. Honesty, passion and a vivid turn of phrase.
I had an edge-of-the-seat ride home on the train.
You can hear the 25-minute Grouchy Club audio podcast HERE and see a 3-minute video clip HERE.
Janet Bettesworth (centre right) celebrates her 70th birthday
Last night, I went to flame-haired comedy temptress Janet Bettesworth’s 70th birthday party in a room above the Bedford pub in Balham, Gateway to The South.
Downstairs, the pub was a scene like something out of the Black Hole of Calcutta mixed with the Sacking of Rome by the Goths & Vandals and with a noise level similar to the arrival of ‘Fat Man’ in Nagasaki in 1945. That’s a World Cup Saturday for you.
Upstairs, at Janet’s party, it was comedians socialising and a very loud folk band, though sadly no nudity.
Yesterday afternoon, though, there WAS nudity in Central London.
I went to the starting point for The Naked Bike Ride, just outside the new St Martin’s College of Art behind King’s Cross station.
In previous blogs, I have mentioned comedian Juliette Burton’s enthusiastically-anticipated (certainly by me) upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Look At Me, which is about whether who we appear to be is who we actually are – and whether we can change who we are on the inside by changing who we appear to be on the outside.
Among other things, it involves her being videoed in public wearing a a ‘fat’ prosthetics suit, being transformed into a man… and nudity.
Participants prepared for the Naked Bike Ride yesterday
So, yesterday, she was going to take part in the Naked Bike Ride which – allegedly – was being held to protest against the pollution caused by Society’s dependency on oil.
I say ‘allegedly’ because it is an annual event and, as far as I can see, just an excuse to get your kit off for reasons of exhibitionism, Bohemianism or eccentricity – mostly the last two and nothing wrong in either.
In August, you can strip off & Streak For Tigers at Lindon Zoo
As I waited for Juliette to arrive, I was handed a flyer for a naked Streak For Tigers run being held at London Zoo in August. Fortunately I will be in Edinburgh and will miss the inevitable carnage.
When Juliette did turn up with her musical director Frankie Lowe (Juliette has an entourage even bigger than Lewis Schaffer‘s) she had a story to tell.
She told me how she had just been screwed by London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Juliette advertised her Fringe show yesterday
“We spent a while with the make-up artist this morning,” she told me, “advertising my show on my back and advertising my boobs on my front. Then I put my clothes back on and went to get the Boris Bike.”
[Note to non-Brits: The publicly-rentable bikes causing traffic chaos all over London have been nicknamed ‘Boris Bikes’.]
Juliette, pained, after being screwed on a bike by Mayor Boris
“We had paid our £2 for the code to access a bike,” Juliette explained to me, “and we went round every single docking station in this row of bikes off Caledonian Road and none of them would let us have a bike. Boris screwed us over. So we walked here, just so we could salvage a shot of me standing around supporting the good cause surrounded by naked people and getting my things out.”
Frankie – a man who wears two creative hats
Juliette had been planning her naked bike ride since last December with Frankie Lowe – not only her musical director but also her cameraman – he is a man who wears multiple hats simultaneously and, yesterday, literally.
“We had been going to start here at King’s Cross,” explained Juliette, “and then do Haymarket and have Frankie film me on Westminster Bridge by the Houses of Parliament…
“I had taken my Dutch courage – a half a glass of Prosecco before I left. And then Boris screwed us. It’s very disappointing.”
“Though,” I said, “as of this week, you now do have the even better…”
“Except you cannot blog about that yet,” said Juliette.
So I won’t.
“Frankie,” continued Juliette, “made a very good observation that it was ironic we were prevented from doing a protest against oil dependency by the ineffectiveness of a city-wide bicycling scheme that is meant to help people not depend on cars.”
“Frankie should wear a PR hat on top of his other two,” I observed.
After the massed naked cyclists set off, the three of us had a drink nearby. This also gave Juliette time to go off to the toilet and take off her pasties.
I forgot to mention that Juliette had bright pink circular coverings over her nipples.
Juliette with her pink pasties in foreground
Apparently they are called pasties – pronounced not ‘pass-ties’ but ‘paste-ies’ – and are/were stuck on with the make-up artists’ equivalent of super glue.
When she re-emerged from the toilet, looking slightly shaken, Juliette observed:
“Everyone suffers for their Edinburgh Fringe show, but I didn’t know I was going to suffer this much physical pain for it.”
“Suffering pain from tits is common in Edinburgh,” I suggested.
Rule 17 in blog writing: always try to give yourself the last line.
In the final week of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, I chaired five daily hour-long chat shows. In the fourth show, the guests were Scots comedy critic Kate Copstick (always known simply as ‘Copstick’) and American comedians Laura Levites & Lynn Ruth Miller. There were several English comedians in the audience, including Janet Bettesworth and Bob Slayer. This is a brief extract:
American performer Lynn Ruth Miller (left) & Kate Copstick
COPSTICK: As far as I’m concerned, the most strongly feminist comedian on the Fringe is Lynn Ruth – and Laura’s not doing too badly either. The amount of shit you’ve both taken and overcome without wearing the I’m A Feminist teeshirt and waving Boys Are Bad – Throw Stones At Them flags.
LAURA: To me, being a feminist is not about what you say, it’s about what you do. I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. You don’t say Look at me! Look at me! You just do things.
LYNN RUTH: I don’t think feminism is knocking down men. I love men. Why can’t we just be people? I don’t see any difference. I think men have the same insecurities as women.
LAURA: I think they have more insecurities.
JOHN: What sort of insecurities?
LYNN RUTH: Oh, they’re so worried about their bodies.
LAURA: Their bodies, their dicks. Every night I’ve had to lie in bed with a guy who’s drunk too much and blah blah blah you gotta listen to that shit. Oh my god! Shut up! But my biggest problem with feminists is they get mad when someone sexualises you. I like being sexualised. Objectify me! Talk about my tits and ass – Please!
LYNN RUTH: Nobody’s talked about mine in years.
LAURA: It’s like you can’t… If somebody says a woman’s pretty or…
LYNN RUTH: I like somebody saying that.
LAURA: Yeah. But, if somebody talks about a woman’s body, then all ‘the women’ get up in arms Arghh! You’re sexualising! But you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the way women look. They have things sticking out. Women have tits. Women have shapely bodies. How do you ignore that? I get so mad.
COPSTICK: I would give my right arm to be a sex object.
BOB SLAYER: There are some websites where giving your right arm would make you more sexy.
JANET BETTESWORTH: How do you feel about She was asking for it? You know, exposing bits, it’s late at night, she’s got a pussy pelmet, she was out on the street, so… She was asking for it.
COPSTICK: Well I genuinely believe – this won’‘t go down well, but – if you walk into Battersea Dogs Home with your legs covered in prime rump steak, you cannot complain if you get bitten.
LYNN RUTH: Yes.
LAURA: I agree.
COPSTICK: If you put it out there, someone’s going to pick it up.
Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and Laura Levites agreed on men
LYNN RUTH: You gotta have the right look. In Redwood City, there were a lot of women who were constantly walking by a bowling alley and they were being attacked and they were being raped. And I had my two little dogs and walked by the bowling alley every day and I called up the police and said You know, I walk by there every day and I was waiting for them to say Well, YOU they’re not going to bother! But I mean I think I just don’t have the right look. It’s like, when you are afraid of a dog, it IS going to bite you.
LAURA: But I think most women don’t understand the way most men view them. Whether or not you like it – it’s not about liking it or not – men do look at you like a sexual being. It doesn’t matter what you look like as a woman, there’s some dude that’s gonna want to fuck you. It’s absolutely true. If you’re walking down a street at night with parts of you exposed, it doesn’t mean you’re ‘asking for it’, but you have to be aware…
LYNN RUTH: It’s called good advertising.
LAURA: … people are going to respond to you. You can’t ignore the fact that you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the fact you shouldn’t drink too much with a man by yourself. you shouldn’t take strange men home with you. You gotta be careful and it’s up to you to own that responsibility and keep yourself in safe situations.
COPSTICK: I think we’ve only got one word for it, which is rape.
LAURA: Yes, we should have more words.
COPSTICK: At the moment, it’s ludicrous, but that one word covers both someone who is wandering along a road and some person completely unknown to her leaps out – which must be horrendous and terrifying and it’s not about sex, it’s about violence. It’s a very specific form of assault… That is one thing… That is horrendous… But then there’s some twat of a 19-year-old who dolls herself up, covers herself in make-up, goes out, gets shit-faced, gets a guy, gets more shit-faced, takes him back to her place or goes back to his place, takes some items of clothing off, starts playing tonsil hockey, has her nipples twiddled, starts playing the horizontal tango … It’s too fucking late to start complaining. It’s not his fault any more. You can’t go Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes – Oh! – No! – It’s not fair.
LYNN RUTH: I think the thing I’m feminist about is I don’t want women to use their bodies for currency. They can use their minds.
COPSTICK: Nobody wants your mind. I know this.
LAURA: What do you mean ‘currency’?
LYNN RUTH: They dress to get attention. I won’t say who, but there’s a comedian here in Edinburgh who slept with this guy because she wanted him to put her in the show. There are better ways to get in a show than to get fucked. Women can accomplish what they want in other ways.
COPSTICK: But can they?
LYNN RUTH: I have.
COPSTICK: You’ve never used your body to get what you want?”
LYNN RUTH: Never. Because I had anorexia and I was a mess. It’s really true. Nobody’s come on to me for 50 years.
What is happening with Bethnal Green in the East End of London?
I think of Bethnal Green as being the home of the Kray Twins and the Museum of Childhood. Admittedly queer bedfellows to begin with. Now there appears to be a giggle gulag of recently-opened clubs featuring new and rising comedians.
On Mondays, David Mills and Maureen Younger run their Unusual Suspects comedy club at the Sebright Arms.
And another comedian I know is also thinking of starting a new monthly club in Bethnal Green.
In the sometimes bitchy world of comedy, it all seems surprisingly chummy down the East End.
Last week, I went to the Unusual Suspects to see 2010 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Robert White (whose comedy is so fast it must leave scorch marks on his brain) and David Mills & Scott Capurro (who hosted this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe). In the audience, was Janet Bettesworth. Not only that, but she raved to me afterwards about the end chat between David and Scott.
Comedy can be about more than just getting laughs, which Scott and David proved in their Scott Capurro’s Positionchat show in Edinburgh and at the Soho Theatre this year – and very much so in what appeared to be their totally improvised, highly libelous and astonishingly personal routine last Monday. In fact, it was more an extended riff than comedy routine – very insightful and very funny.
Janet Bettesworth reckons: “The hundreds of comedy nights around town are perhaps just a stress-release valve for overworked Londoners. However, take two seasoned gay American comedians, David Mills and Scott Capurro and you get some kind of magic.
“Some kind of magic is certainly what took place last Monday,” she says. “Suddenly mere stand up comedy (more specifically one-liner gags) seemed flat and one-dimensional in comparison. The tete-a-tete between the two of them was one of the rarest and best things I have ever seen. I wished it had gone on longer. No-one recorded it, so an ephemeral happening, perhaps born out of adversity (a scheduled act had been called elsewhere) and delivered to a small and privileged audience is lost forever. It is impossible to describe, except to suggest that together they are (even) more than the sum of their parts – they presented something extraordinarily real and multi-dimensional, full of rawness, pain, tenderness, love, wit and finely-distilled camp humour.”
It certainly was an astonishing public tete-a-tete.
And there is certainly some exceptional live comedy going on out there in small clubs – a lot of it, apparently, now oddly happening in Bethnal Green – all of it ephemeral, unrecorded and, like most of the best comedy, once performed lost forever.
In the Kray Twins’ era, it was criminal lawyers who reaped the benefit.
In modern-day Bethnal Green it might be comedy club audiences and libel lawyers.
It seems to have aspirations to be trendy Islington but its pockets of aspiring Yuppieness have been dropped down into what, at night, seems like a set from a Jack The Ripper film – jet-black stone streets with added 21st century traffic. It’s like King’s Cross but darker and with less investment.
Shoreditch is a dark night-time nether corner of schizophrenic Hackney, where partly-trendy-yet-immensely-downmarket Hoxton meets a corner of Hackney proper and the world that was the Kray Twins’ Bethnal Green, which now has 1950s Brits intermingled with penniless immigrants who have nothing but hope in two generations time.
And round the corner from all this sit the glass towers and stone solidity of the City of London.
Shoreditch is a very strange place.
The area is like some darkly surreal imagining on the thin border where a dream may or may not turn into a nightmare.
So, a couple of nights ago, I went to Shoreditch after only a couple of hours sleep the previous night with these thoughts in my mind and comedy in my heart.
Yes, I have no fear of bad writing.
I went to see the weekly Cantaloopy Comedy show run by Miss D aka the interesting part-comedian, part serious journalist that is Daphna Baram.
Last time I went, the Cantaloupe pub cat stole the show, meandering across the stage and occasionally finding high points from which to look down disdainfully at the performing comedians.
This time, sadly for me, there was no cat but also, sadly, no headliner Arthur Smith, whose mother had had a bad fall. Daphna reckons I am bad luck when I go to one of her gigs. She may be right.
But the Cantaloopy bill was so choc-a-bloc, the lack of the two main attractions did not damage the show.
One highlight for me was Janet Bettesworth, who is just plain weird and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. It had nothing to do with my lack of sleep. It has something to do with her Joanna Lumley voice, the dry sometimes almost literary delivery, the unexpected shock of red hair and her extraordinary transformation late in the act into a comedy ventriloquist with Hammer Horror hints. It was like watching a refined relative talk sweetly to you but with a whiff of the Satanic and dark deeds behind the curtains of Middle England wafting from the stage. I began, at one point, to think I must be hallucinating.
Highly entertained and utterly fascinated… but hallucinating.
This can’t be happening, I thought.
Yet it was and I was pleased it was.
I knew it wasn’t my lack of sleep. I had seen Janet Bettesworth before and was equally mesmerised before.
I had never seen David Mills before despite the fact he was recently crowned New Act of the Year – the highly prestigious award formerly known as the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year and proof that something good can occasionally come out of Hackney.
But I was amazed how a totally top-notch professional camp American of this quality had escaped my radar. Especially as he has apparently lived in the UK for a decade. Much like Maureen Younger being a new act for me at a Pull The Other One gig a couple of weeks ago.
Curiouser and curiouser.
A few weeks ago, someone mistook me for Antipodean intellectual Clive James. At Cantaloopy, David Mills said I reminded him of Shrek. I know which I prefer. But alas I know which is more realistic.
Altogether an unusual night in Shoreditch especially when, on my walk back to the car, I bumped into Noel Faulkner just leaving his Comedy Cafe venue and, after crossing Shoreditch High Street, he became fascinated by the sight of two police cars pursuing a man on a skateboard.
“The guy should just keep going,” Noel said to me. “Police cars will never catch a skateboard.”
When I reached my own car I saw, up an adjacent side street, two policemen and a policewoman milling around in the middle of the road while another two policemen were climbing up on a wall to look over railings into a graveyard.
I wondered what the man had done. Perhaps we are on the cusp of a spate of major skateboard robberies which will be countered by Scotland Yard establishing a Skateboard Squad of Lycra-clad coppers.