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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 2 – Paranoia and “eat colourful vegetables”

(CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY)

Teddy bears now think humans are a dangerous virus… (Photograph by Daniele Levis Pelusi via UnSplash)

MONDAY 23rd MARCH

I woke up with the same very slightly hard-edged cough I had last night but it was, again, difficult to know if this was real or a slight variation on my normal lifelong dry cough… 

I emailed a comedian to see if they were OK and got this reply:


“Yes I am OK, John. But it’s a war crime against humanity. It’s phycological warfare. 

to distance humans from each other

the fear is a virus

isolate them

take away the self-employed sector of society and devalue them in one fell swoop

force everyone on to Universal Credit

the scrap heap of society

using war language like front line

next up forced vaccines and 5g

It does feel like we’re fucked.

This is crime against humanity.


Someone else (not a comedian) told me that her spiritual advisor had told her the whole coronavirus thing had been a purge by the spirits. They had decided to wipe out Mankind but had changed their collective mind. Now it is pretty-much over because the spaceships which were seen over Goa at the weekend and over Peru the previous week have gone away.

In the evening I went out for a one-hour walk – the government says we are allowed out once a day for exercise. When I got back home, I was a bit light-headed and had – I think – the tiniest hint of little headaches, but I could have just been imagining it.

TUESDAY 24th MARCH

We are supposed to keep 6 feet or 2 metres apart, unless we are living together. Thank heavens UK social distancing rules do not apply if you share a household…

A comedy performer has posted on his Facebook page: 

I called it yesterday: Pandemic Panic gonna be over by April 6th. Only 28 people died in the UK yesterday.

Around teatime, again, I went out for a one-hour walk. And, when I got back home, I was very slightly light-headed and ever-so-slightly woozy but, again, I could have just been imagining it.

WEDNESDAY 25th MARCH

I feel back to normal today.

The comedy performer who posted on his Facebook page yesterday that the coronavirus outbreak and ‘panic’ would all be over by April 6th today posted:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” (HL Mencken)

Conspiracy theories are sometimes – for some people – easier to understand than reality. And so they are strangely comforting. Because we have all seen the twists in Hollywood movies where the government turns out to be the ultimate ‘baddie’. The devil and plot explanation you know is better than the devil and plot development you don’t know and can’t predict.

Prince Charles has announced he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will self-isolate for 7 days.

My chum Janey Godley, the much-lauded Queen of Scottish Comedy and nemesis of faux President Donald Trump, posted this on her Instagram, headed: Day four of self-isolation.

The bad news (for them) may be that her husband, daughter and dog all have to self-isolate with her

When I do my daily walk to get exercise in Borehamwood, everyone is very polite and keeps their distance. If you see someone coming towards you on the pavement, one of you moves to one edge of the pavement – or sometimes into the road (which is mostly devoid of traffic) and the other person moves to the other side of the pavement. Sometimes, the two people acknowledge each other with a smile or a nod of the head to say Thankyou. It feels like I have been transported back to an Agatha Christie novel set in a 1930s English village… and the killer is still on the loose.

Other views are available. Someone I know of Indian origin posted:

Walking down the street and having old white people cross the road when they see me… Now I know how my dad felt when he came to the UK in the 1960s. No Blacks, no dogs, no virus.

Two metres is the distance we are supposed to stay away from strangers during this coronavirus outbreak… I only understand feet and inches, so I have no idea what 2 metres is.

But I heard a useful explanation on BBC News today. If you imagine the body of an average-sized dead man lying between you and the other person… that is about it.

That I can imagine.

THURSDAY 26th MARCH

Who knew communes still existed? (Photo by Elias Arias via UnSplash)

Someone I know lives in a commune in North London. Who knew such things still existed? He tells me:


There was a minor drama in my house yesterday… The conspiracy theorists who live here actually went to the local hospital to prove that there was no such thing as coronavirus. They went to the chest unit!

When they got back, they talked loudly about it in the garden – about how the doctors weren’t wearing masks. They talked very loudly so everyone could hear because they thought then everyone would realise it wasn’t happening and it is just a conspiracy.

You can imagine the response. Everyone else started freaking out… I’m surprised they weren’t lynched.

I am going to have to try to talk to them again. But it’s really stressing me out because I’ve tried before and now they hate me because I don’t agree with them because that’s how groups work.


A little later, I got an update:


I feel better. I started shouting at the conspiracy theorists about fuck knows what and now I feel better. I had kinda let them chat before because I don’t want to be right about everything, but I had to say something now they’re running around hospitals and are trying to organise a flash mob of young people to meet outside Parliament to defy the ban (and no doubt give each other corona that will kill their grandparents).

I spilt oats on the floor during the row in the kitchen, but not milk – and there’s no use crying over spilt oats.

FRIDAY 27th MARCH

Yesterday, 181 people with coronavirus died in the UK.

Boris Johnson made his health announcement via Twitter

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced they had tested positive for coronavirus and each would self-isolate for seven days.

And I found a message in the spam folder of my email account. It started:


Dear John,

Here is Great News. The UK Government website has downgraded the seriousness of Corona Virus. The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) is also of the opinion that COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an HCID.

However, We Still Have a PRISON PLANET No Matter what The Honest Scientists Say.

Why? Most European and World economies are now at a standstill. Virtually all European car manufacturing has come to a halt. I have talked about the coming collapse of the world economy since 2008 and I have done my best to tell people to protect themselves by getting healthy.

The Pharma/Medical Cartel have been concerned for a while that the public were realising that vaccinations may not be as safe and effective as claimed. This followed CDC researcher Dr Bill Thompson’s revelations who published 10,000 documents exposing a cover-up of side effects and failure of vaccines and autism. The Pharma/Medical Cartel quickly realised that Covid-19 that originated in China was an opportunity to terrorise the population by exaggerating its effects. Vaccines could be shown to be our saviour.

I strongly recommend getting healthy rather than any drug route. Eat more colourful vegetables.

Really healthy people don’t die of Flu or Corona Virus. Read and follow the plan in my eBooks, even if you can’t afford everything.

Like Hippocrates, my books help you to practice health care and follow his famous teaching, “Let Food be thy Medicine, and Medicine be thy Food”.

My bestselling book is now available on a download for all of my readers. Quite simply, this book could change your life!

SATURDAY 28th MARCH

Nick Adderley of the very under-pressure Northants Police

We are allowed to go out only once a day to exercise and you are allowed to travel in to work if your job is deemed essential, but anarchy appears to have broken out in Northamptonshire.

The BBC reports Nick Adderley of Northamptonshire Police saying that the force’s control room has had “dozens and dozens” of calls about people ignoring the order to ‘self-isolate’.

“We are getting calls,” Nick Adderley says, “from people who say ‘I think my neighbour is going out on a second run – I want you to come and arrest them’. We would not want to discourage people from making us aware, but we have to set expectations. We won’t have police officers crashing through garden fences to check the ID of everyone who is there to see whether they live at the house or whether they should be self-isolating… If people think we will be descending on these houses with blue lights, then we won’t.”

Superintendent Ash Tuckley, who leads the control room, says other queries have included someone asking if it was illegal NOT to cough into a tissue and a man who asked: “My wife doesn’t think her job is essential but I do and she’s working from home. Is there anything I can do?”

260 people with coronavirus died yesterday in the UK. The victims were aged 33 to 100 with at least 13 of them being healthy adults with no other underlying health problems.

Echoing what was said around a couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of the outbreak, the medical director of NHS England, today said if the number of deaths can be kept below 20,000 the government will have done well.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Rest in Peace: British showbiz legend Nicholas Parsons and other gentle men

Nicholas Parsons – much loved by generations of Brits

I was at a crematorium in Hampshire today. For a celebration of the life of my cousin’s husband, Michael. He was that seemingly rare thing: a kind, decent and gentle man. My cousin chose well marrying him.

When I left, within less than a minute of me switching on my phone again, there was a BBC newsflash that Nicholas Parsons had died, aged. 96.

And it started to rain.

Truly.

I grew up watching Nicholas Parsons on TV. He played the upper-class and slightly up-himself ‘posh’ foil/neighbour to Arthur Haynes’ working class character/tramp in a ratings-topping ITV comedy show The Arthur Haynes Show, written by Johnny Speight (before he created Till Death Us Do Part).

So, as a child, I suppose I thought of Nicholas Parsons as the character he played – a bit of a posh bloke thinking a bit too much of himself. Sort of a cliché actor type, if you see what I mean.

Later, when I was living in a bedsit in Hampstead, I guess in the early 1970s, there was a story in the local Hampstead & Highgate Express about some girl who had been sexually attacked on Hampstead Heath and afterwards she went to the nearest house she found which, as it happened, was Nicholas Parsons’ home.

My memory is that she was effusive about how wonderful and helpful, how kind and considerate, caring and efficient he was, helping her with the police and so on.

I always thought much more of him after that – he was not just some posh sitcom actor/foil on a television show but a good person – a human being.

A few years later, I was working in the on-screen promotion department at Anglia TV in Norwich, where he fronted their big ITV ratings-getter Sale of the Century. (It was getting over 21 million viewers weekly.)

One way to rate TV ‘stars’ I always found was that, if they ate in the canteen with the plebs and the canteen ladies liked them, then they were OK as human beings. The canteen ladies at Anglia TV always liked Nicholas Parsons. (A parallel was Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, early in their careers, in the Granada TV  canteen in Manchester.)

His TV gameshow was getting over 21 million viewers weekly

One day, Nicholas Parsons came into the promotion office at Anglia TV and, for the life of me, I can’t remember why – I think maybe he was asking advice or plugging some travel project he had – but he – the big Anglia and ITV Network star – was, as ever, amiable, modest and charming – not in a schmaltzy showbiz promotional way but in a genuinely normal person-to-person way.

His image was, I suppose, of a constantly-smiling, slightly cheesy, always ‘on’ old style showbiz star.

But, on the two occasions I briefly met him in the flesh, he was anything but that. He was, if I have to choose a naff but exactly true term, a ‘real’ person. It was impossible not to like him.

An unlikely meeting of minds in 2007…

The second time I briefly met him was when he was a guest on Janey Godley’s Chat Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. I met him on the steep stone steps behind what had been the old Gilded Balloon, was at that time The Green Room venue and has since gone through various names.

He was, again, a charming, keen-to-please and keen-to-be-helpful, slightly frail gentle man. (He was 83 at the time and I thought to myself: He is going to pop his clogs soon… That was 13 years ago and he was still going strong last year!)

As a result of being a guest on that show, he – the seemingly definitive comfortable ‘Home Counties’ man – and Janey – the definitive tough wee East End Glaswegian – seemed to bond because, as I understand it, his parents had sent him to do manual work in the Glasgow shipyards in his youth to ‘toughen him up’. As a result, despite his image as ‘Home Counties Man’, I think he felt an affinity with working class Glaswegians.

Janey turned up multiple times later both on his own Edinburgh Fringe chat shows and on his long-running BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute. The BBC tried the format on TV in 1999, but it didn’t catch on there. It has been running on radio since 1967.

On her Facebook page this afternoon, Janey posted this tribute to him:


Just a Minute – Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas

#NicholasParsons was one of the very few old school iconic comedians/presenters who was very much invested in new and young comics at Edinburgh – he came to see our shows and spent time getting to know us – he was one of “us” he loved stand up.

The sheer delight knowing that Nicholas was in your audience was something that “lifted” our spirits at the Fringe – despite his age and workload he came to see HEAPS of comedy shows and sat and chatted with us afterwards – nobody else that famous did that for us.

He took time with new and emerging comics and always was generous with his time. We were used to famous faces at the Fringe but Nicholas was that guy who sat in a tiny hot room and laughed and cheered you on. And for that I will always love him


That is Janey’s opinion.

TV chat show host Graham Norton Tweeted this afternoon: “Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with. His continued delight at being a part of show business should be an inspiration to us all!”

I can’t say, personally, that I have ever warmed to men as a species. I’m more of a cat person. Cats have a nobility and (if you feed them) an amiability that is usually sorely lacking in men.

So it is a very great loss when genuinely decent gentle men die.

Nicholas Parsons had three wildly successful, long-running, overlapping showbiz peaks – The Arthur Haynes Show, Sale of the Century and Just a Minute – and, quite rightly, memories of him are splattered all over TV and radio news, in print and on the internet.

My cousin’s husband Michael – whose memorial celebration was packed to standing room only in a small Hampshire town today – tried to follow the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”

Michael lived his life to the full and added to it the other key ingredient: kindness. I think he and Nicholas Parsons shared that.

At the end of the celebration of Michael’s life today, the poem One At Rest by that prolific writer Anon was read out. It ends:

And in my fleeting lifespan,
as time went rushing by
I found some time to hesitate,
to laugh, to love, to cry.
Matters it now if time began
if time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all
and I am now at peace.

RIP Michael and Nicholas.

Or, as the Tralfamadorians would say:

So it goes.

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Some sexual and sectarian attacks on female comics at the Edinburgh Fringe

Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is an emotional strain on all performers but, in one way, perhaps more for female performers.

Yesterday’s blog mentioned Samantha Pressdee and her show Covered (in PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court), which is largely about mental health.

Last night, she posted this on her Facebook page:


My night has ended with the police. I’m very grateful to the transport police. As I was entering Waverley Station to get my train back to where I am staying a man touched me.

I was just walking past and he grabbed my hand which was on my breast because I was holding my backpack straps. I just screamed at him “WHAT THE FUCK, YOU DON’T TOUCH WOMEN AT NIGHT!” (Or in the day. I was in distress. It’s scarier at night on my own.)

Some station staff asked me if I was OK and I said: “It’s fine, he just touched my hand.” Then I realise he is following me, cocky in his body language and pouting his lips suggestively. I just started screaming at him that he was a disgusting pervert and, thankfully, the police were there and went after him. I thought, based on previous experience, There is no point making a statement, but they said the laws are different in Scotland. He could be charged with threatening behaviour. So I will make a statement.

It is not OK to just randomly touch a woman in the street anywhere on her body, EVER. It is this kind of entitlement some people seem to think they have to our bodies that drove me to become a free the nipple activist. My body is not for male gratification. My body is mine.


Meanwhile, it was a fairly normal day for Janey Godley.

In her bestselling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark, she wrote about how her uncle sexually abused her from the age of 5 to 13. She successfully got him prosecuted and jailed 30 years later.

Janey was brought up in a Protestant family. Her uncle was a member of the Orange Order. She faces endless ongoing online sectarian and sexual attacks with occasional death and rape threats from men – often supporters of the Rangers football team (Rangers is traditionally a Protestant team; Celtic is traditionally a Catholic team). 

Given that Janey was brought up Protestant and is, as far as I know, an atheist, the sectarian attacks on her as a Catholic are particularly bizarre.

The example below is a fairly mild version of what she gets.

Yesterday, she Tweeted a 1920 photo of the Edinburgh street where she is currently living during the Fringe and got a response.

Janey’s response?

“A Rangers fan is angry at a street and thinks I am a Catholic. Poor Blair Muircroft. Imagine being this angry on a Sunday morning.”

The last laugh (if that is the correct word) goes to Janey.

Because, also yesterday, her Fringe show at The Counting House got a 4-star review from Broadway World which ended:

“As ever, her show is completely free to attend and filled on a first-come-first-served basis. Many are turned away each day, so early queueing is strongly advised – up to an hour before being guaranteed entry.”

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Part 4: In 2005, comics (and his mum) respond to the death of Malcolm Hardee

Continuing these daily re-posts of how British comics and other comedy industry people reacted when Malcolm Hardee drowned…


REX BOYD, juggler – 21st February 2005

I’m pretty sure the juggler that Alan Davies mentions playing at the Tunnel is me. It was just a month or so after some comic had been injured by a flying pint glass on stage at the Tunnel and a few months after Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie. 

Malcolm introduced me as “some American bloke. Might be shit,” and so I walked on stage to what I think to this day is the most intelligent heckle I’ve ever had: “Why didn’t you fly Pan Am?” (of course said with a gleeful hatred)

I thought I was doing an open spot and asked Malcolm how long I should do. He said: “Do as long as you can.” So I did about 20 minutes and, when I came off, much to my surprise, Malcolm paid me £80 for my open spot. 

His generosity and honesty only continued when 5 years later I came back to London to re-establish myself and Malcolm was the only promoter who was willing to book me without the hoop jumping open-spots.

Oh, and he tried to get my 4 month old daughter to take up cigarettes at Glastonbury.


LEE MACK, comedian – 22nd February

Instead of paying me for a gig, he once convinced me I owned half of a greyhound. I was actually quite excited until another comic told me that there were about five other comedians who owned the same half of the same greyhound. I didn’t know Malcolm particularly well, but somehow really miss him. X


BEN NORRIS, comedian – 22nd February

I remember one of my Malcolm Hardee adventures was when I was booked on the same bill as The Greatest Show on Legs at The Glee in Birmingham. Malcolm called me and asked if I wanted a lift with him Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch. I accepted and Malcolm picked me up in an old black cab… I knew I was in for a memorable weekend. 

I’m pretty sure I paid for the first tank of petrol as no one “had any cash on them”. On checking into the hotel, Malcolm gave a false name and told them that my credit card would cover him as well… DANGER!! 

After one of the gigs, we were sitting in the hotel bar when Malcolm popped off for a wee, but was back within a minute. I knew the gents was down 2 flights of stairs and along a corridor so I literally smelt trouble. Sure enough, he took delight in explaining that he’d only made it as far as the door to the hotel gym.

That night he insisted on buying the drinks and putting them on his room number. Very generous, I thought.

Needless to say when I received my credit card bill a few weeks later I discovered £200 had been taken to cover the room bill of my colleague a Mr Hardee Malcolm (surely his least imaginative alias) who had left the hotel without paying.

It seemed to be almost a right of passage in the comedy world to have Malcolm financially manipulate you.

Another time, Malcolm called me up out of the blue and asked me to go to a pub quiz with him. I couldn’t resist and had another mad odyssey with him… We didn’t do very well and Malcolm seemed slightly disappointed… It was only later I realised that he must have thought I was clever. After the credit card incident, you’d have thought not.

I managed to get my money back from the hotel, but what a shame I didn’t get to spend more time with MH; he will be genuinely missed.


JOAN HARDEE, Malcolm’s mum – 22nd February

Around the time he separated from his wife Jane, I was talking to Malcolm.

“You’re my son and I love you very much,” I told him, “but to live with you must be very disconcerting. After all, you’ve got all the vices: you smoke, you drink, you gamble and you’re a womaniser.”

“Good job I’m not into donkeys,” he replied.

There was no answer to that.


KAREN KOREN, Edinburgh Fringe venue owner – 24th February

Malcolm was always in and around the Gilded Balloon in the 1980s and 1990s performing at Late’n’Live or just hanging around. When Chris Lynam did his show in the early 1990s, his big finale was to stick a firework up his bum and light it, while playing There’s No Business Like Showbusiness. 

One night, Chris had to be rushed to hospital during the show, for some emergency or other, before his Grand Finale. Malcolm was in the dressing room and said, “I’ll do it”. 

So he went on stage, naked, and put his penis and bollocks between his legs, just like Chris would do. However, Malcolm had much longer and larger bollocks than Chris, and they stuck out the back. 

He had to stick the firework up his arse but his butt cheeks, not being quite as firm as Chris’, couldn’t quite hold it in place and, after lighting it, it dropped down and set his balls alight. 

He danced round that stage to There’s No Business Like Show Busniness with flames up his back, screaming his head off. 

He came off and said, in his usual downbeat manner, “That was alright”.


JANEY GODLEY, comedian – 25th February

It was the mid eighties and Jerry Sadowitz was doing a ‘big show’ at a Glasgow theatre. Having known Jerry for a few years previous I went along to see his gig.

I sat in the auditorium and watched as this shambolic looking man in crumply suit and big glasses wandered on. I and loads of other Glaswegians were very confused. Jerry’s brand of humour was just about enough of what we could handle, but this strange ‘English’ dude chatting was mental.

The ‘crumpled’ man then just pulled down his zip and got out his penis and stood there. I laughed till I hurt but was shocked!

A bit later there was some sort of fracas happening at the front box office and I rushed out to see what it was.

There stood Malcolm, the theatre manager and a disgruntled wee Glaswegian couple. The wife was shouting: “I have never seen anything like that in my life! I came here to see comedy! I have never seen anything like that before!”

The manager looked at Malcolm, who turned to the woman and said: ”What? Are you kidding? You have been married for years and you have never seen a man’s penis?” He then pulled out his penis again and showed her it. ”There you go missus, just in case you forget what it looks like.”

He walked away laughing.

That was how I first met Mr Hardee.

Years later I got to know him a wee bit more.

He will be very sadly missed.


ALAN DAVIES – 25th February

I remember the predictions he would do on stage at the end of the year about who might die the following year. He’d keep a list of people who he and the audience reckoned might go in the year ahead and then pull it out again at the end of December to see how many were right.

The list always began with “The Queen Mum, hot favourite”.

He would then go through the people who’d gone unexpectedly before compiling a new list for the coming year, which would begin with “Queen Mum,obviously”.

There was so much laughter guessing who might die.

He’d weigh up the chances of a suggestion as if thinking what the odds were.

The juggler at The Tunnel who had his clubs hurled at him and caught them was Rex Boyd. Malcolm was worried as there was a comics’ boycott going on after Clarence and Joy Pickles had had an injury from a plastic glass. Malcolm was upset and wanted to make sure the comics would come back again.

They all did of course because they were so fond of him.

… CONTINUED HERE

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My Comedy Taste. Part 4: There was a Scots woman, a Jew and a dead writer

Here is the final part of my conversation with comedy festival judge and linguist Louisette Stodel which took place in London’s Soho Theatre Bar one afternoon back in 2017.

I think Louisette was impressed by and appreciative of the insights I shared with her…


JOHN: Janey Godley is interesting… You know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

JOHN: The Perrier Award judges individually went to see her show and it was not until they sat down together to discuss possible nominees that they realised they had all seen her perform totally different shows because she was making it up every night. Stories from her life. Very very funny. But different hour-long shows every night.

There was a big discussion about whether she was eligible for the Award. Some people were keen to nominate her but the rules were that you were nominated for performing ‘a show’ and what she was doing was not the same, single show every night. She was, it could be and was argued, simply chatting to the audience.

She was making up a different hour-long show every night for maybe 28 nights on the trot. Utterly brilliant and much more impressive than doing the same show every night. But, because it was NOT the same basic show every night, eventually, it was decided she was ineligible and she was not nominated for the Perrier.

LOUISETTE:  That’s exactly what you were talking about earlier, in a sense.

Janey Godley in Glasgow at Children In Need Rocks Scotland

JOHN: Yes. And, as far as I know, to this day, years later, Janey has never scripted a Fringe comedy show in her life. You get roughly the same show each year now – a different show every year – but she plays it by ear.

I remember once in London walking up Dean Street with her to the Soho Theatre for a supposed ‘preview’ of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show and she told me not only did she not know exactly which stories would be in the show; she did not know what her opening line would be.

She maybe had twelve or fifteen or eighteen basic unscripted stories and could fit maybe five or six into an hour-long show, but there was no script and no pre-decided running order. And the show was brilliantly funny. Now THAT is talent. THAT I admire.

LOUISETTE: How does she end her shows on time?

JOHN: Well, I know one year she did have one climactic prepared story and it lasted exactly nine minutes. It wasn’t scripted, but it was structured tightly. So she had the sound technician at the back of the audience flash a torch exactly ten minutes from the end of her scheduled time and, whatever she was saying at that point, she would get seamlessly into the start of the final story and, every night, she would finish to within about 30 seconds of her scheduled end-time – every night. Brilliant.

LOUISETTE: So what excites you is seeing unique shows.

JOHN: Well yes. I like Lewis Schaffer shows, of course. The ultimate in unpredictable rollercoaster shows.

LOUISETTE: You prefer the uneven acts.

JOHN: Yes. Well, sort of. Janey’s shows are not uneven – they are uniformly funny and smooth, but they are not tightly pre-planned. She’s just a great, great storyteller.

LOUISETTE: Slick?

JOHN: Smooth. She has great audience control. But, in general – Janey is an exception – I prefer rollercoaster acts. And maybe, for that reason, I prefer newer acts. 

LOUISETTE: Lewis Schaffer is not a new act.

JOHN: OK. I prefer newer acts OR wildly unpredictable acts.

LOUISETTE: And Lewis Schaffer is dependably unpredictable.

“He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could… become a TV success” (Photograph by Garry Platt)

JOHN: To say the least. Sometimes he will, from nowhere, just go off on a complete tangent and come up with wonderful original stuff.

I like seeing unexpected, brilliant stuff coming from nowhere.

Lewis Schaffer is never going to get success as a TV comic. Not as a stand-up. He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could, like and unlike Johnny Vegas, become a TV success through personality.

In his case, I think he would be a good presenter of documentaries because he has all these bizarre angles. He has a Wikipedia mind: he knows a little about a lot.

LOUISETTE: He’s also very funny on his Facebook page. But what is it about Lewis Schaffer specifically on stage? OK, he’s unpredictable; he’s up-and-down; he has great ideas…

JOHN: If you see him once, you might think it’s a shambles but, if you see him five times in a row, you get addicted.

LOUISETTE: The first time I saw him, his show was brilliant.

JOHN: Is this the My girlfriend had a penis show?

LOUISETTE: Yes.

JOHN: Now that WAS a show!

LOUISETTE: Friends of mine who recommended him told me: “See this guy. You never know what’s going to happen…”

JOHN: Yeah.

LOUISETTE: …and it wasn’t like that.

JOHN: Not that show. It actually had a structure. I nearly fell off my seat with shock because it was a ‘real’ structured show.

Certainly, with Lewis Schaffer, you see the real person. You can’t bloody avoid it. With him, the attraction is the unpredictability and the flashes of genuine left-field insight. He’s the definitive rollercoaster.

LOUISETTE: …which excites you because you don’t know what’s going to happen?

JOHN: Yes.

Not relevant: L’Ange du Foyer ou le Triomphe du Surréalisme by Max Ernst, 1937;

LOUISETTE: You like amazing stuff coming from nowhere. I had been going to ask you if it is the writing, the performance or the delivery that gets you excited, but it’s actually none of those things.

JOHN: Well, ‘writing’ is maybe not the right word. It can be. But it’s something coming from the laterally-thinking recesses of the brain.

LOUISETTE: So with someone like Ross Noble, where you know it’s going to be a little bit unpredictable but you also know that he’s probably going to make it all come good, does that make it less interesting because it’s less dangerous?

JOHN: No. You can make something become good through talent.

LOUISETTE: So it’s the creation ‘in the moment’. You like seeing things happen ‘in the moment;’.

JOHN: Probably, yes. I like to be surprised by where something goes. It’s like a good twist in a film.

LOUISETTE: The unexpected. We are back to that. Tales of the Unexpected.

JOHN: Yes. The unexpected. Someone said the other day that I look like Roald Dahl. I don’t think this is a compliment. Do I look like Roald Dahl?

I sign some random books for a few of my appreciative blog readers in Amsterdam, in October 1988.
(Photograph by Rob Bogaerts / Anefo)

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My Comedy Taste. Part 3: Stand-ups vs jugglers. Skill is not the same as talent.

I posted Part 1 and Part 2 the last couple of days, so …here is Part 3 – the penultimate part – of a conversation in London’s Soho Theatre Bar back in the mists of 2017 in which comedy festival judge and linguistic advisor Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy. I continue to talk less than fluently through my own anal passage


LOUISETTE: So you admire skilled and talented people…

JOHN: Yes, but skill and talent are not the same thing. Malcolm Hardee – the highly-regarded British comedian, philosopher and nudist – always used to say he didn’t like mime or juggling, because they are skills not talents and “a tragic waste of time”.

If an average person practises for 12 hours a day for 5 years, they could probably become an excellent mime or an excellent juggler. But, if they practise endlessly trying to be a good comedian, they would not necessarily end up an even average comedian because there is some innate talent required to be a good comedian.

If you have two good jugglers or mimes, they can probably be as effective doing each other’s routines.

If you have two good comedians, even if they deliver the lines with exactly the same intonation and pauses, they very possibly cannot be as effective doing each other’s material.

LOUISETTE: Because there is something in the person…

Tommy: often copied; never bettered

JOHN: Yes. Though it depends on the jokes a little. People CAN do Tommy Cooper jokes and impressions quite successfully because the jokes are very short and simple and the timing is built-in to his very specific style of delivery. But I have seen people steal short, snappy, very funny Milton Jones jokes and they can’t deliver them as effectively as he does.

LOUISETTE: Some funny people are born writers and some are born performers.

JOHN: In days of yore, you didn’t write your own jokes; you bought them. Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin used to write for Bob Hope. Well, that still happens, of course. (Famous comedian A) has a scriptwriter. And (Famous comedian B) buys loads of gags. I know the guy who writes for (Famous comedian A) and he was watching some TV panel show recently and one of his jokes from a few years before turned up. Which was fine; he had been paid for it.

LOUISETTE: Bob Monkhouse was brilliant. But would you have paid to go and see him? You said earlier that you would not pay to see Michael McIntyre because he was too professional for you.

JOHN: Interestingly, I WOULD have gone to see Bob Monkhouse and I have no idea why… I… I dunno. He was the Michael McIntyre of his time and he would have been the same every night.

LOUISETTE: He was a different comedian to McIntyre with a different relationship to the audience.

JOHN: I suppose the attraction of Monkhouse was that you could throw any subject at him and, off the top of his head, he would have six or ten cracking good jokes about it. No tricks. He was just like a joke encyclopaedia.

As a kid, I never rated Ted Ray – who was a generation before Monkhouse but had that same encyclopaedic joke ability. But maybe that’s because I was just a kid. Maybe if I saw him now I would appreciate his ability more. Though, to me, he never had Monkhouse’s charisma.

Bob: “He just really was hyper-sensitive”

Monkhouse had a terrible public reputation for being smarmy and insincere – largely from his stint presenting The Golden Shot – but I don’t think he was. He just really was hyper-sensitive. I only encountered him once. We had him on Tiswas and he famously liked slapstick: he had acres of slapstick films and idolised the great slapstick performers but, when he agreed to do Tiswas, the one thing he specified up-front was: “You can’t shove a custard pie in my face.” No-one had any idea why.

The pies were made of highly-whipped shaving foam, not custard, so they wiped off without damage or stickiness, but he wouldn’t have it. No problem. He said it up-front. No problem, but very strange.

LOUISETTE: You like the encyclopaedic part of Monkhouse and his ability to tell pre-prepared jokes well. But what about, at the other end of the spectrum, Johnny Vegas? He appeals to your love of more anarchic things?

JOHN: Malcolm Hardee phoned me up one Sunday afternoon and said: “You gotta come down to Up The Creek tonight to see this new comedian Johnny Vegas. You and me will love him but the audience might not.” No-one had ever heard of Johnny Vegas, then. 

I went and saw him that night and Malcolm and I loved him and the audience loved him. You could feel the adrenaline in the air. You had no idea what he was going to say or do next and I don’t think he did either. I remember him clambering through and over the audience in the middle of his act for no logical reason.

Hardee called Johnny Vegas “a genius”

He had no vastly detailed act. He just reacted to the audience’s reactions to what he did. Utterly brilliant. I said to Malcolm: “He’s never going to be a success, because he can’t do 2-minute jokes on TV and repeat them word-for-word and action-for-action in rehearsals, camera rehearsals, dress rehearsals and recordings.”

And I was wrong, of course. He HAS become very successful on TV. But not really as a comic. He made it as a personality – on panel shows where he could push the personality angle.

There was amazing adrenaline in the air that night at Up The Creek. You can feel adrenaline in a live show. But you can’t feel it through a TV screen.

A few years later, I saw Johnny Vegas perform an hour-long show at the Edinburgh Fringe and Malcolm had seen the show for maybe seven nights before that – every night. And Malcolm used the word “genius” about Johnny and I said: “You almost never ever use that word about anyone,” and he said, “Every time I’ve seen this show in the last seven days, it’s been a totally different show.”

Not just slightly different. A 100% totally different show.

Janey Godley is interesting in that respect because you know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Copstick and the abused Kenyan girls

Kate Copstick is Mama Biashara

The UK’s most influential comedy critic, Kate Copstick, is currently working with Mama Biashara, the charity she started in Kenya.

This is the (edited) second series of extracts from her diary. The first was posted a couple of days ago.

The full version is on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SATURDAY

The government has closed the forests and so there is pretty much no (legal) charcoal or firewood.unless it comes in from Tanzania at exorbitant cost. Fine for the rich but very unfine for the poor who cannot afford gas, much less electricity to cook with. 

We have had huge success with recycled fuel briquettes using a variety of biowaste according to region. Unfortunately our success drew the attention of the charcoal cartels (oh yes there are such things) and our groups were either physically attacked or threatened into submission. So our groups have split up into smaller, less threatening-looking chunks and spread out. We are teaching people how to make the briquettes so they can use them themselves and save money.

Two of the Mama Biashara Mary Faith children (posed so as to obscure their identities)

SUNDAY

I go to see Mary Faith.

New girls have been rescued and five of the older girls have been turned away from school because there is no money for school fees.

Firstly Lucy, who is paralysed and a little bit intellectually challenged. Ideal, then, for the men around her to have some fun with.

She was brought to Mary Faith pregnant and she refused to have a termination because she says she wants someone to love her and she thinks the baby will be that someone. Because of the paralysis she needs a Caesarean Section. Two hundred quid.

Then there is Diana, who is four years old and an absolute joy. She stares at me and asks me what I am. I tell her I am a shosho (an old lady). She grabs my arm and scratches gently. She looks at me and asks if my legs are the same as my arms. I roll up my leggings and she shrieks with laughter. She makes me pull them up further. We further inspect my tummy, my back and my bottom, all to hoots of amusement and amazement. Then she inspects my hair – to see if it is real. 

Mary Faith and I tell her that there are lots of people like me. She is wide eyed. She is a little odd and has a stammer, but then she saw her mother beaten and running for her life and then she herself was raped and then abandoned, outside their locked house, by her father. 

So that would tend to make you a bit stammery. At four. But we do counting and singing and she thinks my name is funny, so she is doing really well. 

And then there are the girls who have been sent away from school because there is no money for fees. The fees are about one hundred pounds per girl per term. They are all working really hard at their studies 

Jane is 16 and has a three year old son. She was abused by a family friend and abandoned.

Teresia is 17 and has a daughter aged 3. She was married off at age 14 in order to use the dowry to pay a debt that her grandfather had managed to incur.

Doris is also 17 and was also married off at age 14 by her uncle after both her parents died. The uncle sent Doris’s three siblings with her from West Pokot to her new marital home in Nairobi so she could look after them. Obviously, he wanted nothing to do with them once he had her dowry. She got pregnant, miscarried and was bleeding heavily for six months after her husband abandoned her because she was obviously no good at having children. All four of the family are with Mary Faith. Doris still has appalling gynaecological issues.

Rafina is 16 and is the mother of a two and a half year old boy. She was raped by her paternal uncle in the family home and then, when the pregnancy was apparent, taken to the centre of Nairobi and abandoned. She was sleeping rough when some of the street boys who knew about Mary Faith brought her to the home.

Margaret is 16 and was abused by neighbours when her parents died and she was left alone looking after her siblings. All are now with Mary Faith.

Finally there is Berine, another new girl, aged 16. She was sent by family (after her parents died) to Dandora as a house girl. Sold, basically. There she was abused and impregnated by her employer. As soon as this Prince Charming saw she was pregnant, he threw her out. She found occasional shelter with street sex workers but when she gave birth they also threw her out. 

She was living rough for weeks when the street boys rescued her and brought her to Mary Faith.

So there you have it. I am really hoping Mama Biashara People can come up with the school fees. Even the money for the Caesarean Section. I do not know how you choose who to help. (Donations can be made HERE.)

In other, other news, inspired by Janey Godley, I am working with a group of young guys here who do art and ceramics and all sorts of stuff to see if we can come up with a Mama Biashara T-shirt design and they will handpaint them. Watch this space.

… CONTINUED HERE

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