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Mr Twonkey tries to plug his show but gets sidetracked by cheese and fast food

I had a very fuzzy talk with Mr Twonkey

I had a video chat with comedy performer Mr Twonkey (Paul Vickers) on FaceTime but I could only see him as a frozen, fuzzy presence.


PAUL: That’s just the way I look.

JOHN: Where are you? Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, on the shore at Leith in my windmill.

JOHN: Your windmill in Edinburgh.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: You wanted to talk to me to wantonly plug your show at the Bill Murray comedy club in Islington next Thursday (7th February).

PAUL: And I’m at the Leicester Comedy Festival the weekend after that – Saturday 9th.

JOHN: The same show?

PAUL: Yes. Well, the same show with a different title.

JOHN: The last time I talked to you, there seemed to be a planned, linear progression to your shows. I was quite shocked.

PAUL: Well, to me there’s a plan, but people just think they’re… well, just… well… mental… But to me there’s a plan.

JOHN: So what’s this new show about?

PAUL: A conspiracy theory. The idea that all the weather we currently experience is generated in one small factory in the Dordogne in France. And the ‘front’ for it is a cake decorating shop. Behind the scenes, they are making weather, but it is mal-functioning. So I go to investigate. That’s the central crux… There are connections with Leonardo da Vinci.

JOHN: Which are?

PAUL: Apparently he had plans to re-invent the weather.

JOHN: Title of the show?

Mr Twonkey’s new show is coming to Islington

PAUL: My original title was Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change but, when I told my PR, the phone went silent. Now it’s called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. She didn’t like Whizz, Weathercock, Whizz! either. Next Thursday will be the first time I’ve performed it. The other night, we wrote a new song for it because we were watching Neil Diamond videos and became inspired. So now there’s a new bit in the show about a temporary exhibition of Neil Diamond stage costumes at Luton Airport.

JOHN: Separate from this show, you have a new music album coming out…

PAUL: Yes. There’s a new Paul Vickers and The Leg album called Jump! There have been some problems on that with label changes, but I think what is going to happen is… Well, I don’t know what is going to happen at all. The main thing we’re focussed on is getting it finished. We’re mixing it at the moment. It takes a long time to finish a record because, when you get five grumpy men in a room, it takes a while.

JOHN: Are you going to tour with the band?

PAUL: Hopefully. But it’s a case of time and money. There’s a lot of things I would like to do. My play about David Lynch is ready, but it’s too expensive for me to do at the moment.

JOHN: Why expensive?

PAUL: I need actors and actors cost money. The last time I did a play – Jennifer’s Robot Arm – it cost me a fortune. The trouble with plays is the cost escalates. It’s like digging a hole and just throwing loads of money into it. Whereas, with a Twonkey show, there’s a limit to how much the cost can escalate because it’s basically just me and what I buy in junk shops.

JOHN: How is your good lady? Is she still making props for you?

“Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver. Sounds strange”

PAUL: Yes. And buying me things. The other day, she bought me a xylophone that plays by itself, but I think it’s broken. It sounds wrong and wobbles a lot.

JOHN: But, then, so do I… Is it having creative differences with itself?

PAUL: It appears so. It’s quite rusty as well. Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver but it sounds very strange now.

JOHN: It plays itself?

PAUL: Because it’s from the early 1970s, the way you program it is with a coil. It’s kinda like an auto-piano that you would get in a Wild West saloon. It’s very old and broken.

JOHN: But, then, so am I and, if you tweaked me with a screwdriver…. What else have you been doing?

PAUL: I made a little video in the western town in Morningside

JOHN: Western town? Morningside??? The very posh part of Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes. Behind the library, there’s a street that’s like the Wild West.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: It was built for some advertising thing. There’s a saloon and a canteen. It’s like a proper little Wild West street. It used to be a dance hall; now it’s a street.

JOHN: What is the video about?

Mr Twonkey inside his windmill, holding quite a large cheese

PAUL: Cheese. How America lacks high quality cheese… American cheese is kinda plastic cheese. Was there ever a point where they tried to introduce European or exotic cheeses into America? I had the idea there was a time in the Wild West where cheese was more valuable than gold. So I’m trying to smuggle cheese and I steal the sheriff’s cheese and he tries to win it back. It’s very simple.

JOHN: What triggered you into thinking about the low quality of cheese in the USA?

PAUL: I just couldn’t think of any high-quality American cheese. In this country, every different region has its own cheese. And I thought: That surely must be the case in America; they must be making some kind of local cheese… but they’re not. Why not? But they love cheese. 

JOHN: Their showbiz can be quite cheesy. There’s Brie Larson.

PAUL: But does she generate genuine cheese?

JOHN: I don’t know her that well.

PAUL: There is no great American cheese. It is such poor quality that it can’t officially be classed as cheese.

JOHN: Who says?

Mr Twonkey – a man, a myth, a large sombrero

PAUL: The cheesemongers of the world. The Cheese Police. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Is there some official supervisory cheese body?

PAUL: There must be. You can’t get away with just knocking out anything and calling it cheese. There must be someone who says: “Hang on a minute… That’s not proper cheese!”

JOHN: Is all this because American cows are below par?

PAUL: The thing about America is it’s massive. They’ve got snake farms. There are places out in the woods where they’re making things in a DIY homemade manner. You would think somewhere out there someone would be making high quality cheese…

You would think maybe someone with French ancestry would be thinking: I want to make a really smelly, runny cheese. But I don’t think there’s anyone in America doing that. I have Googled extensively online and the best I could come up with was Vermont Cheddar which, if you put it on a plate in France, they would say: “Well, that is… average.”

I have never been to Vermont. All I know is the Captain Beefheart song Moonlight on Vermont.

JOHN: Does Moonlight on Vermont include any reference to cheese?

PAUL: I don’t think he mentions cheese.

JOHN: I seem to remember cheese being a motif in previous shows of yours.

PAUL: It is. It’s one of the things I focus on. Certain things keep coming back: cheese, World War Two, escapology, engineering and witchcraft. But you Google American cheese. You’d be amazed.

JOHN: I don’t doubt it.

PAUL: The country that invented the cheeseburger doesn’t have decent cheese.

JOHN: Did they invent the cheeseburger?

PAUL: Well, they invented fast food. Have you seen that film The Founder?

JOHN: About Colonel Sanders?

PAUL: No, about the guy who started McDonald’s. Except he didn’t start McDonald’s. He went into business with the McDonald brothers and their original intention was high-quality fast food.

Michael Keaton’s movie as The Founder

The way they did it was they didn’t open a restaurant first; they booked a tennis court, got a piece of chalk and divided the tennis court into different areas for preparing different types of food, then employed staff who came to the tennis court and they mapped-out a kitchen and they were directing people round this tennis court to see who could make the quickest high-quality cheeseburger. Then they built a restaurant to the exact specifications of the tennis court.

JOHN: Didn’t the net get in the way?”

PAUL: I think they maybe took down the net. We have gone off-track…

JOHN: I feel there is a rock opera to be written about cheese and you are the man to do it.

PAUL: The Americans invented jazz and fast food… And that’s it… We are going off-track.

JOHN: So you are performing at the Bill Murray in London on Thursday.

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

Twonkey… Another gig. The same show. Another title… A fez

JOHN: And then at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Saturday 9th February..

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change.

JOHN: Which is the same show, but with a different title.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, it will be called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: That seems reasonable.

… Mr TWONKEY’s MORNINGSIDE VIDEO IS ON YOUTUBE …

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Mr Twonkey’s world of rubber pigs and blow-up women

Mr Twonkey’s selfie, taken yesterday

Mr Twonkey’s selfie, taken at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday

I met Mr Twonkey in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday. He was on a two-day trip to London from Edinburgh to see the opening night of his play Jennifer’s Robot Arm, which is on for three days at the Bread & Roses venue in Clapham. I blogged about a read-through of the play in February.

Mr Twonkey wrote the play but does not appear in it.

He told me: “It’ll the the first time I’ve sat in the back of a theatre and watched people perform a play of mine without me in it. I think I’ll laugh because I’ll just be amazed it’s happening. – What am I putting these poor people through? – I’ve changed a few bits since you saw the read-through and it doesn’t have Auntie Myra in it any more. But we do have a guy who isn’t really a drag act who is going to dress up as a woman for us.”

“Isn’t a man who is not a drag act who dresses up as a woman a drag act by definition?” I asked.

“Mmmm…” said Twonkey.

Time Out has described his shows as “oddly entertaining and utterly bizarre” and my fellow Grouchy Club podcaster Kate Copstick says he “makes Edward Lear sound like the Six O’Clock News”

Twonkey’s Acid House Circus Tour poster

Twonkey’s Acid House Circus Tour poster

I had forgotten, but it turned out we were having a chat because he was plugging Twonkey’s Acid House Circus Tour – a fair title for two different shows in three different cities next month.

He is performing his new show Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop at the Brighton Fringe and last year’s show Twonkey’s Private Restaurant at London’s Soho Theatre and at the Prague Fringe.

“I was going to promote it as Twonkey Goes To Eastern Europe but they told me: It will be taken the wrong way.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’ve no idea,” said Twonkey. “They said calling it ‘Eastern Europe’ might be offensive.”

He is appearing at the Divadlo na Prádle venue in Prague.

“Apparently,” Twonkey told me, “that means Theatre of Lingerie.”

I checked Google Translate when I got home and it reckoned Divadlo na Prádle simply means Theatre on Prádle. But then I did a search for ‘lingerie’ in Czech and it turns out that the Lingerie Football League is “a league of American football played by women”. It does not elaborate on what they wear as their team strip. One must never forget that the actual name of Prague is Praha and it can be almost as bizarre as Mr Twonkey.

Yesterday he showed me his flyer for the Prague show.

Mr Twonkey’s Prague Fringe flyer

Mr Twonkey’s Prague Fringe flyer, with fish

“Why,” I asked, “are you opening a can of tuna in the photograph?”

“Well,” he said, “I’ve been buying a lot of things from a prop store.”

“Specialising in fish?” I asked.

“I’m kind of addicted to the prop store,” he continued, “sometimes to the point where I buy the prop before I come up with the sketch or the…”

“Is there,” I asked, “much demand in the props world for half-opened tins of fish?”

“Not really,” he admitted, “and, to be honest, I haven’t been able to incorporate it into the show. But I suppose it suggests I’ve got a restaurant and the show is called Twonkey’s Private Restaurant. One of the problems in Edinburgh last year was that there was sometimes a bit of confusion because some people expected food.”

“What was the show’s origin?” I asked.

“I’ve always wanted to run a restaurant and a lot of my shows take place in outer space or in different dimensions, so I thought it would be good to just restrict myself to an actual place. Also it’s easier to do. You just need a tablecloth, some plastic food and a candle.”

“No cutlery?” I asked.

“It would be a bad idea,” replied Twonkey, “to give the audience knives.”

Mr Twonkey (left) with unexpected red drag act

Mr Twonkey (left) with an unexpected red drag act yesterday

At this point, a drag artist wearing a bright red dress appeared in the Soho Theatre Bar; she had her own film crew following her around. Or him around.

“I like that show,” Twonkey told me.

“Which show is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Twonkey.

“Why,” I asked, “is your new show called Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop?”

“The idea,” he told me, “is I’ve been kicked out of the restaurant and I’m now been demoted to a…”

“Bishop?” I suggested.

“No,” said Twonkey, “I’m at the cheese and drinks counter of the log flume centre.”

“The log flume centre?” I asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “The log flume centre of a small hamlet. But it has a massive catchment area.”

‘Is the show built round props?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s got a big trick in it involving two cheese wheels an a chain and some pigs and some padlocks. It’s basically like an escape act, where a pig escapes from a mountain of cheese.”

“Can to do a re-cap here,” I asked. “… a pig?”

Swedish farmer holds pig, early 20th century

A Swedish farmer holds a pig, sometime before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe

“Not a live pig,” Twonkey re-assured me.

“A dead pig?” I asked. “So is it a bacon sandwich?”

“It could be seen as a bacon sandwich,” he agreed.

“Though,” I said, “I suppose any pig can be seen as a bacon sandwich.”

“It is a humorous pig,” explained Twonkey. “It is made of rubber. I actually have eight of them, because I’m predicting something bad is going to happen to them. They are quite fragile. Last year, at the Private Restaurant, quite a few things got damaged. People kicked the bag and my puppet’s faces imploded and a balloon burst. So I keep being paranoid about the rubber pigs bursting. I’m also worried about… Can you take a hot air balloon onto an aeroplane?”

“Surely,” I suggested, “if you have a hot air balloon, you do not need an aeroplane?”

“It is only about a foot wide,” explained Twonkey.

“The aeroplane?” I asked.

Mr Twonkey tries not to display his worries

Mr Twonkey tries not to display his worries

“The balloon. I am worried that air pressure in the aeroplane will make it decrease in size or explode.”

“Can’t you deflate it?” I asked. “That’s how balloons work.”

“No. It’s permanently inflated.”

“If you have a permanently inflated balloon,” I suggested, “is that not really a ball?”

“Yes,” said Twonkey, “it could be classed as a ball. Have you ever known of exploding beachballs?’

“I have never,” I told him, “had exploding balls myself.”

“I am hoping,” said Twonkey, “that my balls won’t explode on the plane. The only reason I’m worried is that I have heard tales of women who have had breast implants… If they go on aeroplanes, apparently there is a chance their breasts will explode. I’m sure I have read that some woman blew up.”

“Could this be a new type of terrorist suicide bomber?” I asked. “Women with exploding bosoms.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Twonkey. “I suppose no-one’s going to check at security, are they?”

At this point, the drag act in the red costume left the bar.

Producer/director Simon Jay (left) & Mr Twonkey (right) after Jennifer’s Robot Arm show last night.

Producer/director Simon Jay (left) & Mr Twonkey (right) after Jennifer’s Robot Arm show last night.

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Comedy’s Captain Beefheart Twonkey ruminates on robot arms and replicants

Paul Vickers on Skype yesterday

Paul Vickers talked to me from Edinburgh via Skype yesterday

Paul Vickers performs on stage as Mr Twonkey.

“I went to art college and that’s when it all went wrong,” he told me yesterday. “That’s when I started on this road of creative adventure…”

“You mean you started on this road to fame and penury?” I suggested.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Once you get started, you can’t stop and then you realise you’ve wasted your life so you might as well keep going.”

“Why are you Mr Twonkey?” I asked him, which I thought was an easy question.

There was a long pause.

“You don’t know?” I asked.

“Not entirely, no,” said Paul. “I was using a little puppet and I dropped it on the floor and I said: Oh, Twonkey! and it seemed like a good name for the puppet. I think the puppet was originally called Twinkey and, when I dropped it, it became Twonkey. It was Claire Smith of The Scotsman who coined the term Mr Twonkey.”

Paul suffering for his Art with some prop pigs yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

Paul suffering for his Art with some prop pigs (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

“So critics have some use,” I said.

“Well, yes, they are useful,” said Paul. “Sometimes they punish you; sometimes they praise you; but it’s always useful to have an outside perspective on what you’re doing because obviously it’s very difficult to have full awareness of what you’re doing.”

“Have you full awareness of what you’re doing?” I asked.

“No. Not quite,” said Paul.

“I’m seeing a read-through of your play Jennifer’s Robot Arm on Monday,” I said, “Is it your first play?”

“Yes,” said Paul decisively, then added: “Well, not entirely. No. I did a short radio play called Pissed as a Postman and I also attempted to write a musical called Itchy Grumble, which was released as an album. I re-salvaged what I could of it and wrote a little novella Itchy Grumble about it which I sell as a book at my shows.”

There is a trailer for the book on YouTube.

“Was Pissed as a Postman taken up for broadcast by BBC Radio 4?” I asked. “It’s an interesting title.”

“Eh… No,” said Paul. “It was something I wrote years ago. It was originally called Dusty Bottles. It was about a bunch of barflies who are drinking and then they realise one of the people they’re drinking with is God and one of them dies and they dance themselves to death. For a long time, it was the only decent thing I’d ever written. When you first start evolving creatively, you sometimes have those moments where you do one thing that’s really good, then you have difficulty replicating it and it takes a while to get your ‘voice’ and your style. So I re-booted Dusty Bottles as Pissed as a Postman and did that recently and it opened up the idea of me maybe writing plays.”

You can hear Pissed as a Postman on SoundCloud.

“What’s the difference between a play and a 60-minute show?” I asked.

I suppose,” said Paul, “that you expect a play to be in two acts and last at least 90 minutes.”

“How long is your play?” I asked.

“About 60 minutes. It’s got a narrative that’s quite clearly defined whereas my Twonkey things don’t really have a narrative. They’re more just like a scrapbook to incorporate what I do, which is sing, do a bit of comedy and tell fairy tale like stories. Jennifer’s Robot Arm is an expanded one of those miniatures, cos there was a short story called Jennifer’s Robot Arm which I expanded.”

“What is it about?” I asked.

Jennifer’s Robot Arm - the read-through on Monday

Jennifer’s Robot Arm – in London, Monday

“It’s about a little girl who thinks she’s the sister of Pinocchio and her mother is quite a careless drunk and the little girl is lost in her fantasy world. She has a friend called Patrick Promise, who is like a little goblin and he wants her to prove that she is made of wood by showing him her tree rings but, of course, she’s not. She saws her arm off and her family panic and try to work out what to do about the fact she’s lost her arm. And this guy just walks in off the streets and they find him in the mother’s bedroom, raking around in her lingerie drawers and, when they confront him about why he’s there doing that, he says it doesn’t really matter, that nothing really matters.

“It turns out he is an inventor and he can help them by making a robot arm. There’s money under the fruit bowl, but it’s not enough to pay for the arm. He starts off with a bit about Admiral Nelson and how Nelson lost his arm in Tenerife and how they tried to make him a porcelain arm. So the fruit bowl is the Admiral Nelson Memorial Fruit Bowl. But it’s not enough to pay for the arm, so the catch is that the mother has to sleep with him over a certain period of time to pay off the debt for the robot arm. They enter into a sexual deal which goes wrong.

“The man says: I’ve been trying this on for years. I go from house to house and this is the first time it’s actually worked.”

Mr Twonkey in full absurdist flow yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

Mr Twonkey in full absurdist flow yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

“You are not performing in the play,” I said, “but Myra Dubois and Simon Jay are?”

“Yes,” said Paul. “In a way, it’s kind of been taken out of my hands this one. Simon Jay is a big Twonkey fan and was performing in The Counting House at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and came about four times to see my show, which is a lot for anyone to tolerate. And I went to see his show: he’s a one-man theatre. His show was about un-picking a man’s life through an autopsy and he played about five or six different characters and rummaged around in carrier bags.

“I had been trying to get my play off the ground up here in Scotland. I got £300 from the Tom McGrath Trust. But then Simon took the baton and said he’d try to get it staged in London.

“When I was writing it, I imagined Myra Dubois in the role: it’s a perfect role for a transvestite. She’s the best drag act in London. It works for the woman to be quite a formidable force. Myra can really control a room and she’s a brilliant stand-up comedian.”

“Have you got a new show for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

Dawn of The Replcants’ album Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late

The younger Paul Vickers on the Dawn of The Replcants’ album Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late

“Yes. Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop. It’s about how I’ve been sacked from Looney Tunes during a purple patch, which is partly true because Warner Bros own Looney Tunes and the band that I used to be in – Dawn of The Replicants – was signed to East West, which was a subsidiary of Warner Bros and they dropped us in the late 1990s. They had people like Simply Red and the Led Zeppelin back catalogue and The Doors in Britain. They were looking for something like The Beta Band, a big alternative Scottish band at the time and we did a couple of albums for them.”

“So,” I asked, “is Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop about that?”

“Not really,” said Paul.

“Are you frustrated at the moment, because you’re not in a band?”

“There’s an element of that,” said Paul. “Except I am in a band, but we’re just not active all the time. The band’s called Paul Vickers and The Leg… The Leg are an entity in themselves but sometimes they also do records with me. We’ve just released an album called The Greengrocer.”

“Songs from your previous shows?” I asked.

“There’s a couple of songs from previous shows. My Trifle was in last year’s show Twonkey’s Private Restaurant.”

There is a clip from Twonkey’s Private Restaurant on YouTube.

“Is The Greengrocer a novelty album?” I asked.

Paul Vickers and The Leg

Paul Vickers and The Leg, their beefhearts in the right place

“No,” said Paul. “It’s a proper album with a band. It’s in the Tom Waits/Captain Beefheart area. No-one does absurdist Blues-rock like Captain Beefheart. Basically, the over-all theme is the idea that you can be creative, but you’ve still got to sell vegetables; you’ve still got to have a shop. It’s not a concept album but, on the back, it’s got a picture of an aubergine filled with carrots, which are supposed to be sticks of dynamite.

The new Greengrocer album by Paul Vickers and The Leg

The new Greengrocer album by Paul Vickers and The Leg

“I think a lot of my things recently have been about that idea that I have a job… I have to do that job to survive. I think The Greengrocer is partly about that. Obviously, I’m not a greengrocer, but…

“You could be if you wanted to be,” I suggested.

“I could be,” agreed Paul. “It’s that level you walk between being an artist and actually surviving.“

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