A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from comedy performer Phil Jarvis saying:
Hi John. Is there any chance myself and Andy Barr can plug a few odd shows we have lined up to you? We can bring Creme Eggs.
When I arrived at Soho Theatre yesterday, there were three of them – people, not eggs – Nathan Willcock was a late addition – and they gave me a scanned photograph of Baby Spice holding a pizza plus a photo of a man with a slight beard.
“Who is that?” I asked Phil Jarvis.
“Nathan Willcock,” replied Phil Jarvis.
“No,” I said. “The man in the photo.”
“That is Jeremy Spake,” Phil told me. “From the 1990s TV reality show Airport.”
“And your show is…?” I asked.
“We’ve got a show called Kafka or Magaluf.”
“What is it about?”
I had thought it was a relatively simple question.
But there was a long, long pause.
Eventually, Andy came up with: “Malcolm Julian Swan is attempting to run a nightclub… erm…” There was another long pause. “But he is also interested in Marxist theatre.” He looked at Phil for confirmation.
Phil returned his look, slightly surprised.
Malcolm Julian Swan is an on-stage alter ego of Phil.
“We have,” Phil told me, “got some jungle music as an intro. And we’ve got a DJ in the show as well.”
“A proper DJ?” I asked.
“A proper DJ, yeah,” he said.
“Who wears it?” I asked.
Phil ignored me. “His name is Callum Vaughan. He lets us crash in his spare room… And we’ve got some Velcro. That’s pretty much it… It’s us trying to be Marxist theatre, Brechtian types. Malcolm Julian Swan – the character I made up – is quite a pretentious, avant-garde guy who lives in Basingstoke – He is sort-of based on myself.”
“You live in Basingstoke?” I asked. “I am terribly sorry.”
“It has its perks,” he told me.
“Does,” I asked, “a cockroach appear in the show at any point?”
“We’ve got some bits where we put Velcro on people. That’s about as close as we get to a cockroach. I was going to re-read Kafka’s Metamorphosis before doing this, but that never worked out…”
“What was the last book you did read?” I asked.
“It was a book by Jeremy Spake about working in an airport.”
“And where is Kafka or Magaluf going to be performed?” I asked.
I had thought it was a relatively simple question.
Phil looked at Andy.
“Where is it happening?” he asked.
There was a pause.
Then someone said: “The Criterion Free House at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival this Saturday.”
“Are you an ongoing threesome?” I asked.
“I’m not in Kafka or Magaluf,” Nathan told me.
“If we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” Phil told me, “he has said he will be in it.”
“Are you definitely going to take it to Edinburgh?” I asked.
“Might do,” Phil said, “but the thing we are definitely taking to the Fringe is The Abridged Dapper 11-Hour Monochrome Dream Show.”
“Dapper?” I asked.
“We are reclaiming the word Dapper,” Phil told me.
“From whom?” I asked.
“Because he’s a cunt. So it’s worth claiming it back cos it’s a tarnished word.”
“How long does your 11-hour show last?” I asked.
“One hour,” said Andy. “Originally, we were going to do it as 11 hours, but it’s abridged. If you know anywhere that will let us do it for 11 hours, we will do that.”
“It would be a free show?” I asked.
“Oh,” laughed Phil. “Oh yes. No-one will want to pay money to come and see it!”
“Did you,” I asked, “flyer for your Edinburgh Fringe show last year?”
“I gave out some IKEA instructions for assembling furniture,” said Phil, “and wrote my phone number down on it and said Come… About 15 people came! We did two days.”
“The first day,” said Andy, “we got about five people in.”
“But that,” I reminded him, “is around the average audience size at the Edinburgh Fringe.”
“We could,” mused Phil, “do the full 11-hour show on the Megabus from John O’Groats to Edinburgh.”
Last year, Phil came up with an idea for an Edinburgh Fringe show in which comedians would rotate getting on the Megabus for a month and videoing a live feed onto Skype which would be projected in to a room in Edinburgh. Sadly it came to naught.
“This new show,” said Phil, “The Abridged Dapper 11-Hour Monochrome Dream Show… It was thought-up in Michael Brunström’s garden… at a barbecue. We were all sitting round talking and it came out of that.”
“I went to the toilet,” explained Andy, “and, when I came back, they had conceived a Fringe show.”
“Was it a long visit to the toilet?” I asked.
“Well,” Andy told me, “it was fairly… was fairly… Well, I was checking the Tweets, you know?”
“So Andy comes back,”explained Phil, “and it ends up Andy was the only one who was in the show. Everyone else who originally agreed to be in it has pulled out.”
“They’ve all distanced themselves from it,” said Nathan.
“What is it about?” I asked.
There was a short pause.
“It was originally going to be about the Apocalypse,” said Phil, “but now it’s just dreams – sketches about the Apocalypse. Well, it’s not sketches. it’s dreams.”
“The key difference being,” said Nathan, “that there is absolutely zero narrative thrust to any of the dreams.”
“We don’t really know what it’s going to be” explained Phil. “The key thing is that something is going to happen at a preview in London on the 24th of March. It’s a happening. That’s what we do. It’s happening. A happening. It’s a dream happening.”
Andy added: “We just hope Phil’s gonna keep his clothes on this time.”
“I will be trying to keep them on,” said Phil.
“Oh,” I said.
“The other thing we want to plug,” Phil continued, “is that Andy’s starting a new comedy night on 3rd March called The Apocalypse Survivors’ Club.”
“The idea,” explained Andy, “is that an Apocalypse has happened and all culture has been wiped from the face of the earth, aside from a few bits and pieces.”
“Where is this?” I asked.
“Dalston,” replied Andy.
“At the Ophelia,” said Phil.
“How do you spell that?” I asked. He told me. “Just checking,” I told him.
“We will,” Andy continued, “have some acts on trying to re-build culture after the Apocalypse.”
“Acts?” I asked.
“The first night,” said Andy, “has Alexander Bennett, Michael Brunström, Cassie Atkinson, Fern Brady and a poet called Michael Clarke. It’s just a new material night. We can use it as a testing ground for stuff we might put in later shows and Phil is my assistant.”
“We were thinking,” said Nathan, “of starting the first show with Donald Trump causing the Apocalypse and then we’re all around the camp fire and link the sketches through that. But Andy immediately said: That’s too much structure.”
“I am more worried,” I said, “by the phrase ‘we’re all around the camp fire’…”
“It is good to keep an element of fear,” said Phil.
“We could get a laptop of a burning fire…” mused Nathan.
“And,” said Andy, “just burn the laptop.”
“That’s too logical,” said Nathan.
When I left, Phil gave me part of the script for Kafka or Magaluf. It starts:
Sam and Andy walk out to the audience and hand out quotes from Karl Marx, Groucho Marx and Harpo Marx…