Tag Archives: Jerry Sadowitz

Jonathan Pie co-writer says: “A lot of comics are not in favour of free speech”

Jonathan Pie is a fictional UK TV news reporter, played by Tom Walker, in satirical political videos posted online and in stage shows. The scripts are written by Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle.

Andrew Doyle on his return from Scotland

Andrew Doyle and I met in London just after he had come back from Scotland, where he had filmed a half hour TV documentary about a man who had been prosecuted and found guilty of training a pug dog to give a Nazi salute. The man – calling himself ‘Count Dankula’  – then posted a video of the dog on YouTube; he said he had done it as a joke for his girlfriend. 

Probably all my blogs should come with the warning that I do not necessarily agree with all the interviewee’s opinions. And, equally, I do not necessarily disagree with all of them.

Make of that what you will.

Just saying…


JOHN: Why the interest in the pug dog?

ANDREW: Because it is such a landmark case in terms of free speech. Lots of people have been found guilty of telling jokes in this country, but we don’t hear about them very often: they’re mostly just unemployed teenagers on Facebook. It’s the first case of its kind that has got widespread attention and it has caused a real division within the comedy community, which I think is fascinating.

JOHN: And that division is?

ANDREW: Well, when I wrote a Jonathan Pie video about it with Tom Walker, we fully expected comedians to be up in arms about the case. There were a few who were annoyed about it – Shappi Khorsandi, Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel – but most comedians were silent about it and quite a few sided with the court’s decision. It was the opposite reaction to what I would have expected.

It has really illuminated the fact that actually a lot of comics are not in favour of free speech at all. And that fascinates me.

JOHN: Any particular type of comedian? Left wing or right wing?

ANDREW: Well, virtually all comedians are left wing.

JOHN: But the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing are just a quirk of French history, aren’t they? If you take both to extremes, they end up in the same place. It’s a circle not a straight line.

ANDREW: Well, most comedians are middle class Blairites who call themselves ‘left wing’ but they don’t really know what ‘left wing’ means. I think because they identify as left wing and because the Left is often so hostile to free speech and has not done a very good job defending it, you now see people like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins defending free speech and that makes the Left even more suspicious of free speech. It’s a really dangerous situation.

The Left needs to reclaim free speech – I am passionate about that, although I have been called a misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi.

A misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi??

JOHN: But you are gay. Why are you allegedly a homophobe?

ANDREW: Some of the jokes I make, apparently.

JOHN: So the Left are not very good on free speech?

ANDREW: No. They used to be. If you go back to the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, they understood that free speech was at the heart of any…

JOHN: So you’re saying the New Left and the Blairites were OK but the Corbynistas are a bit Fascistic?

ANDREW: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Fascistic. And I don’t think the Blairites were particularly strong on free speech. There have been increasing attempts at press regulations and Hate Speech laws are now enshrined in our way of life. That is not a free speech position.

JOHN: But it’s not opinion, only incitement to violence, that is criminal.

ANDREW: No. The 2003 Communications Act deems that anything you send online that could be ‘grossly offensive’ is a criminal offence.

JOHN: Virtually anything Jerry Sadowitz says is offensive to someone.

ANDREW: Yes. That’s his schtick. If some of that were to go online, then theoretically he could be arrested.

JOHN: Do you think PC has gone too far?

ANDREW: I don’t use the term PC. I associate political correctness with a different thing. To me it is a good thing. It is about a general, shared, agreed discourse that we have in public, in work, where we basically agree to be polite to each other and agree not to say certain things. It’s a social contract.

Andrew writes regular articles for Spiked magazine

Obviously I am not in favour of enforcing any type of speech law but, say, if you agree to work in an office, part of that is an obligation not to use the word “faggot”. That’s not a free speech issue. You can say it elsewhere but not in the office you have chosen to work in. I don’t think the idea of society encouraging people to be polite is a bad thing – and that is all I see political correctness as being.

What is happening now is not political correctness. It is a transformed, perverted version of political correctness, creeping into authoritarianism.

JOHN: You seem to be saying you are not in favour of any restriction of speech laws.

ANDREW: That’s right. I am not.

JOHN: But someone should not be allowed to say: “I think you should go out and kill all black people…”

ANDREW: Yes, that is a terrible thing to say.

JOHN: Surely saying that should be illegal?

ANDREW: No.

JOHN: Is it not an encouragement to commit a crime?

ANDREW: No, because whoever commits the crime should be held responsible for the crime. I am really uncomfortable with the idea of diminishing the responsibility of someone who breaks the law.

JOHN: But, by that logic, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust because other people did the killing.

ANDREW: He explicitly ordered and orchestrated it so, yes, he is responsible. He was not trying to persuade the SS to do it for him, he was ordering the SS to do it. They are responsible too – the people who did it – but he is too, because that is part of a military chain of command. That is not the same as someone standing at Speaker’s Corner shouting out that gay people should be castrated.

Just because he shouts that out, does not mean that people are going to go out and castrate gay people and, if they did, they would be responsible. It is not the same thing.

JOHN: But, if someone goes out and does something criminal as the result of hearing a speech, that speech was incitement to commit a crime, isn’t it? Which is illegal.

Andrew’s stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017

ANDREW: Yes, but the problem I have with this is that, on balance, I do not think it is safe to allow the state to have the power to criminalise speech – even if that means some really horrible people are going to try to persuade people to do horrible things. On balance, I think that is deeply unpleasant but it is not as frightening to me as the state having the right to lock people up for what they say and what they think.

We cannot trust the state. We know that now. They have convicted in a court of law a man for making a joke video about a pug dog giving a Nazi salute. And they call that Hate Speech. We cannot trust them to distinguish between a joke and some psychopath in a park shouting and inciting murder.

JOHN: The pug dog video case was in Scotland. Would it have been illegal in England?

ANDREW: Yes, The Communications Act applies to all of the UK.

JOHN: This is all a bit serious.

ANDREW: Do you want to talk about something flippant?

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Two comedians talk about being failures

Will Franken (right) gives Lewis Schaffer 60p at St Pancras station

Will Franken (right) pays back Lewis Schaffer 60p in London

It is Christmas Day.

Bah! Humbug!

So here are British-based American comics Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer talking about being failures in the comedy business, with a couple of questions from me…


WILL
Lenny Bruce could not have made it in this day and age.

LEWIS
Did he make it even in his day and age?

WILL
He did make it in that day and age. Well…

LEWIS
Yes, he made it briefly, for a couple of years.

JOHN
Did he make money?

LEWIS
He did make money. He had a house in the Hollywood Hills.

WILL
Two reasons why he would not have made it today… ONE Because everybody’s got to be a fucking businessman and he didn’t have a scrap of businessman in him.

LEWIS
That’s totally not true. He was a…

WILL
He was a vaudeville guy.

LEWIS
He had been doing it for years and years. He was a crook. He used to go out in the street and pretend he was…

WILL
…a priest. I know.

LEWIS
…and to hustle.

WILL
Yeah, but that was a bit, man.

JOHN
A Christian priest?

WILL
Yeah.

LEWIS
There is no way – ever – somebody could be a success without being good at business.

WILL
You’re out of your mind, man. There was something different in those days. And the second reason he would not make it in this day and age is because people no longer understand the concept Freedom of Speech. They don’t get why Political Correctness is anathema to it.

LEWIS
You are talking about a man who was destroyed for what he said. You say they understood Freedom of Speech back then?

WILL
If he was around today…

LEWIS
They were putting him in jail, in jail, in jail.

WILL
If he was around today, he’d be going after every PC sacred cow there is and they’d say: Oh my God! This guy’s a racist! Let’s not go to his shows!

LEWIS
Exactly. So he wouldn’t make money.

JOHN
But Jerry Sadowitz does that.

LEWIS
And he does make money, yes. But he doesn’t put his head above the parapet. He doesn’t make Facebook announcements. He has his own 200 people going to every single show. And he makes a decent living from that.

WILL
He’s a cult.

LEWIS
He’s a cult. But you (TALKING TO WILL) want to be more than a cult.

WILL
I don’t want to be more than a cult. I’m happy being a cult.

LEWIS
You want to be bigger than Jerry Sadowitz.

WILL
This pisses me off about you. You say I want to be bigger than Jerry Sadowitz. No. I want to be able to pay my rent, buy some classic literature every now and then and go to the movies. That’s it. That’s all I want.

LEWIS
Well, then, you’re being a bad businessman.

WILL
How good a business person do you have to be to pay your rent? You don’t have to be Donald Trump.

LEWIS
As a comedian, you’ve got to be really good.

WILL
You don’t know what you’re talking about. If you were sitting there in an Armani suit and you’d just come of a 500-seat gig, I’d say: Yeah. I’ll never be like Lewis. But the fact is you and I are squabbling over £50…

LEWIS
I didn’t say I was a good businessman. I’m an absolute failure as a businessman.

WILL
I went to three different countries in October.

LEWIS
I know. You were a somebody back then.

WILL
This was only two months ago. I had a comfortable…

LEWIS
You only speak to me when you’re doing badly.

WILL
Exactly.

LEWIS
Why do you do that?

WILL
Because it reinforces my self-pity. The way this business is… I wasn’t gigging last night, so I went on Twitter, scrolling through, waiting to see if somebody agrees with me that ISIS are bad people. I’ve been doing this lately. Does anybody think ISIS deserves to be punished? And I see Lewis Schaffer is in North Allerton. He’s supposed to be a failure! You’re my barometer for failure, Lewis! So, if Lewis Schaffer is gigging and I’m not, that’s not good and I have to call you. Whereas, if I’m going to three different countries in a month…

LEWIS
You wanna know why I had a gig and you didn’t? Because last year I spent a couple of months working. Actually working. And that’s something you do not do.

WILL
I work!

LEWIS
No, you spend time on your comedy, which is why you’re so funny. You go home and write shows. Every single day, you’re thinking of comedy.

JOHN
(TO LEWIS) You were working at what?

LEWIS
Working is doing stuff you don’t wanna know. It’s calling up people on the phone and saying: Hey! Can I come to North Allerton?

WILL
You told me you’re a failure.

LEWIS
IAM a failure! But you’re more of a failure than I am, because you’re funny. That’s what I like about you. You make me feel good. Of all the people I know, you have the largest gap between what you have achieved and what you deserve to achieve. You are totally capable of achieving great things. You could be a success tomorrow and this whole conversation will sound so fucking stupid. You have time. There’s an old saying: A happy ending depends on when they end the movie. Your movie might have another four hours to go.

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Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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Comedian Richard Coughlan has been hung up on hooks stuck into in his back

Richard ate a queer foetus for Jesus at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013

Richard ate a queer foetus for Jesus at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Where did we first meet?” I asked performer Richard Coughlan. “Was it at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago?”

“You were hanging around outside The Counting House,” he replied.

I have a terrible memory.

“And I wanted to see your show but couldn’t fit it in?” I asked. “I remember I liked the title.”

Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus,” said Richard.

“That’s my sort of show,” I said. “Your surname is Irish.”

“That’s not my real name,” he replied. “My real name is Richard Harris but, for obvious reasons, I could not use that name to perform. The guy I got it from – Richard Coughlan – was the drummer in a prog rock band called Caravan. He ended up running a pub in Faversham in Kent, where I live, and I ended up working for him.

“Me and him just did not get on and I had started doing comedy. We had a blazing row and I thought: I’m going to take his name and try and make it more popular than he ever made it. Or more disreputable. I think I’ve done both.”

“You could,” I suggested, “have tried to be more famous and more disreputable than the other Richard Harris.”

The infamous scene in the movie A Man Called Horse

The hook scene in A Man Called Horse

“Well,” said Richard, “I have done that famous thing he did in A Man Called Horse with the hooks. I’ve done that.”

“Whaaat??” I asked.

“I did it a couple of months ago,” he continued. “I’ve been wanting to do it for about ten years. I’ve got a lot of tattoos and I used to have lots of piercings but I’m crap with piercings: I don’t look after them well enough, so they always go manky. But I saw a guy at a convention doing this thing with the hanging on hooks and I thought: That looks bizarre and horrific – I would like to have a go at that.”

“The hooks go through the flesh of the chest, don’t they?” I asked.

“What I did,” said Richard, “was hanging on hooks through the back. You’re not allowed to do the chest thing until you’ve had a good go. I found a French guy who could do it for me and I uploaded a video of it happening onto YouTube, but it was flagged and taken down for ‘pornography and sexual content’. I have no idea why, apart from the fact I was in my underwear and was moaning a bit.”

Could this be more Hellraiser than Horse?

Is this a bit more Hellraiser than Horse? YouTube thought so.

“It might be a bit too Hellraiser,” I suggested, “which was a bit sexual.”

“There was nothing sexual about it,” said Richard Harris who calls himself Richard Coughlan. “I’ve always had this thing about doing things which everyone else thinks are a bit weird.”

“You’re not really a straight stand-up comedian,” I said. “What are you?”

“I’ve been lots of things. I originally trained to be a chef. But I’ve been into stand-up comedy since I was nine and I always wanted to do it. My dad had a Billy Connolly vinyl record. To me, Billy Connolly had a funny voice, big banana boots and he swore and said the word ‘jobbie’ – and, really, that’s all you needed at the age of nine.

“All my friends were into Nirvana and grunge music and Oasis or films and I was always into comedy. I had no-one to talk to. I obsessively watched comedy. One of the first jokes I remember hearing was a Roy Chubby Brown joke – You are what you eat and I am a cunt.

Jerry Sadowitz on a holiday with Richard Wagner

Jerry Sadowitz provided the perfect night as a birthday treat

“I went to see Jerry Sadowitz with my dad for my birthday in 2003. He did 90 minutes straight; I’ve never laughed so much. I had always liked him, but it was so hard to get hold of his stuff – the only thing was that Total Abuse Show VHS which had been heavily edited. When I saw him with my dad, he opened with a joke about Stephen Lawrence. Two rows of Indian people walked out during his impression of a Pakistani shopkeeper with Tourette’s Syndrome. A woman got up and threw a pint glass at him and he just ducked and kept going.

“I also saw him in 2007 with my girlfriend. It was at the Underbelly in Edinburgh and I said: We gotta sit at the front and he immediately started abusing me and spat all over me. I thought: This is brilliant! I’ve been waiting for this for years! I’ve finally been gobbed-on by Jerry Sadowitz! He was making a rape joke about my girlfriend who was sat next to me.

Richard Coughlan on a night out in Soho

Richard has now been standing up on his own for 14 years

“I started doing stand-up when I was 21. I’m 35 now. But, when I was starting out, I had the attitude a lot of people have. If you’re a musician and you see David Bowie, you think I could not do that. The only other thing I was interested in was cooking. That, combined with the fact I used to watch Chef! with Lenny Henry.

“So I trained to be a chef. But I decided to quit being a chef when I was working for a guy who literally grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, slammed me up against a wall and threatened to beat the crap out of me because I didn’t put enough salt in the peas. I decided at that moment that I was never going to care enough about someone else’s pea to be a great chef. I respected the fact you have to care that much but, to me, it’s just someone’s dinner. If it’s not perfect, they’re not going to starve to death.

“At the moment, I work about 25-30 hours as a general hand at a fine dining kitchen, but I supplement that with my online stuff.

“I’m on my fourth channel now, cos I’ve been suspended and banned. I don’t know anyone who has had more videos removed. I had one channel with 30,000 subscribers and about 10 million views and that got taken down because there were something like 50 fake copyright claims filed by someone who took a dislike to me.”

“Justified copyright claims?” I asked.

“No. Not one of them. That’s not to say most of my videos don’t contain some genuine copyright violation, but most people don’t really care. I don’t think Michael Bay is going to care if there is a one-second clip of Transformers in a video.

“I set up two other channels and they only went down about six months ago – they probably had about 5 or 6 million hits between them.

The latest Dick Dynasty YouTube channel

The latest Dick Dynasty YouTube channel

“My new channel, that I started about seven or eight months ago is Dick Dynasty 666. And I’m teaching myself to do animation – it is a long slog – because I came up with this idea for a funny mini-series. There was no feasible way you could make it with people and animators either need paying or, if they’re a friend of yours and prepared to do it free, they’re notoriously unreliable. It’s amazing how cheap you can get stuff. I got one animation program for £40 and another for £20.”

“What’s the mini-series about?” I asked.

“It’s based on the English Defence League and the Scottish Defence League and the Moslem paranoia thing taken to a ridiculous extreme. “

“Have you got an aim?” I asked. “An ambition? In general?”

“If I can just do something and I’m happy with it and it’s fun… Working in the kitchen is stressful and it’s not my ideal job, but it keeps a roof over my head and I’m a bit of a minimalist. I don’t look at what I could have. I look at the fact that, globally, I’m probably in the top 5% of people in the world. I could have been a lot worse off.

“I respect ambitious people, but I’m just not that motivated a guy. I just do things. I don’t have a plan. I figure you should just get on with life…

“I got invited to do guest lecturing at Southampton University where they do a comedy degree and, in the fourth year, they do stand-up. I told the students: The problem you will have is not doing your material on stage: it will be doing it as you. I told them: Find five minutes of your favourite stand-up and perform that material. Then perform that same routine as yourself. And then perform your own routine as yourself. That’s the hardest part for new acts. It’s not doing your jokes; it’s doing them as yourself. Like life.”

Richard’s full Eat A Queer Foetus For Jesus show, as performed at the Brighton Fringe, is on YouTube.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Amused Moose promoter and producer Hils Jago on talent spotting comedians

A strangely reticent Hils Jago yesterday at Soho Theatre

An unusually reticent Hils Jago yesterday at Soho Theatre

“Why Amused Moose?”

“I wanted a word beginning with the letter A because, back in the day, everything in Time Out was listed alphabetically. I chose ‘Amused’ and then had to find something that rhymed with it. I thought of ‘Moose’ two weeks later, when I was in the bath drinking red wine… and then comic Mark Watson told me it was a bad rhyme.”

Yesterday, I had tea at Soho Theatre with Amused Moose Comedy boss/promoter/producer Hils Jago. As well as the upcoming Amused Moose Comedy Awards, she runs Amused Moose clubs, tours acts and stages shows.

“Everything’s going through change at the moment,” Hils told me, “so I’m thinking How can I change? This will be our 15th year – before that we did previews and things. I learned my trade by helping run comedy at Sohoho for about five years.”

“I suppose,” I told her, “I should ask you about the fact people are talking about the death of comedy clubs…”

“Oh,” she said, “I’m not even talking about that. The death of comedy clubs is people not having any vision and taking too much money out of the business. You have to reinvest and you have to be creative and inventive. I’m making lots of changes to my business over the next six months. A few people have said Oh, production line comedy! about small comedy clubs. Which I always used to say about the two big comedy chains. I’m fearful that I could be seen quite soon as being part of that production line comedy. I need to re-invent what I do and how I do it.”

“Money,” I said, “seems to be tight all round at the moment.”

Al Lubel, winner of the 2013 Amused Moose Laughter Award

Al Lubel, winner of the 2013 Amused Moose Laughter Award

“Yes” said Hils. “We do two awards. The Amused Moose Laugh Off and the Amused Moose Laughter Awards which come under the umbrella of the Amused Moose Comedy Awards. Unfortunately, the support we’ve had from BBC Worldwide for four years is finishing this year, so I am looking for new sponsors for next year. We could do it much more on a shoestring, but that would show, so I’m looking for sponsors to get us up to the same level we got to with the BBC. The BBC also did a £5,000 prize and that’s one of the things that will obviously have to go if we don’t get sponsorship next year.

“What we need is to find people who are either philanthropic or who see us as a good way of doing their scouting for them… which we have been doing, because we did find Jack Whitehall and Sarah Millican and people like that.”

“How do you spot talent?” I asked. “For large-scale success, what you’re actually looking for is bland, middle-of-the-road, unoriginal acts…”

Amused Moose winner Sarah Millican

One of the Amused Moose ‘finds’ Sarah Millican

“No you’re not,” said Hils. “I’m looking for people who have some style and pizzazz about them and can write a decent line or two. I knew within 15 seconds when Jack Whitehall walked on stage. I probably had a pretty good idea before he even walked on the stage. How he carried himself as a person. Same with Sarah Millican. It was obvious she was head and shoulders above the other people in her heat.”

“Years ago,” I said, “I heard you say to someone – it might even have been me – that, if you’re a manager/agent, it takes three years to launch a comedian.”

“Oh, it does,” said Hils. “And normally, from when someone starts, it takes seven years to get a DVD out – to be ‘DVD famous’ enough to be ready to sell a million. DVD companies want to sell a lot; they can’t just send out tasters, like you can with YouTube.

“This whole thing that’s happening now which Louis CK kicked off three Christmases ago by putting his stuff online for $5 – people were sending them as Christmas cards to people! – I can’t believe that no-one else has actually commercially got this model going.”

“Are the winners of your competitions tied to you, like Simon Cowell?”

“No. I don’t like managing people. I don’t like being responsible for other people’s livelihoods. I hate it.”

“But you have managed acts in the past.”

Jerry Sadowitz on a holiday with Richard Wagner

Jerry Sadowitz – immense talent but could you manage him?

“Yes. I managed Jerry Sadowitz for 15 months.”

“Bloody hell! That must have aged you.”

“It taught me a lot. I’ve managed a lot. I think you can spot talent. But it’s also actually finding people who’ve got the drive and determination to succeed and who have some sort of appreciation of how the business works, because it IS show BUSINESS. I don’t mean to say you have to do business, but you have to understand people need to make money and you’ve got to understand the constraints people are working under. If you look at Jimmy Carr, who was in our first final, he’s very aware of marketing.”

“Was he genuinely an oil executive,” I asked, “or is that PR bullshit?”

“Yes,” Hils told me. “He left with a racing green company car which they gave him with wire wheels – that’s how nice a car it was. Top of the range. And he was driving it round for about two years as an open spot, giving top comics lifts and they were saying: Where did you get this from? Leather seats, wooden dashboard, the whole thing. Superb.”

‘Moose’ rhymes with ‘Amused’? Opinion varies.

‘Moose’ rhymes with ‘Amused’? Opinion varies.

“The thing about comics,” I said, “is that they’re so phenomenally insecure and tend to be dithery and can’t manage themselves. Irresponsible by nature, which is what makes them good comics.”

“It’s just,” said Hils, “a matter of finding someone who’s got all the right character combinations. We all make allowances for comics, of course we do. The other problem is that, when you are a comedian – generally – you disclose a lot more about yourself than you would if you were a ‘real’ person. So everyone thinks they’re insecure and bonkers but, actually, they’re no more insecure and bonkers than the rest of us – but the rest of us can hide it.

“They show their insecurities and their vulnerabilities on stage. They have to, in order to charm an audience. Because that’s what makes them loveable. You can get someone who is a brilliant wordsmith and delivers very well, does all the tricks, but actually does not make it happen because they do not have any warmth about them. There has to be some warmth in there. Even if they’re a comic who does dark material, there has to be a twinkle in the eye.”

“Jimmy Carr ,” I said, “got terrible criticism for a joke about gypsy moths which I thought was unjustified. I never heard him tell it live but, in that cold cynical Jimmy Carr persona, he is able to deliver all sorts of potentially dodgy gags and they are fine.”

Jimmy Carr was a man with a car

Jimmy Carr was a man with a car

“Well,” said Hils, “Jimmy developed that style. He started off doing just one-liners which were not acerbic. It took him two or three years and it wasn’t until he did his first Edinburgh Fringe show and he had to work out how to do an hour that he started changing how he delivered.”

“I do think, though,” I said, “that if you are looking for someone who will become genuinely successful across the board, you have to look for someone who is not totally original.”

“It depends,” said Hils, “They can be offbeat… if that’s the way the trend is going… It’s that thing about catching the wave at the beginning. If there is no wave there, then you are a bit buggered. At the moment there IS… I think, in the next two or three years, we’re going to see a new breed of people coming through. Even some of the people who only go out to comedy clubs on a Saturday night are beginning to say: Excuse me. This is comedy by rote.”

“So what is this new wave?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“The original alternative comedy,” I said, “was stand-up, jugglers, music, magicians, poets…”

“It was Variety,” agreed Hils, “I think that’s one of the things that may be coming in. There will always be stand-ups, but I think we might see a wider variety.”

“Did you ever try stand-up yourself?” I asked.

“No.”

“Because?”

“I was a teacher and lecturer for six years and keeping a disinterested audience occupied for five hours was quite enough.”

“In what subject?” I asked.

“Business and IT. I trained for science but there weren’t any jobs. My degree was Earth Sciences.”

“I’ve never known what that means.”

“Geography and Geology and bits of stuff like that… You don’t want me going on for hours, because you’ve got to type it all up.”

“You are very shrewd,” I told Hils.

“Well,” she said, “I’ve been a journalist. I’ve done all sorts of things. I’m old. I go back to rock ’n’ roll. I used to drink with Jimi Hendrix…”

“Did you?”

“Yes. I knew Jimmy Page when we were both at school.”

“Oh Lord,” I said. “I feel another blog coming on…”

… TO BE CONTINUED … MAYBE …

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“How do you sleep at night?” I asked character comedian Matt Roper two days ago in Buenos Aires

Matt Roper as himself in Edinburgh

Matt Roper as himself at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

On 10th January, I got an e-mail from British comedian Matt Roper. It said:

“Albuquerque, New Mexico? Or Tuscon, Arizona? I’m at truck stop in New Mexico and I can get to either place to get to where I need to be. But I can only choose one. Your thoughts?”

“The Wikipedia entry on Albuquerque,” I told him, “has sections on Freight Service and Sanitation. If the only thing they can write about Albuquerque to make it sound interesting is its sanitary arrangements, the town has not a lot going for it.

“As for Tucson, Wikipedia says: The Arizona Daily Wildcat is the University of Arizona’s student newspaper and the Aztec News is the Pima Community College student newspaper. The New Vision is the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and the Arizona Jewish Post is the newspaper of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. You can’t go wrong. It has everything.”

Matt decided to go to Tucson and, on the Greyhound bus trip, he got talking to a bounty hunter. But that’s another story.

When I talked to him two days ago, Matt was in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“I flew into New York and managed to do everything by train up until Texas and then I ended up doing car shares and Greyhound buses,” he told me. “I really like them, because you really meet the real characters on the buses.”

“Who’s the most bizarre person you met?” I asked him.

“Maybe the bounty hunter. Maybe the pimp’s nephew. There was the 18-stone Baptist preacher who tried to convert me to Southern Baptism. And the guy who coached Bobby Fischer, the chess champion. I think that guy is living in abject poverty in New York; he’s in his seventies, drinking quite heavily. He never received any money. Bobby Fischer went on to make loads and loads and he never gave the guy any.”

“But now you’re in Buenos Aires,” I said. “I’m green with envy. You’re just basically meandering around the world.”

“I’m always writing and trying stuff out, doing gigs here and there,” said Matt.

He performs as the rather greasy, slightly lecherous but strangely charming Spanish lounge lizard singer Wilfredo.

An EP of Wilfredo has just been released

An audio EP of Wilfredo’s songs was recently released

An EP of his songs The Wonderful World of Wilfredo has just been released on iTunes and a documentary film Wilfredo Comes To Town is doing the festival rounds.

“I got connected with some local comics and ended up doing a gig here last night,” Matt told me on Skype. “It was interesting doing a Spanish character in Buenos Aires. I felt as if I was being fed to the lions. But it went well. It’s been really inspirational.

Matt (left) with comic Gregorio Rossello in Buenos Aires this week

Matt Roper (left) with Argentinian comic Gregorio Rossello in Buenos Aires this week

“The Argentinian comedy scene isn’t huge, but I met some local comedians. There’s a group of four young Argentinian comics who flyer every weekend. Their work ethic is so inspirational. They hire this little room above a pub like we do in London – 60 capacity. They flyer all day and night on a Friday and Saturday and do three shows a night every weekend – a 10.00pm, 01.00am and 03.00am show – because no-one goes to bed here till gone dawn.

“I have a blessed life. I support myself with writing commissions and gigs.”

“Yes,” I said, “You write these promo scripts, which is sort-of like what I used to do. But I had to go to places like Salford. You get to travel the world and work via the internet.”

“You’ve been to Tibet,” said Matt. “I haven’t been to Tibet. I’ve never seen the Potala Palace.”

“You’ve come to my home,” I said. “You’ve seen the picture.”

“I’ve seen the Dalai Lama,” Matt said.

“I’ve only seen him talk at Wembley,” I said. “You’ve been more exotic.”

“I was an English teacher in China for six months when I was about 27,” said Matt, “teaching adults. I used to wind them up. I would play Odd One Out with them. I’d put the names of four towns on the board and get them to pick which one didn’t belong, say: Lhasa, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen. Beijing! they’d say – Why? – Capital city! – Good, but wrong. It’s Lhasa, cos Lhasa’s the only one that’s not in China! They’d go ballistic. I’d been with the Tibetan community in exile at Dharamsala in northern India.”

“Have you seen the Iguassu waterfalls yet?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “I fly out of Buenos Aires in five hours. Basically, I’ve come all the way to Argentina, rented an apartment out in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, miles away from anywhere, and mostly what I’ve done is sit here and written, drunk a few bottles of wine and taken a taxi into town every now and then. It’s ridiculous.”

“So you haven’t seen the pampas,” I said. “You haven’t seen men on horseback with large balls. None of that?”

Matt with his two constant anti-cockroach friends

“Say hello to my leetle friendz” Matt with his cockroach killers

“None of that,” agreed Matt. “But I’ve seen cockroaches. I don’t mind insects and I love animals, but cockroaches! Buenos Aires is one of the great cockroach cities of the world. You can see them all weaving in-and-out of the human traffic on the pavements. But there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not because the place is dirty. It’s the heat and… I just can’t fucking cope with cockroaches. I don’t want to cook. I lose my appetite.”

“How do you sleep at night?” I asked.

“I just leave the light on. They don’t like lights and they don’t like noise. So I usually keep some music on.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you want to go to Buenos Aires?”

“Because I had to leave the States cos my visa was up and I’ve always wanted to come to Buenos Aires. But I’m going back to the States now… LA and New York… I have to leave the apartment in 35 minutes. Cockroaches can survive nuclear holocausts, you know.”

“And you’re back in Britain in May?”

“Yes. And then I’m doing a tour of Central Europe in June with your Facebook friend Alex Frackleton, because he’s keen to get back into stand-up. We play Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Prague, two dates at an arts festival in the Czech Republic and I’m hoping to play Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One club in Leipzig as well.”

“I saw the first show there,” I said. “It was full. They had to turn people away. Alex Frackleton told me there was a story about you and him meeting up in Prague.”

Matt Roper, Alex Frackleton and Czech friend

Matt Roper and Alex Frackleton with their unknown Czech friend

“Yes, we went to the big Gay Pride event in Prague,” said Matt, “and were photographed with an enormous transvestite. Alex was looking up: Can we have a photograph? – We’re not gay! We’re comedians! – We’re not gay! We’re comedians!

“Why might you play Leipzig?” I asked.

“Because it’s Martin Soan and because it’s close to Prague and because my dental technician is in Berlin. She’s the woman who makes Wilfredo’s teeth.”

Yes, dear reader, Matt Roper wears specially-constructed teeth when he performs as Wilfredo.

“Have you got two sets for safety?” I asked Matt.

“Yes, I always keep one set in my pocket, just in case the first set fly out and break. You gotta have spare teeth, John!”

“No embarrassing questions at Customs yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Matt. “But, when I got to Buenos Aires, I unzipped my bag and the owners of the apartment saw this pair of big teeth and a black wig. Because I don’t speak much Spanish and they didn’t speak English, there was nothing said. Just this silence.”

“I always think travelling makes people better people,” I said. “But has it made you a better comedian?”

“I think the States has given me tons of material,” said Matt. “Not so much Argentina. I think Argentina is more similar to Britain than the States is. It seems to me that Argentinians enjoy nothing more than to see somebody fail. Like the British. They’re very pessimistic. Whereas, in the States, they love to see people succeed. They nurture success and I find that quite attractive. All this Have a nice day! stuff wound me up at first. Have the best day of your life, sir! But, after a while, with everybody saying it, it’s actually quite nice. It’s better than calling somebody a cunt.”

“In Glasgow, calling someone a cunt is a term of affection,” I said, “according to Janey Godley and Jerry Sadowitz.”

“I don’t know Janey that well,” laughed Matt, “but we were both on the Nicholas Parsons show together in Edinburgh and, when she looked across at Wilfredo, she said: Fucking hell! 25 years ago I would have fucking married you!

“Me, half my family is Irish Catholic. My dad’s family is Liverpool, which is naturally like a Celtic city.  All the religious suppression, all the guilt is good for comedy. I think that’s why Liverpool is such a great comedy city. And Glasgow. From that religious suppression comes a lot of humour. How else are they going to get through the day?”

An extract from the documentary Wilfredo Comes To Town in which Matt’s character sings Moon River is on YouTube.

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Comedian Lewis Schaffer says my blog misquoted him on comic Jerry Sadowitz

Yesterday’s blog

Yesterday’s blog

A member of the audience at one of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s shows once told me she thought he was rather sweet and she wanted to stuff him and mount him over the mantelpiece in her living room. I don’t think she meant sexually. I think she was thinking more along the lines of having found an elk who had been involved in some random roadkill incident. And, anyway, who has mantelpieces nowadays?

Lewis Schaffer was mentioned by Liam Lonergan in my blog yesterday as having said fellow comedian Jerry Sadowitz was good but he (Lewis Schaffer) thought Jerry “lacked humanity”. He thought he was “just pitbull teeth”.

Yesterday, I got a text message from Lewis Schaffer saying: “I never did say Jerry Sadowitz lacked humanity”.

Then an e-mail saying: “I think Jerry Sadowitz is fantastic.”

And then I got a phone call saying: “I never did say he lacked humanity.”

I told him: “If you want a comeback in my blog tomorrow saying you were misquoted, just send it to me overnight. I am going to bed early. I’m knackered.”

“What do you want to know?” Lewis Schaffer asked me.

“Just say what was quoted was wrong,” I told him, “and what you actually think of Jerry and explain any subtleties of being offensive to audiences or whatever you think you want to say.”

I woke up this morning to this Schafferian e-mail:

___________________________________________________

Lewis Schaffer after his show last night (Photograph by Nick Awde)

Lewis Schaffer after his show last night (Photograph by Nick Awde)

Are you going to make it a habit to outsource your posts?

Just correct some misconceptions expressed in your blog.

Liam is a lovely guy with a bright future and most of it is right but I didn’t tell Liam that Jerry Sadowitz lacked humanity.

I told Liam Jerry wasn’t vulnerable, which I meant as a performer and not as a person. Jerry is bulletproof on stage, rapid fire. You can’t heckle him and get away with it.

My great strength is that I am vulnerable on stage or I think I am. I call it a strength because I have too much of it for it to be a weakness. You can heckle me and win, which is the way I want it. If you shoot me I will bleed, probably all over the audience. But I will be back doing my thing tomorrow night.

Jerry Sadowitz is a great comic. He makes me laugh. He interviewed Richard Dawkins at the Establishment Club last month and it was funny, relentless and probing. The whole event was surreal.

It is ridiculous to think that one comic can be funnier than another. Okay, Jerry is way funnier than I am – but luckily, all comedy is personal preference and I am sure some prefer me to him or to anyone else.

Back in 2008 Jerry came in to see me at the old Arts Theatre. Jerry, on the other hand, won’t let me watch his shows.  I’ll let anyone watch my show.

Finally, anyone who knows me senses that I need my fans more than my fans need me. I have following cult, rather than a cult following.

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