Tag Archives: Jew

Two Jews jabbering about sex, drugs and suicide at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by the Indian news website We Speak News)

Laura Levites and Lewis Schaffer: New York Jews together

At the Edinburgh Fringe, I know comic Lewis Schaffer and bumped into comic Laura Levites. It turns out they were both brought up in Great Neck, New York, but had never met. I suggested we should have a chat for this blog. Two New York Jewish comedians. What was I thinking? I hardly got a word in.

Andy Kaufman was born in Great Neck,” Laura Levites said. “The first line in the movie Man in the Moon is It all started out in Great Neck…”

And Groucho Marx moved there,” added Lewis Schaffer. “And in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, she wants to buy a house in Great Neck. And Alan King moved to Great Neck. And then there’s F.Scott Fitzgerald.”

The Great Gatsby is set in Great Neck,” said Laura Levites. (It is called ‘West Egg’ in the book.)

“You told me Great Neck was full of sad rich, flashy Jews,” I said to Lewis Schaffer.

“And a few Jew failures,” he added.

“My dad wasn’t smart enough to get rich,” said Laura Levites.

I laughed.

“I’m not even joking,” she insisted. “He really wasn’t. And he was an asshole.”

“Did you live in a house?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“We had a house.”

Lewis Schaffer: his show at Edinburgh Fringe

“Then we must have been poorer than you.”

“My parents didn’t buy the house,” said Laura Levites. “my grandmother gave them money to buy it.”

“Well my grandmother gave my parents money to buy a car,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I hate to talk about them this way cos it makes them seem like losers, my parents.”

“My parents ARE losers,” said Laura Levites. “My dad is dead and my mom is alive.”

“What did your dad do for a living?”

“He was in advertising and then he was just an asshole.”

“Did he divorce your mom?” Lewis Schaffer asked.

“Yes.”

“He moved away?”

“No, he stayed in Great Neck.”

“But the money was spent on another flat?”

“No, the money was spent in a bitter custody battle over me and my brother.”

“How old were you?”

“Ten.”

“So you were a child of divorce,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I sensed that. I sense that. Vulnerable.”

“I’m vulnerable,” said Laura Levites. “I have daddy issues. I’m a mess.”

“Am I old enough to be your daddy?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“You wanna adopt me?”

“I don’t want to adopt you that way.”

“Yeah, but I mean that in a sexy way. I like to be spanked.”

Enough, already! Enough, already! Enough already!

“You like to be spanked?” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “I like to punch. Well, I would like to punch women, but I haven’t.”

“I can take a punch,” said Laura Levites. “You wouldn’t be the first guy who tried to hit me.”

“So basically.” I interrupted, “we are talking here about two bitter Jews who had a bad upbringing and became comedians.”

“My parents were not in a bitter custody battle,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because they were old school and thought they had to stay together until they or the kids died.”

“Lewis’ comedy,” I told Laura Levites, “is very autobiographical.”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I wouldn’t say I was autobiographical. I would say I mostly do penis jokes.”

“But,” said Laura Levites, “they’re about your penis.”

“There’s also a lot about his children and ex-wife,” I said.

“But those are substitutes,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “for the core issue that my parents didn’t love me. Let me re-phrase that. My mother didn’t love me. So I focus on my ex-wife.”

Laura Levites’ show at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Does your family feature in your show a lot?” I asked Laura Levites.

“This one, no. But, by virtue of everything they did to me, yes. I mean, I am their fault. Are you going to come see my show?”

“You’re down there somewhere in the list,” I said.

“I’m somewhere in the list? I’m tired of people saying that.”

“So you grew up in the house with your brother,” said Lewis Schaffer. “and you were ten.”

“I was ten or eight. I was not fully-formed.”

“Did you have breasts?”

“I did not have breasts. I don’t have breasts now.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I don’t have breasts now,” she repeated. “Look at this! I have nothing! It’s just skin. Who cares? I don’t have boobies. My grandma used to work at Bloomingdales. My grandma, she’s in a nursing home. I went to see her one day. She put both hands on my breasts. She sold underwear: that’s what my grandma did for a living. And she said You have big nipples, but you’ve small breasts. That’s what she said to me. Even my grandma said I got no titties!”

“This is a New York Jew,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m a New York Jew,” said Laura Levites. “What d’ya want?”

“If I were younger,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I’d be getting an erection right now. That’s all I’m saying.”

“I’m losing my shit if you’re not getting an erection.”

“Why is talking about nipples Jewish?” I asked.

“You couldn’t get a conversation like this out of an English girl,” said Laura Levites. “Because they don’t express themselves. They can’t even answer a simple question. It’s like How are you FEELING? Don’t give me the answer you THINK I want to hear. It fucks with your goddam head! I’m not even kidding. The English are fucking mad!”

“Did you see my show?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Three-quarters of it,” replied Laura Levites. “I was in the back”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Yeah. I REALLY enjoyed it. I feel at home with you. I understand everything you say. I relate to everything. I feel the same way you do.”

“I think circumcision should be illegal,” said Lewis Schaffer. “but not for women.”

“You’re cut and I’m sorry about that,” said Laura Levites. “You don’t know what you’re missing. I can teach you how to grow it back. You make this (wanking) motion and you pull every day or you put weights on it. I’m not even joking.”

“But, “ laughed Lewis Schaffer, “I do pull it every day and it hasn’t grown.”

“You haven’t been pulling it the right way. There’s a motion; there’s a technique; I’ll take you to the websites.”

I interrupted: “One thing I like about New York Jews is the pace. Jabber jabber jabber. No time to inhale oxygen. How do you breathe? You have no gaps to breathe in.”

“No no no. Wait! Wait!” said Laura Levites. “Look what’s written on my wrist…”

Laura Levites’ wrist reminds her that she has to BREATHE

She held up her arm to me. Tattooed on her wrist was the single word BREATHE.

“It’s written there,” Laura Levites said, “because I don’t breathe. You’re looking at my arm. You’re going to talk about my cut marks?”

“Suicide?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “They say suicide’s painless, but it’s not painless.”

“Yeah, it is,” said Laura Levites. “I tried to kill myself a bunch of times.”

“I won’t put this in the blog,” I said.

“You see,” Laura Levites said, “that’s so British of you. That’s fucked up. I don’t care. I’m OK with it.”

“You have to think PR,” I said. “Is it in your show?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t mention about trying to kill myself in this show, but I’ll talk about it all the time because I’m not repressed. I take pills and I’ll take ‘em in front of people because I don’t care. Anti-depressants, stuff for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), sedatives; you name it, I take it. Do you know how many drugs I brought? Because you can’t get shit here.”

“Are these legal?” I asked nervously.

“They’re legal in America,” she said. “They’re not legal here because you guys have terrible drugs.”

“Look at my face!” said Lewis Schaffer. “Look at my face! I’ve become English now.”

“I got bottles,” said Laura Levites.

“I can’t believe you’re saying this,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I came here with bottles of pills…” Laura Levites continued.

“You said they’re illegal in Britain,” I warned her.

“No, no,” she corrected me. “I can bring them in. I have prescriptions. But, like, my ADD medication isn’t legal in this country.”

“So you can’t get arrested?” I asked warily.

“I’m not going to get arrested EVER,” she replied. “I’m a white girl. No-one’s going to arrest me. Do you know how much shit I’ve gotten away with in my life?”

“You’ve got red hair, pale skin, you’re pretty and you’re American,” I agreed.

“No-one’s going to arrest me,” she said. “And I’ve done some fucked-up shit.”

“Have you really?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yeah.”

“Can I get the video of it?” Lewis Schaffer asked. He paused… “The thing with this girl is you can’t get a rise out of her.”

“Why do you want to make me angry?”

“I love making people angry.”

“You’re not going to make me angry, because I actually agree with what you say in your show.”

“I know. I find that uncomfortable.”

“That I agree with you? That I think women are crazy?”

“Yes.”

“I do think we’re bananas. I know who I am. I have self-awareness. Do you know how much therapy I’ve had?”

“But that doesn’t make you any less crazy,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m aware of my craziness,” she replied. “I don’t have a problem with someone saying that to me.”

“You’re like a wild girl,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s like old home week for me. You’re nuts.”

“I’m good nuts,” said Laura Levites.

“Yeah. You’re good nuts,” agreed Lewis Schaffer. “Well, you’re good but you’re not nuts.”

“No, no, I’m not nuts. Well, I mean, like on paper, I actually am. If I wanted to kill someone, I could get away with it.”

“Did it seem like I was funny in my show?” Lewis Schaffer asked.

“You’re naturally funny, yeah,” said Laura Levites. “The Jews and the Blacks are always funny. But American Jews aren’t dominating the comedy scene any more.”

“People are bored with the Jews,” said Lewis Schaffer. “The Holocaust was exciting, but we haven’t done anything interesting in a long time.”

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BBC Radio women + a woman wearing only a lettuce at the Edinburgh Fringe

The BBC are giving away plastic pints

I woke up this morning to two things. One was the sound of comedian Janey Godley trying but failing to vomit in my toilet. I fear, dear reader, that you and I may hear more of this in the days to come.

The other thing was an e-mail which started:

Hi John,

 Just writing to say how much I enjoy reading your site. We at Lifeinsurancequotes.org recently published an article “8 Ways Funeral Homes Will Try To Rip You Off”, that we think is tailor-made for your readers.

Either their computerised spam system is totally out-of-control (surely not!) or I must be mis-targeting this blog.

I have little good advice on funeral homes.

Janey Godley once told me that, if you are going to murder someone, the best hiding place for the body is in a graveyard – the police will not look in a graveyard for a dead body and, if they are tipped-off, they will be wary of causing a public outcry by potentially digging up a body which may not be the missing victim.

That is my only funeral tip for today, but it may prove useful for Israeli comic Daphna Baram.

Whoever killed Jesus, it wasn’t Daphna

Yesterday, she told me: “There was a very drunken guy in the audience at my Frenemies show (it’s only on until Saturday) – Yuri from the Czech Republic. At some point during my set, the idea that I was Jewish – at least nominally – penetrated through the layers of beer in Yuri’s mind and he started heckling: You killed Jesus! You killed Jesus!

“I remembered I had a routine from my first Christmas as a comedian. Clearly this was a good moment for resurrection.

“In my most authoritative voice (I do authoritative well) and with, I regret to say, a certain degree of c-word usage, I informed Yuri that the whole 30 shekel story is highly non-credible as no Jew I’ve ever heard of would sell a hippy to the italian mafia for the equivalent of a fiver…

“He kept silent for a while but, in a later section about my military training in Israel, he started heckling again. I told the audience. I saw Yuri outside and invited him to the gig and thought Great! I’ve pulled!… But now all I can think about is where I am going to hide his body…

Well Daphna now knows, courtesy of Janey Godley, she can actually do this with little comeback.

But back to the Edinburgh Fringe proper…

Three Weeks – on the streets of Edinburgh now

In my first weekly column for Fringe magazine Three Weeks today, Mervyn Stutter criticises the BBC for putting on too many free shows at this year’s Fringe, to the detriment of hard-working performers who are already having a bad enough time with the big TV names and the Recession. You can read the Three Weeks piece by picking it up in Edinburgh or clicking here or you can download the whole issue here. I will post my golden words here on this blog in one week’s time (when the paper is no longer on the streets of Edinburgh).

I had another BBC-bashing angle punted to me last night, when I got chatting to someone who had better remain nameless. He works for a radio production company and has a lot of dealings with the BBC.

“It’s an odd thing,” he told me, “because, in America at the moment, there’s a huge flowering of female-driven comedy. You’ve got 30 Rock, Girls, the Mindy Kaling Project – loads and loads of female driven comedy – and people say part of the reason for this is the influx of women into US TV production. But, in Britain, we are not having that same increase in female-driven comedy.”

“Maybe because most producers here are male,” I suggested.

“Not now,” he corrected me. “Not in radio. Most of the level entry producers at the Beeb – the ones who comics new to radio would be working with – are female.

“At the BBC, there’s actually a big influx of women into radio production but, as yet, that doesn’t seem to be translating into a flowering of female comedy – certainly not at Radio 4 which has traditionally been a proving ground for comics before they get onto television. Radio 4 does not have many female-led, female-driven, female-written, female-fronted shows.

“That’s a generalisation, of course,” he said, “Jane Berthoud is top dog there and she’s tremendously supportive of women, but the increased number of female producers has not helped women in comedy.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he said. “All I’m saying is it’s an interesting area. There are now lots of female producers, which is good. Maybe the heterosexual ones are more interested in and more physically attracted to the male acts and therefore female comics are getting an even bummer deal that they were before.”

“You mean the female producers want to screw the male acts?” I said. “Now there’s a dangerous idea to say out loud. But surely, traditionally, there were more male producers and they would have wanted to cop off with female acts so there should have been lots of female shows around in the past. In theory, female comics should have always done better than men because there were more male producers. But that’s not the case.”

Possibly realising he was on dangerously non-PC ground, he continued: “It’s very difficult to un-pick because, statistically, if you looked at the number of shows made by men over all… Maybe there are more shows made with male stars because there are more men pushing to get in. Maybe sometimes there’s a lot of schmoozing and, rather than being about talent, it’s about who gets on with people and who people want to sit in a pub and chat and get drunk with.”

It is certainly an interesting idea and there must be something psychological going on beyond my fathoming.

Checkley & Bush’s Comedy Riot is just that

Last night, I was at a party thrown to celebrate ten years of the Funny Women organisation. Very hard-working. Very effective in raising the profile of female comedy, But still British TV and radio shows are generally skewed-away from female performers.

I left the party to see excellent character comedy from Checkley & Bush. They’re better than a lot of the under-experienced new male comics who pop up on TV and in radio.

And, earlier in the day, I had attended a ‘knittathon’ – a publicity stunt organised by Charmian Hughes at which the audience was invited to knit throughout her show to create something she could use in her climactic and erotic ‘Dance of the Seven Cardigans’… Charmian was listed at No 7 in the Chortle comedy website’s Ten Most Underrated Comics – the only woman in the list.

Lewis Schaffer, a masterclass in offending

No 8 in the list is American comic Lewis Schaffer, whom I had been chatting to even earlier in the day. There was a lot of chatting yesterday.

As I came out of Checkley & Bush’s show, I got a text message from Lewis which said simply:

I had 65 punters at tonight’s show. There were 40 walkouts.

I texted back:

Tell me more and I may blog about it.

He later told me what he had said.

“I can’t put that in my blog,” I told him. “You will get lynched.”

Perhaps being truly offensive is one thing women comics cannot get away with. As if to prove this, later I was walking down Niddry Street, and found comedian Bob Slayer standing in the street outside his Hive venue.

“I had to get naked in my show,” he told me. “I think it was the worst show I’ve ever done so I had to get naked. Jamie the sound guy sees my show every year and he told me: You failed on so many levels there, but it was definitely my favourite show. I had to get naked and there was a lady in the audience who turned up just wearing a lettuce.”

“Just a lettuce?” I asked.

“Just wearing a lettuce on her fanny,” said Bob.

Bob Slayer has his nipples tweaked

“She had nice tits,” a female staff member added, tweaking one of Bob’s nipples. Passers-by ignored it. This is the Edinburgh Fringe.

“The lady with the lettuce was a friend of Frank Sanazi’s,” said Bob.

“That might go some way to explaining it,” I said.

“Well,” said Bob, “Frank came and then that happened and then I had to get naked. It depends how you rate a show. It was the most avant-garde show I’ve ever managed to do. Apparently there was a reviewer for The Skinny in there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they made of it. I hope it was the guy who refused to get on stage. There’s no way I’m going to get a good review but I hope it was that guy because he HATED it.”

At the Fringe, being loved or being hated are good. Being ignored is bad. Oscar Wilde was born before his time.

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Death threats to Edinburgh performer and attack on New York promoter

(A version of this was also published by the Indian news site We Speak News and in the UK edition of the Huffington Post)

Calvin Wynter – object of racist threats

I am allegedly a UK consultant for the Inbrook entertainment company in New York. This means that Inbrook boss Calvin Wynter occasionally phones me up at odd hours from New York. Well, odd hours for him. I think he may never sleep.

Yesterday morning, he phoned me up to talk about two shows which Inbrook is promoting at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. One is an Israeli show; one includes in its title a reference to the Hamas organisation.

Repertory Theatre: the now controversial Israeli show

Repertory Theatre is being produced by The Elephant and the Mouse – the only Israeli production company at this year’s Fringe.

Jennifer Jajeh’s show is called I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.

Jennifer Jajeh  promotes her show in “I Heart Hamas” shirt

This morning, Calvin phoned me from New York to tell me that “Jennifer Jajeh  has received death threats and there are calls to boycott her show at the Edinburgh Fringe… and now I too am being threatened and called an anti-Semite.”

Unconnected to these death threats, Calvin – who is incidentally a  black American – earlier this morning received this e-mail:

_______

From: Steve Malone <editor2@insidehoops.com>

Date: Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 3:06 AM

Subject: Supporting suicide-bombing Jew-hating manaics

To: Calvin Wynter

You vile, antisemitic pieces of garbage should go rot in hell.

Fuck you, and fuck your piece of shit parents for creating you.

Steve

__________

Bizarrely, this appears to come from www.insidehoops.com which describes itself as “the most popular independent pro basketball website in the world”.

Calvin seems particularly bemused by being called an anti-Semite.

“For the record,” he says, “my great grandmother was a Sephardic Jew from Syria. In essence I am being attacked because Inbrook is promoting both a Palestinian American Christian – Jennifer Jajeh – and two Israeli Jews – The Elephant and the Mouse.”

He tells me he thinks what this exposes is “The ignorance of blind hate”.

Yes indeed. And it is ironic, too, given that the email allegedly from Steve Malone is apparently opposed to terrorism.

My dictionary defines Terrorism as “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.

The emphasis is mine.

The sender should also note that, in the subject heading of his e-mail, he has mis-spelt the word maniacs as “manaics”. This is never a good start.

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Filed under Israel, Palestine, Racism, Terrorism

The offensive ’N’ word? Why not just call a spade a spade and Jew a Jew?

Five days ago, I wrote a blog about IQ and Mensa in which I used the phrase “mental retard”. The next day, it was re-published in the Huffington Post.

A couple of days later, having read the Huffington Post piece, a lady called Hannah irately tweeted me saying that “calling vulnerable people ‘freaks’ really shows your true character” and that “comparing people with special needs to freaks” was unacceptable.

Well, I think she missed the point of the piece, in which I argued that people “whom doctors used to call ‘mentally retarded’” and members of Mensa – incorrectly described routinely as “geniuses” – are both freaks by mathematical definition because they each make up less than 2% of the population.

More interesting, though, was that our Hannah (who I presume is American) said “your use of the word retard is offensive”.

For some reason – possibly because the American Colonies had a high percentage of religious extremists among their early, socially influential immigrants – PC has taken more root in the US than in the UK.

For example, I really do not see what is wrong in calling Red Indians ‘Red Indians’. They are neither ‘red’ nor ‘Indian’ but neither are they ‘ethnic Americans’ (the PC description). They are no more ethnic Americans than anyone else is ethnic anything. As far as I am aware, we all came from the Rift Valley and “white” and “brown” people are just watered-down, second-rate blacks…

The objection to the term ‘Red Indians’ seems to be in calling them ‘red’ whereas, I would have thought, the objection should be in calling them ‘Indians’, which they are clearly not. It’s a bit like St Petersburg being re-named Leningrad and then being re-named St Petersburg. Does it really change the city? If ‘Red Indians’ were called something incorrectly and it was used perfectly unobjectionably for years, why change it?

Words are just words.

Which brings us to the word “nigger”.

There is a centrally important dog called Nigger in 1955 movie The Dam Busters. The dog is black; the word was not felt to be offensive in Britain when the movie was made. How on earth they screen it on TV now I do not know, because the word is deemed to be unspeakably offensive. It would almost need a warning before the screening.

I once heard someone argue (I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was the unjustly vilified British comedian Bernard Manning) that finding the word ‘nigger’ offensive and the word ‘black’ inoffensive is ridiculous because they mean exactly the same thing and, in fact, ‘nigger’ has a more noble historical lineage.

When and why did ‘nigger’ suddenly become offensive? It seems to have been re-defined as racist because mindless racist wankers in the Southern states of the US used it as a term of abuse. But it was not widely used elsewhere as a term of abuse, just as a word. Nigger = black = nigger.

The (Jewish) American comedian Lewis Schaffer, who grew up in New York, says that, in his neighbourhood (or, if you insist, his neighborhood), he never heard the word “nigger” used at all when he was growing up – it was just never used by the Jews he knew. They said “schwarz” (ie black). When (as a child) he first realised ‘nigger’ was a ‘banned’ word – a ‘shocking’ word – he had an overwhelming urge to run down the street shouting it out repeatedly (though he did not). Not as a term of abuse to black people, but just because he had suddenly found a word which could potentially shock adults. He wanted to use a ‘bad’ word; he did not have racist thoughts.

It is not my original thought, but what on earth is the logic in ‘nigger’ being an unsspeakable word for so-called ‘white’ people to say when it is an often perfectly unobjectionable word for ‘blacks’ to say? This bizarre piece of double-think seems to me to be in itself an example of racial prejudice.

I think the term ‘black’ is almost more offensive than ‘nigger’ because it is a ridiculous word.

I have a friend of Indian (‘proper’ Indian, not Red Indian) origin who finds it ridiculous that she can sometimes be classified as black. She quite rightly insists she is not black, she is a brown colour – and a very lovely brown colour. Or, as Americans would claim, color. Very few of even the directly-African-origined people classified as ‘black’ in the US and UK are actually ‘black’. They are variations on brown.

I went to college with someone from Sierra Leone. He was black. President Obama is not black. Not even remotely. I saw him on TV yesterday standing next to President Sarkozy of France. Their skin looked almost the same colour.

Yet President Obama – visibly not a black-skinned person – is called ‘black’ as a term of respect.

With Red Indians, on the other hand, ‘red’ is racially unacceptable.

Words are words and are often what they are through historical accident.

Words do not break bones; sticks and stones do that. Words, in themselves, are not insulting; the intention of the people saying them may be.

If the word ‘spastic’ is said to be unacceptable because it was sometimes hurled at people as a term of abuse, why change the word? Why not mount campaigns to change people’s perception? People’s perceptions are to blame; changing the word changes nothing.

If you do not use the word, the people who use the word will still have the same unacceptable misconceived wankiness in their brain. Changing the word is trying to mask symptoms. It does not cure the disease.

It is how you treat people that is important and what you think which is important.

Words are just words.

If gay people are said to be 10% of the population then, mathematically, in a reasoned argument, you could say they are ‘freaks’ although, personally, I think 10% is a bit too high to be called freaks.

If a definable group of people – let us say members of Mensa – are less than 2% of the population in a way that can be defined by allegedly scientific testing, then they are freaks.

‘Mental retardation’ was a phrase which was long used at the other end of the testing spectrum. The phrase, I suspect, was used because it was more acceptable than previously-used terms and was therefore thought-of as being kinder and less offensive. It is now pretty-much non-PC (which is what I implied in my previous blog). But why?

My new Twitter chum Hannah objected to me using the (as I implied) outdated term “mental retard”. She said she objected to me “calling vulnerable people freaks”.

I would argue that her use of the term “vulnerable people” could be considered appallingly demeaning.

Look.

A dwarf is a dwarf. A midget is a midget.

A word is a word.

A Jew is a Jew.

A Scotsman is a Scotsman.

Just because people have, in the past, hurled the word “Jew!” at people in an attempt to be offensive, does not mean Jews should now be called ethnic Eastern Mediterraneans. The fault is in the racist wankers. Changing the word does not make any difference.

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Filed under Language, Racism

Accidental meetings and a comedy revelation at the Edinburgh Fringe

I pretty much started the Malcolm Hardee Awards as an ongoing annual event in 2007, saying they would run until 2017, on the basis that I would then be able to get free tickets to all comedy shows on the Edinburgh Fringe for ten years.

Tragically, until this year, I have been involved in other shows and been unable to make full use of this fine scam – mostly just seeing shows recommended by other judges. But this year, with the five Malcolm Hardee shows happening only in the final week, eureka! –

Yesterday at the Fringe, I saw seven shows.

My day started with the always excellent Steve Day‘s definitely at least 4-star show Run, deaf boy, Run about how he took part in the London Marathon this year. There is an interesting reason – explained in the show – why ‘deaf boy’ in the title does not have capital letters. Afterwards, Steve told me one story not included in the show.

He was given his first comedy bookings by Malcolm Hardee at his Up The Creek club in Greenwich, which is on the London Marathon route. As Steve was running past Up The Creek this year, he tried to Tweet the fact on his phone but failed because of the large amounts of Vaseline transferring from his fingers onto the phone.

Alright, alright. You have to see his show to understand that but – hey! – you should see his show. And yes, he had been pretty much doing what you might think he had been doing with the Vaseline.

I was sitting in the Pleasance Dome thinking how funny this story was – though admittedly only if you’ve seen Steve’s wonderful show – when American comic Lewis Schaffer sat down at my table; it was akin to an Assyrian descending like a wolf on the fold – though admittedly only if you ignore his Jewishness, which is difficult.

He told me:

“I have new shoes. They are so tight, John. They hurt my feet and make me feel like a girl…”

I looked at him.

“My act has changed,” he said. “I have gone full-on flexible.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“You know what it means,” he replied. “Full-on is a British phrase.”

“No it isn’t,” I said, “it’s an American phrase and even if it were British English, I have gone full-on flexible still doesn’t mean anything.”

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know what it means either. Kate Copstick is coming to review my show tonight for the Scotsman. I’m not ready.”

“It’ll be OK.” I said, trying to be reassuring. “She likes you.”

“Well, I find that irritating,” Lewis said.

“What?”

“That she likes me. Does she really like me? I find it irritating when people like me. My girlfriend likes me. I find that very irritating.”

It is sometimes very difficult to talk reasonably to Lewis Schaffer.

We walked off together to the Counting House venue and passed comedian Diane Spencer, flyering for her show All-Pervading Madness.

“Are you coming to see it?” she asked me. “I know you saw it in London, but it has changed so much – out of all recognition.”

“I did think about it,” I said, “but I don’t need to see you because I know how good you are.”

She thought I was bullshitting.

I was not.

She IS that good.

I keep thinking I should suck-up to Diane Spencer so that when, inevitably, she is highly successful she may one day buy a Big Issue from me when she comes out of some future BAFTA Awards ceremony. Forward planning is important, but young women tend not to take it very well when a man of my age tries to suck-up to them. The police are a constant sword of Damocles.

At the Counting House, I saw Ivor Dembina‘s show which he calls Ivor’s Other Show because he… has another show at the Fringe. His other show Free Jewish Comedy is his stand-up comedy show; the clue is in the title. Ivor’s Other Show is a sit-down chat show in which he and two different comics each day talk about jokes and comedy with the audience joining in – it’s Ivor’s own format idea called Desert Island Jokes.

It was certainly interesting to see Ivor’s Other Show, because I will be chairing two panel shows about comedy as part of Malcolm Hardee Week – the final week of the Fringe.

Ivor is a surprisingly good chat show host. Most comedians are too self-obsessed and keen to make an impact to be a good, moderately self-effacing host, but I guess Ivor’s many years compering at his Hampstead Comedy Club have given him the vital necessary experience.

Yesterday’s show was also interesting because, in my own mind, it clarified why you can listen to a Beatles’ song 25 times and enjoy it equally each time… and listen to a comic story 25 times, enjoying the experience and the ‘journey’ equally each time, but you cannot hear a joke 25 times with equal pleasure: you are unlikely to ever repeat the scale of the large belly-laugh at the punchline to an equal extent on subsequent hearings because the element of surprise at the punchline is missing on repeated tellings.

The exception might be Tommy Cooper gags where, although they may be straight punch-line-based gags, it is the style of the telling of the joke at which you are really laughing.

But what do I know?

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You meet the most extraordinary people at the Edinburgh Fringe

Everything at the Edinburgh Fringe is inter-linked.

Do I look Jewish?

American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer had a bit of schtick in his Edinburgh Fringe show last year which he is not using this year – well, he won’t after reading it here.

He would ask a man in the front row of his audience: “Are you Jewish?”

Depending on the reply, he then said either “That’s great,” or “That’s terrible,” and added, “It must be terrible to LOOK Jewish and not to BE Jewish.”

Yesterday I was crossing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and a still small voice asked: “Are you Jewish?”

Two bearded men were standing at a table dressed in black and wearing skull caps.

“No. Sorry,” I replied.

Three steps further on, I reconsidered my reply and turned back.

“But what would you have said if I were Jewish?” I asked. “What are you selling?”

“Nothing, But are you Jewish?”

“No, but I know someone who is a Jewish American comedian.”

The young man on the left was smiling. The older man on the right was not smiling; he never smiled. I think he was probably Israeli rather than Jewish.

“You know someone who is Jewish?” the man on the right said suspiciously.

“Do I know someone who is Jewish?” I asked. “Yes. He’s a New York Jewish comedian.”

“Give him this, then” the jollier Jew said, handing me a leaflet.

“He can come on Friday,” the unsmiling presumed Israeli said reluctantly.

The leaflet said:

Come join Chabad for your Shabbat live experience!

All in one Shabbat Dinner, Fun, Laughter, Friends, Great food. Lots of L’chaims and much more.

I was tempted to convert.

There was a Jewish thread running through the day.

A little later, I got chatting to highly charismatic part-Iranian actor-comedian Jody Kamali from Bristol who told me he had to get an Iranian passport and change his passport name to Sam (well, that’s what it sounded like) when he visited Iran otherwise they would not have let him in; there was a drawback to this because they might then have forced him to do three years military service in the Iranian Army.

That is not part of the Jewish thread to the day, but I also got chatting to Jody’s director. I have no idea what his name is. That is one of the quirks of the Fringe – you can have terribly interesting conversations with fascinating people but forget to ask their names. Anyway, he had a moustache, was tall and was not part-Iranian…

We are back now to being Jewish… well, Jew…ish.

What he was – indeed, is – is Jewish-Scottish-Portuguese; he speaks Portuguese to his mother and is living in dream accommodation while in Edinburgh – the Austrian Consulate.

I forgot to mention he is also part German/Austrian. His grandparents were Jews in Germany before the War. They managed to get out when Hitler was on the rise and moved to Austria. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to my mind, but, throughout the War, they pretended to be Catholic and went to a Catholic Church.

“So I’m Jewish and I’m a Catholic,” the director said to me, shrugging. “The guilt, my dear! the guilt!”

You do meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories at the Fringe and Edinburgh can be a very small place, throwing up one degree of separation.

I spent last night with Charlie Chuck.

I will re-phrase that.

I spent yesterday evening with Charlie Chuck, starting at a launch for the SpaceUK venues at Surgeon’s Hall and I had a fascinating chat with their sound supremo Wayne. I forgot to ask his surname. This is the Fringe. He had vivid stories of growing up as a Forces child – his father started in the Forces on the Borneo campaign and ended with the Falklands. As a child, Wayne wanted to be a Queen’s Messenger because it was well-paid and meant travelling the world with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

He has an extraordinary knowledge of the ethnic ebbs and flows of history. You would think he was a history teacher in ‘real’ non-Fringe life. In fact, he owns a record label in Manchester. He says there are 13 record labels in Manchester and he vaguely knew 24-Hour Party Person Tony Wilson – now there was an extraordinary person if ever there were one; I encountered him very peripherally at Granada TV in the 1980s.

Wayne also knew late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s brother Alex, a music executive… as did SpaceUK boss Charlie Pamment who, in one of his former  professional incarnations as an agent, remembered putting Malcolm Hardee on at the Raymond Revuebar in London’s Soho. Now that must involve anecdotes worth dining out on!

One can but hope against hope that Malcolm turns up as a character in Michael Winderbottom’s planned movie Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica.

Charlie Pamment told me that his SpaceUK venues are staging the largest number of shows at this year’s Fringe – 229 separate productions. Other operators have more venues, but SpaceUK has more shows.

After that, Charlie Chuck and I we were off to the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party at the Counting House, future scene of the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 26th August.

Never underestimate the power of a random blatant plug.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party seemed to be less a party than a full-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony staged in a pub complex on a hot night. The throngs were so large that I never did find comedian Eric, whom I was supposed to meet. A regular audience member at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek club in Greenwich, he was persuaded by Malcolm to become a stand-up and used to be a submariner.

But I did bump into singing Hitler comic Frank Sanazi and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award inspiration Gill Smith and Scots comic Keara Murphy who, like Janey Godley, is not playing a full Fringe show this year but has picked up seemingly endless one-off gigs in town.

The Free Festival launch party was some crowded sweatathon which seemed to merge together an extraordinarily large family birthday party, the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Swedish sauna. I stuck my head into the performance area – the Ballroom – looking for Eric, and you could have grilled a sausage by simply holding it in mid-air over the audience.

Comedian, blogger and sometime professional photographer Ian Fox was taking photos for Laughing Horse at the event and, for a time, had to abandon taking photos in the Ballroom because his lens steamed up. He showed me three photos which he said had been taken within three seconds.

The first showed the audience but with a cream discolouration area rising from the bottom.

The second was starting to be blobbily out-of-focus all-over with the condensation.

The third was an abstract of giant blobs – taken at a point at which the water particles had overwhelmed the lens.

I felt very much like the lens.

It is easy to be overwhelmed at the Fringe.

Then my phone rang.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s son Frank.

“I thought you were in South Korea,” I shouted.

“I’m back for a few days,” he told me. “Then, next week, I am off to see Poppy in Palestine.”

Poppy is Malcolm Hardee’s daughter.

The late great would have been chuffed his kids are globetrotting.

Let us not get into any discussion of whether or not a passing reference to Palestine continued the day’s Jewish thread. To quote Malcolm:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Because, round the edge… fish.”

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Other creatures’ lives: Charlie Chuck and Elsie the duck who sits on his head

Yesterday, I drove up to Leicestershire to take photographs of comedian Charlie Chuck with his ducks. Well, they are not his ducks. They are his girlfriend’s ducks.

It is not a quiet nor a simple life having 21 ducks, two dogs, an occasional fox and Charlie Chuck in your back garden. Because they have to be mostly kept apart for safety reasons.

There are four females ducks, four very large males and 13 newly-born ducklings.

The four males have to be kept separate to stop them leaping on the four females, grabbing them violently by the back of their necks and making what Shakespeare almost called the duck with two backs.

The four females and 12 ducklings can be left to roam but need careful shepherding in case they make a bolt for the wrought-iron side gate and, from there, the front garden and road.

And then there is Elsie.

Elsie was a sickly duckling, excluded from the family nest which was in a large wooden dog house. She was tended by Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s grown-up son and has bonded with him and humans not ducks. She does not like water except to drink. She refuses to swim. And, if she goes outside when the other ducklings are around, they attack her. But she will settle on human shoulders – especially Charlie Chuck’s – like a miniature would-be pirate’s parrot.

And on his head.

If no human is available, she will follow the nearest mother substitute available – usually Billy the Jack Russell dog belonging to Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend. Of a night-time, Elsie would ideally like to sleep with Billy the Jack Russell dog, but Billy does not want this, so he tries to avoid the arrangement by running away, resulting in a regular circular chase round a tree in the back garden, with Billy pursued by Elsie in the twilight.

And then there is Charlie Chuck’s dog Ollie the collie who never barks at home but who does when he visits Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s home and hears Billy the Jack Russell dog bark.

And then there is the occasional fox, kept at bay at night by Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s grown-up son with a catapult in an upstairs window.

And then there is Charlie Chuck.

At home, the books on Charlie Chuck’s bookshelf include all the children’s stories written by C.S.Lewis, the autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake by Malcolm Hardee (he drowned) and The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates by theologian Hugh Montefiore who was born a Sephardic Jew but who became the Church of England’s Bishop of Birmingham 1977-1987. He (Montefiore) converted to Christianity as a 16-year-old schoolboy when he had a vision of Christ while sitting in his study at Rugby school.

Jesus was a Jew who never converted to Christianity.

It can be a complicated world.

There are pictures of Charlie Chuck with Elsie the duck on my Facebook page here.

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