Tag Archives: Jim Davidson

A comedian’s blood, the Lady Gaga of comedy and Monty Python with chips

Texts flew through cyberspace last night

Texts flew through cyberspace…

So, last night, I was getting a train from my home in Borehamwood to see Joel SandersAngry Boater show by the Grand Union Canal in Haggerston, when I got a text from Juliette Burton.

“Driving past Borehamwood,” it said, “on my way to Putney to do a 5 minute gig after recording a Mills & Boon audiobook all day for the RNIB.”

Joel’s show started off slightly weird. Well, the show had not even started.

He sat at a table and, when the last member of the full-house, pre-booked audience walked through the door, asked her to help him. He then took a blood pressure reading. She was his witness.

His blood pressure was apparently very high. His show is about being angry and living on canal boats.

Joel Sanders through th porthole

Joel Sanders – The Angry Boater – through the porthole

I have to say his hugely enjoyable show was very calmly – even gently – presented. It climaxed with the true and ongoing story of how the engine of his canal boat has been buggered. A new one may cost him £8,000.

Afterwards, I asked him about his show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“Fringe?” he replied. “Everyone assumes I will be at the Fringe! I did it in 2011 and found it a miserable period so I don’t have any plans to return – at least not this year.”

He is a very busy man for someone concerned with his high blood pressure and general health. He recently interviewed Jim Davidson and Matt Lucas on-stage at Bethnal Green’s Backyard Comedy Club and, tonight, he is interviewing Harry Hill there.

“My next thing,” he told me, “once I get the engine sorted, is to take the Angry Boater show up the canal and set up impromptu shows in the nether. Wherever I moor up, I’ll find a venue, spend a week promoting it, do the show, move on and repeat. I want to be P.T. Barnum on a boat. Show up in villages and small towns – places with very little entertainment – and try to create some hype. It has got to be easier than London.”

Juliette Burton’s selfie in a car last night

Juliette Burton’s selfie in her car last night

After that, I got a train home to Borehamwood and, on the way, had a text message conversation with Juliette Burton about how her gig had gone. she is the queen of complex 60-minute multi-media reportage shows, so I thought 5 minutes must ironically have been very difficult.

“Well,” she told me, “my 5 mins tonight was very interesting. Alex Martini, the lovely MC, greeted me saying he was a huge fan thanks to your blog and then bigged me up massively before bringing me on stage. I had been told a strict 5 minutes, but then I was told 10-15 minutes cos I was such a ‘big name’.

“I was incredibly flattered but really wasn’t sure my added-on material deserved the praise. According to Alex, I am ‘the Lady Gaga of comedy’ because I have an entourage. I rather like that. But I did turn up at the gig totally alone. And my dress wasn’t made of luncheon meat, sadly.”

In the British circuit comedy, it has to be said, only Lewis Schaffer has an entourage. Everyone else only has fans.

“I honestly don’t know how I went,” Juliette told me. “My ad libs got more laughs than anything. I spouted some stuff about recording the Mills & Boon book today, which they seemed to like.

“They laughed at me saying I had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act as a teenager and, the more I insisted it was not a joke, the more they laughed. Weird. Alex said he was heartbroken to learn I had a boyfriend.”

“How,” I asked, “did the Mills & Boon recording go?”

“I have never,” replied Juliette, “said the words ‘nubbin’ and ‘thickness’ so much in one day.”

“Nubbin?” I asked her. “Do you mean ‘knobbing’?”

“No!” she texted back, “Nubbin! It is used like the word ‘bud’.”

Claire Smith’s selfie in Brighton last night

Claire Smith’s selfie in Brighton last night

I remain mystified by nubbin but, by then, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and Scotsman comedy reviewer Claire Smith had started texting me from the South Coast, where the Brighton Fringe is in full swing.

“Tonight,” her first text said, “was the official opening of Lynn Ruth Miller’s art exhibition at Bardsley’s of Baker Street – which is one of Brighton’s oldest fish and chip shops.”

Lynn Ruth Miller, now aged 81, has one of the youngest minds on the UK comedy circuit.

“As well as showing Lynn Ruth’s paintings,” Claire told me, “the chip shop is also the permanent home of the Max Miller Society’s collection. There is a little room at the back where you can eat your fish and chip dinner surrounded by posters of the ‘Cheeky Chappie’ and cards with his jokes. They also have one of his floral suits in a glass case.”

“This,” I asked, “was a grand opening for Lynn Ruth’s art exhibition? Who was there?”

Carol Cleveland with Lynn Ruth Miller in Max Miller collection

Carol Cleveland with Lynn Ruth Miller in Max Miller heaven (Photograph by Claire Smith)

“The first to turn up,” Claire told me, “was Carol Cleveland from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  She told me she loved taking part in the Monty Python reunion shows at the O2 because one of the best things for her was that she finally got to act. As well as doing the dolly bird stuff she also got to play a couple of roles that used to be played by Graham Chapman in drag.”

“How is Lynn Ruth?” I asked.

“Busier than ever,” Claire texted. “I’ve seen her in two shows at the Fringe. Not Dead Yet – which is a musical version of her life story – and Eighty! – which is a show about growing old and continuing to have lots of fun. Last night turned into another of her chip shop salons – with a huge group of friends and admirers eating at a giant table as Lynn Ruth held court.”

Kate Copstick,” I texted back, “was telling me she might go down to Brighton just to see Lynn Ruth in the fish and chip shop. I could be persuaded too.”

Lynn Ruth Miller  + Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & chip shop, Brighton

Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & Chip Shop + Lynn Ruth Miller (Photograph by Claire Smith)

“I’m not sure if there is a programme for these,” explained Claire, “or if they just happen when Lynn Ruth decides to do it. But I am sure if La Copstick were in town a salon would spontaneously arise.”

I think I must phone my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth) who lives near Brighton and see if she fancies some fish and chips in exchange for me having a kip (not to be confused with kippers) in her spare bedroom.

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Jim Davidson on being “racist, sexist, homophobic” – and Operation Yewtree

Candy Gigi being advised by Jim Davidson  last night while critic Kate Copstick appears to have a fit in the background

Candy Gigi with Jim Davidson last night while comedy critic Kate Copstick appears to have fit

Who makes a good chat show host? Someone who can ask difficult questions and get revealing answers without the interviewee really noticing.

Last night, I went to Bob Slayer’s Christmas pop-up venue – Heroes Grotto of Comedy – in the City of London, where Scott Capurro and his friend David Mills were hosting their chat show. Their guests were London mayoral candidate Ivan Massow, 2014 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Candy Gigi and British comedy legend Jim Davidson. An interestingly eclectic trio.

Before anyone complains – as I am sure they will – about what follows. I myself would have mentioned an alleged incident of wife-beating. But this is not my interview.

Scott Capurro met Jim Davidson for the first time at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Last night he asked Jim why he had stayed at a hotel out by Edinburgh Airport.

“I thought I don’t want to get involved with everybody,” said Jim, “but, more than that, I didn’t want to go in a club and get blanked.”

“Did that happen to you?” Scott asked.

“Well, it did a bit,” said Jim.

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Jim’s Edinburgh Fringe show this year

“We went to the performers’ bar at the Gilded Balloon,” Scott explained to the audience, “and a couple of comics said: Why did you bring Jim in here? I said: Because it’s a public bar and he’s a comic. Why the fuck are you here? Why don’t you fuck off if you don’t like him? These were people who had not seen his live performance. But they had made up their minds about who he was.”

“I am,” admitted Jim, “regarded as an old school/ racist/ sexist/ homophobic horrible person. I understand the perception of me. I really do understand that. Perception, yeah. How many times have we said: I fuckin’ hate that bloke and you meet them and they’re absolutely wonderful? What you’ve done is you’ve spent all that time wasting emotion.

“I’m the bad guy,” said Jim. “When Bernard Manning died, they had to have someone else. Someone said to me: Jim, you’re the bad guy, because it makes other people better by default.

“I have always been unhappy to be called homophobic because it’s fucking annoying. The racist thing I can get because I used to do jokes about black people and it’s a bit more sensitive than doing jokes about gay people.”

“The night I saw your show in Edinburgh,” said Scott, “there was a wheelchair guy in the front row – and a blind person.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “What’s the point of a fucking blind person being on the front row? That’s what I actually said to him. He could sit and face the fucking wall and…”

“Do you,” asked Scott, “revel in that sort of…”

“Yeah. I do,” replied Jim. “Don’t you? You do.”

“Yeah,” said Scott.

“This is it, right?” said Jim. “In the front row here tonight, we’ve got an Australian, a mad woman, a baldy man, a blonde girl and a person that’s wearing boots that are too young for them. Let’s say we also have someone in a wheelchair…

(From left) David Mills, Jim Davidson, Scott Capurro last night

(L-R) David Mills, Jim Davidson and Scott Capurro last night

“What you do is try and get that person in the wheelchair involved. Include him rather than take the piss. But what happens is some fucking Guardian-reading leftie that wants an excuse to hate me might say: Jim took the piss out of a man in a wheelchair. So do you take that chance? I do. And then I get slagged off for it. I hate it. I hate it. But I can’t stop myself. I want to include people. I don’t want to take he piss out of someone in a wheelchair: that’s fucking easy. I want to include the person… Include the person.”

“The really disabled people,” said David Mills, “are people who have got no sense of humour.”

“A blind man can still see a good joke,” said Jim.

“Some comics think,” said Scott, “if you do an accent, immediately that’s racist.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “What’s that all about? I don’t get that.”

“You did a brilliant accent in Edinburgh.”

“The West Indian thing? Or the Indian thing?”

“The Indian guy.”

“This is true. I don’t care if you think this is racist or not. My mate in Dubai was a Sikh and he had (at this point, Jim started to imitate the accents) a real broad Glaswegian accent. He had a brown face, didn’t wear a turban and could drink like a fish. Halfway through drinking, his accent became slightly Indian and then it became Scottish but still Indian and, at the end of the evening, it was totally Indian but with a Scottish personality – Who you fuckin’ looking at, ya cunt?

“Someone said: How Seventies is that – thinking that Indian people are funny? But how fucking insulting is that?

“I’ll tell you where my West Indian character Chalky comes from. I used to do jokes about West Indian kids I went to school with and it was 1976/1977 Blackpool, Little & Large – remember them?

Little and Large with Susie Silvey in the 1980s.

Little and Large with Susie Silvey in the 1980s.

“They had a manager and, when I did this West Indian accent, he said: Oh, fuck me, we can’t have this! It was never offensive in my mind and people would laugh their heads off at it. But he said You’ve gotta drop that and the producer said Why don’t you make it one character and make that character someone everyone can laugh at, even the black people in the audience? So Chalky was based around my mates: all the black kids I went to school with had West Indian accents. Chalky was a character to be loved. I didn’t invent that character to ridicule anybody and, if I have ridiculed anybody, I apologise from the bottom of my heart. He was made to be loved. He was Dennis The Menace. He was Minnie The Minx.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception of me and I’ve got to take that on the chin. I’ve done well, I’ve been doing this for forty years. I’ve afforded four divorces.”

Jim was arrested under Operation Yewtree, the police investigation following sex revelations about the late Jimmy Savile.

“I thought Yewtree was fucking great when it started off,” said Jim last night, “because it was arresting all those funny people at the BBC that I didn’t particularly like. And then Freddie Starr got arrested and I thought: This is ridiculous. I think he’s the greatest act I’ve ever seen: I mean, really, really old school but brilliant.

“There were about twelve reporters outside my house every day for a couple of weeks. The police investigation lasted a year. Everyone knew it was not for under-aged sex and everyone knew I was a bit of jack-the-lad and a pretty easy target. I’ve never hid the fact I like girls. But I think arresting me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People started to realise: Hang on a bit; it’s getting silly.”

Jim explained that one woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by him at the London Palladium later (after he had provided evidence to the police) changed her story to having been assaulted at the Hemel Hempstead Pavilion. He says a policeman questioning him over another charge said:

You came off the stage at The Green Man in the Old Kent Road and you saw a woman there with a short skirt on and a garter belt hanging down under her skirt and you twanged her garter belt. Can you remember doing that?

“In 1978?

“Yes.

“I can’t remember doing that.

“Is that something you would have done?

“Yeah, probably. And then what? Then I sexually assaulted her?

“No. That IS the sexual assault that we have arrested you for.

“And that’s how it went on,” Jim said. “It cost me a year and about £500,000 and, at the end of it, they said: No further action. They didn’t say sorry or anything. It was horrible. Horrible.”

“What is the motivation of the accusers?” Scott asked.

“No idea” said Jim. “Schadenfreude? I really think that’s what it is. How dare he have such a good life when I’ve had such a shit life. And there’s a lot of bandwagon jumping. But it’s not for me to say.”

“Did you,” asked Scott, “believe in the legal system before this?”

“I still believe in it,” said Jim. “I don’t think the police had any alternative but to investigate. I read the other day that the Inspector of Constabulary said that the police should record more crimes. Someone can go in and say blah-blah-blah and it’s got to be put down as a crime and the person is arrested before the interrogation. I think that’s the wrong way round. I think, in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. But I’m not going to shout out about it because I’m frightened to. I don’t want to rock the boat and that’s the truth.”

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Comics Jim Davidson, Janey Godley and Canadian cottage misunderstanding

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

In Jim Davidson’s Fringe show, he put his annus horribilis behind him

The final show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last night was Jim Davidson’s No Further Action which I really do have to say was an utterly brilliant, flawless hour of comedy. Genuinely, utterly brilliant. It knocked most other Fringe comedy shows into the amateur starters section.

Janey Godley (left) and TV’s Lizzie Roper waved me an affectionate farewell

Janey Godley (left) & TV’s Lizzie Roper’s affectionate farewell

I am, tragically, running around too much to write a proper blog today but I was touched that, as she left Edinburgh for her Glasgow mansion last night, comedian Janey Godley gave me a slap on the cheek which, I believe, is a sign of deep respect in her home town.

This morning mysterious Mark, who runs the British Comedy Guide, introduced me (by e-mail) to Malcolm Poulton, who says he used to go to school with future comedy legend Malcolm Hardee “until Hardee got expelled for firing an air gun pellet into a prefect’s arse”.

Mark added: “Just to warn you, Malcolm Poulton tells me that, at school, he was called ‘naughty Malcolm’, whilst Hardee was ‘good Malcolm’…”

A worrying warning indeed.

Wikipedia’s view of Port McNicoll’s attractions

Port McNicoll’s attractions – possibly misunderstood online

Meanwhile, my attention has been drawn – bizarrely by what appears to be a piece of spam – to the current Wikipedia entry for the apparently quiet and blameless residential town of Port McNicoll in Ontario, Canada.

The spam I received read: “Hendrix and Morrison both died at the same age as Jones. Hay Lins fans are capable to conjure up enormous gusts of winds, comparable to those of the exhaust gases of a jetliner. Drummond Island Ferry across the DeTour Passage was added to the route. Windows rather than force them to move.”

The e-mail’s title was a quote from Wikipedia.

According to the current Wikipedia entry for Port McNicoll:

“Most people living in Port McNicoll work in various industries in the Midland/Penetanguishene area. It is a quiet town, whose population swells, due to cottagers, during the summer months.”

I presume what we have here is a confusion between British English and Canadian English.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Jim Davidson (the C word is a term of affection in Scotland)

At the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon, conversation between me, my co-host Kate Copstick – doyenne of comedy reviewers – and comedians in the audience turned to comic Jim Davidson.

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Copstick said that a non-British comedian who did not know anything about the great entertainer had seen his current show at the Edinburgh Fringe and had told her it was fantastic.

“He loved it,” said Copstick. “He said Jim Davidson was a great comedian and was just like a normal bloke, doing blokey comedy.”

“Maybe…” said audience member/comedian Matt Price. “I think he’s technically good, but…”

“Have you seem his show this year?” asked Copstick.

“No,” said Matt.

“Well don’t judge,” Copstick told Matt.

“I can’t avoid judging,” said audience member/comedian Paul Ricketts, “because I’ve worked with him. I know he’s a cunt.”

“But half the comics on the alternative scene,” said Copstick, “are cunts…”

“I know,” said Paul.

Matt Roper (left), Copstick, Paul Ricketts at Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick with Paul Ricketts (right) outside Grouchy Club

“I’m sorry,” Copstick said, apologising to two ordinary members of the public from Tasmania who were inexplicably in an audience otherwise filled by comedy industry people. “Cunt is a term of…”

“It is,” I explained, “like an Australian calling someone a ‘bastard’ – It is a term of affection in Scotland.”

“A lot of comics start a bit cuntish,” said Copstick, “but it takes many, many years…”

“A lot of hard work,” agreed Paul.

“…to become a total cunt,” concluded Copstick. “I think it is a very dangerous thing to judge what somebody is like on-stage by what they are like off-stage. If I did that, most people at the Fringe would be getting one-star reviews from me, because they are arseholes.”

Jim’s panto Sinderella - see what he did there?

Jim’s Sinderella – See what he did there?

“It is though,” said Paul, “very hard to divorce the art from the person when that person has annoyed you so much. I worked on Jim Davidson’s panto Sinderella at the Cambridge Theatre – I was a wood-pusher – I was working backstage – and I was on the verge of getting off with this wardrobe mistress, who was a very good friend of his.

“I went back to her place – gorgeous blonde – and she put on a video of the previous Jim Davidson pantomime and, after 20 minutes, I just thought No! I had to pretend to go to sleep – and turn down the sex – because I couldn’t stand it. That is real punishment and he doesn’t even know he’s done it.”

“What was wrong with watching the video?” I asked.

“It is a well-known fact,” said Copstick, “that Jim Davidson appears in very few comedians’ wank banks.”

“What about Jim Davidson’s Funeral?” I asked.

Jim Davidson’s Funeral - put the ‘ham’ into shambolic

The show that put the ‘ham’ into shambolic

“Well,” Copstick said, “among the many things I loathe – because I have lived long and every year the list of things I loathe gets longer – quite high up is performers who come up to the Fringe and only do one day.”

A couple of nights ago, I saw the terrifically funny one-off show shambles that was Jim Davidson’s Funeral, perpetrated by comedy double act Ellis & Rose. They won an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award last year for a publicity stunt in which Rose punched Ellis in the face causing actual bodily harm simply so they could get publicity by claiming he was attacked in the street by a punter outraged by their performance of Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

Kate Copstick failed to see Jim Davidson’s Funeral this week but, no matter, Ellis & Rose wrote a 5-star review of their own show claiming it was her review and posted it all over the internet. It read:

Ellis & Rose have cemented themselves as arch-villains of the Edinburgh Fringe… I’m now quitting as head critic at The Scotsman, as nothing is worth reviewing after this  – Kate Copstick

Another fake Broadway Baby hits the stands...

Another fake Broadway Baby hits the stands

I can’t see this fake review making it to the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award short list.

Nor the fake issues of Broadway Baby – another one appeared yesterday – as Barry Ferns got an award for the original idea last year.

A more obvious attempt to get a Cunning Stunt Award happened a few days ago when Frankie Boyle fans were enticed to the Pleasance Dome by the implied promise of a ‘secret gig’ by their comedy hero.

At the gig, comic Luke McQueen walked out on stage, said “Give me a cheer if you’re excited about seeing Frankie Boyle”, then explained that he (McQueen) could not get an audience for his own show, so he had to lie to draw a crowd.

McQueen told the Chortle comedy website: “They weren’t very happy. But I was confident, once they heard my comedy, the mood would change. To my surprise, it didn’t. They seemed quite upset that I wasn’t Frankie Boyle and began to leave. I offered to do a bit of Frankie’s material if they stayed but they weren’t interested. Some people said some pretty mean things as they left.” He told Chortle that the response was ‘demoralising’ but said he might try again: “Maybe I’ll try a bigger venue like the O2 and saying it’s Michael McIntyre. I think his audience will be more patient.”

As I told the Grouchy Club audience yesterday afternoon: “There is a heated debate to be had next Monday about whether stupidity is any barrier to being nominated for or indeed winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. It is arguable that it may be a positive advantage.”

“I love cunning stunts,” said Copstick, “that are done by people who are clearly idiots… Ellis & Rose are clearly idiots.”

Gareth Ellis (left) & Rich Rose at Jim Davidson’s Funeral

Ellis (left) & Rose at the Funeral. Jim Davidson allegedly criticised them as “intellectuals” – but are they merely idiots?

“They’re not idiots,” I remonstrated. “They’re just mentally deranged.”

“No,” argued Copstick. “It’s a fine line, John, but I think they’re idiots.”

“I think it’s desperation,” isn’t it?” said Matt Price. “Everyone’s desperate to get…”

“Desperation is good for comedy,” I suggested.

“Why not spend ten years learning how to be a comedian, though,” asked Matt, “rather than thinking about fame?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “If you had the choice – ten years at the coalface or come up for one day and do Jim Davidson’s Funeral for self-publicity?”

“Oh no,” said Matt. “I’m not knocking those two…”

“Well obviously, if you were a cunt,” said Copstick, “you would do Jim Davidson’s Funeral.”

“And remember,” I pointed out to the two Tasmanians, “that the word ‘cunt’ is a term of affection.”

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Edinburgh Fringe: Comic Jim Davidson faces the alternative comedy Fascists and I am maligned by comic Jeff Leach

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

At The Grouchy Club, Copstick let rip at ‘right on’ comedians

At the daily Grouchy Club, my co-host Kate Copstick and I try to know our audience. Sometimes we already know them.

“Who is this gent in the front row?” I asked yesterday.

“This gent,” Copstick told me, “is the reason I am here. This is Robert Dawson Scott who, in 1999, was Arts Editor of The Scotsman and he gave me my job as a critic.”

Later, Copstick asked: “Has anyone been to see Jim Davidson?”

“I’m going to Jim Davidson’s Funeral on Tuesday,” I said.

“There is a double act called Ellis & Rose,” Copstick explained to the audience. “They phoned me today..”

“Oh, you too!” I said.

What a pair! - Two Jim Davidson goodies

In the Fringe Programme, Jim Davidson’s show and the spoof funeral show are next to each other

“They’re doing a one-off show,” Copstick continued, “called Jim Davdson’s Funeral, which one cannot help but feel is going to be a bit anti-Jim Davidson. They wanted to invite him to The Grouchy Club tomorrow and ‘have a heated debate’. But I don’t really see why Jim Davidson would want to come here considering that, whatever he is offstage, he is technically a brilliant comedian.

“It really irritates me when a lot of baby-boy comics and – even worse – baby-harridan comics get up on their hind legs to criticise him when they are doing –  supposedly ironically – quite a lot of racist, sexist stuff themselves. They are just dressing it up and he doesn’t. I don’t think I’d laugh like a drain if I went and saw his show, but I really… It’s a horrible… It’s… Look, I interviewed Richard Herring and he said that the very first time he came up to the Fringe was in 1987, right at the height of the alternative comedy ‘We Hate Thatcher’ mood.

Even after Fist of Fun, Richard Herring (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on seats

The Young Herring (left) went to Edinburgh with Stewart Lee

“Richard came up here with the Oxford Footlights. He and Stewart Lee were both involved with the Oxford Footlights; Stewart mainly as a writer.

“Richard was really excited. It was his first time ever in Edinburgh and all these comics were listed as being here who were his idols and whom he loved.

“But, for the whole first week, every time they went on stage, there was a contingent of alternative comics heckling and booing them. One time, Keith Allen completely disrupted the show and ended up punching the theatre manager in the face.

“The thing is all of the boys in that Footlights show were from comprehensive schools. None of them were posh. They were just clever boys from comprehensive schools who had done really well. But the ‘alternative’ lot were so far up themselves about how marvellously ‘right on’ they were that they didn’t even stop to find out.

“I think there still is a kind of Fascism in comedy that thinks We are the right-thinking ones! You are bad!

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh show

At this point, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Show helper Stephen O’Donnell suggested from the audience: “Some old comics get to re-invent themselves but, maybe because of what’s happened with him in the last ten years, Jim Davidson might be beyond that possible re-invention. You have to go away to come back and, because he has been newsworthy in the last five years, he is not really able to go away and come back. So he really just has to go on and show he can do what he does.”

“Also,” said Robert Dawson Scott, “he’s made it difficult for himself because, before the arrest and all that stuff, he very clearly positioned himself as ‘not alternative’. He thought they were not funny and he was rude about them. He may have some bridges to build.

“I gather,” he continued, “that most of his show is about being arrested, which is why it’s called No Further Action. Clearly it was an unpleasant experience – although possibly comedy gold.”

“And,” said Copstick, “if somebody else had been doing it, everybody would be going Yah! The police are terrible! But, because it’s Jim Davidson, they go: Oh, there’s no smoke without fire.

Kate Copstick & Steve Bennett: The Counting House last night

Kate Copstick & Steve Bennett: The Counting House last night

Yesterday evening, I accidentally bumped into Copstick again in the queue for Scots comic Richard Gadd’s show. Also in the queue, was Chortle comedy website boss Steve Bennett.

Richard Gadd recognised Copstick and Steve and, in a show of bravery, sat them in the front row. I sat with them. It must have been a comic’s worst nightmare in the small venue: performing at times only about 18 inches away from the two most-read reviewers in British comedy… and a fat, bald bloke who was clearly a bit too old for a comedy show.

Towards the end, Richard Gadd started eating the heads off flowers.

After the show, Copstick said to me: “It’s a bit dangerous eating flowers. Some can be poisonous.”

“He’s probably researched it is OK to eat those particular ones,” I suggested. Then I thought about Richard Gadd’s show. “Maybe not,” I added.

Blanche Cameron, Lewis Schaffer, Heather Stevens

Heather Stevens in normal Edinburgh pose

I went to bed early last night – early for Edinburgh – just before 2.00am.

At 1.56am, I got a text from Heather Stevens, the primus inter pares of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s entourage. Heather is a woman who seems to know everyone and to be everywhere at this year’s Fringe. Her text said simply:

“The phrase John Fleming’s spunk in her eye featured in Jeff Leach‘s rap battle against Sofie Hagen tonight.”

I know no more, dear reader, except that I am innocent. I have never talked at any length with Jeff Leach. I have never talked at all to Sofie Hagen. I have a notoriously bad memory but, if such an incident had happened, I feel sure even I would have remembered it.

All I know is that I feel soiled. Desperately soiled.

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The death of Jim Davidson – Edinburgh Fringe celebration show being planned.

Gareth Ellis may be dying from a disease caught by Victorian heroines

Ellis may have a disease caught by Victorian heroines

I bumped into someone in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday afternoon: 2013 Malcolm Hardee ‘Pound of Flesh’ Award winner Ellis.

He was coughing more than me (a rare thing) and he had that pale, zombiefied look of a diseased man who has recently contracted bubonic plague or one of those strange indefinable diseases that the heroines of Victorian novels used to die from. He claimed to have a chest infection.

“What’s your chest like?” I asked.

“It’s green,” he told me.

Ellis is half of comedy duo Ellis & Rose who appeared at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe in the widely-commented-on Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

He/They earned his/their increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award after he got his comedy partner Rich Rose to punch him repeatedly in the face so that he could claim he had been attacked in the street by an irate member of their audience, thus gaining a black eye and several column inches of publicity for their show.

“So, after careful consideration, you are not going up to the Fringe this year?” I asked.

“We are poverty-stricken and can’t be fucked,” he replied with, I felt, unnecessary detail.

“You’re not even visiting?” I asked innocently.

“Well,” he told me, “we’re going up for one day only.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Well, (promoter) Bob Slayer was pestering us to go up and do SOMETHING, so we thought: If we can’t go up and do a full run, what can we do to make a big impact using the least possible effort?

“And your conclusion was?” I asked.

What a pair! - Two Jim Davidson goodies

Cor! What a pair! – Double whammy of Davidsons

“It is for one night only on Tuesday 12th August in the big cave at The Hive and we’re doing Jim Davidson’s Funeral. We are listed right before his own show in the Programme. It’s only been live online for a day, so I think maybe no-one has noticed it yet.”

“And it involves?” I asked.

“We just thought,” explained Ellis, “Middle England’s (allegedly) bigoted, shocking, old-fashioned comic is going to do the Edinburgh Fringe for the whole month and therefore the Fringe is dead.

“So we thought we’d do his funeral. But also it is the death of the Fringe. The funeral of the Fringe. So we’re going to get a few guests on and basically attack the Fringe and put it to rights before it gets buried once and for all and we’re going to dance on Comedy’s grave. And that’s going to be the show. It’s going to be a very upbeat, fun evening. We’re gonna sort out Jim Davidson. We’re gonna tell him what’s what. His own show starts half an hour into our show.”

“So,” I said, it’s a wake for Jim Davidson, rather than a funeral.”

“No,” said Ellis. “His corpse will be in the coffin on stage.”

“Are you playing him?” I asked. “You were Jimmy Savile last year.”

“No,” said Ellis. “We’re performing as Ellis & Rose. Jim Davidson’s corpse will be in the coffin and hopefully we will have a live camera feed from the coffin projected up onto a big screen at the back like a Big Brother figure – because he did Celebrity Big Brother.”

Gareth contemplates future Fringe punch-ups

Ellis contemplates future Fringe punch-ups

“So basically no script?” I asked. “Just meandering along.”

“There will be a narrative,” said Ellis. “We are going to tackle all the big issues of the Fringe. This is the Fringe’s funeral as much as it is Jim Davidson’s funeral. I think we’ll tackle stuff about the Big Four venues, student reviewers, the cost of things. We’ll turn it into a big roast of the Fringe.”

“Any nudity involved?” I asked hopefully.

“Probably,” said Ellis. “Every funeral should have nudity. It might end in a disco.”

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The Edinburgh Fringe debate about sexist and racial – maybe racist – jokes

I admired the late Bernard Manning as a comedian.

And, unlike many who criticised him, I saw him perform live.

I blogged about this in January and got a lot of negative feedback.

But I think many anti-Bernard Manning sentiments are knee-jerk reactions. People dislike him because they know they are supposed to dislike him.

The comedian, musician and writer John Dowie contributed a very interesting short story to the Sit-Down Comedy anthology which the late Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited for Random House in 2003. His Help Me Make It Through the Night is basically a fictional story about a right-on early Ben Elton type alternative comedian and an old school Bernard Manning style comedian… written sympathetically from the point of view of the Bernard Manning character.

The story was written for the book by John Dowie after he and I had a discussion about Bernard Manning and surprisingly found a lot of common ground. Indeed, I think we agreed that we both admired him as a technically brilliant comedian; and it helped that we had both lived through the period when Manning was having his greatest success.

John Dowie is (in my opinion) a notable left-wing thinker; we are not talking a Daily Mail reader here.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I am chairing a couple of debates in Malcolm Hardee Week (the last week of the current Edinburgh Fringe).

On Tuesday 23rd August, the proposition is:

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

It is perhaps not the most original of ideas for a debate, but it is never not irrelevant and I felt it still has a lot of proverbial mileage left in it. The phrasing and punctuation of the debate’s title can be taken to represent either viewpoint:

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

I did invite Jim Davidson to take part in this debate (through his agent) without payment. He is taking part in the Guardian-sponsored Edinburgh International Television Festival at the end of the week reflecting, according to the programme, “on the industry that loved him, supported him but ultimately rejected him, as he discusses the changing nature of acceptability in comedy and television as a whole”.

His agent said Jim was unable to be in Edinburgh on Tuesday 23rd for the Malcolm Hardee Debate because he is on tour – playing Great Yarmouth on the Monday night and Weymouth on the Wednesday night.

I have no idea if it is just impractical (it sure ain’t easy) or because there was no money in it or because he just did not fancy doing it. All are perfectly reasonable.

It is a pity – but much in life is, like the fact choc ices are fattening.

I have never met Jim Davidson and have never seen his live act (television, in this case, does not count). I have asked people who have worked with him what he is like and opinion is varied. I have no personal opinion on him.

Prejudice is not something I admire and, by that, I mean judging people without really genuinely knowing what you are talking about. It is a comic irony that people who say you should never believe what you read in newspapers and magazines nor on the internet – and you should never believe edited video clips out of context – often do.

So I am prepared to believe Jim Davidson is a shit; but I am also prepared to believe he is misunderstood and misrepresented. Jimmy Carr, a brilliant comic whom I have seen and whom I do admire, has also been accused of telling racist jokes. To which I say Bollocks.

Admittedly, even if I did think Jim Davidson were a shit, I would put him on to get bums on seats and to let him defend himself (equal factors in my mind).

I think the line-up on 23rd August without him is still very good:

Simon Donald, co-founder of Viz magazine, who has now re-invented himself as a stand-up comedian.

Hardeep Singh Kohli, sometime presenter on BBC1’s The One Show and columnist for Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

Ian Pattison, creator and writer of the culturally phenomenal BBC TV series Rab C.Nesbitt.

And Maureen Younger, the astonishingly well-travelled London-Scottish comedian who hosts all-female Laughing Cows comedy gigs in London, Birmingham, Berlin etc.

If you are in Edinburgh on Tuesday 23rd August…

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

at The Hive, 6.15-7.00pm.

It is part of the Free Festival – so it is free unless you want to throw appreciative money in a bucket at the end, in which case it is for charity; 100% goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

Don’t pre-judge it.

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The god-like comedian Ken Dodd is more mugger than con man + he got a standing ovation in Bournemouth

Morecambe and Wise were not famous.

Yes, they were justifiably famous in the UK. But go to some village in western China and ask them who Morecambe and Wise were.

M&W are and always were total unknowns except in the British Isles.

Fame is relative and mostly regional.

To save my life, I could not tell you who the world water ski champion is. But presumably he or she is a Big Name if you follow water skiing.

The world is full of champions, each famous in their own little world.

I see quite a lot of club comedy and what is still called alternative comedy. Some of the acts are called comedy stars; some may even think they are stars. Audiences even flock to and fill large venues to see some of these people who have appeared in TV panel shows.

But they are not big stars even in the UK. They are minor and transient cults with a few disciples. Admittedly they have more disciples than Jesus did when he started but, just because you can get more than twelve people to listen to you in a room above a pub in Camden Town, don’t start thinking you are more famous than the Son of God.

Unless you are known and regarded in awe by a random 50-year-old housewife in a bus queue in Leamington Spa, you are not famous in UK terms. If you can fill a big venue at the Edinburgh Fringe with 23 year old fans for 27 nights, you are not famous. You are a very minor cult.

Last night, I saw Ken Dodd’s show Happiness at The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. Ken Dodd is unquestionably famous in the UK and the venue was filled with a well-heeled middle-of-the-road, middle class Middle England audience of the type TV commissioners mystifyingly ignore. This audience was the great TV-viewing audience en masse on a rare trip out to see a live show.

Upcoming shows at The Pavilion include The Gazza and Greavsie Show, Roy Chubby Brown, Joe Pasquale, Jethro and Jim Davidson. Never, never, never underestimate the Daily Mail. Their readers are the mass audience. Admittedly Dylan Moran and Russell Kane also have upcoming shows at The Pavilion, but the phrases “sore thumbs” and “stand out” spring to mind.

London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer has a routine in which he says his ex-manager told him he will never become famous unless, like a currently ‘famous’ alternative comedian, he can be a true professional and tell the same jokes in every show and repeat each show exactly.

Last night, the first half of Ken Dodd’s 5-hour show proved the danger of being too experienced and too professional a performer if you are on a long tour.

There was an audibility problem.

This was partly because the sound system at The Pavilion was occasionally indistinct – certainly where I was sitting, centre right in the audience – and partly because Ken Dodd, after 55 years in showbiz and on his seemingly endless UK tour, has been doing the same routines and telling the same stories for too long. He came on stage and spoke what, for the first part of the show seemed to be a script which he had got so used to he didn’t actually perform it: he just threw the words out. He galloped and gabbled through the words and syllables with the result perhaps a quarter of what he was saying was indecipherable.

And this was an audience with possible inbuilt hearing problems where I half expected the colostomy bags to break during the show to create a tsunami that could have washed the entire population of Bournemouth into the English Channel.

When an established act, instead of saying “Ladies and gentlemen” says “lay-ge-me” and all the other words and phrases are gabbled and elided indistinctly in much the same way, he is not performing an act, he is going through the motions on autopilot. He has heard the jokes 1,000 times; the audience has not (well, not most of them).

His saving grace was an astonishing gag rate of perhaps one potential laugh every ten seconds. And the material is gold. You couldn’t go wrong with that material. But Doddy was getting laughs because the jokes (when heard) were good, not because of any technical skill in the delivery.

There are very few successful gag tellers in modern alternative comedy – Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine are exceptions not the rule. Most successful alternative comedians nowadays tell stories: not necessarily funny stories, but stories told funny.

Ken Dodd mostly told gags in the first half and funny stories in the second half (in which he found his feet more). But it struck me that his slightly more old-fashioned (or let’s say traditional) approach was very similar to inexperienced circuit comics today.

He told stories as if they were gags, with token links between each story, but with no over-all arc. If he told ten stories, the first and second might have a token link and the seventh and eighth might have a token link, but there was no over-all progression, no shape, no thread to the stories. So the over-all effect was like getting beaten round the head with gags by a mugger for five hours, not drawn into a personal fantasy world by a con man, which is what a stand-up comedian is.

It struck me Doddy’s unlinked gag structure was very like comics new to the current comedy circuit who have some material but can’t stitch it into a unitary act. They can do 10 or 15 or 20 minutes but are not yet capable of putting on a 60 minute Edinburgh Fringe show.

I suppose the transition from beating people into submission with barrages of gags rather than bringing them into your own personal world with smoothly-linked stories is a relatively recent development which Doddy has no need to embrace because he has so many gags and stories which he can throw at the audience from his years of experience.

Because he is so experienced and so good, I could not tell how much of the second half was scripted and how much he was just plucking and throwing in gags and stories from a mental storehouse.

One ad-lib which surely must have been planned and, indeed, ‘planted’ was a piece of banter with the audience in which Dodd asked a woman “How many children do you have?”

“Eight!” came the unexpected reply.

Dodd professed bewilderment at this and meandered for a couple of sentences about her husband, then asked:

“Have you sewn up the gap in his pyjamas yet?…. (pause)… You know what they say… A stitch in time saves…” (Immediate audience laughter – though strangely not as much as it deserved)

This cannot possibly have been an ad-lib. It had to have been planted in the audience because he feigned bewilderment at the initial reply of “Eight,” which he would not have done in the way that he did if it were not a lead-up to the punchline.

There were also glimpses of an unexpected (to me) Ken Dodd – a ventriloquist act with a Diddy Man doll that almost verged on being post-modernist and a sequence in which he was doing a series of very passable regional accents and which went into a whole non-Ken-Dodd realm.

Small numbers of the audience left during the single interval – including the friend I went with, who had been exhausted by the first two and a half hours – she went paddling in the sea by the pier and then found a strange Greek Orthodox priest intoning his way through a Paschal Celebration in a small chapel watching by an old woman with a bell and an old man in a shabby grey suit. He had started at 10.00pm – about halfway through Doddy’s show – and was still intoning, watched by his two fans, at 15 minutes past midnight after Doddy’s show had ended and we went to see if he was still going strong.

Whether Christianity or Ken Dodd’s shows will last longer is a moot point, but they probably have the same fans.

At the end of Ken Dodd’s Happiness show, people rose from their seats to leave while still clapping and, partially blocked from leaving by other people possibly with mobility problems, this turned into a standing ovation and a sudden flutter of flashes as people with mobile phones snatched quick photos of the god-like Doddy on stage.

The standing ovation in both the stalls and the balcony was warm and heartfelt and passionate but perhaps was more for being a national institution than for the show itself.

It was an event as much as a show.

Much like Jesus preaching to the converted, in retrospect, it will be loved, treasured and much talked about and the Master’s fame will spread, though perhaps neither further nor wider nor to western China.

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Showbiz and TV talent shows before Margaret Thatcher

I had lunch last week with the highly entertaining Derek Hobson, host of ITV’s seminal talent show New Faces, which was responsible for the ‘discovery’ of Michael Barrymore, the wonderful Marti Caine, Jim Davidson, Les Dennis, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood etc in the pre-Thatcher 1970s. He reminded me about the old union-dominated days at ATV (where I worked a various times). Lenny Henry was chosen by the producers to be on New Faces and it made him a star, but it took a whole year before he was seen on screen because the unions only allowed card-carrying Equity or Musicians’ Union members to appear on the show.

Derek told me that, when Yorkshire TV recorded its classic sitcom Rising Damp, which was screened on ITV as six-part series, the company used to schedule recordings for seven episodes per series on the basis that one entire episode would always be lost due to Luddite practices during the recordings by the all-powerful ACTT union. I well remember their pre-Thatcher power. The ACTT was less a union protecting its members, more a protection racket threatening employers and running a heavily enforced closed shop.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists at ATV, I suggested a documentary to be transmitted on the 40th anniversary of the 1940 Wartime bombing of Coventry (and provided research and sources) but I was not allowed to be employed nor credited as a researcher on the show because I was not an ACTT member and researchers could only be ACTT members.

Derek also told me the story of a singer who triumphantly performed on one edition of New Faces, wowing the judges, the studio audience and the viewers at home. The response was immense. On the Monday after the show was transmitted, the singer received a phone call from the manager of two of the biggest music acts of the time – acts with a similar style. The manager wanted to sign the singer to an exclusive management contract. The singer was overwhelmed and flattered to be approached by the high-profile and highly successful manager; he  thought his career was made and his life would be transformed. But, in fact, the manager wanted to sign the singer because he saw a potential threat to his two existing acts. The singer was too similar; he was given ten duff songs in a row to record, his potential career was destroyed and the manager’s two existing acts continued to prosper with no threat of competition.

So it goes.

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The Tunnel, the all-star line-up and the dead godfather

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

I am sponsoring the Malcolm Hardee Awards until 2017. This year’s are presented on Friday 27th August. But, in the meantime, every day at the Fringe, there is the Aaaaaaaargh! Malcolm Hardee Documentary event. Nothing to do with me except I gave the director around 20 hours of audio tape recorded when Malcolm and I were writing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

“This film is beautiful, evocative and in an odd way profound. Brilliant.” (Arthur Smith)

“This is great.” (Stewart Lee)

It was The Independent on Sunday‘s No 1 Fringe comedy favourite and The Scotsman‘s ‘Best of the Festival Pick of the Day’ but I hadn’t seen the whole hour-long event until yesterday. It is an event, rather than a film. Yesterday, it was introduced by comedian Bob Slayer. Future screenings will be introduced by the likes of Simon Munnery and Arthur Smith.

The screening includes a 32-minute documentary The Tunnel (about Malcolm’s most notorious comedy club) followed by a trailer for the still-in-production docmentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Away From Over There… followed by about 16 minutes of clips from MH:ATWFOT.

Interestingly both documentaries are rather wistful, with Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There in particular mixing both laughs and sadness – like all great comedy. The list of those appearing in even these early clips is extraordinary:

Keith Allen, Jo Brand, Charlie Cbuck, Jim Davidson, Harry Enfield, Boy George, The Greatest Show on Legs, Ricky Grover, Rich Hall, John Hegley, Lennie Henry, Jools Holland, Phil Kay, Mark Lamarr, Norman Lovett, Chris Lynam, Bernard Manning, Paul Merton, Simon Munnery, Mike Myers, Vic Reeves

I am not involved in the production of this documentary but, holy shitteroonie, it looks like it could be a fittingly extraordinary tribute to the extraordinary and much-missed ‘godfather of British Alternative Comedy’ Malcolm Hardee.

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