Tag Archives: Jimmy Carr

Noel Faulkner, outspoken comedy club owner, quits London after 40 years

Outspoken Noel Faulkner, the veteran (he will hate me using that word) club-owner is leaving London after about 40 years  (though with an interlude of about 18 years of that in the US). He started and ran London’s Comedy Cafe venue and, through his management agency, helped establish acts including Jimmy Carr. Last night, I met up with him to ask why he is leaving.

I had been seeing a comedy show and we met outside the venue after the show finished. That was his choice.


Noel Faulkner in London yesterday

JOHN: So you’re leaving in around 9-10 days. Do you have a set date for departure?

NOEL: No. I’m out of my house in London in about a week, then I’m going back to Galway. I’m from Galway. I’ve got a house there; I’m buying a boat – 40 or 45ft – and I’m going to sail six months of the year in the Mediterranean.

JOHN: I thought you were from Killarney.

NOEL: My parents moved a village in Connemara when I was a teenager. I was only there for a few years. Galway’s my home town.

JOHN: So why are you going back?

NOEL: Mainly because everybody I know in London is working. I never see anybody. All my friends are comics and I don’t want to hang round in comedy clubs. There is nothing more boring. I’d rather watch a proctologist operate.

JOHN: But you ran comedy clubs for…

NOEL: It’s all gone. After the Comedy Cafe closed, we tried it in a hotel but the people there were fucking idiots; they kept wanting to change the opening times. It’s done.

JOHN: Aren’t you going to feel pangs of nostalgia?

NOEL: I never want to see another comedian perform. I could have gone to this show you went to today. But I thought: I’m not going to sit in that. I just can’t be around comedy. You know the punchline and then the fuckers don’t hit it and you go: Oh! Fucking hell! I have no interest in comedy now. None.

JOHN: But you have an active mind. Galway is lovely. But you will get bored after six months, just sitting around.

NOEL: I’ll have a sail boat: you are permanently fixing something on a sail boat. I can fuck off anywhere I wanna go.

JOHN: And you are going to finish your autobiography in Ireland?

NOEL: Yeah. When I started writing it, there was only one Panama Canal. Since then, they’ve built a second one.

JOHN: Is it basically your 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel?

“…a Tourette-fuelled Helter Skelter ride through three decades” (New York Times)

NOEL: Yeah. But longer. More facts and craziness.

JOHN: What’s the last page? Leaving the Comedy Cafe?

NOEL: It doesn’t matter. Who’s going to buy it?

JOHN: You have amazing stories – Robin Williams, the drug cartels, being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, the…

NOEL: Yeah, it’s a great book but I’m nobody, so I won’t get a publisher. I just wanna finish it for me. I have no ego any more about anything. I don’t give a fuck. 

JOHN: That’s age.

NOEL: Yeah. My mates are dying all around me. My brother’s girlfriend just died. I just want to get up every day and for it to be a good day and joyful.

JOHN: Paul Sinha has Parkinson’s Disease.

NOEL: Yeah. He’s a sweet man… Ian Cognito just died last month. I knew Paul (Cognito’s real name). He was a lovely man. Very sad.

JOHN: His death must have had an effect on you.

NOEL: Scary.  That’s why I realised… Just get the fucking boat… I might be dead in five years time.

JOHN: He was 60. But he had lived a fair old bit…

NOEL: A brilliant singer. I saw him sing with Peter Graham’s orchestra at the Hackney Empire… white tuxedo… beautiful. Highly talented but totally self-destructive. Permanently on self-destruct.

JOHN: I’m amazed Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is still alive.

NOEL: It’s in the genes.

JOHN: Do you have long-living relatives?

NOEL: I have a great-great-great-grandfather who lived to be 125.

JOHN: Was he fairly compos mentis?

NOEL: I don’t know. I wasn’t born then.

JOHN: Comedy moves on. Jo Brand got into trouble. People in the UK have been throwing milk shakes at politicians. She joked on a BBC Radio show: “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” Nigel Farage complained; the police investigated but decided it was not an incitement to violence.

“We can’t start censoring. You’ll have Dialogue Police.”

NOEL: It was just a fucking joke. Listen, we can’t start censoring. You’ll have Dialogue Police. When I had the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, they were doing a test attaching microphones to lampposts. If someone was murdered, they would hear it and the CCTV guys could start looking at the… That’s how fucking… So we could be sitting here outside a cafe having a conversation and you swear 12 times and say this word and… We are right up to that!

JOHN: 1984.

NOEL: We can’t have it! If I was doing stuff on stage now, I would fucking tear into everybody and go: Fuck you all! It’s like “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and everyone with a sexual preference from A to fucking Z”… Now I haven’t offended anybody, ya cunts. It’s fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know what the initials LGBTQ… Does ANYbody fucking know what they stand for? NO. But some guy’s got a penis transplant to his forehead and a vagina in his ear… For fuck’s sake!

JOHN: You should seriously think about doing an Edinburgh Fringe show where you just go up and rant.

NOEL: I don’t want to spend a month up there. It’s depressing. Really depressing.

JOHN: But, if you don’t give a shit, it’s OK.

NOEL: You’re still depressed. I’ve been up there with money in my pocket. Hated it.

JOHN: When you did your show in 2005? But you probably cared then. The trick is not to care.

NOEL: Yeah, but you’re spending fucking £10,000. Edinburgh, for a comic, is the greatest illusion ever.

JOHN: In what way?

NOEL: That you’re gonna make it.

JOHN: Are you gonna have a farewell ‘do’?

NOEL: No.

JOHN: Oh go on… A farewell rant.

NOEL: No, I’m not. I don’t want to stand round in a bar having to talk to people. They can fuck off. I’m gone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, political correctness

My Comedy Taste. Part 2: Eccentrics, anarchy and performers’ mad minds

In 2017, oft-times comedy festival judge and linguistics expert Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy.

I posted Part 1 of this chat yesterday.

Here is Part 2…


LOUISETTE: So you don’t like actors trying to be stand-up comics…

JOHN: To an extent. I am also allergic to a lot of character comedy. I don’t like character acts in general, though I do like some. I think the closer the ‘character’ is to reality – to being like a real person – the less I like it. But, if it’s a cartoon character – Charlie Chuck is a perfect example –  I like it.

I adore Simon Munnery; he can be very surreal, but I didn’t like his early Alan Parker, Urban Warrior character – It was too close to reality for me.

LOUISETTE: You mean realistic.

JOHN: Yes. I have met people who really are pretty-much like that. When I was a researcher for TV shows, I got typed for finding eccentrics and bizarre acts. I would find genuinely different-thinking people who did odd things and usually lived in provincial suburbia, bored out of their skulls with the mundanity of their lives, unable to unleash their inner originality and unconventionality.

So, if I watch a performer pretending to be eccentric, I think: Why am I watching someone faking a ‘performance’ when I could be watching the real thing? You can see in their eyes that these performers are not the real thing. They are sane people trying to be, to varying extents, oddballs they are not.

Well, all good comedians are, of course, mad to an extent.

LOUISETTE: They are not all mad.

JOHN: They are all unconventional thinkers or they have some personality disorder. The good ones. And I think one of the reasons I like watching comedy is I like watching some of the bizarre characters which a lot of comedians genuinely are. I don’t like people pretending to be odd characters, but I like watching people who ARE… well, a bit odd. They are the good comics for me.

There is maybe a difference with pure gag-delivery acts like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine.

LOUISETTE: But, getting back to character acts…

JOHN: If someone does a character act, they are pretending to be someone else, which is what an actor does… rather than being themselves or some version of themselves, which is what a modern comedian does. So, if I can watch a comedian – let us not mention Lewis Schaffer – with bizarre character traits, I am happy. If I watch an actor pretending to be a bizarre character but not being themselves, I am not really that interested because I can go out and find the real nutter.

LOUISETTE: So what you are saying is you want the person to be the person and you want that person to be nuts. Is that because there is no danger in playing a character, no risk except that the audience might not like it? Whereas, if the person is being themselves and they get it wrong or they go off the rails, there is a risk?

JOHN: I suppose so – like watching a motor race because there is always the danger of a disastrous crash.

I may be like a Miss World contestant. 

LOUISETTE: I don’t think so.

JOHN: But you know how contestants in old-fashioned beauty contests were always asked their interests and they would say, “Oh! I’m interested in people”? 

Well, I AM interested in people and how their minds work.

Most of my blogs are not objective blogs. They have very little of me in them. That is not because I am hiding me. It is because I’m interested in finding out how the other person’s mind works and – because they are usually creative in some way – how their creative juices shape their performance pieces or their life – how their mind creates original end-results. Or – because I sometimes mention crime – how their slightly non-mainstream thoughts work. And, of course, if there are quirky anecdotes in it, that’s great. I am interested in the people and I am a sucker for quirky anecdotes.

LOUISETTE: You say you are interested in the creative process – the thing that makes that person tick both on and off stage – But how do you analyse that? How do you figure out from somebody’s performance – even if it’s very close to the real person – what that real person’s process is?

JOHN: I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I keep watching people perform. If I knew everything, there would be no point seeing any other act.

LOUISETTE: But what are you looking for?

JOHN: I dunno. I’m just interested in how everyone is different. Everyone is different; everyone is unique. There is no end to it, missus.

At a distance, people are similar but, up close, they are, like Charlie Chuck, unique

LOUISETTE: Infinitely different.

JOHN: Yes. It sounds wanky to say it out loud, but people are infinitely interesting, yes. At a distance, people are just a mass of similar heads but, in China, the Terracotta Warriors in Xian all have individual faces. 

LOUISETTE: How does that come into it?

JOHN: I have no idea. I’m making this up as I go along. But, if you read about identical twins, they are usually a bit the same but a lot different. I’m interested in individuality. It’s not nature OR nurture. It’s BOTH that creates infinite uniqueness.

LOUISETTE: I’m still interested in getting at this elementary, basic thing that you are looking for. You do not want things to be off-pat. You don’t want an act to be overly polished. But what about someone like Spencer Jones who has a very well-formed act.

JOHN: Yes, he is interesting because he IS an actor and he IS doing character comedy… so I should not like him, but I do… But, then, he is doing a cartoon character. In no way are you going to find that character working in Barclays Bank or walking along the high street. So I like him, I think, because he is a cartoon character. I think it is mostly tightly-scripted…

LOUISETTE: Yes, that’s why I am asking you…

JOHN: Maybe physical comedy and prop comedy is different. 

LOUISETTE: Is he prop comedy?

JOHN: I dunno. Martin Soan created The Naked Balloon Dance for The Greatest Show on Legs… The Balloon Dance has to be done exactly as it is choreographed.

The whole point is that you never see any naughty bits and therefore the balloons have to be… It looks chaotic, but, if it were actually done willy-nilly – if that’s an appropriate phrase – it would fall apart and would not be as funny.

LOUISETTE: You said it LOOKS chaotic. Do you enjoy that? What you are saying is that, if it looks chaotic but it actually isn’t…

JOHN: Maybe prop comedy and physical comedy are different to stand-up. I suppose with Spencer Jones, you are shocked by the use of the props; the… unexpectedness… This… this falls apart as an argument, doesn’t it? There must be something different…

I like pun comedy: Tim Vine, Milton Jones, Darren Walsh, Leo Kearse to an extent. They are very tightly pre-scripted or, at least, prepared. With puns, if they have a vast number of puns, they can move the order around but the flow, the pacing, the momentum has to be kept going so they need to be highly pre-prepared.

So that’s where my thing falls down. Verbally, pun shows and short gag-short gag-short gag shows like Milton Jones’ have to be very tightly choreographed and the prop comedy shows have to be very tightly choreographed physically.

I know from being involved in Tiswas – the ancient slapstick kids’ show – that, if you do something that appears to be anarchy, you have to organise it really, really well. You can’t perform anarchy in an anarchic way; you have to organise it in advance.

LOUISETTE: Like Phil EllisFunz & Gamez.

JOHN: Indeed. And I remember one Tiswas production meeting, after the show had been going for years, where the producer said: “We have to figure out some way to make things go wrong during the show.” Because they had been going for so many years, all likelihoods were covered-for in pre-production meetings. Everyone was very experienced, very professional and nothing really went wrong that threw everything off course. You could script-in things to go wrong, but nothing ever went genuinely disastrously wrong of its own accord.

LOUISETTE: Which you seem to like…

JOHN: I do like anarchy. I don’t especially want to see a Michael McIntyre show because it will be too smoothly professional. I do prefer shows that are up-and-down like a roller-coaster in an anarchic way. Though, if it involves immense detail like props or puns, then you can’t have real anarchy. The only way to have apparent anarchy with props and puns and tight gag-gag-gag routines is to prepare it all very carefully.

So I am… I am getting schizophrenic here, aren’t I…?

LOUISETTE: You are. But that’s good. I was discussing it with Frankie (Louisette’s son Frankie Brickman) and he asked me if it was unpredictability you like or feigned unpredictability.

JOHN: Maybe if they feign the unpredictability in a very professional way and I don’t spot the fact it’s feigned…

It’s not even unpredictability I like. It’s the cleverness. If it’s clever and a rollercoaster, I will forgive them the bits that don’t work for the bits that do work. 

… CONTINUED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Performance, Psychology

The difference between comics and comedians. Some are born; some made.

Penny Dreadfuls audio book

Penny Dreadfuls’ audio book

This week’s guest on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was comedy performer Thom Tuck, whose idea was to come on and plug the two new Penny Dreadfulsaudio book releases. This seemed perfectly simple.

But, as always, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I got sidetracked. For example, in this section…


Kate Copstick and Thom Tuck at the Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick & Thom Tuck eat at the Grouchy Club in London

JOHN: What did you want to be when you were 16? Did you want to be a stand-up comedian and Doctor Who acolyte?

THOM: I’m pretty sure I wanted to be funny. I was always a performer and, in school plays, it was always: Well, you be the funny one.

COPSTICK: Oh good! Well, that’s a good sign! The great Mark Steel said to me that the great comics are the ones who could never have been anything else.

THOM: Yes.

COPSTICK: You say to them: So, what did you want to be?… Comic!… What would you have been if you hadn’t been a comic?… I’ve absolutely no idea. I couldn’t NOT be a comic.

THOM: With people like (Doug) Stanhope and Patrice O’Neal, that’s unavoidable. You ARE a comedian. There’s no…

COPSTICK: Michael McIntyre.

THOM: I think Michael McIntyre is born to be a light entertainer.

JOHN: Ah well, yes…

COPSTICK: (GROWLS)

JOHN (TO COPSTICK): That’s OK.

THOM: He’s very good. He’s a very good comedian, but he’s not a ‘comic’ in the same way. I think there’s a distinction.

JOHN: You mean stand-up…

THOM: Yes, a stand-up comic on the road. Inescapable. There’s no destiny beyond the road.

COPSTICK: Oh, I see what you mean. So, once you’re on telly doing a ‘shiny floor’ show, you are no longer a stand-up comic…

THOM: No, not necessarily. But I don’t think he’s…

COPSTICK: What about John Bishop?… Oh… He obviously wasn’t born to be a comic, because he spent most of his life not being a comic but…

THOM: He was in marketing, wasn’t he?

COPSTICK: Correct.

JOHN: Or whatsisname…

COPSTICK:Jimmy Carr.

JOHN: Yes.

THOM: Well, Jimmy Carr is classically not a born comedian. Not a born comedian in any way.

JOHN: He is a made comedian.

THOM: Yeah.

COPSTICK: He’s a brilliant…

JOHN: …brilliant…

COPSTICK: … a brilliantly made comedian, yes.

THOM: There are people who, if they hadn’t found work being stand-ups would have been just drunks in a corner.

COPSTICK: Exactly. Stanhope would have been an ugly drunk and drug addict.

JOHN: You can be both, Thom. You can be both.

THOM: Yes… I mean, I don’t think Stewart Lee is a natural comic.

COPSTICK: No.

THOM: He’s a comedian and he has made himself a comedian and he has made himself battle-hardened, but he’s not a natural… If he had ended-up not finding stand-up and becoming a writer, a novelist…

COPSTICK: Well, that is what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a writer.

THOM: I don’t think I am a natural comic either.

JOHN: Actually, I suppose Stewart Lee is a writer who performs, isn’t he?

COPSTICK: Yes, I think Richard Lee is a more natural.

THOM: Richard Lee?

COPSTICK: Not Richard Lee – Richard Herring. Oh my God! I’ve just come up with the perfect comedian! We are going to put them both in test tubes and meld them!

JOHN: Richard Lee and Stewart Herring.

COPSTICK: That sounds like a job for Doctor Who.

THOM: Fist of Fun crossed with The Fly.

COPSTICK: Stewart Lee will just get progressively hairier and hairier and hairier. That’s a recipe for some very interesting…

JOHN: …composite comedians.

Thom Tuck

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

A proposal of marriage to comedy critic Kate Copstick + Jimmy Carr’s money

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Comedy critic Kate Copstick has now arrived back in London from her work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. Each time she returns from Kenya, she brings back goods to sell in the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush.

Below are highly-edited extracts from her final week’s diaries. The full versions can be read on the Mama Bashers Facebook page.


SATURDAY

We go to Jowac where I try to calm my day’s tension with a Tusker beer. Felista arrives, then Doris. Much stewed chicken is eaten. A group of blokes at the table next to us are fascinated by our group. I am asked if I would like one of them to ‘carry me’. Sounds romantic, eh? Nah. It means fuck. I decline. My father would not like it, I tell them. They hoot with laughter. I am then proposed to. Several cows could wend my father’s way were I to accept. I suggest that the gentleman doing the proposing might not be up to (as it were) a Mzungu bride. As my father will be reading this, I will not go into detail about the discussion that followed about the sensory benefits of a dalliance with a woman who has not had eight children before the age of 25, but an hilarious time was had by all. He bought me a Tusker I bought him a quarter bottle of gin (the only way it is sold in these bars). I think we might be married. Hugely jolly times. And my tension of the day is completely dissipated.

SUNDAY

Ghastly. Pouring with rain. I start packing. When the rain stops for a bit, I leg it down to Corner where I meet Hassan. I have known him since very early Mama B days. Almost pre Mama B days. He is now a pikipiki driver and – although two of his daughters have graduated – is still with his nose to the grindstone to educate the rest of his family. I look dubiously at the leaden sky:

“How much to Yaya?”

“£1.”

I get on the bike and we sail off through the puddles.

Around halfway to Yaya, the heavens open again. It is like being in a cold power shower. But, once you are totally wet, you cannot get any wetter. I drip off up into the Yaya Centre.

MONDAY

David arrives at 9.00am to take the first lot of stuff to the cargo depot. When he leaves, I finish re-packing chess pieces inside paper and cardboard inside some hopefully robust baskets inside a box. The biggest one is on order and, if it arrives broken in any way I shall beat myself over the head with the (10kg) board.

David is gone a ridiculous amount of time and it is late when we set off with the second load.

It is all weighed and measured and the bill is about £750. Gulp.

So please, if anyone reading this is one of those customers in Shepherd’s Bush who comes in, picks up something and complains: “Your prices are very high. I could buy this for a twig and a pat of cow dung in my country”, please consider how many sales it takes to recoup £750.

En route to the airport, two ambulances come screaming up the wrong lane of the dual carriageway down to Nyayo Stadium.

“I hate these people,” observes David darkly. “They just don’t like to sit in jam.” Further on, at a big roundabout where there is a big Tusky’s shopping mall on one side and Strathmore University on the other, there is a bit of a to-do.

People are lining the road and indulging in a favourite Kenyan activity – Watching Something Ghastly Happen – This can be followed by Doing The Headless Chicken and Pointless Paranoia.

“Something very bad has happened,” says David with relish, rubbernecking enthusiastically. But we cannot see anything.

It is later we discover that (as has happened before at Kikkuyu University) the KDF (Kenya Defense Force) were carrying out a drill to test the students’ ability to act promptly and sensibly in the event of a terrorist attack like the one at Garissa. However there seems to have been a bit of a communications breakdown.

Because, when the KDF ‘attacked’ (firing rubber bullets and a grenade!!), the student body thought it was for real and one person died, three are in intensive care and over twenty are injured after flinging themselves from third floor windows in a panic.

TUESDAY

The Government – in a much publicised attempt at appearing like they give a shit – brought in a national insurance card at 2,000 Kenya Shillings meaning that all people with one had a way to get medical assistance and access to hospitals when necessary. One year on and, much to the government’s horror, the people had been USING their cards. Immediately, the cost of a card was raised to 6,000 Kenya Shillings. Hmmm.

As is usual the night before I leave, my house is stripped of everything. Felista and Doris share the spoils. I keep my tiny mattress and blankets till the next morning.

WEDNESDAY

David is early! We leave at about 7.15am. Zangi has not arrived to deliver my wooden ankh necklaces. So we just go. David takes the bypass. I worry. Rightly, as it happens.

Up past Langatta, a lorry has overturned and is blocking the way. We join a snail-like procession of diverted traffic. Zangi calls and we agree to meet on the Mombasa Road.

Amazingly, I do make the check-in on time. And the two sanduku are perfectly judged for weight – 19.8kg and 19.4kg.

Turkish Airlines are as lovely on the way back as they were on the way out. And the arrival into London Heathrow was extraordinary – straight off the plane into the passport control hall! No-one there, so straight through. Baggage came pretty quickly. Lovely Customs Men. And so home …

THURSDAY

Cargo has not arrived. Bumped by Kenya Airways AGAIN at the Nairobi end.

Today was not a happy day until, five minutes ago, Jimmy Carr came into the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, en route to work. He had no idea we were here. Just wandered in. And he made an unexpected and seriously generous donation to Mama Biashara. My faith in life has been restored. For a bit at least. Thank you Mr Carr.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Kenya

Arthur Smith says Jimmy Carr is “working on a comedy algorithm”

Arthur Smith in a Soho alleyway

Arthur Smith at the Grouchy Club in a Soho alleyway

As Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, I was joined for this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast – in a Soho alleyway – by comedian Arthur Smith.

This short exchange cropped up:


ARTHUR
More and more, there are people creeping into the world who aren’t real. they’ve been fabricated by programmers.

JOHN
For example?

ARTHUR
Well, Jimmy Carr. I don’t think he’s a human being. He’s…

JOHN
Poor Jimmy Carr!

ARTHUR
No, he’s a synthesised creature working on a comedy algorithm that just creates jokes. But, obviously, there’s no feeling or soul or anything. And this is happening more and more. everyone’s job, soon, will be done by a synthesised creature and we’ll just be sort-of vegetables sat at home watching afternoon TV.

JOHN
But surely Jimmy Carr is a traditional old-style comedian, in fact. He tells jokes, which people don’t do now. There’s Jimmy Carr, there’s Tim Vine, there’s about three other people doing jokes and everyone else is telling stories.

ARTHUR
Yes. Because that’s all synthesised creatures can do, because they’re working on a series of algorithms, like I say. So they regurgitate the form of a joke.

JOHN
You’re not a joke man yourself?

ARTHUR
A man goes to a doctor. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop masturbating.”

“Oh no!” says the man. “Why?”

“Well,” says the doctor, “I’m trying to im…examine you.”

I nearly fluffed the punchline… I’ll do another one.

A man goes to the doctor with a bit of lettuce sticking out of his bottom.

The doctor says: “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Oh, no, I like an ancient joke.

JOHN
But does this mean you’re an algorithm?

ARTHUR
Yeah, but I’m a Barry Cryer algorithm and that’s a different kind of creature altogether.

JOHN
Well, Barry Cryer is a sort of a gag merchant and Jimmy Carr’s a gag merchant. I have to say I quite like the gypsy moth joke myself.

ARTHUR
Hang on, whose gypsy moth joke is this one?

JOHN
Jimmy Carr.

ARTHUR
Oh, yeah, that one! Well he’s got in trouble again, I noticed. He’s quite clever. It was a classic; he wanted to do a very short joke and the joke was a dwarf shortage. But, of course, he was on The One Show and got in trouble for that.

JOHN
And, when people complained, he said: “Oh, grow up!” which, I thought, was a double funny.

ARTHUR
Yeah, I agree. I agree they’re good gags. I just wish he’d… Yeah, but he’s not a human, is he? There’s no heart; there’s no soul, is there?

JOHN
David Mills, who you probably don’t know, was saying that he…

ARTHUR
Yeah, I know David Mills – the American – he’s brilliant.

JOHN
He was saying he’s going to try and incorporate himself more into his act, because he’s never really done ‘himself’ before.

ARTHUR
The thing is, he was constructed, that’s why. He’s a synthesised comedian; I told you.

JOHN
David Mills??

ARTHUR
No, not David MIlls. Oh! I see! David Mills is going to incorporate…

JOHN
Yeah, David Mills is going to incorporate personal stuff whereas, before, he’s just been a man sitting on a stool.

ARTHUR
Yeah, well I think, in the end, that is a good thing to do.

JOHN
Sit on a stool? At our age?

ARTHUR
Well, you’re better off with a back to it. But I think having something of yourself is what makes you unique as a comedian whereas, if you haven’t, then you’re just a synthesiser.


You can hear the full 25-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE, in which Arthur talks about his theory of mindlessness, writing for Frankie Howard, being in a Danish pantomime, why he may go trans-gender, Shakespeare, being pedantic, semi-colons, creative writing courses, Daphne Fairfax and his several half-written novels… plus he performs the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno in the original medieval Italian. Oh yes he does.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Amused Moose promoter and producer Hils Jago on talent spotting comedians

A strangely reticent Hils Jago yesterday at Soho Theatre

An unusually reticent Hils Jago yesterday at Soho Theatre

“Why Amused Moose?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Lubel, winner of the 2013 Amused Moose Laughter Award

Al Lubel, winner of the 2013 Amused Moose Laughter Award

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

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

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

Amused Moose winner Sarah Millican

One of the Amused Moose ‘finds’ Sarah Millican

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you have managed acts in the past.”

Jerry Sadowitz on a holiday with Richard Wagner

Jerry Sadowitz – immense talent but could you manage him?

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

“Bloody hell! That must have aged you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Carr was a man with a car

Jimmy Carr was a man with a car

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

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

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

“So what is this new wave?”

“I don’t know yet.”

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

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

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

“No.”

“Because?”

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

“In what subject?” I asked.

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

“I’ve never known what that means.”

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

“You are very shrewd,” I told Hils.

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

“Did you?”

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

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

… TO BE CONTINUED … MAYBE …

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

How ex-garbage handler Bruce Dessau owes his career as a comedy critic to the ‘uninteresting’ comedian Stewart Lee

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

In yesterday’s blog, highly-regarded London Evening Standard comedy critic Bruce Dessau defended his profession. But how did he become a comedy critic?

“Did you ever perform?” I asked him.

“No. Absolutely never performed. Not really had any interest in it,” he said.

“You came up through local newspapers?” I asked. ”Reports on garden shows?”

“Never really had any interest in journalism either,” he told me. “Never wrote anything for the college magazine. After I left London University, I wanted to stay in London because I was a music fan. I was staying at a house in Camberwell with a typewriter and thought I’ll write a review of that gig I saw last night. I sent it to the NME. They said: We really liked it. Why don’t you tell us what gigs you’d like to review and we might commission you and we’ll pay you. So I became a music journalist, but never trained.”

“So you went straight from university to journalism?”

“Via being a dustman in Belsize Park,” explained Bruce. “I was Peter Cook’s dustman. The funny thing is when I left my house in Camberwell at 6.30am I often saw a near-neighbour Peter Richardson (of The Comic Strip) coming home from a late night out, so it was a bit of a comedy route as well as my comedy roots. But that’s the only other job I’ve ever had. Being a dustman.

“I was at Time Out for about 8 or 9 years – started on music, then more on the TV section and then edited things from there. But, when I was doing TV, they used to call me ‘Mr Comedy’ – I would always do Vic & Bob or The Fast Show or Harry Enfield.

“The 1990s were my Time Out years. I handed in my notice the day the New Year Millennium edition went to press. I planned to go freelance – there were actually jobs in journalism in those days – only 14 years ago! – but, out of the blue, I got offered a job editing the TV section of the Saturday Express magazine. That was when the paper was edited by Rosie Boycott, so it was a different paper then, with different aspirations. About a year later, it was taken over by Richard Desmond and he wanted to strip everything back – no pun intended – so I left to go freelance again and… basically I owe everything to Stewart Lee.

Stewart Lee’s North American friend Baconface at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (Photography by Keir O’Donnell)

Comic Stewart Lee’s Canadian friend Baconface performs at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Awards (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

“I got sent a copy of one of Stewart Lee’s books when he was in the doldrums and he wasn’t doing very well and no-one was interested – I think it was the one called The Perfect Fool. I was getting quite pressured from his agency (Avalon) to do an interview with him but I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in Stewart Lee. As a courtesy, I thought Oh, I might as well pitch this to someone, so I emailed the Arts editor of the Evening Standard – I had never written for them before – and they said No, we’re not remotely interested in Stewart Lee, but we ARE looking for a new comedy critic. So I started at the Evening Standard in the summer of 2001, just before 9/11 and I never did do the Stewart Lee interview, but I owe it all to him.”

“The fickle finger of fate,” I said. “Now everyone wants a Stewart Lee interview. You can never tell who is going to succeed.”

“Sometimes you know when people are going to be stars,” said Bruce. “Maybe I should have stayed a music journalist. I would be much better spotting future music stars than future comedy stars. I saw U2 at the Half Moon and it was obvious Bono should be climbing on amplifiers at the O2 Arena and not at a pub in Herne Hill.

“But, with comedy, the acts I have really loved I’ve usually thought They’re never going to be big and often I was wrong.

“Like Micky Flanagan who I used to see doing stuff at The Hob when he was about 40. I thought Yeah, he’s very good. I like him very much. But this is kind of his level. Then somehow, when the Comedy Gods decided to make comedy for arenas, he got swept up and I think he now does more dates at the O2 than Beyoncé.

“The main case of me being wrong was Vic & Bob. When they had their residency in Deptford and they did pubs, I used to go and see them every Thursday night long before they did TV. I thought: This is brilliant. They can attract 100 people every Thursday night in South London but, if they try North London, they’ll get 3 people. I could never have predicted Vic & Bob would get as big as they did. But, once they make it, it kind of makes sense.

“The interesting thing I’ve seen in comedy in the last few years is a whole new generation becoming the establishment. And the whole conveyor belt nature of comedians where they fall off the other end and fall out of favour – or not even fall out of favour, but people like Vic & Bob and Harry Enfield or Ben Elton.

“I used to watch the TV series Skins and suddenly all the comics I thought were young, hip comedians were suddenly all playing the parents. Harry Enfield, Morwenna Banks, Bill Bailey and even at one point Chris Addison cropped up as a dad.

“It all moves on. Jack Dee is a bit Tony Hancock and a bit Les Dawson. And you now can’t imagine Alexei Sayle as an angry 21-year-old.”

Bruce’s book on the dark side of comedy

Bruce’s book on comedy’s dark side

“Your latest book is Beyond a Joke,” I said, “about the dark side of comedians.”

“It was about the history of comedy,” said Bruce, “and the history of all these troubled comedians from Grimaldi to Tony Hancock and so on and I kind of thought it was a thing of the past – comedians being slightly dysfunctional.

“I wrote the book around the time Russell Brand was breaking through and he’s in the book, but it’s quite obvious there are plenty of other stories – Malcolm Hardee’s in the book, obviously.

“My dilemma to resolve was Are strange people attracted to stand-up comedy or does stand-up comedy make people strange? I think I concluded it’s a bit of both. Strange people are attracted to it but, if you’re normal and you’re attracted to it, you’ll end up strange. It doesn’t make strange people normal, but it does make normal people strange.

“It’s like Jimmy Carr says – You’re the only person in a room with 2,000 people facing the wrong way. You’re on your own. That’s why it’s weirder than being in a band. It’s a solo thing. And it’s weirder than being an actor because you’re supposedly saying your own words, particularly this autobiographical, authentic comedy. Various comedians say It’s like therapy but, rather than us pay a therapist, we do our gigs and we get paid for the therapy. But I don’t know if it’s effective as therapy, because they still seem a pretty screwed-up bunch.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Journalism