Tag Archives: Joan Rivers

Comic Scott Capurro on comedians who lie and Gordon Brown’s hot handshake

29 days ago – yes, 29 days ago – I chatted to American comedian Scott Capurro in London, after one of the Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club ‘new material’ nights. Then I got busy and/or distracted and/or just plain lazy. I have no excuse. But here it is, 29 days later…


SCOTT: It’s great to write new material. It’s really, really exciting. And I think the audience enjoys seeing us crush and then being crushed. They like to see us fail. It’s fun. And we enjoy watching each other fail on stage because the process of what we do – creating comedy – has to have an element of failure in it, otherwise it’s never going to work.

You will never find the joke in it unless you are able to tell it five or ten or twenty times on stage in front of somebody to find out where the humour is. We will famously rehearse something for days and think: This is perfect now; I’ll bring it in… and it doesn’t get a laugh. Not a whisper. Because to us it’s funny but, to a roomful of strangers who don’t know us, they don’t get it.  So you gotta make it accessible to a roomful of people who don’t know you – again and again and again.

It’s tough for comedians, because it’s hard to remember that what you do is difficult. Even though you know it’s a speciality and a very specific talent to take something like the stabbings on London Bridge and turn that into what has gotta be a joke. The only place where you can deal with it immediately after is on the comedy stage.

JOHN: So the relationship between the stand-up comic and the audience is…?

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

SCOTT: There has to be a moment where the audience remembers that the lights are pointed not at them, but at that solitary figure on that piece of the wood. And the problem I think with the current way we discourse through phones and iPads and so on is we don’t make eye contact.

I find myself now, when I’m talking to people in an audience, if they’re under the age of 25 and I make eye-contact with them, they are a little bit wary of me. And that can be difficult because, to them, a punchline sounds old-fashioned – something their bigoted uncle tells at a wedding when he’s drunk.

The focus of comedy has shifted a bit and my job now is to find a way to make what I do accessible to those people as well. There is no point blocking them out or saying they don’t get it or they’re ‘too woke’ or they’re ‘too PC’ or too ANYthing.

People are in a comedy club for a reason: they want to laugh. So you have to allow them the chance to do that.

JOHN: But that is, as you say, difficult…

SCOTT: And it SHOULD be a difficult struggle or else the audience is gonna know what’s gonna happen next. When I go see a comedian, what I find cynical is when I find them predictable or they seem lazy on stage and the audience knows where it’s going. What I think is great about live performance or really any performance I like is that I don’t want to know what’s round the corner.

Now, in this country and especially in comedy for some reason, it has become difficult sometimes to deal with certain subjects.

I was in Stoke at the weekend and told some jokes about Stoke terrorism.

JOHN: Stoke terrorism?

SCOTT: Well that guy who stabbed those people on London Bridge. I told some jokes and they got quiet, but it’s my job. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t do that.

JOHN: You started a podcast recently…

SCOTT: Scott Capurro Probes – I just talk to writers, comics, politicians – people that present their work publicly.

JOHN: Politicians? Like…?

“I got a real tingle from his handshake.” (Copyright: World Economic Forum)

SCOTT: I really want to interview Gordon Brown. I met him backstage at the Hay Festival. I had just met my (future) husband the year before and we were thinking of getting married. I think it was around 2009; Gordon Brown was Prime Minister at the time. He had some really handsome bodyguards.

I shook hands with him. He’s a really big guy. He’s very attractive in person. I found him extremely attractive to talk to. Just five minutes, but really funny, charming and affable and very self-deprecating. On camera, I don’t think his warmth comes across as much as it does in life.

We had shared a stage but not at the same time. A lot of the audience who had seen him in the afternoon stayed to watch me in the evening.

On stage in the afternoon, he had praised Tony Blair and I found out later the audience had not responded very well to that.

Not having seen that afternoon performance, I spoke about what a hero Tony Blair was to me. And the audience… I don’t think they turned on me, but they were not as receptive as I normally find an audience of Guardian readers to be. I was quite surprised by their response and then a woman who still writes for the Guardian wrote a SCATHING review of my performance. It upset me for years.

But people forget that, to gay men – even now – Tony Blair is a hugely iconic supportive figure, because he introduced marriage equality. That was a big deal for us. Huge. And he says it is still a shining moment of his legacy and he still thinks very proudly of it.

People also forget that, at a lot of Gay Pride functions, Tony Blair showed up as Prime Minister. That was a big deal to us. That had not happened before.

So, however smug or supercilious or middle class you want to be, watching me, thinking that you can judge me because I happen to be a supporter of Tony Blair, you can fuck off. That’s kind of what I told them that night.

I really admired Gordon Brown. I got a real tingle from his handshake. He held it for a while. I thought: This guy’s really hot. He’s gonna win! He’s gonna win!… And then it all went sour and here we are now.

JOHN: Are you doing a podcast because it allows you to be more serious? So you don’t have to do gag-gag-gag?

SCOTT: No. I just like chat. In comedy, I am very gag oriented. I am very jokey.

JOHN: You are very fast.

SCOTT: I don’t write set-ups. I tend to just tell punchlines for 25 or 30 minutes. When I first came over from the US and was playing the UK, I was very much nicer and, when I started breaking the mainstream, I felt I had to buffer. But I don’t buffer jokes now. I don’t at all. 

JOHN: Define ‘buffer’.

SCOTT: A set-up.

There’s a traditional joke set-up. You set the joke up. You do an example. And then you tell a punch.

My mother is tough. When I was a kid, she did this to me. And… PUNCH.

I understand that structure and it’s something audiences are very comfortable with. It’s familiar. But now I skip the first two parts. I just tell the punches.

Joan Rivers – Life in Progress at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe

I learned about ten years ago how to do it, watching Joan Rivers at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then I read an interview with her where she said: “I only pay comics for the punchlines; I never ask for the set-ups.”

I thought: That’s interesting. If you only told the punchlines in a set, I wonder how many you could squeeze in. That’s what the audience is here to hear. I mean, I don’t think they give a shit about my politics or my personal response to things.

JOHN: Don’t they?

SCOTT: I think, in Edinburgh, you can break that mould and do more personal stuff. It’s actually expected of you now in Edinburgh. They want a journey. They want you to be fingered or some sort of lie.

JOHN: Lie?

SCOTT: Yeah. 

JOHN: Explain?

SCOTT: Well, at least two shows that have done very well recently, I’ve been told by the premise-creators that they weren’t true… But, oh well. It’s a show anyway. Just a show.

JOHN: So they were telling a…

SCOTT: That’s all I’ll say about it.

JOHN: Comedians are paid to go on stage and tell lies…

SCOTT: They are. But if the show is based round something and you then talk about that thing seriously in public… (PAUSE) but it’s still just a story… I find that… (PAUSE) You know what, though? You are giving people what they want.

I mean, I saw a show in preview last year and, when the artist came off stage, the artist’s management said: “You didn’t put that thing in about your father dying…” And this artist said: “I didn’t think it was necessary.” And they said: “You need to put it back in if you want to get nominated.”

And I thought: That’s fine. Why not put it in? Why not write jokes about it? That’s our job… But then I thought: But you need to let the artist do their progression. I don’t want administrative staff stepping in and telling me what creativity is.

So that’s all.

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Filed under Comedy, Gay, political correctness, Politics

Gay comic Sam See from Singapore is Coming Out Loud at Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Sam See will be in Edinburgh this August but here he plays the Merry Lion in Singapore.

Scots comic Scott Agnew suggested Sam See from Singapore talk to me.

So we chatted via Skype…


Sam See at home in Singapore yesterday.

JOHN: Your show is called Coming Out Loud. Good title, because the audience knows what it’s going to get.

SAM: (LAUGHS) Dick jokes for an hour!

JOHN: Is there an elevator pitch for the show?

SAM: An openly gay comedian coming from a country where free speech and homosexuality is illegal… Expect dick jokes.

JOHN: Can you say free speech is illegal in Singapore?

SAM: No. In Singapore, I can’t say that free speech is illegal in Singapore. If you criticise the lack of free speech while you are here, you will be… erm… It’s a lovely irony.

JOHN: Is being gay totally illegal in Singapore?

SAM: Yes. It’s 100% illegal. The law itself is as vague as possible. It is basically the old-school English sodomy laws. It is illegal but…

JOHN: So how can you talk on stage about being gay if it’s illegal?

SAM: Because I am not yet popular or famous enough. On stage I always say I am gay. But, if they try to arrest me, I can say it is a character and then they would have to prove I’m gay which… well, good luck to them.

JOHN: So doing this chat with me could get you imprisoned…

SAM: It depends… They would need to prove I have done something untowards with another gentleman…

JOHN: You can say you are gay provided you’ve done nothing about it…?

SAM: Kinda. But, if you are on-stage saying it, they can still fine you or arrest you for homosexual propaganda or propagating that homosexuality is positive.

JOHN: Anyway, Coming Out Loud at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Why?

SAM: A lot of Edinburgh regulars recommended I should give it a bash – Martin Mor told me: “Come over, Sam, do the full run, go crazy and lose money.”

I guess I have to. It’s the Hajj. It’s the Mecca for comics: we all have to do it once in our life. But I don’t understand how people can do it for 10 or 20 years: a whole month!

JOHN: It’s addictive.

Sam is gearing up for Edinburgh with a tour of South East Asia

SAM: I am doing a whole run shows around Asia before it. I am gearing up to play outside my comfort zone.

JOHN: You started performing comedy in 2012…

SAM: Yes. The comedy scene is Asia is less than ten years old.

JOHN: I presume, if you are gay, you can’t play China?

SAM: I can, actually. I have played Brunei, if you can believe that!

JOHN: Did they reverse the law about stoning people to death if they are gay?

SAM: It’s on hold. The law is technically not in effect but it has not been repealed. In very heavy Moslem areas like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, I have to be really careful. If I play there, I try to play in embassies like the British or American so I have that clemency of being on international soil.

JOHN: Remembering this is going online, is it just a problem with Islam?

SAM: No. Myanmar is heavily Buddhist and they set people on fire. In China, they put people in re-education camps. There are heavy beliefs in this part of the world: whether religious or atheistic.

There was a chief from the UN who came down to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya crisis and the chief Buddhist monk of Myanmer called her a slut and threatened to have her raped… Remember this is a man of peace.

JOHN: How do your audiences react to a gay comic?

SAM: They have changed over time. They don’t mind hearing about it; but not too much. When I first started, it was a combination of me not knowing how to tailor the material for the audiences and the audiences not being ready to receive such information. But I have become a more competent performer with time and they have grown with time.

Sam See or Woody Harrelson? You decide.

JOHN: People get pigeonholed. Who do people compare you with?

SAM: I see myself as a much longer-form Joan Rivers, more into storytelling and less insults. 

JOHN: Joan Rivers? So acid-tongued. 

SAM: Yes, acid-tongued, hopefully fast on my feet. But I’ve had comparisons to John Oliver; I’ve had Trevor Noah. For some reason, Woody Harrelson once.

JOHN: What???

SAM: I have no idea why. He is not known for his stand-up comedy!

JOHN: Are there many gay comics in Singapore and surrounds?

SAM: No. I am the one openly gay comedian. There are two who are closeted and one bisexual, but she is more into poetry than stand-up.

JOHN: I presume no-one is admitting to being lesbian?

SAM: None of the locals. There are some expats who come to Asia, do stand-up and say: “I’m proud to be a lesbian.” But then they move on.

JOHN: Things must be getting better. You have been on TV in a weekly Singapore panel show OK Chope!

SAM: No-one had really done the panel show format in the region before. There are variety show formats but not the traditional UK-style panel show. Host, regular panellists and rotating guest panellists.

JOHN: Did it work?

SAM: It was a mess, because it was a topical news show where we were not allowed to talk about news because… well… it’s Singapore.

It was a one-hour show transmitted live, with a zero second delay.

JOHN: Jesus! A zero second delay?

SAM: Yes. I am not kidding.

JOHN: This was actually transmitted? It wasn’t just a pilot?

SAM: Yes, a full season… 7.30pm prime time, before the watershed.

JOHN: Double Jesus!

SAM: We all managed to drink in the afternoon before we shot it.

JOHN: Did the TV company get nervous after Episode One?

SAM: Oh yes. Every week, we would have one of the government censors watching us from a booth. He would give us a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

JOHN: But, if it’s live, it’s too late…

SAM: Well, too late for the show but not too late to put us in jail.

JOHN: And it ended because…

SAM: We made fun of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia who had been accused of being a thief and we made jokes about it and somehow he watched that episode.

JOHN: And the result was…?

SAM: He called our Prime Minister who took us off the air.

JOHN: So the series ended before it was due to end.

SAM: It happened on the last episode at the end of the season.

JOHN: So was someone being intentionally provocative?

Sam See addresses his audience

SAM: No, that whole segment had actually cleared the censors. It was just that, at the time, Malaysia was having an election, so they needed a scapegoat and a way to look strong. If they can get the neighbouring country to formally apologise to them, it makes them look powerful and in control.

JOHN: Do you have a 5-year career plan that starts in Edinburgh and ends in Las Vegas?

SAM: Well, it starts in Edinburgh and then I am in talks with some folks over in the United States for representation. 

JOHN: Presumably, like performers everywhere, you want to move to the US.

SAM: I don’t know. I think I would like to move to one of the other countries, but I would still make Singapore my home base because (a) it is my home and (b) the tax rates are better. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: I suspect Donald Trump thinks Singapore is somewhere in South America.

SAM: No. He knows where we are, because he started the North Korean treaties here.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) You should play North Korea!

SAM: You joke, but some of us have been thinking about it for a while. You just have to find an embassy that’s crazy enough to go along with the idea and just play it on embassy soil and don’t make jokes about the North Korean government or mention South Korea.

JOHN: Getting in might be a problem. And let’s not even fantasise about getting out. Singapore doesn’t have an embassy there, does it?

SAM: We can enter North Korea visa-free.

JOHN: Really???

SAM: Yes, we can just walk in on a holiday.

JOHN: Bloody hell!

 

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Gay, Singapore

Sandra Smith on Graham Norton’s red chair + Joan Rivers on a US paedophile

Sandra Smith - fan of the bizarre

Sandra Smith – quiet, polite and gentle, though not her stories

This month, I have mentioned this blog’s quiet, polite and gentle South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith a couple of times – once about how she got turned on to comedy by comic Pat Monahan. And once her memory of a man trying to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener.

In the Pat Monahan blog, there was a single sentence, easily missed: “Then I watched a Graham Norton Show being recorded.”

That is not the full story.

In fact, Sandra appeared on The Graham Norton Show twice.

“My friend had applied for tickets and she got some, then she got a phone call asking: Have you got any stories for the red chair? She said: No, but I know someone who has.

For blog-readers abroad… The Graham Norton Show is always filled with A-list guests – like Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro and Robert Downey Jr – but it has a section where members of the audience sit in a red chair, tell a story and, if Graham Norton gets bored, they are tilted backwards out of the chair.

The result of Sandra’s story – on a 2009 show with Jimmy Carr, Catherine Tate and 50 Cent – is on YouTube. She tells her story 2mins 15secs into the clip.

“So,” I said, “you told of your encounter deep in the Yew Forest with the man in a kilt…”

“And very soon afterwards,” said Sandra, “I got a message to ring the show and they said: Can you do another little thing for us?

“What,” I asked, “did they say they wanted?”

“They changed their minds lots of times. First of all they said: We want you to tell the story again then go round onto the stage with Graham and you’ll see something. There was something about Scotsmen in kilts.”

The clip is on YouTube:

“A lot of people,” Sandra told me, “got a lot of pleasure out of it. The maintenance man put it on a loop at work and someone I know saw it in Australia. She was surprised.”

“Who else was on that second show?” I asked.

“Well,” Sandra told me, “Sarah Jessica Parker was on it as a guest but had to leave before the end and Joan Rivers then said: Are the cameras off?

“Graham said: Yes.

I want you Brits to know, Joan Rivers said, that Michael Jackson is a fucking paedophile. You might not have got the whole story. And she went on a complete rant about how much he had paid off people. So that was an unexpected extra.”

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, paedophiles, Television