Tag Archives: Jody Kamali

Edinburgh Fringe Day 7: Three naked bottoms, tears and a cunning stunt

Today, I watched three performers talking out of their arses. Hardly a new thing at the Edinburgh Fringe, you might think.

I couldn’t possibly be cheap enough to use a pun

Except this was the much-touted Wild Bore comic theatrical piece at The Traverse in which Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott perform with their naked bottoms (and occasionally with the rest of their bodies).

It is a knowingly self-referential post-modernist labyrinth of analysing and criticising critics and the performance itself with some wonderful surreal images – the sight of them running around naked and erect with their heads inside their own bottoms made me glad I never remember my own dreams and nightmares.

The self-referencing reminded me inevitably of that 1969 movie I am always banging on about in this blog – Anthony Newley’s Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? – You sit there thinking the movie is a self-indulgent mess and then, at one point, three ‘movie critics’ walk on the screen and start criticising it in detail for all the many faults you have just been thinking about. I sat through it twice when I first saw it, because I had no idea whether I liked it or not. I was still not sure after seeing it twice, but it was and is certainly addictive.

Nathan Willcock’s State of The Nathan at Moriarty’s also kept referring to itself and had a strangely straight, middle-of-the-road, middle-aged, non-Fringe audience happily sitting through and enjoying an hour of his (as he admitted to them) liberal Londoner comedy.

Daddy Kamali – indefatigably charismatic

The indefatigably charismatic Jody Kamali was pretending to run a hotel – Hotel Yes Please – in a room in the actual Apex Hotel/Sweet venue in Grassmarket where he played multiple characters, integrated the audience into the show and unusually-for-him added some genuine personal stuff into a character playing another character. Apparently last year’s Fringe show was such a happy experience that, on the final night, he celebrated with his wife and the result is that he now has a daughter.

I think he will make a good dad.

Which was something Lewis Schaffer’s dead mother told him (Lewis) in one of the 23 letters he is opening nightly in Unopened Letters From My Mother at the Counting House. As he said in this blog two days ago: “To me, the letters are full-on scary and sad. But funny for the audience.”

Lewis Schaffer reads his mother’s letter for the first time

He says he does not know why he did not open the 23 letters she sent him between 2000 and her death in 2011, some from a mental hospital.

But I do remember the late Malcolm Hardee, going through a bout of depression the like of which people would not imagine Malcolm Hardee had, telling me that he was only opening one in three of the letters he received through the post. The other two he threw away without even checking who they were from.

After tonight’s performance – well, performance is the wrong word – experience – someone said to me: “I have never seen Lewis show that sort of real emotion on stage before”.

Lewis’ shows are always one-offs. These ones almost go beyond unique, if such a thing were possible.

Which could also be said of Becky Fury’s show tonight at the Black Market. Well, she did not actually perform her prepared show but improvised 55 minutes around the audience which included a Polish social worker who came to Edinburgh for the Fringe last year and just stayed. He said he was attracted to her show title Molotov Cocktail Party because of what happened at Polish football matches.

Becky Fury – not hosting a Christian show at all

Then there was the young Spanish couple who were there despite, it seemed, not actually being able to understand any English. Becky at first persuaded them it was a Christian show in which everyone had to bare themselves and managed to get the male half of the couple to strip off.

And then there was the American girl who arrived late. She said she played the violin and sewed.

“Simultaneously?” asked Becky.

Alas no, but she then took out her sewing and continued throughout the rest of the show while listening and participating. She said she was not a performer but did busk naked in Seattle, playing the violin.

I do believe this was and is true. But who knows?

In this blog four days ago, Martha McBrier mentioned that she had received a complaint about the fact that she plays a didgeridoo during her Balamory Doubtfire show – something that women are not allowed to do in Aboriginal culture. A white sociology professor in New York had accused her of racism, sexism and subjugating an entire culture.

The story was followed up, with more details, in Bruce Dessau’s Beyond The Joke site, on the Chortle comedy site and  in The Scotsman.

Chortle carried quotes from Janet McLeod, producer of the Melbourne Comedy Festival show Aborigi-LOL, and Dane Simpson, a comedian from the Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay culture.

Martha McBrier – cunning player of religious instruments

Tonight, I got a message from Martin Walker, who told me that, during the recording of his On The Mic podcast, Martha had admitted that the whole thing was a cunning stunt.

The didgeridoo appears on her flyer/poster and makes an admittedly brief appearance in her show so I do wonder if this is a stunt planned so far in advance that it is almost a work of art in its own right.

On the other hand, allegedly offending Aboriginal didgeridoo players might not have been a stunt at all but, on seeing the reaction, Martha decided to say it was a stunt to fan the flames of publicity and edge ever closer to a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt nomination.

Only time will tell.

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Jody Kamali on what happened at the “Britain’s Got Talent” audition

Jody Kamali

Jody Kamali – a performer with bags of talent, taken aback

Yesterday, comic Jody Kamali was auditioned for TV series Britain’s Got Talent. Here is his description of what happened:


It was an experience I’ll never forget, but hope to forget.

It has never been my life’s ambition to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. I have always groaned at the format, the treatment of acts and choice of acts they put through.

So why did I do it? I really don’t know. And I still don’t. Occasionally I get these Fuck it! moments in life and, when the producer of BGT asked if I would do it, after a lot of persuading, I squirmed and said: “Er… OK then”.

My plastic bag act has always been a winner. It impresses quickly and can really win over an audience. Even Steve Bennett liked it in his 2-star scathing review on Chortle back in 2014. Harry Hill saw me do the act and, as a result, cast me in his TV pilot. The only time it flopped was in front of an audience of pensioners aged 65+ in Bristol, who stared at me blankly while I whizzed around the small stage joyously flinging plastic bags in the air.

“You do get the act, right?” I said to the producer. “Even though I am flinging those bags in the air as serious as I am… it’s supposed to be daft and silly, right? I don’t want you making me out to be a weirdo and edited to make out that I really believe I think my bag act is genuinely amazing… Please put across the irony?”

“Yes, yes, Jody. We totally get it. We love that act and think you’ll do great.”

Of course, I didn’t believe him.

I had my doubts.

I saw on Facebook that many comedians had been contacted but refused in fear they would be mocked on stage. It seems the producers were targeting the alternative acts. Really? So they can champion alternative comedian acts? Or to mock them for entertainment purposes? But maybe they really did want to find new talent other than the usual dog, dance, old folks rapping and 5-year-olds doing stand up.

Maybe – just maybe – the cards have turned.

“Do it, do it,” said blogger John Fleming. “It’s exposure. You never know who might see it.”

So I officially committed.

I arrived at the Dominion Theatre at 3:30pm, an hour late as I forgotten my passport.

I immediately got into costume and began tons of tons of non-stop interviews for BGT and BGT Extra – two different shows. There were your usual BGT wannabes there. The dance troupe featuring at least one guy with a huge Afro and also a young boy. A choir. An old couple in their 80s who do rap. A man in a lederhosen who plays an electronic accordion to rock music. An operatic transgender Filipino. And ME. Amongst others. What a bunch of oddballs we all were.

There were cameras everywhere. Hundreds of crew. I felt like I was in The Truman Show or something.

“Let’s film your entrance and exits,” said the production assistant. “Let’s have you walk in the theatre and you fall onto the BGT sign and it falls over… cos you do comedy.”

“Ah, yes. That’s comedy, of course, yes,” I said.

“Actually, let’s first film you walking up to the BGT sign there and wave ecstatically,” she said.

“Erm… That’s not really me. Can I do my own thing?”

So I settle for the ‘comedy fall’ on to the sign.

“Let’s not make it look set up,” I said. “You know, it will look cheesy otherwise?”

“Oh, we love set ups on BGT,” said the young Scottish camera girl.

So I enter the theatre, walk up the stairs and turn back and fall on the BGT sign. I actually lost control and crashed onto the sign and tumbled down the stairs, ripping my trousers, right in my crotch.

“Ahhhhh!” screamed a bunch of elderly ladies. “Help him! Help him!”

A paramedic runs over, who happens to be in the foyer.

I’m fine, I’m fine… but I need a new pair of trousers ASAP,” I groaned, covering the hole in my crotch, while the elderly ladies stood over me, concerned.

After finishing off my ‘set up’ entrances and exits, I’m whizzed up several flights of stairs to do an interview with Stephen Mulhern for BGT Extra for ITV2.

BGT Extra is fun; we can have a laugh,” said a production assistant.

After a slightly awkward interview with Mulhern, messing about with my bags, I head to do my ‘pre-interview’.

“Is this the biggest gig of your life?” asked the presenter.

“No, it’s not. When you spend thousands of pounds and work year round on a solo show, then present it at the Edinburgh Fringe in front of critics, producers etc… That is the biggest gig,” I said.

“Oh no no, like um, the biggest crowd,” she replied.

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Well say that you do small gigs to a tiny crowd and then here you are… the biggest gig of your life,” said the girl, goading me into saying what she wanted.

It was a long interview and strange in the way that they kinda manipulate your words into creating a story that they want. I didn’t bring any family or friends with me or give them a sob story which, as we all know, they love so much.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian; say your are going to do something amazing,” said the interviewer. “We don’t want to give it away.”

I got so bored of the interview and felt the girl wasn’t even listening as her gaze drifted to the left every time I spoke. I could have literally said I suck cows’ udders for a living and she would’ve nodded with her fixed grin. I started to entertain myself by being extremely confident – “I’m definitely going to win BGT”… “I’m going to get a golden buzzer”… “The judges will be blown away”… “It’s THE most original act ever seen.”

After the interview, I started to have cold feet. I had this intense feeling come over me – like a warning sign or something. They are going to make a mockery of me, I know they are. They are not going to get it. I considered just walking out. I rang my wife, concerned, and she recommended I call my best buddy who is ‘in the business’.

After a pep talk from Andy and the fact that his friend ‘Keith Teeth’ auditioned once and didn’t get shown, I got my confidence back, knowing full well this could go either way. FUCK IT. I am going to do it. And do it with full confidence! 

Down I went to the backstage area for… yes… more interviews.

They filmed me ‘warming up’ – I was playing up to it but warming up like I meant business, doing cheesy poses, dancing, boxing – like I was about to have a bout with Tyson. I had my final interview with Ant and Dec who were lovely. And off I went….

The stage was huge – 3,000 people in the audience. A family audience. Like an audience you might see at a panto.

“Hello!” I yelled.

“Hello,” says Amanda Holden.

“What’s your name?” says Cowell.

“Jody”

“What’s your day job? Says Amanda.

“I work part time at the Royal Academy of Art.”

“Whoooooooooooo!” whooped the audience, assuming I was some hot shot impressionist or the next Damien Hirst.

“No, no I’m not an artist… I just charm affluent people into signing up to their membership scheme, where they get to see unlimited exhibitions,” I said in a cheesy ‘salesman’ voice. The audience laughed. The judges didn’t.

“What are ya gonna do?” asked Aysha Dixon.

“Something amazing and unique,” I said.

I said this because the producers told me to beforehand.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian, otherwise it will give it away,” said a producer, moments before I went on.

Alarm bells rang but I trusted them. Ah, I thought, the judges will get the irony and stupidity of the act and will get that I’m obviously taking the piss.

The music kicks in.

I run to the left and right waving my arms to get the audience to cheer. They did. 3,000. The sound was electric. Cowell looked at Amanda with a Look at this prick! expression.

I pulled out a bag.

I threw it in the air.

I could see Cowell in the corner of my eye looking at the judges unimpressed.

BUZZ.

Cowell had buzzed. No surprise there.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

1 second later

BUZZ.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

I lasted 25 secs, if that! I was shocked. I couldn’t believe they didn’t let me at least do one minute! I walked off stage thinking that’s what I had to do. Ant and Dec were waving at me saying “No, no” and pointing. I thought that they meant I should exit stage right, not stage left… So I did. I walked over to stage right, straight into cables and a tight corner.

“Fuck!” I muttered.

“Not that way” barked the sound guy.

I walked out from stage right and went upper stage right to another exit.

“No, no, no!” cried a production assistant. “Go back to the centre on the cross. The judges want to talk to you!”

“Ohhh… OK. Shit.”

The audience started to boo me a little bit but stopped.

Cowell was shaking his head with a Who is this idiot? expression. Even David Walliams looked unimpressed. I was surprised as I actually thought David would like my act.

“Jody, are you serious?” said Cowell.

“Nooooo!” I cried. “It’s meant to be daft. It’s meant to be so serious, it’s funny!”

All the judges faces had dropped. They ACTUALLY believed I genuinely thought that my act WAS amazing with NO irony.

“But I fought ya went to Academy Royal.. Art or summink,” said Alesha Dixon.

“That’s just a job. I’m a comedian. I’ve performed many times at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

David Walliams shuffled.

“It’s not good, Jody,” barked Cowell in way that reminded me of doing a clown workshop where the teacher would say you are awful.

“How can you not like it? Floating bags are amazing,”  I said sarcastically. “Look…”

I floated a bag. The audience cheered. I pulled another bag out of my pocket. The audience roared. I pulled another out. They roared loudly. And another. And Another. The audience were going nuts, cheering me. The judges looked stony faced.

“You see,” I said, “the audience like it!”

“Well I don’t,” said Cowell. “It’s a No.”

The rest followed suit. Four Nos. I left the stage to big applause.

I was gutted. I wasn’t given the chance to do the full act but was pissed off that I was told not to say I was a comedian. I felt set up. I believe the producers knew the judges would smash me down. If I had said I was a comedian, it might have been different.

I was rushed up stairs for more interviews. I sat down in a bit of a daze.

“What’s your name?” said the presenter.

I had repeatedly said my name and occupation, where I lived so many times… I’d had enough.

“Sorry, but I have had enough now. I’m leaving. I am fed up. I’m so tired. I’m done.”

I packed up and left, being chased by the crew, trying to persuade me to have my ‘final say’ so that I could say: “The judges were wrong.”

“No no no…” I said in a huff, “cos it will only mean I would criticise the producers for building me for up for the judges to bash me down… and you’ll edit it the way you want.”

And off I went… crew still trying everything they could to get my ‘final reaction’.

I was so happy to leave.

It was a bizarre experience.

It wasn’t me at all.

I did chuckle to myself on the way home though.

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Jody Kamali has learned from mistakes like being in the worst Edinburgh show

Jody Kamali with some flowers yesterday

Jody Kamali sat with some flowers yesterday

I have never had a good memory.

A good visual memory, yes.

But, for facts, no. A shit memory.

This can cause problems and embarrassments… like yesterday afternoon.

I met up with character comedy performer Jody Kamali whom – as it turned out – I wrongly thought I had first encountered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012.

It started off well enough.

He wanted me to mention his Hallowe’en show this Friday in Sydenham.

Jody Kamali’s House of Horror

Fernando’s House of Horror Comedy Variety Show

“It’s called Fernando’s House of Horror Comedy Variety Show,” he told me. “It’s my shambolic through-character from Spectacular! (his 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show) but more dark – with Marny Godden, Cheekykita, The Hoover Lady, a man who is half-human half-walrus and Dan Lees as a jazz-singing Freddie Krueger and a Half-Frog Half-Matthew McConaughey.”

“I saw the half-human half-walrus last week,” I said, “at the Spectacular Spectrum of Now. What is The Hoover Lady?”

“She’s got Hoovers,” explained Jody. “Giant Hoovers. Very dark and strange. She goes around sucking people up.”

“There used to be a man with a talking Hoover,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jody. “I saw him busking years ago on the tube.”

“Wrong place,” I said. “I saw a band of seven Romanian gypsies busking on a tube train the other day in the rush hour. They hadn’t thought it through. It is not a good idea in the rush hour and also they would have to divide any money seven ways. Wrong time; wrong place; wrong act.”

“I’m doing my solo Edinburgh Fringe show Spectacular! in Chippenham on 26th November,” Jody prompted.

Jody Kamali - half Iranian

Iran comics: the new rock ’n’ roll

“That’s very wise,” I said. “You’re part-Iranian, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Jody. “Half Iranian.”

“British comedy seems to be awash with part-Iranians,” I said. “There’s you, Patrick Monahan, Omid Djalili, Shappi Khorsandi…”

“Iranian comedy in the States is rock ’n’ roll,” said Jody. “They fill stadiums.”

“Iranians?” I said.

“American-Iranians,” said Jody.

“And you’re from Bristol,” I said.

“My mum is from Bristol. She’s half Irish and apparently we also have black ancestry, which makes sense, because Bristol was a big slave trade area. I’m told ‘Jody’ as a name in the black slave community meant someone who went off with other people’s wives.”

“No thespians in the family?” I asked.

“No. No. But, in Bristol, HTV had a drama centre. They used to put the kids on local TV shows. There was money going around in local ITV in the 1990s. I guess that’s how I got a taste for performing.”

“So,” I asked, “you wanted to be an actor?”

Jody Kamali - Not a stand-up comedian – a levitated character one

Not a stand-up comedian – he’s more of a levitated character one

“I got obsessed with musical theatre for some reason,” said Jody, “but I don’t sing very well. When I was at university in 1999, I did a comedy course called The Tut and Shive and on the course was Patrick Monahan, Steve Carlin – it was Carling with a G then – Steve Williams and I think, the year before me, Josie Long had done that course.

“It was very stand-up. It was 90% persona, 5% material and 5% the bollocks to get up and do it. I think I’m addicted to it. A compulsion to do it, no matter what. When I was 6 or 7, the teacher asked who wanted to be in the Nativity play and I remember that feeling of wanting to do it.”

“Who did you play?” I asked.

“I think it was Joseph’s dodgy brother who betrayed him”

“Are you sure? I asked. “All I ever got was stories about sheep and the Virgin Mary. Was there was a dodgy brother lurking around?”

“I’m sure there was an evil brother,” said Jody.

Jodi Kamali - money man 2012

Jody was Dirty Filthy Rich at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2102

“And now you’re a character comedian,” I said. “When I first met you in Edinburgh, your character was that red-braces, inspirational business speaker guy.”

“Shall we,” Jody asked, “go back to when you first reviewed me? Do you remember that?”

“Oh dear,” I said. “No I don’t. Did I review you? This sounds like it is going to be bad. What did I say?”

“You were reviewing for Chortle in 2004,” Jody reminded me.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“I particularly remember it…” Jody started.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“…because you called the show an omelette without an egg.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “Really?”

“But, weirdly,” said Jody, “it’s gone from Chortle.”

Jody Kamali - An Audience With Dominguez

“We devised the show a week before we did it,” he admits now

“Sounds rather vicious,” I said. “Dear me. That’s why I don’t do reviews any more. Now I just blog about people I like doing interesting things well. Like you.”

“I was young,” said Jody. “There were three of us. We devised the show a week before we did it, which we thought was enough. It was about a Latin-American pop star.”

“The next year, we did the Sally Swallows show.”

“Oh God,” I said. “Is that Londonian?”

“Yes. Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian.“

“Oh shit!” I said.

“That was in 2005. So, John,” said Jody, “we do have a history.”

“I still,” I said, “bear the mental scars of having to sit through an hour of Londinian.”

“The guy,” said Jody, “who was in my 2004 show AND in Londinian is now a very, very successful children’s television presenter. But we had no creative control over Londonian. The woman behind it just wanted it to be gross and was obsessed by The League of Gentlemen. As performers, we did not have any input. Not anything.”

A 2005 photocall in Edinburgh for the Sally Swallows show

This seldom seen publicity shot from a 2005 photocall possibly shows what Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian was trying to achieve

“I have a vague memory,” I said, “of thinking: Three of these people are far too good to be in this show. There was so much work put into that show, but I think it was the worst thing I have ever seen at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Yeah. She put a lot in it,” said Jody.

“The design, the music, everything,” I said. “Loads of work. All excellent. All except the script and the idea.”

“She was amazing at selling it,” said Jody. “She got lots of BBC people in. She got a centre spread in the Scottish Sun. there was a big spread in The Scotsman. The amount of press she got was unbelievable. She hyped the thing up because she believed in it so much as the next big thing. It was so over-the-top. My role was basically that I was an ice-cream seller and, when I ran out of ice-cream, I had to masturbate into a cone and give it to the kids.”

“There were kids?” I asked.

“One of the guys,” Jody reminded me, “played a kid going: Hello! Do you have any ice cream, please? and, as I climaxed, I had to sing as an operatic tenor: Eeaauuugh!!!”

“I went to see it,” I told Jody, “because the reviews were so catastrophic. There was so much anticipation in the audience before the show, because we had all come knowing it was a catastrophe. There was real excitement in the air.”

“I remember your review,” said Jody.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“That is exactly what you said,” Jody told me: “Oh dear… Where do I start?… I remember The Scotsman review was: Avoid like the plague.”

In fact, Jody’s memory is faulty. The Scotsman’s review read (in its entirety):

Complete revulsion is too pleasant a summary of my feelings for this sketch show. Not one ‘joke’ leaves the listener feeling anything less than soiled. Avoid like death.

“What’s the woman behind it doing now?” I asked.”

Jody Kamali - “and all because the lady loves supermarket bags

“…and all because the lady loves plastic supermarket bags”

“She’s now in wildlife presenting,” Jody told me. “She does things with Bill Oddie. She had a part in EastEnders years ago and wanted to do comedy, but I think she…”

“…realised the error of her ways?” I suggested.

“I’ve wiped all evidence of it from my CV,” Jody said. “My agent told me I should put it in, ‘because they’ll see how you’ve progressed’. But I said: No way. I can’t be associated with it. It was the worst show… For me it was like How not to do an Edinburgh Fringe show, but I did learn how hype can really sell a show.”

“You can learn a lot more from a failure than from a success,” I suggested. “What is your Edinburgh show next year?”

“At the moment, I’m toying with… As a performer you toy with: Do I take it the next level now?

“Which is?” I asked.

“Really push yourself to do something even more risky, more personal, but blend it…”

Jody |Kamali with the same flowers yesterday

Jody Kamali sat with the same flowers yesterday

“It’s easier,” I said, “for a reviewer or a feature writer to do a piece about a personal, autobiographical show. Stand-ups telling gags are just doing the same things in not-very-different ways. Variety acts are more interesting because they fall into different areas. But all autobiographical shows are, by definition, unique and have more meat to write about. My Ten Years of Heroin Hell or whatever.”

“But why are we doing shows at the Fringe?” asked Jody. “Just to get noticed? Or to do a really entertaining show?”

“The eternal question,” I said. “And not just in Edinburgh.”

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Yesterday’s quirky day from The Great Terror to a woman not playing a horse

Nick Awde singing opera in the streets of Edinburgh yesterday

Nick Awde seemingly sings opera in Edinburgh’s streets

In my opinion, this blog may meander around a bit in its subjects, but one uniting factor is a little bit of quirky detail. And yesterday had some quirkiness woven into it.

I had bumped into Nick Awde the day before.

He is a writer and critic for entertainment industry weekly The Stage, has published books under his Desert Hearts imprint by comedy people Phil Kay and Bob Slayer and he himself co-wrote Pete and Dud: Come Again (about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and, solo, wrote Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show which (as a title) Ellis & Rose infamously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe – though, it has to be said, mostly without much reference to the original script.

Anyway, Nick Awde invited me to go and see the world premiere aka a rehearsed reading of Midnight at the St James’s Theatre yesterday. He told me it was a very serious Azerbaijani play about the Stalinist Terror.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen the West End musicals Showstoppers! and Bend It Like Beckham – both bright, jolly, uplifting, toe-tapping feasts of singing and dancing and primary colours – so I cannot honesty say that an Azerbaijani play about the Great Terror seemed wildly appetising. Well, it would not be an attractive proposition at any time but – Hey! – I thought – It might be interesting or eccentric or both.

Midnight - the Great Terror musical

Midnight – Stalin’s Great Terror as a musical

So I went yesterday afternoon and realised I must not have been paying full attention to Nick when he described it to me, because it was a MUSICAL about the Great Terror written by Elchin Ilyas oglu Afandiyev, who has been Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan since 1993.

And it was not eccentric. It was wonderful. It was a serious and very dark musical about The Great Terror which I thought owed a little bit to J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Although, I should point out, I have never actually seen An Inspector Calls.

Well, I possibly may have seen it years ago on the London stage but, as is well documented, I have a shit memory – I can’t remember the plot but have a vague memory of a two-storey stage set.

Midnight did not have a two-storey stage set.

Anyway, Nick Awde’s involvement in Midnight is as artistic director of the Aloff Theatre company which staged the play/musical and which is “dedicated to the promotion of new and classic works from East Europe and Central Asia” and which is “currently focusing on the interchange of dramatic resources between Azerbaijan and the UK”.

So Nick Awde, in my eyes, should be described as – and, indeed, is – an Englishman raised in Africa living in France with a Georgian passport involved in an Azerbaijani theatre company who wrote about Jimmy Savile as a Punch & Judy show.

I think that qualifies as quirky.

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

After the show, Nick told me that one of his relatives had been in the British Army and had been carried onto one of the boats evacuating the troops at Dunkirk in 1940. He had not been wounded. He had been carried on because, like many of the British troops at Dunkirk, he was paralytically drunk.

Retreating through a not-totally-devasted France, they had been taking shelter in abandoned farmhouses, most of which retained their wine cellars. His relative could remember little about the evacuation from Dunkirk except being carried onto a boat.

Inevitably, Nick had invited interesting people along to see the Midnight musical yesterday afternoon.

Notably:

  • former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office, now author and rock singer, Norman Baker who bizarrely, like me, was born in Scotland, partly brought up in Aberdeen and partly brought up in Essex.
  • and Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance venues in Edinburgh and London who, it turned out, had previously designed theatres and theatre seats – it was suggested my buttocks may have rested on one or more of his creations – and who, in a previous incarnation as a teacher, had taught Stephen Fry.
Jody Kamali - Spectacular!

Jody Kamali – eternally Spectacular! and eccentric

I then had to rush to see Jody Kamali’s excellent Spectacular! show at the Museum of Comedy (I had already seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe in August). Afterwards, he told me about someone he knew who had a dispute with Rowan Atkinson at a press conference at the Fringe in 1971. As a result, his friend’s show was sold out despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Rowan (very popular on the Fringe at the time) allegedly stood outside the venue every day screaming to the public NOT to go in and see the show.

Anyway, eventually, in the early hours of this morning, I got home to an e-mail from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who seems to be spending less and less time on the South Coast).

The email said:


I went to the Camden’s People’s Theatre in London this evening to see Lou aka LoUis CYfer, from the Admiral Duncan pub, Soho.

Louis Cyfer welcomes Sandra with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

Lou welcomes Sandra into dressing room with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

She got a Guardian review and is booked for Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I really enjoyed her one woman show Joan

She wove her late grandmother, Catherine, into the piece, complete with reserved empty chair. It was beautifully done.

I got to play a cannon instead of a horse and gave it my all.

My efforts were clearly not appreciated because the audience all laughed.


As is often the case in this blog, I have no explanation and it seems wiser not to ask.

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The surrealism of real life, comedy shows, football and 888,246 poppies

Why does no-one tell you that getting old is painful? When you are younger, you kind of get the idea that old people move as if they are in some type of special slow motion CGI effect because their muscles are seizing up or something. But often it is because they are in pain and the anticipation of the pain of movement slows them down.

More about my right heel later.

Reality is very surreal

Blood-red poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Blood-red poppies pour out into the Tower of London’s moat

A couple of days ago, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to the Tower of London where the moat is being filled with ceramic poppies – one for every British serviceman and servicewoman killed in World War One.

By 11.00am on the 11th day of the 11th month this year – that is 11 on 11/11, if you are an American – there will be over 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat. I thought more died but, then, the population of the UK in 1914-1918 was that much smaller.

The ceramic poppy heads arrive in boxes and volunteers unpack them, attach them to metal stems and use mallets to bash them into the grass and earth in the moat.

I know. Ceramic poppy heads being hit by mallets. Who would have thought.

You can buy the ceramic poppies from the moat for £25 each. At least you could. Apparently they have now all been sold.

Last night, around 7.00pm, as I travelled in a tube between Oxford Circus and Bank, a woman dressed as rabbit got into the train. She had long white ears and a full-body rabbit costume. This is true. And no-one treated this as odd. It is London. It is a Friday night. It was not odd.

I was in the tube train because I had just been to a meeting in Soho about, in January, marking the 10th anniversary of the death of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

Showman Adam Taffler – a man with a luxuriant moustache – is organising an event. I suggested that we should announce a couple of famous people were going to have sex live on stage.

In (I think it must have been) the 1960s, Oz magazine editor Richard Neville and his girlfriend allegedly hired the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road and had sex live in front of an audience of their friends. Apparently it was strangely un-erotic and slightly awkward.

Yesterday morning, journalist and writer of songs Ariane Sherine, about whom I blogged four days ago, asked me if I wanted to appear as the Pope in her next music video. I once appeared (mute) as Julius Caesar, being stabbed in some educational programme on Sky TV.

I know. An educational programme on Sky TV. Who would have thought.

Performance at a club for the surreally distinguished

At a private members club for the surreally distinguished…

I was on my way – last night in the tube train – to Sophie Parkin’s members-only club Vout-O-Reenee’s which calls itself a club “for the surrealistically distinguished”.

It is hidden under a church near the Tower of London. I went there to see a fascinatingly surreal show by Guy Combes – another man with a luxuriant moustache.

The show was called Auntie Rene’s Memory Box Is The Smallest Museum in The World. After the show, I told Guy I had seen him perform as Moonfish Rhumba at Pear Shaped comedy club. He seemed surprised I was that old. I think he may have been drinking.

Before the show, my eternally-un-named friend and I had talked to comedy performer Jody Kamali who was in the audience. Neither I nor Jody could actually describe to her what “type of act” he did on stage. This is arguably a good thing. If it is impossible to describe, it must be original – if a tad difficult to promote.

Jody Kamali’s extremely likeable wife is Russian. She has a strong Bristol/West of England accent, but has only been in the UK (London) for two years. She told me she picks up accents if she is with people and once spoke in an Irish accent for several weeks.

On the train back home to Elstree, I sat next to an interesting man who was a fan of Chelsea football club and who proceeded to tell me all the great players they had had since 1994 and (admittedly after I asked) the cost of normal and season tickets at Chelsea and other football clubs. I think he too may have been drinking.

Apparently Arsenal are the villains in football ticket prices.

I was interested to listen to what he said in much the same way I used to listen to the Stock Market Prices (sadly no longer done) on BBC Radio 4 and the Coastal Shipping Forecast (which I think Radio 4 may still do).

Listening to the Stock Market prices and the list of coastal areas with staccato abbreviated forthcoming weather details used to allow me to enjoy the abstract pleasure of words without the distraction of meanings. It was like hearing a good actor or actress saying: “Bat random daytime origami lukewarm” – comforting words not encumbered by any distracting meaning.

The man on the train who told me about the price of football seats also told me that today he and his girlfriend are going to see the ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London. I told him there were big crowds. Which there were.

When I got home, I switched on the BBC TV News and there was an item about the possibility of people who had lost legs and arms growing new limbs. For some unexplained reason, an expert said he believed that, in 25 years time, it would be possible for a person to re-grow a missing leg but he or she would still have to be given an artificial foot.

My right heel has been distracting me recently

My right heel has been distracting me recently

The heel and sometimes sole of my right foot has been causing me extreme pain for about a fortnight. If I press on it with my fingers, there is no pain. If I walk, there is usually but not always pain. Last night, after sitting on a chair watching Guy Combes’ show and putting no pressure on my foot, the heel was extremely painful when I stood up.

In the mornings, after lying horizontal for eight hours and putting no pressure at all on my feet, when I stand up there is extreme pressure pain on the sole of my right heel. But, as I say, if I press my fingers or any object against the heel, there is no pain. It is very strange. Occasionally, when I walk, I have to stop myself from hobbling.

This morning, around 4.00am, I was woken up by severe cramp in my right leg. There was a big knot inside my leg. Agony and, in the agony of the cramp, too far down to reach and rub it. I just had to try to keep still through the shooting pain until it went. It happens every few months.

The muscles inside my left shoulder are still occasionally painful from when I tripped over and fell on the night-time cobbles of Edinburgh during the Fringe in August.

You may have correctly deduced I had no specific subject for my blog this morning.

I still think announcing that a famous couple will have sex live on stage during a Malcolm Hardee commemorative 10th anniversary show in January would get people in and he would have liked it.

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The birth of new comedy talent and the death of an amazing British eccentric

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret show

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret

I went to see Zuma Puma’s weekly Lost Cabaret show last night, definitely one of the most consistently weird shows in London.

One member of the audience – Jeff – let out that he had been off work for seven weeks due to stress. He was rather withdrawn and shy. He ended up – of his own accord – stripping his shirt off and dancing on the stage.

Weird is the word. And Lost Cabaret manages to be consistently weird every week I have seen it, thanks to MC Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott. Last night her mum was there from Canada. I can see where she gets her charisma from.

Jeff, Jody Kamali & Zuma Puma’s mum last night

Jeff, Jody Kamali and Zuma Puma’s mum shook it last night

Lost Cabaret is the sort of show people (including, sometimes, moi) forget when they say comedy acts are not as bizarre and eccentric as they used to be.

Sadly, yesterday was also when I found out via a report in Chortle that The Amazing Mr Smith had died last Sunday.

His body was found at the bottom of a 100ft cliff at West Bay in Dorset.

There is a showreel of his eccentric acts on YouTube.

He was never widely known but, as Chortle reported, he toured America five times, as well as appearing in shows in Holland, Germany, Norway and Jordan.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

I first saw him when I auditioned him for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross in 1987. He would have been 39 then; he was 65 when he died last weekend. So it goes.

His birthday was on April 1st and, in the mid-1990s when I was working in Prague, I sent him an unsigned birthday card on the basis he did not know I was in Prague and he would wonder who had sent it. We talked and met after that, but there was never any mention of the birthday card. Why would there be? For some reason I now wish I had told him I sent it.

Derek Smith was a quiet man – a research scientist when I first met him. But he would get up on stage and play The Blue Danube on 32 condoms or have the entire audience sing along to the theme tune of The Dam Busters while someone spun a propeller attached to his nose or perform Also Sprach Zarathustra – the theme from 2001 – by stamping his feet on the floor.

Scots performer Alex Frackleton, now living in the Czech Republic, told me yesterday:

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

The rather shy, gentle man who gave sound advice

“He was a lovely man. Unique. I met him at a folk festival.

“I was performing my Ballad of Michael Malloy poem – it is 36 verses long and it takes about 5 minutes to perform. Afterwards, he came up and introduced himself as Mr Smith. I thought that was a bit eccentric at the time but I’m a kinda live & let live kinda guy, so what the hell?

“He told me I should do the sounds of the environment around the poem. So the screech of the brakes of the taxi, the nee-naw sound of the ambulance, the hissing sound of the gas when they put Michael Malloy’s head in the oven – all these sounds should be conveyed as part of the poem, part of the canvas I was painting on stage (his words).

“I told him I wasn’t musical, couldn’t sing nor play a musical instrument to save myself and he told me that it didn’t matter because I had vocal cords and no-one said I had to sing or blow a trumpet! I am very sad to hear about his death.”

Writer and film producer David McGillivray told me:

Mr Smith in the recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith at home in a recent Vimeo mini-doc

“I saw him in Crouch End. He was completely different from all the other acts on the bill. I said to my partner, Let’s book him and he agreed. We ran Stew’s Cabaret in Hackney in the 1980s. He was a delightful eccentric.”

TV producer Danny Greenstone said: “Ah, a shame indeed. What a lovely fella he was… And how brave, too, to have graced Game For A Laugh more than once…”

Club-runner Steven Taylor told me: “He did a gig for me and was very funny and a thoroughly good chap. A gent.”

And Derek was a gentle man. Immensely likeable.

There is a 6’30” mini-documentary film about him on Vimeo by his friend Alan Deakins, although Derek mostly stays in character as Mr Smith.

In the mini-documentary, he says:

“Stand-up comedians these days at these alternative comedy clubs: they’re really worried that other people are going to steal their material. I don’t have that worry. Anybody could do this. Anybody could do my own act, but they don’t, do they?.. It’s nice to be able to make people laugh, isn’t it, really? You stand there and you’ve got a hundred people or so in front of you, all laughing, and that’s quite a nice feeling.”

R.I.P. Derek Smith – The Amazing Mr Smith.

So it goes.

The 7 minute audition tape (with very bad sound) shot when I first saw him perform is on YouTube

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Why do British comedy clubs have to just book samey stand-up comedy acts?

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

In a not-yet-posted blog-chat with Dutch comedian Jorik Mol earlier this week, the subject came up of the difficulty of succeeding as a comedian in Britain when there are simply too many stand-up and wannabe stand-up comedians around.

British comedy clubs are having a tough time at the moment and I think one of the reasons is that they programme wall-to-wall stand-up comedians.

In the 1980s, when alternative comedy really WAS alternative, a typical comedy club bill might include a juggler, a poet and an indefinably anarchic act as well as straight stand-ups.

Nowadays, too often, there is no variation. It is all a bit samey. The stand-ups may be good, bad or indifferent but they are, basically, doing the same thing.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the comedy clubs were general comedy clubs. Now they are almost entirely stand-up comedy clubs.

In blogs before I have mentioned that many of the most original and funny comedy acts at the Edinburgh Fringe in the last couple of years were not listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme but in the Cabaret section.

Last night, I saw a glorious night of comedy at Pull The Other One in South East London. It was their last show of the year, it was a real corker and there was not a single traditional stand-up on the bill. Unlike most comedy clubs, you did not know what TYPE of act was coming next.

Jon Hicks was simply indescribable (he describes himself as ‘The International Man of Artistry’) and his act involved three elephants, a hammer and scientific principles all on PTOO’s small stage.

Jody Kamali was a performer of note

Jody Kamali was a comedy performer of note

Jody Kamali seems to inhabit a different on-stage character every time I see him. This time, he managed to cram into one 20-minute spot three bizarre, physically active and visually surprising characters plus he dragged a dodgy punter on-stage and sucked the guy’s arm.

Ewan Wardrop – formerly a principal dancer with Matthew Bourne‘s company Adventures in Motion Pictures – managed to refine his already astonishing 1935 visitor from Venus act – The Silver Peevil – AND do a wonderful post-modernist George Formby pastiche AND sing original songs as himself.

The nearest thing to a traditional stand-up on the bill was Steve Best, performing his flawless act which could also be from another planet – It is like a recording of Tommy Cooper performing comedy on acid which is then run at 4-times normal speed.

All these extraordinarily original acts were presented by Lindsay Sharman in her charismatic thespian poetess compere mode with popping eyes and acrobatic lips – a face-changing, voice-morphing Joyce Grenfell for the 21st century.

What the Germans will make of a show like this when Vivienne & Martin Soan start their Pull The Other One shows in Leipzig in February I cannot even begin to imagine.

And nor do I know when a broadcast company will come to its senses and transfer Pull The Other One’s already fully-formed bizarre comedy variety show to television.

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