Tag Archives: John Bishop

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

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Bruce Dessau defends comedy critics and comedy agents and managers

Bruce Dessau, King of Comedy Critics

Bruce Dessau, King of Comedy Critics

Bruce Dessau is comedy critic for the London Evening Standard newspaper.

“So you’re a bastard,” I said to him, when we met for a chat. “You criticise these poor, hard-working comedians, you’ve got no talent yourself and you destroy them. What’s all that about?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever destroyed anyone in my life,” said mild-mannered and eternally polite Bruce. “I sometimes wish I had: there are probably a few who deserve to be destroyed. I can only speak for myself but, as a profession, I think critics try to be constructive. I almost see my role as an unpaid director and I see my reviews as maybe providing performers with directors’ notes without them actually paying me for them. There have been occasions – maybe not many – where comedians have changed their show because they’ve taken on board what I’ve said. It’s a funny dynamic between critics and performers. I suppose we’re obviously quite parasitical. We only exist because the performers exist. But I think comedians benefit from critics.”

“You have watched all levels of comedy for years,” I said. “You have chaired the Perrier Comedy Awards panel at the Edinburgh Fringe. You have written a dozen books including Beyond a Joke (on comedians’ dark side). You run the comedy website Beyond The JokeYou are very experienced. But why should anyone listen to the opinion of someone who is not a normal comedy-goer? Wouldn’t it be better to read 25 or 50 ordinary audience members’ thoughts on a website forum and take an average of those opinions rather than some professional critic?”

Bruce Dessau: prolific Evening Standard critic

Bruce: a prolific critic for Evening Standard

“I have a perspective on things.” replied Bruce. “I think that’s what a good critic does. Part of what we do is place something in a context, whether artistic or historical. That’s something a critic with a bit of experience can do.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, you do have people who are frankly younger than me who sometimes get very excited about a comedian and I may go: Yeah, it’s alright, but it’s not new. I’m not saying it’s crap. They are saying it’s new. I’m saying it’s not new. I’m not saying their judgment that something is good is wrong. But I can give it context. I am a critic who goes to 2, 3, 4 gigs a week, sees a lot of comedy, digests a lot of comedy but, when I write for the Evening Standard, I try to write for people who only go to a couple of gigs a month, if that – maybe only a couple of gigs a year – or people who have only ever been to arena gigs.

“I’m so old, I have actually seen Bill Hicks perform live on stage. That wouldn’t give me a massive advantage if I were writing a piece about him, because there’s enough Bill Hicks on YouTube and DVDs and records for everyone to see.

“But, with someone like Daniel Kitson, of whom there isn’t much of online, I’ve seen pretty much everything he’s done for the last 12 or 13 years, so I’m in a good position to talk about him, because someone else who wasn’t physically there can’t access that.”

“When you talk to comedians…’ I started.

“I very rarely talk to comedians,” said Bruce. “The nature of my job is I arrive at a gig as it starts and, because I always have to do overnight reviews for the Evening Standard, I can never go to the after-show parties.”

“And it’s very difficult to review someone if you’re chummy with them,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” said Bruce. “Exactly. It’s very awkward if you get to know them.”

“But they’re interesting,” I said. “All comedians are frail little souls with frail little egos. Maybe you could unknowingly, unwittingly and unintentionally damage someone’s self-confidence?”

“By writing a damning review of them?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think their psychology is fascinating.”

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – more famous than many

“One of the many paradoxes of comedians,” said Bruce, “is that, on the one hand, there is this very supportive community – Yeah! Yeah! Go for it! Do it! Great gig! – but they’re also very competitive. If two people are sharing the bill at the Edinburgh Fringe and one gets a better review than the other – or they know one has gone down better than the other – that is quite hard to take. It must be quite a strange thing. I went to see (a well-known TV comedian) perform last night and he was talking about doing a gig at the Glee Club in Birmingham which John Bishop had compered. And it was a joke but (the well-known TV comedian) was still having a slight dig at the fact John Bishop is now much more successful than him and performing in arenas.

“It must be quite strange when you look back and think There were five of us on a bill at the Comedy Store and one is now a heroin addict, one is now doing the O2 Arena and I’m doing a gig at the Bearcat Club. At one point you’re all on the same level and then – particularly with what’s happened to comedy in the last 5 or 6 years – the fickle finger of fate can pluck someone.’

“And not always the best,” I said.

“But,” argued Bruce, “the thing about comedy is – up to a point – it is a meritocracy. If people are selling out the Hammersmith Apollo, they must be doing something right.”

“Or maybe,” I suggested, “they’re just lucky and a mate got them a regular spot on a TV panel show? There are probably 150 or 1,500 equally good comics out there.”

“I thought you were going to say Maybe they had the right manager,” said Bruce. These things are all connected. In defence of these much-criticised comedy agencies and managers. They are not scouring the circuit to turn rubbish acts into stars. They are looking for talented acts. It’s not quite the same as pop music, looking to put together a boy band, where you might say It doesn’t matter what his voice is like, he looks good.

News, comment & reviews: Beyond The Joke

News, comment & reviews: Beyond The Joke

“In comedy, I’m not saying what you look like is totally irrelevant but you do have to have the comedic equivalent of being able to sing, otherwise you’ll be found out. And that’s why, as a critic, I feel I’m not destroying people’s careers. I’m just doing a little pecking order of who is better than others. I’m not saying X, Y and Z comedians are rubbish, but I might be saying X is better at a certain type of humour or Y is better with a certain type of story. I’m describing their strengths and weaknesses, but I could never say anyone playing the O2 Arena was rubbish… Well, now I’m thinking, I’m sure there are exceptions.”

“I got told recently about a female comedian,” I said. “I don’t know this girl personally. But she is about 25 or 26 – and a talent scout for a big comedy agency told her: You’re too old for us. What they want is inexperienced 18 and 19 year olds they can mould.”

“I would accept that up to a point,” said Bruce. “They might be looking for raw talent and they might also think: Ah, yes, I can shape that person. But they are going to shape them from a point of having some basic talent. They are not going to take a completely blank slate, otherwise they might as well go to a model agency and look in a catalogue. If there’s a gap in the market for a sexy female comedian, there’s no point going to an escort agency or a glamour model agency and picking one out. You go to a comedy club and find a sexy comedian and hope they’ll improve.”

“But this mid-twenties comedian is dead in the water, yet she is probably as good as or better than an 18 year-old.”

“Well, in that sense,” said Bruce, “it’s only as brutal as Hollywood.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lewis Schaffer and the clenched fist of comedian Tim Renkow’s cerebral palsy

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer and failed moustache last night

“I can see why you are not a success,” comedian Lewis Schaffer told me,”but why am I not a success?”

“Why am I not a success?” I asked.

“Because you started too late,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Maybe I was doing other things before I didn’t become this,” I said.

“Everyone who’s a success,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is a success because they started young.”

George Eliot,” I countered.

“Him too,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “When you write that in your blog, John, add in as Lewis Schaffer said with a wink.”

Frank Skinner,” said Tim Renkow.

It was last night. We were sitting in a branch of the Subway sandwich shop near London Bridge. Comedian Tim Renkow had just been a guest on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly Resonance FM radio show Nunhead American Radio, allegedly aimed at Americans living in Nunhead, which is part of Peckham in South East London. He had invited me along to sit on the floor during the recording.

“How many Americans are actually living in Nunhead?” I had asked.

“Thirteen,” Lewis Schaffer replied. “Maybe twelve.”

“Do you meet up?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Frank Skinner,” repeated Tim Renkow.

“Maybe he started in his thirties,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But he didn’t start as a blogger.”

“They didn’t have blogs when Frank Skinner started,” I said.

“You’ve been doing this blog,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “At the end of the day, it’s just a blog. I’ve been doing two free shows every week since the start of 2009; I’ve been doing my Sunday paid shows at the Leicester Square Theatre all this year; I’ve been doing a weekly radio show since 2009…. And nothing. I’ve got nothing out of it… What’s happened to you with your blog? Nothing. You’ve been focussing on the smallest aspect of the entertainment business, which is…”

“Lewis Schaffer?” I suggested.

“Lewis Schaffer,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “is the smallest part of the smallest part of the entertainment business. Even if you were focussing on somebody really big – John Bishop or Michael McIntyre – there’s only a limited number of people who want to read about stand-up comedians. “

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – He is famous in little Britain

“No-one’s famous,” I said. “No-one’s heard of John Bishop or Michael McIntyre even in America.”

“You’ll never get big writing about stand-up comedy,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “Even worse, you’re picking on the dregs of the stand-up comedy business, which is Lewis Schaffer.”

I pulled down my shirt and exposed my right nipple to Lewis Schaffer.

“No-one wants to see your body, John. It’s not funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’d rather look at Tim Renkow’s drooling.”

“It IS funny,” said Tim Renkow.

“You make a note, John” said Lewis Schaffer, “that I was the first stranger to tell Tim Renkow that he needs to tidy himself up.”

“I dress like a homeless person,” agreed Tim.

“You too, John,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “I’ve also criticised your dress sense.”

“What dress sense?” I asked.

“My point is…” said Lewis Schaffer. “My point is… At one point, I thought to myself Well, it’s only because I moved countries from America to England that I’m not famous or it’s because I’m an artist or something but… I’m never going to make it, okay?”

“You can never tell,” I said. “Someone picks you up for a TV show, you can become famous within a week. Supposedly famous.”

“Was it a good radio show tonight?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“It was,” I said. And it had been.

“You’re from America,” Lewis Schaffer had asked Tim Renkow on the show. “You’re doing comedy here in England. How did you get here? Why did you get here?”

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer last night in Subway

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer joking last night in Subway

“I got here cos I burned every bridge I had,” Tim told him. “I told a couple of promoters in New York to fu… to do something I can’t say on the radio at 6.30 at night.”

“What is it?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Is it an anger you have?”

“In New York,” said Tim, “when you start out, they make you bring your friends to the show and then they charge ‘em like 50 bucks and I didn’t like that and I told them that and they didn’t like me telling them that.”

“Why here? Why Nunhead?” asked Lewis Schaffer’s co-presenter Lisa Moyle.

“I’ve been asking myself ever since,” laughed Tim. “I like that you don’t drive here.”

“…So you can get around,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “You’ve got cerebral palsy.”

“Yeah,” said Tim. “So I COULD drive, but it would be a disaster.”

“You’re a rebel,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re constantly drooling all over the place.”

“Is that an act of rebellion?” asked Lisa Moyle.

“I only do it on Lewis Schaffer,” said Tim.

“Is that true?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“No,” said Tim.

“It that a act of rebellion?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes,” said Tim.

“Is it really?”

“No.”

“Are you having an argument with me?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m trying,” said Tim.

“Is there a cerebral palsy community?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “When you see someone with CP do you go up to them?”

“Yes,” said Tim, “I give ‘em the Black Power fist. But that’s only cos I can’t open my hands.”

“How did you meet Lewis?” asked Lisa Moyle. “And would you call him a friend?”

“What would you call Lewis?” mused Tim. “An interesting case study… I like Lewis. I like anyone with the balls to tell me to Walk right, which is what Lewis said the first time he met me.”

Tim Renkow at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Tim Renkow outside Bob’s Bookshop at the Edinburgh Fringe during August this year (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Well, he goes around with no shoes on” said Lewis Schaffer.

“That’s dangerous,” said Lisa Moyle.

“Especially in some of the comedy clubs we have,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, I can’t walk with shoes,” said Tim. “And it bothers people. I like that it bothers people.”

“That’s what I like about you,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re very similar to me.”

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Mr Methane lets off steam and agrees most stand-up comedians are ‘not nice’

The outstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

The upstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

In my blog yesterday, I quoted doyenne of UK comedy critics Kate Copstick saying, during a weekend event at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival:

“Comedy is not a nice business and it’s not got nice people in it. Really, genuinely nice people don’t go into comedy.”

Mr Methane, the Farter of Alternative Comedy, had something to say about that. And he did, to me, yesterday. This is what he told me:

_____________________________________________________________

Mr Methane is not himself a stand-up performer

Mr Methane is not himself a stand-up comedy performer

I can agree with Kate on that – and all these years I thought I was alone.

There are some very nice people in Entertainment but I have to say being in the company of some comedians when they are not on stage is like sucking shit through a straw, the most unpleasant experience. They possess all the bad Me Me Me and even more ME qualities of the politicians they then go out onstage to slag off – not that I’m defending politicians, you understand.

I remember way back in January 1994 I was just making the tea, the potatoes were boiling, the kitchen windows were steamed up and it was a critical point in the process where you just need to turn them off in time before they go too soft and this guy called Andy Nulman phones.

He says he runs a comedy festival in Montreal called Just for Laughs and can I send him a showreel. I did and thought no more about it, as 97.5 % or thereabouts of most transatlantic enquiries come to nothing. But, to my surprise, this one didn’t and that August I ended up doing two TV shows at the festival – one for Channel 4 in the UK and one for HBO in the US.

What I witnessed was basically a commercial enterprise, a huge corporate machine in full swing.

It wasn’t about the comedy for most people it was about the money – doing a screen test in front of people who could give them a sitcom or a lucrative advertising contract for a product they didn’t even believe in.

_____________________________________________________________

In yesterday’s blog, Kate Copstick also said, attacking audiences who only go to comedy shows featuring performers they have seen on TV:

“I could shit into a bag and, if some high-powered PR person stuck an As Seen on Mock The Week sticker on it, people would come and see it. They genuinely would! This is not good for comedy.”

Mr Methane says:

Gregory the polar  bear from Montreal

Gregory the polar bear – more human than most comedians

“Not being strictly career motivated and having left a large industry with a traditional corporate career structure because abandonment of my core values in exchange for money makes me very ill inside, I didn’t do any networking at Just For Laughs in Montreal but went sightseeing instead… I even bought a real life looking soft toy polar bear called Gregory, who still lives with me to this day. He is actually more memorable and human than most of the festival or its players.

“Hence you see I am still farting around in the shallows of showbusiness, unable to afford a pair of teeth like the ones that adorn the grinning face of John Bishop but I can and have shat in a bag onstage: well not actually a bag, a dustbin. It’s a long story but it got me a lot of respect from the audience at the time – improvisation – Unfortunately, the audience was made up of agricultural students and rugby players with no high-powered PR people present. Consequently it didn’t make Mock The Week.

Mr Methane caught in a rare moment of civilian dress

Mr Methane unusually caught in his civilian dress

“Having said all this I would just like to emphasise that not all comedians are in the ‘not nice’ bracket which me and Kate Copstick allude to – just a healthy majority. Off the top of my head, Australian comedians Steve Hughes and Chris Franklin are the nicest blokes I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I love them both, not in a gay way but like a Viking.

“There are many more who don’t immediately spring to mind but who will know who they are – If you still need reassurance or clarification, email me. To sum up, I think the biggest tragedy of all is that the good guys can end up falling into this negative Me Me Me world, becoming cynical and suspicious of other acts and their motives.”

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