Tag Archives: Johnny Sorrow

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 14: Sad comedy and Alex Salmond’s Comedy Award?

Luca Cupani makes a happy point at today’s Grouchy Club

At the Grouchy Club this afternoon, Kate Copstick got worried about the fact Italian comic Luca Cupani has a new girlfriend. Copstick is of the opinion that happiness is not a good ingredient for a comedian’s emotional make-up and that having children is worse. She lamented good, edgy comedians reduced to talking on-stage about their children’s cuteness.

I tend to agree. I remember Charles Aznavour being asked why all his songs seemed to be unhappy. Why did he never write songs about happiness? He said because, when people are happy, they are pretty-much happy in the same way. But, when people are unhappy, they are uniquely unhappy because of specific circumstances. So their stories are more interesting.

As with songs so, perhaps, with comedy.

Juliette Burton flies high in The Butterfly Effect

This afternoon, I saw Juliette Burton’s Butterfly Effect show in a totally fully room. She has sold out her last two Edinburgh Fringes, her recent Brighton Fringe shows and, so far, every one of her shows at the current Edinburgh Fringe. I know why. She makes audiences happy – and this show is about being kind to other people. The only criticism I have ever heard of her is that she is too Sally Sunshine happy. But, to get there, the actual meat of her shows is a string of madness, emotional turmoil and upset. What holds the happy-making shows together is actually the narrative glue of unhappiness.

Feelgood musical anecdotal autobiographical

Interestingly, tonight I also saw Shit I’m In Love With You Again. This is, in its effect on the audience, a feelgood musical anecdotal autobiographical show from Canadian Comedy Award winner Rachelle Elie. But, though feelgood and jolly, again the narrative goes through unhappiness to get to the comedy and the surprise ending, which may support Copstick’s point.

Meanwhile, as every year, from a slow start, people are now pulling cunning stunts in a desperate bid to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

Nathan Cassidy (see yesterday’s blog) is now claiming the Best MC gong he awarded himself was a Malcolm Hardee Award (rather echoing Cally Beaton, who had already claiming an unconnected award she got last year was a Malcolm Hardee Award).

Man in a balaclava in a corner not saying anything

And, in today’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club, Sir Richard, one half of Bob Blackman’s Tray (the other half being genuine Malcolm Hardee Award winner Johnny Sorrow) sat in a corner and said nothing.

This evening, a webpage appeared, claiming he had been nominated for a new (fictional) award – The Malcolm Hardee Person Most Likely To Sit In The Corner And Not Say Anything Award – and got 5 stars from Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee judge Kate Copstick.

In fact, we do not fully discuss the nominees until noon next Monday.

I can exclusively reveal here, though, that one nominee for a Cunning Stunt Award may be Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond – for hinting on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was going to tell a sadomasochism story involving Kirsty Walk on his Edinburgh Fringe chat show.

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Hell To Play: Alexander Bennett on Gaulier, DeLarge and hypnotising frogs

Alexander Bennett - Hell to Play as the Devil

Alexander Bennett – Hell to Play as Devil

So I met comedy performer Alexander Bennett because he wanted to publicise his show Hell To Play, which is on at the Backyard Comedy Club next Tuesday, 8th December, featuring comics Bec Hill and Andrew O’Neill.

Alexander plays The Devil.

“OK,” I said, “remind me of the elevator pitch for Hell To Play?”

“It is,” he replied, “a gameshow set in Hell hosted by the Devil. Two comedians compete to save their souls and all of the games revolve round people who live in or are destined to go to Hell.

“In Edinburgh, at the Fringe, it was a genuine underground success. We had people coming two or three times to see the show and we filled the room nearly every night. We’re trying to find a London home for it, so we’re doing a Christmas show at the Backyard where, for Christmas, the Devil is going to give people their souls. There’s the potential that I would write a new one every month.”

“Alright,” I told him, putting my iPhone on the table between us. “You know how this works. You get to plug something but you also have to tell me a humorous anecdote about something irrelevant and I will effortlessly blend the two together in an increasingly prestigious way.”

“You’ve got a formula now?” he asked.

“Same as it always was,” I said. “I get other people to come up with ideas for me.”

“I don’t like this at all,” Alexander told me. “You’ve streamlined the process and made it awful. You walk in, you sit down,  you throw a mobile phone at somebody, you get them to do the thing and you say: Right! Were you raped or have you ever been addicted to heroin? and then that’s a blog.”

“That’s it,” I admitted. “And your point is?”

“I went to the University of Westminster,” said Alexander.

“I’d forgotten that,” I said. “That’s a good link. That’s where you, I and Jihadi John, the ISIS beheader, went.”

“Yes,” said Alexander. “And Trisha and Jon Ronson, Charlie Brooker, several members of Pink Floyd…”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere for the blog,” I said.

Eleanor Morton, Joz Norris, Alexander Bennett, Michael , Brunstrom

Alexander in Edinburgh this year with Eleanor Morton, Joz Norris and Michael Brunström

“I’m going to do something different in Edinburgh next year,” suggested Alexander. “I haven’t been brave enough before now to do what I think my solo character should be like.”

“That sounds promising,” I said. “Any heroin or mental homes involved? Are you going to talk about your life?”

“No,” said Alexander. “No heroin or mental homes involved. Sorry. There are various things I would not talk about on stage yet, but I don’t have a problem opening up on stage. I just don’t think it’s particularly interesting. There are a whole streak of comics who think the best way to be a comedian is to really expose your own psychology. “

“Would you go study under Gaulier in Paris?” I ventured.

“If I had the money, I would,” Alexander told me,“because I think it’s interesting. There are some people I really like who have benefitted by going to Gaulier.”

“Well I think,” I told him, “it’s mostly just going on stage, staring at people and waiting for something to happen. I could do that. I suspect he’s destroyed some talented comedians because he tells them to go on stage unscripted and to live in the moment. I think going to Second City in Canada to study improvisation is probably better.”

“That’s probably more up my street,” said Alexander. “But it’s horses for courses. Different things work for different comedians. Gaulier has made some people better; it’s made some worse. It’s the same with the whole opening-up on stage and being yourself. It’s made some comedians better and some worse. The amount of comedians I still see in Edinburgh using it as therapy! That annoys me. Comedy is meant to be an entertainment, even if you’re making a serious point.”

“Have you heard of Stinker Murdoch?” I asked him.

“No. It sounds like a Johnny Sorrow reference.”

(R-L) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and possibly deaf sound man

Johnny Sorrow (right) at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Ah!… “ I said. “Johnny Sorrow!”

“I love Johnny Sorrow,” said Alexander. “Was it you told me he had an audience of Japanese schoolgirls?”

“No.”

“They thought he was brilliant and were trying to take photos of him in action but, every time they raised their cameras, he would stop what he was doing and do a silly pose. Eh? Clifton? The Guv’nor?… Me mother!… It’s a bloody big house!

The best piece of improvisation I’ve ever seen was Johnny Sorrow in the Manchester Comedy Festival at a gig where there were three people in the audience, one of whom was French and Johnny was screaming, standing on a table: You’ll never see this at Jongleurs!”

“You had to be there,” I suggested. “As is often the case with Johnny.”

“Yes. The first time I went to the Edinburgh Fringe,” Alexander continued, “I sat with Richard Rycroft and various people in the flat, doing THAT Johnny Sorrow joke in the way other comedians might tell it. Like Chris Rock.”

“Did you ever see Johnny Immaterial?” I asked. “Great act. Though he didn’t actually HAVE an act. Hello. the name’s immaterial. Johnny Immaterial.

“There’s another interesting guy in the Midlands, “ Alexander told me, “called Lozi Lee, who wanders into punchlines occasionally. These are the strange and interesting people.”

“Did you say you had an interest in hypnotism?” I asked.

“I was afraid of hypnotism,” said Alexander. “It was the only phobia I had. I was afraid of being hypnotised. When I was at film school, I wrote a short film about a hypnotist who did psychic things as well.”

“I think,” I told him, “I would be difficult to hypnotise.”

“The easiest people to hypnotise,” he replied, “are intelligent, imaginative people…”

“Exactly,” I said.

“…because, basically, the person who is being hypnotised is doing all the work themselves, so they need both those qualities to do it. I had a book at university about stage hypnotism.”

“Called?” I asked.

“I can’t remember the title, but it was by Ormond McGill and it gave me a little peek into how the world works. The implications of those things are gargantuan.  How people influence themselves without realising it. “

“Have you used that in your comedy?” I asked.

“The direction I’m trying to take the solo show next year,” he explained, “is that the experience is a little bit like being hypnotised. But it’s not going to be like the stuff I read in the book. You cannot be genuinely funny if you’re a hypnotist, because, for it to work, you need to have a sort of doctorly demeanour – that’s all part of the psychology which makes it work.

“There are comedy hypnotists, but the comedy and the hypnotism are very separated. It’s all presentation. There ARE certainly things like speaking softly: things you would associate with calmness. There are certain tropes like using the word ‘sleep’. Sleep is the wrong word for people who are hypnotised. It looks like they’re sleeping but they’re not.  People who are hypnotised are not unconscious. But, using that word – ’sleep’ – their brains know what to do.

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange

“My solo show is hopefully going to be a bit like when Alex DeLarge has his eyes open in Clockwork Orange. That’s what I’m going for.”

“Have you tried to hypnotise people?” I asked.

“No, because learning how to do it it would take ages and, when I was reading the book, I was reading it at university, so the only people I was interacting with were fellow students or comedians and I couldn’t come across to any of those people in a doctorly, mysterious way. You couldn’t hypnotise a wife or partner or a parent.”

“What about a chihuahua?” I asked.

“There is,” replied Alexander, “a section in the book on how to hypnotise animals.”

“You’re joking.” I said.

“No.”

“But they don’t understand what’s going on,” I said.

“Animals are odd,” explained Alexander, “because they have physical things. The way you hypnotise a frog is you hold it flat, between your two hands, turn it upside down and it will stay there. So it gives the impression of hypnosis. You must know the way to hypnotise a chicken?”

“Must I?” I asked.

“You hold it on the ground so its neck and head are pointing along the ground. Then you get a piece of chalk and draw a white line away from its beak and it will just stay there. You can pick it up and it will be limp and it will take a couple of moments to come to… There is a way of doing rabbits.”

Alexander Bennett and dog

Alexander Bennett with unhypnotised dog

“Are we still talking about hypnotism?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Other animals?”

“A lot of it is just turning them upside down.”

“I tried that with a woman,” I said. “It didn’t work.”

Alexander looked at me.

“No,” I said, “I don’t know what it means either. That’s why I am not a comedian.”

I left soon afterwards.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a financial bribe to win a Malcolm Hardee Award

Joz Norris

Shameless Norris tries to sway my principles

Yesterday, with the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations announced, I bumped into performer Joz Norris in the street, who tried to persuade me it was not too late for him to win for a Cunning Stunt Award.

“What’s your cunning stunt?” I asked.

“Although the nominations have been announced and I’m not in them, you could give me the Award on Friday anyway. That would be a cunning stunt.”

“Why should I?” I asked.

“Because I can give you £10 right now.”

“Times are tough,” I said. “It is a tempting offer. Let me think about it.”

Keep your eyes out for the Awards announcement on Friday and see what my conclusion was.

This morning, I got a Facebook message about the Awards from performer Ashley Frieze. He wrote:

Is there room in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for the “luckiest Fringe venue company”? – It has to go to the Freestival for losing one venue, then another, then all their acts, then having their poorly-attended venue broken into and set on fire… surely… I just wanted to nominate them for something, but “biggest clusterfuck of 50 years of the Fringe” seemed unkind.

I almost regretted the Award shortlist had already been announced on Monday because of some of the shows I saw yesterday.

Not quite… If any of the judges DID see a worthy show, it COULD in theory win because, as a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee, the rules are whatever rules we make up along the way.

(R-L) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and possibly deaf sound man

(Right-to-left) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and their possibly deaf sound man yesterday

The shows I saw yesterday started with former main Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Johnny Sorrow, performing with a man in a balaclava who used to be known as Sir Richard Swann and who is now known as Richard Drake. the last couple of days, he has been coming in to The Grouchy Club and sitting in the corner of the room in his red knitted balaclava saying nothing. He could grow to be an elephant in the room.

He and Johnny Sorrow are performing this year as Bob Blackman’s Tray. they previously performed as The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

Yesterday, when I came into the Three Sisters venue, I bumped into performer Ian Fox who, last year, was helping out the Bob Blackman duo as their sound technician.

“You’re not doing it this year?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “This year, they have a deaf sound technician.”

I think this was literally true. It would be par for the brilliantly surreal course.

While waiting to go into the Bob Blackman show, I just had time for a half hour chat with Irish-born writer Ian Smith, whom I blogged about last month. He lives in Sri Lanka, has just been working in Algeria and is over in Scotland for a week. But we were interrupted. He only had time to tell me that he once opened a Cuban bar in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and that, in 2012, the current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had his iTunes account hacked into and it turned out he was a massive fan of camp novelty group Right Said Fred. Ian wrote about it in his own blog Blood and Porridge.

“I am a big Heavy Metal fan,” Ian told me, “and you never get murderous dictators who are into Heavy Metal.”

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

At this point, we got interrupted by an American girl dressed as a showgirl. She was flyering for her show Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl which, annoyingly, I don’t think I can fit-in in Edinburgh (though I will see it in London).

The show sounds fascinating because it is the story of how she – Amelia Kallman –  went to Shanghai and opened China’s first burlesque nightclub. The Chinese authorities and the Triads were not amused.

Since relocating to the UK, she has lectured at Cambridge University, written a graphic novel, scripts for television and a book also called Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl.

Equally interesting was her husband Norman Gosney who was born in Bristol but lived, for 25 years, in the penthouse of the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York (where he and Amelia ran an illegal speakeasy The Blushing Diamond). It was a conversation we had no time to have, but Norman, Ian Smith and I have all been to North Korea at various points and, when you have, you always want to talk to fellow travellers about it.

There is a promo video for Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl on YouTube.

Other stand-out shows I saw yesterday included Patrick Monahan’s extraordinarily entertaining and energetic audience-thrilling romp The Disco Years. It is his first show where autobiography creeps in but, yet to come, there is still what I suspect will be a humdinger of a future autobiographical Edinburgh show.

Then I was able to catch the end of Spencer Jones’ show as The Herbert in Proper Job – wildly inventive prop-based comedy.

And, when I got back to my Edinburgh flat, there was a message from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith, currently roaming the streets of Edinburgh.

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

We are both enormous fans of gay (it becomes relevant in the next paragraph) American comic David Mills.

“During his show, “Sandra told me, “I said: Oooh look. The ISIS flag is behind you. It really did look like it.”

Actually, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a black flag with a PBH Free Fringe logo.

Equally confusing is a video that has appeared today on YouTube.

On Monday, we nominated Miss Behave for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for putting brown cardboard signs up around town with the hashtag MBGS (tangentially promoting Miss Behave’s Game Show). She claims that it is not her putting up these signs and now this bizarre semi-hidden-camera video has appeared on YouTube.

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After weird comedy, what is next?

Martin Soan in my home

Martin Soan at my home in Borehamwood

“The first time you performed at the Edinburgh Fringe was in the 1970s?” I asked Martin Soan when he came round to help me with something in my home.

“I first went up there in 1971,” he told me. “It was different then. I only remember one street performer.”

“What was he doing?” I asked.

“I’ll give you three guesses.”

“Juggling.”

“No.”

“Fire-eating.”

“No.”

“Buggering budgerigars.”

“No.”

“What?”

“He was playing the bagpipes. There was a leaflet listing the Fringe shows. I think there were only about half a dozen shows. There was a room above a pub with the Cambridge Footlights in. There was an experimental dance piece. There was some sort of classic play.”

“Why did you go up in the first place?”

“Because I knew one of the dancers in the experimental dance piece.”

“The lure of sex.”

“Always. I went up there in 1971, but then I didn’t go up for another 12 or 15 years with The Greatest Show on Legs.”

“How has the Fringe changed?” I asked. “It’s just got commercialised, hasn’t it?”

‘Everybody knows how it’s changed,” said Martin. “That’s an old story.”

“You could make it up,” I said. “Did you know they used to sell fish in The Grassmarket? And whales. That’s why it’s the shape it is.”

Part of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh - once a seething mass of whale meat (Photograph by Kim Traynor

The Grassmarket in Edinburgh – once a thriving whale market (Photograph by Kim Traynor)

“Is that right?” asked Martin.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s a little-known known fact about Edinburgh.”

“Whales?” asked Martin.

“Imagine the shape of The Grassmarket,” I told him. “That’s whale-sized and whale-shaped, isn’t it?… The Gaelic work for ‘whale’ is ‘graas’ – It’s from the Norwegian. Graas. So it became the Graasmarket, where people bought bits of whale.”

“Really?”

“It was always a showbiz area,” I explained. “They used to sing songs in The Grassmarket. Whale Meat Again. That first got popular there.”

“I don’t know,” said Martin. “It’s like asking someone if they’re a vegetarian, then giving them meat but secretly it’s made out of soya or something like that. It’s very weird.”

“It’s not post-modern,” I suggested. “It’s post-weird.”

“That’s the thing,” said Martin. “Where do we go now with comedy if the weird has become the norm? What can be slightly off-kilter from that? I like a good stand-up. I like a good variety act. I like a good weird act. But there’s lots of them now. There’s lots of weird acts.”

Michael Brunström as Mary Quant

Michael Brunström as a whaling Mary Quant

Michael Brunström is weird in a good way,” I said. “I saw him the other day. He was dressed in a toga, impersonating the 1960s designer Mary Quant in what was supposed to be the true story of her whaling trip and it seemed to me that he was speaking in a slight German accent. It was weird. He is weird.”

“You can see the influences coming through now,” said Martin.

“Of Mary Quant?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “But it’s rippling through the comedy circuit. I have now seen three people wearing a saucepan on their head banging it with a stick.”

“Who started that?” I asked. “Spike Milligan?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” replied Martin. “But I think, on this round, the first person I saw do it was Cheekykita – maybe with a crash helmet on. Now there are loads of people banging their heads.”

“It could,” I said, “be Johnny Sorrow’s influence with the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.”

“It is difficult to know where you go from weird,” said Martin.

“You must have a lot of original acts approaching you to appear at Pull The Other One,” I said. (Martin runs a monthly comedy variety show.)

“I’m trying to get back to true variety,” Martin told me. “I would love to put on stage people who don’t normally go on stage but who are brilliant performers. But it takes a lot of diplomacy. I really want to book – and have tried to book but failed – one of those guys who sells knives at stations.

“They sell kitchen equipment and stuff like that. They normally have one of those little Beyoncé mics and an assistant and they have a whole box of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions and their patter is: The time you waste finely-chopping onions, ladies! Just buy one of these Acme vegetable choppers. you take off the blades like this. You wash it like this. Then you get your onion. Bang! Bang! Bang! Finely chopped! Not only will I give you that and attachments for beautifully, artistically-sliced cucumbers but you can even core a cauliflower!

A cauliflower could lead to comedy

A cauliflower could lead to comedy

“I would love to get one of those guys up on stage during a show. If you just put them in a different situation, like a comedy club, they would ham it up even more. So I’m thinking about that.”

“And you could share the profit on knife sales,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” said Martin unenthusiastically.

“Or,” I suggested. “you could sell yourself to a shopping channel. They have all these embarrassed-looking out-of-work actors selling things for two hours in dull sets. Instead, they could have a surreal comedy show that sells things.”

“I am,” said Martin, “thinking opera singers and quartets at Pull The Other One.”

“I am,” I told him, “thinking opera singers on shopping channels selling vegetable cutters.”

“If,” he continued, “you think of your average comedy evening, one stand-up makes the audience laugh and the others don’t.  I want to do shadow shows and UV theatre, but good ones.”

“I’m sure,” I said, “that audiences at comedy clubs are getting tired of five stand-up acts in a row and, if they’re young male acts, they’re all talking about wanking because that’s all they know. There should be a ban on wanking references in comedy clubs. And there could be an untapped audience for people selling kitchen knives.”

There is a video on YouTube of Bob Blackman singing Mule Train while hitting himself on the head with a metal tray.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick on what she likes and giving 1 & 2-star reviews

Copstickeither yawning or orgasming on a tow horse. It is difficult to be conclusive

Copstick in her Mama Biashara charity shop in London, either yawning or orgasming on a toy horse.

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are reviving our Grouchy Club chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August and also doing it as a one-off in London on 22nd February during a Jewish Comedy Day. (Neither of us is Jewish, but we are both Scottish and they are paying a fee).

“Initially, I wanted to be an actress,” Copstick told me this week, “because then I would never need to be myself. But I have never wanted to be a stand-up comic.

“Why?”

“Because a good stand-up comic is about being yourself. In the very short time that I did try stand-up, the primary thing that was wrong with me was there was nobody there.”

“Well,” I told her: “You say you didn’t want to be yourself, but you are the most opinionated, apparently-self-confident big-mouth in town. Your reviews are full of your own character. You would admit your reviews can be acerbic?”

“Yes.”

“So isn’t that cowardly? You don’t want to be yourself as a stand-up comedian to say what you think to people’s faces; but you can acerbic behind a pen”

“Maybe it is cowardly,” replied Copstick, “but, if someone gave me the chance to do a live review show I would happily do that. I happily sit in The Grouchy Club and rip into shows and criticise people. But that’s not stand-up. Stand-up is self-motivating and, the older I get, the more I realise not everyone is remotely interested in what I want to chunter on about.”

“Why are they interested?” I asked. “You clearly are the most influential and feared critic at the Edinburgh Fringe. Is it because you’ve been around so long? – You started in 1999.”

“No,” said Copstick, “I’m a good critic because I’m honest – sometimes brutally. I know what I’m talking about. I can communicate my thoughts well.”

“You say you know what you’re talking about,” I argued, “but you’ve not done stand-up properly. “

“I know enough about stand-up as the audience and about comedy in general. I think it’s a good thing to be able to criticise with inside knowledge but, on the other hand, there is absolutely no point saying: This guy was absolutely dreadful, but I feel his pain and I know what it’s like and, frankly, the audience was dreadful. That is not a valid critique.”

“Are you open-minded?” I asked.

“Very open-minded. Much more than I used to be. I’m happy to give anything a chance.”

“What did you used to be closed-minded about?”

“I used to be much more likely to go folded-armed and pursed-lipped at some free-form craziness. I used to require ‘form’. I used to think: I want to see this is a show. I want to see you’ve thought about this. I want to see you have not just wandered on-stage and are burbling to me.”

“And now you like Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Yes. Quite possibly Lewis Schaffer in 1999 might have driven me absolutely crazy.”

“At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “I know you saw Njambi McGrath’s show Bongolicious, but decided not to review it. Why?”

Njambi McGrath - Bongolicious

Njambi McGrath -“Brilliant” Fringe show

“It was listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme and it wasn’t a comedy show. I thought it was a brilliant show, but not a comedy show. In the criminal areas of auto-theft, they call it a cut-and-shunt: you take the front half of one car and the back end of another car and slam them together. She had a strange little 10-minute warm-up at the start and then this EXTRAORDINARILY powerful piece of theatre about the atrocities perpetrated by white colonists in Kenya. I wrote little bits about it elsewhere, where I was not required to put a star-count on it… It was a brilliant show, but was not a 5-star comedy show. It was in the wrong section of the Fringe Programme and it would have been unfair to review it as Comedy.”

“You were telling me at the Fringe,” I said, “what you sometimes do when you write a 1-star or 2-star review of a comedy show.”

“I am hired as a critic,” said Copstick. “I have to say what I think and feel, otherwise I would just be a PR. But I think all performers deserve a fighting chance and I am, after all, only one person. If I really loathe the show, I try to make my review as entertaining as possible and as polemical as possible because I know a 1-star review will sell almost as many tickets as a 5-star review and, if you make your 1-star review polemical enough, people will go Oh my God! I have to see that! because everyone wants to see a car crash.”

“So,” I said, “in a way, a 2-star review could be worse than a 1-star review.”

“What I try to do in a 2-star review,” explained Copstick, “is seed it with combinations of words or even just one word which, if the performer is smart, they can ‘pull’ a quote from that I am happy for them to mis-use.

“The late, usually-great, Jason Wood did a show once which I thought was just appalling. It was lazy, using old stuff – ten years after people had died, he was doing half-baked impressions of them – I was really angry because Jason was a funny, funny, clever, talented guy. I ripped into the show and gave him a 1-star review but, by midnight that night, the Assembly Rooms where he was performing (under its previous owners) had big banners all over the place saying:

“A STAR!” (KATE COPSTICK, THE SCOTSMAN)

Copstick does not mind taking the piss - in this case to her doctor

Copstick likes taking the piss – in this case to her own doctor

“It was brilliant! Brilliant! Just wonderful. I am devastated to say that The Scotsman made him take the quote down. But I thought it was brilliant. If performers can be creative with their show and I can be creative with my review, then why can’t they be creative with my review of their show?

“The FringePig website – which popped up last year and which reviewed the Fringe reviewers – they did a review of me and it was surprisingly accurate. One of the things they picked up on was that now I absolutely love a maverick – Johnny Sorrow, Bob Slayer, for godsake.

“Again, we’re back to honesty and passion. I would rather see Bob Slayer – honesty, passion and drink – than some pointless, say-nothing, manufactured wannabe. Now that comedy has become an industry, one of the things that is wrong is a load of people coming in thinking Oh! I can be the next Jack Whitehall! and they stand up and are a kind of manufactured persona. There’s no real person there.

“Someone like Simon Munnery ought to get a bloody knighthood. He’s been nurturing his crazy since most of the people on stage now were foetuses.”

“You should get back on stage,” I suggested.

“I am peripherally involved in a comedy show at the Fringe this year… as well as The Grouchy Club and The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.”

“Are you?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s about assisted suicide.”

“Ah! The Exit guy!” I said.

“Yes. Philip Nitschke.”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke – ‘Dr Death’ does stand-up comedy

“Are you going to be killed every day?” I asked.

“No, I’m sort-of directing it. Philip is the most wonderful guy, though it’s very difficult to get him into the country because they ask: Have you come in to kill people? – No, I’m coming in to do a comedy show in Edinburgh.

“The show is Philip and female stand-up Mel Moon, who suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.

“I love the idea, because it’s a way of using comedy to get across an incredibly powerful message. I think you can ‘kick a lot of ass’ comedically or satirically that you can’t do when presenting it straight. So we’re doing satirical sketches. Hopefully I’m also filming a documentary, looking at previews, people’s reactions, the creative process. It’s part of a bigger idea.”

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Comic Martin Soan might be a genius. Comedian Bob Slayer could be a fool.

“I don’t know why Mercedes-Benz have never used that in an advertisement,” Martin Soan said to me yesterday.

A triple-bladed wind turbine as seen on a 12-hour train trip

A triple-bladed wind turbine as seen on our 12-hour train trip

We were looking at the triple blades of a wind turbine machine in a field somewhere in the former West Germany as we passed during our 12-hour rail trip back to the UK.

It is a simple idea – seeing wind turbine blades and thinking of a ‘green’ ad image for Mercedes-Benz.

But it is a simple, obvious idea which almost no-one else except Martin would ever spot.

Mercedes_benz_silverlogo

Triple-bladed wind turbine as seen by Martin

Which is what makes his comedy ideas on stage so original – performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller wearing five rubber bands; performing the Red Arrows’ aerial acrobatics as the Red Sparrows with giant red cardboard cut-out sparrows, choreographing the Greatest Show On Legs’ naked balloon dance with a handful (and mouthful) of balloons.

Martin Soan in full jester garb last night

Martin Soan in a pub

Martin is currently the official 2013-2014 ‘Fool’ at Muncaster Castle in the UK.

Which came to mind when I woke up this morning to three e-mails from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. Attached to the e-mails were three photographs of a man in a jester’s costume in Vancouver.

Arty the Jester in Vancouver

Arty the Jester in Vancouver, a potential Fool

“Arty would like information about Jester gigs over in the UK,” Anna told me. “Are there any dry castles coming up soon? He just needs a little break from all the men in Vancouver who won’t stop trying to wine and dine him, pick him up at work or get him to pose in the nude for artistic purposes. Here is a picture of him on Denman Street, after a chilly day of performing at the aquarium. I ought to ask him if he would also consider work as a lady lifter.”

“Well,” I replied, “Martin Soan is currently Muncaster Castle’s Fool. It’s the place where Tom Fool used to be jester and is the origin of the term ‘tomfoolery’. See my 2013 blog. Their contest to find a 2014-2015 fool held is on 29th May this year.

Another e-mail in my Inbox this morning was from comedian Bob Slayer, who is running a venue – Heroes @ Hansom Hall – as part of the current Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival.

I would not dare say he is a prime candidate for Fool.

Well, OK, I would.

Bob Slayer in Leicester last Friday

Bob Slayer at Dave’s Leicester Festival last year

He told me that, last weekend, there was a good-sized audience at his venue waiting to see The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society featuring Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Johnny Sorrow.

Bob Blackman was a man who, in the 1970s, became famous for appearing on television and hitting a metal tray on his head while singing the song Mule Train.

Bob Slayer is not a man who is averse to drinking. Excessively.

A few days before last weekend’s show – due to extremely serious circumstances genuinely beyond their control – The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society had sent Bob Slayer an e-mail telling him they would not be able to make the show. Bob had forgotten this.

He had also forgotten he had replied to them in an e-mail, giving his genuine sympathies for their unfortunate reasons.

“This certainly highlights,” Bob told me in his e-mail to me this morning, “the dangers of me responding to my e-mails late at night after a long session ‘testing’ the Brewdog Beers for our bar…”

When Bob Slayer suddenly remembered, moments before the allotted show started, that the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society were not coming, he turned to absurdist comedian Adam Larter and “suggested that we had two options: We can either tell them that the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society has had to cancel and offer to entertain them ourselves OR we simply go on stage and show them what the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society would have done if they had been there… 

There is a clip of the real Bob Blackman Appreciation Society in action on YouTube.

“I picked up the back stage microphone,” Bob Slayer told me in his e-mail this morning, “and began a prolonged introduction from behind the wings, which involved asking the room to select one person to count down from 37, then announced: You may have seen him before, but never quite like this. Please welcome the one, the only, the very real and original Bob Blackman… 

“I bounded out to the closest thing Luke the sound tech could find to Mule Train – well, I think it was a Chuck Berry rock & roll song – and repeatedly banged myself over the head with a tin sign for Brewdog Beers. Adam occasionally wandered back and forth behind me in nothing but a pair of orange tights.”

Later, in what I suspect might have seemed quite a confusing show, Adam became a ventriloquist’s dummy and Bob Slayer tells me that Adam “unexpectedly pulled a bag of skittles out of his tights and ate them” (the skittles).

This seemed a bit extreme, even for Adam, until I realised Bob Slayer meant a bag of Skittles (children’s sweets) not a bag of actual skittles.

Although, on the other hand…

Anyway, Adam then announced to the audience: “I think that maybe you now all know that The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society are unfortunately not able to be here tonight…”

But, Bob Slayer told me this morning, “it seems no-one ever believes that a comedian on stage is telling the truth and the confusion continued. I fuelled the confusion further with the statement: …which is, of course, exactly what an act like The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society would say.”

There is a clip of the original Bob Blackman on YouTube. He is not to be confused with The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

“Adam Larter then announced: “We are Not The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society and we are not here tonight…” and, says Bob Slayer, “we continued for at least the next hour with random sound effects from Luke the sound tech.

“There was dancing, chair balancing. impersonations of the audience, complete silence and a whole host of other nonsense. I ended up dressed as a sailor while Adam monologued about the nature of comedy as a faux Jason Manford. We labelled one man The Reviewer and chastised him for his inability to understand comedy and recognise that he wasn’t even reviewing the right act. Joe Davies, Ben Target and Matt Highton joined in towards the end dressed as a builder, a cowboy and a sex god and we did a karaoke singalong of YMCA.

“I hope you will be at the next Not The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society gig, possibly next weekend at Heroes @ Hansom Hall.”

Bob Slayer. Fool? Or shrewd publicist? The jury is out. But possibly not for long.

Juliette Burton + camels. We’re definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

Juliette Burton + camels. We’re definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

After reading Bob Slayer’s e-mail, I opened the next one in my Inbox. It was from Juliette Burton, en route to Australia to tour her show When I Grow Up. Attached was a photograph of Juliette apparently doing an impression of the Hunchback of Notre Dame with camels behind her. There was no explanation. I think she is in Dubai. She might be on Tatooine. She is definitely not in Kansas any more, Toto.

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Does comedian Lewis Schaffer want to be very famous without being famous?

Last night: The worried man who is Lewis Schaffer

At my home last night: A worried man who is Lewis Schaffer

“This is the year I’ve gotten old,” Brian Simpson said to me last night – New Year’s Eve. “What is Lewis Schaffer going to do in 2014? What is Lewis Schaffer’s New Year’s resolution going to be?”

“To be famous,” I suggested.

Brian Simpson, from Brownhills in England’s West Midlands, is the character comedian who plays the part of American Lewis Schaffer on-stage (and now, most of the time, off-stage too). He spent New Year’s Eve at my home with me and my eternally-un-named friend.

“2013 was the year Lewis Schaffer got old,” he repeated. “My hair went grey.”

“No it didn’t,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “You just stopped dying it black.”

“OK, I stopped dying it,” agreed Lewis Schaffer. “But I’m surrounded by young people and it’s really bothering the hell out of me.”

“I find young people a bit dull, “ said my eternally-un-named friend.

“I don’t find them dull,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t find anybody dull… except Lewis Schaffer. How can anyone be interested in anything Lewis Schaffer says? The more slightly famous I get, the more people are coming up to me and being involved in Lewis Schaffer’s world and the less happy I am. Not that I could be any less happy than I am now.”

Lewis Schaffer with a cuddly badger on New Year’s Eve

Lewis Schaffer with a cuddly badger on New Year’s Eve

“Why do you get less happy if more people are interested in Lewis Schaffer?” I asked.

“Because they can only be disappointed,” said Lewis Schaffer, “and it can only get worse and it can only go back to where it was.

“I’m happy that I’m doing better. But the more people come up to me, I’m thinking: Where were you two years ago or five years ago? Did you call me then? Were you interested in me then?

“Members of the public?” I asked.

“Mostly other comedians,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” I said, “if club owners and promoters want to book you, you’re worried about working for them because they didn’t want to book you when you were not such a good act?”

“Even if I am better,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there’s always the chance things can go wrong. People are booking me now because they’re just reacting to some sort of increased interest in Lewis Schaffer without taking into account what Lewis Schaffer is really all about.”

“So what is Lewis Schaffer really all about?” I asked.

“It’s about chaos,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s about going into a place and creating a level of chaos that shakes things up and that, hopefully, people find interesting.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re just rationalising the fact you prefer not to keep to a script.”

“Yes, I am rationalising it,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but I have to figure out what the benefits of it are. There are benefits to everything.”

“What’s the benefit of being more famous?” I asked. “More money. More recognition. More ability to do what you want to do.”

“More money,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Yes, I’d like more money. Money is really, really, really good.”

Lewis Schaffer and my eternally-un-named friend last night

Lewis Schaffer and my eternally-un-named friend last night

“Do you think you’ll stay in your flat in Nunhead for the next ten years?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“No.”

“What would you like to do?”

“I’d like to move back home to Brownhills.”

“The only other person I know from Brownhills,” I said, “is Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley. I booked him on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross in 1987. He plays the electric organ with his nose. He got in touch with me again recently. He’s playing gigs in Blackpool clubs and hotels as part of a singing duo. Did you know him in Brownhills?”

“No,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “What sort of songs do this duo sing in Blackpool?”

“I don’t know,” I explained. “That’s all he told me: that he was in a singing duo. According to his Facebook page, from April to November 2011, he was a donkey minder at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.”

“What about Erin O’Connor?” Lewis Schaffer asked me.

“Who?” I asked.

“Erin O’Connor,” Lewis Schaffer repeated. “She’s an English model. I taught her when I was teaching the drama group at Brownhills Community School.”

“Have you ever actually been to America?” I asked.

“A couple of weeks ago, I did this online ad for Skype/Toshiba. I was in London and I talked to people on the street in New York. I’m only in it twice – for about ten seconds!”

“Last Friday and Saturday,” he continued, “I did a couple of private parties in the West Midlands. I do these amazing gigs there every six months in one of those run-down old pubs; Lewis Schaffer is a huge hit in Cradley Heath.”

“I think Johnny Sorrow’s very popular up there too,” I said.

“I’m a huge hit,” Lewis Schaffer continued.

“Johnny Sorrow won the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award,” I added.

“It’s a small room,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “but we sell out these shows. They start at 8.00pm and they usually last about four hours with three or four breaks.”

“Just you?” I asked.

“Just me, doing all of my comedy. It’s like luxuriated comedy. I go there every six months and someone who was there invited me to do his own private party.”

“A sex party?” I asked.

“No,” said Lewis. “A Seventies theme party.”

“A sex party for people in their Seventies?” I asked.

“No,” said Lewis, “a 1970s theme party. And the guy promised to make me a pair of glasses.”

“So you said, for the price of a pair of spectacles…”

Lewis Schaffer has a connection with American Psycho

Lewis Schaffer linked to American Psycho

“And some money,” he added. “When Lewis Schaffer was in New York, he was actually sponsored by the Oliver Peoples company – the people who made the famous Oliver Peoples glasses from American Psycho, the movie. Remember in American Psycho the glasses were mentioned?”

“No,” I said.

“I used to wear the same glasses,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “as the guy in American Psycho.”

“So they based him on you?” I asked.

“Except the guy was successful,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “But, as soon as I become famous, people will be tired of me. Look, on New Year’s Eve I’m with you, John Fleming, and your eternally-un-named friend. What does that say about me? I’m in this house of yours, which is like my ex-wife’s aunt’s house in Elgin in Scotland.”

“Elgin?????” burst out my eternally-un-named friend. “I lived in Lossiemouth, which is just north of Elgin. My father was in the RAF and got posted there when I was about 17. It was the most foreign country I’d ever been to.”

“Scotland?” I asked, surprised.

“It is very foreign,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes!” enthused my eternally-un-named friend, “because, in every other country, you go out shopping with your mother and, at some point, she always says: We’ll have tea and a cake. So that’s what you look forward to. A tea and a cake. But in Elgin, you go round the town and you go for tea and… no cakes. There was only a dry oat biscuit without even any butter on it. And you think: Hello! I’ve lived in Cyprus, I’ve lived in Germany, I’ve lived in Southampton, I’ve lived in Devon. They had meringues in Devon. In Germany, they had Black Forest cakes.

A Black Forest cake from Germany

A recently produced Black Forest cake from a united Germany

“They have amazing cakes,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Scotland was the only country without cakes,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“The English stole our cakes,” I told her.

“Everywhere else does cakes and treats,” continued my eternally-un-named friend.

“The bastard English stole our cakes,” I insisted. “We had cakes before the English came.”

“Then you heard people kept porridge in a drawer for twenty years,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Or maybe less. Anyway, they kept porridge in drawers.”

“In drawers?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, that’s what you heard,” insisted my eternally-un-named friend. “If you bought a chest of drawers, you wouldn’t be surprised to find some porridge in the corner of a drawer.”

“Why?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“That’s what they do up there,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Then my parents divorced, because my mother couldn’t take it. After a year, she said: I’ve had enough of this. I’ll go back down to the South of England and open a nursery school. So my father commuted every weekend. He drove down in a Dormobile and slept in lay-bys on the way down and found people killing themselves with their exhaust pipes.”

“Did he really see that?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Or did he just say that?”

“I would think he saw it,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “He was in the RAF. He was that sort of person. He would notice things.”

“People are starting to notice me,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m not sure I like it.”

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