Tag Archives: Jonathan Ross

How to think up a title for your very first Edinburgh Fringe comedy show

First of all, think of it not from your viewpoint but from the viewpoint of the punters and the reviewers.

In my opinion, you should have a title which starts in the first half of the alphabet.

ZEBRA JOKES FOR FOLKS may seem like a good title, but punters looking through the Fringe Programme start at the front and work through looking for attractive shows. So they go A-B-C-D-E etc etc.

By the time they get to M or N, after literally hundreds of shows, they are starting to skim the listings, their eyes are glazing over and the time slots they want to fill-up already have multiple shows vying for their attention. By the time they get to Z, they probably wish they had never had the idea of going to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place..

For this reason, the late Malcolm Hardee used to start his titles with Aaaaargh!… increasing the length of the Aaaaaaaarghs year-by-year to out-manoeuvre copycats.

He was almost always first in the Fringe Programme’s comedy section listings.

In Edinburgh in August, you are not the only show in town…

Don’t go for Aaaaaaargghh! The market for it is already full. But I suggest you have a first word which starts with a letter between A and M.

Using the title A ZEBRA SHOW probably will not work because A and THE tend to be ignored by the Programme’s alphabetical listers.

Also, in my opinion, you should have your name in the title because, ultimately, the reason you are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is to sell yourself and awareness of yourself to punters and to the media – NOT primarily the show.

Jonathan Ross first became famous on the Channel 4 show THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS.

No-one knew who the fuck Jonathan Ross was when it started (not the punters; not TV industry people) but, because the show was good, they inevitably got to know his name. Every time the show was mentioned or printed, his name was publicised because it was in the title.

Another important thing is DO NOT BE TOO CLEVER with a title. Achieving impact is more important than being seen to be clever-clever. The more clever a title is, very often the more confusing, obscure and – when glimpsed for 1½ seconds on a flyer or in the very cluttered listings page in the Programme – possibly the more incomprehensible it is – especially to people from the US, Oz, Europe etc. The dividing line between being intriguing and confusing & annoying is narrow.

Your self-explanatory title has to stand out without an image

You only have 1 to 1½ seconds at very most for the title to register in people’s brains as they skim through listings, see your flyer among many or see your poster among many 15 feet away across a street.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Sucker.

The other thing to remember is that, in lists of “Today’s Shows” – either in The Scotsman newspaper or on a board at the venue or elsewhere – the punters only see the title in isolation – they may well NOT have read your 40 carefully-crafted words in the Fringe Programme. So your sole sales pitch to the punters who have never heard of you and who have no idea what your show is about is the title.

My inclination would be to figure out what TYPE of comedy show it is going to be.

Then figure out three words which make that obvious.

Then make them jolly and attractive (no easy feat).

And mix your name in there somehow.

I know that, when the Fringe Programme deadline comes, you will almost certainly have very little idea what is actually going to be in your show. But is it satire? Quick fire gags? Stories? Autobiographical? Physical comedy? Gay? Variety? Sketch? Surreal? Rude? Clean? Cutting-edge? Clowny? Family?

As a punter, if I see a general show title from a performer I have not seen, I have no idea what the show is like. It could be any of the above categories. If it is in a simple Daily Listing in a paper, in a magazine or on a board, there is not even a flyer or poster image. Just the title.

So the title on its own has to tell the punters – or at least hint – what TYPE of comedy show it will be.

Someone like Jimmy Carr does not need to do this. Because people know what to expect. They know who Jimmy Carr is and they know he is not a comedy magician or a juggler or a drag act.

Janey Godley is unusual in that her name will bring in punters

Someone like Janey Godley can get away with titles using puns on her name because she has a big existing audience in Edinburgh. So For Godley’s Sake! will work for her. The word GODLEY will get in her dependable audience.

But, the punters probably have no idea who you are – it is your first Fringe show. Remember that, defying expectations, a large percentage of your audience is likely to be local NOT from London. All the Fringe Office research I have ever seen seems to confirm this.

Another bonus to a clearly-defined title is that the title – as well as helping the punters know roughly what your show is about – will actually concentrate your own mind on exactly what the show is about and will stop you whizzing off in all sorts of irrelevant directions. Everything in the show should relate directly to the title.

And don’t use meaningless words – every word has to actually mean something. This is more important in the text rather than the title, but…

“Hilarious” and “rib-tickling” mean bugger-all.

Your show is in the Comedy section fer feck’s sake. Every show can say it is “hilarious”. What is your show’s Unique Selling Proposition? Why is it better and more interesting that the other zillions of comedy shows yelling for attention?

Do not even THINK about being zany!

Meaningless words like “wacky” and “zany” are actually suicidal. If any experienced reviewer sees those words in the description, it screams “18-year-old University student wankers who think they are funny and want to be famous and fêted”. It is like people putting up signs saying: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.

These “wacky” and “zany” shows are almost guaranteed to be laughter disasters. I would personally avoid like the plague seeing any show describing itself as “wacky” or “zany” and I would be more likely to go see a comedy show calling itself “Satanic” than one claiming it is “hilarious”.

In my opinion.

But that don’t mean a thing.

The other vitally important factor to bear in mind is the oft-repeated refrain from William Goldman’s book Adventures in The Screen Trade – “Nobody KNOWS anything”.

However experienced or knowledgable anyone is, they don’t KNOW what will work.

You have to ultimately go on your gut instinct, have self-confidence and ignore any advice you think is wrong.

Don’t forget you can probably change the name of your show either until you submit it or until the final deadline for the Fringe Programme (both have been the case in past years) or until some arbitrary date that the Fringe Office may conjure up.

Because, just as this may be your first year at the Fringe, so it is for a lot of the people working for the Fringe Office, many of whom change from year to year.

Richard Herring had to splurge out his ‘O’

There was one inglorious year – 2012 – when a completely barking mad person was in charge of the printed Programme. I blogged about it at the time – here and here and elsewhere.

2012 was the year poor Richard Herring had his show asterisked TALKING C*CK despite the fact that the origin of the word ‘cock’ in that phrase is not sexual (it comes from ‘cock & bull story’) and despite the fact that his original show TALKING COCK had been printed in the Fringe Programme with impunity ten years before, in 2002.

In 2009, I staged a show which the Fringe Programme had happily printed as  AAAAAAAAAARRGHHH! IT’S BOLLOCK RELIEF! – THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW. They would never have allowed that in 2012 and that had nothing to do with changing public taste but with individual stupidity in the Fringe Office.

Never assume anyone anywhere in Edinburgh in August is sensible.

2012 was the year the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was UNacceptable by the Fringe Office but the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK was totally acceptable (with an exclamation mark replacing the I)… and Australian comedian Jon Bennett intended to perform his first Edinburgh Fringe show: PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK.

The show’s title had been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. But the Edinburgh Fringe Office that year insisted the word COCK had to be changed to C*CK.

Mindless Fringe Office censored the word but not the image

To make matters even more ludicrous, the word had to be printed C*CK in the Programme listings, but the image for the show (also printed in the Programme) had the word COCK rising erect from a man’s groin.

The same Programme happily printed the show title MOLLY WOBBLY’S TIT FACTORY, a show by KUNT AND THE GANG and Reginald D Hunter’s show WORK IN PROGRESS…AND NIGGA while banning another comedian’s show title because it included three dollar signs in a row –  $$$ – which, it was claimed, did not fit ‘the Fringe’s house style’.

Always assume that everyone in Edinburgh in August is on some hallucinogenic drug or has a severe personality disorder. This assumption has served me well.

Never assume anything at the Fringe is easy or anyone is sane.

Most importantly, do remember that the title of your show is all about self-promotion, not necessarily about the show itself.

One template which I do recommend for any Edinburgh Fringe show title is:

AAAAAAARGH! I LISTENED TO JOHN FLEMING AND THAT IS WHY I, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), HAVE THIS CRAP TITLE FOR MY (INSERT YOUR GENRE HERE) COMEDY SHOW.

Trust me.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Edinburgh

Sachsgate & the Mail on Sunday – How people became offended second hand

Mark Boosey at Brunel University yesterday

Mark Boosey at Brunel University yesterday

Yesterday, I was at Brunel University in London, where their Centre For Comedy Studies Research had a panel discussion on Comedy, Class and Offence.

Mark Boosey, esteemed and eternally mysterious British Comedy Guide boss, brought up the 2008 ‘Sachsgate Affair’ in which vast offence was reported after a BBC Radio 2 edition of The Russell Brand Show.

On the show, Russell and guest co-presenter Jonathan Ross had phoned up actor Andrew Sachs (Manuel in Fawlty Towers) to invite him on as a guest. When he did not answer the phone, four messages were left mentioning that Russell had had sex with Sachs’ granddaughter, who was one of the performers in a ‘baroque dance group’ called Satanic Sluts.

Some extracts from the messages are below:

Sachsgate - BBC picture

MESSAGE ONE
Jonathan Ross: ”He fucked your granddaughter… “

MESSAGE TWO
Russell Brand: “I wore a condom.”

MESSAGE THREE
Jonathan Ross: “She was bent over the couch…”

This caused a furore. And Ofcom fined the BBC £150,000.

However, yesterday, Mark Boosey gave the timeline for the public’s outrage:

SATURDAY 18th OCTOBER 2008
The pre-recorded show was transmitted.

SUNDAY 19th OCTOBER
The BBC noted two complaints in its log of listeners’ views. One referred directly to the Andrew Sachs section.

Mail on Sunday - Sachsgate

The Mail on Sunday’s trigger for Sachsgate

SUNDAY 26th OCTOBER
Eight days after the broadcast, the Mail On Sunday ran a main story on the Andrew Sachs answerphone messages.

MONDAY 27th OCTOBER
The BBC received 1,585 complaints.

TUESDAY 28th OCTOBER
The total number of complaints rose to 4,772.

WEDNESDAY 29th OCTOBER
By 10.00am, the number of complaints had reached 18,000 and, at 11.30am, the BBC suspended Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. At 5.45pm, Russell Brand quit his show.

THURSDAY 30th OCTOBER
By 11.30am, the number of complaints had reached 30,500. At 5.50pm, BBC Controller of Radio 2 Lesley Barber resigned. At 6.21pm, with complaints now at 37,500, the BBC announced Jonathan Ross was being suspended without pay for 12 weeks.

FRIDAY 7th NOVEMBER
Radio 2’s Head of Compliance, David Barber, resigned.


Mark Boosey yesterday pointed out that only two people who heard the broadcast on transmission had been offended (perhaps only one) and it had taken eight days for 1,583 other people to have been offended second-hand.

What it all proves I do not know, but it must prove something. I personally thought what was broadcast (which I have listened to) was way-way-over-the-line into unacceptable offensiveness.

Yet, on 9th November 2008, Russell Brand told the Observer that what had been broadcast had been “toned down”: that “the worst bits” were cut out before the broadcast – presumably they believed the new version was not offensive.

I guess it also shows that, in a world of instant TV, radio and internet, newspapers still have a big effect. And it had a lasting effect even after it ‘ended’.

On Friday 21st November 2008, after publishing a report on the incident, the BBC Trust said that a list of “high-risk radio programmes” should be put together to prevent a repeat of what happened.

That is simultaneously sensible and unsettling and the BBC have, arguably, been running scared ever since.

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The repeated re-invention of Tom Jones

Martin Soan in the O2 before the show started

Martin Soan discovers butterflies in stomach before the show

Last night, with comedy performer Martin Soan, I went to the O2 Arena in London to see a gig by Tom Jones and Van Morrison.

Both Martin and I are frightened of heights. Well, he is frightened of heights. I am frightened of overbalancing. So I cannot walk across the new Hungerford foot bridge over the Thames, which has no visible supports when you are on it – I can only get about 40% of the way across and then I want to throw myself down on the tarmac and hold onto the surface for dear life.

Tom Jones - the original Henry Fielding film one

Tom Jones – the original movie one

It dates back to a childhood incident.

You had to be there.

Suffice it to say that the O2 Arena is so steeply tiered that only abseilers or bungee-jumpers can feel 100% safe.

The only previous time I was there, my eternally-un-named friend tied herself to the armrest with a scarf.

But I am glad I went last night.

Tom Jones is an example to all performers of all kinds that perpetual re-invention is a good, indeed necessary, thing.

I am old enough to remember seeing his first few appearances on British TV when he tended to wear a white flowing shirt and have his hair tied into what was almost a pony tail at the back. The image was almost of a novelty act because…

… of course, he took his stage name from Tony Richardson’s film of Henry Fielding’s bawdy romp Tom Jones which had made the hairstyle trendy.

That initial surge of success took him to Las Vegas.

But, by 1987, his star – in the UK at least – was slightly fading. Then he appeared on Channel 4’s The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross. The programme’s researcher Graham K Smith (later Commissioner for Comedy & Entertainment at both Channel 4 and Five) used to handle music on the show and refused to let artists perform their latest release or songs they were famous for. He insisted on something the audience would not expect and persuaded Tom to sing Prince’s Kiss which, as far as I remember, created another surge in his career.

And now, of course, Tom Jones is seen in the UK as one of the judges on BBC1’s The Voice – although he lives in Los Angeles.

It is all a matter of perception.

I tried to persuade Martin Soan to explore the possibility of going to China to expand his career.

“You’re ideal,” I told him. “Your act is not language-based. It’s visual. It’s surreal. It’s performance art. There are bits of mime-like things in there. Puppets. Strange characters. Bright colours. Strange props. Experimental. The Chinese would love it. You could even take Punch & Judy there.”

But I think Martin’s mind was on butterflies.

My mind was on Hungerford Bridge.

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Janey Godley on awards, a rat and c**ts

Janey gave me a warm welcome this evening

Janey gave me a warm welcome this evening

My Scots comedy chum Janey Godley is down in London this week, from Glasgow.

I met up with her this evening for a chat.

“I’ll give ye a blog,” she told me. “What do you want me tae talk aboot?”

And, before I could reply, she started:

“I’ve stopped smoking for a month now,” she said, “and I’m on a diet, so my whole family have been put into the witness protection programme while that happens. And, if you talk to me about it, I’ll stab ye.”

“Well,” I said, “No change there, then.”

‘It’s hard to stop smoking,” she continued, “but to stop smoking AND go on a diet isn’t really that much harder cos you’re using the same willpower for both.”

“I would have thought,” I said, “that it must make you twice as angry as normal – but maybe that’s not possible with you.”

“That,’ said Janey, “is what (Janey’s nameless husband) says: How can we tell the difference?”

Janey looked over her shoulder.

“There’s really loud people behind me,” she said, “who deserve to be stabbed. But I’m really excited cos I’m up for four Scottish Comedy Awards on 27th April. have you voted for me yet?”

“Yes,” I said quickly.

“I won the Podcast one last year,” she told me. “This year, I’m up for Best Headliner, Best Compere, Best Podcast again and Best Festival/Tour Show.”

‘Tell me why are you in London in some way that’s repeatable?” I asked.

“I’m in London this week,” she explained, “cos I had a couple of meetings with the BBC about future projects and I’m doing a couple of gigs – Banana Cabaret in Balham and Soho Comedy.”

“Is that the one in the gay street?” I asked. (It is not.)

“A gay street in Soho?” laughed Janey. “That must be a fucking hard task to find, eh?”

Admiral Duncan pub  in Soho (Photo by Ewan Munro)

The Admiral Duncan pub in Soho (Photograph by Ewan Munro)

“Old Compton Street,” I said, “I didn’t know the street was supposed to be gay until the Admiral Duncan blew up when the nail bomb went off.”

“You didn’t know it was gay,” said Janey, “because not one gay man has ever approached you in your entire life. They’ve all went: No, you’re on yer own, John.

“Not even women,” I said. “I once had a pigeon approach me at Oxford Circus.”

“I bet,” said Janey that even it bolted when it saw you.”

“No,” I said. “You know the barriers at the kerb to stop you walking across the street? I was outside one of those, walking on the narrow bit of the kerb, and this pigeon was strutting towards me and I thought it would give way to me, but it didn’t. I had to step into the road so it could walk along past me on the kerb.”

“That happened to me,” said Janey, “in Earls Court with a rat. You remember that hotel I lived in in Earls Court? There was a rat in the middle of the pavement and I thought: Well, clearly, if I bang ma feet, it’ll bolt. No. It stayed. I had to go into the road and I almost got hit by a car cos I was walking round a rat. And, see, when I went to the other side of the street, it turned its head to look at me and never moved. I am thinking like: Ya fuckin’ bastard! It was the size of a small poodle. I was frightened.”

“It was a very self-confident pigeon,” I said. “Its shoulders were going like it was an Essex Boy.”

“It’s the only bird that would come near you,” said Janey.

“Any other jollities for the blog?” I asked.

“I’m still,” said Janey, “having a fight with people on Twitter over the word cunt. They still can’t believe you can say that word. The other day, Ricky Gervais put up a post with the word cunt in it. That’s OK cos he’s rich and middle class. But, if I say it…”

“But you won’t,” I asked, “have had any Scottish people objecting?”

“A lot of people,” said Janey.

“Really?” I asked, surprised.

Janey’s current Twitter page

Janey’s current Twitter page has 16.5k followers

“Yup. It’s really weird that nobody will say anything to me (At the time of writing, Janey has over 16,500 Twitter followers) but, the minute I say cunt, people start to come on Twitter and moan. I always then put up this post that says: If the first time you’ve contacted me is cos you’ve saw the word cunt but, whenever I’ve asked you to donate to the Food Bank and you’ve never contacted me, then that means you’re a cunt.

“But I mean,” I said, “in Glasgow, it’s the equivalent of an Australian calling someone a ‘bastard’. It’s not strong.”

“They still have an issue with it,” said Janey. “It’s unbelievable that the word cunt makes you bad.”

“When you think,” I said, “of the things they asterisked-out in Victorian novels – H*ll possibly and certainly d***ed.”

“In London in 1960,” said Janey, “they had the court case over Lady Chatterley’s Lover – about the language in that – cunt – and it was found to be not obscene. So I can say the word cunt specifically.”

“Some of us,” I said, “lost the same court case in Norwich in 1996.”

“Did you?” said Janey.

“I was,” I told her, “found guilty of Malicious Communication for calling someone a fucking cunt.”

“You called somebody a cunt?” asked Janey.

“A fucking cunt,” I said. “I thought it was fair comment. The judge said in his ruling that both the words fucking and cunt were ‘clearly indecent’. As far as I could see, that overturned the decision in the Lady Chatterley case under Common Law.”

“You got taken to court for calling somebody a cunt?” asked Janey.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re a dick,” she told me. “Who did you call a cunt? The Queen?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “You should read my blog.”

“I usually do. It’s fuckin’ brilliant. Ashley (Janey’s daughter) is obsessed with your North Korean blogs. They’ve made Ashley want to go to North Korea.’

“Everyone should go to North Korea,” I suggested.

“She’s no going to North Korea,” said Janey firmly.

“It’s safe,” I said, “provided you don’t say anything. I used to go to lots of Communist countries because they were safe.”

Jonathan Ross as I remember him

Jonathan Ross as I remember him between my holidays….

“I have to say,” said Janey, “that the best laugh I ever had on Twitter was when I contacted Jonathan Ross and asked: Do you remember John Fleming? And he Tweeted back: Is he still going to weird Communist bloc countries? And I said: Yeah. You definitely remember him.”

“That’s it finished,” I told Janey. “That’s the way to do a blog. Pretend it’s about someone else, but it’s really all about Me, Me, Me.”

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Performance artist The Iceman – now as successful as Van Gogh in his lifetime

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman had several brushes with fame during his career

Via Skype, I talked to my chum the legendary – some might say semi-mythical – British alternative comedy / performance artist The Iceman.

“You were kind enough to show some interest in my paintings,” he said.

He has been melting and numbering blocks of ice on stage around the UK for at least 30 years.

I first encountered him when I auditioned acts for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV series in 1987.

For almost that long, he has been taking Polaroid photographs of his blocks of ice and trying to sell signed faxes and photocopies of the Polaroids for surprising amounts of money.

To varying effect.

Now he has a new artistic idea.

He has started to create oil paintings of the Polaroid photos of his blocks of ice.

“You recommended an art gallery in London,” The Iceman told me. “I mentioned that he probably heckled me at the Tunnel Club and he ignored my e-mail.”

“Why have you decided to become a fine artist instead of a performance artist?” I asked.

“Has the interview started?” asked The Iceman.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said. “Why are you wearing a large hat?”

“It is meant to make me look like a painter,” said The Iceman. “I thought you might be interested to compare an original Polaroid…” (He held up a photocopy of a Polaroid)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 Polaroid

The Iceman holds aloft the Polaroid of the original Block 220

“…with a painting.” (He held up a painting.)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 painting

Iceman holds aloft the painting of the Polaroid of Block 220

“That is Block 220 –  the most recent block I painted. Do you see any resemblance?”

“I can’t afford it,” I said. “How much is it?”

“It is not for sale,” said The Iceman.

“Why is it not for sale?”

“It is an original,” said the Iceman. “I am not sure I am happy to sell the originals. The National Gallery or Tate Modern might want them. So, a bit like the Polaroids, I will only sell signed copies of the paintings.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “you could take Polaroids of the paintings and sell the Polaroids of the paintings of the Polaroids of the original blocks?”

“Did you hear about the probe landing on the comet full of ice?” asked The Iceman.

“Yes,” I said. “Has anything landed on you?”

“My hat,” said The Iceman.

Mr Methane in his artistic hat and bow tie

The Iceman talked in his hat and bow tie with attendant duck

“Is the bow tie,” I asked, “there to make you look artistic as well?”

“Y-ice,” said The Iceman. “I am finding my sound quality is not very good.”

“With the bow tie?” I asked.

“With Skype,” said The Iceman.

“So why do paintings?” I asked.

“Well,” said The Iceman, “I took the Polaroids to capture a live moment during my non-act so that the blocks lived on, though in a different physical form. So, recently, I thought Why not change the medium? and, although I had no experience of oil painting, I decided to do oil paintings of them. Block by block. I have done 23 so far. I do about one a week.”

“Which is your favourite?” I asked.

“I quite like Block 220,” said The Iceman. “I think some of them are quite moving.”

“That is a little scary,” I said. “All in oils?”

“All reliable?” asked The Iceman.

“All in oils?” I repeated.

“My sound quality is not very good,” said The Iceman. “I thought of doing water-colours – melted-ice-colours – but I think oils suits me best. I have been told water colours are more difficult because all the colours merge.”

“But why paint them at all?” I asked.

Block 202

Block 202 with audience – as interpreted by The Iceman

“I do not want to be pomp-ice,” said The Iceman, “but I think the point I am making is I am just interpreting these blocks in my own way and what I lack in technique and skill I like to think I make up with heart. So I think quite carefully before I paint and then I do it in quite a fast manner.

“It is a bit like my original so-called act. I lacked technique and skill, but I think there was something that I was sharing with the publ-ice. I am hoping sometime soon to have a gallery situation where I have a sequence of Polaroids underneath the paintings. Or maybe above them. And, of course, I would be melting a block of ice in the gallery at the same time. So there would be all types of things happening at once. A live performance, wise sayings and the archive and the more recent interpretation of the archive.

“I have the numbered blocks which I am doing in oils. When I do the adjectival blocks, I might do them in watercolours.”

“Why,” I asked, “are some blocks adjectival?”

“I have not numbered some blocks in sequence,” said The Iceman, “so I have to give them names.”

“What sort of names?”

“Blue block.”

“Why did you call it Blue Block?” I asked.

The Iceman in his studio earlier this year

The Iceman in his studio on England’s South Coast this year

“Bedraggled Block,” continued The Iceman. “Things like that. If people visit the blog on my website, they will see them. At the moment, the only visitors telling me: We can increase your search engine visitors by 400%. Do you get that?”

“For about six months,” I said, “I was getting e-mails from companies saying they could increase my breast size. Penis size might have been a fair comment, but I think my breasts are too big as they are.”

“It is a funny thing, this cyber sp-ice,” said The Iceman. “But I know you are a great networker and you have millions of hits on your web blog, so I am hoping – much as I am talking to you from friendship, of course – that you can help me create some interest in my paintings from the public. I think they have got something.”

“The public?” I asked.

“My paintings,” replied The Iceman.

“Doesn’t,” I asked, “a painting of one block of ice look very similar to a painting of another block of ice?”

Block 215

Block 215 “based on authentice Polaroid of live performance”

“No,” said The Iceman. “That is what is interesting. Every block I paint is startlingly different.”

“Startlingly?” I asked.

“Startlingly,” repeated The Iceman. “The Polaroids do, some of them, look quite similar, but the paintings look startlingly different.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Startlingly,” said The Iceman. “Visually.”

“Ah,” I said.

Block 282

Block 282 – “Battersice Arts Cicer 4 hour melt with Vladimice”

“The colours,” said The Iceman. “And the interpretation of the audience members. I am not very good at drawing a human figure or face, but I am developing. The paintings come across as quite child-ice in some ways. But maybe succ-ice awaits.”

“How many paintings have you sold so far?” I asked.

“Sold?” asked The Iceman, surprised. “One.”

“That,” I said, “makes you as good as Van Gogh.”

“I think,” said The Iceman, “that I may put people off by saying Pr-ice-l-ice unaffordable and that sort of thing.”

“What sort of prices are we talking about?” I asked.

“I like the painting because it is more thoughtful and reflective than the act,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question. “More intense in an odd way.”

“So have you,” I asked, “lost the urge to melt?”

“I have edged the blocks out, yes. I am still willing to go out occasionally, but something I asked myself quite often is Has the last block already occurred?

I hope not.

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Filed under Art, Eccentrics, Painting, Surreal

Legendary cult act The Iceman talks of comedians Stewart Lee, Mike Myers &, inevitably, about melting blocks of ice

In Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he says:

There was a man called Anthony Irvine, who did an act where he just crawled across the stage wearing a yellow souwester cape and Wellington boots, got up a ladder, then put a chain with a hook on it between the two parts of the stepladder and picked up a bag. He took a toothbrush out of the bag, cleaned his teeth, got down the steps and crawled off stage again. This took between ten and twenty minutes depending on audience response. Today he calls himself The Iceman and melts a block of ice on stage – that’s his act.

It is, indeed, an act in which he tries to melt blocks of ice in various increasingly desperate ways. You have to see it to believe, if not understand, it. I first saw The Iceman when I auditioned him in 1987 for TV show The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross. The audition is on YouTube.

The Iceman at home via Skype a couple of days ago

The Iceman at his secret home via Skype a couple of days ago

A couple of days ago, I talked to The Iceman via Skype.

“You can facilitate my comeback,” he told me.

“You’ve never been away,” I replied.

“My last booking was from Stewart Lee,” he said, “at the Royal Festival Hall for At Last The 1981 Show in 2011 – his Austerity show. You didn’t come.”

“No,” I admitted.

“I was one of the main acts, but they put me in the foyer,” he said. “I did a block of ice on both nights.”

“Did you get a good audience in the foyer?” I asked.

“The first night was quite arty,” he told me, “but there was a very small audience. The second night Stewart – I should say Stew – told the audience to go and see me and suddenly, in the interval, I was overwhelmed by people. So I hid in the audience. I infiltrated them and no-one really knew who I was. Then some guy took it on himself to plug me. He stood up and said The Iceman! The Iceman! and, of course, a lot of people thought HE was The Iceman.”

“Now you’re now a cult,” I said. “A living semi-mythical legend.”

“Yes,” he replied. “That’s why I don’t want to be over-exposed and why I’m in deepest Dorset. They’ll never find me here.”

“So why am I talking to you for my increasingly prestigious blog?” I asked.

“I want someone to visit my website,” said The Iceman. “I just want some visitors. I think because it’s called Iceblocked.co.uk it’s not a name that people recognise quickly.”

“You should call it TheIceman.com,” I suggested. “Like The Iceman cometh.”

“There’s millions of ice men,” said The Iceman. “But they’re mainly Mafia hit men.”

“Yes,” I sympathised, “best not to annoy them.”

“There are pictures of ice blocks for sale on the website,” said The Iceman.

Then he put a tap on his shoulder.

The Iceman felt a tap on his shoulder

The Iceman felt a tap on his shoulder – he won it in Edinburgh

“Ah! The Tap Water Award!” I said.

For several years, it was given at the Edinburgh Fringe as an alternative to the Perrier Award.

“Did you win it?” I asked.

“I won it in Edinburgh with Malcolm Hardee as a nominee,” said The Iceman, “but, in his autobiography, Malcolm claimed he won it. It’s very controversial.”

“Still,” I said. “You have it. Possession is nine tenths of the law.”

“But more valuable than the tap,” said The Iceman, “are the Polaroids of every block of ice I have melted…” Then he added: “At least, some of them… I am giving people an opportunity to buy photocopies of the Polaroids of the blocks I have melted over the years. You have never availed yourself of this opportunity.”

“I am but a poor struggling scribe,” I said, “and they are about £99 each aren’t they?”

The Iceman with his 42-block photo at the Royal Festival Hall

The Iceman (right) with 42-block photo at Royal Festival Hall

“At the Royal Festival Hall,” said The Iceman, “I sold my picture of 42 selected blocks to a bloke for £11. The frame had cost me about £20. His name was Tobias…”

The Iceman waited for me to react.

“Should I gasp?” I asked eventually.

“Tobias…” said The Iceman. “To-buy-us… That’s extraordinary, isn’t it?”

“Extraordinary,” I agreed.

“On YouTube,” The Iceman told me, “there is a video where you can see me dropping that night’s block into the River Thames after the Royal Festival Hall show.”

“Why did you drop the block into the Thames?” I asked.

“It had to go somewhere,” explained The Iceman. “Are you recording this?”

“Yes.”

“How are you? Can I interview you? I think I am going to film you.”

He held up a camera and started taking pictures of the Skyped image on his computer screen of me looking at him looking at me on my computer screen.

The Iceman started taking pictures of me looking at him

The Iceman took pictures of me looking at him looking at me

“What do you see your role as?” he asked me.

“A sadly free publicist to interesting people,” I replied.

“Every comedy person and bizarre person seems to have a link with you,” he said.

“Which are you?” I asked.

“You’re a conduit,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of con going on,” I said, “and precious little duit.”

“What do you really think of the Iceman?” he asked.

“I think it’s a wonderful, surreal act,” I said. “But I’m shocked that this man bought Polaroids of ice blocks for only £21. I thought photocopies of Polaroids were £99 each.”

“I was feeling generous,” said The Iceman, who thought a little, then added: “Gener-ice… Do you think there’s any possibility that The Iceman… I call myself The Iceman, but I’m also called Melt It 69 by Mike Myers… Do you think there’s any possibility that somebody might ask me back?”

“Where?”

“Anywhere. To do a live performance.”

“One hopes so,” I replied. “What did you say about Mike Myers?”

“He refers to me as Melt It 69,” replied The Iceman, “because he came to see me melt Block 69.”

“This is Mike Myers,” I checked, “as in the now-Hollywood-film-star Mike Myers?”

“Yes,” confirmed The Iceman. “He did the early days of alternative comedy in Britain.”

Neil Mullarkey (left) & Mike Myers in the 1987 Wacaday children’s TV annual

Neil Mullarkey (left) & Mike Myers in the 1987 Wacaday children’s TV annual

“I know,” I said, “Mullarkey & Myers.”

“He saw me at one event,” said the Iceman, “and thought I was a genius. He is a fan.”

“This would,” I double-checked, “be Mike Myers the now-Austin-Powers-Hollywood-millionaire?… Have you approached him to buy a photocopy of a Polaroid of an ice block for £99?”

“I don’t know how to contact him,” said the Iceman. “I was hoping he would buy my entire works.”

“It is very hot, California,” I said. “They like ice there.”

“The only other fan I have, I think,” The Iceman said, “is Stewart Lee, who books me occasionally. Do you talk to Stew much?”

“Whenever I bump into him.” I said. “It would be churlish not to. He’s very nice.”

“N-ice,” said The Iceman thoughtfully. “I saw his show on TV on Saturday.”

“Did you enjoy it/“

“I did. He is funny.”

“He should have you on it,” I said. “You are the ultimate alternative comic.”

“He could have me in the foyer,” mused The Iceman.

… CONTINUED HERE

 

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How I was responsible for the sexual awakening of a comedian in the UK

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

The Soan home is now sans bicycle but with added fox hunter

Yesterday was an odd day.

A couple of nights ago, I had a meal with my eternally-un-named friend at the home of Pull The Other One comedy club runners Vivienne and Martin Soan. The bicycle had fallen off the wall in their living room, leaving a hole in the plasterwork which they had covered with a painting of a fox-hunting scene.

Martin told me he had started playing table tennis regularly with comedian Lewis Schaffer on a concrete ping-pong table in Peckham Rye Park in South East London. The object was to get healthier through exercise.

I sent Lewis Schaffer an e-mail:

“Next time you play ping-pong with Martin, take three photos and do a random phone or tablet sound recording for half an hour maximum – just of you two chatting while you play ping pong – and I’ll transcribe it and get a joyous blog out of it.”

I thought it would be quirky to do a ‘report’ on something happening when I had not actually been present.

Yesterday morning I was in Greenwich and got a phone call from Martin at about 11.30am saying he was playing ping-pong with Lewis Schaffer in Peckham Rye Park at noon and did I want to come along.

I did.

It was a mistake.

God did not want me to.

I put my iPhone by the ping-pong net on the stone table (after checking it would pick up their voices clearly) and I let it record for about ten minutes while they exercised by playing ping-pong. The iPhone is an astonishingly good recording device. But only if it is switched on.

I had forgotten to put it on Airplane mode.

Lewis Schaffer (lefty) exercising in the park yesterday with Martin Soan

Lewis Schaffer (lefty) exercising in the park with Martin Soan

After a few seconds, without me realising, someone texted me. This switched the recording off. Lewis Schaffer and Martin had talked interestingly while they played ping-pong, discussing Lewis Schaffer’s favourite topic: Lewis Schaffer’s failure in comedy and in life. At one point, Martin lay on the table, beaten down by Lewis Schaffer’s negativity.

At some point, I re-switched on the iPhone recorder.

“I’ve got such low self esteem,” Lewis Schaffer was saying, “there’s nothing they can say to bring me down. This year, I’m going to call my Edinburgh Fringe show Lewis Schaffer: Success Is Not An Option. What was I saying?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t listening,” I told him.

“I know,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but you gotta record it. Stand-up comedy can’t go past where I’m going, because it’s post alternative, post mainstream. It’s like two train lines crashing together.”

I said: “You used the phrase ‘where I’m going’. Isn’t that a bit optimistic?”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Where I am. Where Lewis Schaffer is. What am I doing? Is it real comedy or is it anti-comedy?”

“OK, stand-up comedy, right?…” said Martin Soan. “I’m just de-constructing this like you want to…”

“I don’t want to,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but I know John likes it. I’m trying to give him what he wants… John – tell me what you want and I’ll say it. I’ll make it easier for you, John. Just say it yourself and say I said it. Nobody reads your blog when I’m in it anyway. I’m not Al Murray or Richard Herring. Is anyone interested in the stuff I have to say? What was your question, Martin Soan?”

Lewis Schaffer (left) tweaks Martin Soan’s red nose yesterday

Lewis Schaffer (left) tweaks Martin Soan’s red nose yesterday

“I’ve forgotten what I was talking about now,” said Martin. “Oh yes! Stand-up comedy in the traditional sense is telling gags with punchlines…”

“Which I do,” Lewis Schaffer said.

“…and you get a laugh at the end of it,” Martin continued.

“Which I do,” Lewis Schaffer said.

“So,” continued Martin, “take someone who’s not doing stand-up comedy but comedy – say maybe a man prat-falling or something like that. What’s funny about that? IT is funny because HE is funny. If you’ve got funny bones, you’ve got funny bones, which you have. And you’ve got gags as well. You’re just trying to find an advertising gimmick for your own…”

“No,” Lewis Schaffer interrupted. “You’re totally wrong.”

“You’ve got funny bones,” said Martin.

“I don’t have funny bones,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“You do have funny bones,” said Martin.

“I don’t have funny bones. I don’t know what that means, having…” Lewis Schaffer started to say.

“It means,” Martin interrupted, “that you’ve got… Whoa! Hey! Eeeeeehhhhh!”

Martin fell over. I think it was an accident. Maybe not.

Lewis Schaffer laughed.

We went to a cafe.

Lewis Schaffer had egg and beans on toast. I had a cup of tea. Martin Soan read the Daily Mirror. I left shortly afterwards.

Mr Twonkey: surrealist with a great voice

Paul Vickers last night in Soho – a surrealist with a great voice

Later in the day, I went to see Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra With Paul Vickers in the basement of Soho Theatre in London.

Paul Vickers is Mr Twonkey, a surrealist with lots of props and the impressive singing voice of an American rock star.

About 15 minutes before the show started, Paul came over to me and said: “I tried to persuade Lewis Schaffer to come to the show, but he said he couldn’t.”

“It overlaps with his radio show,” I said.

“I’m staying at his flat,” Paul told me.

“How long have you been there?” I asked.

“Since Saturday,” Paul told me.

“That’s too long to be with Lewis Schaffer,” I said. “It’s Monday now.”

“I know,” said Paul.

About ten minutes before the show started, I was unexpectedly joined by new wave architectural guru Blanche Cameron. I think she is stalking me. I keep bumping into her in comedy club cellars. There is no other logical explanation.

Chris Dangerfield (left) and Lewis Schaffer at Soho Theatre last night

Chris Dangerfield & Lewis Schaffer at Soho Theatre last night

About five minutes before the show started, we were unexpectedly spotted and joined by comedian Chris Dangerfield and a very clean-looking male friend. I thought Chris must be trying to clean his image up.

“I’m going to Thailand next week to try to clean up for my Edinburgh show,” he said.

This seemed an unwise destination.

He was wearing a black fez.

“Why are you wearing a black fez?” I asked.

“I had it specially made for me,” he replied, as if this answered my question.

About 15 minutes after the show started, Lewis Schaffer came in with his entourage Heather.

After the show, Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey told me: “John, you are responsible for my sexual awakening.”

“Am I?” I said warily.

“Well,” said Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey. “One of my sexual awakenings was seeing Kate Bush on Pebble Mill. “But the other was seeing La Cicciolina on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross and you booked her.”

“Did I?” I asked. “I can’t remember.”

“That had a direct effect on me,” said Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.

“Too much information,” I said.

Chris Dangerfield bids farewell to Mr Twonkey

Chris Dangerfield bids a fond farewell to Mr Twonkey

I went home. Lewis Schaffer, Blanche Cameron and Heather went off to Tufnell Park for some reason. Blanche told me it was another basement. Chris Dangerfield and his friend went off elsewhere in Soho. They seemed quite placid, not at all argumentative, but Chris seemed to think he might get the needle later on.

When I got home, there was an e-mail waiting for me from comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya. It said:

“Am mending. Meeting with the doctor tomorrow. Will tell when I can hope to fly back to Britain. Still a bit sort of generally knackered – dizzy spells and whatnot. But leg is coming along apace although letting go of either crutch is a long way off.”

But that is future blog.

Yesterday was an odd day.

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