Tag Archives: Josie Long

How to perform a comedy show to an audience with dementia in a care home

Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project

So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…

“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”

“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”

“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”

“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”

“And these shows lead to?” I asked.

“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”

“What is limbic?” I asked.

Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)

“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”

“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”

“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.

“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”

“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”

“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”

“At what age?” I asked.

“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”

“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.

Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea

“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”

“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”

“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”

“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”

“Of course you can,” he told me.

“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”

“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.

“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.

“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”

“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”

“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”

“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.

October 2nd Benefit before the gig on 9th

“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”

“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”

“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”

“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.

“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.

“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.

“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”

“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”

Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”

“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”

“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”

“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”

“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.

“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”

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Janey Godley v Donald Trump, the police and a Harry Potter premiere

This is what it is like to work with Janey Godley

Janey’s ‘V for Victory’ is the wrong way round?

Last night, I was in London with Janey Godley for her one-off Leicester Square Theatre show Donald Trump is a Cunt (billed rather disappointingly by the theatre as Donald Trump Is a C**t)

“We might as well have a blog chat,” I said to her.

“So,” she started, “we’re sitting in the Groucho Club, having a cup of tea in between the tech rehearsal and the actual show tonight…”

“This is for print,” I said. “I will just write it as if we chatted after the show and add in anything that happens.”

Trump Is a Censored Cunt

Donald Trump is a rather Censored C**t

“No,” said Janey. “It hasn’t happened yet. It can still go tits-up. We are in the graveyard shift at 9.30pm and the new Harry Potter film is having its European premiere in Leicester Square and they’ve closed off the end of our street.”

“You are sandwiched,” I pointed out, “between the Harry Potter movie premiere in Leicester Square and the Harry Potter stage show in the Palace Theatre at Cambridge Circus.”

Janey Godley. Beyond? Leicester Square and Harry Potter

Janey outside the theatre with cut-off Leicester Square beyond

“Yeah,” said Janey, “I’m a Harry Potter kebab is what I am.

“When I came out of Leicester Square Theatre,” she continued, “there was just a big queue of people dressed in cloaks with Harry Potter wands which is funny because (Janey’s daughter) Ashley did Tanya Potter – a Scottish Harry Potter – and it got 16 million hits online. That made me laugh. Ashley was getting recognised in the street in Glasgow as the Harry Potter girl. Lots of people were dressed as Tanya Potter for Halloween in a shell suit wi’ a stick wi’ a zigzag on their cheek as a scar.”

“Surely everyone,” I said, “has a scar in Glasgow.”

“We do,” agreed Janey, “But most of them are just on the inside.”

Janey’s tech run in the afternoon had not included any run-through of the script for the show because, as normal with Janey, there was no script. With any other comic, that might have been risky. But, to my knowledge, Janey has never scripted any of her multiple award-winning shows.

“What are you doing upcoming?” I asked, then regretted the awful American word.

Janey Godley - a selfie before the show

A selfie before last night’s show

“I’m working a lot at the moment in Glasgow – Wild Cabaret every week. It’s the most beautiful venue you’ve ever seen. It’s all linen tablecloths and crystal and silver service and a proper stage. It’s like a Las Vegas nightclub, but it’s beautiful.”

“And they let the likes of you in?” I asked.

Janey looked at me without blinking.

“I was in Josie Long’s recent film.” she said. “I’m an alcoholic library assistant. It’s brilliant. I get to swear a lot and to improvise. The problem of working with Josie and her crew is they give me the sketch of a script and I just fill it in and improvise. And that means they laugh so much they have to do nine takes and I want to batter them all.”

“The billing for the film,” I said “claims it is a twee romantic comedy that turns into a dystopian, police state thriller“.

“There’s a Princess Diana theme,” Janey continued, “which runs through it with me and they laugh so much. I say: Right, I’m gonna improv, so none of youse can laugh. But Josie fuckin’ laughs every time and they have to take it again and again and again and I do a different one every time just to get them. Good fun.”

“You’ve gone for the blonde hair yourself,” I observed. “The Princess Diana look.”

“We all go blonde eventually, John,” said Janey. “Though not you. You’re a baldie fuck.”

The show, of course, was wonderful. They always are.

Trump Is a Cunt uncensored

Trump Is a Cunt uncensored

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

Jody Kamali with some flowers yesterday

Jody Kamali sat with some flowers yesterday

I have never had a good memory.

A good visual memory, yes.

But, for facts, no. A shit memory.

This can cause problems and embarrassments… like yesterday afternoon.

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

It started off well enough.

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

Jody Kamali’s House of Horror

Fernando’s House of Horror Comedy Variety Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jody Kamali - half Iranian

Iran comics: the new rock ’n’ roll

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

“Yes,” said Jody. “Half Iranian.”

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

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

“Iranians?” I said.

“American-Iranians,” said Jody.

“And you’re from Bristol,” I said.

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

“No thespians in the family?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who did you play?” I asked.

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

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

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

Jodi Kamali - money man 2012

Jody was Dirty Filthy Rich at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2102

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

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

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

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

“Oh dear,” I said.

“I particularly remember it…” Jody started.

“Oh dear,” I said.

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

“Oh dear,” I said. “Really?”

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

Jody Kamali - An Audience With Dominguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh shit!” I said.

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

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

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

A 2005 photocall in Edinburgh for the Sally Swallows show

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

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

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

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

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

“There were kids?” I asked.

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

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

“I remember your review,” said Jody.

“Oh dear,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which is?” I asked.

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

Jody |Kamali with the same flowers yesterday

Jody Kamali sat with the same flowers yesterday

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

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

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

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