Tag Archives: Karl Schultz

It Might Get Ugly – Karl Schultz loves comic Janey Godley but not milk toast

Karl Schultz

Karl Schultz with his latest haircut & thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog chat with comics Karl Schultz and Joz Norris about their annual charity gig in aid of Karl’s charity. After Joz left, I kept on talking to Karl.

“You’re all about re-invention,” I said. “you’ve had a lot of different haircuts this year.”

“I get bored,” replied Karl. “I’m trying to think of different ways to change Matthew Kelly.”

“Are you still doing that Matthew Kelly character?” I asked. “I thought you had finished with it.”

“I’ve been doing it again recently, after a year of It Might Get Ugly.”

It Might Get Ugly was/is a series of comedy evenings organised by Karl in which performers have to go on stage and tell totally true 15-minute stories about themselves.

“You had Janey Godley on the show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“She,” said Karl, “was my favourite thing about Edinburgh. She’s got thousands of just amazing stories. What can you not like about her? I love Janey. She’s a comic who can handle anyone and she won’t be precious. She is so great. I can imagine her being an amazing actor. I fell in love with her the way I fell in love with David Mills when he first did it.”

“Very different comics,” I said. “What were you like when you started performing comedy?”

“When you start,” said Karl, “it comes as a shock. I was about 19 the first time I performed and you’re in this big nervous energetic space. It was like a heightened reality. I was thinking faster. I had different conversations going on in my head – what I was saying and what I was thinking – almost like Eskimo singers.”

“Eskimo singers?” I asked.

“Hitting different octaves,” replied Karl. “Then years go by and, even though you might be constantly surprised, shock doesn’t visit you as much. I believe shock is way more important to growth than something being ‘moving’. A moving gig is either good or bad, but a gig that shocks you has real impact.

“After four years of doing Matthew Kelly, I found that I wasn’t writing as much material as I should have. I had a bit of material but was improvising the whole time and Improv often stands for impoverished as much as improvised.”

“But you are continuing the character?” I asked.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“Yes,” said Karl. “What I’m enjoying with Matthew Kelly at the moment is playing with biographies. There is the character as himself. There’s Matthew Kelly telling stories about me when I was younger, almost as if Karl Schultz was the character. Then there’s me as Matthew Kelly, talking about experiences I have had as the Matthew Kelly character. And then there’s the sort of philosophy behind the whole thing. But it’s complicated to do that.

“I had this idea a couple of months ago… When you wake up, it takes you a couple of seconds to find yourself and I was obsessing over that and the idea that the day is a parasite and you, in that moment of awakening, are the host. So the parasite of the day lives through you as the host. It’s not comedic in itself, but I thought Matthew Kelly could be the day having fun on someone. It’s like a playful parasite. Even if I don’t communicate it to the audience, that can be what motivates the character.

“In a very American way, I subscribe to the idea of personal growth and the idea that a young artist should be trying to move his brain forward. That’s partly why I do all these different things: as a vehicle to move my personal philosophy forward.”

“What,” I asked, “helps you do that?”

“More than anything,” said Karl, “making mistakes and owning up to them. Nothing undermines something difficult to face up to more than accepting it. If you think: I am going to be visited-upon by dark clouds in my mind… If you can accept that, it completely undermines it.

Karl Schultz deep in thought

Karl Schultz is not going to Switzerland soon

“Two days ago, I had a dark night of the soul on the District Line between Temple and Bow stations and the way I got through that was just by accepting it. All the credence I wanted to give to those imaginings of trips to Switzerland… it was undermined.”

“Trips to Switzerland?” I asked.

“Well,” said Karl, “you know…”

“Oh,” I said, “Exit. So why did you start It Might Turn Ugly?”

“I wondered if I could create a performance space where you are watching someone do something that might move them forward and you are watching that play out. I told people: Fifteen minutes. No ‘material’. Try to be honest. The idea is that you should not be able to do it the next night.”

“What,” I asked, “did you want to be when you were aged 16? A novelist?”

“No. I wanted to be Nick Drake. If I hadn’t been a comedian, I would have been some jazz-inflected folk guitarist. I used to play guitar for about 8 or 10 hours a day.”

“Nick Drake is like Joe Meek,” I suggested. “More of a cult than generally famous.”

“Everyone wants to be a more famous version of their hero,” said Karl.

“So are you trying to fit musical styles into comedy?” I asked.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I think my thing is just the life I had. Being an only child, moving every three years.”

Karl’s father was a Salvation Army officer and moved location throughout the world every three years.

“Having different voices in different groups,” said Karl. “That’s my thing. Having an assimilative personality where I can change my accent. I’ve had many different accents. Negotiating and reconciling.”

“Fitting into things you don’t naturally fit into?” I asked.

“Trying to make things fit,” suggested Karl. “I’m obsessed with reconciliation. If you have an early life like I had, it can be very confusing, so you try to make sense of it, which might lead you towards philosophy, poetry and so on. What is very attractive about prosodic things is finding disparate meanings but bringing them together, making them work. Something like Matthew Kelly is synesthetic – it is supposed to be.”

“You want everything to be ordered?” I asked.

“No. Not at all.”

“You want everything to be ordered even though your act is surrealism and anarchy?” I tried.

“My act is not anarchic,” said Karl. “It’s surreal in the sense of being unreal. I take ‘surreal’ to mean dreamlike and what I’m really obsessed with is that type of hypnagogia.”

“Hypno-what?” I asked.

Karl Schultz tattoo

Karl’s tattoo – a hypnagogic fantasy of a dodo with flamingo’s wings and peacock’s feathers

Hypnagogia,” Karl explained, “is that state between wakefulness and being asleep where, as a child, you can just as easily be talking to your mother as a figure in a dream.”

“And,” I suggested, “you can know you’re dreaming yet think it might be real?”

“Yes. It’s a bizarre state. You only have to read anything Oliver Sacks has ever written about memory to know that you can appropriate memories, which is terrifying.”

“I remember,” I said, “being in a pram in Campbeltown where I was born, but I don’t know if I really remember it or if it’s something my mother told me about.”

“Everything for me,” said Karl, “is like a palette where you just play out ideas and let them run.

“What I’m obsessed with at the moment is neurophilosophy and the idea that, since the advent of cognitive science, our understanding of consciousness has moved on and so the language – the lexicon of philosophy – should catch up. What we know has moved on, but our language hasn’t. I think that’s exactly the same with comedy. It feels like we’re using Saxon language. We end up inventing words like dramady which is horrible.”

“What did you study at university?” I asked.

“Philosophy, but I was a real philosophy student in that I was a drop-out. I went off to become a comedian aged 20.”

“At least you didn’t study comedy,” I said. “I get twitchy when people think they can learn comedy.”

“Someone who’s a writer,” said Karl, “told me the other day: I knew more about writing before I started. Getting a degree in maths means that you are just as aware of how much you don’t know – and that’s the real education.

“When I came into comedy, I thought someone was going to go: Well done. Go to Level 2. I thought there were hierarchies and pyramids. But then you realise: Oh! It’s just a common room! You end up meeting the producers and commissioners and you can either have a really nice time with them or think they are milquetoast.”

“Milk toast?” I asked.

“Milquetoast. A bit cowardly. Not willing to take risks… But someone explained to me that is almost written into their job description.”

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Karl Schultz with Joz Norris – Two UK weirdo comics talk about women etc

Karl Schultz (left) and Joz Norris yesterday

Karl Schultz (left) and Joz Norris chatted over tea yesterday

So I said I would do a blog chat with comic Karl Schultz about a charity gig which he is organising in London on Monday. Karl brought along Joz Norris, who is co-organising the gig. Somewhere along the way, the conversation went off course.

“What’s the show?” I asked them yesterday.

“It’s Karl & Joz’s Over The Top Christmas Love-In at the Bloomsbury Theatre,” said Karl.

“For Karl’s charity,” added Joz.

“You have a charity?” I asked Karl.

“Oasis. It’s the one I run in Barking and Dagenham. It basically gives somewhere to go in the week to homeless people, unemployed people, people trying to come off drugs – recreational, free meals and stuff.”

On YouTube, Karl tells a story about his charity.

Monday’s charity show at the Bloomsbury Theatre includes comics Bridget Christie, John Kearns, Tim Key, Josie Long and Sara Pascoe.

“When did you start the charity?” I asked Karl.

“Last December. About 75% of the money from the gig is going to that charity, but I’m also going out to South Africa with my dad for a couple of weeks and we know some projects out there which could do with money.

“When I told someone I was going out to South Africa, someone said: Oh, you’re going on ‘holiday’ are you? ‘Holiday’. Apparently South Africa where people go with sex addictions. There’s a clinic or something. But I’m going out with my dad, who’s a Salvation Army major.”

Joz said: “I had some kids from a South African township stay with me in 2007. My mum did the African premiere of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man Mass for Peace. She had breakfast with Desmond Tutu twice and the choir came over here and stayed in my room and I had to stay in the shed all week. I taught them about iPods.”

“Did they have iPods?” I asked.

“No,” admitted Joz.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I,” said Karl, “was seeing a girl from Sierra Leone a couple of months ago, but she got sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Three women I’ve seen have got sectioned.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Joz. “That’s your taste. I think you’re drawn to eccentrics.”

“I get approached by depressed women,” said Karl.

“I’m always attracted to mad women,” said Joz, “and they’re always either very short or very tall. But Karl hates short women. He says their bottoms are too close to the ground.”

“I do have a thing for tall women,” admitted Karl.

“Why?” I asked.

“My mum is 5’1”, so there’s no Oedipal thing. But I was brought up in Ghana from the age of 11-14 – the most formative time – and all the Ghanaians hit puberty before me. So, when I went back after the summer holidays, I had grown an inch but, in Ghana, they had grown six inches. So all the girls I was in love with in my class were all tall.

“Earlier this year, I was trying to be a better person and took a short woman on a date – I thought If I can survive it, I will be a better person for it – so we were walking on the South Bank in London drinking our chai lattes and she burnt her tongue on her chai latte and started hopping on the spot and I was looking at her thinking: Is this what it is going to be like?”

“Karl’s got a thing about chai,” said Joz. “He loves taking women – usually tall ones – to drink chai.”

“Well,” said Karl, “you can always see women, but how often can you have a South Bank chai latte?”

Joz Norris grew up in a small English village

Joz Norris is not always seeing women; Karl joined Tinder

“I’m not always seeing women,” said Joz.

“I joined Tinder,” said Karl, “mainly because I felt bad about not doing enough out-of-town gigs. I got into comedy to travel, but I don’t really travel much, other than Edinburgh and China.”

“China?” I said, surprised.

“I went to China a couple of years ago. Did a cabaret out there. In hindsight, I should not have been invited.”

“Anyway,” I said, “on Tinder…”

“I’ve been to Southampton and Penrith,” said Karl. “When I went to Southampton, I got to see where Craig David went to school. I had to do it at the weekend. You can’t do it in the week, because they will move you on.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well you can’t,” said Karl, “just go snooping on Craig David’s former secondary school during the week. People will say: What’s he doing?

“Fair point,” said Joz.

“What happened in Penrith?” I asked. “Did you get a booking at a local comedy club?”

“Free lodgings and a lovely breakfast,” said Karl. “I had curry for breakfast.”

“The other day,” said Joz, “I had left-over lamb biryani for breakfast.”

“So you got into comedy to travel?” I asked. “But there were other things you could have done. Like become a bus driver.”

“We went to Lake Windermere,” said Karl. “Dove Cottage: Wordsworth’s cottage. You know they always had tiny beds…”

“Yeah,” said Joz.

“Did you really?” I asked him.

Joz shrugged.

“But,” continued Karl, “the part where your head would be was at 45 degrees. That’s why beds were shorter. They believed that demons or ghosts might visit you in the night and, if they saw you almost upright, they might think you were awake and go away.”

“It stops acid reflux too,” I said. “Sitting up in bed.”

“Yesterday,” said Karl, “I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“I had it for the first time about a year ago,” I said. “Acid reflux. It really is like you have acid inside your tubes.”

“Is that how you spontaneously combust?” asked Joz.

“No,” I said.

“Too many eggs,” said Karl.

“The Elephant Man had to sleep sitting up,” said Joz, “because of his huge head… Seriously. I was in the play in 2003; I played the man at the fair.”

“I was intending to do a fairly serious chat with you,” I said.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“We could do that,” said Karl. “Someone said watching me be happy as my Matthew Kelly character was like watching a crocodile. The character has a calm exterior, but my eyes were very violent. So it was like a crocodile smile.”

“You can hold a crocodile’s mouth shut,” said Joz. “The muscles that open its mouth are very weak, so you can touch the sides and hold the mouth shut.”

“Or use a rubber band,” said Karl.

“Aren’t you supposed to hit them on the nose?” I asked.

“That’s sharks,” said Joz.

“Lick its eyes,” said Karl. “That’s what a zebra does. I saw a video of a crocodile being licked by a zebra. A crocodile hasn’t evolved a natural defence against having its eyes licked.”

“Nor have I,” said Joz.

There is a video on YouTube of a zebra briefly licking a crocodile’s eyes then escaping.

“That’s how you can get away from Joz,” suggested Karl. “Lick his eyes.”

“No-one’s ever tried that,” said Joz. “Mostly, they just say No… I heard that the way to get away from a crocodile is to run in zig-zags, because they can’t move in zig-zags.”

“Or just keep out of Africa and away from the water,” I suggested.

“And Asia,” said Joz. “And America.”

“And zoos,” I suggested.

“London Zoo is so depressing,” said Karl. “They haven’t even got the grey animals now; they’ve moved them all up to Whipsnade Zoo.”

“Grey?” I asked.

“The elephants and rhinos,” said Karl.

“Do they only keep all the colourful ones in London?” I asked.

“They’ve still got the tiger,” said Karl.

“Earlier this year,” said Joz, “I went to London Zoo on a date and I made the girl film me doing an impression of Nelson Mandela all the way round  the zoo.”

“Sounds questionable,” I said.

“It was for a sketch,” explained Joz.

Never ever take ketamine wearing a lion mask at London Zoo

Never ever take ketamine wearing a lion mask at London Zoo

“The first time I went back to London Zoo since I was a kid,” said Karl, “I went with my mate and bought some masks and took ketamine. It was a terrible afternoon. I was in a really bad place.”

“It’s terrible stuff,” agreed Joz.

“He was a giraffe and I was a lion,” said Karl. “Ketamine is the worst drug ever.”

“Well don’t take it,” I said.

“I don’t any more. Have you heard of K-holing? It describes the completely stark, cataclysmic trip of… It’s awful…”

“What’s your idea of heaven?” I asked.

“Taking a tall Ghanaian woman to Lake Windermere,” said Karl.

… CONTINUED HERE

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“I was thinking of an evening called The Comedians’ Talking Therapy Group”

Jorik Mol, curator of what is on The Comedian’s Bookshelf

Jorik Mol… curator of what is on The Comedian’s Bookshelf

Last time I chatted to Jorik Mol for a blog back in December, he was about to perform for dogs and could not tell me much about attempting to write Raoul Moat: The Opera with Ellis of Ellis & Rose.

This week, still no news on Raoul Moat: The Opera and he was enthusing about his monthly Comedian’s Bookshelf shows

Jorik (who is Dutch) got his BA Hons degree in English Literature & Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam after writing a dissertation on The Goon Show. He is now doing a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.

Robin Ince,” I said, “used to run a night called The Bad Book Club.”

“But that was more about bad books,” said Jorik. “At The Comedian’s Bookshelf, we ask comedians to write a set about their favourite book or author. It’s been interesting at worst and absolutely mind-blowing at best.

“If you buy a book, you basically buy Thinking – you buy the author’s insights. A book is thought, is emotion, is the brain. More than a film or a video game or a painting, it works because narrative takes on life and something happens and you see and empathise with things that don’t exist.

“When you take a books’s thoughts to live comedy, where you don’t just have text, you have rhythm and musicality and physicality, you can work all those different things round these original thoughts. And that cannot not – a double negative – it cannot NOT bring out something creative.”

“Comedians nowadays,” I suggested, “tend to tell funny stories. They don’t do gags.”

“Jokes,” said Jorik, “are a narrative. Some information is given, then there is a comedic pivot and then a new narrative has to be worked up – from the ground up – very very quickly. There’s a gap that is bridged within the cognitive system.”

“I am a simple chap,” I asked. “What is the comedic pivot? The twist before the punchline?”

“It is the thing that changes the story from Narrative A to Narrative B,” explained Jorik. “If Narrative A is the feed-line and build-up, then the comedic pivot is where it changes and there is a leap to a second narrative that works. What the brain hates most of all is to be wrong.”

“Surely,” I said, “in most good jokes, the brain is wrong. It is misled and then you laugh from shock and/or relief.”

“No,” said Jorik, “Your brain is wrong first and then it is right. The reason you laugh is because your brain sends you endorphins because this second time you have seen it correctly. Well done brain. Endorphin buzz.”

“What,” I asked, “about when you laugh with relief at a horror film?”

“That is because,” said Jorik, “you thought you might be attacked and laughter is a way for the cognitive system to say Chill the fuck out. So laughter is introduced and endorphins are introduced to make you feel safe.”

I asked: “What about My wife’s got no nose – How does she smell? – Terrible?”

“The word Smell is the pivot,” said Jorik. “That’s just linguistics. That’s the pivot and then the entirety of the narrative changes – You have a smelly wife.

“What next for you?” I asked.

“I was thinking of starting an evening called The Comedians’ Talking Therapy Group,” Jorik told me.It would be a night when comedians talk about their problems – personal, psychiatric, money, gambling, sexual. I would talk about how life and depression is so much fun. I would get someone to headline talking about his or her anxiety or talking about trying to commit suicide – all of the LOLs and all of the pain. There is a night a little like that already – Karl Schultz’s It Might Get Ugly. I did some very dark material there and my parents were in the audience.”

“What did they think?”

“They loved it. I had explained a little about the comedy world to my mother. She told one of the other comedians: I hope you don’t die on stage.

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