Tag Archives: Kate Copstick

Last two diary postings from critic Kate Copstick in Kenya were over a week ago

More edited extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary. Full versions on her Facebook page. She is in Kenya where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

Mama Biashara (‘Business Mother’) gives small sums to impoverished individuals and small groups to help them start self-supporting small businesses.

Yesterday, she posted on her Facebook page: “So sorry not been in touch. Bit poorly.”

Below are her last two diary entries posted before that.


Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

Tuesday 7th November

Still in stalemate regarding the Kisii refugees. Things have worsened there and the local Big Bad Boys have come in and done the refugees some serious bodily harm. So now they are scattered. We await an update from Vicky, but I am losing confidence that we can do much good for this community.

I hit the market and get the usual collection of people looking shocked (“Today? Was it not next week?”), sleekit (“Er, it got lost on the way coming…”) or, in the case of Oscar The Soapstone, just having got the order wrong.

However I do get some fab huge cow horns (my new Christmas campaign “Give Someone You Love The Horn For Christmas” will be kicking off as soon as I get back to the UK).

I chat to Mrs Mwangi about her making some gift bags and tote bags for Mama Biashara. They are not that cheap, but I am so impressed with Kenya’s ‘no plastic bags’ thing that I want to try and reduce the number we use in the shop in London.

I meet Doris and a group of eighteen young people who have been trained by our mechanic boys. They have a sliver of a shack out of which they work repairing cars and trucks. What they need from me is a bit of a budget for widgets and brake pads and fan belts so that they do not need to be buying piecemeal from their immediate competition.

As soon as they are able, they will expand and train more young people. They are absolutely admirable.

Doris and I repair to a local hostelry where we are joined by David. Tusker beer is drunk, and we dance. We dance quite a lot. I have not danced for a long time. My ability to move, despite my advanced age and total lack of bottom, is remarked upon by a table of men next to the dance floor. I dance with one of them. He invites me back to his house and I decline gracefully. Either I look particularly desperate or courtship is turbocharged in Uthiru.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Wednesday 8th November

David is in recalcitrant mode. He is moody because Doris has successfully taken her ex-husband to court and forced him to help with school fees and other things he has failed to do for seven years.

This is unacceptable in David’s eyes.

This is not really surprising, given that he is A Real Kikkuyu Man.

When coming back from Dagoretti market on Monday, we bought a big chunk of pumpkin. David likes pumpkin. We stopped on the road close to where his house is. He wanted to drop it off. I handed it to him and he just looked at me.

He called his wife who schlepped her way through the mud from the house to collect it and take it back while David sat with me. Kikkuyu men do not carry fruit or vegetables. That is a woman’s work. Kikkuyu men MIGHT allow themselves to be seen to carry meat. But nothing else. All else is for the woman to carry. True.

Anyway, he is not happy that a Kikkuyu man is being forced to pay for his children’s anything. He takes a wrong turning and Doris and I have to get out into ankle-deep black slime. I would say mud but I do not think it is mere mud.

I drag Doris around the labyrinth of Kamkunji where prices have shot up. We get what we can – eight dozen mugs and six tea urns – and call David. He has parked a considerable distance away. And orders us to come there. I say something down the phone which turns heads up and down the hill we are ascending.

I get a mkokoteni (porter) and I tell David we will be outside the police station. There is the usual minor stand-off and delay and then he calls to say we have to go across to the other side of the main road. We do. We wait. He calls to say he is at the police station. We say we have crossed the road. He wants to know why.

Eventually, he rolls up and refuses to put anything in the boot, so I am in the back seat under our purchases.

The news from Kisii just gets worse. Now there has been some raping. We are not sure of whom, by whom, but that has set off more violence and it looks like my plans for Peace and Harmony in Kisii will not be bearing fruit.

First thing in the morning, we had our Big Meeting with the group of mothers whose little girls have been raped and are currently staying with Joan. The mothers are almost as traumatised as the girls. And, despite the fact that child rape is endemic in the slum villages and beyond, the stigma attached to the mother is dreadful. They barely show their faces. Plus they are dealing with the knowledge that their husband / father/ boyfriend / brother has raped their child.

What we are trying to do is remake the mother/child bond and enable them to go back out into the world. So this means counselling (sort of) for both, group talks, mutual support, a place to go with problems, medical help where necessary and a way for the women to build a new life. A business.

The mother of Susan, the girl who has now been raped twice in quick succession is there. She looks haunted. Most of the other mums do not even speak. But they are positive about the project. And about being the first group.

It is a challenging couple of hours but I think we need to go very gently forward. Obviously that is out of my comfort zone. But Joan is great at it and has been doing it for a long time. The ladies decide, variously, on tea and coffee businesses, egg selling and we agree that our next meeting will be on Monday, when I will bring all the business kit.

Joan has bad news about the child she was called to see early this morning.

Three years old, raped by her father and left in the Ngong Forest in the rain.

She is dead.

The mothers nod resignedly. At least they still have their girls.

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Multiple rape and desperation in Kenya and an appeal from critic Kate Copstick

Following on from my previous blog – more extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary, slightly edited. Full versions on her Facebook page. She is in Kenya where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

Mama Biashara (‘Business Mother’) gives small sums to impoverished individuals and small groups to help them start self-supporting small businesses.

Their slogan is that it is a hand up not a hand out.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Saturday 4th November

I get a call from Doris who has had a call from Vicky to say that the farmers who own the land in Kisii, where the refugees are huddled, have let it be known that, if anyone brings any form of help to the refugee community, all hell will break loose (I loosely translate from the angry Kisii).

So we are holding off on our mercy mission. David and I cancel our trip to the Indian Blanket Supremo and the medical supplies wholesaler. I head straight to the market.

Doris also tells me that, overnight, the government has pulled a U-turn on the NHIF restriction (mentioned in the previous blog). It will now continue unrestricted. I am saying nothing. But am impressed with the swiftness of the reaction. It is the right decision.

Doris has gone out to Limuru to see a group of people she is desperate to help. They are currently working for £1 per day on a big tea farm. They are wholly uneducated, helpless, hopeless people. Too frightened even to try starting a business in case they are thrown out and lose their £1 per day. They want us “to empower them” says Doris.

The Mama Biashara method of a brisk talking-to, a decent business plan, a good chain of supply and a useful choice of business location, topped off with start up grant and a hearty hug is obviously not going to work here. Doris says she will update me.

I get round the market in about four hours. I am knackered and sore and my tiny ears are ringing to the cries of “Mama Biashara! You are my Mother! Promote me!” I can only disappoint so many people in a day without breaking.


Felista needs money for a non-underwater kitchen in Nairobi

Sunday 5th November

I am going to DECIP (the home for children that Mama Biashara built) to make some little videos to put up on Facebook in the hope of getting some money for Felista. She is a woman with a heart the size of Kenya and has been rescuing kids from abandonment, abuse, rape and destitution for a decade.

Mama Biashara sends her about £170 per month. She gets nothing from the government, although the Children’s Department are very supportive. She is the reason I am in Kenya and I often feel bad, as I hare off all over the country setting up businesses for the desperate poor, that I do not do more for her.

So we are going to put out some pleas for help for her and I will set up a MyDonate page for her. She is someone who infuriates me but whom I am so very proud to know.

I have brought her some shoes, a bag, a skirt and two tops. Felista almost never gets anything for herself. Even the one room in the home that should be hers is always full of the youngest children playing and looking for a cuddle.

DECIP has had improvements. A marvellous lady paid for the dormitories to be re-floored so the water doesn’t flood them any more, the passageway from dorm to dorm is now covered over and the water from the roof harvested, many places have new roofing, and a nice rich Chinese man is going to build a big hall for them to use for exams and recreation.

At this time it is proving really difficult to help people – because of the numbers of weapon-wielding other people in the way. So I am going to concentrate more on DECIP this trip. And see what we can do there.


Some of the needy children at DECIP in Nairobi

Monday 6th November

I suddenly start to feel decidedly not OK. Just the usual crap, but that tends to mean getting horizontal and trying to sleep it out.

That not being possible, I turn to the small packet of gifts from our newest volunteer Chris.

There are few things that can go wrong with the human body that have not gone wrong with Chris.

There is absolutely no upside for her. But for me, it means that any painkiller is available. And I have with me a selection of the finest. I curl up till all is made chemically well.

Now I have a meeting with Joan. Through her we have worked quite extensively with the albino community and with groups of women with badly disabled kids. The businesses we started with the mothers are doing really well in Kibera, apparently. I will go and visit. Joan’s main work is with child victims of sexual violence.

When we last met she was in a little house in Kabira with six small girls who had been raped and one older girl, mentally and physically challenged, and also a victim of rape. I wrote about them on my last trip.

During the endless, tit for tat, post and para election violences here, a group of militant kikkuyu took it upon themselves to attack the compound where Joan was sheltering the girls. All of them were beaten – from the two-and-a-half year old rape victim to Joan herself. Everyone ran. But Susan, the big girl, was too frightened and she hid. And was discovered. And was beaten and raped again. Everything was stolen from inside Joan’s house.

The men from the compound caught the rapist. They took him to the local police station (well, the one that had not been burned down). Where he was released because the police did not want the militants to come and burn down their police station too.

The girls are now with Joan’s aunt but that cannot continue. She is looking at places in Ngando and has been offered a four bedroom, stone built, self-contained house beside the Catholic church. Great security.

What I am thinking is that Mama Biashara can help pay the rent here, we will help set it up as soon as we can and we will support it as a Mama Biashara project for victims of child rape and sexual abuse.

All of the current group of victims are the children of women who do low-rent commercial sex work. The girls are locked in the house while the mothers go out at night. Which is why they are so vulnerable to passing rapists. Mama Biashara would – as part of this project – work with the mums and set them up in a decent small business so they can give their daughters a proper secure home.

I am hugely enthused about this and we are going to see the house tomorrow.

Anyone fancy taking money out of their offshore tax haven and using it to help these kids?

You can now uncross your fingers about the money from the lovely trust who helped us before. We did not get anything. They are concentrating on more formal, UK-based charities. Pretty devastating for Mama Biashara. And it means, short of a miracle, I will be cutting my trip here a bit short.

Going to my tent now.


Mama Biashara subsists solely on donations and from sales at its London shop. Copstick covers 100% of her own costs, including flights and accommodation and takes zero. 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work. You can donate HERE

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Death and burnt-out areas after the re-run elections: Kate Copstick in Nairobi

Following on from my last blog, a further (edited) diary entry from Kate Copstick in Kenya, where she is working with her Mama Biashara charity.


Friday 4th November

It is interesting that, because there are no crowds of angry young men burning tyres in the streets, there is no great media interest in the Kenya re-election. But everywhere there are people of the ‘wrong’ tribe in the ‘wrong’ place being killed, beaten, thrown out and having their homes, businesses and personal property burned. All over.

But because they are just ridiculously poor, black people, no-one really bothers. It is as if none of that is happening.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, during a dinner at the White House in 2014. (Official White House Photograph by Amanda Lucidon)

President Uhuru smiles fatly from the front of newspapers here, claiming that, having won a goodly percentage of the votes from the laughably low percentage of the population who turned out, it proves he won ‘fair and square’ in August. He seems to have an excellent command of English, but his grasp of the correct usage of ‘fair and square’ is – how can I put this – wrong.

But as of today, he is safe.

Because today, a bill he put in the works has become law.

It effectively renders the Supreme Court helpless to do anything in the face of an obviously corrupt election. It was the Supreme Court who annulled the August vote for obvious corruption. That will never be able to happen again. The Jubilee Party can buy and corrupt their way to eternal power. Uhuru is above the law. Kenya is more or less a dictatorship now.

David and I make a fruitless trip to Toi Market to buy blankets for the refugees in Kisii, via the Forex Bureau where, it seems, the pound sterling briefly rose, like Violetta in the last act of Traviata, from its financial sickbed only to crumple again. My lovely Somali ladies give me an extra 50p in the pound. We have to be grateful for small mercies. It definitely seems we will be better buying new blankets than haggling with bad tempered stall holders for old ones. I remember an old Indian bloke who sells in the crazy, torrid maze of wholesalers around River Road. We will go there.

No longer crispy but black and soggy although still smoking.

It is raining heavily as we reach the crispy bits of Kawangware 56. Or, to be more precise, Congo West. No – no longer crispy but black and soggy although, amazingly, still smoking.

Here were 20 businesses and 33 houses. But they were set on fire by an angry mob. Several of the people who had homes and businesses here are wandering around forlornly, picking at the charred rubble.

I ask if they are the ex-tenants and they say Yes. They show me the tiny pile of things rescued from the fire. Some of the people are staying with friends, some are sleeping at the police station. I collect the ladies together and we repair to drink tea and talk about what I can do to help. They are very suspicious. White people taking photos they understand. Actually helping is something new for them.

I talk and try to explain what I can do to help. There is the usual great excitement as people envisage opening supermarkets and bowling alleys. I explain again about starting small. They are markedly less enthusiastic.

There is one woman called Lillian with whom I mainly chat. She understands about starting small. She will get everyone together for a chat and we will meet again on Monday. I get some bar soap and sanitary products for the Kisii refugee community at the supermarket and we set off to get me some functional WiFi.

Life has to continue in Nairobi amid the post-election reality

Doris has been in a queue to collect her sons’ report cards since silly o’clock this morning. Now she calls.

According to her, the head teacher of her boys’ school has told parents that, starting in January, no more hard copy books will be bought for students. Set texts, notes etc must all be downloaded from the government website. I cannot believe this. It would effectively exclude all slum and rural kids from education.

Lovely Jayne in Awendo teaches her abandoned and orphaned kids in a mud hut. There is no electricity, much less internet at downloadable speeds.

I tell Doris not to panic. She sends me a link to the government website. It is bubbling with twatspeak about bollocks couched in jargon. It is (given the state of Kenyan education for the poor) rearranging the fleas on the deckchairs on the Titanic. And certainly looks to be trying to get more and more power (and power is money) in the hands of the government.

She calls again asking if I have read about the NHIF cards. This is a pseudo National Insurance card. Pay to join the scheme, pay a fiver each month and you get doctor’s consultations free. You still have to pay for your meds, most tests and whatnot, but you get to go to A&E free of charge.

Today’s newspapers reveal (in a small column) that the government have decided that too many people are using the service and they are restricting each cardholder to four visits per year. So you can get sick once every three months. “Uhuru has eaten the money” says David, gloomily.

Doris eventually gets her report cards and we meet at the Mali cafe to discuss:

a) NHIF and the way forward.

b) the downloadable syllabus.

c) the latest updates on the Kisii refugees. It seems that someone has told the local people that help is coming for the refugees and the local people have made it known that, if help comes, all hell will break loose.

Time for plan D. Which I have not thought of yet.

No Supercharged Rennies tonight… maybe beer is the cure…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: elections, violence and disappearing people

On Monday, Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. She keeps a diary which she posts on her Facebook page. Below are edited extracts, starting with Copstick ill in the U.K.

Monday 30th October

Kate Copstick in London – as seen by Joanne Fagan

Things are not looking good. I have felt like Death Has A Bad Headache for most of the last week. Spent yesterday in bed.

I am leaving behind an Emporium – the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush – on an emotional knife edge and a more or less empty bank account. My wad is slimmer than it has been for many years. I am practising saying: “No, I am sorry, small, gnarled, starving person, I cannot help you as I have insufficient funds”.

BA have changed the aircraft to one of those ones that carry a ‘We are not really for the poor’ message. The plane is almost entirely First and Club Class which you trail through before reaching the 25 rows of ‘cheap seats’, way back in the tail. I console myself with the fact that survivors of a catastrophic air crash are almost always found in the tail section. Staff are lovely, food is dire.

Customs in Nairobi want to know if I have anything to declare. I decide that shouting “Your election was a sham and your so-called President an insult to the starving poor of your country” is not what is being called for, so I mention I have cheese and English beer for my friend Alan. They want to know if I have more than $10,000.

Hah!! If only. If only.

Wildebeest, where I stay in Nairobi, is calm and dark and my flaps open to admit me and my bags. I sleep, waking only to munch yet another handful of Rennies Extra. My attempt to come off Omeprazole has not been a success.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Tuesday 31st October

I am, to my surprise, up at 8.30am. My tiny tent is like a sauna. Which is quite lovely. I open my flaps and head to have coffee and do some admin.

The market in Kijabe Street is an emaciated shell of its usual self. Many traders have simply not come; most have only half the stuff they usually bring. Everyone is downbeat about the lack of business and the paucity of tourists. I am welcomed like a cow carcass in a bearpit.

I talk a LOT of politics on my rounds, get essential travel information (“Do not go to Awendo it is crazy there, you will be killed!”), buy some great stuff and attempt to pack the car.

This is a different car. This one has a big bash in the front, the doors don’t really open from the inside and the boot is fused shut. The windows do open but only when David rubs the bare wires on his door together. Then we get a shower of sparks and a window opens; you rarely know which one it is going to be. We cram everything into the back seat and go to Kawangware (one of the unburnt bits) to meet Doris.

And now some good news!

The Pork Place in Kawangware has re-opened. We celebrate with some of their finest dry fry with greens. We then do shopping for Doris and David. I have to give them a strict limit because funds are so very short this trip. Doris heads to a matatu and David drops me and my many bits and bobs at Wildebeest.

I cram everything I have bought between my flaps and into the tiny tent in complete darkness. I forgot to buy a torch. And my phone is dead. I attempt to identify my five different meds by touch. And neck the assortment.

I sleep.


Wednesday 1st November

Mama Biashara’s rain catcher – very simple but very effective

I am hailed by a thin American with a tweedy cap and a non-hipster moustache. Brian is with another charity – Mama Maji – and he tells me about the manual brick presses his peeps are giving to communities in need of a way to get, store and sell water to make water tanks. The bricks are waterproof and made from soil plus 1% cement. NO need for firing. The brick press sounds amazing. And costs about £800 a pop. Which is something someone could fundraise for. Couldn’t you?

In exchange, I tell Brian about Mama Biashara’s Raincatchers and Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment (white vinegar laced generously with birdseye chillies and matured till the fumes it gives off would knock down an angry hippo).

We bottle it in little sprays and advise women to apply vigorously to the eyes and, if bared, genital area of an attacker. It has worked incredibly well in all the areas we have taken it to. Stopped attacks in Mombasa, Nairobi… even when the British Army was concerned. Guaranteed to reduce a wannabe rapist to a pink, puffy and streaming-eyed, sobbing ball of blind pain at your feet. And discourage others. It is also delicious on rice or chips if you like things spicy.

Brian wants to send it to Homa Bay, where violently sexual attacks on women on the way to the lake to fetch water are on the increase.

Vicky comes to tell me about the results of para-election(s) violence in Kisii and Homa Bay. My sources have already regaled me with tales of rioting and arson, shooting and general violence all over the area. So I am expecting the worst.

Her story takes me one step away from shrieking “Screw the lot of you!” and flouncing out for an early flight home. However, there are 60 people in Kisii County (plus countless children) who need Mama Biashara very badly.

Since the ‘election’ in August, in many areas, things have been bad and getting worse. Already, 63 men that Vicky herself knows about have disappeared. Just disappeared. No bodies, nothing. Just, suddenly, no husband, no father…

More recently, around the election rerun, tribalism in the areas not held by the party in power has been getting desperate as anyone who looks slightly like a voter floating the wrong way is hunted down.

The sixty that Vicky has come to me about are absolute outcasts. Forty women and twenty men who committed the unforgivable crime of marrying outside their tribe.

Kisii people who married a Luo faced terrible treatment. They had been working across the county border in Homa Bay. There they were beaten, their houses set on fire, their businesses set on fire and the people forced to run in the night or be killed. They ran back across the border into Kisii County – “Home”.

But there the women are paraded through any town they go to, being publicly whipped. No-one will give them shelter, much less food or a way to earn a living. So they are currently sleeping in fields, open air, in the rain and the cold. Starving and desperate. Vicky went to visit them. Vicky is also a sort of outcast. An outsider who married a Kisii. But they do not attack her (any more) because she has two children who have been brought up Kisii.

Now, believe it or not, it gets worse.

I am planning my trip to take them plastic to make shelters, cooking pots, the wherewithal to start small businesses, clothes, food, medicine etc. But I cannot.

Because, if the local Kisiis see a mzungu (or, indeed ANYONE) helping the outcasts or giving them things, then all hell will break loose. Nothing particularly bad would happen to me, probably, but the outcast community would be attacked and all donations taken from them.

So we will have to drip feed them our help. Starting with some plastic and old sacking to make shelters… then tools… cooking pots (everything must look old and worn)… food… etc etc.

We will take the stuff as far as Kisii where Vicky can get safe storage. Then a couple of the drivers of the farm lorries that go down to the county border will take the things. Vicky knows them. We will pay them a little. Every day, every trip, a little more. So hopefully these people and their children won’t die out there in the fields.

The Rennies get a hammering through the night… must be my churning bile.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and money from its shop in London. 100% of all monies collected go to the charity’s work. Copstick covers all her own expenses herself, including travel and accommodation. She takes nothing from the charity. You can donate HERE.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 18: The real spirit of the Fringe returns for one day

Stoic Mark Dean Quinn sits  by the Blundabus

Today turned into very much a Spirit of The Fringe day: a spirit far too often submerged by giant posters and promoters/managers/agents/venues screwing their performers. As is often muttered, SOMEONE is making money, but it is rarely the performers.

Yesterday’s blog included Mark Dean Quinn attaching other people’s stars and quotes to his own flyers… and enticing Narin Oz into this moral jungle.

Narin today told me: “The fake stars don’t work. It’s useless without people knowing what the real show is about!”

But Mark Dean Quinn is sticking to his figurative guns and actual stars.

Meanwhile, the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club shows chaired by feared comedy critic Kate Copstick and my loveable self continue. Today on Twitter, someone calling themselves TheAntiCrit Tweeted:

5 STARS The Grouchy Club – After the usual dodgy 1 STAR start, legendary fest talkfest is firing on all cylinders.

Today, the conversation in this alleged comedy chat show turned to the upcoming one-off Malcolm Hardee show (in which I am not involved) staged by former squatters on his Wibbley Wobbley boat, the rapist tendencies of the Kenyan police and an adopted lady in the audience who was meeting her birth mother for only the second time (mum is staging a Fringe show), who had had a brain operation recently and had gone blind in one eye while losing peripheral vision in the other. All human life is, indeed, mulled-over at The Grouchy Club.

Rowdy Peter Michael Marino rousing just part of his audience

I stayed on in the Lounge of the Counting House to see the lovely Peter Michael Marino’s show titled Show Up which was full-to-overflowing and which, much like The Grouchy Club, happily varies in content from day-to-day because it is highly audience-based.

Michael is American and, in their quaint Colonial lingo, a ‘hyphenate’ – a stage performer-producer-director force of Nature who can (again in their quaint Colonial tongue) ‘own’ a room. Wonderful audience control and charisma. He is occasionally called ‘Blackout Pete’ because he was conceived during an electrical blackout in New York.

Possibly too much information.

The most interesting part of the show for me, though, was when performer Jane Hill, who was in the packed audience, revealed that she used to “make tampons”. I could have asked her for more details after the show but decided that some things are better left to the imagination. In this case, the vision of her knitting tampons in an armchair in her quaintly thatched home as part of some little-known cottage industry.

My next trip was to the small wooden garden shed next to Bob Slayer’s Blundabus where Michael Brunström had promised an unadvertised one-off event of an undefined – and, as it turned out, indefinable – type.

Michael Brunström in fetching fruity shorts

Unusually, he did not turn up in a lady’s dress or Greek toga but in some very fetching white shorts with a pineapple motif.

The shed had a notice on it which was, loosely, also the show’s title and format – UP TO YOU.

“When I conceived it,” Michael explained, “I knew this would be a very stressful Saturday, especially for performers: it’s busy and the whole machinery, the whole ‘game’ of Edinburgh seems to be building up to this big crescendo next week of awards and wotnot. Winners and losers starting to be announced. Today is quite a frantic, busy day and what I wanted to do was just have a little space where we weren’t bothering about any of that. We’re just doing whatever we want to do. Just to leave Edinburgh aside for a little bit and just have a bit of fun. That’s all.”

Shed Art – the audience’s impression of Michael Bruström

The audience was me and a very amiable couple who were up for any new Fringe experiences. The event included trying to play rummy with a pack of playing cards, Michael reading from E. W. Hornung’s stories of Raffles, the gentleman thief, the female half of the couple – unbidden – drawing a sketch of Michael, the male half of the couple whipping eggs, Andy Barr chopping some edible green vegetables, Mark Dean Quinn cooking an omelette and everyone eating said. The couple gave him a definite genuine 5-stars for his omelette-making skills.

Mark Dean Quinn holds up a vegetable while Michael Brunström reads from Raffles aloud

The show was due to last 20 minutes. I left after half an hour.

I was later told that it continued for another hour after I left.

It was, like The Grouchy Club, entirely free.

Later, I went off to join Arthur Smith’s annual hour-long alternative tour of the Royal Mile – again, totally free, totally unpredictable.

This is the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

People doing things for no reason except enjoyment.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 17, Part 1: The continuing mystery of Lewis Schaffer

Young Lewis Schaffer (left) and his mother

Yesterday’s blog included Kate Copstick’s interesting take on Lewis Schaffer and his show Unopened Letters From My Mother.

Today I received a comment on that blog from one Ian Roberts. He wrote:


As long as anybody is writing about Lewis Schaffer, he is ‘happy’ in the terms that he understands what ‘happiness’ is about. His comedy is one long essay in narcissistic neurosis and an inability to focus on his craft.

As such he is a uniquely perplexing phenomenon to a small group of often appalled fans who come to watch the car crashing again and again and again.

I suspect he is too long in the tooth to change now and so his subsistence comedy will continue as long as he has breath to utter Whaddabout me? Whaddabout me?

In the beginning, he was no doubt the poor man’s Woody Allen and one to watch. Now he has certainly grown into the persona of the poor man’s Lewis Schaffer. And for that I salute him. He adds gaiety and a fixed position in the often times stellar landscape of our Edinburgh revels. It is such a shame his mother never lived to see this for herself.


Is Lewis Schaffer in over his depth?

And Lewis Schaffer himself responded in an email to me:


There is truth to what Copstick said: I must have the need to feel regret and remorse and sadness and fear all the time.

But I did not do this show to feel pain.

I thought it would be interesting, which is important to me. Funny can be interesting but not the only way, I have now realised.

I did not expect there would be this much heartache and sorrow.  I want to stop. I am not sure what I am getting out of it, other than tears, or what the audience is getting out of it, other than see a grown man crumble.

Thank you for finding me interesting for you to write about me.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 16: The comedy critic, the comic & the sado-masochism

Copstick at the Grouchy Club this afternoon

People who have foolishly never attended ask what the increasingly prestigious live Grouchy Club shows which I host with comedy critic Kate Copstick are actually like.

Well, for one thing, they are not really shows. They are chats. Free to enter. Free to leave. No bucket collection at the end.

They aim to be what The Scotsman described them as last year: “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” – except that the target audience is wider… performers, media and industry.

The audience are the show. Co-host Kate Copstick and I talk with whoever turns up about whatever crops up. Inevitably, today, one of the subjects was (again) comedian Lewis Schaffer and his show Unopened Letters From My Mother – Each day, he opens one of 23 letters his mother sent from New York (some from a mental hospital) to him in London between 2000 and her death alone in New York in 2011. And he never opened them.

Lewis Schaffer reading aloud one of his mother’s letters

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote: “I have a terrible feeling that he is doing these shows as a way of daring the audiences – and daring himself – to dislike him.”

This afternoon, at the Grouchy Club, I said: “In his show last night, it was seriously voyeuristic. We were watching a real person on the stage… not quite having a breakdown, but showing real emotions. You don’t normally see real, genuine emotions on the stage.”

“I think,” said Copstick, “that he is genuinely a kind of misery junkie. Some people go into physical SM because, when someone takes a whip across your back, you get a rush of endorphins. That’s just scientific fact. Whatever you think of the psychology, getting beaten-up creatively releases endorphins into the brain and they are the most powerful feelgood chemicals on the planet. It stimulates all kinds of things. The messages that the nerve endings send release into your brain adrenaline and all the -enalines and they are ‘fight or flight’ and they give you a kind of a rush, a head rush.

“And, of course, you are not using that to trigger flight – frequently because you’re bound up – or because you are paying to be beaten-up, so why would you run away? The bondage thing – the psychological thing – helps but, physiologically, you get an endorphin rush.

“Things like morphine are less powerful versions of the drugs that your brain makes anyway. It’s an amazing feeling. I don’t really do it now, I think, because I am on severe anti-depressants. But, before I was on anti-depressants, I was a real SM junkie. There were a couple of guys – I was their favourite sub because they couldn’t hit me too much for my taste. There were a couple of guys, I was their ‘show sub’ if they were doing a demonstration and I would come out feeling great, feeling relaxed, feeling happy.

“Some people self-harm and they cut themselves. I had a kebab skewer – I’ve still got it for old times’ sake – which I used to stick in my arm and swizzle around. It didn’t make a big mark. I would just go, stick it in, swizzle it around and you get this burst of pain and then (BIG SIGH OF RELIEF).

“I think Lewis Schaffer has that same kind of need, but it’s an emotional not a physiological thing. He needs to traumatise himself emotionally every so often. He has his divorce, this, that, everything but, now he has a relationship, people love him in Edinburgh, nobody really ‘has a go’ at him any more.

“So I think in the same way that I needed physical pain, he needs emotional pain. Maybe it reinforces his ideas about himself or whatever and he gets from a very specific pointed burst of emotional pain like that the same thrill and the same release that someone who is into physical SM gets from a whip across their back.

“What you need is something very specific… For example, it’s no fun for somebody who is really into SM to break a leg and be in pain all the time. It IS pain, but what you need is a burst of pain and it needs to be deliberate. I have lupus. I’m in pain all the time, so I should be happy like a pig in shit. But there is no intent.

“For Lewis, just having a shit day or a shit week or Oh! My life’s going all wrong! – That’s not the kind of misery he is addicted to. If he opens a letter from his mum and she is saying: You are a shit! You are dead to me! – that is a specific burst of pain and there is the added misery that he can’t do anything about it now because she is dead… That’s a real bombshell of misery and… I am not saying he wallows in it, but I think it’s a need he has to reinforce a… well, self-loathing is a cliché now but… I think it’s like a lash on his back.”

…THERE IS REACTION TO THIS BLOG HERE

The Grouchy Club – Edinburgh Fringe 2017

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