Tag Archives: Kindle

Ex gangster drug runner Jason Cook tells me how a rat became an astronaut

Jason Cook - from crime and cocaine to children’s books and cheese

Jason – from crime and cocaine to rats and cheese

I have blogged about Jason Cook a few times before.

He became a drug addict at the age of twelve and then started to sell drugs from his bedroom and on the streets to pay off his growing drugs debts to local dealers. Then he got into trouble with Yardies and was forced to smuggle drugs in order to save his friends and family “from danger”.

At the age of 20 he was heavily involved in the drugs world and he was also taking steroids to build himself up. He reached 18 stone, with a sizeable drug habit, was arrested and spent 3 years and 9 months in Pentonville Prison where he found drugs use was also widespread.

After a second prison sentence, he realised that he needed to turn his life round for his family and – despite being dyslexic – started to write a series of four semi-autobiographical books

Jason Cook’s first two semi-autobiographical crime books

Jason Cook’s first two semi-autobiographical crime books

Jason has five children. This month he published his first Kindle children’s book Rats in Space.

For each downloaded eBook or Kindle copy sold, 50p is going to be donated to the Macmillan Cancer fund. At the start of the book, it says:

Jason Cook’s book - Rats In Space

Jason Cook’s kids’ book – Rats In Space

The author, Jason Cook, would like to dedicate this book to his son, Hughie Cook, for truly being a brave boy during his chemotherapy treatment. Jason would also like to dedicate it to the other children and adults who are fighting this disease every day. Also to the doctors and nurses that help so many of the sick adults and children and thank them for the support they show the families. So thank you, all who helped support not only Hughie, but me and the others in our family at these tough times.

Rats in Space “tells the sad, very emotional yet ultimately happy story of the rats who live in the tunnels of the Underground at King’s Cross station…

“Can a rat really reach the moon? When a global cheese shortage threatens the entire rodent community, a brave group of rats come to one decision: if there is no cheese to be found on the Earth, then it’s time to look off the Earth. Hector Duddlewell has always dreamed of the stars and, when he catches a glimpse of glorious space travel, he’s willing to defy all odds to win the girl of his dreams and take his place as one of the first ever RATS IN SPACE.”

“It’s true,” Jason told me this morning. “Hector really did go into space.”

“Of course he did,” I said sympathetically.

Jason has plans to film Rats In Space

Jason has plans to film Rats In Space – the script is written

“He did,” said Jason. “Hector really did. He was flown into space.”

He showed me the Wikipedia entry. It read:

“France flew their first rat (Hector) into space on February 22, 1961.”

“My book tells the back story of Hector,” explained Jason. “How he actually became an astronaut.”

Stranger things have happened.

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Yesterday, I saw an old woman and the publishing industry jumping off a roof

The future of traditional publishing

The future of traditional print publishing

Last night, I had a dream.

I was standing on one side of a slightly old-fashioned British shopping street, perhaps built in the 1950s or 1960s, just after the Second World War.

The buildings had right-angled edges and flat roofs – What were architects thinking after the War? Flat roofs? This is rain-drenched Britain, not some part of sun-drenched California.

The shops on the other side of the road were two storeys high and slightly set back from the road with a wider-than-normal pavement. They liked to have lots of pedestrian space in front of shops after the War. I guess there were flats where people lived above the row of shops; I wasn’t really aware of such fine details in my dream.

But I became aware, at the last moment, that an old woman was standing on the edge of the roof above the shops, two storeys up. As I became aware of her, she jumped. She was wearing a light pink, thick woollen coat. And she wore a head scarf.

When she hit the concrete paving slabs below, there was the sound of three – it might have been four – ear-deafening cracks – the sound of breaking bones. There was a slight echo as her bones broke. Her legs hit the concrete paving slabs first, then she crumpled. But she survived the fall. As she lay there, I could see her face contorting as the ever-different agonies hit her. But I could not hear her desperate screams.

“People think you’re certainly going to die if you jump,” I said to someone. “Stupid.”

I guess she died eventually.

Well, she would do, wouldn’t she…

People do.

So it goes.

Yesterday, I went to the first in a two day seminar about Self Publishing held in the Guardian newspaper’s very modern new offices. I was not initially impressed as, at this cyberworld event in their flash new-ish building, it took over ten minutes for someone to tell me what the access code for the internet was.

“Here it is,” she eventually told me, “but it’s very unreliable.”

And so it proved.

Very very unreliable.

It took me around nine attempts to actually post my already-written blog yesterday morning.

Not impressive.

I was also not impressed when the intro included the words (I paraphrase) “Penguin Books are not going to collapse.”

They were taken over by Random House in the last month. The new entity has been nick-named ‘Randy Penguin’.

In a tea break, an art lecturer said to me: “Artists have always been self-publishers when they start out.”

True. And something I had never thought about.

I had also never thought about the fact that, with books now selling online with small thumbnail images of the cover, book designs have to be less detailed and perhaps less interesting than they used to be – in the same way that, when CDs replaced LPs, the cover artwork was more effective when slightly simplified because the physical size was smaller.

The very wise and very clever author Polly Courtney pointed out that the people wheeled on to radio and TV shows to talk about some subject-of-the-moment are often actually not genuine experts – they are just people who have written a recent book about the subject.

The day’s talks made me even more certain that printed books – like vinyl records and soon CDs – are dead. Vinyl records still exist, as do VHSs.

That art lecturer told me a student had recently wanted to shoot and edit something on VHS “to give it an old-fashioned feel”.

Vinyl records still exist. I guess printed books will still exist. But the business will be in cyberspace. Print-on-demand will fill the gap as traditional publishing declines, but eBooks are the future. And self publishing.

Apparently, last year, 18 of the top 100 books sold on Amazon were self-published.

Apparently, crime writer John Locke – the first man to sell over a million self-published digital books on Amazon.com – sold his first two novels at 99p each… His third book was priced at £1.99… and then he priced his next book – How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! – at £5.99 … It now seems to be on Amazon at £8.99 reduced to £1.88.

Other things I learned yesterday were that only the foolish self-publish in the run-up to Christmas because the current competition from traditional publishers is too intense… and there is a spike in e-book sales in January because people are playing with their new Kindles, iPads and other electronic readers.

Traditional publishing, like the woman who jumped from the roof, is not dead. But it is in agony and terminally crippled.

And, no, I did not make up the dream of a woman jumping.

Yes, I  really did dream that.

Any psychologists out there who can explain the dream, please do.

Any traditional publishers out there with money they want to throw my way to prove me wrong, please do.

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Rearranging books on the shelves of the Titanic as the iceberg gets even closer

Never to be available as printed book

“Printed books are dead,” I told someone recently.

I was having a chat with him because he intends to become an independent publisher. He seemed to me to be surprisingly still wedded to physical books printed on paper.

I pointed out to him that it used to be the case, when you travelled in a London tube train, you saw lots of people reading books and newspapers.

Now – and I do often consciously count ‘em – most people in the late afternoon or evening are looking at smartphones or tablets or occasionally Kindles. And a few are reading the free Evening Standard. No-one is reading a paid-for newspaper. Almost no-one is reading a printed book.

“That’s only in London,” he told me.

I don’t know if that is true. But soon it will be everywhere.

Local and regional newspapers are dying. National printed newspapers and magazines  are plunging off a cliff. And printed books are in terminal decline.

I am in the process of turning my 2010-2011 blogs into an eBook – a soul-destroying process.

I would only issue the blogs as an eBook; there is no point publishing them in a printed book. No-one will buy it, of course, even as an eBook – because they can access the same material for free online. But there might be a few sales if it is pitched very cheap; and it is a tiny bit of self-publicity; and it is a learning process for me.

Malcolm Hardee book. New version published?

Once I understand the pitfalls, I intend to re-issue comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an eBook and as a print-on-demand book, possibly in a revised form (the publisher changed the original opening and the chapter endings, making it less interesting). And I have four other ‘books’ partially-ready after that, some to be issued solely as eBooks, some as both e and print-on-demand books.

Print-on-demand means you only print the exact number of books required; there is no wastage.

Yesterday, I went to a two-hour event called Going Indie: The Writer in The Digital Age at the Free Word Centre in London. I was surprised that, there too, there was a reluctance to admit the printed book is dead. Almost all the talk was about the apparent rise of small, independent publishers with an emphasis on printed books and physical bookshops rather than the opportunities for ePublishing, self-publishing and internet retail… although Amazon, of course, was mentioned.

I was interested to hear that 60 million books are sold in the UK every year and 20% of those are cookery books. I do not know how many of the non-cookery books are eBooks. I understand that now, in North America, sales of eBooks outnumber the sales of printed books.

Amazon, of course, dominate. And they have lots of different charts covering different subject areas.

Interestingly, Darren Laws of small British publisher Caffeine Nights yesterday explained how he had increased the profile of one of his books on Amazon.

“We looked at the charts and looked at what was selling,” he revealed. “We saw that, on the numbers, one particular crime fiction book we published was outselling the No 1 sports fiction title on Amazon. Our book had a sports fiction background so, legitimately, we swapped the chart listing for it from crime fiction to sports fiction and suddenly we had a No 1 book. It found its audience readership, it stayed there for quite some time. On eBooks, we were selling a couple of hundred a month on that title: quite good for a small company like us.”

Justine Solomons of Byte the Book observed: “The internet gives you the ability to find someone who’s a bit like you.”

She also, rather oddly, admitted: “I used to choose the books I read by publisher. That’s becoming increasingly important: brands.”

Indeed, some small publishers now have subscribers, rather like book clubs, where their readers pay to buy future as-yet-unknown books from the publisher.

Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press said: “We publish contemporary European bestsellers in translation so, although our authors are very well-known abroad, no-one knows them here and no-one really cares if they’ve won prizes and sold millions of books abroad. We run a highly successful subscription service. We have subscribers up to the end of 2015, but we have only announced our 2013 catalogue. So people are trusting what we will be putting out. We have a strong brand.”

“You’re going more towards the magazine model,” Justine Solomons suggested to her. “The definition of a magazine is you have a body of work and you have issues from it. It doesn’t need to be journal articles. Granta ran on that model for a long time. You subscribe because you know the sort of stuff you will get. Like The New Yorker.”

Peirene Press also hold ‘roaming stores’ which sell books.

Rebecca Swift of The Literary Consultancy pointed out: “Meike was last seen in Budgens supermarket at Crouch End. This kind of ingenuity and dextrous thinking around how you’re going to sell what you’re passionate about is absolutely vital and goes hand-in-hand with really good publishing.”

“That story underlines why independent publishers are so exciting,” said Rachael Ogden of Inpress. “You don’t find the Managing Director of Random House at Budgens. They don’t get that close to the reader.”

To me, though, all this talk of printed books is like King Canute standing on the bow of the Titanic, talking about re-arranging books on the shelves in the library as he watches the iceberg approach and admires the craftsmanship which went into the building of the ocean-going liner.

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North Korea – the Leaders’ spectacles

A woman walks in front of the Great Statues

Did I mention the loudspeakers on the street lamp posts and the small speaker vans roaming the streets?

At 7.15am, sweet and sickly music drifts through Pyongyang, like unavoidable muzak. Freedom means your own choice of music. There is no choice of music in the morning streets of North Korea.

Last night in my hotel… rock hard bed; no mattress; cold water; no hot water. Our young female guide slept in the lobby because there were no spare rooms.

In the morning, we are taken to see the giant statue of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung on Mansudae Hill, which I first saw when I was here before in 1986. And, in fact, as of today, there are now two statues – of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and of his recently-deceased son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il.

What surprises me is that, in both statues, the Leaders are wearing spectacles.

Kim Il-sung’s statue was not wearing spectacles in 1986.

Our North Korean guide, a little surprised that I had remembered the statue so well, explains that the original Kim Il-sung statue was replaced at some unknown time by a new one in which he wore spectacles and was smiling.

“The Great Leader felt he looked too stern in the first statue,” the guide explains “He wanted to smile at his people.”

So now both statues smile.

Then we are whisked off to a gigantic flower exhibition packed like sardines in a thimble. And to the Great Leader’s birthplace.

We are also taken to the American spy ship USS Pueblo, captured in 1968 and now moored on the river bank in Pyongyang. It is guarded by armed sailors. Do the North Koreans really dream the Americans will try to snatch it back? We are shown round the ship and treated to a film on the perfidy of the American Imperialists, but we are not allowed to enter the ship’s code room, the entrance to which is blocked by a uniformed, unsmiling North Korean sailor.

Why? I wonder.

Do they think there are still secret messages lurking there, un-decoded since 1968, which we could use to undermine the people’s paradise of North Korea?

As we leave the Pueblo, there is an American standing on the bow, like Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. On the river bank, a cameraman is profusely thanking a North Korean minder. We are told the man on the bow is a reporter for the (right wing) Fox News TV channel in the US and he is recording a report.

Have the North Koreans totally lost the plot?

Yes, of course they have.

We are taken for a ride in the metro. Only a few stops because, as I understand it, only a few stops are decked-out in the Stalinesque marble-and-chandelier manner.

Our first train is relatively empty. Our second is packed tight, not dissimilar to the London Underground in the high tourist season but even more like the Tokyo Metro with people pushing and elbowing to get on. I stand by the door, my back protected, slightly separated from our guides/guards by the shoulder-to-shoulder throng.

A small, wiry man perhaps in his mid-thirties pushes onto the train and sees my white Western face.

“Where you from?” he asks.

We have been told (true or false) that English is now taught in all North Korean schools.

“England,” I reply. “UK… London.”

“I love your country,” the man says, pushing past, looking into my face. “I love your Par-lee-ment. Our country is…”

His last word is, annoyingly, inaudible. It sounds like “putrid” but cannot be: it is too sophisticated a word for his limited English vocabulary.

I hold my finger up to my lips, as if to say, “Quiet!” and glance sideways towards our guides to warn him they are there. Then he is lost in the stuffed carriage.

I do not know what he said, but it was not complimentary.

Short and slippery slope, I think to myself.

Later, I ask one of our guides where Kim Il-sung used to live. I am told he used to live in what is now his mausoleum: the very grand Kumsusan Memorial Palace (currently closed for unknown reasons)

“Where did Kim Jong-il live?” I ask.

“I do not know,” I am told. “It is not known.”

In fact, anyone outside North Korea can see inside what used to be Kim Jong-Il’s compound on Google Earth. You can see the swimming pool, the water slide, the personal train station which linked into the metro system and, one presumes, into the above-ground rail system.

That is what is so mystifying about the North Korean paranoia about GPS positioning. You can bring a computer into the country; you can bring a WiFi-enabled Kindle into the country; but you cannot bring in mobile phones or tablets, because they have GPS positioning. They have not yet twigged that the more modern digital cameras have GPS. They are obsessed with the danger of people with GPS-enabled devices.

But anyone with a GPS iPhone or iPad is not actually a security risk who is going to help the Americans target their cruise missiles. Because the GPS positioning we use comes from the American spy satellites anyway. Anything I can do on an iPhone or iPad is something I do courtesy of the CIA and the NSA.

The North Koreans are obsessed by people seeing into secret above-ground areas, but seem to ignore the fact that the satellites can see everything anyway and, going to any computer in my home, I can see Pyongyang in detail on Google Earth.

In the evening, from my hotel window, I see another big fireworks display taking place near the river, by the Tower of the Juche Idea.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Outside the Edinburgh Fringe, TV show sleaze and a comedy award for sale

In Edinburgh yesterday morning, I saw President Ahmadinejad of Iran walking purposefully through Bristo Square. But surely this cannot be? All I can think is that a serious President Ahmadinejad wannabe lives nearby.

Later in the day, also in Bristo Square, I watched as a flyerer approached a mother and child with the opening line: “Can I interest you in a show about a tree?”

Ah! – the Edinburgh Fringe!

Outside the cocoon of the Fringe, surprisingly, the world still turns.

Comedian Dave Thompson has just published his novel The Sex Life of a Comedian about which I have blogged before

It is available as a printed book or as an eBook download.

He famously played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired for being too gay (which he isn’t) in the role and he is no stranger to the backstage world of television.

His novel is about a stand-up comedian called Doug who “lands a big part in Rats Milk Cheese, a bizarre sitcom… In a world where louche girls romp in dressing rooms, luxury yachts and drug-fuelled orgies, Doug thinks his career has taken off. But show business has a dark side. As the wealth at stake increases, so does the greed of those who want it. At a celebrity sex party, Doug accidentally spurts on a member of the Mafia…”

Dave tells me The Sex Life of a Comedian is only partially autobiographical.

It has only been out a week or so, but already has some impressive admirers:

“It’s funny, it’s gripping and it’s not for the squeamish.” (Ben Elton)

“If you love comedy and/or sex you’ll love this book. My wife caught me reading it and I had to do the washing up for a week.” (Harry Hill)

Also still available as a paperback, a Kindle eBook and an iBook for the iPad is Sit-Down Comedy, the anthology to which Dave contributed a short story with Jim Tavaré. The book had contributions from 19 stand-ups and was edited by me and the late great Malcolm Hardee.

Which inevitably brings me to the Malcolm Hardee Awards.

Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick (who is also a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) has already exchanged thoughts with me about acts which might be worth seeing for this year’s Award.

Meanwhile, last year’s winner of the main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality is not playing the Fringe this year.

Last year, Robert White did well: good reviews, career progression, a Malcolm Hardee Award, new gigs and the industry noticed him. But, he tells me:

“It left me poor: I am not doing Edinburgh this year and instead am releasing some YouTube sketches and selling my Malcolm Hardee Award on eBay.”

You read it first here.

I’ll be interested to see what price he gets for the increasingly prestigious, nay, unique trophy. Unfortunately, the man who was going to do Robert’s publicity has temporarily gone into prison – not for a social visit

“To be honest,” Robert says, “it’s thrown everything up in the air as he was going to do all the social networking etc. He has the Twitter account for a comedy club The Comedy Closet I am starting in central London. His Facebook is gone, I can’t ring him as he is in prison and I do not know exactly his circumstances. I have created some funny video sketches and set up all sorts of stuff and now I just don’t know really. I suppose I am going to have to teach myself Twitter in the space of a week.”

Robert intends to release five comedy sketches on YouTube on the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th of this month – to coincide with Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Did I mention there is a Malcolm Hardee Week at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, there is a Malcolm Hardee Week.

There, I’ve said it.

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The Sex Life of a Comedian is to be revealed by Lulu in print-on-demand

A week ago, I wrote a blog blatantly plugging the fact that Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology written by 19 comedians which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee, is now available as an iBook from iTunes and in a Kindle edition.

I said two of the Sit-Down Comedy contributors were considering publishing print-on-demand books. Now a third tells me he, too, is doing the same thing. He is currently checking the proofs.

Dave Thompson co-wrote a very quirky short story for Sit-Down Comedy with Jim Tavare and tells me:  “I am about to publish my novel The Sex Life of a Comedian via Lulu.com after having fallen out with a ‘proper’ publisher.”

Dave explains: “It was what I witnessed at the London book launch of another comedian’s book that made me realise what a shambles I’d got involved with. And then I bought a copy of a book by another comedian I knew and it was bursting with errors. There were so many mistakes, it looked like it hadn’t been proof read…

“From what I hear from other people who get involved in publishing books, publishers rival comedy promoters for incompetence and greed.”

Dave is highly-original. He has written for Ben Elton (they have been friends since schooldays); ITV’s BAFTA Award winning series The Sketch Show with Jim Tavare; Harry Hill’s TV Burp; and, uncredited, for many other Big Name comics. He has even amazingly written for the newly-enobled (as-of today) Sir Bruce ForsythTime Out called Dave “one of the finest joke writers in the country”. But, to the public, he is mostly known for the Tinky Winky incident in 1997.

He played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the world-famous children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired after American fundamentalist tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell warned parents that handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because “he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol”. Ragdoll, the show’s British production company, decided that Dave’s “interpretation of the role was inappropriate” and sacked him.

In Kazakhstan, the Teletubbies are still banned by order of the president who considers Tinky Winky to be a pervert.

The Sex Life of a Comedian is about a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Well, at least no-one in the television or comedy worlds has to worry about it being autobiographical, then.

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British comedians seem to be turning to electronic book publishing – maybe

I have blogged before about the galloping-blindly-towards-an-unknown-destination changes in book publishing.

In 2003, the late Malcolm Hardee and I put together Sit-Down Comedy for Random House. It was an anthology of original writing (some of it very dark) by comedians Ed Byrne, John Dowie, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Frost, Boothby Graffoe, Ricky Grover, Malcolm Hardee, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Dominic Holland, Jeff Innocent, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Owen O’Neill, Arthur Smith, Linda Smith, Jim Tavare, Dave Thompson and Tim Vine.

Sit-Down Comedy has just been issued in both iBook (for iPads) and Kindle downloadable electronic editions.

Apparently, in the US market, electronic books now account for 20% of total book sales. In the UK, it is still only 5%, but it is expected to double in the next year.

In the last week, two of the contributors to Sit-Down Comedy have mentioned to me that they are thinking of publishing electronic books, probably via lulu.com, the same print-on-demand (not to be confused with self-publishing) company which comedy writer Mark Kelly has used to publish his books Pleased as Punch, This Is Why We Are Going to Die and (free to download) Every Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? Comic Shelley Cooper told me she is also looking into print-on-demand publishing.

A highly relevant factor is that print-on-demand publishers may take 20% of your book’s earnings to arrange print and electronic versions… while conventional print publishers doing the same thing normally give the author royalties of only 7.5% of paperback sales. With print-on-demand  you have to market the book yourself, but you also have to factor in that significant difference between getting 80% or getting the conventional 7.5%.

I have blogged before that am thinking of re-publishing Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (probably revised back to its original version) as an e-book… but that is only if I can actually pull my finger out – always a major factor in the production of any book.

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The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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The printed book is dead… and libraries… and newspapers… but literacy lives on my iPad!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented transsexual comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read. She is thinking of publishing it online via a print-on-demand site.

I am also thinking about re-publishing the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an online print-on-demand book. The costs are so low as to be negligible and the percentages to the writer are much higher – on a traditionally printed paperback book the author usually only gets 7.5% of the cover price. People can buy a print-on-demand book as a well-produced traditional paperback or download it from iTunes or Amazon.

Traditional paper books and physical libraries in towns and cities will soon be dead. A book is not bought because it is an object, it is bought an experience or for information. Content is king. The printed word is not dying – it is thriving on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, mobile phone texting, everywhere. But the printed book will die.

The husband of a friend of mine is the straightest person I know. For many years, he never watched ITV – only BBC TV -because ITV was not respectable, merely a young whippersnapper upstart TV station. Yet he is now thinking of investing in an iPad or the duller and much more limited Kindle because, that way, he could take a whole library of books with him on holiday and read anything he likes when he gets there.

Ultimately, Project Gutenberg and its ilk will put almost all out-of-copyright fiction online; and Wikipedia and Google and the web in general give ultimately unlimited access to known facts. Yes, there are old books, newspapers and magazines with content which cannot be accessed online, but only because they have not yet been digitised.

Online publishers have no reason to ever declare any new ‘book’ out-of-print because the online file can remain in cyberspace forever at no extra production cost. The traditional paper book is dead and so are traditional physical libraries.

A library is just a building to keep books in. Unless they re-invent themselves as leisure centres for the printed word and computer gaming, they will soon be dead too.

What is worrying the printed media industry more immediately, of course, is what is happening and what will happen to newspapers, whose printed, paid-for editions are sliding down a seemingly bottomless pit in circulation terms.

Newspapers were always printing yesterday’s news but there used to be no alternative.

But why should I buy a print newspaper carrying out-of-date news when I can watch live street demonstrations in Cairo or around the Middle East on 24-hour live TV news channels? Why should I buy a UK newspaper when I can read other UK news sources free online and get access to Australian, Chinese, Russian and US print sources free online? AND watch Al Jazeera, BBC TV News, Sky News, Press TV from Tehran or, god forbid, the terminally dull Russia Today channel direct from Moscow?

On my iPad, I have apps giving me access to the Huffington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Straits Times and the Moscow Times. I can access a wider variety of sources worldwide via my Fluent News, Pulse News and Stuff apps. I get daily news update e-mails from The Scotsman and from China Daily.

Why should  buy a newspaper except for a free DVD?

On the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s launch less than a couple of weeks ago of his iPad-only newspaper The Daily is interesting, though it is only available le in the US at the moment. If, as rumours say, he really does price a future full UK daily electronic newspaper automatically delivered to you every morning at a cost of only 79p per week…

Well, even I might be tempted… but it’s still going go be news I can get elsewhere for free.

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Filed under Books, Internet, Newspapers, Politics