Yesterday afternoon, I went to a Quarter Final of this year’s Musical Comedy Awards, which had 12 contestants performing. The Semi-Finals and Final are yet to come.
The Awards have been running eight years and I had not been aware of them. Which demonstrates what I know about anything.
I had seen two previous Musical Comedy Awards heats and now this Quarter Final and the strangest thing to me was that there was not one duff, sub-standard act in any of them. Genuinely surprised me.
As well as seeing these three Musical Comedy Awards shows in the last few weeks I have seen three other talent shows and it just reminds me how impossible it is to spot at an early stage who will succeed in years to come.
Some average or below-average acts develop quickly or slowly into wonderful acts. Some really talented, stand-out acts never get anywhere. You might as well toss a coin.
So the old cliché that “everyone who took part is a winner” is sort-of true.
Getting to the knock-out stage of any serious competition is something. After that, the rest is persistence and/or pure luck. No-one can really spot who will succeed.
Some brilliant performers self-destruct. A lot of them. I have seen it happen. Repeatedly. It is in the nature of talent. Often, average acts succeed because they are simply more persistent and more reliable.
The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle
The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, of course, are no exception to this You Can Never Be Certain rule.
But our ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid Award’ is, I suspect, likely to have a very high success rate. The winners so far have been:
A couple of weeks ago, I saw (again) Laurence Owen’s marvellous Cinemusical show and – my God! – we were absolutely right to give him the award.
Musical Comedy may be a rising genre. Let us hope so. There certainly needs to be something to liven up samey comedy club shows which have mostly become a procession of perfectly acceptable but unexceptional comedy clones spouting perfectly acceptable but unexceptional straight stand-up material. Or open mic shows with wildly variable acts mostly performing to other performers and no genuine audience.
Alternative Musical Comedy’s day may be coming. There is a video for Laurence Owen’s superb song Empoweredon YouTube.
As is a video of journalist and ’new’ act Ariane Sherine’s Hitler Moustache – a song with which she wowed the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Live audience last week on only her sixth live performance (if you ignore her brief period treading the boards 13 years ago).
This could be the dawning of the age of Alternative Musical Comedy.
John Fleming bearded with plastic bag (Photograph by Nick Awde)
Yesterday’s penultimate live Grouchy Club involved a discussion not about comedy but about the difficulties of scripting and shooting pornographic movies – one of the comedians present had enquired about entering the profession.
Mr Twonkey at the point of his egg triumph (Photograph by Blanche Cameron)
The Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships appropriately included performer George Egg and ‘Mr Spunky’ – an anonymous member of Mensa, which allowed one member of the audience to yell out: “He’s an egg head.” Fortunately the puns ended there and the worthy, if somewhat surprised, new Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion is Mr Twonkey.
Comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Kate Copstick presented most of last night’s show, as co-host Janey Godley had to go off and be Spanked. (It’s a show… It’s a show.)
Miss Behave, who turned up halfway through from another show had been going to co-host on her arrival, but somehow it turned into an act where she unexpectedly swallowed a giant pair of scissors and two flaming torches. As the torches produced a fair amount of upwards-drifting smoke, I was rather relieved no smoke alarm went off in the room, because I knew what was going to happen at the end of the show.
Chris Lynam with his banger last night (Photograph by Garry Platt)
This was Chris Lynam, former member of The Greatest Show on Legs, who performed his famous or possibly infamous banger-up-the-bum routine. This involves him putting a firework between his buttocks and having it lit (on this occasion by Malcolm Hardee’s sister Clare) to the strains of Ethel Merman singing There’s No Business Like Show Business.
As this is not an act which is easy to follow, it ended the show and, sure enough, just as it ended, the room’s smoke alarm did go off. It seemed a fitting end.
Alice Fraser: Savage
Everything you expect a confessional Fringe comedy show to be. Laughs and tears and death and sincerity.
Cheekykita & Mr Dinner: Dead Ghost Star
Everything you expect a surreal Fringe show to be. Laughs and large white spheroid heads and things you crack open to wave about.
Richard Gadd: Waiting For Gaddot
Everything you expect a Richard Gadd Fringe show to be. Funny, surreal and he uses a baseball bat to smash things. I will be interested to see how ‘proper’ reviewers attempt to describe this show, as it cannot be described without ruining the basic premise. But the clue is in the title. It is a solo show with Richard Gadd, Ed Aczel, Ricky Grover, Ian Smith and Ben Target. I have seen this idea done before but never written with such detail. And Samuel Beckett was not angling for a TV comedy series. The audience was very happy. I was with the audience.
The son of Max Headroom & Leslie Crowther
Al Porter: Al Porter Is Yours
The only people standing between (amazingly only 22-year-old) Al Porter and massive mainstream TV success are Alan Carr and Graham Norton. Camp and camp Irishmen are seen as a one-per-TV-channel niche. But calling Al Porter gay and Irish is a bit like calling the bombing of Hiroshima a slight popping sound. He is like the bastard son of Max Headroom and Leslie Crowther on speed spewing out what, in the past, would have been called filth to an adoring audience. Strangely old-fashioned and thoroughly modern. There must have been 4-5 laughs per minute for a whole hour with shrieks and belly-laughs from women, men, young, old, straight and gay. He appealed to them all.
Lindsay Sharman: The Madame Magenta Big Live Podcast Show Extravaganza
(Not in the Fringe Programme and not a podcast.) This charisma-fuelled show allegedly tells the true story of Christianity and is hosted in character as OTT-turbaned Madame Magenta. But just sit back and enjoy a comedy character romp from a lover of the English language who I suspect may end up a successful novelist (she has already written two). The audience yesterday afternoon included five Norwegians only two of whom, by the look of it, could speak English. The two who understood English laughed like Norwegian maelstroms (ie more actively than drains). The other three looked stunned, as well they might. I loved it.
This man was married in Disney World
Laurence Owen: Cinemusical
This show directly precedes Lindsay Sharman’s at the Voodoo Rooms. Laurence Owen is Lindsay’s husband. They married this year in Disney World.
Cinemusical is one man singing comic songs about the movies. But the phrase ‘comic songs’ is nowhere near a realistic description of these brilliantly composed and lyriced multi-layered showstoppers.
He had a room full to overflowing yesterday – his first show. So the word-of-mouth must have got around about his songs and his performance before he even arrived. As much as anything is certain (which nothing is) Laurence Owen is a sure-fire cert for success in the show business. Either writing musicals for London’s West End or Broadway or (with less personal fame but more money) Hollywood. Cinemusical, as performed by Laurence Owen,is one of the best shows I have seen in 30 years of going to the Fringe.
“It is absurdly detailed,” said Laurence, “but I didn’t write it and I don’t know who did. There is information on there that I feel only my mum would know and I have asked her and it’s not her. It’s maybe a little frightening.”
“You’ll be writing a hit Christmas song next,” I said.
“I did write one two years ago,” laughed Laurence. “It was a fairly cynical experiment – to see if you could write ANY Christmas song and then release it on all the channels at Christmas and get it picked up.”
“And the answer is?” I asked.
Mr Lawrence’s highly original album: Lullabies of Pervland
“No. Not really,” said Laurence. “But I quite like it. It’s a cross between Bing Crosby and Paul McCartney. Christmas songs are all that jingle bells, sleigh bells rhythm aren’t they? My song was called called Kith and Kin and I shoved it onto the end of my Lullabies of Pervland album.”
“What was it about?” I asked.
“A Quasimodo-esque hideous evil twin who lives in an attic, watching the family from the rafters, looking down, wishing one day he might be invited to sit at the Christmas table. It’s very sad.”
“Are you sure,” I asked, “that you had your finger on the genre here?”
“Maybe that’s why it never took off,” agreed Laurence.
“Cinemusical,” said Laurence, “which everyone keeps mis-hearing as Silly Musical, which I don’t mind. But it got introduced the other day as Cinnamon Musical, which I’m not so keen on. It makes it sound even camper than it actually is.
“It’s essentially a one-man musical… a sort of adventure story that consists of music from lots of different genres and is performed by me in the guise of various stock characters.”
“So there’s not one Laurence Owen presenting it?”
“No, no. I appear at the beginning to explain what I’m going to do because, at the first preview, I didn’t do that – just launched straight into it – and no-one knew what was going on. They sort-of enjoyed it but looked quite confused for the first half.”
“What’s not to understand?” I said. “It’s a man singing songs.”
“Yes,” said Laurence, “but I play five different characters in total, plus myself at the beginning. The first is the Disney character – the only thing I’ve kept from last year..”
“That’s the song,” I checked, “where you analyse the limited career potential for females in Disney movies?”
A photograph of the wrong Laurence Owen (Photo: Jerry Cooke)
“Yes. So she begrudgingly resigns herself to being an evil queen on the grounds that it’s the only appealing option. But there is also the bird character she talks to in that song who is now also a character in his own right. The five characters each have a problem, basically, with the limitations of their genre. That’s the framework of the show.
“The characters have a main song each and, in each of those songs, they establish they’re not happy within the rules of their genre.
“The Disney princess character just wants a normal working business life because she’s ambitious and is fed up because she’s got to either become an amicable fairy godmother or die or become evil. The bird is annoyed because he’s only ever allowed to play novelty sidekicks. So, in his song, he’s campaigning for more lead roles for avian Americans. And so on with each character…
“It all ended up, rather by accident, a bit more issues-based than I had intended. But I quite like that. It’s sort-of got a serious point… ish. And they end up quoting Gandhi…”
“Gandhi?” I asked.
“Yeah. Well, it’s actually a fake Gandhi quote: Be the change you want to see. It’s a quote often attributed to Gandhi, but I think it’s like Elementary, my dear Watson – it was never actually said.”
Laurence recently married comedy performer Lindsay Sharman at Disney World in Florida.
Laurence and Lindsay have a marriage made in Disney World
“I managed to go through our entire Disney wedding,” said Laurence, “without telling anybody I had written a Disney parody. I think I told our wedding planner that I was a composer, but never mentioned Disney. My dad kept trying to tell people and I was quite embarrassed. Maybe I should have let him.”
“The Golem was at the Young Vic, “ said Laurence, “then went to the Trafalgar Studios in London and has been to China and Russia. I don’t know where they are now – maybe Taiwan. They’re touring it all over the place.”
“And after Edinburgh…?” I asked.
Krazy Kat – coming back to a screen with re-scored music
“Well, last year Paul Barritt, the animator, made a load of short films loosely inspired by Krazy Kat– a pre-Tom and Jerry American comic strip about a cat and a mouse. He showed these films in Germany last year accompanied by a very very serious German new music, high Art, experimental orchestra.
“It worked well, but that orchestra are very expensive. When Paul was approached by David Byrne this summer for the Meltdown Festival on the South Bank, Krazy Kat was just too expensive. But then he thought – slightly too late for Meltdown – Why don’t I just get Laurence to do a new score for four players?”
I suggested: “Laurence should have thought of Laurence doing that.”
“I wouldn’t have presumed to ask,” said Laurence. “But we are now going to do that – 90 minutes of film with a live score – after the Fringe.”
A very well-produced video of Laurence’s showstopping Disney parody Empowered is on YouTube:
“I broke even at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” she told me, “so everything since then has been pure profit. Edinburgh is great for offloading actual physical books. People can still go on my website for a hard copy of the first one (now re-titled Magenta is the Warmest Colour), which I will happily smear my musky scent all over, should they want. But I can’t afford to print actual physical books this time, so it’s just on Kindle and people are a bit more reluctant to go onto Kindle. ”
“So why are you doing a second book? It’s all hassle for very little profit.”
“You could say that about performing comedy. Why do we do any of this? We must be mental.”
“Are you hooked on the writing?” I asked.
“Yes, I do I enjoy it,” Lindsay told me. “And I do enjoy long-form rather than writing short sets or articles.”
“And,” I asked, “you are being Madame Magenta at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?’
Lindsay Sharman performs as Madame Magenta
“Yes. It’s a story. It’s a bit risky. I’ve done it like the book. I’ve plotted it as a full narrative arc with Madame Magenta telling the story, taking the audience on a journey. It’s not as joke-heavy as a club set. I have no idea if it’s going to work.”
“What’s it about?”
“The true origins of Christianity and the conflict in the Middle East.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes. And it’s also going to be about gender politics.”
“Mmmm…” I said. “Are you doing previews?’
“One. I decided doing previews doesn’t help me. By the time you have an audience, it should already be in a state that’s alright. None of that writing-it-as-you-go comedian bollocks for me. I think comedians rely a bit too much on audiences telling them where they’re going wrong in the early stages.”
“People,” I suggested, “preview because they’re insecure?”
Lindsay does not like holding a piece of paper
“Yes, but there’s this bizarre thing with comedy where you’re supposed to develop quite a lot of your material on the hoof in front of audiences. When I first started, I found that really bizarre because you’re getting away with it on charm a lot of the time and the type of laugh you will get when you are holding a piece of paper and being self-deprecating about the fact it’s not entirely working is a totally different type of laugh to the one you will eventually get when you’ve honed that joke. It doesn’t work for me. What works for me is using my own comedic intuition to get it as good as possible and then presenting it.”
“That’s more of a writer’s approach,” I suggested. “Writers don’t show potential readers their draft versions. Are you becoming a writer more than a performer?”
“I’m not getting the same buzz out of performing,” Lindsay admitted. “It used to be massive highs and massive lows. Now it’s all: Oh, alright. OK… I don’t know what it was I was getting out of it before that I’m not getting out of it now.
“Maybe part of my problem is I don’t necessarily want to appeal to a bunch of people who’ve had a few drinks and who would probably actually prefer to chat to each other because I am just part of their night out. It doesn’t bother me that much if they don’t like me – and that’s not good. I need to care if they like me and I don’t know if I do any more.
Lindsay decided not to do stand-up
“Actually, about two years into performing comedy, I utterly lost interest in doing stand-up. So then I switched to doing characters, got a new burst of life and then it was almost the same amount of time after I started losing excitement in that too. I’ve had some really boring jobs where, for the first six months, I thought: This is alight. I don’t mind this. and then, one day, I just couldn’t be fucked with it any more.”
“You just married Laurence Owen last month,” I said. “Bad news for him in 2017.”
“Yesterday’s potatoes,” laughed Lindsay.
“Potatoes?” I asked.
“Isn’t that an expression?”
“I don’t think it is.”
“You were saying you lost interest in stand-up.”
“I don’t like it to be about me, because I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. I don’t want to have to explain myself. I prefer stories about made-up stuff – though I don’t like the storytelling show stuff.”
Lindsay’s glass seen as half fool or half empty?
“Because, again, it’s focussing on ‘real’ stuff and I find reality boring and depressing.”
“Boring and depressing?”
“Yeah. Although some comics manage to make it funny and uplifting. Only a few people can do that well, though. Know your own limitations. It’s not me. I’ve always preferred to live in a realm of fantasy. When I was a kid, I mainly read science fiction and fantasy. For a long time I sat down and tried to write ‘real’ stuff about me. That’s what supposedly works as a stand-up. But it’s not me.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “fantasy stand-up could be the new comedy.”
“I like John Henry Falle,” said Lindsay.
“The Story Beast…” I said.
“That’s sort of fantastical ludicrousness,” said Lindsay. “It’s much better than all that Oh, I’ve really suffered but it’s funny because now I can be self-deprecating but still cool. I think I like escapism.”
“Yes,” said Laurence. “We’re taking ourselves off to Florida as a… erm… sort of… a…”
“Marriage?” I suggested.
“Yes,” said Laurence. “We’re getting married. That’s the main gist of it. For ten days in May.”
“That,” I said, “is a long marriage by American standards.”
“Well,” he replied, “if we get through ten days, we know it’s going to be alright.”
“Why get married at Disneyland?” I asked. “Have they heard your song?” (Laurence has a wonderful humdinger of a Disney pastiche song.)
“That’s the thing,” he explained. “Disney looms very large in our lives. As a kid, I used to go to Paris Disneyland with my dad. And, about this time last year, Lindsay and I had a week with no gigs in and I was temporarily homeless – between flats – so we went to the Paris Disneyland and we had a really amazing time there. Then we went again in September, immediately after last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
“I had this idea that, in January this year, I would pop the question to Lindsay. Then she sort-of beat me to it. Cos we were chatting by text late on Christmas Eve – Christmas Day early morning – and we just got talking about Disney weddings and decided to go on from there, pretty much. So that was it.”
“Proposal by text?” I asked.
“Proposal by text. We’re thoroughly modern.”
“I didn’t realise,” I told him, “that Disney do marriage packages.”
“Oh yes,” said Laurence. “For your basic package, you get a location for a ceremony. We have a gazebo next to a big lake and there’s a pirate ship by the lake and it’s themed like a 1920s boardwalk-type thing; it’s all very nice.”
“And it’s more expensive to have the castle?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” said Laurence. “And, if you pay $3,000, you can arrive in the Cinderella pumpkin coach and you have two footmen.”
“Frogs?…” I started.
“For that price,” said Laurence, “you would hope so.”
“… or English?” I concluded.
“Maybe,” said Laurence. “And, as well as those guys, you get two buglers who will announce your arrival on long trumpets with flags hanging off them. You have to pay through the nose for that, though. And, if you want to have Mickey Mouse present, you have to pay another $900.”
“Are Mickey, Donald and Goofy all the same price?” I asked.
“Any costume characters,” explained Laurence, “you have to pay $900 each. So, if you want Mickey and Minnie together, that’s $1,800.”
“I wondered if maybe Goofy was relatively cheap.,” I said. “Who wants Goofy officiating at their marriage?”
“Possibly,” said Laurence. “On a sliding scale of Disney characters, maybe if you only want Pluto, you could get him for fifty quid.”
“You’re getting married on May 6th…” I said.
“Yes. We tried to get May the Fourth because that’s Star Wars Day, but they were full up on that day.”
“Of course!” I said. “Disney now own Star Wars. So you could have Stormtroopers in attendance. The ultimate white wedding.”
Not normal actor-turned-comedian-turned-composer-singer
Last night, a well-known agency staged a ’comedy showcase’ of some of their acts. There were around ten acts.
With the exception of one-and-a-half acts, it was a laughter-free zone.
They were actors and actresses showcasing their acting talent without interruption by humour. They were not comedians.
The result of actors trying to be comedians to ‘fill-in’ before they get ‘proper’ acting jobs is almost always a terrible, humorless dog’s dinner. It is usually a Pyrrhic victory of performance skills over comedy.
Which is why Laurence Owen is a joy to behold. His show Lullabies of Pervland has a humdinger of a song about how women’s roles in Disney movies are defined and limited – it has wonderfully complex and intelligent lyrics performed by Laurence to a perfect pastiche of the whole gamut of Disneyesque tunes. He acts as four characters in the song, including a wiseguy bird from, it seems, the Bronx. A wondrous blend of acting, singing, composition and comedy.
“Disney women don’t have a huge amount going for them after a certain point,” Laurence explained to me. “Their career options are limited and there’s always at least one dead parent – usually the mum – which leaves these young characters flailing and alone so they can have scary adventures. The Lion King is Hamlet with lions.”
“The thing is,” I said, “you act your Disney pastiche song so well.”
“Well, when I was little,” said Laurence, “I used to be a kid actor. I did various bits and bobs. I was in a film called Wilde with Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde.”
“Heavens!” I said. “You weren’t the one who got buggered?”
“No,” said Laurence. “That was Jude Law. I played Stephen Fry’s son.”
Laurence Owen – not Harry Potter
He also auditioned for the part of Harry Potter.
“I suppose I probably look more like Harry Potter now,” said Laurence.
“So,” I asked, “you wanted to be an actor, not a musical performer?”
“Yeah. I started off as an actor. I was six when I started. I did a costume drama thing for the BBC about nannies – Berkeley Square – and I played a young Brian Blessed in a film called The Mumbo Jumbo which was mad but had a great cast – Sylvester McCoy, Melinda Messenger, John Inman from Are You Being Served?, Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Show, Joss Ackland, Brian Blessed…”
“To have Joss Ackland and Brian Blessed in the same film is quite something,” I said.
“There is a lot of shouting in it,” said Laurence. “I never met Brian Blessed, but they curled my eyebrows up into these big spikes and put grey in my temples, even though I was playing a 10-year-old version of Brian Blessed and I had this one line which I had to deliver in a cod Brian Blessed voice.
“My voice broke when I was about 11 and, after that, I stopped getting work. When I was 12, I looked and sounded about 14 and no-one is interested in that; they want people who can play younger. I went and saw my agent and she basically told me I was not cute enough any more.”
“But you still wanted to perform.”
“Yes. About the same time this happened – about the age of 12 – I started learning the guitar and forming little bands at school and we made little albums. I made my first album when I was 13 and it’s practically unlistenable to, but I’m quite glad we did it. I got into Pink Floyd and things like that – old bands. Throughout my teenage years, I made a load of very over-reaching, quite wanky prog rock things on acoustic guitars.”
There is a video on YouTube of Laurence (centre), aged 18, singing with a band called Freak Kitchen.
“And, all this time, my mum was taking me to the Edinburgh Fringe every year,” Laurence told me.
“Because she loves it. I think this year was her 22nd consecutive year. Never been a performer, just a punter. She’s a champion hobbyist. She’s heavily involved in the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, edits The Sherlock Holmes Journal and goes on jaunts across Switzerland to the Reichenbach Falls and all that. She’s learning Japanese now.”
“Because she’s interested in eccentric islands.”
“So she took you to the Fringe every year?”
“Yes. I remember, aged 10, seeing Simon Munnery and feeling Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this before! He was doing his League Against Tedium. I remember being really, really inspired by it.”
“At that point,” I asked, “did you want to be a straight stand-up comic?”
“No. I discovered comedy by accident. I went up to Edinburgh every year for years, then started doing music, went to university in Brighton to study music and had this vague idea I would be a composer for a living. Then I moved back to London and started working in my old school in the music department as a kind of admin slave.
“At the same time, I was also performing slightly humorous shanty-type storytelling type songs with bits of weird, dark humour at these very earnest music nights with singer-songwriters who were whingeing on about their girlfriends. The audience really hated my songs and I was getting really down. No-one was interested at all and I was going to just stop and not bother any more, but my flatmate said: We run a little comedy night. Why don’t you come and try it out there?”
There is a showreel of Laurence’s musical comedy material on YouTube.
“So you started doing music-based gigs at comedy clubs,” I said. “But you were never interested in being a straight stand-up?”
“I’m a bit scared of that,” said Laurence. “I don’t think I quite have it in me. And I don’t really want to be a club comedian. I’m not entirely sure what I want to do yet, but I know it’s fairly cross-genre. Bits of all sorts of performance practices. For the new show, which I’m starting to formulate at the moment, I’m not having any guitar at all. It’s going to be all big backing tracks in the same way I do my Disney song.
“The new show (for Edinburgh 2015) is called Cinemusical and it’s gonna be a show about different aspects of film music, apeing all sorts of different film genres and casting a load of mis-matched characters together in a hybrid. I’m going to cast members of the audience as different characters. There will be a gunslinger Western character, a Lara Croft style Indiana Jones type person.”
“A few years ago,” said Laurence, “I did make a concept album in the style of Ennio Morricone called South of The River – set in South London. It was about a day in the life of a charity fundraiser, going up to people in the street. He was a kind of lonely guy who got through his existence by pretending to be Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name. So, in his own brain, each of these encounters was like a duel and the album was the music which was playing in his head as he was going up to people in the street. It was basically a spaghetti western set inside a man’s head.”
“I think pastiche is what I’m interested in. I’ve now got to the stage where I do make a living by performing and composing. I’m a composer for film and theatre.
“At the moment, I’m working for a theatre company called 1927. I think they’re called that because that was the year the movie Metropolis came out. They get a lot of influence from silent films. They have live actors and actresses who interact with projected animation on a huge screen the size of the stage. And they have a live pianist. The show I’m working with them on at the moment is a show called Golem, based on the Jewish folk tale and on the silent film. They have a pianist and a drummer for this one and, to complement the stuff they’re playing live, I’ve made a pre-recorded sound score which goes on around it. It’s being staged at The Young Vic in December.”
Before today’s blog, here is an addendum to yesterday’s…
My eternally-un-named friend who, in yesterday’s blog, came up with a cheap sound amplifier for iPads has today come up with a similar amplifier for iPhones. Basically, it involves putting the iPhone inside a larger plastic food container.
The iGlass sound system from two years ago
Personally, I think her idea of two years ago of putting the iPhone inside a funnel-shaped glass is more elegant and more in keeping with Apple’s design ethics.
It is a matter of style.
I have never been able to get my head round what it must be like for performers to triumph on stage. They have got the audience into such a state that there are laughs, tears, whatever. But, once that moment and that emotion is achieved, it is gone forever if it is not filmed or videoed. A live performance is perhaps seen fleetingly by a few hundred people and certainly within a few years is barely remembered in any detail. Indeed, perhaps that happens within a couple of days or a couple of hours.
A show that is recorded can be seen by thousands – potential millions – of people who were never there – and long after all who were there are dead.
No-one who was not there can ever know how good a particular show was unless it is recorded.
Lost – to quote Blade Runner – like tears in rain.
Which came to my mind because, last night, I saw what is certainly one of the five best live shows I have seen in, let’s say, the last five years.
It was one of the monthly, always fascinating, Pull The Other One comedy club shows in London’s Nunhead.
In roughly alphabetical order, the acts were:
Candy Gigi Markham… This year’s winner of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. I was sitting next to Mark Kelly (he writes with Jo Brand) who asked me beforehand what her act was like. I could do no better than quote that piece in Metro the other day which said it was an “almost indescribably odd act”. It is. It was. Both Mark and I laughed out loud: a rare thing.
Laurence Owen… with a spot-on song about how women’s roles are defined and limited in Walt Disney films – wonderfully complex and intelligent lyrics to a perfect pastiche of the whole gamut of Disneyesque tunes.
The Silver Peevil… top Matthew Bourne dancer Ewan Wardrop as his 1930s sci-fi Venusian character with a silver foil spaceship, a wry dismantling of sexism and (again) a perfect pastiche of a 1930s Hollywood song.
Two Pregnant Men – a new musical duo with three highly original rocked-up takes on internet trolls, supermarket cut-price deals and more. Not yer normal comedy act.
Wilfredo, Matt Roper’s extraordinary spittle-filled character cross between Barrie Humphries’ Sir Les Paterson and real-life Spanish heart-throb Julio Iglesias. I could barely hear this act at points because two women to my right were understandably screaming with laughter.
The bill for last night’s South London show
And all of these acts were held together by the genuinely brilliant and charismatic compering skills of Lindsay Sharman who warmed the audience up by getting them to do whale and dolphin impressions (not a common technique) while she told a story – and who, at two points, shamelessly plugged her new novel by shoving copies in her bra. My eternally-un-named friend said to me: “She should be on television.”
Indeed she should. So should everyone on last night’s show.
Alas, ITV in particular is currently busy making disastrous remakes of 50-year-old formats. Who knows what misbegotten miscalculations Sunday Night at The Palladiumwill display tomorrow night as ITV continues to turn a silk purse into a dog’s dinner mishmash of decent acts and dumbed-down drossness.
I do not normally review shows as such because, in the medium and long term, it is a lose-lose situation for me. But the sheer brilliance of last night’s Pull The Other One show and the transient nature of live performance drew me to break my own rule. Well, the above was not really a review: it was more of a list. But hey-ho.
Sunday Night at The (apparently no longer London) Palladium is fair game for criticism because crass crap is always fair game. I could draw some obvious parallel between Sunday Night at The Palladium and putting an expensive iPhone into a cheap plastic food container, but it is too obvious.
The real talent, the really great comedy/variety shows at the moment are out there, transient, live and not on television.
I shall now try not to do anything remotely like a review for at least another twelve months.
The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic
One really annoying thing about last night was that I was enjoying the show so much I took no photographs. Your loss, not mine.
Incidentally, Ewan Wardrop aka The Silver Peevil (SPOILER ALERT!) does the opening to his act in quite a lengthy series of speeches in cod Venusian. He told me that, when he performed this act at Pull The Other One’s club in Leipzig earlier this month, a couple of Germans came up to the organisers after the show. “We liked the act,” they said, “but we were not able to understand some of what he said.”
“I know one couple who are both comedians and they never get involved in each other’s work,” I told them after the show. “Do you ever work together at home?”
“We bounce a lot of stuff off each other,” said Laurence.
“Oh we do all the time,” said Lindsay.
A ‘selfie’ of Laurence and Lindsay’s homelife taken last night
“Quite often,” said Laurence, “we’ve set aside nights where we go to a cafe in Waterloo that stays open late. When we were talking about our Edinburgh shows this year we went there. It’s very useful to have Lindsay talk sense to me.”
“And it helps,” I suggested, “that you’re not really performing the same type of material.”
“I’m not really musical at all,” said Lindsay.
“The music’s covered,” said Laurence. “I can deal with that because my day job is composing bits and bobs for theatre and films.”
“He’s currently,” said Lindsay, “doing something for the theatre group 1927. They’re going into the Young Vic and he’s doing the soundscape.”
Another thing to sell after the gigs: Laurence’s musical album
In the preview I had just seen, Laurence had not yet written the music for the final song, though he had written the words, so he read them out.
“I was amazed,” I told him, “that you could write the words first when the rhythm and presumably the melody keeps changing.”
“I have to write the lyrics before I know what the song is all about,” Laurence explained. “The lyrics dictate the music. But I’ve got the melodies in my head for that final song.”
“It’s going to be a little bit Zorba The Greek, isn’t it?” said Lindsay.
“Yes,” agreed Laurence, “a little bit like Zorba and a little bit like Offenbach’s Can-Can. That’s kind of what I’m hearing.
“I tend to write the songs as a sort of poem first of all and, while I do that, I’ll probably be hearing a sort of vocal melody in my head which I’ll be using to help shape the lyrics. I might sometimes cheat and base it on another song and change all the music after I’ve finished.”
“This is like people asking Where do you get your ideas from?” said Lindsay.
“And then, when you tell ‘em, they don’t give a shit,” said Laurence.
“But it does interest me,” I pleaded. “What’s your book about, Lindsay?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “Now I feel like I have to be coherent.”
“Why?” I said. “Let’s not spoil things.”
I had driven down to London from Leeds the previous night, went to bed at 5.00am and got up again at 8.30am. I was blabbering from an empty head.
The cover of Madame Magenta’s novel
“It’s a novel,” said Lindsay.
“In character as Madame Magenta,” I said. “Who is a psychic and medium and white witch and who wears a rather fetching red turban.”
“The turban is hot under stage lights,” said Lindsay. “The book is written from the point of view of Magenta. She goes off on an adventure.”
“Why write it?” I asked.
“To sell after gigs,” she replied.
“But it wasn’t totally money-driven…” I said.
“It was a sort of personal challenge,” explained Lindsay. “Everyone thinks they have a book inside of them and I thought: Let’s see if I actually am capable of it. Also I felt that my comedic voice or my ability to communicate with an audience might translate into the written word.”
The blurb on the back says:
Renowned psychic and medium Madame Magenta has two husbands. Fortunately, one of them is dead. Less fortunately, death has turned him into a massive pain in the arse.
Magenta has three days to return husband no.1 to the Other Side, or she’s stuck with him for good. Only dubious doings, dark magic and dealings with the criminal underworld can help her now.
“A Joyce Grenfell for the 21st Century” – John Fleming, founder of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards
Madame Magenta on stage at Pull The Other One
I think that last quote will be the thing that sells the book.
“I’ve read voraciously since I was a kid,” Lindsay told me last night, “and I thought: If I’ve absorbed all these books and I’ve started developing my voice comedically then surely I’m capable of forming some kind of decent novel?
“Why written by Madame Magenta and not Lindsay Sharman?” I asked.
“Because I started writing and didn’t know where I was going to go,” explained Lindsay. “She was an already-formed character, so I knew how she thought and what she’d do and I had a vague idea of her family life and context.”
“Yes,” I said, “I had no idea until he was mentioned in the show tonight that she had a husband.”
Lindsay Sharman being herself in a recent selfie
“Oh,” said Laurence, “he’s very well explored in the book.”
“The book is a bit of a different animal to the stage show,” said Lindsay, “but it’s still recognisably her.”
“And it’s a comic novel,” I checked, “not a deep exploration of the human psyche?”
“I don’t think I’m capable of writing that kind of thing,” said Lindsay.
“I suspect you are,” I said.
“I think,” said Lindsay, “I’d have to take everything a bit more seriously than I probably do. I think I deal with everything through humour and that’s why I became a comedian.”