Tag Archives: Leicester Comedy Festival

Stand-up comic Lynn Ruth Miller looks forward to Viagra and back to Leicester

In recent blogs, 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller has been sharing her experience of performing in exotic places like Hanoi. Recently, she was closer to home…


I really love the Leicester Comedy Festival because it does not cost an arm and a leg for me to participate. I have already lost a hip and a knee and I am in no mood to barter with any more body parts. 

Before Leicester, I had to convince a promoter or a venue that, if I pay lots of money, they will give me space to perform for an hour.  

Not any more. No sir.  

Now, I have a venue that wants ME.

OK, so it’s not a fancy one. It doesn’t even have a stage. There are no bright lights and no-one ever reviews shows that appear there. But it is my little venue and I love it just as much as the big showy ones that make the headlines and get the reviews.  

Bike shop: “a wonderful place for me to shine.”

It is a bike shop.

Things could be worse. I could be crammed into a refuse shelter among all the flotsam and jetsam which people recycle. I could even stand on top of an automobile in a showroom or fight my way to the top of a chest of drawers in an antique shop.

But my bike shop is a wonderful place for me to shine. 

Bicycle people are not judgmental. They all love to laugh. It was bike enthusiast and promoter Andy Salkeld who figured that out. He got the idea of transforming a commercial establishment into a comedy performance space several years ago because he wanted to amuse a healthy, outdoorsy type of audience. 

Though, sadly, that is not me.  

I am so uncoordinated that, the last time I tried to pedal my way to the grocery store, I mistook the hand brake for a horn and somersaulted into an intersection.

Andy is the Cycling Co-ordinator for Leicester City Council. (Yes. They really have someone like that, right up there with Public Safety, Public Health and Emergency Planning.)

Andy has created a bicycle comedy show – The Red Light Comedy Club – that has been part of the festival for several years. The challenge for Andy was to find someone who had nothing better to do than host his unusual shows. Any performer already creating his own production at that festival would never risk dampening his reputation by standing among a lot of axles, chains and rubber tyres.

Andy Salkeld “has a unique taste in comedy”

I was that someone.

What else do I have to do but take my medication, attend my dialysis and locate my dentures?

Andy has booked me to host his Red Light events for the past three years. And I love every ego-boosting moment.  

He has a unique taste in comedy. In the years I have hosted these shows, there have been comedians who sing wild, improbable songs, those who throw things at the audience and those who insist the audience throw things back at them. The events are unique and don’t involve deep thought, but there are all those different bicycles to look at if the person at the microphone does not appeal.

This year, I met some very unusual people who revealed things about themselves on stage that I would not even tell my proctologist, much less my mother.  

For example, Kevin Hudson, an accountant by day and observer of the idiosyncrasies of life by night, went into great detail about his prostate examination. His account was so graphic I thought we might get a hands-on demonstration but, sadly for me, he kept his trousers on. It has been a long time since I have viewed that area of the male anatomy and I kept hoping…

The most interesting part of that evening was meeting an accomplished comedian who is 75 years younger than I am. Ian Hall who introduced us to the real star of the show: his daughter, Niamh Hall. She is ten years old. She manned the audio for her father and stole the show.  

Niamh Hall (left) was “the real star of the show”

But that is what happens when you let a real woman take over, isn’t it?

I realized then how limited my own upbringing was.  

When I was ten, my main activity was bouncing a ball (rubber… not what you are thinking;  that didn’t happen until I was sixteen) and stroking furry creatures (FOUR legged ones).  

I certainly did not have the courage to stand on a stage with a bunch of strangers staring at me, while I took charge of my father.

It is a new world and Niamh is a shining example.  

I see her, when she is my age, appearing  at the O2, her tattoos crumbled into a kaleidoscope of unidentifiable colors, her confidence mesmerizing an audience amazed at her ability to balance on one leg while she operates ten turntables filling the room with musical cacophony.  

She will be able to do a thing like that until she is 100.  Unfortunately, all I can do is talk dirty to young people.

I was sorry to see the festival end. It was an education for me this year and I cannot wait to return to the bike shop again next year to find out why Viagra is such a success. I have always avoided it because it squanders four hours of your day. I don’t have that much time left to waste. Not anymore.

Next stop, Sweden.

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Filed under Age, Comedy, Humor, Humour

Comedy performer Becky Fury in Berlin with the man who had had too much fun

Becky Fury… And this is the way the conversation went…

My last blog, a week ago,  was about What happened when award-winning performer Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week to create art but she only stayed for a day. 

It was not exactly clear why her stay was so short. And several readers of this blog have asked me (yes indeed they really have) why.

The only explanation in the previous blog was: “the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid… didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.”

So, obviously, a couple of days ago, I sat down and had a cup of tea with Becky (we are, after all, British) and asked her to be more specific. 

And this is the way the conversation went…


BECKY: The guy read your blog, contacted me and said he had been wondering what happened to me.

JOHN: He didn’t realise you had left Berlin?

BECKY: No. I hadn’t told him.

JOHN: You left over a week ago.

BECKY: Well, there were a few things he didn’t notice and the fact that I had left Berlin was one of those things. 

JOHN: He had done too much…

BECKY: He had done too much… of something. He had had… erm… He had had way too much ‘fun’. That’s a nice way of explaining it.

JOHN: But he never noticed you had gone? Did you leave a stuffed dummy of a human body under your bedclothes?

BECKY: This was the thing. I didn’t have a bed to sleep in. That was mainly the reason I left. Because I was given a couch in a freezing cold warehouse in East Berlin in January. 

JOHN: We couldn’t afford couches in my day…

BECKY: Maybe I should have considered myself lucky… And I had a dirty sleeping bag to sleep under.

JOHN: Sounds ideal. This is the stuff of award-winning Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows.

BECKY: I know… I… err… I don’t want to get distracted by what you’re saying.

JOHN: Few people do.

BECKY: Basically, I went to Berlin to do some art. We had had this really, really interesting conversation, this guy and me. I had met him when I first started to do squatting and alternative politics in 2002. It was a really interesting thing to catch up with him and have a conversation about all the things that had happened since 2002. And he told me we could do a film in his ‘green screen room’ in Berlin. I knew that, over the previous 17 years, he had been taking a lot of… having a lot of ‘fun’.

“I can’t work in this space and I can’t work with you.”

When I got to Berlin, he took me up to see the green screen room and it was the size of… well, basically, you couldn’t stand up in it. Which is a bit of a problem for a green screen room. And he had a tent in the green screen room and he was sleeping in there.

I looked at him and he looked at me and he said: “Oh, no, no, well, we could do it like a rocket. We could film it like we were in a rocket ship in here.” 

And I was thinking: No, we couldn’t. We could only film it in here like we were two tramps living in a tent in a green screen room. There’s nothing else you can do in this space. You ARE actually like a tramp living in this tent in a room that you have green screened and this is fucking insane. I can’t work in this space and I clearly can’t work with you.

And he kinda knew there was something wrong, but this is the thing about people having too much… who have had too much ‘fun’. It is like you’re tripping all the time.

I wasn’t angry with him at all. He was in his dream and he wasn’t really seeing why there was a problem. In his dream, it was fine. We would absolutely make an amazing film with us in a tent flying through space.

He told me this guy from (a well-known cabaret music group) was coming down. And he did. But the date he had given the guy was totally wrong: it was like four days afterwards. I mean, you really can’t get people to fucking come from other countries to meet up and the two people who are meant to be doing the project together arrive four days apart!

He had not done the logistics and I was meant to stay on this freezing cold couch under a dirty sleeping bag for four days. He told me that is what everyone in Berlin does.

So I wandered off. 

There was also inter-personal politics with people in the house.

Basically, they had set up an art space in an enormous warehouse space.

There was the original Tacheles squat after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the squatters got evicted and it was turned into luxury flats. And these were the same (squatter) people who had moved and set up a new Tacheles.

That’s what he told me and it is, but there were two sets of agendas going on.

He has sort-of ‘arted’ all over the warehouse – like he has pissed all over the place, but with art. Art everywhere. So the people upstairs have to deal with him: this guy who is ‘arting’ all over their place.

JOHN: Is this not good? Whatever happened to the joy of anarchy?

“Like I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave. and run away very fast.”

BECKY: Well, the thing about anarchy is it needs some level of organisation for it to function, otherwise it’s just chaos and a big mess. Which is fun. And it was interesting to go and visit it. But I think that might be why, in the picture you put in the last blog, I look like I’d seen a ghost: that I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave and run away very fast.

JOHN: So, basically, you just left because you were a bit cold…

BECKY: (LAUGHING) Basically, that’s it! I could have waited to find out if the guy turned up from the (well-known cabaret music group) – which he did.

JOHN: So, at what point did this bloke who enticed you over to do art discover you had left Berlin? Only when he read my blog?

BECKY: No. When the other guy turned up four days later and I wasn’t there.

JOHN: How had you left?

BECKY: I said: “I’m going to go for a walk.”

JOHN: To the guy who had had too much fun?

BECKY: No. To the other guys upstairs. They said to me: “We don’t really know what you’re doing here.”

And I was thinking: I don’t really know what I’m doing here either.

I could have won them over with my natural wit and charm and – obviously – the opportunity to be mentioned in your blog. But I thought: I don’t really want to be here and I’ve got other shit to be getting on with. So I said I was going for a walk and was thinking I’d get an AirBnB or something but, by the time I had left and got a bit of food and was near the station – I hadn’t eaten since I got there because the guy didn’t have any food…

JOHN: You had only been there for like half a day! That’s hardly hardship…

BECKY: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: So you said you were going off for a walk like Captain Oates?

BECKY: Yeah. “I might be some time” and they never saw me again. I did my Captain Oates bit and bowed out disgracefully.

JOHN: Though, unlike Captain Oates, you went to a warmer place.

BECKY: Though we don’t know what happened to Captain Oates, do we?

JOHN: No we don’t. But you left because…

BECKY: I had thought it was going to be a really functional space with loads of people. Not just three cold and very irritable hippies and a man who had taken too much fun.

Although, to be honest, that is a better audience than I’ve sometimes had at the Edinburgh Fringe…

So I came back to London and learnt the script for Political, my show at the Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February.

JOHN: Well promoted.

BECKY: I try.

JOHN: And you’ve succeeded.

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Drugs

Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

Exactly one month ago, I posted a blog about how performer Sara Mason had lost her Leicester Comedy Festival venue next February because, after the programme had been printed, the venue owner decided he did not want her Beginner’s Guide to Bondage show to soil his floorboards.

I asked Sara this week about the effect of the blog.


SARA: It had a wonderful effect. First of all, I was interviewed in the Leicester Mercury. Then I got on BBC Radio Leicester. And then Big Difference managed to book me into Just The Tonic at The Shed for the same slot on the same night – Valentine’s Night at 9.30pm. Then another venue owner who had been ignoring all my emails rang me up and offered a venue – too late. So clearly notoriety in your blog had an effect. Meanwhile, this week, I am doing A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage at Kentish Town in London – this coming Friday and Sunday.

Sara’s show CAN be seen in Kentish Town in London on 14th and 16th December

JOHN: So people who don’t want to traipse to Leicester in February can see it in London this week.

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe again next August?

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: What are you doing with it between February in Leicester and August in Edinburgh?

SARA: I might do it again in Brighton in May. But I also have a new idea I would like to do.

JOHN: Oooh…

SARA: An Intermediate Guide to Bondage would be interesting, because then I could look at the oddities that people have, like mummification and the…

JOHN: Whoaa! What?

SARA: Mummification with cling film wrap. À chacun son goût.

JOHN: This is not for beginners?

SARA: Well, in A Beginner’s Guide, you would not really want to cover the more out-there fetishes. Even a Pony Boy or Pony Girl might be a bit too much.

JOHN: Whoaa! again.

SARA: A Pony Boy. You put a bridle on them and, hopefully, a butt-plug with a tail and then you ride around on them or make them pull your carriage.

JOHN: Why ‘hopefully’ a butt-plug?

SARA: Well, because not everyone wants a tail butt-plug. They have a bit in their teeth and they go Neeeiiiggghhh! Neeeiiiggghhh! You crack the whip as you ride them. Neeeiiiggghhh! Whinny! Whinny! all that sort of stuff. It’s hardcore. It’s a bit more than anything in The Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: If you are teaching people about bondage, should there be ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? 

SARA: Possibly.

JOHN: Would there be a third show after A Beginner’s Guide and An Intermediate Guide?

SARA: An Advanced Guide? Well, some of these fetishes are more understandable and approachable than others. Some are more for the diehards. Mummification, I think, is quite funny. And then, of course, there are rubber fetishes.

Angelic Sara Mason at the Soho Theatre Bar

I told you about going to Torture Garden and a couple came in, both dressed up as frogmen or women. They were completely encased in rubber from head to toe. One was tall; one was short; but it was impossible to tell which was the man and which was the woman.

JOHN: With flippers?

SARA: Yes. And, after a moment, they opened a little zip in their crotch, mounted a stirrup table and began copulating. The noise was squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak like a very squeaky bed. Not very frog-like. That would have been more…

JOHN: …riveting?

SARA: Yes. But the amazing thing was I still couldn’t tell which one was a boy. After a while, they climbed off and zipped themselves up. I had to stop and just laugh. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

JOHN: Why have you got a bit of rubber on your finger? Is that a fetish?

SARA: No.I have a poorly finger. It is kinesiology tape. It has a stretch to it and is good for inflammation but I think I have arthritis, which is neither sexy nor mistressy, though luckily it is my left hand.

JOHN: A big relief for us all. In A Beginners Guide, you play the role of Mistress Venetia. Are you developing that character?

SARA: I am thinking of making her an agony aunt because, at the end of my show in Edinburgh this year, I did suggest that, if anyone wanted private lessons, I could oblige. And quite a number of girls did approach me to say they would like private lessons in domination. They wanted to learn to be a bit more ‘dom’. So that was intriguing because I had put it in as a bit of a joke but, in fact, I did have a few takers. There probably is a niche market out there for ladies who want to learn the business.

JOHN: Any other offers to audience members?

SARA: I have offered free fistings to any Brexiteers in the audience.

JOHN: So what is Mistress Venetia’s character?

Sara as “lovably dotty” Mistress Venetia

SARA: She is a ‘dotty’ dominatrix.

JOHN: How dotty?

SARA: Well, she’s lovably dotty.

JOHN: She dots the eyes and crosses the tease?

SARA: She’s a bit dotty because some of her ideas are really quite ‘out there’.

JOHN: The show is billed as comedy. Is it comedy because you put in lots of jokes or because what you are talking about is not quite as serious as the customers think?

SARA: I think what they do IS quite funny. A lot of it is very funny.

JOHN: But, in the real world, the men being dominated presumably don’t think of it as being humorous.

SARA: There can be a lot of laughter in the dungeons. If you don’t like laughing, you wouldn’t enjoy a session of domination with me.

JOHN: …if you were a real dominatrix and not a performer.

SARA: …if I were a real dominatrix and not a performer. (LAUGHS) I think you use your own personality no matter what you do. Mistress Venetia is dotty and quite funny. If you approach domination and say this is a very frightening, traumatic, torturous thing then, OK, I am not gonna wanna play with you. You are not my type of playmate. My type of playmate wants excitement, joy and doesn’t mind if I take the piss out of him.

JOHN: Sometimes literally.

SARA: Exactly. In the show, Mistress Venetia says she doesn’t mind the occasional golden shower. It can be quite refreshing. But scat is a kink too far from me. I don’t judge anybody for whatever their fetish is. Everybody has the right to whatever sexual expression they want and, certainly, if you’ve never tried something, you have no right to judge about it.

There are certain things that are not my cup of tea but good luck to the people who want to do them. Scat is not for me.

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Filed under Comedy, Sex

Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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Filed under Eccentrics, Trains, Travel

The anarchic post modernist comedy group named after the Post Office. Not.

The interior of Cafe Diana in Notting Hill

The interior of Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill

Consignia won last year’s Alternative New Comedian of the Year title. The comedy group are Phil Jarvis, Andy Barr, Nathan Willcock and now “newcomer Jason Bridge”.

Phil and Nathan had tea with me in Cafe Diana – a culinary shrine to the late Princess of Wales, opposite the Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in London’s Notting Hill and near the brutalist Czech Embassy. It was their choice of venue. Also present was Dec Munro, one of the begetters of Angel Comedy’s Bill Murray club.

Dec has let them have an entire afternoon of six previews at the Bill Murray on Sunday 5th February – from 1.45pm to 6.00pm, unless they repeat everything twice, in which case who knows?

The logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Publicity logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Consignia were performing in Swansea last night. If I had been more efficient, I could have posted this blog before then to give the gig a plug.

But I wasn’t and didn’t.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I saw their show The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show twice. Well, I had little alternative. When it got to the end of their one-hour slot, they simply did the whole show again from beginning to end. When we met at Cafe Diana, Nathan was feeling ill and was very tired. Our conversation, under walls covered in photos of Princess Diana, went like this:


Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

JOHN: I was surprised when you repeated the show in Edinburgh that there seemed to have been a script.

NATHAN: The Leicester Comedy Festival is the last time we will do that show.

PHIL: Yeah. Saturday 25th February.

NATHAN: And, after Leicester, we will do something new for Edinburgh this year.

PHIL: At the Edinburgh Fringe, I want to do an unofficial Dinner For One tribute show. I am trying to get the smallest room I can and put a table in it with six people round it.

JOHN: Isn’t the whole point of Dinner For One that he is serving things to non-existent people?

PHIL: But you could have someone playing the tiger rug and people playing the people who aren’t there.

JOHN: This show would run the whole duration of the Fringe?

PHIL: It would be a one-off. There would be a knees-up, because that’s what the show is.

JOHN: Is it?

PHIL: I think it is, yeah. A melancholic knees-up.

JOHN: A sort of Chas & Dave with tears?

PHIL: (TO ME) We are waiting for Bridge.

JOHN: Bridge?

PHIL: Jason Bridge.

JOHN: Like Godot?

PHIL: Mmmm…

JOHN: But, apart from your Dinner For One with six people, what is the new Consignia show for Edinburgh?

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis pay homage to Princess Diana

Nathan Willcock (left) & Phil Jarvis pay homage to Lady Diana

PHIL: Panopticon.

JOHN: Why is it called that?

PHIL: It has to be more pretentious than last year’s.

NATHAN: We have a gig booked in Norwich for it already.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: We did it last year. That’s where last year’s gig found its feet. Before that, The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show was a disaster.

NATHAN: I went to university in Norwich.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: I’m going to run a gig in Basingstoke.

JOHN: What? Into the ground?

PHIL: Probably. It’s a regular monthly gig.

JOHN: Called…?

PHIL: Goat.

JOHN: Because it will make people feel horny?

PHIL: No. It’s just a name.

DEC: Someone named their rap album Goat.

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

PHIL: I think there’s a band called Goat as well.

JOHN: And an animal.

PHIL: If you put the words ‘a Comedy Club’ next to it, it says ‘Go at a Comedy Club’.

NATHAN: Nobody says: “Go at a comedy club.”

PHIL: I do.

NATHAN: You should call it GOAT 2 – “Goat 2 a comedy club.”

JOHN: So why call yourselves Consignia?

NATHAN: We didn’t have a name in Edinburgh last year, but now we have retrospectively given ourselves a name.

JOHN (TO NATHAN): Are you going to fall forward unconscious into that soup or what?

Nathan Willcock was feeling a bit ill

Nathan Willcock alas did not fall into his soup

NATHAN: It’s very hot.

JOHN: Why did you choose the name Consignia?

NATHAN: It was going to be the new name of the Post Office but they got rid of it, so we thought: We’ll have it.

JOHN: You didn’t think of calling yourselves The Post Office?

PHIL: It’s not as funny.

NATHAN: With Consignia, only a few people remember it happening. It was so stupid. I had to check with people: Did that actually happen?

JOHN: Ah. So it IS suitable for your shows, then.

NATHAN: We are hoping to get into a high-profile legal battle with the bloke who thought up the name.

PHIL: We like faded things.

JOHN: Is that why you invited me here?

NATHAN: We like pointless, meaningless things.

PHIL: That is why we like brutalism in architecture.

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy

Nathan Willcock and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy in London

JOHN: Are you sure you are not misunderstanding the word? It is not just beating-up people in the street.

PHIL: We want to perform at The Comedy Store.

JOHN: In the Gong Show bit?

NATHAN: Yes. They film you and you can pay £5 to get a copy. We could probably use it in our new show: about us being booed off. We will just stay on stage.

PHIL: They will be gonging and we will just stay on until the bouncers come on to get us. They will think about it a bit.

NATHAN: Basically, we want them to get violent… and then we will see if we can still get the video.

JOHN: You really do misunderstand what Brutalism is.

NATHAN: He still hasn’t turned up.

JOHN: Who?

PHIL: Jason Bridge. He will be with us in Leicester. With my son.

JOHN: You have a son?

PHIL: No.

NATHAN: Do you remember anything from our show in Edinburgh?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: The one you sat through twice.

JOHN: No. I do remember the second time was a revelation because I thought: I’ve never seen anything like this before.

PHIL: Do you not remember me covered in blood wearing a gas mask, holding my son?

JOHN: No. I thought I must have dreamt that.

PHIL: You saw my penis.

JOHN: Did I see it twice?

PHIL: Yes you did.

JOHN: I don’t remember it.

NATHAN: My girlfriend hates that.

Nathan Willcock Facebook header image

Can you spot Nathan Willcock in his Facebook header image?

JOHN: His penis?

NATHAN: No… Nicholas. Because Nicholas is covered in egg and mud…

JOHN: His son?

PHIL: …and guacamole…

NATHAN:…but I refuse to throw it out. It’s in our cupboard.

JOHN: Why is guacamole funny? All those Al Queda prisoners in there for years on end…

PHIL: Do you not remember our show at all, John?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: You remember we put a carrot and some humus on stage…

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: …and then played a really slowed-down version of Daphne & Celeste and then walked off stage and the audience just looked at this carrot and humus.

PHIL: One night, we couldn’t find any humus. We could only find discounted guacamole.

NATHAN: That was the night the second show happened – the X-rated one – the night you were there, John. We did everything naked.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And, instead of putting a carrot in the guacamole, we put Phil’s penis in it and put a microphone to it.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And guacamole is a bit spicy so Phil said it hurt quite a bit.

PHIL: I had a mild burn for the rest of the Fringe.

Phil Jarvis

Phil Jarvis felt off-colour during the Fringe

NATHAN: That’s how committed we are.

JOHN: And your girlfriend is not keen on this?

PHIL: His fiancée now.

JOHN: (TO NATHAN) Oh! Congratulations.

NATHAN: She asked me.

JOHN: How did she ask you?

NATHAN: She took me to Belgium.

JOHN: Is that a euphemism I don’t know? I have heard “took me round the world” but never “took me to Belgium”.

NATHAN: Ghent. She didn’t go down on one knee. She just gave me a ring underneath the belfry.

JOHN: Is that another euphemism I haven’t heard?

NATHAN: December 9th. The wedding. It’s going to have a Christmas theme. We had a load of crackers delivered the other day.

JOHN: In January? For your December wedding? That’s forward planning.

NATHAN: She’s very organised. We have put the soundtrack for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show up on Bandcamp and you can buy the full album for £1,000. You can also download individual tracks for free.

JOHN: It is all commercialism with you, isn’t it?

Consignia logo

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How the longest-running comedy festival got started almost by accident

Geoff Rowe - Leicester Comedy Festival

Geoff Rowe BEM with the 1994 and 2017 brochures

“So. It’s the longest running comedy festival in the world?” I asked.

“In Europe, is what we claim.”

“But almost certainly in the world?” I asked.

Geoff Rowe shrugged: “Probably.”

In 2013, he was awarded the British Empire Medal “for services to comedy”.

“So why did you start it when you were 22?” I asked.

“I came to Leicester to study for a degree in Arts Management at De Montfort University and, in our final year, we had to do a practical project. So, in the summer of 1993, our group sat around in the students’ union and we all read NME and, in 1993, NME put Newman and Baddiel on the front cover. I think that was the first time a non-musician had been on the front cover.”

“That was their Wembley concert?” I asked.

“Yes, their Wembley gigs,” said Geoff. “So somebody in our group – it wasn’t me – said: Why don’t we do a comedy festival? It sounded better than the other option: an Eastern European theatre festival.”

And that is how the Leicester Comedy Festival started in 1994.

“I had a house in Leicester,” Geoff explained, “to stay in over the summer and I knew two people who worked in comedy in London, rang them up and said: Tell me everything I need to know about comedy. I had seen comedy, but never booked it, never produced or promoted it. (He promoted his first concert, aged 13, in the local village hall.) Then, when my group came back from summer holidays, I had got the bones of the festival sorted. I had spoken to some agents and so on.

The first Festival programme with Tony Slattery (left) and Norman Wisdom

The very first Festival brochure in 1994 with Tony Slattery (left) and Norman Wisdom

“So we did the festival in 1994 and it worked quite well. Then I graduated and had no overwhelming desire to stay in Leicester but, equally, I didn’t move back to London again. So, with two university friends, I decided to do it again because it was great fun. There was quite a lot of support for it locally. Even in those days, the venues loved it.

“I kept doing it for about 7 or 8 years and it was the best fun I’ve ever had. It was great. There was no idea it would keep going but, every February, we invited comedians up, we messed around, we got drunk, had fun and it was fantastic.”

“Why February?” I asked. “Surely, after Christmas, no-one has any money?”

“Because we originally did it as part of our degree course and, afterwards, we had to write a report on what we had learned from the experience. So we worked back from the date we had to hand our report in and it was February. But, actually, it is a good time of year because, nationally, there is not much else happening for the media to notice. Also, venues earn loads of money in December and, if the end of your financial year is the end of March, which it mostly is, you get quite a lot of money in December and can then get another load in February.”

“I thought maybe the public had no money left in February,” I said.

“Well, we do sell 70% of our tickets after 25th January because no-one has any money until pay day in January. 100,000 people came last year, a third of them from outside Leicestershire. It’s worth £3 million to the local economy every year.”

“So lots of money to be made,” I suggested.

Geoff Rowe - Leicester Comedy Festival

Geoff amid piles of new brochures ready for 2017

“People,” laughed Geoff, “used to describe it as my hobby, because I wasn’t earning any money out of it. I was earning money working in bars and in restaurants.”

“For around 7 or 8 years?” I asked.

“Yes. Then I thought: Maybe this is something that’s going to survive a bit longer and maybe there needs to be some proper organisation behind it. At that time, there was no regular staff, no regular office. Now Big Difference employs seven people all year round and then it needs more people to handle 800 shows in 19 days.”

“And no sponsorship,” I said, “until the TV channel Dave came on board.”

“We got some sponsorship locally.”

“Local restaurants?”

“That kind of thing. Nothing serious.”

“Sponsorship as in ads?”

“Yeah. And a bit of cash from the City Council. They’ve always been very supportive. For years, Leicester was never on the map. It has changed slightly because of Richard III and the football.”

“Has Richard III had an effect?” I asked.

“A huge effect on Leicester. That and the football,”

Richard III - a great promoter of comedy in Leicester

Richard III – a great local comedy promoter

In 2012, Richard III’s remains were found buried under a car park in Leicester and, in 2015, reburied with pomp and ceremony in Leicester Cathedral. Also in 2015, underdogs Leicester City Football Club (at one time the betting was 5,000 to 1) won the Premier League Championship.

“Leicester,” said Geoff, “was not seen as being groovy. Leeds, Brighton, Manchester were. We were under the radar for quite a long time. So getting sponsorship things was difficult for a long time. If we talked to national brands, they would say: No, if we want to do a campaign, we’ll go to Manchester or somewhere else. 

But then, five years ago, I met Steve North, the channel manager at Dave, and it was absolutely fantastic.”

“And now,” I said, “you have lost them as sponsors…”

“They’re still a sponsor of the festival,” Geoff corrected me, “but not a title sponsor. They’ve reduced their investment. When we started working with them, they did one or two shows each year. Now they are commissioning about 15 shows a year. So they need to spend their marketing money supporting their programmes.”

“And,” I asked, “you are looking for a more titley sponsor?”

“We are for 2018.”

“One of the Big Four Edinburgh Fringe venues – the Gilded Balloon,” I said, “tried Leicester but only for one year.”

“Yes,” said Geoff. “2011. That is one of the reasons why we now run for 19 days. When Karen Koren (who runs the Gilded Balloon) came, we were 10 days. There was really bad snow that year. So 50% of her programme – 5 days – were killed because the weather was atrocious. Karen said to me: If you want this to work and other people to come, you need to make the festival longer so if, in February, there is shit weather, if you have 19 days, it only knackers a third rather than half of your programme. So now we are 19 days. I was slightly nervous about making it so long, but it works better.”

“There are quite a few other comedy festivals around,” I prompted.

“But,” said Geoff, “the model for comedy festivals is often that either management companies or agents or club promoters start them. We don’t promote a regular club; we don’t manage or agent acts. And that makes us independent and we just focus on the festival.”

“And now Leicester has a bigger profile because of Richard III and the football?”

In the first Programme in 1994, De Montfort Students’ Union managed to mis-spell Stewart Lee’s name

In the first brochure in 1994, De Montfort Students’ Union managed to mis-spell comedian Stewart Lee’s name

“Yes. Leicester has changed massively and that has helped. People don’t ask where it is any more. When I started to book acts, at the very end of the conversation, people would say: Can you tell me – where exactly IS Leicester? Somebody told me the Brighton Comedy Festival would succeed and Leicester would fail because, they said: Brighton is just over an hour from London. And I pointed out: So is Leicester.”

“Why,” I asked, “have you lasted so long?”

The Leicester Comedy Festival brochure 2017

Next year’s 156-page Comedy Festival brochure

“Well,” said Geoff, “Big Difference Co Ltd is a registered charity and produces Leicester Comedy Festival. My motivation was never to make money. I want to create a really good festival: a vibrant, exciting festival that sustains itself. I’m serious. It sustains comedians; it helps develop them; it helps the local economy; it’s a good thing in itself, as opposed to some other festivals which are just purely about making money. Joking aside, we HAVE survived for 24 years and no other comedy festival in the UK has. Edinburgh is a general arts festival not a comedy festival. And I think we have survived because of the ethos we have had. If we were just going after money, I don’t think we would have survived so long.”

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Is Alexander Bennett a cock, the Devil or “witty, weird and dark” (Harry Hill)

Alexander Bennett at King’s Cross station yesterday

“Dark” Alexander Bennett at King’s Cross station yesterday

Alexander Bennett runs a regular first-Tuesday-of the-month comedy show in London – This Is Not a Cult in Camden.

Yesterday, I met him at King’s Cross station. I do not know why. We had thirteen minutes to talk.

“This chat is for quoting in my blog,” I told him, “so I have to ask if you have had any nervous breakdowns, long periods of heroin addiction, run-ins with prostitutes and gangsters, visits to Thailand or recent experiences with enemas?”

“For your blog,” Alexander told me, “everything except Thailand, because I can’t afford to go on holiday.”

“What are you doing at the moment?” I asked.

“I’m preparing for the Edinburgh Fringe in August – I’m possibly doing two shows. One will be my stand-up comedy show and the second one is a gameshow set in Hell where I play the Devil.”

“Type-casting?” I suggested.

“Possibly,” admitted Alexander. “Two audience members have to play to keep their soul. Each rounds in the gameshow will be hosted by a different historical character – Watercolour Challenge hosted by Adolf Hitler; What’s My Organ? hosted by Jeffrey Dahmer…”

“I had forgotten about your fascination with serial killers and mass-murderers,” I said.

“…and so on and so forth,” concluded Alexander. “I wanted to do something with lots and lots of other comics.”

“What happens,” I asked, “if the two members of the audience lose in their attempt to keep their souls?”

“Something unexpected,” said Alexander. “Nobody at the moment is doing…”

“Hellish shows?” I asked. “That’s a matter of opinion.”

“… fun bad taste shows,” concluded Alexander. “You get your brutal Frankie Boyles or Andrew Lawrences, but nobody’s doing stuff that’s bad taste but fun – as in the specific meaning of bad taste – taking the subject too lightly.”

“Are gameshows with the Devil really bad taste?” I asked.

“Well, if you put Jeffrey Dahmer and Hitler in them, yeah. And a few others.”

“And your other Fringe show?” I asked. “The stand-up comedy one – the non-bad-taste one. That is…?”

Alexander Bennett – I Can Make you a Moron, which is making people stupid for their own sake.”

“Do you think people might avoid sitting in the front row for that one?” I asked.

“I’ll make them. The idea is the world is too complicated and the only way to be happy is to be stupid.”

“You are still developing that?” I asked.

“Well, I’m doing a show – Your Beloved Alexander Bennett – at the Leicester Comedy Festival this Saturday. It’s sort-of halfway between last year’s Edinburgh Fringe show and this year’s one. So I get to try out new material without massively pissing-off anyone in Leicester.”

“That’s for them to judge,” I suggested.

“I’ve got quotes from Chortle and Harry Hill and the Guardian on my publicity,” said Alexander, “so I hope that will lure them in.”

For the record, the Harry Hill quote is: Witty, weird and dark, the one to watch out for: at the spearhead of a wave of great new comics. All hail Alexander Bennett!

Your beloved Alexander Bennett likes to be hailed.

And quite right too.

“Anything bizarre happen to you on the way here?” I asked him.

“I think you’re clutching at straws for your blog,” he told me.

“You’re a comedian,” I said. “Things always happen to comedians on the way to anywhere.”

Alexander Bennett yesterday in London’s Chinatown

The beloved and clothed Alexander Bennett

“I was in Chester at the weekend,” he told me, “performing to a hen party.”

“Did you keep your clothes on?” I asked.

“Yes. But, during the show, one of the hens just started shouting out the word Cock!”

“Was that,” I asked, “because she thought you were one or she wanted to see one?”

“These were details,” admitted Alexander, “that needed clarification. She just shouted out the word Cock! at regular intervals. Then, after the show, a slightly older woman came up to me and said: I’m really sorry that my daughter kept shouting out the word Cock! during your performance. She is really drunk. I wouldn’t mind, but she’s a fucking lesbian.”

“That will do,” I told him.

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