Tag Archives: Leicester Comedy Festival

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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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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Comic John Ryan’s ‘childhood prank’

John Ryan chatted to me over tea in the Soho Theare Bar

John Ryan chatted to me over tea in the Soho Theatre Bar

In 2010, comedian John Ryan was an NHS Regional Health and Social Care award winner in the Mental Health and Well Being category. In the same year, he got a Royal Society for Public Health Special Commendation for contributions to the field of Arts and Health Equalities. And, in 2011, he was a Best Short Documentary Award winner at the Scottish Mental Health and Arts Film Festival for a film he made about a women’s prison.

This year, the Irish Post reported that he was “chuffed to bits” to have his first research paper on mental health published in the Journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

But John Ryan is not often mentioned by trendy comedy reviewers. Why?

“I think I’m a bit too laddish for them,” he told me. “A bit too working class. And I tend to play Jongleurs and the bigger clubs. I’ve done the Soho Theatre three or four times, but I earn my living doing this. I’ve not got aspirations to do a sitcom or Live at The Apollo on TV. I basically provide meat & two veg.

“I was a trade union chairman for ten years – UNISON, the public sector. I worked in a collective environment. And I worked in housing. I had three small kids under the age of 5 and worked 12-hour shifts. Two weeks of days; a week of nights. But I also used to write kids’ stories.

John directed inserts for Teletubbies

John directed Tubbie Inserts

“Someone said: If you do stand-up, you’ll get a performing CV and you’ll be able to sell your kids’ stories. So I did my first gig and got my first writing contract three months later. That was on Teletubbies. And they gave me a job as an insert director. I bluffed my way in. Bluffed it, blagged it.

“When that finished, I carried on with my day job and the TV producers were trying to re-vamp another show of theirs called Brum about a little kid’s toy car. They offered me a six months contract writing on that – equivalent to a year’s salary where I was working. So I took that and took my pay-off from my day job – so I basically had 18-months salary and carried on doing stand-up.

“I was a Hackney Empire New Act of the Year finalist in 2000 with Russell Brand. Shappi Khorsandi came second. Paul Hickman won it. Russell Brand went on and done about 15 minutes of piss-poor Bill Hicks type act. Cole Parker got told off for getting stoned in the dressing room.

“In 2001 I did Leicester New Act of the Year. I was the runner-up. It was won by Miles Jupp. The other runner-up was Jimmy Carr. And John Bishop was not placed.

“A couple of years later, in 2003, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe with a show called John Ryan Isn’t Normal? My son had been in a school play. He was Joseph; a girl was Mary. He went to pick up the baby Jesus and, in a packed assembly hall, the girl says Give me the baby and my son says No, I’m giving him a cuddle. So the girl says Men don’t cuddle babies and by now the play has gone to pot. My boy says: Well, my dad’s a man and he cuddles me, and, in this full assembly hall, this little girl says, Well, your dad’s not normal.

John Ryan performs in a YouTube video

John performs a routine about the police in a YouTube video

“All the mums looked at me. It genuinely happened. So I wrote a whole hour show about it.

“I had an MA in Health & Social Policy. I had a degree in Social Administration. I had worked in Housing & Community Care. I had experience of working with vulnerable groups.

“When I did John Ryan Isn’t Normal? at the Edinburgh Fringe, a reviewer for Three Weeks magazine turned up pissed with his girlfriend, spent half the time snogging her and being an arse, so I told him to Fuck off out! and then wrote to Three Weeks saying: Look, don’t send idiots. I don’t think they like that.

“The following year, I did a show called Stupid Monkey, because I went to a party dressed as a monkey and got into an argument with a guy who was dressed as a carrot. We got into a physical fight and the ridiculousness of it – that me, a grown man with kids, was fighting a man dressed as a carrot – made me think Why aren’t we able to resolve our differences without fighting? So the show talked about Iraq, Israel, racism, homophobia and was called Stupid Monkey.”

“Had you got anything out of the John Ryan Isn’t Normal? show?I asked.

“Oh yes,” said John. “I picked up a little award from some independent magazine that then folded and Geoff Rowe from the Leicester Comedy Festival asked if I’d be interested in talking about health in non-conventional venues.

“I also got asked to write a column for the Irish Post, because I’m from the Irish community. In the Irish community, if you get in the Irish Post, you’re like a superstar. I thought it would be fun for my mum.

“So, from that first Edinburgh Fringe, I got myself a weekly column and got involved in doing health projects: Hurt Until It Laughs. Then I did a tour round working men’s clubs and prisons, young offenders’ institutions, gay/lesbian centres, Islamic centres, Afro-Caribbean centres.

"Geoff Rowe also asked me if I knew anything about mental health"

“Geoff Rowe also asked me if I knew anything about mental health because there was a charity”

“And Geoff Rowe also asked me if I knew anything about mental health because there was a children’s charity called YoungMinds who were very keen to empower men to spend more time with their kids and to look at how kids behaved to see if there was any mental trouble there. So I wrote a show called Those Young Minds which allowed me to talk about my upbringing.

“My family were Scottish and Irish. I was a Cockney. My mum’s lot are from Coatbridge in Scotland. Her dad moved from Catholic Coatbridge to Longford in Ireland, where my mum was born. My dad’s family were all Travellers, from Longford. Middle of nowhere. Even Irish people don’t know where it is. Then my mum and dad moved to Hackney in London. So we went from the poorest part of Scotland to the poorest part of Ireland to Hackney. You can almost see a show writing itself, can’t you?

“I was always fighting and scrapping, cos that’s what we do.

“I came home from school one day, having been given the cane yet again and been told I was going to get expelled.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Pranks,” said John.

“What sort of pranks?” I asked.

“Well,” said John, “when I was eight, I hit a kid with a brick. He was called Paul Kennedy and we were the only two Irish families in the class.”

“He was a Protestant?” I asked.

“No, he was a Catholic, but he just thought he was better than me and we always used to fight. At school one day, he picked his nose, put it on me, we had a big argument, I threw a brick at him, knocked him out, blood came out of his nose and out of his ears.

“One of the girls in the class said: You’ve killed him! 

“I had never felt so great in my life. It was a really empowering feeling. In my head, I was thinking: I’ve got a list of people I’m going to take out now. 

“So I go to school the next day. He doesn’t come to school. None of the other kids will come near me in the playground – You killed Paul Kennedy! they tell me – and I went home and my sister said she was going to tell my mum and I was petrified.

“My mum came into my bedroom and said: I’m so ashamed. I’m really ashamed of what you done. 

“And I think: Hang on. I’m not getting slapped.

We are going to pray to Jesus, she tells me.

“I never liked the one on the cross. I always liked the little baby one. I was scared of the one on the cross. So I thought of little baby Jesus and we prayed.

“I go into school the next morning and Paul Kennedy isn’t there. Everyone tells me he is dead. I have killed him. I am still feeling alright.

“At playtime, he comes into class with a bandage on his head. This was a great, euphoric moment. I run up to give him a cuddle. He punches me in the face. I head-butt him. He goes back to hospital. I get suspended from school for the week.

“My mum says: What are we going to do with you? You’re going to go in to Daisy next door. 

Everyone in our block was either Irish or black. Except Daisy, who was this old white English woman. She didn’t have a TV. She made her own cheese in a handkerchief at the sink. She had long nails. She was really scary. She used to be a head teacher.

“So I went to her flat.

“First day. Go in. Go to the toilet. Sit down at the table. My sister had told me Daisy was going to kill me. But she gave me an apple and some milk. The wall was covered in books. She said: Pick a book, read it and not a peep out of you.

“I was petrified. I read the book. Then, after a couple of hours, I went home. This happened every day for a week.

“At the end of the week, Daisy came in to our kitchen. My mum asked: How’s he been? Daisy said: He’s been really quiet. He just reads. No trouble at all. Didn’t break anything. Didn’t steal anything. Not rude. 

“My mum told me: If you keep misbehaving, you’ll go back in there again.

“And I was really upset, because I wanted to go back in there.

“In the 2005 show I wrote – Those Young Minds – I was able to look at things like Why did my behaviour change in Daisy’s? Was it because I was getting attention? Was it because I was being given something to do? 

“I did that show in Edinburgh, but only for two days. I got a one-star review from Three Weeks.”

 … CONTINUED HERE

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Comic Martin Soan might be a genius. Comedian Bob Slayer could be a fool.

“I don’t know why Mercedes-Benz have never used that in an advertisement,” Martin Soan said to me yesterday.

A triple-bladed wind turbine as seen on a 12-hour train trip

A triple-bladed wind turbine as seen on our 12-hour train trip

We were looking at the triple blades of a wind turbine machine in a field somewhere in the former West Germany as we passed during our 12-hour rail trip back to the UK.

It is a simple idea – seeing wind turbine blades and thinking of a ‘green’ ad image for Mercedes-Benz.

But it is a simple, obvious idea which almost no-one else except Martin would ever spot.

Mercedes_benz_silverlogo

Triple-bladed wind turbine as seen by Martin

Which is what makes his comedy ideas on stage so original – performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller wearing five rubber bands; performing the Red Arrows’ aerial acrobatics as the Red Sparrows with giant red cardboard cut-out sparrows, choreographing the Greatest Show On Legs’ naked balloon dance with a handful (and mouthful) of balloons.

Martin Soan in full jester garb last night

Martin Soan in a pub

Martin is currently the official 2013-2014 ‘Fool’ at Muncaster Castle in the UK.

Which came to mind when I woke up this morning to three e-mails from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. Attached to the e-mails were three photographs of a man in a jester’s costume in Vancouver.

Arty the Jester in Vancouver

Arty the Jester in Vancouver, a potential Fool

“Arty would like information about Jester gigs over in the UK,” Anna told me. “Are there any dry castles coming up soon? He just needs a little break from all the men in Vancouver who won’t stop trying to wine and dine him, pick him up at work or get him to pose in the nude for artistic purposes. Here is a picture of him on Denman Street, after a chilly day of performing at the aquarium. I ought to ask him if he would also consider work as a lady lifter.”

“Well,” I replied, “Martin Soan is currently Muncaster Castle’s Fool. It’s the place where Tom Fool used to be jester and is the origin of the term ‘tomfoolery’. See my 2013 blog. Their contest to find a 2014-2015 fool held is on 29th May this year.

Another e-mail in my Inbox this morning was from comedian Bob Slayer, who is running a venue – Heroes @ Hansom Hall – as part of the current Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival.

I would not dare say he is a prime candidate for Fool.

Well, OK, I would.

Bob Slayer in Leicester last Friday

Bob Slayer at Dave’s Leicester Festival last year

He told me that, last weekend, there was a good-sized audience at his venue waiting to see The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society featuring Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Johnny Sorrow.

Bob Blackman was a man who, in the 1970s, became famous for appearing on television and hitting a metal tray on his head while singing the song Mule Train.

Bob Slayer is not a man who is averse to drinking. Excessively.

A few days before last weekend’s show – due to extremely serious circumstances genuinely beyond their control – The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society had sent Bob Slayer an e-mail telling him they would not be able to make the show. Bob had forgotten this.

He had also forgotten he had replied to them in an e-mail, giving his genuine sympathies for their unfortunate reasons.

“This certainly highlights,” Bob told me in his e-mail to me this morning, “the dangers of me responding to my e-mails late at night after a long session ‘testing’ the Brewdog Beers for our bar…”

When Bob Slayer suddenly remembered, moments before the allotted show started, that the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society were not coming, he turned to absurdist comedian Adam Larter and “suggested that we had two options: We can either tell them that the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society has had to cancel and offer to entertain them ourselves OR we simply go on stage and show them what the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society would have done if they had been there… 

There is a clip of the real Bob Blackman Appreciation Society in action on YouTube.

“I picked up the back stage microphone,” Bob Slayer told me in his e-mail this morning, “and began a prolonged introduction from behind the wings, which involved asking the room to select one person to count down from 37, then announced: You may have seen him before, but never quite like this. Please welcome the one, the only, the very real and original Bob Blackman… 

“I bounded out to the closest thing Luke the sound tech could find to Mule Train – well, I think it was a Chuck Berry rock & roll song – and repeatedly banged myself over the head with a tin sign for Brewdog Beers. Adam occasionally wandered back and forth behind me in nothing but a pair of orange tights.”

Later, in what I suspect might have seemed quite a confusing show, Adam became a ventriloquist’s dummy and Bob Slayer tells me that Adam “unexpectedly pulled a bag of skittles out of his tights and ate them” (the skittles).

This seemed a bit extreme, even for Adam, until I realised Bob Slayer meant a bag of Skittles (children’s sweets) not a bag of actual skittles.

Although, on the other hand…

Anyway, Adam then announced to the audience: “I think that maybe you now all know that The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society are unfortunately not able to be here tonight…”

But, Bob Slayer told me this morning, “it seems no-one ever believes that a comedian on stage is telling the truth and the confusion continued. I fuelled the confusion further with the statement: …which is, of course, exactly what an act like The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society would say.”

There is a clip of the original Bob Blackman on YouTube. He is not to be confused with The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

“Adam Larter then announced: “We are Not The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society and we are not here tonight…” and, says Bob Slayer, “we continued for at least the next hour with random sound effects from Luke the sound tech.

“There was dancing, chair balancing. impersonations of the audience, complete silence and a whole host of other nonsense. I ended up dressed as a sailor while Adam monologued about the nature of comedy as a faux Jason Manford. We labelled one man The Reviewer and chastised him for his inability to understand comedy and recognise that he wasn’t even reviewing the right act. Joe Davies, Ben Target and Matt Highton joined in towards the end dressed as a builder, a cowboy and a sex god and we did a karaoke singalong of YMCA.

“I hope you will be at the next Not The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society gig, possibly next weekend at Heroes @ Hansom Hall.”

Bob Slayer. Fool? Or shrewd publicist? The jury is out. But possibly not for long.

Juliette Burton + camels. We’re definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

Juliette Burton + camels. We’re definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

After reading Bob Slayer’s e-mail, I opened the next one in my Inbox. It was from Juliette Burton, en route to Australia to tour her show When I Grow Up. Attached was a photograph of Juliette apparently doing an impression of the Hunchback of Notre Dame with camels behind her. There was no explanation. I think she is in Dubai. She might be on Tatooine. She is definitely not in Kansas any more, Toto.

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