Tag Archives: Leicester

Comic Sara Mason is being paid NOT to perform her hit Fringe show in Leicester

This show is not happening – at least, not in this venue, not on that date, possibly not in Leicester…

JOHN: So you no longer have a venue for your show at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February.

SARA: That’s right.

JOHN: Because?

SARA: Because the CEO of the venue I was booked in suddenly flatly refused to have me perform.

JOHN: Because?

SARA: He or she didn’t say. But he or she did say he or she would not be persuaded and he or she was obviously horrified by the subject matter.

JOHN: So he or she accepted your show and then changed his or her mind?

SARA: Well, the wonderful Big Difference Company had programmed it in the venue as a Valentine’s Day show – which I thought was a brilliant idea – and the CEO then looked at the line-up after the brochure had been printed – and absolutely, categorically would not allow me to perform.

JOHN: You had already paid to go in the brochure…

SARA: Yes. The CEO totally, categorically agreed to pay me a figure I won’t divulge NOT to perform the show at the venue.

JOHN: Can you perform it somewhere else in Leicester?

Sara, surprised by the sudden cancellation

SARA: At this point, most venues are full – the brochure has been printed. I started discussing a venue for this show back in August – before my run at the Edinburgh Fringe had finished – and the brochure deadline was mid-October. 

JOHN: What’s the title of the show?

SARA: A Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: One might think the CEO could have got a hint of the subject from the title.

SARA: Possibly. But I suppose it could have been about a housewife ‘chained’ to the kitchen sink.

JOHN: Or someone who just liked James Bond films.

SARA: Indeed… I am sure we would have sold out on Valentine’s Day night. People are interested in the subject. That’s the thing about this show. Audiences are interested. But the critics don’t want to know. The press don’t want to know. The publicists at the Edinburgh Fringe didn’t want to represent me. I tried to get a publicist. Couldn’t get one. Yet, at the end of the day, I was sold out every single performance.

JOHN: I’m never totally convinced about the value of publicists at the Fringe.

SARA: I felt I would never get reviewed at the Fringe if I didn’t have a publicist. And I wasn’t. And that was – is – the reality. To book a tour for this show is possibly impossible.

JOHN: Though your show got audiences in in Edinburgh – which is no mean feat.

SARA: My show is a feminist and funny look at all the weird and wonderful kinks that people can have. It’s not judgmental and it’s not for the raincoat brigade. One chap from the raincoat brigade came to see it in Edinburgh. He came in his raincoat with a plastic bag and sat by himself in the crowded back row. He walked out after about ten minutes and complained to the manager that he thought the show was very sexist and anti-male – particularly, I assume, anti white, middle class men. I felt I should put that quote on my programme! He was the only person who has ever been offended, apart from a Tory lady who was offended by what I said about Boris Johnson.

JOHN: Which was?

SARA: I said that I would like to use my massive strap-on on him. Usually, that gets rounds of applause and shrieks of laughter, particularly in Scotland, where they are not very fond of Boris or Brexit. But there happened to be a party of Tory voters in who – although they liked the show… Well, one lady felt morally upset that I was bringing politics into my show. 

But a dominatrix is a human being with a political opinion and it’s my show and I can say what I like. Without a doubt, all of the dominatrices I have ever met were Left Wing and all of their security guards were Right Wing.

JOHN: Security guards?

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

SARA: They all have security. Someone to answer the door and security at night. Sometimes they are ex-Army and usually they are Right Wing. I think dominatrices tend to be Left Wing.

JOHN: Why?

SARA: (LAUGHS) Maybe because they like beating rich toffs for money.

JOHN: So the Tory lady who went to your show did not object to the title or subject of the show.

SARA: No. Just me dissing Boris Johnson.

JOHN: Did you have the ‘dead dad’ bit that all successful Edinburgh shows are supposed to have?

SARA: I included a sad story, yes. But the Tory lady who didn’t like my Boris Johnson references said she didn’t understand why there was a deeply-upsetting, sad moment. My reaction was: Well, you don’t understand how you write a play or a comedy show. There is always a climax and then a resolution.

JOHN: Indeed.

SARA: If you are writing a play, you call it the climax. In comedy, it’s the ‘dead dad’ moment and then you get them back laughing again.

JOHN: The show was a success in Edinburgh…

SARA: It sold out. There were queues down the street. Hardly any of my friends could get in to see it – Only if they told me when they were coming and I physically reserved them a seat.

JOHN: Who were the audience in Edinburgh?

SARA: In the main, young – under 26 – and more women than men. On the few nights when there was a bit of a geezerish crowd – a chav crowd – the sort of guys who sat in the front row hopin’ I’d get me tits out – they didn’t laugh half as much and I didn’t enjoy performing to that crowd at all. 

Sara in costume at the Edinburgh Fringe

I had one night when it was a predominately male audience with a few of these geezers sitting in the front – they were quite big and made me feel quite threatened. After that, in every performance, I would pick either couples or a group of girls who didn’t look too frightening and ask them to sit in the front row. So I couldn’t be heckled by people who had come to the show for the wrong reasons.

The thing is it’s a Fem-Dom show. Which part of Fem-Dom didn’t audience members understand? Did they not know I would be taking the piss out of certain men? Not in a horrible way, because my show does not judge even the slightly yuck fetishes. We live in a free society. 

Nowadays, we have transgender, transvestite, gay shows. We have all types of things. But it seems like ‘kink’ and bondage is still an unpronounceable thing. Why should that be so? Let people do what they like in the bedroom. We can laugh and giggle. I show my delight at people’s eccentricity. Everyone has a right to express themselves.

JOHN: Did you aim your show at a particular type of person?

SARA: I have a friend who is a theatre director and he told me: In your show, reach out to the ‘vanilla’ couples in the audience and let them know it’s OK to experiment. It’s not abnormal. So I end my show with a little speech to the vanillas, offering them a little role-play exercise they can do with each other to discover if they are sub or dom or neither or vanilla or double vanilla. 

JOHN: Or strawberry whip.

SARA: Exactly. I give them that speech and they seem to enjoy that.

Three years in the making, the design for the publicity flyer went through some changes when it was a Work in Progress

JOHN: How do you know so much about the subject of bondage?

SARA: I take the Fifth Amendment, but I spent three years writing this show. Everything in it is true. Even ‘the nose man’.

JOHN: The nose man?

SARA: The nose man needs his nose to be stimulated in order to achieve any sort of gratification. Now – look – that is quite amusing, you have to admit.

JOHN: Does he think it’s amusing?

SARA: No. But it is a known fetish. It’s called nasophilia.

JOHN: Well, people sometimes like their ears fiddled with – that’s aural sex.

SARA: There is a fetish for everything.

JOHN: You mentioned rubbish.

SARA: ‘Rubbish Boy’ likes you to put him in a wheelie bin and cover him with rubbish.

JOHN: Smelly rubbish?

SARA: Any kind of rubbish. So my character in the show – Mistress Venetia, the ‘dotty dominatrix’ – one time she put him in the bath tub and covered him with all the rubbish from the flat and he wanked himself to completion. Of course, I made him clean it up afterwards – half a bottle of bleach – he loves that. 

Another time, Mistress Venetia put him in a pair of ballet tights and taught him some ballet moves. Bend-down-stretch… bend-down-stretch. She taught him a pas de chat and he was leaping all over the dungeon. That is a true story. He said it was the best day of his life. The real man is quite chubby and had never been asked to do ballet before.

JOHN: So the good people of Leicester are not going to hear any of this.

SARA: Not without a venue, they aren’t.

(… THIS STORY HAD A HAPPY OUTCOME… READ MORE HERE )

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Comic Devvo needs money to publish a book for a toilet to save his nan’s house

Devvo in a ‘selfie' taken yesterday

Devvo – a ‘selfie’ taken in Doncaster yesterday

“So you’re going to publish a book,” I said to Devvo yesterday via Skype. “How come? Surely you can’t read or write?”

“It’s a picture book, John,” he told me. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a picture book.”

“For children?” I asked.

“Definitely NOT for children,” he confirmed.

“You have to paint your ceiling,” I told him. We were video Skyping. I could see a large crack in his ceiling.

“It’s the spare room,” he said. “We got a lotta work to do on our house.”

“It looks like the House of Usher,” I told him.

“Well, it’s me nan’s house,” he said. “I live in me nan’s house. It’s on the outskirts of Doncaster. It’s all falling apart.”

“Doncaster?” I asked.

“The house,” said Devvo. “She burns coal, me nan does. She burns coal. What the previous owners did was to re-arrange the walls but they did it really badly, so we need lots of money to fix all the things. It’s me nan’s falling-down house that eats all the money.”

“So what sort of book is it?” I asked.

“It’s kind of like a David ShrigleyChris (Simpsons’ artist) type of silly book with loads of like Devvo-type stories in. There’s life tips, dating tips, there’s…”

“Filter tips?” I suggested.

“No filter tips,” said Devvo, “but I’ve made little stories with me and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve called him Arnold Shuitzman, because I thought that sounded more fun.”

The book every fine toilet should have

A book that may save Devvo’s nan’s house

“OK,” I said. “Look. You’re a chav from Doncaster. Writing a book is a bit above your station, isn’t it?”

“I’ve done it,” said Devvo, “because I like pictures and drawing and I want to make some money and people make money selling things. So I thought Let’s make a book to sell.”

“So it’s got photographs?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“And drawings?”

“Yeah. I’ve drawn stuff and I’ve learned how to use PhotoShop a bit and I’ve written stuff and drawn bits and found pictures and put them in PhotoShop and made really cool pictures so people will go Ah, they’re dead funny, aren’t they? Yeah, they’re dead funny!

“Can you send me a copy of the book?” I asked.

“I can send it to you as an eBook,” said Devvo, “but you have to keep it to yourself because, if you allow these things to be freely available, it would be jeopardising everything and I know what you’re like, giving away things.”

“No, I understand,” I said. “Some of us have been trying to turn our blogs into eBooks for the last two years and I’m two months away from proofreading the first one but, my god, it’s like wading through treacle.”

“That’s why I’ve just done pictures,” explained Devvo. “It just took two weeks to do and it was really fun.”

“So you’re artistic?” I asked. “Or autistic?”

“Bit of both,” said Devvo. “No, I’m not artistic at all. That’s the thing. I’m probably the least artistic out of all the people that exist. But that’s alright. Maybe I’ve found a little talent. Maybe it’s another thing to add to my bow.”

“Your bow?” I asked.

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

“My bow,” said Devvo. “When it’s done, it’s going to be a printed book as well as an eBook. The Kickstarter appeal has done really well. It’s got close to £900. We met our Kickstarter target in 24 hours and it closes on 15th March.”

The book’s estimated delivery is the end of March. If you pledge £10, you get a physical and a digital copy of the book. If you pledge £250, Devvo will perform “at your house, in your house, on your roof, in your car, at your local church. Whatever.” And you also get ten copies of the book.

“So you reached your target in one day,” I said. “What are you going to do with the extra money?”

“Well, this is it,” said Devvo. “It’s clever business with crowdfunding. You put the target at an achievable level and you really want to make more anyway. So it’s all just clever business. I really need to get about £1,000 to make good quality books.”

“So,” I said, “if you get more money than you expected, you’ll make an even better quality product?”

“Well, that’s it,” said Devvo. “That’s it. And it means I get the books cheaper in print which means I can make more of a profit, which is what everyone’s after really, innit?”

“You’re going to sell the physical copies at gigs?” I asked.

“I’m going to sell ‘em at gigs, sell ‘em online. People like to buy stuff, John. I’ve done three gigs in the past two weeks and I’ve sold about sixty T-shirts. I did one gig in Barrow-in-Furness and I got bored of selling T-shirts I was selling that many.”

“There’s nothing else to do in Barrow-in-Furness,” I pointed out. “When I was a TV researcher, I went to Barrow-in-Furness to talk to a man who was blind and wanted to parachute jump. It took forever to get there and, when I did, the weather was overcast, the houses were roughcast and the people were downcast. I think suicide may be an option people in Barrow-in-Furness take to improve their lives.”

“But they were the best people I ever met!” enthused Devvo. “It felt like I were doing a gig to loads of mates I’d just met. It were real good.”

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

“So who is the audience for your book?” I asked. “Where is the gap in the market?”

“It’s one of them books,” replied Devvo, “that fits in the gap where you think Ah, we don’t need a book there. Like in your toilet. You’re sat on the loo and you need a little toilet read. You’re there for five minutes and you think, Oh, I’ll have a little read of that! It’s just a dead good, dead funny book that people need to have. The main thing I’m excited about is having a copy for myself. I can have a copy of my book in my toilet and have a look at it and laugh at it. Anything else is a bonus, really.”

“Is this book,” I asked, “connected in any way to Bob Slayer’s increasing empire of books, comedy venues and drunken revels?”

“It’s published through the Heroes name,” said Devvo, “and I’m absolutely delighted to be part of Bob’s growing empire and just general, exciting stuff in life, really.

Devvo’s self-designed poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

Devvo self-made poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

“This Friday, I’m playing the Leicester Comedy Festival with Bob – We’re doing Devvo’s Deal or No Dealer gameshow and Bob’s my glamorous assistant and then I think we’re doing the same show at the Bath Comedy Festival together.”

“So Devvo’s on the rise?” I asked. “What can you do after being an internet sensation, a stage sensation and potentially a publishing sensation?”

“I’m starting to become a businessman,” he replied. “When people talk of Devvo in his early years, he’s just stupid, swearing and this, that and other. People don’t allow me to get older, but Devvo’s got better at business. So my plan is to start an empire selling T-shirts and books and all the things people don’t need but need. Filling those gaps.”

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When I went to bed with comic Janey Godley and club owner Noel Faulkner

Bob Slayer yesterday in Leicester - not changing his spots

Bob Slayer in Leicester yesterday – not turning over a new leaf

I went to Leicester yesterday to see Bob Slayer‘s new show, which is perhaps over-optimistically titled: Bob Slayer: Turning Over a New Leaf.

It did, of course, not live up to the title because the 60-minute show went on for 90 minutes but never actually started due to four disruptive drunks in the audience.

However, keeping to the billed or intended subject has never been one of Bob’s priorities, so it turned out to be one of the most entertaining shows I have seen recently.

You just can’t dislike a show which includes shutting one of the audience drunks in a hidden cupboard behind a mirror, insulting the Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival judge who was in the room to rate the show and taking leave of absence from the stage to go watch a lady pee in the nearby toilet.

Strangely Bob Slayer, when sober and often even when not, is one of Britain’s most entrepreneurial comedians – something probably gained from his days as a rock band manager – and he has a couple of highly-original, laterally-thought-out but sadly as-yet-unprintable ideas for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Another comedian with original ideas is my chum Janey Godley.

In 2004, she started blogging and, at its height, her blog was getting at least (I saw the figures) 500,000 hits per week worldwide. She has since been mostly seduced away from blogging by Tweeting.

As I recently mentioned, she looked into live streaming her 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show from the original Underbelly building in Edinburgh. It was her daughter Ashley Storrie who came up with the idea, Janey told me when I was in bed with her (Janey) and Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner a week ago.

Noel Faulkner in bed with Janey Godley a week ago

Noel Faulkner in bed with Janey Godley at the Comedy Cafe

“Ashley decided,” Janey told me, “that, if you can live-stream porn and people will pay for it, why can’t you use the porn pay-per-view platform for comedy?”

Alas, at that time, it proved technically impossible in the Underbelly’s original bizarre building. The next year, I think it was, she persuaded the Pleasance Dome venue to have a giant projected video screen promo for her Fringe show in their front window – something unheard-of at the time.

Last year, Janey’s live Twitter tale about a couple called Tim & Freya arguing on a Virgin train went viral and triggered media soul-searching about social media privacy. So she then turned it into a one-off performance as a short play at the Edinburgh Fringe (written by her daughter Ashley).

And now, from tomorrow, she is running radio ads on Real Radio XS (formerly Rock Radio) for her weekly podcast with Ashley, which has been running since 2010.

“Ashley wrote the ad and I get to interrupt her, which is what I get to do in the podcast,” Janey told me. “It’s the first time an ad for an independent podcast is going on commercial radio – and all because the listeners of my podcast donated enough money for us to make an advert.

“You know,” Janey told me, “now you can actually make payments with your phone. You can actually just bang your phone to pay – and that will revolutionise prostitution.”

“The other night,” Noel Faulkner added, “I saw an ad that said Text this number: £3 will buy a blanket for a kid. And I thought What’s three quid? and donated. The fact you could text the number made it easy.”

“In Glasgow,” said Janey, “we now have children who steal McDonalds’ sachets of tomato sauce and make a pot of soup with them because they’re so poor. We should get those two fucking lazy pandas out of Edinburgh Zoo and they’ll feed the kids. We need more original thinking.”

Then she carried on watching the act on stage.

The Comedy Cafe Theatre provides a large bed in the corner of its auditorium for acts to rest on while the shows progress across the room.

Original thinking.

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When things go wrong for comedians

Bob Slayer has a few problems

Bob Slayer in one of his less strange moments as a performer

I was happily dozing off last night when I got woken up at 1.30am by a series of text messages from comedian Bob Slayer.

Cobbled together, this is what he told me:

“I did two gigs with The Greatest Show on Legs / Martin Soan at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival tonight: an early show and a late show in Dave’s Curry House.

“It is always weird when you meet people involved with a gig and get on with them, have a laugh, then the gig goes wrong and they don’t want to look you in the eye. And other comics avoid you in case your dose of the unfunnies is catching. If you are sharing a car it can be a painful journey.

“The first gig was really struggling. But then it got to a bit which always goes down well: Martin’s Thriller sketch where we put elastic bands round our heads to distort our faces into zombie masks while we dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

The original routine: Malcolm Hardee & Martin Soan (right) (photograph by Steve Taylor)

The original routine: Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan (photograph by Steve Taylor)

“Except that, when Martin cued the music (at which point we are already committed to the Michael Jackson zombie dance) instead of Thriller, the music that came on was Black or White. It was the wrong track on the CD.

“The audience just looked at us, confused, while we did our dance, putting rubber bands on our heads to distort our faces and dancing like zombies to Black or White. They didn’t know it is the wrong track. It just seems very strange to them.

“Afterwards, one of the acts told me he was watching and thinking: Are they making a statement about being black? With elastic bands????

“Fortunately, at the second gig, we got the right track and the gig went beautifully.

“The drive home was lovely.”

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Money in comedy: Mr Methane’s problem; critic Kate Copstick’s rant

mrmethanebendsYesterday, I blogged about a discussion at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival about whether the future of British comedy lies online instead of in live comedy clubs.

After he read my blog, Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing flatulist – he’s farted around the showbiz world for years – told me this:

_______________________________

I think its already happening, at least in the case of acts like mine.

People no longer have to go out to see some weird stuff anymore. They get sent it over the net by their mates seven days of the week and so, when they go out, they don’t go out to see something bizarre or different. Also the smoking ban has played its part as has the price of beer compared to Bargain Booze & Aldi for example.

All in all, people who want to see bizarre stuff nowadays are used to getting it for free on YouTube and the like: they don’t want to pay for it.

This means I get more exposure than I’ve ever had in the 23 years I’ve been farting around – just one YouTube vid of me has over 28 million views – but it doesn’t translate into more paid gigs.

If anything, it is a declining scale and you have to look to other revenue streams and opportunities the net presents which, when you’re not a Freemason or related to someone high up in the BBC, requires all your ingenuity and a good dose of good luck – This you can only make by doing even more free, web-based, social media publicity.

Possibly I and others like me are in a slow downward spiral. But, all this said, now I’ve had a moan, these are potentially more exciting times – or is that just another word for changing times? Either way, what is happening is a doubled-edged sword.

With regard to the Comedy Store Raw & Uncut film… Remember what happened to the acts that were on The Comedians on ITV. Big exposure but, when they came to do their next gig at a working men’s club, the audience had already seen their act.

The saying Swings & Roundabouts comes to mind.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

davesleicester_logoMaking money from a comedy act was also something discussed by the panel yesterday at Dave’s Comedy Festival (Dave being the TV channel which sponsors the festival).

“I think something ghastly and toxic happened round about the early to mid 2000s,” said comedy critic Kate Copstick.

“In the 1990s, there really wasn’t very much available for comics on television. So, before they all hurtled lemming-like to the nearest 12-year-old commissioning editor with half a Media Studies degree from a jumped-up Polytechnic, they at least had a chance to develop who they were and they had something to sell.

“Then we got the industrialisation of comedy which happened in the 2000s. All of a sudden there were more TV channels and…”

“There were more opportunities,” interrupted Nica Burns, organiser of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. “There were more opportunities for comedians to get on television. There were all these channels and comedy is very cheap. A half hour of stand-up comedy is much cheaper than a half hour of sitcom and a fraction of the cost of an hour of drama. And that is the critical thing because underlying all this is money. They needed to fill up their hours, comedy was a very cheap way of doing it and the comedians were desperate to get a wider audience.”

“It took a long time for that to come around,” said Kate Copstick, “and, in one way it was wonderful when it did. I produced a TV show called The Warehouse and comics were gagging then to get a chance to do stand-up. There were very few places to go on television. Tiny bits-and-bobs. And then, all-of-a-sudden, there was a rush. It think it was something to do with (agent/management companies) Avalon and Off The Kerb not only having a foothold as managers but also as producers.”

“There were a lot of things coming together,” agreed Nica Burns, “in terms of the growth of managers who had career visions for their clients.”

“And none of that,” said Kate Copstick, “was bad until it all kind of turned toxic. Comedy is not a nice business and it’s not got nice people in it. Really, genuinely nice people don’t go into comedy. Comedy always had a career ladder. Now it’s got a bloody express elevator.

“Like I’m 18-year-old. I’m a student comic. I look right. I sound right. I’m fucking lucky. I’m possibly connected. Look! I’ve got five minutes. Good grief – I’ve won a student comedy competition! Crikey – now I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe! Woo – now someone’s picked me up and stuck me on a Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Great! Now I’m back with my own one-hour show with a strap on the poster that says STAR OF the Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Now I’ve won the Best Newcomer or the Panel prize because nobody can think of anybody else to give it to. Next thing you know, I’ve done five heavily-edited minutes of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow and now I’ve got my own telly series!… and I didn’t ever actually want to be a stand-up comic. I just wanted to be rich and famous and wey-hey! Thanks to luck, ego and Addison Cresswell (of Off The Kerb) and lots of stupid audiences out there, now I am!

“What then happens is that the decent stand-up comics, the ones who do want to be stand-up comics and who want to play the clubs, aren’t getting audiences, because the audiences only go – like a comedic Pavlov’s dog – where there’s a TV sticker on the poster… STAR OF MUFFIN THE COMEDY MULE – Oh wow! That must be good!

“I could shit into a bag and, if some high-powered PR person stuck an As Seen on Mock The Week sticker on it, people would come and see it. They genuinely would! This is not good for comedy.”

(A slightly edited podcast of the panel session is on the Demon FM website.)

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Are live comedy clubs doomed and is the future of British comedy online?

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)
davesleicester_logoThis morning, I was on a panel as part of Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival – ‘Dave’ being the UK TV channel which sponsors the festival.

Also on the panel were Don Ward of The Comedy Store, Kate Copstick doyenne of UK comedy critics and Nica Burns, founder of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, currently sponsored by Fosters, formerly sponsored by Perrier.

Copstick and I are both judges on the unsponsored yet increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

Towards the end of the two hour session, conversation got round to The Comedy Store: Raw and Uncut, due out in UK cinemas in a fortnight.

“Sony approached me,” explained Don this morning, “and said they would like to put the Comedy Store into cinemas as a feature film. We’ll make four of them and see what happens and we’ll show it as it is, warts and all.

“So we filmed it over four nights. We filmed digital and you should see it – it is The Store. It comes out on the 22nd of this month in around 160 cinemas. It’ll go out all over the country and it will go out as a stand-up show as you would experience it in London.”

“How much,” asked Nica Burns, “will people pay for their ticket?”

“Normal cinema prices,” replied Don.

“Less than at the Comedy Store?” asked Nica.

“Yes,” said Don.

“So,” said Nica, “You’re beaming out your extremely good stand-up evening to 160 cinemas for less than what people pay at your original Comedy Store. What is that going to do for every single small comedy club in Britain, every single little person who is trying to passionately be part of the comedy industry? What is that going to do to the rest of the comedy industry?”

“It interests me,” I said, “because, beyond the feature film, some high-quality club like the Comedy Store with high-quality acts will be able to live-stream for micro-payments. They can charge, say, 99 pence and they’ll make a fortune – 99 pence per view around the English-speaking world. If I’m going to pay 99 pence to see top quality acts in a top quality club, live-streamed. Why should I pay £5 or £10 to see less-good acts learning their craft in a real comedy club down the road?”

“But,” said Copstick, “there is something about the experience of going to a comedy club that is special and will always appeal to lovers of comedy and I don’t think what Don is doing is any different from… I honestly don’t think it’s going to be that destructive, because I don’t think that proper, core, real, comedy-loving audience is necessarily going to go and see that.”

“It’s the same as football, I suppose,” I said. “You can see football better, closer and faster edited on television, but people still go to football matches.”

“I think,” said Nica Burns,” this is a new development on a very large scale. I can’t recall the comedy industry having an experiment like this on this kind of scale. I think we’re looking at potentially enormous changes in how people watch their comedy, from what Don is doing to the live streaming that’s coming. And the ramifications of that, I think, is fewer people becoming more powerful.”

“You can’t stop change,” I said, “you can only adapt to it. In the mid-1990s, Malcolm Hardee said to me that the Edinburgh Fringe was getting very commercialised and he was like the small independent corner shop while the big supermarkets were coming in – agents/managers like Avalon and Off The Kerb.

“I think in the future, the big supermarkets are going to be big Don Wards doing live streaming of their shows around the country and the small corner shop will be YouTube, with individuals doing amateur comedy. But people will still go to big ‘events’ like arena tours.”

“I think the best is yet to come,” said Don Ward. “People want to go out. They will still go out to clubs for the foreseeable future. Comedy is a serious night out.”

“The internet,” said Copstick, “is, if nothing else, totally democratic. Maybe Don is leading live comedy into cyberspace. But, once he’s done that, any tiny comedy club – the smallest comedy club – has the technology to do that. Music has now created so many music stars online. In comedy, (Malcolm Hardee Award winner) Bo Burnham – utterly brilliant – nobody hired him, nobody did anything. He made himself online.

“I’m not 100% sure about the future of live comedy clubs,” she continued, “but I genuinely do believe and absolutely hope that real, core comedy fans will continue going to live comedy, continue having that whole experience and taking the rough with the smooth provided there’s some smooth. But, if actual live comedy withers, then I believe where it will migrate is online. And that is completely democratic. That is not like having to placate and show some muppet at Channel 4 that your idea can attract the ‘right demographic’.”

“But,” asked Nica, “how do they make their living? How will they feed their kids and pay their rents by being a comic on the internet?”

“Well,” said Copstick, “what you do is establish yourself online. If you’re shit, you don’t feed your kids. They starve and you wise up and get a proper job. If you’re good, marvellous. Bo Burnham’s not short of a bob or two.”

“But he makes his money live now,” suggested Nica.

“Then that’s where you migrate,” replied Copstick. “Maybe that’s what the circle’s doing. Maybe the feeder, the starter level is online, because anyone under the age of 20 is physically unable to leave their seat and the only fully-functioning bits of their anatomy are their mouths, their cocks and their thumbs. So maybe that’s where the ‘babies’ go: they go online, they find their audience – because everybody will find their audience online – The bad ones will wither, die and drop off and the good ones will go on. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?”

(A slightly edited podcast of the panel session is on the Demon FM website.)

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Charmian Hughes on disgraced Chris Huhne – and Malcolm Hardee’s balls

Chris Huhne, the man who snogged teenage Charmian

Chris Huhne introduced Charmian to Das Kapital and mime

My blog yesterday, in which comedian Charmian Hughes remembered her teenage crush on disgraced UK politician Chris Huhne has had more than a normal share of hits. And the Mr & ex-Mrs Huhne court soap saga is again all over today’s newspapers.

But Charmian asked me this morning: “Why is it OK for (alternative comedy godfather) Malcolm Hardee to have two driving licences, deny offences and have affairs and yet be seen as a jolly old loveable rogue as a result, but for Chris to do the same thing and to be the most vilified man in the press?”

“Perhaps,” I teased, “you still hold a torch for him? Or maybe just a small Swan Vestas match?”

“No,” Charmian replied, “but Chris was urbane, witty, clever and took my mind outside its bourgeois confines for the first time. I remember all the exotic things he introduced me to: Nescafé Continental Blend, Das Kapital, progressive underground music, mime….”

I have no answer to this.

But Charmian is taking her full-length show Charmageddon! to the Leicester Comedy Festival at the end of next week.

The Mayans predicted the end of the world in December last year,” she told me. “It didn’t happen… But maybe we misunderstood what they meant by the end of the world. Maybe they meant the end of the world when your heart is broken, when you realise your boyfriend is imaginary, your teenage crush thinks you’re a nuisance and when you discover you are not adopted. That’s what Charmageddon! is about and it ends with the erotic Dance of the Seven Cardigans which will restore order to the universe.”

“But will it include personal stories about Chris Huhne?” I asked.

“I will probably mention him,” admitted Charmian, “I will fill in the censored bits I didn’t tell you yesterday. Charmageddon! is about what happens when your world ends.”

Later this year, she will be taking her new, as-yet untitled comedy show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

“It is going to be stories about always being a minority,” she told me this morning. “About being a girl in a boys’ school, a Catholic in a protestant family, a Catholic with a Protestant mother in a fiercely Catholic school, about my great escape from minority to belonging. I might call it Odd One Out.”

“Or Odd One In,” I suggested.

Charmian Hughes at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Charmian Hughes at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

“Or not,” she said. “I performed at the last two Edinburgh Fringes after a long child-rearing break of 17 years and Edinburgh is very addictive. You get to do those student things all over again. You know – break out in hives from poor nutrition, pursue the elusive, spend a lot of time hanging out on street corners trying to attract the one you want – a big audience – obsess about whether anyone is talking about you (the legendary ‘buzz’) and then slip your sad face back despondently into your instant cappuccino. I love it.”

“When you went back to the Fringe after the 17 year break,” I asked, “did you notice a change?”

“There was more stuff,” Charmian said, “and, when I came back again, it felt like there was much more big business, corporate stuff and fewer weirdy little plays.”

When I first went up in the early 1970s,” I agreed, “it was more of a student theatre Fringe. It only started being comedy in maybe the mid-1980s.”

“The first time I went up,” said Charmian, “was with my university in about 1977. We went up to the main International Festival to do The Soldier’s Tale which was Stravinsky ballet stuff and I went up to help and also to do readings of my own poems at lunchtimes.

“At first, I didn’t get many in, but then I realised if I did it straight after The Soldier’s Tale and actually locked the audience in the room, then I had a huge audience. My poems were very long. I took my poetry very seriously.”

“And,” I asked, “you stopped because…?”

“I discovered comedy,” said Charmian immediately. “I found that people had started to laugh at my dark, dark, dark poems and I thought If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So I discovered comedy. I’m now thinking of doing a burlesque show.”

Charmian practices her Dance of the Seven Cardigans (photograph by Kerstin Diegel)

Charmian practices her erotic burlesque dance (photograph by Kerstin Diegel)

“You are?” I asked.

“You’re suddenly interested now, aren’t you?” observed Charmian. “I think they’ll find it very interesting when I have seven cardigans and, one-by-one, I put them on in the Dance of the Seven Cardigans.”

“You got good reviews for your Edinburgh show last year.”

“I did. One reviewer said my show was ‘intelligent and well-put together’, but I didn’t use the quote in case people dug further. The same reviewer said ‘despair turns to horror’.”

“Using review quotes in Edinburgh is an art form in itself,” I suggested.

“The only trouble with Edinburgh,” said Charmian, “is it’s annoying not having a summer holiday with my family.”

“Can’t they come up to Edinburgh?”

“They want the sun,” explained Charmian.

“Ah,” I said sympathetically.

“And they distract me too much,” she added. “When my daughter came up two years ago, I found it exhausting because she didn’t understand the pain and torment we were all going through as performers and she wanted things like cake and cups of tea.”

“What pain and torment?” I asked.

“You know,” said Charmian. “Having to walk up hills. Last year, I got an Edinburgh monthly bus pass and found there was no bus that went to where I lived, so I had to walk.”

“When did you start doing comedy?” I asked.

“I think I started in about 1985 but, the first few years, I was just mucking around, doing my Teatro de Existentiale. I did Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel Club a lot and then he would book me into weird colleges and balls.”

“Balls?” I asked.

“Balls,” confirmed Charmian. “He booked lots of us on the college circuit. We would all go off to colleges and do 20 minutes and get £90 and he would get £600 to do one joke and then walk off.”

“Did you enjoy Malcolm?” I asked.

“What can I say?” replied Charmian. “Errr… I did. I did. But I don’t like being teased. I had a family that teased me mercilessly from the moment I was born, telling me I was adopted and stuff. I find it quite hard being teased. So Malcolm probably thought I was a bit of a wet blanket and a killjoy.”

“Back in 1989, what did you think you wanted to become?” I asked.

“In 1989, I was just so relieved to be experiencing anything like comedy, because I’d had this job in advertising. Eventually I was a copywriter, but I’d had to go in at the bottom as a personnel clerk.

“I had come out of university with my degree in English and I couldn’t get any work. I just didn’t know how to present myself without apologising all the time. But that job in advertising made you lose the will to live.

“So I went to the City Lit for clowning classes just to meet different types of people and then I hung out with them, left my job and started a children’s theatre and then, at Molesworth Peace Camp, when I was a bit drunk and maybe a bit stoned, I got up on stage with a red nose on and just started mucking around and people thought I was so brilliant they threw plastic cups at me. But I felt like I’d been rescued and I didn’t care if I was good or bad, just that I was doing it.”

“Had you,” I asked, “felt the threat of ordinariness stretching ahead of you?”

“I didn’t mind being ordinary,” said Charmian, “but I hated feeling suffocated.”

“By what?” I asked.

“I… err… I’d have to go into a lot of things…” said Charmian. “I… Not professionally, but as a person… I can’t think of a funny way to say it… I had a very emotionally-abusive family who basically bullied me all the time. I felt very crushed as a person for a long time. But it’s all alright now. A lot of them died and left me their money!” Charmian laughed.

“Just performing comedy helped,” she said.

“I’ve never known anyone called Charmian before,” I said. “Where does that come from?”

“It comes from Antony & Cleopatra. Charmian and Iris were Cleopatra’s handmaidens.”

“Does ‘Charmian’ mean something?”

“Source of joy.”

“In what language?”

“Every language.”

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