Tag Archives: Leo Kearse

My Comedy Taste. Part 2: Eccentrics, anarchy and performers’ mad minds

In 2017, oft-times comedy festival judge and linguistics expert Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy.

I posted Part 1 of this chat yesterday.

Here is Part 2…


LOUISETTE: So you don’t like actors trying to be stand-up comics…

JOHN: To an extent. I am also allergic to a lot of character comedy. I don’t like character acts in general, though I do like some. I think the closer the ‘character’ is to reality – to being like a real person – the less I like it. But, if it’s a cartoon character – Charlie Chuck is a perfect example –  I like it.

I adore Simon Munnery; he can be very surreal, but I didn’t like his early Alan Parker, Urban Warrior character – It was too close to reality for me.

LOUISETTE: You mean realistic.

JOHN: Yes. I have met people who really are pretty-much like that. When I was a researcher for TV shows, I got typed for finding eccentrics and bizarre acts. I would find genuinely different-thinking people who did odd things and usually lived in provincial suburbia, bored out of their skulls with the mundanity of their lives, unable to unleash their inner originality and unconventionality.

So, if I watch a performer pretending to be eccentric, I think: Why am I watching someone faking a ‘performance’ when I could be watching the real thing? You can see in their eyes that these performers are not the real thing. They are sane people trying to be, to varying extents, oddballs they are not.

Well, all good comedians are, of course, mad to an extent.

LOUISETTE: They are not all mad.

JOHN: They are all unconventional thinkers or they have some personality disorder. The good ones. And I think one of the reasons I like watching comedy is I like watching some of the bizarre characters which a lot of comedians genuinely are. I don’t like people pretending to be odd characters, but I like watching people who ARE… well, a bit odd. They are the good comics for me.

There is maybe a difference with pure gag-delivery acts like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine.

LOUISETTE: But, getting back to character acts…

JOHN: If someone does a character act, they are pretending to be someone else, which is what an actor does… rather than being themselves or some version of themselves, which is what a modern comedian does. So, if I can watch a comedian – let us not mention Lewis Schaffer – with bizarre character traits, I am happy. If I watch an actor pretending to be a bizarre character but not being themselves, I am not really that interested because I can go out and find the real nutter.

LOUISETTE: So what you are saying is you want the person to be the person and you want that person to be nuts. Is that because there is no danger in playing a character, no risk except that the audience might not like it? Whereas, if the person is being themselves and they get it wrong or they go off the rails, there is a risk?

JOHN: I suppose so – like watching a motor race because there is always the danger of a disastrous crash.

I may be like a Miss World contestant. 

LOUISETTE: I don’t think so.

JOHN: But you know how contestants in old-fashioned beauty contests were always asked their interests and they would say, “Oh! I’m interested in people”? 

Well, I AM interested in people and how their minds work.

Most of my blogs are not objective blogs. They have very little of me in them. That is not because I am hiding me. It is because I’m interested in finding out how the other person’s mind works and – because they are usually creative in some way – how their creative juices shape their performance pieces or their life – how their mind creates original end-results. Or – because I sometimes mention crime – how their slightly non-mainstream thoughts work. And, of course, if there are quirky anecdotes in it, that’s great. I am interested in the people and I am a sucker for quirky anecdotes.

LOUISETTE: You say you are interested in the creative process – the thing that makes that person tick both on and off stage – But how do you analyse that? How do you figure out from somebody’s performance – even if it’s very close to the real person – what that real person’s process is?

JOHN: I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I keep watching people perform. If I knew everything, there would be no point seeing any other act.

LOUISETTE: But what are you looking for?

JOHN: I dunno. I’m just interested in how everyone is different. Everyone is different; everyone is unique. There is no end to it, missus.

At a distance, people are similar but, up close, they are, like Charlie Chuck, unique

LOUISETTE: Infinitely different.

JOHN: Yes. It sounds wanky to say it out loud, but people are infinitely interesting, yes. At a distance, people are just a mass of similar heads but, in China, the Terracotta Warriors in Xian all have individual faces. 

LOUISETTE: How does that come into it?

JOHN: I have no idea. I’m making this up as I go along. But, if you read about identical twins, they are usually a bit the same but a lot different. I’m interested in individuality. It’s not nature OR nurture. It’s BOTH that creates infinite uniqueness.

LOUISETTE: I’m still interested in getting at this elementary, basic thing that you are looking for. You do not want things to be off-pat. You don’t want an act to be overly polished. But what about someone like Spencer Jones who has a very well-formed act.

JOHN: Yes, he is interesting because he IS an actor and he IS doing character comedy… so I should not like him, but I do… But, then, he is doing a cartoon character. In no way are you going to find that character working in Barclays Bank or walking along the high street. So I like him, I think, because he is a cartoon character. I think it is mostly tightly-scripted…

LOUISETTE: Yes, that’s why I am asking you…

JOHN: Maybe physical comedy and prop comedy is different. 

LOUISETTE: Is he prop comedy?

JOHN: I dunno. Martin Soan created The Naked Balloon Dance for The Greatest Show on Legs… The Balloon Dance has to be done exactly as it is choreographed.

The whole point is that you never see any naughty bits and therefore the balloons have to be… It looks chaotic, but, if it were actually done willy-nilly – if that’s an appropriate phrase – it would fall apart and would not be as funny.

LOUISETTE: You said it LOOKS chaotic. Do you enjoy that? What you are saying is that, if it looks chaotic but it actually isn’t…

JOHN: Maybe prop comedy and physical comedy are different to stand-up. I suppose with Spencer Jones, you are shocked by the use of the props; the… unexpectedness… This… this falls apart as an argument, doesn’t it? There must be something different…

I like pun comedy: Tim Vine, Milton Jones, Darren Walsh, Leo Kearse to an extent. They are very tightly pre-scripted or, at least, prepared. With puns, if they have a vast number of puns, they can move the order around but the flow, the pacing, the momentum has to be kept going so they need to be highly pre-prepared.

So that’s where my thing falls down. Verbally, pun shows and short gag-short gag-short gag shows like Milton Jones’ have to be very tightly choreographed and the prop comedy shows have to be very tightly choreographed physically.

I know from being involved in Tiswas – the ancient slapstick kids’ show – that, if you do something that appears to be anarchy, you have to organise it really, really well. You can’t perform anarchy in an anarchic way; you have to organise it in advance.

LOUISETTE: Like Phil EllisFunz & Gamez.

JOHN: Indeed. And I remember one Tiswas production meeting, after the show had been going for years, where the producer said: “We have to figure out some way to make things go wrong during the show.” Because they had been going for so many years, all likelihoods were covered-for in pre-production meetings. Everyone was very experienced, very professional and nothing really went wrong that threw everything off course. You could script-in things to go wrong, but nothing ever went genuinely disastrously wrong of its own accord.

LOUISETTE: Which you seem to like…

JOHN: I do like anarchy. I don’t especially want to see a Michael McIntyre show because it will be too smoothly professional. I do prefer shows that are up-and-down like a roller-coaster in an anarchic way. Though, if it involves immense detail like props or puns, then you can’t have real anarchy. The only way to have apparent anarchy with props and puns and tight gag-gag-gag routines is to prepare it all very carefully.

So I am… I am getting schizophrenic here, aren’t I…?

LOUISETTE: You are. But that’s good. I was discussing it with Frankie (Louisette’s son Frankie Brickman) and he asked me if it was unpredictability you like or feigned unpredictability.

JOHN: Maybe if they feign the unpredictability in a very professional way and I don’t spot the fact it’s feigned…

It’s not even unpredictability I like. It’s the cleverness. If it’s clever and a rollercoaster, I will forgive them the bits that don’t work for the bits that do work. 

… CONTINUED HERE

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Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh Fringe street scene: this could be a comedian…

Yesterday’s blog about the unnecessary chaos surrounding PBH Free Fringe and Freestival shows at the Edinburgh Fringe estimated the financial damage to around 150-170 acts at around £77,000 in total.

As I wrote yesterday: It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

As an example of the effect of the intransigence on one individual act, 2015 UK Pun champion Leo Kearse has told me this:


Short answer – I’m currently down about £1,200

I had two shows booked in to Cowgatehead and St John’s – Pun Man’s Pun Party and Hate ‘n’ Live (a show where comedians improvise rants about audience topics pulled out of a bucket).

They are both great shows. They will be replaced by some shit from the PBH z-list. I shudder to think how shit that’ll be.

I have paid Freestival fees, Fringe registration, train tickets, accommodation deposit.

I’m baffled as to how the current situation is beneficial to the venue owners, the Fringe Society, the audiences, or the acts.

I think PBH and his evil cohorts have behaved despicably to cause maximum disruption to the acts.

I doubt I’ll do the Edinburgh Fringe again. Other festivals offer better gigs and better exposure.

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:


Promoter Bob Slayer has also issued a press release about surrealist act Michael Brunström:


MICHAEL BRUNSTRÖM: THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEAM

Michael Brunström, nominated last year for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, has moved his Edinburgh Fringe 2015 show to Heroes @ The Hive, following the dispute between PBH Free Fringe and Freestival over programming rights to the Cowgatehead venue.

More money wasted: the poster Michael Brumstrom had designed for his Freestival show

More money wasted: the poster Michael had designed for his once-a-Freestival-show

Heroes promoter Bob Slayer offered Brunström a slot at the Big Cave in The Hive in exchange for a large (400g) bar of Toblerone. This agreement was made orally.

“Both PBH Free Fringe and Freestival could learn a thing or two from Bob Slayer about professionalism, efficiency and mature behaviour,” said Brunström.

Heroes will also be hosting Phil Kay and Russell Hicks – whose show Psychedelicious had also been scheduled at Cowgatehead – in Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

In 2014 Michael Brunström was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show The Human Loire, in which he impersonated the longest river in France, nailed grapes to Ted Cruz’s face and chewed the legs off a heron. Brunström’s 2015 show, The Golden Age of Steam, includes further surreal stunts involving his body, voice, legs, some ping-pong balls and a tiny fern.


Interestingly, Pear Shaped Comedy’s Anthony Miller had this comment to make on my blog of yesterday, in which I mentioned the PBH Free Fringe’s contract which (uniquely among Fringe operators) bans acts appearing or wanting to appear at a PBH Free Fringe venue from appearing or negotiating to appear at any other free venue. I called this a restriction of trade. Anthony Miller wrote:


Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

I still maintain that by applying exclusivity terms to people over who else they can work for BEFORE employing people (and he is an employer even if he pays people by venue barter) he is attempting to run a de facto pre-entry closed shop system. This is illegal.

Someone said it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not just that it’s stupid, but the law – when it works – exists to protect us from destructive patterns and practices in society.

So why is it illegal? Why is it more than just an old man with eccentric rules on which of his competitors his acts and people who want to gig for him can also gig for?

It is illegal because the effective purpose of all pre-entry closed shop systems is effective control over entry into the labour market by one body with the effective result of decreasing the overall number of people in the labour market. And that is exactly what is happening here.

It is not an accident that a load of people are now going to the Fringe NOT to work. It is by design.

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.

Why?

He wants to control the number of people entering the labour market.

Why?

Then he can decrease competition.

Why?

He has become a victim of his own success…. Monopoly of £0 entry gigs gives him control of who does and doesn’t enter the labour market. And that is what he wants.

This situation is not an accident. It is the inevitable long term consequence of any closed shop system. A system which always puts one-person coterie in charge of who can work and who can enter the workforce.

I am sure PBH has an incredibly long waiting list… but would it be so long if people who were not on it did not fear blacklisting?


Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

I also this morning received some reaction from Robin Ince to a reference in yesterday’s blog to an upcoming benefit gig for the Free Fringe which includes performers Stewart Lee, Nick Helm and Robin Ince. Robin writes:


Stewart. Nick and I agreed to do benefit to support acts doing Free Fringe; we have no gain from it. Maybe it is time we stopped doing benefits and let the lazy comedy fucks who can’t be bothered to do any to start doing ten minutes here and there.

Do I support the acts who have been fucked over. Yes. Would I do a benefit for them? Yes.

Do I think Freestival are innocent victims and PBH is the big villain?  No.


Meanwhile, the saga continues.

A general perception I think (including by me) was that the fact there were three members of the same family – all called Kenny Waugh – somehow involved in the saga meant there was chaos between Kennies. In fact, I understand, there was only the one Kenny – the middle one – involved in talking to both the PBH Free Fringe and to the Freestival.

The Waugh family – one or more of them – rent the Cowgatehead building from the Crolla family. 

A Crolla family is involved in ownership of the La Favorita pizza company which sponsors the Freestival. But, as I understand it, they are different Crolla families.

Elio Crolla, who was involved in the Cowgatehead building last year, died on 26th January this year, which will not have helped the tangled web of ownership, rentals and rights within the building.

I think my head may soon explode.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

Comic Leo Kearse: dancing with David Icke and giving intelligence to the police

Leo Kearse at the Soho Theatre

Leo Kearse at the Soho Theatre last week

“My biggest gig to date was at Wembley Arena,” Scots comedian Leo Kearse told me. “David Icke was doing an 11-hour conspiracy theory lecture. He was saying what we perceive as reality is a hologram controlled by electro-magnetic waves of information being beamed from Saturn…”

“And you were supporting him?” I asked.

“He just wanted dancers for his stage show,” explained Leo, “because he broke up his conspiracy theory lecture with dancing. I was the first one on stage. I ran on at 10.00am and everybody in Wembley Arena is sitting there wearing jackets and I am prancing around like Hey! Stay away from the brown acid! It was well weird.”

“Did you actually meet him?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s a very nice bloke. I think it’s good to have someone out there prodding at things and making people look at things in different ways. But it was weird being backstage with other dancers who were total David Icke acolytes – Ickelites. (Leo likes a pun.) It was like I was the mad person in the room because I didn’t believe that people are shape-shifting lizards. I started to question my own sanity after a while.”

Leo had asked me if I wanted to have a chat with him because he will be the only act at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe “to have lost part of his body in a shark attack and one of the few to have been rimmed by a hungry farm animal.”

Leo and I met at Soho Theatre, but I never got round to asking about the the shark attack or the animal rimming.

Leo (left) and Darren Walsh strike a manly pose for their upcoming Fringe show Atella The Pun. Both tell tall tales.

Leo (left) and Darren Walsh strike a manly pose for their upcoming Fringe show Atella The Pun. Both tell tall tales.

His first solo Edinburgh Fringe show is called The Mangina Funalogs. He is also appearing in a second show – Atella The Pun – with UK Pun Champion Darren Walsh. Leo does like a pun. He is also appearing in a third Fringe show – Hate ’n’ Live – with Darius Davies: a show where comedians do improvised rants about topics suggested by the audience and drawn from a hat at random. He should, perhaps have called that one The Upset List.

His parents moved from London’s Notting Hill to Dumfries in the early 1970s.

“Why?” I asked.

“My dad’s a gunsmith,” explained Leo, “and they had a knitwear business. My mum used to do clothes for Lulu. So they moved to Dumfries for lower costs, but they couldn’t compete with China.”

“With a background like that,” I said, “it’s not surprising you ended up in comedy.”

“My dad can build a gun from scratch,” added Leo. “He knows all the different grades of steel and can make springs out of blocks of steel.”

“You performed at the Adelaide, Melbourne and Singapore festivals this year,” I said.

“Yes,” said Leo. “On the way back, around April time,  I was in Patong and bumped into Chris Dangerfield.”

“Was he horizontal or vertical?“ I asked.

“Vertical,” said Leo. “He’s really interesting. You know his lock picking business? I used to work for the police. Chris Dangerfield’s biggest customers are MI5, MI6 and the police. It’s just so funny.”

“You worked for the police?” I asked.

The comic man’s comic man Leo Kearse

An upright member of the community. Now he knows comics.

“Yeah. For years,” said Leo. “I wasn’t a policeman. I was a criminal intelligence analyst and I managed the Criminal Intelligence Unit for a bit as well.”

“What is a criminal intelligence analyst?” I asked.

“Identifying emerging trends. Say there’s a new spate of burglaries and they’re using a particular method to break in… They could be using Chris Dangerfield’s lockpicks…”

“So you didn’t,” I said, “investigate murders.”

“No, that’s detective work. We had dashboards that followed reported crimes and 999 calls and looked at things like hospital admissions. If there’s gang violence and they stab each other, they don’t report it to the police but they will go to hospital. So we looked at A&E admissions, ambulance call-outs and I specialised in problem solving intelligence, which is bringing all partner agencies together, looking across a really wide spread of intelligence and using joined-up, co-ordinated resources to deal with it. Because the police tend to just treat crime problems as a crime issue and they deal with that by arresting people and chucking men in yellow jackets into the area.

“But night-time disorder can be tackled by arranging better transport links to get people out of an area quickly so they’re not milling around fighting. It’s looking at the core root of the problem.”

“That,” I said, “seems unusually intelligent of the police.”

“Oh, they don’t do it any more,” said Leo. “As soon as the Tories got in, we all got laid-off.”

“So what sort of mind,” I asked, “is interested in analysing crime trends AND making people laugh at puns in a room above a pub?”

“I don’t think there is a link,” said Leo. “I mean, Darren Walsh does Flash development and his comedy’s really different from computer programming.”

“Puns are about manipulating and moving existing things around laterally,” I suggested, “and your jobs…”

“Spotting patterns,” said Leo. “Maybe. I’ve been told that comedy is all about gags. But I don’t think it is. It’s about getting the momentum, the atmosphere going. It’s almost like music. You build it up and really nail it to a crescendo. It’s building up tension and releasing it like the Pixies or Nirvana or something like that.”

“Your Edinburgh show has a thread?” I asked.

A manly man

Leo – Hunter. Fighter. Gatherer of puns.

“Yeah. It’s about how hard it is being a man. Which is bullshit: it’s dead easy being a man. I’m so glad I’m a man. We’re built for all the horrible stuff. We’re bullies. We’re good at throwing stuff really far. Hunting. Fighting. We never get to do those things in everyday life. Now it’s all sitting at a computer and doing boring stuff like that. Male masculine skills are not appreciated any more. There’s so much bullshit around.

“I remember teachers at school saying Oh, bullies are like that because they were bullied themselves and they’re just sad and that’s why they’re doing it and they’re upset and… That’s bullshit… Most bullies do it because it’s really funny to sit on another kid and make it eat grass until it cries. I’m trying to debunk a lot of these myths.”

“Did you do that at school?” I asked.

“No,” said Leo. “But, for the purposes of my show I did. I’ve got a bit about me being bullied and how it turned me from English to Scottish. In Scotland, you can say anything as long as it’s funny. It can be as cruel as you like – as long as it’s funny. When I moved down eleven years ago, I had to adjust to England. People would say That’s horrible instead of saying That’s horrible, but it’s funny and laugh like they did in Scotland.”

“And the aim of all this is to get your own radio or television show?” I asked.

“Well, a company called Forefront Media has made a 27-minute documentary about me called Stand-Up London: the pilot for a series. It was going to be for the London Live TV channel, but no-one’s watching that, so they’re pitching it to Sky Arts.

“I’m also going to be on Dinner Date on ITV in September or October. I was one of the men cooking. I got picked by the girl.”

“A good calling card,” I said.

There is a video of Leo’s puns on YouTube.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Police

“Fourteen year old girls in these places are total sluts mate,” said the financier

The extract I posted a couple of days ago from my Edinburgh Fringe chat show – about attitudes to rape – provoked quite a few comments. Three in particular struck me as particularly illuminating, The first was a Facebook comment from Adrienne Truscott who won the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the 2013 Fosters Comedy Awards panel award  for performing her show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! She wrote:

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s show was Edinburgh sell-out

Even statistics about rape focus on women or the victims of the rape, when it would be much more productive to lessening rape by accruing statistics on rapists, and addressing that behavior, as that could actually be preventative.

There is rarely any other area of society, its ills or its triumphs, wherein men are not given full responsibility and credit for their behavior and its effects – the tradition of making women responsible for men’s sexuality is deeply historical.

I’m not saying only men rape. But, on the other hand, male victims are rarely accused of ‘asking for it’. The emphasis on this ‘asking for it’ discussion of how and why rape occurs belies a predisposition, as far as I can tell.

If women change their behavior accordingly – you know, started wearing ill-cut suits or figure-obscuring caftans, dowdy hairdos, no make up and tee-totalling – should we expect and rejoice in the sudden, brilliant absence of rape?

You know, like in India….

Another reaction to my blog, which had quoted three women taking part in my Edinburgh chat show, was this Facebook response:

Having had a daughter attacked by a moron when she was doing nothing more than walking home on a late December afternoon dressed appropriately (because apparently, according to my sisters above, a woman is responsible for being attacked if she wears anything less than full body armour) I am totally dismayed by both the garbage that has come out of their mouths and the fact that they are holding women accountable for the bad things that happen to them – I really hope that they never experience that stomach churning, leg collapsing, brain disintegrating moment when you are told your child has been seriously assaulted by some man!

I don’t think it is something that you ever ‘get over’ as it hits your inner core of belief in other human beings and in particular that we are innately good to each other. Worse things happen on a daily basis all over the world to women and children and of course men. But that doesn’t actually help, in the sense that this violence is an everyday occurrence everywhere.

The third response which interested me was this from comedian Leo Kearse:

Jimmy Savile - the truth revealed in the edit

Role model for financier

I used to be a criminal intelligence analyst and we generally approached crimes looking at the victim, offender and location to see what could be done to each to reduce crime. Fine for most crimes but rape doesn’t work like that; you can’t analogise it to a laptop being left next to an open window.

In my opinion, it’s mainly caused by men’s attitudes.

I shared a car with two ‘lads’ a fortnight ago.

One of them was a total fanny: a city financier who kept banging on about all the deals he’d done and who gave me all this unsolicited advice about ‘branding’ myself as a comedian.

He then bragged about his sexual exploits and told us that, up until his early 20s, he and his mates would go to care homes (kids who are taken off their parents by the state end up in these homes) because “14 year old girls in these places are total sluts mate”.

What shocked me wasn’t just that he did all this; it’s that he felt that this was ‘cheeky lad’ behaviour and he could brag about it to a stranger even though he was bragging about being a member of a predatory nomadic paedophile gang.

I’m pretty sure this used to be something men would not brag about.

I told him he was a predatory paedophile like Jimmy Savile and then we didn’t speak to each other much.

I think it does reflect a common attitude otherwise he wouldn’t have felt like he could brag about it in front of me.

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Filed under Rape, Sex