Tag Archives: live

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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Comedy audiences “haven’t had a good night out unless they’ve thrown-up a few times and punched their girlfriend”

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

NealeWelch_16feb2013

Neale Welch at the Comedy Cafe sound desk on Saturday

I was at London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre at the weekend, talking to outspoken owner Noel Faulkner and his business sidekick Neale Welch who, with a marketing background, perhaps promotes the club in less controversial style.

“Why is the Comedy Cafe moving to single-artist shows after August?” I asked Neale.

“Partly,” Neale explained, “because of a decline in the demand for mixed-bill shows – an MC and three acts. Plus increased competition. And it’s costing us more in marketing to get the same amount of people in for those shows. It costs more to get people in than it did previously.

Say goodbye to the logo

Say goodbye to the old Comedy Cafe  logo

“We’re also re-designing our logo, moving it from the smiley face of the 1990s and refurbishing the room again – we only did it 18 months ago… Lots of little tweaks to make a big over-all change.”

“Are comedy club audiences really declining?” I asked.

“If you look on Google Trends,” Neale told me, “at the graph of Google searches for comedy… live… stand-up between 2004 and 2012 it declines steadily. If you look at live… comedy… London it shows the same decline. So there’s less people searching for live stand-up comedy and, if that’s going down then, probably, the demand is going down too.”

“Did anything happen to the search graph in 2008 with the financial crash?” I asked.

“Not particularly,” said Neale. “It’s not a fiscal cliff. It’s a steady decline.”

“So,” I said, “you’re going to be changing the type of shows you put on.”

“At the end of this month,” Neale explained, “we’ll be booking acts up until August for normal club shows and then, after that, we’ll be booking single-artist shows to run on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays after August.”

“It was over a year ago,” Noel Faulkner reminded me, “that we decided to turn the old Comedy Cafe into more of a theatre-type venue – the Comedy Cafe Theatre – and attract a theatre-type audience and now that’s actually happening.”

“What’s the difference between the theatre audience and the comedy audience?” I asked.

NoelFaulkner_16feb2013

Noel Faulkner at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

“The theatre audience,” replied Noel, “can actually all read and write and they have an IQ of some level. The comedy audience are feckin’ brain dead and don’t know why we’re not giving them Michael McIntyre.”

“But this is the audience you’ve been catering to for years,” I prompted.

“Well,” said Noel, “we’ve all been catering to them for years. Poor old Jongleurs and the Comedy Store Late Show too. Of course you have to cater to the masses. We all have to suck the corporate cock, whether we’re gay or not.”

“So what different type of comedy will these theatrical comedians be doing in their one-person shows?” I asked Noel.

“It’s not a difference in comedy,” explained Noel. “Comics do what they do, but it’s better if you have a sophisticated audience. The other problem, though, is that sophisticated audiences don’t spend money. They have a couple of drinks and they’re happy. They don’t have to get shit-faced, because their lives aren’t horrible. Whereas your average comedy audience – their lives are so horrible that they go crazy at weekends and they feel they haven’t had a good night out unless they’ve thrown-up a few times, had a fight and punched their girlfriend.”

“In that case, surely,” I suggested, “as a businessman, you should be appealing to the drunken comedy audience who throw money around and not to the more sophisticated audience who don’t spend money.”

“If that’s what I wanted to do for a living,” said Noel, “but, if I just wanted to make a living, I could deal crystal meth or run a lap-dancing club.”

“So,” I asked, “the comedians are going to do the same things but longer in their one-person shows…?”

“Well,” said Noel. “Comedians doing these one-person shows are not compelled to come out with a gag every thirty seconds. It’s going the way I planned it. I want a theatre.”

“You always wanted a theatre?”

“I always wanted a feckin’ audience that would sit down and appreciate the effort that’s gone into it,” said Noel.

The Comedy Cafe is also expanding into producing comedy shows as downloadable MP3s. Soon they are going to release shows recorded at the Comedy Cafe Theatre by Steve N Allen, Anil Desai, Robin Ince, Michael Legge and Eric McElroy.

The sound of comedy from the Cafe

Expanding Cafe laughter – from live shows to mp3 downloads

“When’s that happening?” I asked Neale Welch.

“It’s just being cut now,” he told me. “I’m sorting out the webpage, the hosting and the PayPal and the functionality, so I’m thinking in the next two weeks; something like that. They’ll be released under the individual artists’ names; there will be a standalone page linked-to from our website; the Comedy Cafe will just be a footnote; we’ve just facilitated it.”

“And the appeal of the audio recordings to you is…?” I asked.

“They give us interesting live shows,” Neale told me. “And a bit of legacy. They will still be there in a few years time. We can build the business into more than one arm. We already have the club, the talent agency, a casting agency. It just gives us another arm.”

“And it means you have content beyond live shows,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Neale. “And we are looking into other content formats.”

Set List - shows coming to Comedy Cafe

Set List comes to Comedy Cafe Theatre

Neale told me the Comedy Cafe is also having Paul Provenza’s superb Set List comedy improvisation shows coming in for a run every Monday from March 11th for six weeks.

“And then,” Noel Faulkner told me, “we’ve another big production company coming in as well. I can’t name them yet. But they’ll come in weekly or monthly with their acts to prepare them for their TV programmes. A lot of people in the comedy business are suddenly realising there’s a small 120-seat space that is really keen to do good theatre. There’s room for three cameras. A tiny stage, but it works: it’s cosy, it’s intimate and it’s what I always wanted to do.”

“In a recent blog,” I said, “I mentioned how, in the future, streaming live club comedy on the internet might affect club business. And Don Ward’s Comedy Store is doing feature films of its shows.”

The Comedy Store film - "It won't work"

The Comedy Store film. “It’s a great idea… It won’t work”

“It won’t work,” said Noel. “It’s a great idea and I asked him why the cinemas are doing it. He told me it’s on the slow movie nights and I thought Well, on the slow movie nights – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – people don’t want to go out. Why go see a movie on a Tuesday night when you can see it on a Friday or Saturday night? So it’s a Tuesday night and there are comics on the big screen? Well, first of all, you don’t need to see a comic on a big screen, because there’s not a lot to look at. And what? You’re going to go all the way down town to a movie theatre and pay top dollar when you can just nip over to the Comedy Store for the same price on a Tuesday night?”

“But punters can’t pop down to the Comedy Store if they live in Plymouth or Aberdeen,” I suggested.

“Well,” replied Noel, “all they have to do is flip over to YouTube or the Dave TV channel and they can see the exact same comedy on a screen.”

“I can’t see the feature film idea working,” I said, “but, in the future, if you did live streaming from the Comedy Store or the Comedy Cafe and it cost a punter only 99p to watch it in Norwich or Belfast or the Outer Hebrides instead of coming to London to see the same acts…”

“Yes,” said Noel. “If, for £5, you could catch the Late Show at the Comedy Store on the internet outside London, that would be great. But the Comedy Store isn’t doing that. They’re trying to fill a cinema. Also, if you’re in a cinema, are people really going to laugh? If there’s only 100 people spread out over 600 seats, you don’t get the atmosphere of a live club.”

“But what happens,” I asked, “when there is live streaming of good acts from a good club at a cheap price? Janey Godley looked into live-streaming her Edinburgh Fringe show from the Underbelly in, I think, 2005 and they couldn’t do it technically from that building at that time. I’ve never understood why no-one has live-streamed their Edinburgh shows so people can see them in Los Angeles and Adelaide. In a few years time, you could have the Comedy Cafe doing a live show to people in London and live-streaming it on a 99p pay-per view so people can see it in Newcastle or Cardiff.”

“Make it £1,” said Noel. “Don’t do this 99p shit.”

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What is success? Global fame, Simon Cowell or a big fish in a small pond?

Yesterday, 20-year-old American comedian Bo Burnham started a two-week tour of England. He has his first album out, has been commissioned to write a movie, MTV recently ordered a television pilot from him and, in January this year, he finished Number One in Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown in the US – a public vote on the twenty greatest Comedy Central performances. But he is still mostly unknown in the UK, despite being that new phenomenon ‘an internet sensation’ and winning the much-publicised Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe.

I wrote a blog a while ago about Ken Dodd which started off “Morecambe and Wise were not famous” and mentioned, as an aside, that “fame is relative and mostly regional

One response was from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing farter. He has performed all over the place and, at various times, been fairly famous in Sweden and in Japan because of his television appearances there. Far more famous than in Britain, where farting in peaktime is still frowned on.

He responded to my blog by saying: “I always find it interesting when I go abroad and do a TV show with a person who is that country’s Steve Wright or Jonathan Woss – a big fish in a small pond but none-the-less raking it in. My problem has always been that awareness of Mr Methane is spread globally rather than condensed in a certain geographical area which makes it harder to get bums on seats and make some serious money.”

The Scots comedienne Janey Godley has had a Top Ten bestselling hardback and paperback book in the UK and regularly (I have seen the figures) gets over 500,000 worldwide hits per week on her widely-posted blog. But if she were to play a theatre in, say, Cleethorpes in England or Peoria in the US, she would not necessarily sell out the venue’s tickets in the first half hour they went on sale, because she has had relatively little English TV exposure and her fame and fanbase is spread worldwide not concentrated locally.

To be a big ‘live’ star in a country, you still have to be on that country’s television screens fairly regularly. A massive internet following may not be enough for you to make shedloads of money on tour. I would lay bets that some amiable but relatively talentless British stand-up comedian who appears on a BBC3 panel show will make better box office money on a UK tour than the equally amiable and immeasurably more talented Bo Burnham who is, indeed, that legendary beast ‘an internet sensation’.

In 2009, Mr Methane was on Britain’s Got Talent. Several clips of that appearance have been posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing, one of those clips

has had over ten million hits. But those ten million plus people are spread across the globe, so how does Mr Methane, in that awful American phrase, ‘monetise’ the awareness of his existence? He can market products online, which I know he does very successfully but, if he were playing a live venue in Peoria, would he fill the auditorium?

The result is that, as Mr Methane observes, you can often make more money and be more ‘successful’ by being a big fish in a small pond rather than being an internationally recognised performer. Financially, it is usually still better to have 10 million fans in the UK than 30 million fans worldwide.

iTunes, YouTube and other online phenomena are still in their infancy and may well change all that and Bo Burnham may be one of the trailblazers.

The now-dying record business created international stars selling millions of discs worldwide who could tour on the back of that success. But without television exposure and with only a few exceptions, that has not yet happened for comedy acts. You still need local TV exposure.

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The bum-numbing recording of that IKEA ad and the Auschwitz Factor in live audience shows

What is it with my blog about the TV recording of the IKEA ad which I posted on 10th March – almost a month ago?

I have been blogging seriously (perhaps that’s the wrong word) since December and I now get fairly healthy hits on my blog but, yesterday, the hits went through the roof and early this morning – between midnight yesterday and 0230 this morning – the IKEA blog on its own got more hits than I normally get in an entire day.

Who is up at 0230 apart from me, burglars, comedians and the incontinent?

The answer seems to be that people were re-Tweeting the link to the blog and, also, I got an e-mail from someone saying “Loved your blog… have passed it around the ad industry”.

Maybe ad men have weak bladders and like to see other ad people score own goals.

The hits went even more apeshit later this morning when people other than incontinent ad men woke up.

The irony is I have still not seen the actual ad itself on broadcast TV – only the version on YouTube.

My friend who went with me to the recording is equally bemused about the number of hits on my blog and clearly – possibly permanently – emotionally scarred by the IKEA recording experience, appears to have turned to hallucinogenic drugs because yesterday he asked me:

“Do you think it was a real ad? I’ve not seen it on TV. You’ve not seen it on TV. They surely can’t be broadcasting a furniture ad on television making a joke about women weeing themselves? Maybe they were just pretending to make an ad for some reason and were filming our reactions to it for some other reason. It can’t have been a real ad.”

“But,” I told him. “It’s IKEA. They’re Swedish. They’re not known for their surreal humour.”

“It just can’t have been real.” my friend replied. “Maybe they were researching something. Maybe it was an experiment of some kind. You were there. Did it look like they were filming a real ad.”

“Well…” I said.

But I’m increasingly pleased I was there.

Someone commented yesterday that they couldn’t understand why the audience at the recording didn’t leave.

It’s a very interesting question indeed.

Partly the answer is, I think, that only people on the ends of rows in audience seating can leave without drawing attention to themselves; partly I guess it is because, if a couple leave, it feels to them that it is they who are are the odd ones out, not the people who stay. Partly it may be that, in a bad situation, you simply hope against hope that the horror will diminish.

I guess the main answer is that there is some strange human urge not to move in awful situations: like rabbits in an oncoming car’s headlights. When people are herded together in large groups in a forest or in a camp and know they are going to be killed, by and large, they don’t run. They walk to their deaths. It’s the Auschwitz Factor. I’m sorry if that offends anyone by trivialising the Holocaust, but it’s true. I know they thought they were going into showers at Auschwitz, but the general principle is true. Given the option of certain death if they stay or probable death if they run, people tend to choose certain death. People in forests dug their own graves and stood on the edge of the pits waiting to be shot.

I once sat through Luchino Visconti’s movie The Damned in the totally full late lamented Hampstead Classic cinema. It was the dullest film I have ever seen in my life and, trust me, I have sat through some dull films. Killer Bitch may have had – errm – “mixed reviews” but one thing it certainly ain’t is dull.

The Damned runs 155 minutes: that’s two hours and a very long 35 minutes. It was so dull that, after about four minutes, I actually started to time how long it would be before someone in the movie went into an exterior scene. But I sat through the whole godawful 155 minutes. My problem was I was in the middle of the front row in the balcony and, being British, I didn’t want to cause chaos and draw attention to myself by leaving and getting people to stand up all the way along the row.

It was also a revelation to see how anyone could make a film with mass murder, rape, orgies, Nazis, nudity and every excess you can possibly imagine into such a bum-numbingly dull movie.

Alright, The Damned is the second dullest movie I have ever seen. I actually DID walk out of Football as Never Before (Fußball wie noch nie) after about 40 minutes of tedium. There are limits which even I have.

But, in general, after a certain time has passed, people will sit through something really bad until the bitter end. And ‘bad’ can be good in a masochistic way.

When a really truly bad bad bad comedian is on stage, it draws other comedians who huddle together at the back of the room to watch the car crash of a performance happening in front of their eyes.

In 1980, Peter O’Toole appeared in a stage production of Macbeth at the Old Vic in London which was said to be so awful that people queued there and around the country to see it. I tried to buy a ticket at the time. You couldn’t get one anywhere. It was a box office smash.

As someone who has been involved in live audience shows for TV and for stage – and who spent 20+ years making TV promotions – I was fascinated at the IKEA ad recording to see how inept the production could get and if there were any way they could manage to pull the thing together.

I wanted to see the whole ghastly thing through to the end in case there was any glorious climax where the production team pulled something unexpected out of an invisible hat or the audience turned on the production team, tore them limb from limb and ate their entrails with tomato ketchup (not that there was any tomato ketchup).

After wasting a certain amount of time, you have to calculate if spending more time may result in a lower waste-per-minute average. How that is calculated will probably be studied by some university academic on a £1 million grant. If you hear of that happening, please tell me as I’d like to share a bit of that dosh and make my IKEA ad time worthwhile.

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Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum + dancing in urine and the near-fatal ‘accident’ on live TV

I recently wrote a blog about The Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity.

Scots comedian Stu Who commented that he had had the “pleasure …of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being ‘well-known’.”

He said: “Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors. This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – i.e. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen and vice-versa.”

I had come to exactly the same conclusion as Stu.

There are some interesting reversals, though. Stu mentioned in his comments at the bottom of my old blog that, the first time he met Shakin’ Stevens, he thought the Welsh singer was grumpy and rude. But, when he worked with him again, says Stu: “I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances.”

Before I worked with her, I had seen children’s and TV gameshow show presenter Sue Robbie on-screen and thought off-screen she was probably a slightly stuck-up, head prefect sort of person. Totally wrong. She turned out to be absolutely lovely. No ego. A wonderful person to work with.

I also presumed the late Marti Caine would be up-herself, as she was a talent-show-to-stardom person and looked a bit damaged on-screen (therefore dangerous off-screen). I could not have been more wrong. I don’t normally gush, but…

Marti was, I think, the most wonderfully warm, modest, lovely “star” I have ever met. She was an absolute joy to be with. Talking to people who worked with Marti Caine is a bit like talking to people who own Apple Mac computers. They go on and on and on about how wonderful, marvellous, friendly etc etc etc… She once told me – and I totally believe it is true – that, although she’d liked the showbiz glitter to begin with, all she really wanted to do was be a housewife. She told me she really enjoyed hoovering and cleaning the house, but people would phone her up with offers of ludicrous amounts of money which she felt she’d be mad to turn down, so her career continued.

She was everything you could hope for.

Like Stu, I have found performers’ on-screen personas are often the opposite of their off-screen ones. If I fancy some star or think they seem great, the last thing I would ever want to do is meet them, because they will probably turn out to be shits.

Having said that, I have only ever worked with one awful “star” who, alas, shall be nameless because I don’t want my arse sued off and the English legal system is a gambling pit of shit-juggling.

Some stories you can never be certain of.

James Cagney never did say “You dirty rat” in any film.

Michael Caine never did say “Not a lot of people know that” – well, not until it became an accepted ‘truth’ that he did say it and then he said it as a joke.

Word of mouth always spread untrue stories and now the internet spreads urban myths in seconds like politicians spread bullshit.

Several people have told me the story (also on the internet and apparently printed in a national newspaper) that, in the 1980s, during the London Palladium run of Singing in the Rain, Tommy Steele would dance the climactic title song in the rain while water poured down onto the stage from giant overhead tanks and the rest of the cast and backstage crew watched (as he thought it) admiringly from the wings. What he didn’t know was that he was so disliked that many of them routinely pissed in the water tank before every show and watched to see the resultant mix of water and piss pour down on Tommy’s head.

In my previous Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity blog, I mentioned how veteran TV producer Michael Hurll went for the late comedian Charlie Drake’s throat in a Chortle interview. My mad inventor chum John Ward, after he read the blog, reminded me about Charlie Drake’s ‘accident’ in 1961.

John told me: “I was having tea last year with somebody who ‘was there’ at the time and had quite a lot to say about that ‘bloody awful little man’…”

I remember as a child seeing the ‘accident’ when it happened. Because I’m that old. And because it happened on live TV.

Charlie – a big big star at the time – appeared in BBC TV’s The Charlie Drake Show every week. It was live and he was known for his physical comedy. On this one particular night, as part of a slapstick story called Bingo Madness, he was pulled through an upright bookcase and thrown out of a window on the studio set. There was then a very long pause when nothing happened and then the credits rolled. The next morning’s papers reported that Charlie had been knocked out by going through the bookcase and was unconscious when thrown out of the window.

The story was that someone had ‘mended’ the breakaway bookcase between rehearsals and the live TV show. John Ward tells me this someone he knows who was there at the time says balsa wood had been replaced by real wood, though this is not quite the story  Charlie Drake himself told (here on YouTube). The implication (not shared by Charlie, of course) was that he was so disliked (which he certainly was) that the bookcase had been intentionally ‘firmed up’ to injure him. He fractured his skull, was unconscious for three days and it was two years before he returned to the screen.

The moral?

Don’t piss on the backstage crew or they may piss on you…

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