Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Lynn Ruth Miller: “Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy…”

In yesterday’s blog, Lynn Ruth Miller gave an insight into comedy industry life in Los Angeles. The blog finished with Lynn Ruth getting booked to appear in Scot Neary’s unique Boobie Trap variety show AND on Ron Lynch’s legendary midnight comedy club show AND NBC booking her for a spot on Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio‘s TV show 1st Look. Now read on…


The minute I walked into the Boobie Trap venue, I knew I had made the right decision. This was a variety show that was totally out of the box. I particularly love Scot Nery. He made his name in San Francisco first, cooking pancakes on stage and throwing them at the audience. This time, he piled chairs on top of one another and balanced them on his face.  

I was one of two stand-up comedians. The other acts were magic, mime, song and poetry. The show’s finale was done in the middle of the seating area. We removed all the chairs and watched three men spit water at each other.

After the show, I returned to my hotel to romp around in the shower…alone of course… Some dreams never come true.

The next day, my friend and very talented comedian and cross-dresser Nick Leonard drove down to be part of my Los Angeles experience. Nick is one of the finest comedians I know and has given me many of my punch lines. He has a way of zeroing in on just the right expression to make you smile and still describe what you are after.  

I wanted a succinct description of my poodle and he said: “How about Donald looked like a fluffy baked potato?”  

You simply cannot beat that for accurate humor.

The highlight of my trip was the day NBC picked up Julie and me to begin filming for 1st Look.

The idea was that I was supposed to teach Johnny Bananas how to become a stand-up comedian. Since it has taken me 16 years to come close to figuring out what I am supposed to do on stage, this was a daunting assignment.  

People think that stand-up comedy is just standing on a stage cracking jokes, but it is far more than that.  

I tried to explain timing, mic technique and the need to ‘find the funny’ to this very enthusiastic, over-the-top young man.

The idea was that, after I coached him, he would do a set for Ron Lynch at his midnight show that evening.

Ron Lynch’s show is called The Tomorrow Show and everyone who performs in Los Angeles loves to be on that show. I love being in that show so much I used to drive 382 miles to LA from Pacifica to be on his stage. I always bought a bottle of wine to pep things up. Often I would drive back home the same night if I had nothing else to do in LA. The show was (and still is) that much fun.

NBC filmed both my set and Johnny’s attempt at humor. The highlight of the evening was the band Ron has on the scene, playing unexpected accompaniment to the things we all say and do.

Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy. It lacks the subtlety, the double entendre and the wit… at least to me. But what do I know? With my hearing aids on high, I still can’t hear enough to make a judgment.

The next night was my big show at the Five Star Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Julie had been working for at least a month on creating an audience to stir up interest in that show. She planned to do an hour of open mic performances; then the main show with a few supporting comedians for me; then my hour show; followed by more open mic sets.  Her reasoning was that the open mic performers would fill the house and that would give me a large audience.  

Entrance was free but on the stage for all to see was a big bucket labelled Lynn Ruth Miller’s Retirement Fund. Julie passed this around at appropriate and inappropriate intervals

Edwin Li walked into the bar see the show. Edwin started comedy in San Francisco the same year that I did but the difference is that he was 14 years old and I was 70. He is Chinese and his signature joke was: ”My dick isn’t small; it’s cute.”

Edwin no longer does comedy because he has moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make his fortune… as they all do. He said he had to move away from his house full of women because he needed to find out who he really was.

In order to support himself now, he delivers food for a local take away café. By the time he finishes his deliveries and makes his way to a comedy club, it is very late at night. Getting home is a huge problem because all cabs, even Uber and Lyft, are expensive when you are living on minimum wage. 

Los Angeles’s public transportation, while not horrid, isn’t very good.  

It is very challenging for people who do not drive when they live in areas where the buses only run once an hour or not at all.

So Edwin, who moved to LA to do comedy as well as escape a house filled with domineering women, is now too tired and too financially challenged to develop a talent that showed so much promise when I knew him in San Francisco.

It is a great loss to the comedy community. It also is instructive.  

Those of us who really love what we are doing in comedy will manage to do it no matter what. Common sense and logic play NO part in pursuing this thankless, yet addictive, career.  

Edwin did a sensible, pragmatic thing… and I have no doubt he will return to comedy eventually.  

On the other hand, I never paid any attention to common sense. I knew that, for me, comedy was the entrée into living a fulfilled life. So I did it.

And here I am still – 16 years into the game and not even close to wanting to quit.

I was overjoyed to see Edwin of course, though I never managed to find out if it was still cute.

And now I’m back in London.

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What’s US West Coast comedy life like? 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tells you.

Lynn Ruth Miller on stage in Los Angeles

In three recent blogs, unique 86-year-old comic and occasional burlesque dancer Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her recent trip home to San Francisco.

After that, she went to Los Angeles…

So now read on…


It is funny how some friends stay and some vanish as you travel through your life. I met Julie Anderson at the beginning of my comedy career. She took Kurtis Matthew’s course at the San Francisco Comedy College the year after I did. From the beginning, I knew she was a very special human being. At the time I discovered her, she had a 9-year-old son Nigel who thought he was a stand-up comedian. Julie thought so too.

She was living in Vallejo, California at the time. Vallejo then was a very low- income, unsavory place to live.

It still has the highest crime rate of any place in America. 

If you live there, your chances of being a victim are something like 1 in 22.  

Still, Julie loved it. She had her own house and commuted to work as an administrator in a glass gallery in Napa. At night, she honed her skills as a stand-up comedian.

Julie is a wonderful storyteller and she holds an audience’s attention. She is a born performer. She started her own comedy night in Vallejo and booked lots of San Francisco comedians – but Nigel always stole the show.  

After the gig, all the comedians on the bill would go back to Julie’s house where we gobbled up a huge buffet dinner before we drove the hour‘s journey home. I cannot say the comedy was much to boast about, but those dinners were magnificent and everyone loved the entire evening.

As the years went by, Julie found a new partner named Martini and the two created comedy shows together. It was Julie who filmed my first cabaret Ageing Is Amazing 

She has innovative and creative ideas and is not afraid to put them in motion.

She creates happenings wherever she is.

“Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis?” (Photo: Sergi Viladesau, UnSplash)

Does anyone remember the 2008 financial crisis? It actually began in 2007 with the depreciation of the subprime mortgage market in the United States and developed into a full-blown international banking crisis by the fall of 2008.

The Bay area in San Francisco was particularly affected with mortgage rates soaring and banks like Wells Fargo determined to take advantage of people whose equity in their homes plunged.  

I was one of those victims and so was Julie.

However, Julie handled it differently than I. She stopped paying her mortgage and waited it out until the bank got around to kicking her out of her home.  

I continued to pay Wells Fargo, while I tried to reason with them and convince them that they were overcharging me. I wasted hours of my time and energy only to slam against one wall after another.  

Julie didn’t even bother to contact her bank. She knew that there were so many foreclosures in Vallejo that it would take years before anyone got around to dealing with her.

And she was right.

During the time she was waiting for the inevitable, she began selling her furniture and her belongings. Finally, the year before I lost my house, Julie walked away from her Vallejo property and moved to downtown LA with absolutely nothing but her determination to make a new life.

Julie Anderson and Lynn Ruth Miller in London in 2018

That was ten years ago and now Julie has established herself in Los Angeles. She is part of the downtown community and feels at home there.  

The last time we saw each other she told me that, when I returned to San Francisco, I should go down to LA as well.

I had done comedy in Los Angeles several times while I lived in the Bay Area and had never managed to get into the paying market there. LA is a tough market to crack. This time, I wrote to one of the former San Francisco comedians who moved to LA to make his fortune (as so many of them do) and asked if there was a possibility of being a headliner there with my credentials. He said: “Lynn Ruth, we all do sets for no money because we are ALL headliners.”

I dispute that but I knew that, for me, getting any paid work in Los Angeles was a pipe dream. So I told Julie that it would waste my time and money to go to Los Angeles. 

Julie said, “Lynnie, I will create gigs for you.  I promise.”

So I relented.

I said I would spend a week with Julie.

She told me that she had some extra money saved for a vacation that she wanted instead to spend on my visit. She would take care of my accommodation and pay for the transportation I needed to get from one place to another. More important, she would create gigs for me to sold-out houses.  

I didn’t really think she would do either, but I love Julie and when we are together we have fun.

So I agreed to spend the last week of my California journey this year with her.  

Ron Lynch liked the idea of seeing Lynn Ruth at midnight…

I wrote to Ron Lynch (who is my favorite LA comedian) and told him I would do his midnight show for him if he liked.

He liked.

Then I got a letter from NBC.  

They are doing a reality show called 1st Look, a lifestyle and travel show hosted by Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio, airing nationally every Saturday after Saturday Night Live. Johnny is the host of 1st Look and famous for his successful appearances on The Challenge, a program that tests physical prowess.

One 1st Look program will be about older people doing something unusual with their lives.  

They asked me if I planned to be in New York or LA anytime this year and I told them when I would be in LA. They made arrangements for me to be filmed with Johnny Bananas for their program.

After I committed to doing that show with NBC, I discovered that my dear friend Greta Pontarelli had already done a segment for them and that we would be in the same show together.  

I met Greta several years ago in Montenegro… She is in her seventies and is a pole dancer and performer.  She is an amazing woman who can do far more than stunts on a pole, but it is those stunts that have made her unbelievably famous.

Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio took a 1st Look at Lynn Ruth

And so the die was cast.  

I committed to go to LA.  

NBC asked if Johnny Bananas could be on Ron Lynch’s show with me and both Ron and I said Yes.

I also arranged to be on Scot Nery’s variety show Boobie Trap where I was assured I would get four minutes of fame…

… CONTINUES and CONCLUDES HERE

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An Edinburgh Fringe rant, Paul Merton, Dirty Girls, fart fetishers & Comic Relief

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps could let people take better shows to Edinburgh

One thing that increasingly gets up my nose at the Edinburgh Fringe is comedians who do not do stage shows.

They want to get picked up by radio or TV producers, so they bung in long pre-taped video sketches or pre-recorded sound recordings. All this makes me think:

  1. they don’t give a shit about the audience and
  2. they are incapable of doing a live performance

If you are doing a live show, then do a live show, do not make the audience sit and watch you do nothing while a pre-recorded piece of irrelevance plays.

There are exceptions to this, of course – notably the wonderful Juliette Burton (an ex-BBC person) who integrates extremely well-researched and shot videos into her shows and then interacts with them.

I tend not to review shows in this blog – it is mostly a blog of previews and interviews. But I am a Scot brought up among Jews so, if there are two free tickets going, I will always turn up.

The 39 Steps - Paul Merton

Paul Merton took The 39 Steps yesterday

This is a prelude to the fact that, last night, the show I was invited to see was The 39 Steps at London’s Criterion Theatre – obviously, a (comic) stage version of the feature film. And, ironically, it was a brilliant and flawless stage production which could only exist as a live stage show.

Anyone intending to perform a stage show based on material from a different medium – well, any narrative comedy show – should see how The 39 Steps had been crafted. The amount of tiny bits of visual stage ‘business’ is staggering. No wonder it won The Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007 and two Tony Awards in the US in 2008. It is a masterclass in writing and directing a live stage comedy.

The reason I was invited to last night’s performance was that it included a cameo by Paul Merton in aid of tonight’s Comic Relief.

And that ‘charity event’ label is enough of a tenuous link for me to mention that, also yesterday, I Skyped Amber Willat, one of The Dirty Girls, in Los Angeles. (The other Dirty Girl is Amber’s sister Harper Willat.)

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles

Amber (right) and Harper Willat: Dirty Girls  in California

The Dirty Girls turned up in a couple of blogs last week, when they contacted my farting chum Mr Methane about possibly performing at their Funny Farty Yoga Party charity event at Venice Beach which is being held this Sunday.

The Funny Farty Yoga Party starts with a laugh therapy session and continues with a ‘guided yoga session’, a Native American flute player and much else.

“Do the good people of Venice Beach,” I asked Amber, “need persuading that yoga is a good idea?”

Ad for the Sunday event in Los Angeles

Dirty Girls’ Funny Farty Yoga Party event ad in Los Angeles

“Californians love their yoga,” said Amber. “That’s for sure. But yoga has become such a hip thing that it’s become a full-fledged, multi-billion dollar industry. So we kinda wanna demystify the whole yoga world. A lot of people, when they do it for the first time are afraid: Ooo! What if I fart? and we wanna say: No worries. People fart in yoga. That’s why we wanted a professional farter like Mr Methane. But there are none in Los Angeles. When I looked for some, I just found guys on Craigslist who are fart fetishers.”

“There are fart fetishers?” I asked.

“There are a lot of fart fetishers,” Amber told me. “I was amazed to see the array of fart fetishers.”

“How did you become The Dirty Girls?” I asked.

“When my sister and I and some of our friends were in high school – like aged 13 and 14 – we were causing a ruckus on campus. They were saying: These girls haven’t showered in the last two years; they’re disgusting. And we kept fighting back. We went: Oh? You wanna see dirty? No problem! 

“So we would literally come to school with like whipped cream in our hair and, instead of lipstick ON our lips, it would be AROUND our lips. We just wanted to completely like obliterate the status quo of feminine products and beauty and all those kinda things.

the original Dirty Girls documentary

Harper and Amber in the original Dirty Girls documentary

“That was in the 1990s, before iPhones. We were just doing it because that’s what we wanted to do. But this other student kid, Michael Lucid. captured it on camera and shelved it as a VHS tape for 17 years and then, in March 2013, he digitised it and put it on YouTube just to show someone in New York and it leaked and just blew up (in hits) in days. We were called The Dirty Girls in high school. It was an insult then, but now we’re flipping it into like an empowered state.”

“And now it’s The Dirty Girls Project,” I said.

“Yes. There was so much outrage from lots of young women and adults and teenagers reaching out saying: Oh! We wish we had more dirty girls on our campus! You guys are so inspiring! So we thought: I guess there is a real calling for more inspirational badass girls that allow you to be who you wanna be. The Dirty Girls give you permission to be weird.

“And The Dirty Girls Project is this new multi-media platform where we collaborate and find more Dirty Girls and produce original content around them – an event, a video, an art project. Badass awesome content. We launched our website in October 2014.”

“The Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday is for charity…” I said.

Shine On Sierra Leone’s sustainable building

One of Shine On Sierra Leone’s sustainable building projects

“Yes. It’s going to various women’s groups, local groups and to Shine On Sierra Leone: they’re an amazing organisation that has very successfully empowered the women of the villages. They’ve built primary schools; they’re building an elementary school; they’ve set up a whole micro-loan system; they’re teaching women how to run their own villages. An incredible organisation. So we are working with them too.”

“Why Sierra Leone?” I asked.

“I know it sounds far-fetched,” Amber started to say.

“We like far-fetched,” I told her.

“But,” she continued, “it’s based in Culver City, where we are and we’re very good friends with the woman who is the founder of it and we’ve directly seen the impact she has had.”

“You were born and raised in Hollywood and you live in Culver City,” I said. “When’s your feature film coming out?”

“We’ve put it on a back-burner. There could be two different approaches. One would be a documentary. Michael Lucid did the film in 1996 and then did a follow-up with us in 2000 and then he did a third one.”

“Are you looking to start a Dirty Girls chapter in London?” I asked. “You could have branches everywhere, like Starbucks.”

“We don’t go corporate,” said Amber. “No way. Evil! Evil!?”

You can see the original 1996 Dirty Girls film on YouTube.

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The Dirty Girls, Mr Methane, old man abuse, Keith Harris & Orvillle the duck

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles reached out to Mr Methane…

Another day. Another not-quite-enough-time-to-write-a-blog moment. So, a follow-up to yesterday’s blog in which international farteur Mr Methane had decided not to perform at The Dirty Girls’ Funny Farty Yoga Party in Los Angeles.

Mr Methane guessed (I paraphrase) that The Dirty Girls thought he was mad and therefore must live in Los Angeles. Whereas I myself can vouch for the fact that he is mad and lives in Macclesfield in the UK.

Dirty Girl Amber Willat, who is helping to organise the Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday 15th March, contacted me last night to say:

“Well, Mr Methane was right, I was sort of under the Everyone cool and eccentric lives in the Hollywood Hills spell and either figured or hoped he was ripping it up in Hollywood which, by the way, is across town – not down the street – and, in LA traffic, that means it might as well take eight hours to get to us.

Mr Methane

Mr Methane has internal propulsion…

“We think Mr Methane should blow out of town (England) and get his butt over here for our event. Just hop on a plane and live a little! It will be an adventure. We will personally put him up, feed him, and entertain him for a week. I think Howard Stern could use another visit from him and I have friends with podcasts who would love to interview him.”

I had to tell Amber: “I suspect the problem with Mr Methane is the airfare to L.A. although, one would think, with his own internal propulsion system, he would not actually need an airplane, as you Colonials quaintly call aeroplanes.”

“Yeah,” said Amber, “I never once thought Mr. Methane would be using a plane. I never even considered there would be airfare! Darn!”

Meanwhile, Mr Methane himself contacted me to say:

Richard Simmons – that’s his name – The celebrity LA fitness instructor who looks like Leo Sayer I was trying to tell you about but couldn’t remember his name. It looks like he’s going through a bad patch at the moment which I’m sorry to hear. The Daily Mail reported that the Los Angeles Police did a welfare check on the fitness guru at his Hollywood Hills home after a friend allegedly sent an email to the LA County DA’s office saying Simmons was 66 and being abused. The LAPD said he was in good health but had a slight limp and was depressed after a knee injury.

“Anyway,” Mr Methane continued, “while looking for fitted kitchens on Ebay I came across this ad for solid granite kitchen worktops fronted by Keith Harris and Orville.

Keith Harris & Orville in a kitchen

Keith Harris and Orville like solid granite kitchen worktops…

“I can’t really get to the bottom of why Keith and Orville are on this advert. There is no reference in the text to give out any clues. In the normal world which most people inhabit, I suspect a bloke who was a Saturday night TV favourite 30+ years ago just turning up at your kitchen showroom with his hand inserted into the back of a green duck puppet would be a bit unsettling.

“I can only surmise that, as they live on the Fylde where this eBay seller is located, he’s a friend of the eBay seller… or Keith and Orville own a share in a Granite Worktop Fitted Kitchen Company on the Fylde. This is not impossible as Bob Carolgees (formerly starring on Tiswas with his hand up puppet Spit The Dog) owns a candle shop near Frodsham. So why not Keith and Orville getting into kitchens?

“Remember I told you Keith Harris sold a nightclub in Poulton-Le-Fylde to a chap called Elliot? Maybe he took that money and put it into kitchens. Though, if that’s so, I’m baffled as to who is the financial brains behind the business – Keith or Orville?”

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In L.A., The Dirty Girls plan a Funny Farty Yoga Party without Mr Methane

Mr Methane performs Frozen

Mr Methane performs Let It Go as a service to all the parents

Don’t ask.

I have had no time to write a blog today and I won’t before midnight.

Don’t ask.

So what follows is what happens when I don’t have time to write a blog before midnight.

Yesterday, I forwarded to my chum Mr Methane (the world’s only professional performing farteur) a piece which says that new research by the University of Exeter suggests smelling farts may be good for your health and may, indeed, prevent cancer. The study, published in the Medicinal Chemistry Communications journal, found that the hydrogen sulphide gas in rotten eggs and flatulence could be a key factor in treating diseases.

Dr Mark Wood was quoted as saying that, while hydrogen sulphide gas is harmful in large doses, this new study suggests that “a whiff here and there has the power to reduce risks of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, arthritis and dementia by preserving mitochondria.”

Mr Methane, a man with a high threshold of “nothing much happening here”, replied to my missive thus:

“Hope you are well. Nothing much happening here. I did a rendition of Let It Go from Frozen which has gone down really well on my Facebook page, I must have struck a chord with all the parents out there who are sick of it. It is quite an epic performance and includes some of the most powerful farts I have ever delivered.”

He then added, intriguingly: “I have had an invitation from The Dirty Girls to join them in Venice Beach, California, for some Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday 15th March. I think they possibly think I am another eccentric Brit living in Beverly Hills just down the road from Simon Cowell or Robbie Williams, as that is where all the eccentric showbusiness Brits live, it being the entertainment capital of the world as opposed to Macclesfield.”

The Dirty Girls’ website

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles – reaching out to Mr Methane

The Dirty Girls’ invitation to Mr Methane read:

“We are creating a funny, laughter-filled yoga event in order to introduce yoga to skeptics and to the Los Angeles Girls’ Club. We would love to have some farts performed during the yoga session. Is there any way to partner with you for our event?”

Mr Methane’s reaction to me was: “I think the Funny Farty Yoga Party will have to blow into Venice Beach without me, which is a shame really as I imagined myself starting a new farting fitness based career like that American Leo Sayer lookalike who was always on Jay Leno doing his OTT fitness routines. I can’t remember his name but he was in a few movies as well: Beverley Hill Cop I think.”

As a result of reading this I, of course, got in touch with ‘Amber’ in Los Angeles, who is helping to organise the Funny Farty Yoga Party. She sent me a press release:

“Dirty Girls Project is a new media platform devoted to the promotion of empowered, badass women of all ages. We create original content, synergistic partnerships and produce collaborations (both digital and physical) around topics such as art, adventure, fashion, entrepreneurship – the bad, the rad and the weird.”

Brussels Sprouts High Five

Brussels Sprouts High Five live!

Of the Funny Farty Yoga Party, the press release says: “The purpose of our event is to create a really fun, approachable environment demystifying the elite reputation of the yoga world… Dirty Girls Project is teaming up with ambassador Courtney Barriger from Brussels Sprouts High Five… BSHF has worked with The Midnight Mission, St. Francis Center, YWCA, Free Arts for Abused Children and has run a shoe drive for Kochi India.”

No, I have no idea what a shoe drive is either.

Brussels Sprouts High Five have a Facebook page which explains: “We are a volunteer army in the city of Los Angeles,” and exhorts:  “Join us in the kitchens, the housing projects, and on the streets.”

The Funny Farty Yoga Party press release continues: “The event will kick off with a laugh therapy session to break the ice, then we move into a guided yoga session. The crowd will include a diverse group of people from all walks of life, to express that yoga is for everyone. We will have a Native American flute player during the yoga.”

I have sent Amber my Skype details.

I feel, as this all happens eleven days hence, there may be more news of the Funny Farty Yoga Party in this blog. And, indeed, more of Mr Methane. He tells me:

“I’m working on Boyzone – No Matter What – as my follow-up to Let It Go, It will be either a Fart Friday or Windy Wednesday upload sometime soon.”

The Dirty Girls’ video Jungles of Bitches is on Vimeo.

I feel I live a comparatively very humdrum life.

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I meet my namesake Amanda Fleming, an LA actress who found her rock band father after 16 Sudden years in Rochdale

Last Wednesday, I got an e-mail. It read:

Hi John

I have a film, Titans of Newark. Being a fellow Fleming, I was wondering if you could do me the honour and help with creating a buzz about it. I play the goddess Hera and it is on at the Short Film Corner during the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Amanda Fleming

Amanda Fleming in the award-winning Titans of Newark

Amanda Fleming in award-winning short Titans of Newark

I looked at the film trailer on YouTube and I met Amanda at the National Film Theatre yesterday, but we barely talked about the film.

“My mum was very young when she had me,” said Amanda. “She was just turned 18. I was conceived in the summer of 1969. What can I say? He was in a band. She was a bit of a hippie. Apparently my father was in his early 20s and in a rock band which had a one-hit wonder. About four years later, my mother ended up marrying someone else. I was brought up by my grandparents in Rochdale; they legally adopted me, so my aunties became my sisters.

“By the time I was 16, I was sick and tired of asking my mother who my real father was. I think, at various times, she told me his name was Bob, James and lots of other names and eventually I said: I’m not speaking to you ever again unless you tell me the truth. She told me he was called Ian but not his surname and she told me: He’s red-haired like you.

“So, one day, I decided Right! I’m going to find out who he is. I set off at five in the morning. I knew he was called Ian, had red hair, looked a bit like me and lived somewhere in Sudden, which is an area of Rochdale.

“I was only 16. I didn’t realise how big Sudden was. I got there about six in the morning. There are about 150 streets. I started on one side of Sudden and the first street I came to was called (Amanda told me the name of the street).

“I knocked on a door and, by this time, it was seven in the morning. It was a young couple. Luckily they were getting up for work. I said I’m looking for my real father and I told them He’s called Ian, he’s got red hair, he was in a band and he lives somewhere in Sudden.

“They said: Sorry. He’s not here. We haven’t been here very long in this street. So I spent the entire day knocking on ten doors in every street.

“By about 6.30 at night, I was distraught. I thought: I’m never going to find him. What am I doing? What am I thinking of? I started crying. I was about to give up and there was an Old People’s Home that’s shut down since and I saw there was a small pathway to another street and I thought: I wonder if I’ve been on that street? And it was the street I’d first gone to. But it was the other end of that street and I was about to give up but I thought I’ll try one more time and I knocked on a door and an old couple opened it.

“I was crying.

“They said: Hello. You alright, then?

“I said: I’ve spent all day – cry, cry – Nobody knows who he is – cry. cry – My father.

Oh sweetheart, they said. What’s his last name?

“I said: I don’t know. All I know is he was in a band, he’s got red hair, he’s called Ian and…

Oh, that’s Ian and his brother Alan, they said. They’re not living there any more, but his parents are still there at No 16.

“So I ran to No 16, banged on the door and this old lady came out. She looked right at me and said: You’re Amanda, aren’t you?

“Apparently my aunts had taken me at 18 months old to say: Hey! You need to tell your son he has a daughter. He was away on a three-year tour with his band in Europe. He was doing really well and so he didn’t know anything about it and they wanted to keep it quiet because they didn’t want it to interfere with his life. But they’d matured since then and they were a lot more laid back and relaxed, so they said: Come on in.

“I was really shocked. I thought: I’ve actually found them!

“They got on the phone to my dad and he came down and I think he must have asked me about 25 times: So, how are you? That’s all he seemed to ask me.

Amanda at the NFT in London yesterday

Amanda at the National Film Theatre in London yesterday

“And, when I found my dad, that was my excuse to go fully into entertainment. He was an entertainer. So I went to Oldham Theatre Workshop and went to drama school. After that, I did a lot of theatre, a lot of Rep, worked for the Cambridge Shakespeare Company and a lot of other things.

“Independent film was just starting to pick up in the early 1990s so I did that and I also did corporates and bits on TV and radio and worked for a company called Absolute Murder that did improv theatre murder mysteries. Then I started up my own theatre company DeProfundis Productions.”

“Why DeProfundis?” I asked.

“I thought it was a good name for a company which is new writing, semi-Gothic productions with maybe a bit of sci-fi mixed in there. I grew up loving Hammer House of Horror and I loved the idea of bringing Gothic theatre to the public. So I wrote an hour-long semi-Gothic interpretation of Elizabeth Báthory‘s story.”

“She’s the one who bathed in virgins’ blood…” I said.

“Yes,” said Amanda, “she was reputed to have murdered 650 people over 30 years.”

“So you learned about improvising murders,” I said, “and then you wrote about a woman mass murderer. That’s rather scary.”

“Yes,” laughed Amanda, “but I also used to do touring pantomimes all the time. I loved it. It’s the meat-and-potatoes of theatre training. And then someone said: Have thou ever thought of doing comedy adult pantos? So, in 2005, I set up Carry-on-Antics Pantomimes.

Amanda - Oh yes it is! - in a saucy panto

Amanda – Oh yes it is! – in a saucy Carry On type UK panto

“My dad said he was proud of me for doing that but he didn’t come to see any of the shows because he said: I don’t want to see you in that way. There was no nudity. It was just tongue-in-cheek, very slapstick, very Carry On. It wasn’t that rude. I arranged a six-week tour; five shows a week. We did Big Dick Whittington with his pussy and, the next year, Little Red Romping Hood and Hot Cinders. It was pure comedy.”

Amanda went to Los Angeles in 2007.

Amanda with red hair in 2011

Amanda with red hair in 2011

“I got a three-year visa and I was only going to use it to go over for the pilot season, which is January 10th to round about April – three months of intense auditions for episodes in up-and-coming productions and for new characters in already-running productions.

“Then I was going to come back to the UK, because I was supposed to be getting booked to arrange a third year of pantos – a 10-week tour. But that year – 2007 – the recession hit and only three of the venues re-booked. So I stayed in the US and signed with a US agent and, for the first six months, it was mostly getting my face known.”

“What’s your pitch?” I asked. “I’m the new Helen Mirren?”

Amanda with blonde hair in 2009

Amanda with blonde hair in 2009

“Someone did say,” laughed Amanda, “that I’m a younger Helen Mirren mixed with Meryl Streep… but then someone also said I was like Bette Midler!”

“This Titans of Newark film,” I said, “which we haven’t talked about. It  was filmed in 2012?”

“The latter end, yes,” said Amanda. “It was edited up to the beginning of 2013, then went round all the festivals. The budget on Titans of Newark was quite low – it was done as a student project – but it’s been winning awards at lots of film festivals. And now I’m going over to Cannes in May to plug it even more.”

“As a kid, did you want to perform or be famous?” I asked. “They’re different.”

Not bad for a young girl from Rochdale

Not bad for a young girl from Rochdale…

“When you first leave drama school,” said Amanda. “you’re all Ooh! I’m going to be famous! but it doesn’t work like that. It’s a lot of hard work and plugging yourself. You gotta do a lot of PR and get your face in as many places as possible. Now I’d rather people come to me and say I really respect you as an actor and as a business person and entrepreneur. I’d rather have that sort of pat on the back than celebrity. Though, of course, if opportunity knocks – Great!”

The 26-minute Titans of Newark movie is viewable online.

Always a pleasure to meet a Fleming.

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Gay American comic would steal babies

Mike Player: the shock of the funny gays revealed in the US

(This was also published on the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)

The 5th annual Outlaugh Comedy Festival – America’s first gay and lesbian comedy festival – is currently being held in Los Angeles and lasts for another two weeks.

Mike Player wrote the book Out on the Edge: America’s Rebel Comics. He created and organises the Outlaugh Festival.

I asked him how and why it started.

“I lost my mind,” he told me, “which is the only way to get anything done in the U.S. At the time, America had no national queer comedy festival and we (the comedians) were all tired of things like Gay Tuesday Night at Mongo’s Steakhouse. We wanted something that actually meant something.”

I have been to Los Angeles but not San Francisco. I think of the West Coast as being fairly laissez-faire and (in the British use of the word) liberal, but Mike tells me is was not easy for gay comedians even eight years ago:

“In 2004, my comedy group, The Gay Mafia, got kicked out of a club in Hollywood. We were doing a sketch where two retired Navy SEALs were getting married. The straight club owner had a brother who had died in Iraq and he said that portraying Navy SEALs as gay was deeply offensive to him and that he would pull the light cords out if we did the sketch. So, naturally, we did the sketch. We sold out the house and he was too busy helping sell drinks at his bar to pull the plug. But he kicked us out afterwards.”

So gay comedy was not totally accepted even eight years ago?

“I can tell you,” Mike says, “that The Gay Mafia, was reviewed by the LA Weekly without them mentioning that anything we did in the show had any gay content or that the show was gay at all. I heard the reviewer only showed up for the free meal.

“But,” Mike admits, “there was no real resistance to the idea of starting a gay comedy festival. No-one resisted except, oddly, the queer TV and film companies, though we conquered them in the end. The place you find the haters hating Outlaugh is on Netflix where they write homophobic reviews of our movie and TV show.”

Because the even more admirable thing – to me – is that Mike managed to get a movie made about the first Outlaugh and then an 8-part TV series The Outlaugh Festival on Wisecrack. I asked him How come?

“I financed the movie with my own money,” he told me, “which is amazing because I didn’t have any money! But it made all its investment back. With the TV show, for once, I was in the right place at the right time. We had Margaret Cho hanging out with The Gay Mafia and everyone in America worships celebrity more than Jesus. All you have to do is spoon cat food onto a dish in a commercial and people will treat you like you captain a spaceship.

“I was on a conference call with the folks at MTV’s LOGO network and Margaret Cho and my production company associates and we all listened in sad horror while a network executive sniveled and begged Margaret to do anything and be on any shows in addition to Outlaugh.”

“During the production of our TV series Outlaugh Festival on Wisecrack, conference calls happened every day with the production company I worked with, myself as the artistic director, the network and what they call ‘listeners’ who are opportunistic network assistants who actually spy on conversations for some network reason – probably to take over the country. LOGO and other networks have to hear a celebrity commit to a project to prevent celebs from backing out. People have to sign agreements and swear on the Bible – or just the parts that don’t condemn gays.

“Just like straight people, though, queer people in entertainment are mostly out for themselves. In TV and film, it’s all about whose project something is, rather than the merit of the project. I had film people and TV ‘suits’ fighting over who should get credit over what, more than how to make the idea of Outlaugh good. I had to make sure Outlaugh was good myself.”

Even today, Mike tells me, gay comedy in the US is not totally acceptable.

“A lot of the comedy clubs out here,” he says, “have ‘gay nights’ on non-weekend nights and many advertise the comedians as Some Gay and Some Not to get people to attend. I think that’s bullshit. Imagine advertising a ‘black comedy night’ with Some Black and Some Not. There is a sentiment which is fading away that ‘gay comedy’ is not accessible to everyone. Again, bullshit.”

In my British Islander ignorance, I think of San Francisco as being more gay and Los Angeles less so, but Mike tells me I am wrong:

“LA is actually gayer,” he says. “There is more gay theatre and comedy going on here than in San Francisco. I think because all the closet cases finally came out and because it’s chic to be gay now. I wish John Travolta would realize that.”

Inbrook, the New York based entertainment company for which I am a UK consultant, is in discussion about bringing Outlaugh to Britain.

Mike says: “I would steal babies for that to happen!”

“But,” I asked him, playing devil’s advocate: “why should the UK have a gay comedy festival? Isn’t that ghetto-ising gays?”

“No,” he argues. “It’s centralizing gays. There are gay film festivals and gay pride festivals and gay political organizations. Comedy is another major art form that we can rally around to tell our stories and assert our outrage.”

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Filed under Comedy, Gay, Television, US