Tag Archives: Madonna

Between the Sheets with Polly Rae, Entrepreneuress of Burlesque…

Polly Rae, entrepreneuress of burlesque

Tomorrow night, burlesque entrepreneur (entrepreneuress?) Polly Rae is fronting the first of seven summer shows called Between The Sheets at the Underbelly’s Spiegeltent on London’s South Bank. It is her fourth year there.

“Why that title?” I asked her.

“Because it’s a show about sex. I am the host and invite everyone into my boudoir to share my fantasies and sensualities.”

“Not a one-woman show?” I asked.

“No. There are eight of us. It’s a variety-cabaret-burlesque show. We perform as an ensemble but they also have individual acts. We have circus performers, male dancers, a clown-comedienne. We’ve been refining this show with various different casts for 4 or 5 years. This is our fourth season here at the Underbelly. The core cast has remained the same.

“The main headliner is an artist called Kitty Bang Bang, a burlesque fire-breather. We call her The bad ass of burlesque, the wild child, the rocker, the whisky drinker, the whip cracker. Lilly SnatchDragon is our hilarious, glamorous clown-comedienne. And we have Beau Rocks. In her act, she explores the more erotic and sensual side of burlesque – a contemporary act with UV lighting and UV paint. Quite a saucy, futuristic act.”

“Burlesque is stripping,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Polly. “It is absolutely stripping, pioneered in 1940s and 1950s America and, obviously, Dita Von Teese has popularised it for this generation. I’ve been doing it for about 12 years.”

“Do your parents have a problem with stripping?”

“If you define the physical act then, yes, of course, it’s stripping. But the context is different from stripping in a gentleman’s club. Burlesque is very much about theatre and old-school Variety. It has the combinations of dance, comedy, singing, dancing and the various skills we use.

“So my parents don’t mind at all; they’re very encouraging and they love it. They come to see my shows… My mum brought me up on Madonna… Madonna in the 1980s!… What kind of influence was that?

Ensemble assemble Between The Sheets

“I like to think this show is quite titillating. I like to think it is quite hot under the collar. But it’s not explicit. If there are any moments that are explicit, we soften it with humour. I think it’s very important to have humour in my shows. You’ve got to balance sexiness with wit.”

“Parents in show business?” I asked.

“Not at all. Really, my influence came from my mother bringing me up on Madonna. My dad was an architect. Being an architect was his profession but, as a hobby, he worked on Gerry Anderson TV programmes as a model maker. He worked on Stingray. One of his main shows was Terrahawks… There was a big spaceship; he designed and made that.”

“But not a performer…” I said.

“I grew up loving performance,” Polly told me, “but I didn’t go to stage school. I originally wanted to be a special effects make-up artist. That was my original dream. My dad and I used to watch horror movies – science fiction alien movies and Freddie Krueger and so on. My dad actually worked on the movie Alien.

“When I was born, he moved back up North to Preston and his movie career was over. He was supposed to go and do the second movie – Aliens – but then my mum got pregnant with me and he chose not to carry on, which I feel a bit guilty about: he might have been in Hollywood now.

“I was a beauty therapist out of school. Then I moved from Preston to London and met lots of performers and that changed my life. At 19 years old, I flew to New Orleans and worked on the cruise ships for a few years, in the Caribbean.”

“As a beautician?” I asked.

Polly Rae – “a culture-building exposure” – reddy for anything

“Yes. But what was great was I got to see performers’ lives. It was such a culture-building exposure, meeting people from all parts of the world. I made friends with a lot of the dancers and singers and started to think: Ah! This is quite interesting!

“I decided I wanted to be a Social Host – like MCs who run the games, host the karaoke or whatever – but I couldn’t get that job because I had no experience. So, long story short, I started training in dance and singing and, around 2005, I met Jo King who runs the London Academy of Burlesque.”

“2005,” I suggested, “is around the time burlesque became respectable? Stripping was seen as sleazy but burlesque was acceptable showbiz.”

“I didn’t know what burlesque was,” replied Polly. “That was in 2005. My first performance as a burlesque artist was 2006.”

“Which was,” I said, “roughly when it started to get profile in the UK.”

“Yes,” said Polly. “Dita Von Teese had started slowly, slowly chipping away at the mainstream in the 1990s but, come the early 2000s, that’s when London cabaret clubs started. Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club had a show called The Whoopee Club. Then there was a show at Cafe de Paris called The Flash Monkey and a show Lady Luck and a venue called Volupté opened.

“I started working at Volupté and at the Soho Revue Bar – formerly the Raymond Revue Bar. I jumped on the bandwagon at the perfect time. I was in there just BEFORE everyone wanted to go and see a burlesque show and I formulated a troupe of girls called The Hurly Burly Girlies.

Polly Rae and her Hurly Burly Girlies troupe went West End

“Being a burlesque artist, you have to have a gimmick and my thing was singing and I had my troupe of girls with me. There were no troupes at that time.”

“What sort of singing?” I asked. “Ethel Merman?”

“More of a pop ’80s route…”

“Madonna…?”

“Exactly! Exactly! And it worked a treat, John! I wanted to try to be different and to appeal to a wider audience. I figured: If my audience knows the music, I’m gonna get a wider crowd. We worked on musical arrangements of modern songs. We made modern songs sound old. And we did pop songs but we dressed vintage.”

“Post Busby Berkeley?”

If you got it, flaunt it!

“Yes, post Busby Berkeley, for sure. I took a lot of inspiration from Dita Von Teese in the beginning and I think her styling is late-1940s/early 1950s. I also did the whole 1950s bump ’n’ grind thing to classic music like Benny Goodman. We just sort-of mixed it all up, really.”

“So,” I said, “You developed this over time.”

“Yes. I met a gentleman called William Baker, who was Kylie Minogue’s artistic director/visual stylist for the last 25 years. I told him I wanted to make the biggest burlesque show the world – or maybe the UK and Europe – had ever seen. I wanted to create the Cirque du Soleil of burlesque shows.

“I thought at the time I just wanted a stylist: someone to help me on my way a little bit and help me improve the production values. But William said: If I’m going to come and work with you, I want to direct it and bring in my entire creative team.

“And so we created The Hurly Burly Show. It started in 2010 at the Leicester Square Theatre, then we did a season the following year at the Garrick Theatre and, the following year, a season at the Duchess Theatre. After that, we did it in Australia and South Africa. We had a good 3 or 4 years of wonderful madness.”

“Cabaret and burlesque,” I said, “are colourful, kitsch, camp and…”

“Exactly,” said Polly. “It’s diverse, it’s innovative, it’s creative and it’s so unbelievably individual. That’s what I especially love about it.”

“So where can you go now?” I asked. “You have peaked.”

“Being on a West End stage was amazing,” said Polly, “and I won’t stop saying it was the most incredible experience of my life. However, as a burlesque/cabaret artist, when you’re in the Garrick Theatre, there are two balconies and you can’t see anything because the spotlight is blinding you and I can’t connect with the audience in the same way.

Between The Sheets – summer shows

“The intimacy in the Spiegeltent is amazing. You can connect with the audience. In Between The Sheets, we are walking in the aisles, physically sitting on people, stealing their drinks. It’s almost immersive. You can see everybody’s face. I can connect.

“It’s not a West End theatre, but I’m much happier in the Spiegeltent. I feel much more at home and stronger as an artist. My goal is I want to see people react, whether I make them laugh, cry, feel turned-on. The satisfaction of seeing that achieved is amazing.”

“If you have the house lights full up, though,” I suggested, “the audience can feel threatened.”

“Yes, you have to get the balance right. It’s not about having lights up; it’s the proximity. And choosing the right people in the audience.”

“So,” I said, “upcoming, you have…?”

Between the Sheets is my summer project and I like to think we might get picked up and do other little tours here and there. But I also have a residency at The Hippodrome every Saturday night. I also manage the dancers there and do some MCing for corporate parties. And I’m getting married next year.”

“Is he is showbusiness?”

“He’s in hospitality. His name is Eric; he’s from the United States; he’s been here for five years.”

“He’s a lucky man,” I told her.

Polly and Eric

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The weekly Grouchy Club Podcast, a pea in a belly button and the man on a train

Copstick and me podcasting from a London sofa

Copstick & me podcasting this afternoon from a comfortable sofa somewhere in London

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our weekly Grouchy Club Podcast today, from a sofa somewhere in London. I failed to introduce it properly because I failed to know what date it is today.

I was feeling vague. I often do. 

This is how the podcast starts:


Copstick
It’s Sunday the 12th of April.

John
Which year?

Copstick
2015

John
Are we sure about this?

Copstick
Yes, I’m absolutely sure about this.

John
Even in the Jewish calendar that Lewis Schaffer follows?

Copstick
Not at all in the Jewish calendar, because we’re not going by the Jewish calendar and we are not mentioning Lewis Schaffer.

John
But we just have – twice.

Copstick
No! The fact that you just drop his name in doesn’t count on some spurious…

John
It wasn’t spurious. He’s Jewish and…

Copstick
It was spurious.

John
… he’s got a calendar.

Copstick
There’s no need to bring Judaism into it this early in the podcast.

John
It’s not Judaism. It’s Lewis Schaffer.

Copstick
You’re just saying it again.

John (thinking aloud)
Jewish Schaffer.

Copstick
You’re just doing this to win a bet. You’re not allowed to talk about him any more. I did go on Facebook and ask people to suggest things that are non-him-related that we could talk about and nobody apart from Pope – how do you pronounce his second name?

John & Copstick (in unison)
Lonergan

Copstick
Pope Lonergan suggested…

John
Pope Lonergan the Second…

Copstick
… either Jabontinsky, who was a dreadful revisionist Zionist chap who wanted a Jewish state on both sides – quote “both sides” – of the Jordan. And his alternative to that was James Joyce. I don’t like James Joyce. I battled my way through his works when I was in school. I like more punctuation than James Joyce puts in his novels.

John (to the recording device)
So… Welcome to the Grouchy Club podcast which is about comedy.

Copstick
Generally speaking.

John
… and Lewis Schaffer.

Copstick
No it’s not! And just saying the name doesn’t win you the bet. I want to talk – well, not really, but I’m grasping at straws here…

John
You always want to talk.

Copstick
Did you see…

John
No.

Copstick
Did you see the Madonna?

John
I did.

Copstick
Stand-up.

John
I did.

Copstick
What did you think?


We continued for another 38 minutes covering, among other things:

music star Madonna as a stand-up comedian, the Edinburgh Fringe, Trevor Noah, Reggie Watts, Canadian comedians, Abnormally Funny People, Tanya Lee Davis, the Malcolm Hardee Awards, Liz Carr, more James Joyce, comics who are funny off-stage, Martha McBrier, Janey Godley, Glasgow humour, non-funny humour, the TV series Scotch and Wry, Rikki Fulton, Scottish and Scandinavian humour, Norman Lovett, Stewart Lee, BBC TV comedy commissioning, Michael McIntyre, Tony Blair, God, Kenya, al-Shabaab, the Islamic State, Sara Mason’s new show title, Bob Slayer’s Heroes venues and Italian comics…

Pea found two days after a failed belly dance

Pea found two days after a failed belly dance

And Lewis Schaffer.

And the pea I found in the bath, which I think had been in my belly-button for two days after a sadly short and failed attempt at belly-dancing. The origin of the pea remains fundamentally uncertain but, with limited clues, this is the best solution I can come up with.

Plus Copstick’s offer to stage free London shows in a 45-50-seater space for comedians who want to preview their Edinburgh Fringe (or other) shows between mid-May and August this year.

A true Socialist with commendably groomed hands

A committed Socialist with excellent hands

I then went home on the train and sat opposite a man wearing a lot of badges who was reading the Weekly Worker socialist newspaper. His hands did not look like a man who had done much manual labour.

I am only saying. I may well have seriously miscalculated and misjudged his endeavours and experience. I am sure he is very nice. And certainly caring.

Now I think I am going to a very early bed. I feel quite exhausted.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Podcasts

How to get publicity and become an award-winning comedian. With sex.

Chris Dangerfield – award winning comedian

I arranged to meet Chris Dangerfield yesterday on a street corner in Soho, London’s central sex district.

It was his idea and it seemed appropriate for a man who performed his Sex Tourist show at the recent Edinburgh Fringe and who almost won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for getting his flyers sponsored by an Edinburgh ‘escort agency’ – punters got 10% off the agency’s ‘services’ if they produced one of Chris’ Sex Tourist flyers.

We went to a Vietnamese restaurant in Soho. Chris knows the people who own it. He lives in Soho. We had prawn salad. The restaurant owner told us someone from the prestigious and very up-market Ivy restaurant had come and asked for the recipe to the seriously delicious prawn salad and they had given the person the recipe, but missed out one vital ingredient.

Chris told me: “My brother’s name is Torren. He was named after the Torrey Canyon oil tanker, which ran aground in 1967. My parents were going to call me Cadiz – after the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker which ran aground in 1978. But the surname Dangerfield is a Romany name and they didn’t call me Cadiz because they decided ‘Cadiz Dangerfield’ would be too gypsy. So they called me Christopher. I think I would have been better off with Cadiz.

“Having lost the Cunning Stunt to a higher bidder this year,” Chris continued, “obviously I am very very bitter. I should’ve known to just stump up some cash. I’ll find some way of paying for it next year.”

“But almost everyone can say they’re an award winner,” I suggested. “When I was eleven, I won an award for handwriting. In 2010, Fringe Report gave me an award as ‘Best Awards Founder’ – so I got an award for awarding awards.”

“Well,” said Chris, “I got the 1989 Downs Comprehensive School Prize for Painting and Drawing.”

“So you’re an award-winner,” I said. “and therefore you can justifiably put on your posters and flyers that you are an award-winning comedian. I won a school prize for handwriting, so even more justifiably, I could bill myself as an award-winning writer. In fact, I may well start doing that.”

“I self-published a novel when I was 24,” revealed Chris, “and i-D magazine – cool in its day – referred to it as ‘genius’… They said This slight volume’s genius warms…

“What was the novel called?” I asked.

Tired etc,” shrugged Chris. “It was a rubbish novel about a couple of blokes who grew a lot of skunk and took a lot of speed. Autobiographical obviously. It was a vanity project, but it sold a lot and got a lovely review. i-D called it ‘genius’ so I have sometimes put on posters for my comedy gigs ‘Genius (i-D)’ because I think I am, really. Essentially.”

“You know the Jason Wood story, do you?” I asked. “Kate Copstick gave his Edinburgh Fringe show a one-star review in The Scotsman so, the next day, on all his posters, he had emblazoned ‘A STAR (The Scotsman)’. Copstick told me she was filled with admiration and wanted to give him extra stars just for that.”

Chris laughed. “This year,” he said, “Marie Claire magazine did Ten Top Tips to get the most out of the Fringe written by someone called Anna Saunders and, just in passing, she said I will not be attending Chris Dangerfield’s show ‘Sex Tourist’. That was it. That was all she said. But I actually thanked her for that. I said In your how-to-get-thin-and-fuck-men rag… I don’t really want any of those people in my show anyway. I offered to do Sex Tourist in her front room for free. She hasn’t got back to me.”

“Good publicity idea,” I said.

“But I would do the show in her front room,” insisted Chris. “I toured with Trevor Lock last year, performing in living rooms. We done 45 paid shows in people’s front rooms. It was the most amazing tour. We were doing two a week. We done Sadie Frost’s living room, which was bigger than a lot of venues I’ve done. We also done three women in Bath.”

“Did you advertise for people who wanted comedy shows in their living rooms?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Chris, “Trevor had a slightly bigger profile than I had – he just put it on Facebook and Twitter and, when we got booked by Sadie Frost, Kate Moss came so there was a bit of publicity around that and Boy George booked us, so that helped.

“There was one couple who lived in a house that used to belong to Madonna or Guy Ritchie up in Lancaster Gate and they were very, very posh so it was funny telling them whore stories. Halfway through my set, one woman very quietly said: You should be in a cage. Which was alright. That was fine. She’s probably right.

“We spent so long in people’s toilets on that tour,” said Chris. “Because there’s no Green Room in people’s houses. So, while they’re all shuffling chairs round in their front room and drinking vodka, where do you prepare? In the toilet. I have a selection of photographs of Trevor in people’s toilets and he’s always having a poo. Pre-match nerves from Trevor. I’ve actually had a pee between his legs while he had a poo. It was a tour of living rooms where our relationship blossomed in toilets. We were cottaging, essentially.”

“You told me Trevor Lock had been one of your comedy heroes,” I said.

“I don’t like to do that Who inspired you? business, but Doug Stanhope is up there, who I also stalk. He occasionally asks if he can stay in my lovely Soho flat when he’s performing at Leicester Square. I tell him No, because I don’t want you puking in my hand-made shoes.

“But Trevor was a comedy hero of mine. We ended up at a gig together and I was just blown away. I absolutely was. I think he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. A friend of mine used to work with Paul Foot and told me I’ve got that Trevor Lock’s phone number so I said Well, do the wrong thing and give it to me so he did.

“I remember I came out of this Chinese massage shop – and, by massage shop, I mean brothel – and I had a spring in my step and I texted Trevor. I was in such a good mood I said: You don’t know me, but I’ve been watching a lot of your gigs and I’ve just had my balls milked by a Chinese woman and what seemed to be her daughter.

“And he texted back… I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was a fear-based response. He had constructed a sentence in which he obviously wished in no way to provoke or encourage me to contact him ever again.

“Then I saw him at a couple of more gigs and let him know that was me who had sent the text.”

“So at what point after you became chums,” I asked, “did he realise that his first fear-based reaction towards you had actually been the correct one?”

“Every time we get together to this day.” said Chris. “But he helped turn me from an open mic comedian into someone who felt he could offer a bit more. He just taught me how to be a comedian.”

“And you ended up last year playing rich people’s living rooms together,” I said.

“Not all of them were rich,” Chris corrected me. “Some people who booked us were students who’d sold tickets. So we’d go from these lovely posh houses in Lancaster Gate and Primrose Hill one day to a house the next day in Southampton where we’d be performing in some students’ kitchen which, as everyone knows, is always an unpleasant place and you’ve got a smelly bin next to you and a sink full of beer cans. It was an amazing tour.”

“I’m amazed you didn’t get the Cunning Stunt Award,” I said.

“For so many things,” said Chris with a trace of bitterness.

“A career award, maybe?” I suggested.

“I’m going to be like that bloke who left The Beatles,” said Chris.

“Stuart Sutcliffe?” I suggested.

“Pete Best,” said Chris. “Stuart Sutcliffe died. Well, I will die too.”

“As a career move?” I asked.

“Dying?” asked Chris. “No, as a Cunning Stunt. Some people with heart attacks came close to getting nominated this year, didn’t they?”

“Yes they did,” I agreed.

“Every day in my Fringe show,” Chris told me, “about 36 minutes in, after a particularly violent re-enactment of something lustful and unholy, I thought I was going to die. Every day. Actual pains in my heart. So I nearly did die.”

“Perhaps it was God trying to strike you down for your lifestyle,” I suggested.

“There’s always next year,” said Chris.

“Dying young-ish is a good career move,” I said. “The Jim Morrison factor.”

“But he didn’t die on stage,” said Chris. “Now, Tommy Cooper…”

“Yes,” I said, “Tommy Cooper out-shone Eric Morecambe in death. In life, Eric was a bigger star. But he only died offstage in the wings after he had performed a show. Tommy Cooper had a better death because he died on stage on live television.”

“So what are my options?” asked Chris. “One died on stage. One died coming off stage. So all that’s left is to walk on stage and die immediately.”

“I’m sure you’ve done that before,” I said.

Chris laughed

It seems a churlish way to end a blog.

But Chris said I should do it.

Honest.

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