Tag Archives: magician

At the Edinburgh Fringe, physical attacks on comedians and on a critic

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to comedy magician David Don’t.

Her Edinburgh Fringe show Charmian Hughes: Odd One In includes tales of kissing disgraced government minister Chris Huhn. It is part of the PBH Free Fringe.

David’s show David Don’t: The Delusionist (unbilled in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme) is one of Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe shows within the Laughing Horse Free Festival – whom PBH of the Free Fringe sees as bitter competitors.

I met Charmian and David at the Pleasance Dome shortly after she had collected him at Waverley station, off a train from London.

It is David’s first Fringe and he is only performing for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week – at Bob’s Bookshop. He was also keen to promote his new website.

“It’s been put together,” he told me, “by the fantastic new web designer (and comedian) Harriet Bowden…”

“She’s not called that any more,” said Charmian.

“Oh no,” said David, “she’s Lyndon Grady.”

“She’s designed me a new website too,” added Charmian. “Harriet went to a numerologist, who told her great success would only come by changing her name. So she has changed her name to Lyndon Grady. Isn’t that the name of the person who married Catherine Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or was that Lytton Strachey? Anyway, everyone loves magic, except for me. A magician says what he’s going to do – like a dustman says what he’s going to do – and does it. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

“Except,” I pointed out, “that, when David says he’s going to do a trick, it often doesn’t work.”

“I never set out to fail,” said David Don’t.

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

“I almost lost David once, through his magic,” Charmian continued. “It was when he was doing escapology from a postman’s sack at Pull The Other One. He was handcuffed and tied up in the bag and was failing to get out. One of the people in the audience said: Let’s put him on a bus.

“I don’t do magic at home any more,” David told me. “Charmian looks at me and doesn’t ask How did you do that? She asks Why did you do that? I think she’d rather find me wanking off to a porn mag than playing with a pack of cards. I don’t leave packs of cards round the house any more.”

“But do you lea…” I started to ask.

“Don’t go there…” said Charmian. “Barry Lyndon… That’s who I was thinking of. Have you noticed that Sean Hughes’ Edinburgh show is called Penguins but there is no image of a penguin on his poster? And I am Charmian Hughes. There is no penguin in my show title, but I have a picture of a penguin on my poster. That’s not planned. It’s a random serendipity of the universe.”

“When do the actual penguins arrive for your show?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” replied Charmian.

“And on Wednesday,” I said, “Andy Zapp and Ivor Dembina have a gorilla arriving to appear in their show for the rest of their run. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“No,” said Charmian.

My secret view revealed

Non-secret launch party for book last night

Then the three of us went off to the launch of the new Secret Edinburgh book (my non-humorous piece is on page 179) at Bob’s Bookshop.

On my third day here, I saw Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show and the two performers in it asked me not to name them in my resultant blog. So I did not.

They were Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose – the comedy double act Ellis & Rose.

The reason I can name them now is that other, arguably less amiable, sources have.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show has currently received three 1-star reviews and one 3-star review.

“We feel that the 3-star review in The Skinny has ruined it,” Richard Rose told me outside Bob’s Bookshop last night. “That 3-star review is getting in the way of us doing one of the Shit of The Fringe competitions. We might ignore the 3-stars.”

The 1-star reviews came from Broadway Baby, London Is Funny and the Chortle website with Three Weeks still to publish its review.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

STAR Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

“We fear it might be more than one star,” Gareth Ellis told me.

“As well as Jimmy Savile,” I said, “I saw your own show at The Hive and it was all over the place, but I thought you were both TV presenter material. Very loveable and amiable and jolly; just no linear script.”

“There IS a script,” said Richard. “This is what irritates us slightly. It’s all written down and we play around with it.”

“But not a linear script,” I suggested.

“That’s not what we do,” argued Richard. “We’re fun and, today, we had a cracking show, but this heckler blundered into the room in the last five minutes.”

“He stumbled in and sat down at the back of the room,” explained Gareth. “He had a bottle of vodka in his hand – a big one – and it was half empty and he just shouted out: Yer mum!

Yer mum!” agreed Richard, “and I said Sir, it seems like an odd time, about three minutes before the end, to start heckling and that got a laugh. And then it came to the point in our show where Gareth says I’m feeling sexy! and the guy shouted out You’re not sexy – You’re shit! and Gareth just exploded… in character.”

Ellis (left) & Rose walk the Edinburgh streets alone last night

Ellis (left) & Rose walk Edinburgh’s mean streets last night

Gareth said: “I told him You will feel the wrath of my sex! and slammed a chair down on the floor.”

“And you started humping the chair,” said Richard. “And people were applauding. People loved it.”

“He kept going on and I kept putting him down,” said Gareth. “And then the show finished, we got changed, went outside and the heckler was waiting for us. He said: You’re them two cunts who do that Savile thing! and took a swing at me. I managed to dodge it and he managed to land a slap on Richard and then we legged it.”

“For about two hours afterwards, it was really funny,” said Richard. “Fucking hell! I can’t believe we provoked that much reaction! But then it seemed to be less funny and we were quite shaken and now we’re just befuddled and a bit drunk.”

Two minutes after talking to Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, I was inside Bob’s Bookshop, talking to Scotsman newspaper reporter and reviewer Claire Smith.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

“A couple of nights ago,” she told me, “I was walking home and I was very, very tired. I went to Tesco to buy some avocados and there were a whole load of guys running round from one side of the road to the other on Great Junction Street in Leith, throwing eggs at people’s houses, trying to hit the windows.

“Then one of them ran along behind me and whacked me really hard on the back of my head with his hand. So I’ve got this huge bump on the back of my head and I have concussion.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” I asked.

“No,” Claire told me, “I went to see Bob Slayer. “I needed medical advice and I thought Bob’s an ex-jockey who’s fallen off loads of horses. So, in between seeing shows, I thought I’d pop in and see what he said. He’s got a very calm, helpful side to him. It’s ‘Quiet Bob’ and I sometimes pop in hoping to catch Quiet Bob. I really like Quiet Bob.

“It was just before his own show started; he was dealing with a load of Phil Kay’s books which had just arrived; and there were all sorts of admin things going on to do with the bar at Bob’s Bookshop. But, when I told him what had happened, he sat down and chatted to me about it, which was very sweet. But what happened after I got hit was…”

“You went down?” I asked.

“No,” said Claire, “which is strange, because I fall over all the time. I just didn’t fall over when someone tried to make me fall over.

“I shouted something – I don’t know – You’re an arsehole! Fuck off! What are you doing? – they were across the street now, a big gang of them. And then this huge guy came and stood next to me. He was like a knight in shining armour.

Stuart - Claire’s knight in shining armour

Stuart – knight in shining armour

“He started speaking really slowly and really quietly and it was frightening because the gang of guys carried on shouting and they followed us for a bit.

“The big guy told me My bus isn’t for half an hour, so I’m going to walk you home and he walked me round the corner and then they started throwing eggs after us which were hitting the wall beside us and hitting the pavement in front of us.

“The big guy said to me: If they catch us, just run away. He said: You might need a brandy. So we went to a pub and I asked What do you do for a living? and he said I’m the most hated person in Edinburgh.

What do you mean? I asked.

I’m a traffic warden, he told me.

“He’s an ex-Army guy called Stuart. He had been shot twice – in Kosovo and somewhere else. He showed me his bullet holes in the pub.”

“Where were they?” I asked.

“They were both in his back,” Claire told me. “It was odd. Because Matt Price is staying at my house during the Fringe and I was thinking This is the sort of thing that happens to Matt. We have been invaded by the story-telling gods.”

Lewis Schaffer consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

As I left the Secret Edinburgh book launch at Bob’s Bookshop, I picked up one of the daily Broadway Baby review sheets with, on the front, a review of actor Brian Blessed’s one-man show Shout: The Life of Brian.

Oh, I didn’t know he was doing a show, I thought to myself.

On my way home, at around 1.30am in the morning, I bumped into Arthur Smith in a kebab shop.

He is guest on the first of my Edinburgh Fringe chat shows next Monday. The show finishes at 4.30pm and, at 5.00pm, Arthur is getting on a train back to London. The audience will be invited to accompany him to Waverley station.

“Are you still doing my chat show next Monday?” I asked him. It is always worth checking everything in Edinburgh.

“Of course,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to people waving me off at the station.”

When I got back to my flat, I found a series of Tweets:

Broadway Baby - send in the cunning comedy clones

Broadway Baby – send in the cunning stunt clones

Broadway Baby ‏- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This isn’t us folks. Someone’s copying BB! pic.twitter.com/YWPV32QCJK

Sean Brightman ‏- That is very funny.

Broadway Baby ‏- We are bemused and baffled by the effort someone’s put into this!

Sean Brightman – Well, the clue may be in the reviews methinks. And if it is who I think it is, he should win an award.

Broadway Baby – Best publicity stunt this year? Writing your own audience reviews happens. Printing an entire edition? That’s a first!

Sean Brightman – Yep, it should be in the running for a @thejohnfleming Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt award.

I looked up the Fringe Programme to check if Brian Blessed really was performing a show called Shout: The Life of Brian. It was not in the Fringe Programme. According to the Broadway Baby review, it was supposedly being performed at the Underbelly’s DistendedBelly venue.

Then I read the rave review on the sheet of Barry Fearn’s show Barry on Arthur’s Seat – 6 stars – “A phenomenal show. Better than life itself” – and went to bed.

Reality, fantasy, a few laughs and occasional random violence.

Welcome to the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

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The real truth about UK magician Paul Zenon’s plot to kidnap David Blaine using scantily-clad girls and sausages

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Sporting my new Berlusconi style yesterday

Sporting my sexy new Silvio Berlusconi hairstyle yesterday

In my blog yesterday morning, I wrote about the tragedy of my forehead and slaphead – both burned at the World Egg Throwing Championships last Sunday and, by yesterday, flaking skin like a politician sheds promises after an election.

Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend decided she had the cure and covered the top of my head with Rhassoul Mud.

This remained on my head, slowly drying for an hour, so I looked like I shared Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi’s dodgy hairstyle.

And it had no effect.

My skin is still flaking.

While my head was still caking, I received an e-mail from ace UK magician Paul Zenon, who appeared in last year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. (Useful tip No 217: If you have a daily blog, relentlessly plug your own product.)

Janey Godley was under David Blaine in 2003

Janey Godley under David Blaine in 2003

In my blog three days ago, I mentioned that Malcolm Hardee had abandoned the idea of a stunt linked to American entertainer David Blaine‘s ‘sittting in a glass box suspended by the River Thames for days on end’ stunt.

I wrote that Malcolm lost interest after several plans fell through and the final nail-in-the-coffin was when “an intrepid British magician whom Malcolm knew (not Jerry Sadowitz) phoned him up wanting to borrow Malcolm’s boat because he wanted to kidnap Blaine (financed by a national paper) on 28th September 2003”

This detail – like a few of Malcolm’s other stories (but not the ones in his autobiography) – appears to have grown in the telling.

The UK magician I did not name three days ago was Paul Zenon and, when I asked him about the 2003 David Blaine kidnap plot yesterday, he told me:

“That wasn’t quite the plan. Originally, I was going to borrow Malcolm’s boat and hire in some giant inflatable (bouncy castle-style) food – burgers, sausage and chips, etc.

Paul in 2003 thinking outside the box

Paul Z in 2003 – thinking outside the box

“Then I was going to moor as close as we could get to David Blaine’s box, with me sat on a toilet in the middle of it, reading a newspaper – and with a scantily-clad girl band playing live.

“In other words, we would remind David Blaine of all the stuff he was abstaining from with his vainglorious stunt. We had interest from an alcohol company and a newspaper for sponsorship but sadly neither bit.”

Oh well… It’s still a good story.

When in doubt, I always say print the legend.

You read it first here.

THERE WAS A 2003 PLOT TO KIDNAP DAVID BLAINE USING SCANTILY-CLAD GIRLS AND SAUSAGES…

It may not be true. But it brightens up Britain without hurting anyone or risking sunburn.

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Comedian Roy Hudd and John Major on music halls and a dead magician

John Major’s fond memories of his father

Last night I dreamt that I got on a train in Manchester and over-shot the station I intended to get off at. The train went on to Blackpool and then to southern Ireland. I had trouble getting on a train back to Manchester.

I also dreamt that comedian Roy Hudd interviewed former Prime Minister John Major about the history of British music halls in a crowded London basement room and we all laughed a lot and ended up singing I’m Henerey the Eighth I Am and If You Were The Only Girl in the World.

Except that last bit was not a dream. It happened for real. John Major really was chatting to Roy Hudd at Soho Theatre, to plug My Old Man his book about his father. Older readers will remember that John Major’s father ended up selling gnomes in South London.

You could not dream it up. Prime Minister John Major’s father Tom Major was a Music Hall performer.

British Music Halls started as singing rooms at the back of pubs, which developed in London into saloon theatres in the pleasure gardens and then into ‘song and supper clubs’ including The Cyder Cellar, The Coal Hole and Evans’ Late Joys. Then Charles Morton opened the Canterbury theatre on Lambeth Marshes as a venue dedicated to music hall and this began to attract a female audience which no-one had done before. And that was when Music Hall really started to grow and grow.

“Usually,” said Roy Hudd last night, “the guy who owned the pub was the chairman, to keep an eye on all the drinks. And people always imagine that, when the chairman banged his gavel and shouted out Order! Order! he was doing the same job as the Speaker in the House of Commons – trying to control a drunken mob. But the original shout-out of Order! Order! was an instruction to the audience to order another round of drinks.”

“Yes and, in the very early days,” John Major explained, “the artists actually got paid dependant on how much alcohol was ordered while they were performing. If you drove them to drink, you became rich.”

Tom Major, his father, was a middle-of-the-bill performer. He never became a star.

“It was his life,” John Major explained last night. “and, when he was dying, lots of people came to see him who had worked with him fifty or sixty years before. None of them had been hugely successful. People say politics is a tough profession, I think showbusiness is tougher and lots of these people, even in their elderly, ailing condition, their minds went back to moments when they were on the stage and those were the highlights of their lives.

“They were pretty shabbily dressed – prosperity, if it had ever known them, had passed on pretty quickly. I remember sitting by the bed one afternoon when they argued who had the best chorus songs – Florrie Forde or Harry Champion. A draw was declared when the whisky ran out.

“There was very little money in it for most people. Certainly not before 1907 when the Variety Artistes’ Federation was formed. My father was actually one of the founder members. There was a great meeting and my dad and (his wife) Kitty were numbers 97 and 98 who signed up on the first evening.”

Roy Hudd interrupted: “I was involved with the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund at one time and Brinsworth House, a residential home for the old pros.”

“My half brother died in Brinsworth House,” said John Major.

“People used to come to us,” said Roy Hudd, “who needed help and people on the committee would say What does she need help for? She never stopped working. 52 weeks a year and she never stopped working! But we had one or two very old producers on the committee who would say: She never stopped working, but she never earned more than £2 a week! There was no pension scheme or anything like that back then. They worked hard, but they never got a lot of reward for it.”

“You didn’t, unless you were at the top,” agreed John Major.

“The great George Leybourne,” said Roy Hudd, “the man who sang Champagne Charlie, in the 1860s, was earning £160 a week. What would that be worth today? You could buy a house then for £15.”

“And,” added John Major, “not only was he paid £160 a week, but he was given free champagne all the time because he was advertising it – Moët & Chandon – and he died penniless at 41. He had lots of ‘friends’ and, as the money began to disappear, the friends disappeared and, bitter and disillusioned, he died at 41 absolutely penniless. The money just ran through his hands. He would have made a very good Chancellor in a recent government.

“Most of the acts,” he continued, “would appear at three, four, five, sometimes six theatres a night. They’d be on the stage in a warm theatre, then go out into the cold air, get into another warm theatre and repeat that several times per night. So they were open to all sorts of colds, coughs, diseases and problems. Some of them lived to an old age. But it was a minority.”

“Well,” said Roy Hudd, “Charles Coborn, whose big hit was Two Lovely Black Eyes, lived to over 90 and, late in life, he was at the funeral of one of his mates and Tommy Trinder was there. Tommy asked him How old are you now then, Charlie? He said I’m 88. And Tommy said Blimey, it’s hardly worth you going home!

“If you were at the top,” said John Major, “you could command a very good fee but, once they’d got their one or two headliners, everybody else below was interchangeable with a dozen other people. So they could be offered very low wages and usually were and, if they didn’t take them, then they simply didn’t get employed. So they lived on the hope they were suddenly going to make it. It was a very harsh, tough business right the way through the Victorian era until the strike of 1907, when things began to get better. They were remarkable people to have lived through that and loved performing so much that they continued to do so.

“One magician, The Great Layafette, used to have a sign above his door: The more I see Man, the more I love my dog. And he was buried with his dog. He died in a fire in a theatre. They found the body and they were going to bury him when they realised it was not The Great Lafayette – it was his body double for a trick. So, in a further part of the rubble, they found his body, which they then buried with his dog in a cemetery in Edinburgh.

“There were some amazing acts – Prago the Missing Link, Felix the Talking Duck, Bessie Squelch and Her Big Brass Six. And there were some amazing magicians. There was a guy called Washington Bishop who was a fraud as an illusionist. He was always getting into trouble. He was sued at one stage and fled the country for a while because he owed £10,000 he couldn’t pay. His will specified that his body could be used for science. So, when he died, the doctors grabbed his body and it was dismantled. The next day, his mother turned up and said: But he wasn’t dead! He’s always had these fits. I think these doctors should be arrested for murder!

“The doctors were horrified. There was a great fuss and eventually they brought back the pieces – they found his brain in his chest cavity – and there was another autopsy and eventually the doctors got away with it because it turned out that the mother was as big a fruitcake as the son.”

Showbusiness does not change.

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Jewish comedian Jerry Sadowitz and the Palestinian refugee camps myth

A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from someone saying: “I disagree violently with some of the things you say on your blog, but I usually find it interesting – which is a partial definition of a good blog I suppose.”

I guess so.

A problem arises when there is nothing overwhelmingly interesting to blog about.

Last night, I was at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s always bizarre Pull The Other One comedy club in Peckham. This time, one of the acts was a  genuine local choir of 25 people who trooped on stage but did not sing.

In the audience was comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly.

He told me that, many years ago, when the world was young – well, 1990 – he owned a new-fangled video recorder which included, unusually for the time, single frame advance.

He recorded an episode of the Channel 4 series The Other Side of Jerry Sadowitz in which Jerry, best-known for his controversially offensive stand-up comedy, showed his equally extraordinary skill as a close-up magician. One particular trick Jerry performed was one that Mark Kelly knew about.

Mark knew how the trick was done.

He used the single fame advance on his video recorder to watch it in detail…

“And I still could not see the point at which Jerry pulled the trick,” Mark told me. “I looked at every single frame and I just could not see it. Jerry is that good.”

He is, indeed.

But that is not really enough for a blog.

Saying nice things about people is not good copy.

It is far more interesting to annoy people – which is why I occasionally mention my professional admiration for the late comedian Bernard Manning.

It always gets knee-jerk reactions of annoyance, mostly from people who never saw him perform live.

As ever-reliable Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being noticed is not being noticed.”

I can but try.

I looked back at what was in my e-diary ten years ago, on 26th November 2001.

I wrote this to a friend:

_____

There’s a load of bollocks talked about the number of Palestinian refugees in camps. The host Arab countries (like Lebanon) tend to bar them from getting proper jobs and living freely where they like, so as to maintain them as an aggrieved, definable entity living in poverty in ghetto-like enclaves which are called ‘camps’ but aren’t at all.

I have walked down the Airport Road in Beirut and seen the Shatila so-called refugee camp where there was a massacre in 1982.

It is not a camp; it is just another brick and stone built part of Beirut with normal houses. It is like saying Golders Green in London is a Jewish refugee camp.

The Palestinian refugees would have been assimilated within any other host countries decades ago without this intentional ghettoising of them by the other Arab countries they fled to. 

Some of these Palestinians have been ‘refugees’ since 1948. It really is like saying the Jews who fled from Hitler to Golders Green are ‘refugees’. They WERE refugees in 1936 or 1939, but not now.

It is pushing it a bit to say someone who was born in Lebanon, whose parents and possibly grandparents were born in Lebanon is actually a citizen of Bethlehem (or wherever).

It is a complicated problem, because the people in Lebanon continue to be Palestinians like the Jews in Golders Green continue to be Jews… but being Jewish is an ethnicity and a religion, not a nationality. Are you an Indian although you were born and brought up in Liverpool? I would say you are British of Indian origin but you ain’t an Indian any more than I’m a Fleming from Flanders. 

If, however, you and your parents had only been allowed to live in one small area within Southall which contained nothing but ex-pat Indians and you were not allowed to work normally and  integrate within the British social or economic system then, of course, it might be another matter. 

I blame the neighbouring Arab countries equally with Israel for the problem. The Arab countries have just used the so-called refugees over the decades as political pawns. 

_____

I wrote that to a friend in 2001. If I had had a blog then, I would have blogged it.

There are still alleged Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries.

I blog it now to try to cause random offence.

Though, in causing offence, I am but a lowly beginner at the feet of  Jerry Sadowitz, brilliant magician but also still astonishingly offensive comedian.

It is good to try to cause offence but credit where credit is due.

****

Jewish American comedian Lewis Schaffer’s reaction to this blog was quoted in my blog the following day.

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Filed under Comedy, Israel, Lebanon, Magic, Middle East, Palestine, Politics

If Bernard Manning had told these Jerry Sadowitz jokes, he might have been arrested – with good reason

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

The comedian Jerry Sadowitz’s schtick is that he is highly offensive.

Last night, I saw his full-length stage show for the first time in a few years. The latest show is called Jerry Sadowitz: Comedian, Magician, Psychopath which, I think, pretty much covers all the angles – though it did not demonstrate any of the sheer genius of his actual magic act. He is a world class magician.

I have blogged before about Jerry’s early comedy career in the 1980s, how he was managed by the late Malcolm Hardee and how I produced a TV show in 1990 in which Jerry did not swear.

When I produced that show, Jerry spotted two lesbians in the audience (do not ask) and zeroed-in on them for particular comic attention. After the show, they were outraged and complained. Jerry was genuinely perplexed.

“They are just jokes,” he said, nonplussed.

My attitude was that, if you knowingly go to a Jerry Sadowitz show, you cannot complain afterwards about being offended. It is a bit like letting your small child watch Doctor Who and then complaining afterwards that he or she shat behind the sofa with fear.

That is almost the show’s raison d’être.

Doctor Who can sometimes scare the shit out of children.

Jerry Sadowitz’s comedy show is highly offensive.

The only reason to complain would be if Jerry were NOT offensive.

It was good to see last night that he can still go beyond highly offensive. All other so-called offensive comedians pale into insignificance compared to him. They are like a little pile of sugar four inches high in comparison to the Himalayas.

The two things which struck me last night were that he seems to be talking more about death than he used to. No surprise there, I guess. He is older. And, in among the bile and vitriol spewed at almost every target under the sun, there is an occasional unspeakable truth spoken.

I find it is always good for my blog to mention the late ‘old school’ comedian Bernard Manning because it annoys people. It is like saying “mint sauce” to a lamb.

If Bernard Manning had told almost any of the jokes Jerry told last night, people would have been even more outraged than the people who are currently retrospectively outraged by Manning’s live act although most of them never saw it.

If any other comic had told some of the jokes Jerry told last night, I think there is a high possibility he would risk being arrested.

And not without reason. Some of the Muslim jokes were so close to stirring racial hatred that there could be a nice philosophical discussion on where the line lies. Though, interestingly, some of the jokes were so unsettling because they said out loud some normally unsayable truths.

If comedy, like trouble, can be said to brew, Bernard Manning told comparatively mild gags. With Jerry, motormouthing for well over an hour at about three times the speed of any other comic, the gags are more bitter.

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Filed under Comedy, Racism

Bandages and zumba at the surrealist comedian’s ping-pong birthday party

Yesterday afternoon, I went to surrealist comedian Martin Soan’s birthday party, one of those rare occasions when people playing ping-pong outside in the rain seems perfectly normal. As did Martin’s unique method of extinguishing the single large candle on his birthday cake; something I can only describe as a reverse banger-up-the-bum routine but done in the best possible taste.

Note my careful use of the word ‘possible’.

Martin was still aglow at being the new honorary Malcolm Hardee Memorial Mime champion having seen off a cheeky challenge from a French mime artist during the recent Royal Festival Hall At Last The 1981 Show shindig. That performance did involve all his clothing being blown off by a giant wind machine and Martin seems never happier than ending up on stage naked. Yesterday, though, he remained disappointingly clothed.

It was an interesting party in other unexpected ways, with larger-than-life Bob Slayer (one-time jockey and manager of Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock one of whom got killed by a fish in the infamous Killer Bitch movie), in co-charge of the barbecue. Bob told me that he was considering putting on rock bands at future Edinburgh Fringes. Not any old run-of-the-mill rock bands, but visually unusual rock bands. I am surprised no-one has done this before, as it does seem in the spirit of the Fringe and would appeal to the same audiences.

Bouncing ball of jollity Charmian Hughes had to leave the party early to go to a Zumba class – she intends to develop the already odd sand dance in her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments in unexpected ways by incorporating Zumba and traditional Indian dance moves into the traditional Wilson, Keppel and Betty style routine.

“It will probably look much the same as it was before,” she told me with a raised eyebrow and then showed me some of her ballet moves.

Charmian’s ever-dapper magician husband David Don’t was dressed in something not dissimilar to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor Who costume. His magic sometimes doesn’t work, which makes it all the more entertaining. Yesterday, both of his hands and one leg/knee were swathed in heavy bandages. The last time I saw him perform, his act included a sharp spike under one of several up-ended polystyrene cups and David slamming his hand down onto the cups. There was also a legendary occasion, at which I was not present, when a spectacular act of his accidentally caught fire. And let’s not ever again mention the human dartboard with real darts and blindfolded dart-throwers.

I did not ask David for details about his bandages yesterday. I felt it might intrude on private, if comedic, grief.

I feel I have failed you in factual blogging, dear reader.

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“My name is Ozymandias, comic of comics”… maybe

I will need incontinence pads soon.

I thought I’d blogged somewhere before about my theory that most comedians are a combination of masochist and psychopath… and then I thought maybe I hadn’t. And then I was sure I had, but I couldn’t find it. And then I did here. Clearly my memory is going. Not that it was ever very good. I’m sure this Coalition Attacking Libya semi-war thing has happened before. Several times. After a while, all post-Korean wars seem to merge into one.

On my Facebook page a few days ago, I mentioned a Sunday Mail interview with the immensely talented Scots comedian and magician Jerry Sadowitz.

In 1995, when the late Malcolm Hardee was writing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, I asked him: “Who is the most talented comedian who has not yet made it?”

He immediately said: “Jerry Sadowitz”.

Or, in fact, “Gerry Sadowitz” because, at that time, I think Jerry was still (as far as we could see fairly randomly) alternating between billing himself as Gerry Sadowitz and Jerry Sadowitz.

In the Sunday Mail interview, it was claimed Jerry predicted he will die penniless and lonely and described himself as a failure who had struggled to find work since his last television series almost a decade ago. It sounded pretty downbeat.

Though, in fact, he can fill large theatres, is very highly regarded by the media and, as the Sunday Mail pointed out, he has been voted one of the greatest stand up comedians of all time.

On my Facebook page, one reaction to the interview, from bubbly comedienne Charmian Hughes, was:

“Yes, failure is a strangely seductive and addictive mistress – so much safer and predictable than the vagaries of success. You know where you are when you think you are not going anywhere!”

I agree. I have seen several performers blow their chance of success. It’s as if they have struggled for so long that they know they can deal with failure, disappointment and rejection, but success is a great – and therefore a dangerous and very frightening – unknown. The pain of rejection is like a release of acid in the stomach and, once you know you can survive it, like all strong physical feelings, it can become addictive.

It is something I think I have noticed in a lot of stand-up comics – perhaps it’s something in all performers. There is this inner, outgoing, self-confident need to show-off combined with a sometimes almost paralysing self-doubt.

This can manifest itself in two areas.

One is publicity where the effervescent, outgoing performer is so fearful of being hurt by criticism that they want to hide inside a bag inside a wardrobe inside a cave in a vast impenetrable mountain range. I’ve been involved with more than one performer who refused to do interviews or any publicity which would expose even the most general details of their private self to any public view.

The other area is even more extreme – career self-harm – and it is epitomised, let’s say, by former punk rocker Johnny Rotten walking off I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! when it became crystal clear he was going to win it. Anyone who knows the comedy business will be able to remember an exact parallel on another TV reality show involving a successful comic on his way up.

I once chatted to that comedian and said, quite honestly though perhaps a tad insensitively, that I did not know why he had not been picked up by TV producers in the past.

“It could be,” he suggested, “that I have a tendency to tell them they’re cunts.”

“That would probably do it,” I had to agree.

It is the conflict between wanting to perform yet being phenomenally over-sensitive and the fear of failure.

Charmian Hughes admits, “I have done a couple of self-saboteuring things in my life. One was not returning the call of a BBC Radio One producer who came up to me after a show and asked me to write for her before that was a fashionable Radio One thing. I pretended it wasn’t my thing artistically but, of course, inside I was afraid I would be shit at it. The result was I slammed that door in my own face.”

Another comic told me:

“It’s like a knot in the pit of your stomach. The fear. You know you’re going to go up there alone on stage and they may hate you. Not your material. It’s not like doing Shakespeare or Alan Ayckbourn where you are an actor in a play. They see the comic up there on stage telling jokes and it is you. Just you. If they hate you, it is because they hate you for yourself. You have to get up on stage to get the attention you want but, at the same time, the last thing you want is attention. You want to be in the spotlight and you want to hide and both emotions are inside you simultaneously.

“That’s what the problem with publicity is. You want everyone in the whole world to know who you are and to reassure you that you are brilliant and better than anyone else. But, at the same time, you don’t want anyone to know who you are: you want to run away and hide, because you are just a little kid standing up there alone, afraid that you will get told off and you are on the brink of crying inside. It’s like a physical knot inside your stomach.”

Charmian Hughes says:

“I remember a kind of exuberant horror at what I was doing and feeling quite angry with the people who wanted to promote me which quickly turned to self pity when they then didn’t. It takes a lot of personal untangling. Of course, all that was in extremis and I would recognise it immediately now… maybe!”

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