Tag Archives: Mary Quant

A comedy award winner in tights; fifth Fisting Day; and confused linguistics.

spectacularspectrumofnow_logoLast night, my comedy year was completed when I went to The Spectacular Spectrum of Now (image above) – Cassie Atkinson and Neil Frost’s quarterly show in London’s King’s Cross.

It was billed as a Psychic Strippers show and – sort of – delivered on both. But I went because the bill was such a cracker – Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee The Story Beast, the very talented Katia Kvinge and Beth Vyse, very intelligent musical comedian Luke Courtier and Fred Strangebone as a walrus. There was also a bit of nudity at the end though I am not sure if this was 100% planned or not.

Michael Brunstrom last night - as Mary Quant

Michael Brunström last night – as Mary Quant

But the cherry on the cake – if cherry he be – was this year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Michael Brunström re-performing the act he sadly did NOT include in his Edinburgh Fringe show this year – 1960s fashion legend Mary Quant talking about her time on an Antarctic whaling vessel, dressed in a pageboy wig and tights, holding a home-made harpoon and speaking in what I still think is a slight German accent. Michael Brunström tells me it is not a German accent, so maybe it is a residual Chaucerian accent. But it is the second time I have seen it and I can but dream of a third time. Comedy gold.

After this welcome oddity, I went home to find an email from visual artist Marc Seestaedt, one half of the Berlin-based performance duo Sticky Biscuits who insinuated their way onto the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in August this year by gatecrashing a live Grouchy Club show and auditioning unasked.

They are very good at self-promotion.

Which is what the email was about.

Hey John it said. This Wednesday is International Fisting Day (yes, that’s a thing that exists) and, if you feel like mentioning it, this video we did  is just right for the occasion.

I, perhaps foolishly, DID think he might be making it up but – No – tomorrow is, indeed, the the FIFTH annual International Fisting Day. Further than that, dear reader, I could not bear to investigate. But I should mention that Sticky Biscuits’ video is perhaps not for people who are easily offended. I might also say it could make some people uncomfortable. But I won’t.

But now to grander things – linguistics.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that the Facebook computer translated

Тетка на идише шпилит, лучче, чем мы с тобой на иврите. Кроме того, она стендапистка и , реально классная!
as
Aunt in Yiddish nail, лучче than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, she стендапистка and, really cool!

And Google Translate rendered the same
Тетка на идише шпилит, лучче, чем мы с тобой на иврите. Кроме того, она стендапистка и , реально классная!
as
Aunt Yiddish spiers, better than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, it stendapistka and really cool! 

Which left me none the wiser.

I did two years of Russian at school but can only barely read Cyrillic.

However, my eternally-un-named friend (who neither reads Cyrillic nor understands Russian but has a Monk-like ability to uncover the truth) told me that стендапистка should, in fact, have a gap in it:

стендап истка

And, indeed, Google Translate successfully renders this as meaning:

Cleaning the stand-up – presumably stand-up comedian or stand-up comedy.

Thus the sentence becomes:
Aunt Yiddish spiers, better than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, it is cleaning the stand-up and really cool!

It still means bugger-all, of course, so the linguistic mystery remains.

But I just thought I would clear that up slightly.

до свидания товарищ

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Comic Michael Brunström likes to do things he is not naturally good at doing

Michael Brunström holds his Malcolm Hardee Award

Michael Brunström and Malcolm Hardee Award

The annual Malcolm Hardee Awards are given to individuals.

At the Edinburgh Fringe last month, Michael Brunström won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. His show was titled The Golden Age of Steam and, this week, he performed it at the Museum of Comedy in London – which was arranged after he won the award.

“So,” I said to him, “since you won the Malcolm Hardee Award, your life has just been one long round of parties, champagne and job offers?”

“It’s more of an ego boost, really,” he told me. “It’s very hard to measure success. It seems like I’ve got a few interesting gigs gravitating towards me.”

“Where,” I asked, “do you keep your award?”

“On my bookshelf.”

“Do you think you can build on it?” I asked. “The award, not the bookshelf.”

“It’s all ballyhoo. It’s all nonsense,” said Michael. “But enough of it builds up a certain presence. The important thing, while still taking yourself seriously, is not to believe the ballyhoo. People have come out of the blue with unusual offers, but I can’t discuss them.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he laughed, “they’re the kinds of things that fall through.”

“I was sad,” I told him, “that your 1960s-clothes-desiger-Mary-Quant-on-a-whaling-expedition-to-Antarctica routine didn’t end up in your Golden Age of Steam.”

“It might end up in something else,” he told me.

“Was she really speaking in a slight German accent,” I asked, “or did I hallucinate that?”

Michael Brunström not Noel Edmonds

Michael Brunström’s eye not Noel Edmonds’

“I can’t do accents,” Michael told me. “I’m doing Noel Edmonds on Monday at Cabarera. I ordered myself a beard today. I can’t grow one by Monday.”

“You’re quite shy,” I said, “so it’s surprising you do audience involvement as much as you did in Edinburgh.”

“Well,” explained Michael, “it’s good to do things you’re afraid of. It’s good to stretch yourself. I am not a natural showman. Maybe that’s what makes it funny. I don’t regard myself as a natural chatty, confident compere type – so that’s why I want to do more of that.”

“What do you want to be doing in three years time?” I asked. “At the Edinburgh Fringe, people tend to succeed well with autobiographical theme shows: My ten years of heroin hell or whatever.”

“Perhaps in three years time I will do an autobiographical show. I don’t have the guts to do that yet.”

“Where were you brought up?”

“West London.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “That’s dull. And I suppose you had a happy childhood? That’s death for comedy.”

“I don’t think I did have a happy childhood,” said Michael. “But I think it was unhappy in a rather dull and complex and un-theatrical way. I had a difficult, unhappy, Liverpudlian father who used sarcasm as a defence mechanism.”

“Sarcasm is never good in a father,” I said. “It was sarcasm, not irony?”

“I think the distinction was not something he would be prepared to pick apart.”

“What was his job?”

“He was a management consultant.”

“Oh dear,” I said, “That’s dull. What was your mother?”

“A laboratory assistant. She worked in a hospital, but spent most of her time looking after her four boys. I’m the youngest of four.”

“What are the others now?”

“One is a doctor of English Literature at St Patrick’s College in Dublin. One is a social worker in Brighton. And the other one is a professor of Psychology at Bristol University. I am the least accomplished of the four.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I disagreed. “You’re an editor at a serious publisher…You should surely be writing books yourself.”

“I don’t find writing easy.”

“You think of yourself more as a performer than a writer?”

“I’ve never been a writer.”

Ken Campbell - The éminence grise of alternative comedy

Ken Campbell – The éminence grise of alternative comedy

It was at this point I remembered Ken Campbell. I have a shit memory. I had forgotten that, in my first blog chat with Michael in May last year, he mentioned working with Ken Campbell, the éminence grise of UK alternative comedy. Michael recently wrote a blog about Ken’s influence on him.

“What’s the attraction of surrealism?” I asked Michael.

“I think” he replied, “that audiences like to be bemused, surprised and shocked. In live performance, the audience doesn’t want to be experiencing it inside their heads. They want to experience the thing that’s happening immediately there in front of them.

“The way I like to explain it is that, if you go to a chess match, you don’t go there to watch what’s happening, you go there to think in your own head what could happen and experience your own understanding of what’s going on.

“In a live performance, it’s not that. The audience is there to watch what is happening. I don’t think my stuff would work on radio. It’s very visual. But, in the same way I try to do lots of audience interaction because I’m not very naturally good at it, I want to do audio stuff because…”

“Well,” I foolishly interrupted, “any sensible producer goes for the person then develops the most suitable material. It’s the person that’s important.”

“I want,” continued Michael, “to make some little podcasty audio things to put out there.”

“Have you played around with sound?” I asked.

“I used to when I was a kid,” he told me. “Me and my mate Robert used to make spoof radio shows together on an old cassette player. Introduce songs and interviews. That sort of thing. I haven’t done it in the last 30 years. Doing it in audio is the constraint.”

“You like constraints?” I asked.

“Yes. The constraint for The Golden Age of Steam was that I wanted to do a show without any food in it.”

“Is that a constraint?” I asked. “Surely lots of shows have no food in them. Macbeth, for example… Oh, no! There’s the banquet!”

Michael Brunström wants to be constrained by food

Michael Brunström wants to be constrained by food

“It’s the go-to thing with alternative comics,” explained Michael. “They always mention or have food in their shows. It’s not easy to do a show with no food. I didn’t even succeed. It had two cans of Lilt in it.”

“Strictly speaking,” I said, “a can of Lilt is not food. Maybe next year you should do a show with no mention or presence of liquids.”

“That’s very difficult,” said Michael. “because liquids are comedy gold.

“Mmmm…” I contemplated. “No pissing jokes. No sweating jokes.”

“How,” asked Michael, “Can you do a show without sweating?”

“No sneezing,” I said.

“Audiences love liquids,” said Michael. “It’s like when there’s a gun on stage. They pay attention when there is liquid on stage.”

“You should maybe do a show with a gun but no liquids,” I suggested.

“It’s on my list,” admitted Michael. “My current plan is to write a one-hour show with the theme of an art history lecture. Maybe take a painting and extrapolate from that like Peter Greenaway does.”

“Why art?” I asked.

“I think you need a strong visual image. Maybe The Garden of Earthly Delights or something like that.”

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Comedian and former plant Dec Munro says there is “Nothing Happening Here”

Dec Munro at the pleasance Dome  in Edinburgh in August 2012

Dec Munro with an odd-coloured pocket at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh in August 2012

“What’s happening?” I asked comedian Dec Munro yesterday in a meeting room at a private members club in central London.

Nothing Happening Here,” he said.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? It is the title of the definitively odd comedy evening he runs with Niall McCamley. There is no website. Just a Facebook page.

“I enjoyed the last one,” I said. “I’ll come along this Tuesday (for the next one). How often is Nothing Happening Here?”

“Whenever we decide to do it,” replied Dec. “Tuesday’s will be the third.”

“So why call it Nothing Happening Here?” I asked. “Especially when lots happens.”

“We thought it would be stupid,” explained Dec, “and fun and a way of getting people to a location they might not otherwise go to.”

Dec’s Nothing Happening show partner Niall McCamley

Dec’s Nothing Happening Here show partner Niall McCamley

“The one I went to last time,” I said, “was an art gallery in Haggerston. Where was the first one?”

“Niall’s flat.”

“And,” I asked, “you’re not going to tell me where this Tuesday’s is, because we’re going to meet at some mystery place you will tell us on the day. Can you tell me what type of location it is?”

“Odd,” replied Dec.

“Surely not?” I asked.

“Everybody is being encouraged to wear glitter,” he told me. “Although we will supply some.”

“Is it sexually dubious?” I asked, nervously.

“No. But that would be amazing: taking people to some kind of S&M torture place. Do you know one?”

Dec Munro in an interesting ex-Belgian room thinking about a torture chamber for comedy

Dec Munro in an interesting ex-Belgian room thinking about a torture chamber for comedy

Dave Courtney,” I said, “has a torture chamber in his back garden in suburban Plumstead. He rents it out to film crews and anyone interested in such things.”

“Mmmm,” mused Dec.

There was a long, thoughtful pause.

“This used to be the headquarters of the Anglo-Belgian Club,” Dec told me.

“Not the most interesting of clubs, then,” I suggested.

“That’s a bit harsh,” he said.

“The Magritte Club would be interesting,” I suggested. “An antelope coming out of the wall wearing a bowler hat.”

“Mmmm,” mused Dec, “I was in the Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen show. I was the guy who runs out and does a little dance.”

“You were a plant in the audience?” I asked.

“Essentially yes,” said Dec. “I got a phone call from a friend saying: We need an idiot to get naked on stage at the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. Are you up for doing that? And I said: Sure, no problem at all. 

Arthur Smith sang Leonard Cohen but required some naked back-up

Arthur Smith Sang Leonard Cohen but required some nudity

“The first time I did it, I took a girl on a second date. Part way through the show, I asked her Will you excuse me for a minute? went backstage, took all my clothes off and tried to make it look more impressive.”

“Make what look more impressive?” I asked.

“My cock.”

“How?”

Dec made a vertical whirling movement with his hand.

“How do I describe that in my blog?” I asked him.

“Willy-wanging? Helicoptering?” he suggested.

“When you demonstrated that,” I said, “you used all four fingers and a thumb. For some of us, that is quite impressive to begin with.”

“The premise of the show,” explained Dec, ignoring my comment, “is that Arthur Smith is talking about Leonard Cohen; Leonard Cohen has a beef with Leonard Nimoy; and some of Leonard Nimoy’s poetry is featured.

Dec Munro attempts to mount a horse

Dec Munro attempts to mount a small horse

“So I ran out onstage completely naked except for a Leonard Nimoy face mask, did a little dance, disappointed a lot of people in the front row for a minute by dangling my cock arguably far too close to all of them, ran back offstage, put my clothes back on again and re-joined my date in the audience.

“At no point until about an hour afterwards did she know it was me. She just thought I had gone to the toilet. A friend of mine was there with her parents – I had no idea she was there. She came over and said: Dec! – Great cock tonight! Great cock! That was the point at which the girl I was on a date with figured out it was me.”

“And,” I asked, “then what did she say to you?”

“Nothing complimentary at all.”

“Was there another date?”

“Yes. I imagine it was my natural charm. You know, there is a moment of questioning your life choices when you are backstage downstairs at the Soho Theatre wearing a Spock mask looking at a mirror, whirling your cock round and trying to make it look as big as you possibly can.”

“You did this for the whole run of the show?” I asked.

“No. There was another guy who did it and he had the ability to play the accordion.”

“With his cock?”

Dec mercifully fully clothed

Dec Munro – mercifully fully clothed

“No. That would have been impressive. But I got a phone call from my friend saying: Dec, actually there’s another guy and he brings a bit more to it. He can play the accordion while naked and is happy to flash his balls. So he won out and he got to go on BBC Radio 4 and do it when they made Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen: the 30 minute version.”

“Naked on radio?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Was it an accordion or a squeezebox?” I asked.

“I think it might have been a squeezebox. What’s the difference?”

“A squeezebox,” I suggested, “sounds funnier when a cock and balls are involved.”

“Then it was definitely a squeezebox,” said Dec.

“Whole new avenues open up for your career,” I told him. “If you’re happy to go naked. Malcolm Hardee shows beckon. Have you ever jumped out of a plane?”

“Yes,” replied Dec, “I have jumped out of a plane and it went wrong, because they packed the parachute badly. They do a fixed line thing which automatically opens the parachute. It pulled and dislocated my right shoulder. I was the first person in twelve years to land outside their drop zone – somewhere just outside Lancaster. I landed in a ditch next to barbed wire and ended up on morphine that night at my friend’s birthday.

“I have to say morphine is amazing. You can get through absolutely anything on morphine. I was supposed to organise a surprise party for my friend, so I said: Please, just give me lots of morphine. I have not had it since, but I look back on it fondly.”

“Morphine was amazing in what way?” I asked.

“You just float,” explained Dec, “and, even though you know you’re in a lot of pain, you’re distracted and everything feels lovely and you’re happy. I think morphine should be obligatory.”

“Well,” I said, “I think it is in certain parts of London. Are you plugging anything else apart from Nothing Happening Here and morphine?”

The Facebook publicity photo for Nothing Happening Here

A photo promoting Nothing Happening Here displayed on the show’s Facebook page

“I’ve now got a little venue just next to the Bank of England that I’d like to put previews and stuff in so, if people would like to get in touch, that would be amazing. I’m going to try and get some well-known people and some weird, different, offbeat, Michael Brunströmy type fun people. He was the first act at the first Nothing Happening Here. He did 15 minutes as Mary Quant and nobody in the audience bar two people knew who Mary Quant was. I loved it.”

“Beyond that?” I asked.

“I want,” said Dec, “to do fun things and meet good people and do interesting things and maybe earn some money while doing it.”

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