Tag Archives: Matt Price

Comedian Matt Price is having weekly Conversations with Criminals

In 2013, I posted a blog in which comedian Matt Price talked about the violent physical attack in 2007 on his partner, comedian Martha McBrier, by four or five men in Glasgow. The attack permanently damaged her hearing. 

He told me: “about a year later, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, between those times, a member of her family went to buy a gun to shoot the man who attacked her.”

Matt also looked into the possibility of taking violent revenge, but a career criminal persuaded him not to.

Last week, Matt told me: “If I’d have taken revenge, I wouldn’t be here eating a muffin with you; I’d have been in jail.”

He is still together with Martha and, now based in London, he has started a weekly podcast – released every Sunday – called Conversations with Criminals.

The fourth episode of the podcast was posted online yesterday.

Matt’s Edinburgh Fringe comedy show in August will be titled: Broken Hooters and Geezers with Shooters.


JOHN: Conversations with Criminals… Why?

MATT: Because I knew nothing about crime until I was on the receiving end of one, when Martha got attacked all those years ago. Had I taken revenge, my life would have been very different.

I would much rather hear about what it’s like to be in prison and how hard it is to hustle while I am here eating a muffin, drinking a coffee with you and not in prison.

JOHN: …and…?

MATT: Because I’ve spent about ten years in the company of various dodgy people.

I like podcasting as a medium and also I like the fact that people who are on the wrong side of the law have great stories to tell and a very bleak sense of humour. They have to in order to cope with what they do and what they’ve done.

I am casting my net wide. I’m going to Nottingham to speak to a guy who will talk me through what it was like to be an addict going in and out of jail. I’ve talked to a guy whose parents were heroin dealers and, in the 1980s, he moved down to London and started robbing banks. All interesting stuff.

JOHN: Why will they talk to you? You’re not paying them.

MATT: People like to talk about themselves. Or maybe I’ve just fallen in with the right crowd.

JOHN: The first podcast was with Dave Courtney who, let’s be honest, will talk to anyone. The second one was with…

MATT: Brendan, Dave Courtney’s best mate and he’s a very funny guy. Just a funny man. What makes him so interesting to me is that he is a self-confessed coward. He made it very clear when he met Dave all those years ago: “Look, you’re great company, but I’m a coward. I don’t want to get involved in any violence. So I will run away.”

JOHN: So he’s not really a ‘hard man’.

MATT: Not at all.

JOHN: Or a criminal?

MATT: I think it’s well-documented he did go to jail. But I know he doesn’t want to be known as a ‘hard man’ in any capacity and that’s very important to him. Because if you make it clear, in that world, that you’re not a hard man, then people will leave you alone.

JOHN: And, if you say you are a hard man…?

MATT: …I imagine there will be more… ermm…  challenges.

JOHN: Difficult to keep it up weekly, missus: the podcast.

MATT: Well, it’s not easy interviewing people who are on the wrong side of the law, because they tend not to make plans for the future. You can’t phone someone up and say: “Oh, can you have a look in your diary… We could do lunch next week?” 

That’s not how it works. And sometimes there are misunderstandings, of which I’ve had a few. The most recent one was with a guy called Andy Costello, who was in Episode 3.

He really intrigued me because, in a way, he’s a vigilante. He was a policeman and lost his job because – this is 20 years ago – somebody punched his teenage daughter and he took violent revenge on the guy – He beat up him and his mates – and went to jail for it. But he has turned his life around completely now; he’s an amazing guy.

JOHN: What does he do now?

MATT: He teaches martial arts. He trains some of the best fighters in the country if not in the world.

I met him through a friend and I went out to meet him on a farm where his gym is and I thought he knew I was doing my weekly podcast.

But he thought – because he has just started doing stand-up comedy – that I, as a comedian, was going to interview him about his new career.

We met and I said: “Look, I’m not here to judge you in any way…” and he thinks Great! Because he’s just started performing comedy and I’ve been doing it a while. And then we start talking about crime and revenge and what it’s like to be in jail. And he was too polite to say anything. He thought it was odd but maybe I was trying to ‘big him up’ with an interesting angle. 

It was only afterwards that our mutual friend told him the title of the weekly podcast was Conversations with Criminals.

But the interview was great and he and his daughter like it. So it was all fine and mellow.

JOHN: Have you had less mellow misunderstandings?

MATT: Yes. I met somebody else through a mutual contact and the three of us got into a car with Mister X who, to be honest, I knew very little about.

Our mutual friend says to Mister X: “You remember that time you chopped somebody’s arm off?”

And Mister X says: “No. I have absolutely no recollection of that whatsoever.”

“Ah, no,” says my friend. “You remember – that geezer with his arm hanging off and the claret everywhere?”

“No… I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. And, by the way, who are you?” says Mister X to me.

I said: “My name’s Matt and I’m a comedian.”

“Well, you don’t look very funny,” he says.

So we get to this strange pub and at that time I had flu – my eyes were watering and Martha had told me I needed to be drinking lots of water – so, of course, I downed four pints in one go and arm-chop man was already quite nervous and he says to our mutual friend: “Your mate looks a bit dodgy. What’s the matter with him? Is he a policeman? Is he wired-up? Is he a journalist?”

“No,” my mate says. “He’s just an idiot who is too scared to ask where the toilets are.”

So we had this very awkward, very tense interview with power ballads playing in the background and I said: “Can you give me some advice?”

And he said: “Yeah. You should chill out, mate. Relax. You look really twitchy and you’re making ME feel nervous now.”

Then two guys walked in – two total strangers – and my friend just walked out of the venue. So I followed him. 

A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Mister X who says: “You really ARE what you say you are. Shall we start again?”

So we did and we had a delightful chat. He is going to remain anonymous not for any particular sinister reason. It’s just he has moved on with his life. He said: “You can have a selfie with my dog, but don’t put the picture of the dog online, because that will give away my identity.”

JOHN: Quite a few comedians have dodgy pasts.

MATT: One day I was in a car on the way to a gig with Mister A, talking about the podcast and he said: “Well, as comedians, we are on the periphery of society anyway, so we have a lot in common with these people. We’re just alternative people who are not going to work 9 to 5 staff jobs and neither are they. We are just people with a different lifestyle.”

Unfortunately, crime pays an awful lot more than comedy does. 

Lets be honest, everybody says: “Ooh, I’d love to get on Netflix as a comedian but, failing that…”

JOHN: Do they?

MATT: True crime is very popular at the moment.

JOHN: I guess everybody thinks they would like the excitement of being a criminal.

MATT: Well, not me. I’ve met them. At various levels. And I don’t really know any one of them – yet – who says Oh yes! Crime is great!

Crime is great when you’re driving around in a BMW. But then you get caught and suddenly all the people who said they thought you were amazing don’t want to know you any more. I don’t see what’s glamorous about that.


CONVERSATIONS WITH CRIMINALS IS ON

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RIP Ian Cognito, dangerous comedian and great opera singer

“Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say Boo!”

Comedian Ian Cognito died on stage on Thursday night at the Lone Wolf Comedy Club in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

So it goes.

He reportedly “sat down on a stool while breathing heavily, before falling silent for five minutes during his show” and the audience thought it was part of his routine. He had earlier joked: “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here”.

In the US, Variety quoted audience member Ryan Mold: “He sat down, put his head and arms back; his shoulders were twitching… His behavior didn’t come off as unusual to those used to his flamboyant character.”

Compere Andrew Bird told the BBC: “Everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking. Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say Boo!” 

The BBC quoted audience member John Ostojak as saying: “Only ten minutes before he sat down, he joked about having a stroke. He said: Imagine having a stroke and waking up speaking Welsh… We came out feeling really sick, we just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him.”

Andrew Bird said dying on stage would have been the way Cognito “would have wanted to go… except he’d want more money and a bigger venue.”

The comedy website Chortle rather understated the case when it wrote he was “known for his outrageous and unpredictable stage act and would often boast of the number of clubs he was banned from”.

At one time, he used to start his act by walking on stage with a hammer, banging a nail into the wall and then hanging up his hat. “This lets you know two things about me,” he would shout. “Firstly, I really don’t give a shit. Secondly, I’ve got a hammer.”

Over the course of a 30-year career, no British TV company ever took the risk of putting him on screen. Yet today The Times, reported his death and called him a “cult comedian”. The Daily Mail today called him “a proper comic”.

The lesson to other comics seeking media coverage is clear: literally die on stage.

In comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, there is an anecdote which starts: “An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive.”

I always found him very amiable and intelligent though with a slightly insecure glint in his eye. Well, he WAS a comedian.

In 2005, I shared a funeral car with him and Jenny Eclair at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral in Greenwich. Malcolm had drowned by falling in a dock while drunk… So it goes. 

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013

In a 2013 blog from the Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote: “Last night, Cognito told comic Pam Ford and me a very funny series of stories about his own dad’s funeral and what happened to the ashes afterwards. Alas, I don’t think I can repeat them, because I was harassing Cognito that he should do death stories as an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2014.”

He didn’t, but no matter.

And, alas, I have now forgotten the stories.

I also wrote in that blog: “He was wearing a hat. He said he had a song about the late Malcolm Hardee. I invited him to perform it at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe. He said Yes.”

He didn’t.

But no matter.

Today his son, Will Barbieri, shared a quote from his father: “I hope when I am gone, that you will remember me for all the things I didn’t do, but could have done so easily.”

In 2014, I quoted the comedian Matt Price in a blog. He said:

“I mentioned to Ian Cognito: There’s a rumour going round you used to be an opera singer and he said: Oooh! Keep that one going, dahlin’ I do like that one!

So I will remember Ian Cognito as an interesting human being, a fascinatingly dangerous performer and a great opera singer.

But I did not really know Ian Cognito.

Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury did know him better. She sent me what follows under trying circumstances this morning.

She wrote: “I am a bit distracted by a total freak show in the kitchen and a man naked in the kitchen. Just a standard day in Deptford.”

Here is what she sent me…


‘Cogs’… in one of his quieter, more reflective moments…

I’m sad about – but also keep laughing hysterically about – Cogs.  

He actually died on stage, the mad bastard, and people thought he was pretending but he was actually dead. The compere came on and went to prod him as he thought he was joking but he was actually dead. Fuck me, that’s hilarious.

The man was a crazy, beautiful diamond and, like all diamonds, it’s the darkness that give them their brilliance.

Last night I went on stage and told the story of Cognito’s last prank. I’m still hoping he jumps out of the coffin at the funeral and shouts: “Gotcha, you cunts!” and then dies again – because that will be really funny.

It is interesting giving people permission to laugh at death.

It’s a taboo and Cogs liked smashing those. 

It’s the essence of liberation. 

It is nice to be given permission to continue to erode those taboos and it is an honour to explain to an audience your friend died like Tommy Cooper but he did it better. Dying on stage is a very naughty thing to do and the person was very naughty to do that but you can and should laugh because the person was a great comedian and it’s what he would have wanted.

I also explained I would be doing my Ian Cognito tribute act later and I had already taken the capsules of cyanide which was the grand finale after the crowd surfing just to put my own spin on it.

I’d known Cogs since I was 19. He ‘pulled’ me after a gig I was running with my we’ll call him ‘ex’ boyfriend as he was after that happened and who also happened to be the promoter. 

My relationship status with the promoter was unknown to Cogsy but was in hindsight a classic Cogsy as he had an almost supernatural knack of pissing off promoters

We were friends after that. Me and Cogs.

Me and the ex-boyfriend never recovered.

The Cogs I knew was a lovely, fascinating guy and I had a load of really interesting times with him, like a lot of people did. 

After our initial encounter, we met again in the backstage area of Reading Festival and spent the weekend getting drunk and talking and not seeing any bands. Why would you go and see Blur when you have Ian Cognito to talk to?

He even surfaced a few months after that and helped me get rid of another unsuitable ex-boyfriend and helped end another relationship for me. Like a sexy, crazy, cool dad that you can shag.

He had an uncanny knack of appearing when he was needed like a swaggering Cockney genie that lived in a bottle of Jameson’s.

And then a few more times after that.

When I started comedy, I did a few gigs with him at the Edinburgh Fringe where he was kind enough to offer me to share a spot he had in a show at the Pleasance. I was unfortunately too pissed to take him up on the offer. I could blame the fact I was keeping up with his drinking habits but that wouldn’t be true and truth was something that was very important to Cogsy in his life and his art – not that he would have said anything that pretentious.

I never knew him to be anything other than a lovely, wise, bright, shiny, gem of a person. An authentic soul and genius comic. 

There are very few of those and now one less. 

I’m still kinda hoping he kicks his way out of the coffin, does that song about his dog farting and then makes use of some of PR his death generated. But it was never about that.

It’s about living your truth to the full and making your life and death a work of art.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 19: How to perform comedy to a tough audience

Yesterday’s blog ended (because of the interruption of midnight) just before Arthur Smith’s annual alternative tour of the Royal Mile started (at 2.00am).

Telephone box claiming on the Royal Mile

This tour used to be a near Bacchanalian trip with occasional appearances by the boys in blue (usually the police; seldom the Smurfs).

Now it is a comparatively more civilised trip down the cobbles from the Castle to St Giles Cathedral – if you can call it ‘civilised’ with 60 people following Arthur down the street as he declaims poetry, misrepresents statues, accosts passers-by, encourages people to perform cartwheels, climb atop telephone kiosks and get into holes in the road, become living statues in the night-time street, and introduces a man loudly singing Frank Sinatra songs from a second-storey window at the top of his voice at around 02.30 in the morning.

Arthur approached one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges (not me) this afternoon to run naked down the Royal Mile but, alas, they felt the possibility of arrest and getting a criminal record was even riskier to their future reputation and job prospects than being an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge.

By the time Arthur had finished his shenanigans and I got home to my flat and into bed, it was around 04.00am. Which is fairly average for Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Later in the day, I bumped into former sailor Eric, who tried to persuade me again that he should get a Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality because he has now been performing the same show – Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn – at the Fringe for 10 years. He was eating a chip.

Could be good. Could be shit. Don’t matter.

The former squatters on the late Malcolm Hardee’s boat, the Wibbley Wobbley, are staging a one-off comedy play about him – Malcolm Hardee: Back From the Drink, on Wednesday at The Hive, not to be confused with my own Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday at the Counting House.

Their comic play should be interesting, as they never met him. And though I say it is a one-off. In fact, they tested it out on Friday in London… They are performing it this Wednesday in Edinburgh… And are hoping more London performances may happen.

They – five of them – came to the Grouchy Club this afternoon to discuss the show but I am told I have to keep schtum about it to avoid plot spoilers.

Who knows if it will be an audience-pleaser? I have not yet seen it. “Could be good. Could be shit,” as Malcolm used to say when introducing as-yet unseen acts.

To be really honest, it is not the shows I enjoy most about the Edinburgh Fringe, it is the city and the people. The shows come third.

The aforementioned Grouchy Club is open daily, totally free to all at the Counting House 1415-1515. If you got it, flaunt it.

The manager of the Counting House and the adjoining Pear Tree is Brian.

During the Fringe, all day long, weather allowing, he sits at a barrel on the pavement outside the Counting House, helping and supervising and helping and advising.

Brian is a big man. I did not realise how big he actually until today. He is normally seated at his barrel.

One of his lovely Counting House assistants told me Brian was officially the tallest teenager in Scotland in 1985.

Big Brian by his barrel with one of his lovely assistants on a surprisingly sunny day outside the lovely Counting House

“I was 6 feet 5 inches tall as a teenager,” he confirmed to me outside, sitting by his barrel. “I’m 6 feet 11¾ now – a quarter of an inch shorter than a giant. Imagine that. If I had just spent a little bit more time growing, I could have made it to giant status. I could have had it on my passport and my CVs. Occupation: Giant. There is a Tall Person’s Club, but I’ve never joined. It’s supposed to get you good flights with extra legroom and stuff.”

“Do you,” I asked, “get charged extra for having a sideways…”

“For having long legs?” Brian asked. “Yes. That or the drinks trolley goes over your feet. You are crucified either way.”

People. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about people.

I got an inevitable text message and two pictures from Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (left) with what he calls ‘candies’ and Eric

“Eric the Submariner,” it said, “has been going around town today handing out candies to brighten performers’ moods on what he calls ‘Shit Sunday’ – the third Sunday of the festival. He has picked the right person. I’m a mess.”

Eric the submariner used to be a regular in the audience at Malcolm’s Up The Creek Club and it was Malcolm who encouraged Eric to perform. His Tales of The Sea is a real audience-pleaser of a show with Eric in total control of the audience. Well, he should be, after ten years!

President Obonjo harangues his full audience of 350

The same could be said of President Obonjo – Benjamin Bello – whose African dictator character dominates any room – which is more difficult than he makes it seem because it could be fraught with all sorts of racial stereotype problems. The fact it sails smoothly through and he had his audience of 350 (he insists all his audiences anywhere at any time are and forever will be 350 but, in fact, today he did have a full-to-the-brim audience) eating out of his comedic hand is a tribute to his skill.

Matt Price was in charge of the Royal Marines

A talent that Matt Price (partner of cunning stunt vixen Martha McBrier) had to have in spades tonight.

His show The Weed Fairy is about his father – so-called because of his dad’s predilection for growing marijuana plants at the family home in Cornwall and consequent visits from those boys in blue again.

But that was not why Matt needed all his audience-controlling cleverness and amiability tonight.

Matt and men from 42 Commando, K Company, including Corpsey in the striped shirt, second from the right

He had eight Royal Marine Commandos in the audience, one of whom – Corpsey – was almost paralytically drunk. Matt managed to be relentlessly insulting to Corpsey (which is what his Marine mates wanted) without in any way offending either Corpsey or his mates.

It was an extraordinary feat of professionalism intermingling the scripted show, drunk-wrangling, physical improvisation, ad-libbing and street psychology.

Matt played very literally passive aggressive. He would be insulting to Corpsey and the other Marines (which they loved), then back-off into amiable self-effacement and amiability, then swing back into put-downs, then be your-best-chum, then land a slight insult, all-the-while keeping the pace of the narrative of his story on-course and on-pace.

Brilliant.

Plus there was film of him, as a slim teenager, skateboarding… and an online instruction video about didgeridoo-playing from a man claiming to run ‘The Didge Project’.

It might have been a Cunning Stunt.

Anything could be.

Fantasy and reality are beginning to merge in my mind. That is not uncommon at the Fringe, which may be the best thing since slice bread.

Meanwhile, the world outside the Edinburgh bubble still turns.

In non-Fringe-related news, my eternally un-named friend points out to me that entertainers Bruce Forsyth, who died three days ago, and Jerry Lewis, who died today, were older than sliced bread.

Sliced bread was born on 7th July 1928.

Bruce Forsyth was born on 22nd February 1928.

Jerry Lewis was born on 16th March 1926.

There are sequences from Jerry Lewis’ unseen movie The Day The Clown Cried in a documentary extract on YouTube. It has a commentary in Flemish…

Welcome to my reality.

 

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The Grouchy Club Live – What is killing comedy. Why men wash. £1,000 a week.

Ada Campe performed at the Grouchy Club Live tonight

Ada Campe – magical at the Grouchy Club Live

Tonight, I went to the Grouchy Club monthly live meet-up for people in the comedy business and anybody else who is interested. Well, I would do, I chair it with comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Often, comics come along and perform ten minutes of material – tonight it was the extraordinarily charismatic Ada Campe – but mostly it is just a case of the audience chatting about the business.

It can last two or three hours – as long as feels natural – with people arriving and leaving when they want, although arrive late and you’ll probably miss something outrageous.

Matt Price reacts to an approach by Kate Copstick tonight

Matt Price reacted to a comment by Kate Copstick tonight

On this occasion, we kept mostly to the subject of comedy and this brief conversation ensued between Copstick, storytelling comic Matt Price and Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner.

Noel had arrived late, so Copstick explained to him what had just happened.


COPSTICK
Matt evinced the opinion – which was met with a distinct murmur on the floor here – that ‘new material’ nights are killing comedy.

NOEL
No, they’re not.

MATT
What I meant was that I believe incorrectly billed ones are.

NOEL
I would agree with you 100%. Shit venues are ruining comedy. Bad set-ups. Look, you’re a young guy, you’ve got a date, you think: Oh! I’ll take her to comedy. She’ll be happy. she’ll laugh. That’s why, when you have a lot of couples in the audience, the room is stoic – because the guys are thinking: Well, I can’t laugh at that, because she’ll think that I’m this kind of person if I laugh at that joke, because that joke sounds homophobic, racist or whatever other PC shite.

Bad venues are killing comedy. There are venues that are horribly, badly run with dirty, smelly promoters who wash once a year.

COPSTICK
Comedy now is getting a television audience. It’s not really getting a comedy audience. The comedy audience that used to be there is still there, but it’s not big enough for the massive tsunami of quite shit comics that just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. So the audiences they’re getting on all these nights are television audiences – I want to see him or her off the telly – They’re not really interested enough or have any feeling enough for comedy to sit and watch real newbies or new material.

NOEL
Most people want to go to work on Monday morning and say: Oh we were at the O2 Arena and saw ‘im off the telly! Oh, it was great! We was this close to the screen, we saw everything!… And they’ve paid £80. I mean, for fuck’s sake. Seriously. What? £60? £80? Jesus Christ! you could do things with that kind of money, besides sit and watch (the equivalent of) a DVD. What’s that I see way down there? Oh, great!

Also, things change. The whole comedy scene is changing. Young people, they wanna go and watch movies outdoors – that’s a great fucking idea. An uncomfortable chair, some shit movie from 20 years ago. I mean, OK if you’re gonna cop a feel off the girl beside you OK but, otherwise, who would have ever thought outdoor movies on rooftops is a great idea?

Guys will go anywhere where the girls are. If it wasn’t for women, we wouldn’t wash. Guaranteed. What would the point be?

The whole thing has changed and we can’t get used to the idea. We came through the era when comedy was like The Beatles – the new rock ’n’ roll. It was taking off; it was great; you opened a club above a room and people were getting paid £300 for a gig.

COPSTICK
Really?

NOEL
From Eugene Cheese. He always did a door split. Comics were making more money 15 years ago than they are now. A mate of mine who was in the mainstream in 1973 was taking home £300 a night. Working men’s clubs. Milo McCabe’s father. He was a mainstream comic. He would stand in the middle of the floor at a working men’s club – a stag do or whatever – and he would do the jokes, take the piss out of the guys – bang, bang, bang, bang, bang – I’d say Let’s have a beer and he’d say No, let’s get out of here. There’s a stripper coming on in a minute and the place is probably going to get busted and I can’t have that happen to me. Because he was doing a little telly at the time.

They would have a stag show, the comic would get up, then a stripper would come – big, big money. The average comic was making £1,000 a week, no problem, in the early 1990s.

COPSTICK
We are now going to hand out tissues to all the working comics in the room. I didn’t do stand-up, but I did comedy cabaret and you’re right: there were go-go dancers on before, then comedy, funny songs and a bit of chat and then a stripper – and that was in Edinburgh!

So… (TO MATT) what you were saying about new comedy nights today…

MATT
This is no offence to anybody, because we’re all part of the same circuit, but I think you sometimes now get nights that are billed, for example, as “eight professional comics trying out new material” – It’s free entry and you go in and you think: Hold on! None of you are pro comics. What are you talking about? You’re all moaning about your day job. First thing they say (off stage) is: Who’s your agent? How do you get an agent? Who do I speak to?

And I think: Why are you doing that? Don’t put that on the poster! Because it’s killing everything long-term.

15 years ago, I went to the Comedy Cafe and saw Geoff Boyz. He is, to me, the consumate pro. He said to me: It takes you ten years to be a professional. That’s before you start to get good at it; and then probably another ten to master it.

Yes, you can make it in three years if your dad works for the BBC. But you’ve still got to deliver the middle-aged men’s material they’re writing for you. This is an art form and people are fucking it up by lying about what they can do. I know people who can’t do 10 minutes who are doing a one-hour show at the Edinburgh Festival – the most prestigious arts festival in the world – and they can’t even stand on stage at a proper comedy club and deliver 10 minutes of jokes to an audience who are there to be entertained.

NOEL
It’s become a social life for some very sad people. They go up to Edinburgh and they do their hour and their hour is not ready. I had somebody ask me: Come and see my show. And I said: There’s no way I’m spending an hour of my fucking life in Edinburgh when I can be watching Chinese acrobats swinging from the ceiling with large breasts. Forget it! You’re not ready for an hour! I was very rude and very blunt and it was just water off a duck’s back. I had to be that blunt with this person, because they really were thick-skinned.

That’s ruining the business. TV has saturated the business. And we need to find a new road for live comedy.


After-show chat at the grouchy Club earlier tonight

Some after-show chat at the live Grouchy Club earlier tonight

In 2016, there will be live Grouchy Club comedy industry meet-ups held in the performance space at the back of Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London, at 6.30pm on the following dates. Anyone can come. Entry is free. Exit is free.

Tuesday 12th January
Tuesday 9th February
Tuesday 8th March
Tuesday 12th April
Tuesday 10th May
Tuesday 14th June
Tuesday 12th July

Details on http://www.grouchyclub.co.uk

After tonight’s show, for some incomprehensible reason, I mentioned to London-based Glasgow comic Martha McBrier that, as I am originally Scots, I tend to pronounce the grocery store chain as the Co-per-aytive rather than the Co-opp-rative. This triggered a 20-second duet between Martha McBrier and Kate Copstick…

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Comic Matt Price “can offer experience on how to do it. I’ve made the mistakes”

Matt Price keeps his eye out for good stories

Matt Price keeps an eye out for good stories

There is a section on superb comedian Matt Price’s website which says, in his trademark self-effacing way:

“I’ve performed in 30 countries, received an award nomination for a solo show in Australia, performed 5 solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and have received many 4 and 5 stars reviews. I’ve also received a few bad reviews over the years too.”

Yesterday, he told me:

“For the first time in my life, I’m fashionable. I first started telling stories on stage in 2004 and people said: Oh! You’re mad telling stories! Why are you doing that? And now, if you look, nearly everybody describes themselves as a storyteller. So I’m quite lucky, because now I can offer some experience on how to do it. I’ve made all the mistakes over the years.

“A few weeks ago, I did my first ever Storytelling Workshop for Comedians and I’m doing another one this coming Sunday in Putney. There might be another one in January.”

“How long is the workshop?” I asked.

“One session of about five hours.”

“Storytelling clubs could take over from comedy clubs,” I said, “if someone can think up a sexier name for storytelling – like ‘alternative comedy’ was an attractive new name in the 1980s.”

“At the moment,” said Matt, “there’s the comedy circuit, where people tell stories and the storytelling circuit who don’t really like stand-ups – that’s still very much, for the most part, earnest men with big beards.”

“There’s no storytelling circuit as such, is there?” I asked. “It’s just about three places in London?”

“I think you get the odd storytelling thing in Bristol,” said Matt, “and Jo Caulfield does some storytelling stuff in Scotland – and she’s a great comic.”

“Your workshop,” I asked, “is aimed at actual comedians? Not just random punters who think they could become comedians?”

“Yes,” said Matt. “Some of them are quite new but I’ve had some who’ve been around a bit come and do it as well. I had someone who came along who has written a book and is going to be doing book readings and he came along to improve his stagecraft. It’s a lot of fun and sort of stimulates that part of my brain that doesn’t get activated very often. It’s nice to step out of yourself and do something creative and productive but not just comedy. You get caught up in your own thing.”

“Like the Edinburgh Fringe…” I prompted.

“Yes, I’m getting ready for my show next year,” said Matt, “and I know what it’s about.”

“Which is…?” I asked.

“Well, you know what it’s like when there is what something’s about and then what it’s REALLY about?”

“Yes.”

“So I haven’t found out what it’s really about yet. On the surface, it appears to be about arguments that I wish I had won. But it’s set in Cornwall and the central thing is about being in the remedial class at school and getting knocked off my bike on a dual carriageway when I was 13 and I nearly died.”

And that, I guess, is another story.

And, knowing Matt, it will be a great story and very funny too.

But… If only someone could come up with a generic name to describe that type of comedic storytelling show…

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Comic Matt Price: hypnotherapy, sperm, Australia and marijuana

Matt Price in Camden Town last night

Matt Price, natural born storyteller, in Camden last night

Last Sunday’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was supposed to be recorded with Kate Copstick et moi talking to comic Matt Price before the second Best of Natural Born Storytellers shows at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, London. Alas, Copstick was ill, so it was done from her flat.

Matt Price runs monthly Natural Born Storytellers shows with Michael Kossew in Camden Town and, last night, I went along to see this month’s show. As always, true stories told straight: extraordinary, revealing, cathartic, sometimes funny, sad, empathic. Matt had just returned from performing at the Perth and Adelaide comedy festivals.

“Was it was your first trip to Australia?” I asked.

“Yes,” Matt told me, “My friends were running a book on whether I would get deep vein thrombosis. But I wore the deep vein thrombosis socks and took an aspirin. The other problem was I used to have a phobia about flying. But Martha (his partner, comic Martha McBrier) is a qualified hypnotherapist. She tried to hypnotise me and it kind-of worked.”

“She’s a qualified hypnotherapist?” I asked, surprised.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier encountered a major problem as a sperm

“Yes,” said Matt. “As part of her training, she had to be hypnotised herself and she did past-life regression. They regressed her and asked: Who are you? And she said: I’m a sperm.”

“That’s not strictly a past life,” I suggested. “That’s more the beginning of her current life.”

Ignoring this – I thought valid – point, Matt continued: “They asked her: Are you OK?”

“Was it,” I suggested, “a bit crowded in among all the other sperm?”

“No,” said Matt. She told them: Everybody wants to go swimming and I’m not really into swimming and they’re all so competitive – That’s a true story.

“She did encourage me to do hypnotherapy, though, so I got some tapes and listened to them. The first thing I did afterwards was fly over to Hungary and normally I would have been really frightened but I wasn’t. And then I flew to Australia and back again without any bother. I even really enjoyed it.”

“Australia,” I observed, “is just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

“But,” said Matt brightly, “I found that banter and taking-the-piss is a universal thing. And some of the heckles were very helpful. You would ask What’s a bogan? (the equivalent of a chav in England or Ned in Scotland) and they would explain it in depth because they really want you to know about their culture.”

“Their culture?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt. “One guy got up and left after I’d been doing my act for about 30 seconds and he came back in about two minutes later saying: Oh sorry, mate, I was thirsty. I got me and me missus a beer and I got one for you as well. Australia must be the only place in the world where you can be heckled with generosity.”

I asked Matt: “What was your show called?”

A British Bloke’s Guide to Being a Man.

“And,” I asked, “your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

“I don’t want to tell you the title,” replied Matt. “Not until it is in the Programme. What I do have is story I’m finally able to tell, because the person involved in it is no longer involved in illegal activity. Basically, in December 2005, I received a package through the post and that package was illegal…”

“Not something wrapped in another stab vest?” I asked.

Matt Price demonstrates in a Camden street that the stab vest does not fit

Last year, Matt Price demonstrated in a Camden street that his stab vest did not fit

“No. It was 10 oz of marijuana sent to me by someone very close to me as a present and, because that person had not given me many presents before and because I’m not really involved in that world, I did not really want to… I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t want to give it away. Giving away weed when you’re not involved in that world is very hard. And I didn’t want to throw it away. And I didn’t want to sell it, because that would make me a drug dealer. So it’s all about what I did in order to get rid of this weed and find it a good home. I am going to promote the show as Cornish Breaking Bad meets Only Fools and Horses. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.”

“You have met some dodgy people,” I observed. “I know you know dodgy people in three countries – Scotland, England and Turkey.”

“Yes. Someone I know bought a car at an auction and pretended it was a police car.”

Pretended it was a police car?” I asked.

“Yeah. He wrote POLITE on the side of the car and he and his friend were driving around with a radio, listening to what the police were saying and then following cars. They ended up stopping a police car just for a bet.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“They got arrested,” said Matt.

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If alternative comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll, is storytelling the new comedy?

Natural Born Storytellers at The Lost Theatre

Natural Born Storytellers went theatrical at The Lost Theatre

Comedy clubs in the UK are said to be on the decline. But storytelling is teetering on the brink of the possibility of becoming the new comedy.

Nowadays, by and large – especially at the Edinburgh Fringe – comedians do not perform traditional gag routines. They tell stories with laughs. Some – often the more interesting – do not even tell funny stories. They tell serious stories in a way that makes people laugh. I often say that my very talented chum Scottish comedienne Janey Godley does not tell funny stories: she tells stories funny.

A couple of weekends ago, at The Lost Theatre in London, I saw a Natural Born Storytellers show – their first in a theatre. It was packed. Their normal monthly shows are at the Camden Head pub. The next is tomorrow night. It is like sitting in some Icelandic hut thousands of years ago, listening to short sagas. Fascinating and entirely successful.

Natural Born Storytellers is run by comedians Michael Kossew and Matt Price. I talked to them at Soho Theatre yesterday.

“Storytelling clubs could take off big,” I told them. “But it’s a marketing problem. The word ‘storytelling’ is not as sexy as the phrase ‘stand-up comedy’.”

Matt Price (left) and Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre

Matt Price (left) & Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre yesterday

Michael said: “If I tell people it’s a true storytelling night, they want to know more. I think the themes help to get people in.”

“We have a different theme every month,” explained Matt. “And it’s the ‘true’ element that attracts people. It’s true, alternative, raw storytelling. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Michael said: “I did Natural Born Storytellers at the Burning Nest Festival in May and I told one story. The rest of the 1 hour and 45 minutes was made up by everyone sitting round in a circle taking turns to tell their own stories. I thought This works! This really works! – in a festival environment, in a theatre environment. It works. People are really interested.”

“And in a corporate environment,” suggested Matt. “I am not lowering ourselves quite to the level of karaoke but, if you’ve ever seen a karaoke night, once one person has a go at singing, everybody else wants to have a go. We find our audiences stay behind after the show and people are telling stories. It’s a different vibe to a comedy night. Everyone has a story. It’s no different, really, to sitting round the dinner table. The difference is we are in a club and you have to walk into a building with strangers but, by the end, people become inspired and want to hear more stories and tell more stories.”

“It’s massive in America,” said Michael. “There’s a thing called The Moth.”

The Moth has taken off in the US

The Moth storytelling outfit has taken off in the United States

“The Myth?” I asked.

“The Moth,” said Michael. “It is like a fly-on-the-wall, but it’s a Moth. I’d never heard of them until we had been going a few months, but they do very similar things to us.”

“And there’s also RISK!” said Matt, “and CRINGE. I think raw and honest is the direction we want to go in although we have room for everybody – so long as their story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s what drives me mad sometimes. It’s such a simple concept and I can’t understand why some people don’t get it.”

“Even comedians?” I asked.

“Especially comedians,” said Matt.

“Surely in comedy,” I said, “comics are used to heading towards a strong end – a punchline?”

“But,” said Michael, “they are looking for laughs. They are not so comfortable with telling an eight-minute story – we have an eight-minute time limit – with no-one laughing. People can be sitting on the edge of their seats absolutely enthralled and then the comedian slips in a joke just to hear a laugh and the audience loses interest because it feels too contrived. People will laugh if it’s a funny story, but it’s a more natural laugh coming from empathy with the person telling the story. Not because there is a punch line. You don’t need that.”

“I guess,” I said, “that most of your current storytellers are comedians or showbiz people because of your contacts?”

“We’re looking to find a wider variety of storytellers,” said Michael.

“I don’t know if we want comedians, really,” said Matt.

“Some do get it,” said Michael. “They get on stage, use their normal voice and tell a story. That’s what we’re looking for. People to be themselves on stage. If you can’t be yourself, it’s going to be hard to tell a true story.”

“And you’ll hate it,” said Matt. “And the audience will hate it.”

“Eight minutes is not some arbitrary number,” explained Michael. “It’s pretty much the exact point where people will start losing interest in a short night. If you keep it to eight minutes, you’ve got them gripped the whole way through.”

“And the storytellers are restricted to the monthly theme…” I said.

Natural Born Storytellers Each month a different theme

For the last 18 months, a stage for Natural Born Storytellers

“The themes are designed to be flexible,” said Matt. “So, for example, with My Hands Were Tied there was the moral decision element, the sado-masochism element and we even had a guy who was a former escapologist who talked about the politics of being an escapologist.”

“In a future show,” said Michael, “we have a story about a man who boiled a parrot.”

“Perfect,” said Matt.

“I’m going to make up a special theme,” said Michael, “just so he can tell that story. It is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my life.”

“But,” I said, “the stories do not necessarily have to be funny.”

“Oh no,” said Matt.

“We have had people crying,” said Michael.

“It’s lovely to hear a gasp followed by a laugh,” said Matt, “and then people even crying.”

“Sounds like a synopsis of my sex life,” I said.

“There have been one or two occasions,” said Michael, “where events have happened almost too close to the person getting on stage and telling the story. To them, it’s more like venting and that’s not really what we’re about. We want a coherent story rather that a psychiatrist’s couch.”

Matt said: “We like to think of ourselves as alternative storytellers. We’re so modern, we don’t even know where we are going.”

“How can you develop it?” I asked.

“At the Camden Head,” said Michael, “we’re going to do a live podcast.”

“And,” I suggested, “although people don’t want to listen to the same jokes again and again, they will listen to the same song lots of times and still enjoy it. It can be the same with good stories.”

Chris Dangerfield’s 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show

Dangerfield’s Edinburgh Fringe show – quite a story to tell

“At the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” said Matt, “I went four times to see Chris Dangerfield’s show. The reason was because it felt like going back to listen to a really good music album. It was not radically different every night, but it took on a different tone each night. With stories, they evolve as you tell them. Some of the best stories are ones you can hear again and again and you actually gather more each time you hear them.”

“Well,” said Michael, “with any story, the more you tell it, the better you are going to get at telling it. I’m going to run a three-hour storytelling workshop starting in November – about techniques and figuring out how to elicit stories from your past and how to construct them. But every person tells stories completely differently. It’s mostly about constructing an atmosphere for sharing and constructive feedback between a group.”

“But if you can do workshops,” I said, “it implies there is no such thing as a natural born storyteller: the technique can be taught.”

“There are natural born storytellers,” said Matt, “but you may have to bring that natural talent out.”

“Some people,” said Michael, “need a little bit of coaxing out of their shell. It’s also about structure. Finding what is relevant. What is the story REALLY about?”

Can storytelling clubs ever become as widespread or as populist as comedy clubs?

At the end of each edition of BBC TV’s highly popular Graham Norton Show featuring ‘A’ List stars, he has ordinary members of the public tell stories in ‘the red chair’. If the story is not interesting enough, they get tilted out of the chair – a bit like a storytelling Gong Show.

Storytelling clubs could catch on now that the appetite for pure gag-based comedy appears to be waning.

The story told by Matt Price at Natural Born Storytellers in the Lost Theatre show is on YouTube.

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