Tag Archives: Michael Barrymore

Why I am named in the Daily Star today

Flyerer Blanche Cameron behind the fame of Lewis Schaffer

Blanche Cameron chooses to hide her light under a Lewis-Schaffer-flyer-shaped bushel

Fame is strange and not necessarily welcome.

I was working at Granada TV in Manchester when the station decided to move its announcers from voice-over to on-screen. One day, I was wandering along the street with an announcer who was unenthusiastic about the upcoming change.

“I don’t want people to recognise me when I buy my underpants in Marks & Spencer,” he told me.

I am quite happy living in a Facebook world. In this blog yesterday I mentioned a Facebook Friend of mine who met me and, quite reasonably, did not recognise me because we had never met.

That’s fine with me. I think it is good no-one I don’t know recognises me except occasionally when, by a process of elimination – There’s an abnormally old man in the room – they may twig I’m that blogger bloke with whom they are Facebook Friends.

Yesterday, before Mel Moon’s Sick Girl show started, I was chatting to a stranger in the audience and someone in the row behind us asked if I was that bloke who did the Grouchy Club Podcasts with Kate Copstick – he had recognised my voice.

I found this simultaneously surprising and unnerving.

Which gets us to the newspapers today.

Edinburgh Fringe stunt When does an Fringe stunt overstep the mark?

When does a Fringe stunt overstep the mark?

In this blog three days ago, I mentioned a stunt in the Cowgate in which two people dangled on a trapeze under George IV Bridge, high above the Cowgate, as pedestrians and cars passed underneath. They did it – risking their own lives and possibly the lives of those underneath – to publicise a show. To create fame.

According to the Edinburgh Evening News today, they “could now face a police investigation over their ‘excessively dangerous’ performance amid claims that their actions crossed a line and ‘could have been lethal’.”

In 2006, the Evening News reports, “student Kate Flannery was left temporarily paralysed and suffered a fractured skull” after she was hit by a traffic cone thrown from George IV Bridge 60 feet down onto the Cowgate.

Two human bodies falling 60 feet onto other people or onto the windscreen of a passing vehicle would obviously have an even more dramatic impact.

Daily Star - Cilla & Barrymore

Today’s Daily Star – a result of my blog

Also in the papers today, I am quoted in the Daily Star in a brief piece about alleged rivalry between Cilla Black and Michael Barrymore at London Weekend Television. This piece came about because the reporter had read my blog of exactly a week ago.

I suspect any rivalry they had was as nothing compared to some acts at the Edinburgh Fringe, where yesterday one comic told me about their posters mysteriously being taken down. A rival comic is suspected.

Ah, Infamy! Infamy!… etc etc

Fame is transient and often localised.

Yesterday, waiting to go into Louise Reay’s show It’s Only Words, I bumped into Sara Mason, who is sharing a flat with Louise. Sara’s own jaw-dropping show is titled (entirely truthfully) Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11).

Sara Mason - Burt Lancaster poster

That is Burt NOT Tinky Winky on the right

It is directed by Dave Thompson, who played Tinky Winky in the children’s TV series Teletubbies. This is mentioned on the posters and flyers.

Sara told me: “More people know Tinky Winky now than know Burt Lancaster. More than one person has seen the picture of Burt Lancaster on my flyer and asked: Ooh! Did he play Tinky Winky? They don’t even recognise Burt Lancaster’s face.”


I was scheduled to see seven shows yesterday. These are five of them.

Mel Moon: Sick Girl
Faultless, perfect Fringe story. Warmth, laughter and potential death (potentially even during the actual performance) from a horrendous disease which continues to afflict Mel.

Louise Reay: It’s Only Words
So good I’ve now seen it twice. More than a stand-up show – performed totally in Chinese – an experiment in how visual perception overwhelms verbal communication. Very very funny. Especially for lovers of EastEnders. A triumph of charisma and eye movements.

Christian Talbot: Cheaper Than Therapy
Basically, a load of comics sitting upstairs in Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus venue talking in fascinating detail about the reality of being comedians. Last night’s subject was ‘nerves’. Sadly, tonight’s show is the last one.

Gary Meikle: Dysfunctionally In Order
Highly efficient Scottish stand-up. Anyone whose flyer has a recommendation from Janey Godley is always worth seeing. I have a feeling there is a humdinger of a confessional show lurking in there somewhere which was only glimpsed last night. He is clearly a very good club comic. I suspect he could also be an exceptional weaver of 60-minute Fringe shows.

Madame Señorita; ¿Eres Tú?

Madame Señorita; ¿Eres Tú?

Madame Señorita: ¿Eres Tú?
I saw this show. I cannot tell you what it was about. Showman Adam Taffler persuaded me to see it on the basis he knew “a fucking crazy Spanish lady” – Paula Valluerca – Madame Señorita.

Mad, surreal and OTT does not even begin to describe the show. And possibly her.

She won Best Female Act at the London Solo Festival in 2013 and Best Theatre Play at the 2015 Carabanchel en Escena Festival in Madrid.

Do not say I didn’t warn you.

1 Comment

Filed under Celebrity, Comedy, Fame

Critic Kate Copstick on TV comedy and grey-haired Lewis Schaffer’s sex appeal

Copstick and moi recording the podcast yesterday

Copstick et moi record the Grouchy Club Podcast yesterday

Yesterday, Kate Copstick and I recorded our sixth Grouchy Club Podcast at her Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

Amid talk of sex and a Manchester Hotel which used to be a brothel, the subject of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s sex appeal came up.


COPSTICK

… and he’s looking well. Even since he stopped dying his hair.

Lewis Schaffer’s flyer image for his Leicester Square shows

Lewis Schaffer with his dyed hair – even then a heart-throb?

JOHN

Ah, now… Sex and Lewis Schaffer and his hair. I think it makes him look older and therefore less attractive I would have thought – I don’t know, but…

COPSTICK

No. He’s become a bit of a silver fox, don’t you think?

JOHN

Women keep telling me he’s more attractive with his grey hair. I would have thought, if you’re a stand-up comedian, you have to be young.

COPSTICK

With Lewis and the jet-black hair, there was a definite hint of Lenny Beige.

Not Lewis Schaffer - Lenny Beige

It’s not Lewis Schaffer – It’s Lenny Beige

JOHN

(LAUGHING) For people who don’t know Lenny Beige, he was a sort-of fake lounge lizard comedian.

COPSTICK

(IN AMERICAN ACCENT) Fantastic! With more or less the same accent as Lewis Schaffer. A funny, funny man.

JOHN

But fake. As, indeed, is Lewis because, of course, he’s from Birmingham.

COPSTICK

Of course… And he’s not a failure.

JOHN

Well yes. Poor old Lewis Schaffer, who’s made his entire reputation out of being a failure and having a show called…

COPSTICK

He’s been on the (BBC Radio 4) Today programme, for fucksake!

JOHN

I know. His show was called Free Until Famous and now he’s charging a tenner (£10) in Edinburgh to get in and a tenner in Leicester Square for the last god knows how long.

Lewis Schaffer in his weekly Leicester Square Theatre show

Lewis Schaffer in his weekly Leicester Square Theatre show International Man of Misery

COPSTICK

Where’s he going to? That’s the thing. If you build a career on failure, when you start to succeed, where do you go?

JOHN

Upwards. He’s going to fail at being a failure, therefore he’s going to go upwards. Most people fail at being a success and go downwards.

COPSTICK

But then is he going to be able to get away with stumbling on stage and just talking shit for an hour?

JOHN

Well, yes. It’s very interesting shit he talks. Did you see the video of the Today programme? That was interesting.

COPSTICK

There are videos of the Today programme?

JOHN

They seem to have some sort of webcam up in the corner.

COPSTICK

That’s very modern of them. With John Humphries?

Lewis Schaffer on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

Lewis Schaffer on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in March

JOHN

They had a webcam and someone gave the link to Lewis and he put it online on Facebook and he looked really good on camera. John Humphries was in the corner shuffling papers, because it wasn’t his serious item. But Lewis looked really good on television. He would be really good on television documentaries. He’s not a stand-up comedian because he can’t replicate the act phrase-for-phrase, pause-for-pause in rehearsals, dress rehearsals and the take. But he’d be very good on like My View of Britain. It would be like Letter From America with Alistair Cooke.

COPSTICK

He does… He chunters… He’s a bit like Phil Kaye, who can be absolutely genius on stage or can be What the fuck was all that about? And that sort of thing is very difficult to capture on television because you are time constrained on television. When someone rambles the way Phil or Lewis rambles, it’s not rambling in a way you can chop down to make something succinct.

JOHN

You need nerves of steel as a producer and just let it go. I was in the audience at London Weekend for the first episode of a Michael Barrymore series and they kept interrupting the show to say to Michael that he had gone off script and they kept putting him back on script, which was completely mad. You want to let him loose, hope for the best, have nerves of steel and have a very good director who can edit…

At the time of posting, the BBC website has a video clip of Lewis Schaffer on the Today programme.

Leave a comment

Filed under Age, Comedy, Television

Lewis Schaffer on Dapper Laughs + how to make an offensive joke acceptable

I have blogged about the Dapper Laughs controversy before. It is too complicated to explain again, but you can pick up the gist on Wikipedia if you have to.

There is also a compilation video of Dapper Laughs material on YouTube

Comedian Lewis Schaffer – an American based in the UK – once got a review at the Edinburgh Fringe from a young, inexperienced reviewer. It said his act was ‘mildly racist’. Lewis Schaffer has always said this review was one of the worst he has ever received because of the use of that horrible, horrible word – ‘mildly’.

“Who wants to be mildly anything?” he says.

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Lewis Schaffer perform at The Establishment Club in London and, in the evening, saw him perform at his regular weekly show at the Leicester Square Theatre.

At The Establishment, gay acts Scott Capurro and Dickie Beau were on the bill and stayed around to watch him. Lewis Schaffer’s act was relentlessly about gay people. In the evening, almost everyone in the audience got ‘picked on’ for being gay or Scottish or (in one case) coming from the Indian sub-continent – which translated as being a Palestinian Islamic extremist, despite the fact the guy said he was a ‘Christian atheist’.

Both shows were very funny.

After the Leicester Square show, I had a chat with Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer at the Leicester Square Theatre last night

Mild Lewis Schaffer at the Leicester Square Theatre last night

“The attitude of people in this country at the moment,” he said, “reminds me of America during the Vietnam War – how excited everyone was about everything. There was a heightened level of awareness and movement.”

“I think we’re just as lethargic as ever,” I said.

“No, I think there’s a big difference,” said Lewis Schaffer, “between now and even five years ago. People now get into arguments over the slightest possible thing.”

“That is just you being argumentative,” I said.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “it’s other people being argumentative – like what they did to Dapper Laughs. Whether what Dapper Laughs said was good or bad, I think the reason other comedians picked on him was because they were jealous of him: that he had not worked his way up through the ranks, that he called himself a comedian.”

“Well,” I said, “he needed a manager to control what happened.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he needed someone to take the flak for him. He rose too high and he fell too fast.”

“But he was a one-off,” I said. “He was just not experienced enough to deal with it.”

“He had a TV series, a tour, an album,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He had everything. The question is What does he do now?

Dapper Laughs - “dead in the water"

Dapper Laughs – is the presenter’s career “dead in the water”?

“He’s dead in the water,” I said.

“Do you think he ever has a chance making it back in the comedy business?”

“Not for five or six years,” I said, “by which time he will be perceived as being from a previous generation of performers.”

“And,” said Lewis Schaffer, “at that point, he’s not going to be interesting to anybody.”

“Yup,” I said. “He tried the best he could by going on Newsnight and saying Oh, I’ve killed off the character – to make it seem like there’s a distinction between him and Dapper Laughs. But it was too little too late.”

“It’s similar to what happened to Andrew Dice Clay in America,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“He just seemed to disappear from the radar,” I said.

“Well,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he rose very fast as well. He was on MTV and making movies and things and then people heard what he was saying. He saw himself as a joke but his audience was taking him seriously. He was a skinny Jewish guy from Brooklyn and he was playing it as a tough Italian.

“And,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “he was on the Arsenio Hall TV show, (there is a clip on YouTube) explaining everything and he starts crying. He destroyed his own career by crying on TV.”

Andrew Dice Clay seemed indestructible

Andrew Dice Clay. He seemed indestructible

“Why was he crying?” I asked.

“He was under a lot of pressure with people hating him. He didn’t want people to hate him. He was a comedian. As soon as he cried – forget it – he lost his core audience. They didn’t want to see some supposedly tough guy crying.”

“What happened to him?” I asked.

“He still performs but he’s never reached the level of success he had. He’s done some acting – I think he was in a Woody Allen movie.”

I laughed out loud.

“He also did a DVD of a comedian basically being unprepared and self-destructing on stage.”

“He’s stolen your act,” I said.

“With me, hopefully,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there’s some kind of ending where it all comes together and we all have a good time. I think he was told at the time You can’t release this DVD and he released it anyway.

“It’s fascinating in this business what happens when people turn on you – what happens in life when people turn on you. It’s like The Bonfire of The Vanities scenario where the guy is a Master of The Universe one day and the next day he’s running for his life.”

Fatty Arbuckle - or Michael Barrymore?

Fatty Arbuckle – or is it Michael Barrymore?

Michael Barrymore was Fatty Arbuckle,” I said. “As far as I understand it, Fatty Arbuckle had three trials, was found innocent of rape and manslaughter – he didn’t do it, but his entire career was destroyed. He had just organised a party. And, as far as I’m aware, no-one has ever said Barrymore was in any way directly responsible for the death of the guy in the swimming pool. He just hosted a party in a rambling house where something happened. But his career was destroyed.”

“What interests me,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is how do people deal with being idolised one day and being persona non grata the next? I find that really fascinating. The question is What is going to happen to Dapper Laughs?

“He won’t have made that much money,” I said. “One series on ITV2 and a first tour.”

“The point is,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he’s the kind of person who’s doing anything for a laugh. He’s not political; he’s not motivated; he’s not a misogynist or racist; he just wants to be famous and he picked the wrong thing to be famous over. Now he’s thinking: Holy shit! I made a mistake here! It’s not that I agree with what he did or said – I don’t even know exactly what he did or said.”

“I don’t think it was the TV series that did for him,” I said. “It was the comedy club show. Telling a woman in the front row that she was ‘gagging for a rape’. That was way over the top. That was way beyond acceptable.”

“It’s too extreme,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but I imagine he meant it as a joke.”

“I think maybe,” I said, “he just lost control of the character. He was thinking through the character’s mind and lost objective control of what he was doing.”

“He wasn’t experienced enough,” said Lewis Schaffer. “After a while you know what you can and cannot say. He didn’t have that experience and the other comedians turned on him. Well, they don’t even consider him a comedian because he hadn’t done open mic spots or been on a road trip for some agency.”

Jimmy Carr at the 2006 Malcolm Hardee Show

Carr at the 2006 Malcolm Hardee Show (Photograph by Warren King)

I told Lewis Schaffer: “When I staged a five hour Malcolm Hardee show at the Hackney Empire in 2006, I had three comperes for the three parts and, because of their availability, I had to have Jimmy Carr and one of the hosts in the first part. I scheduled Jimmy Carr as the last act in Part 1. Then the compere of Part 1 – who wasn’t available for Part 2 – said he would not introduce Jimmy Carr because he had just done that joke about gypsy moths which had got him a lot of flak. So I had to move Jimmy Carr to the first act of Part 2 because he wasn’t available later.”

“What was the gypsy moth joke again?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away – and that fact also works if you remove the word moth. Which is a clever joke.”

“No it isn’t,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s not nice to the gypsies.”

I laughed: “Your entire act is based on insulting people. That gypsy moth joke is very well-crafted and, said, in Jimmy Carr’s cynical, throwaway persona I’m sure it was very funny. I never actually heard him tell it, so I don’t know.”

“It IS a well-crafted joke,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “but the problem is it’s not making fun of the audience or making fun of the audience for believing that gypsies smell. The point is you can’t tell that joke to an audience of non-gypsies. I think Jimmy Carr is hysterically funny but that joke is inappropriate.”

“But you’re always insulting your audience,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer after last night’s show

Lewis Schaffer advice after last night’s Leicester Square show

“If he had an audience of gypsies and he made that joke right to their faces,” said Lewis Schaffer, “that’s OK… In my gig at The Establishment Club this afternoon, I didn’t do any race material. I never do black material unless there are black people there.”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “I suppose I could tell an anti-Semitic joke to you because you’re Jewish and that would be OK, but it would not be acceptable to tell it to…”

“…a room full of Nazis,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Though I might make good money.” I said.

“You might make some money,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “but you shouldn’t do it. That’s the point.”

4 Comments

Filed under Bad taste, Comedy

The night comedian Julian Clary joked that he had “fisted” politician Norman Lamont at the British Comedy Awards

DAVID JOHNSON, ON WHOSE ANECDOTE THIS PARTICULAR BLOG WAS ORIGINALLY CENTRED HAS ASKED ME TO DELETE THE BLOG, WHICH I HAVE REFUSED TO DO – I THINK IT IS A FASCINATING INSIGHT INTO A VIVIDLY REMEMBERED INCIDENT. HE TELLS ME HE HAS ALSO WITHDRAWN PERMISSION FOR ME TO USE HIS DIRECT WORDS – ALTHOUGH, AS HE POSTED THEM ON FACEBOOK, I THINK THEY ARE IN THE PULIC DOMAIN… STILL, ANYTHING FOR A QUIET LIFE, EH?… SO WHAT HE WROTE HAS BEEN PARAPHRASED BY ME… NOW READ ON…

______________________________________________________

Piers Morgan’s TV guest was unexpected

Piers Morgan’s two faces: sympathetic TV ear + tabloid teeth

Last weekend in Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, he interviewed Julian Clary, whose TV career faltered in 1993 – well, in effect, it stopped for two years – when Julian appeared on the televised British Comedy Awards show and came on stage joking that he had been “fisting” the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

The incident is on YouTube:

Jonathan Ross’ scripted introduction says: “To crown the King or Queen of Comedy, who better than the man never known to go for a single entendre when a good solid double would do? Please welcome Julian Clary…” – so the viewing public was warned (in the unlikely event that they did not already know), that Julian Clary was known for making sexual references during his act.

The result of Julian’s unscripted “fisting” reference, however, was ‘public outrage’ – or was it?

The illuminating memory below was posted last week by theatre producer David Johnson on his Facebook page (SINCE DELETED). David’s productions this year have included shows and tours by Fascinating Aida, Stewart Lee, Piff The Magic Dragon, Rubberbandits, Alexei Sayle and Sandy Toksvig.

____________________________________________________

David wrote that he had watched the ITV1 Life Stories interview of Julian Clary by Piers Morgan.

He said he found it difficult to watch because of Piers Morgan’s  own personal involvement in what had happened at the 1993 Comedy Awards. He said Piers Morgan – who was Showbiz Editor of the Sun at the time – was responsible for the ‘public outrage’ that started in the following day’s issue of the Sun.

David had been in the press room of the London Studios on the night of the British Comedy Awards.

He was sitting next to Piers Morgan in the room. The ITV Duty Log (of viewer’s complaints) was being relayed to a small adjoining room.

To put what happened into context, David pointed out that Norman Lamont had actually been booed by the Comedy Awards audience when he had gone on stage to present an award.

When Julian Clary made the “fisting” reference, everyone in the room laughed and, according to David,  Piers Morgan observed that most viewers – particularly Sun readers – would not actually know what the word “fisting” meant.

Some complaints did come in from viewers – but about a joke over (David thought he remembered) a puppy. No viewers complained about the audience booing Lamont nor about the actual Julian Clary “fisting” joke.

However, near the end of the Awards show, comedian Michael Barrymore (who, at that time was at the height of his popularity) mentioned Julian Clary’s joke and accompanied it with a fisting mime.

“We’ll have to run it now!” David remembers Piers Morgan saying and Piers rushed off to phone the Sun newsroom.

The next morning, remembered David, the Julian Clary story was spread over the front page of the Sun.

Several months later, Piers Morgan was promoted to become the News Of The World’s youngest ever editor.

Now, here on ITV in 2013, was the person who had caused Julian Clary’s misery – Piers Morgan – appearing to sympathise with his victim.

____________________________________________________

Julian Clary in 2008

Julian Clary knew nothing of it

When I read what David Johnson had written, I thought to myself: Why on earth did Julian Clary agree to go on the Piers Morgan show – even though all this happened 20 years ago?

Comedy writer Jim Miller asked that very question on David Johnson’s Facebook page. He posted:

“Well, Julian must have known that it was Morgan who ‘hounded him and made him miserable and suicidal’. Yet he chose to do the interview with Morgan. I don’t get your point, other than that everything is for sale in pursuit of a little telly exposure?”

In response Julian’s friend, writer, producer and film critic David McGillivray posted:

“Actually he didn’t. He found out when I emailed him David’s revelation yesterday.”

* * * *

THAT WAS THE ORIGINAL BLOG, AS POSTED. BUT THEN THERE WAS A FOLLOW-UP MESSAGE FROM DAVID JOHNSON WHICH WAS ADDED SEVERAL HOURS LATER…

In this additional piece, David Johnson said it was the Sun’s thuggish writer Garry Bushell who actually wrote the piece which was published the next morning. Bushell’s piece argued that Julian Clary should be banned from live TV. David said this started off a homophobic campaign against artists including Julian Clary and Graham Norton and that it lasted for as long as Garry Bushell was writing for the tabloids.

He said that Garry Bushell’s defence of himself in 2005 – “This isn’t about homophobia. It’s about a fair deal for fellas. We watch telly too” was only to be expected and that he was glad to realise it was Garry Bushell himself – not Julian Clary – who ultimately lost out and became unemployable because of his material. David said Garry Bushell had barely worked since 2007 and was an active UKIP member.

MORE EXPLANATION ABOUT THE CHANGES TO THIS BLOG IN THE FOLLOWING DAY’S BLOG HERE

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Newspapers, Politics, Sex, Television

Comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee on Vic Reeves and Michael Barrymore

This extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake gives his views of some comedians in 1995…

________

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography

I was attacked at Glastonbury by a bloke called Bone, part of the anarchist lot Class War. He was going on about how we were all rich. I must have been wearing a suit at the time. He had a daughter called Jenny Bone, who was a brilliant 16 year-old comic, the female equivalent of Jerry Sadowitz. I only ever saw her do about five or six gigs and never heard of her again. She must have given up, which is a great pity.

Some great comedians have given up when they might have gone on to greater things. Others have gone on to gain that success.

Vic Reeves went on to gain success. He should have given up.

Vic was a very clever man. He used to perform in South East London starting at The Goldsmith’s Tavern, next to Goldsmith’s University in New Cross.

Vic called his stage show Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out and performed it with a local alcoholic called Alan King. It was Alan King who was a lot of the brains behind it, but he wasn’t very good as a performer. He admits that he isn’t. He used to just get up on stage and tell a load of old Tommy Cooper jokes very badly while he was ironing.

Because the show included Vic Reeves’ name, Vic got the cult following. He used to spin a fan round and the audience all knew his catchphrases like Give it a spin! and What’s on the end of the stick, Vic? Now and again, though, he’d come into the alternative cabaret circuit and he did the Open Spot a few times at The Tunnel.

Most times he died.

After Alan King left him, Vic teamed up with Bob Mortimer and, as a favour, I got them a booking at Bracknell Arts Centre. It was an easy place to play, about 90 in the audience in a little cellar. A nice audience.

But, after Reeves & Mortimer played there, people actually signed a petition. They said they never wanted to see Vic Reeves or Bob Mortimer in the building ever again. The whole audience. A year later, the bloke who ran the place was ringing me up offering about £8,000 for them to perform in the big theatre next door.

After a time in the Goldsmith’s Tavern, Vic moved his show down the road to the Albany Empire. Michael Grade of Channel 4 was in the audience one night and that’s how Vic got his first TV series.

Alan King is still about. He’s a little bit resentful about the success that has eluded him. He recently organised a weekly Quiz Night at Up The Creek, which was really just an excuse for him to get up with his band and play. It finished after two weeks to a serious lack of audience.

I was at a club he was tempted to run in Camberwell. He’d had so much to drink he was sick into the empty beer glass and then a little later on he proceeded to drink his own vomit.

As for Vic Reeves, success hasn’t really changed him. He was arrogant before he was successful. I get on OK with him, but he’s difficult to get on with because the surreal nature of the show is actually what he is like. You can have a conversation with him that’s straight out of his show:

“I saw two cabbages walking down the road…..”

It’s a bit like schoolboy jokes where only he and his mates are in on the joke. I didn’t understand it or think it was funny when I first saw it but, if you’re told it’s funny long enough, then it becomes funny.

I now do find Reeves & Mortimer funny, though not hilariously funny. There are some comic moments there. I certainly find it funnier than most mainstream comedy.

I think Michael Barrymore is the best of the current mainstream comics. He’s a South East London boy from Bermondsey. I saw him years and years ago when his act involved standing on his head doing impersonations of an Australian John Cleese. Early in his career, he was heavily backed by the Daily Mirror. They did a story in which they followed an unknown comic and they were going to report on his progress at yearly intervals, which they did. I think that helped him along. He is extremely good at what he does, including interviewing ordinary people. He has just that right tone of cynicism but, like me, he genuinely likes ‘naff’ acts, end-of-the-pier acts. He’s encouraging yet, at the same time it’s rather tongue-in-cheek.

I have sometimes been asked who is the most talented ‘alternative’ comedian who never made it.

The most talented performer who never made it is probably Jerry Sadowitz, because he is a genuinely gifted magician-comedian. I recently read Alexei Sayle quoted as saying he thought Jerry was the only current comic genius.

But I don’t think any of the alternative comedy circuit comedians have actually really ‘made it’. Certainly not Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. They’re not on the Michael Barrymore/Bruce Forsyth/Cilla Black level. Living in big houses. People like Reeves & Mortimer are about five rungs down that ladder, still slightly fringe comedians. Possibly Lee Evans has done best. In his feature film Funny Bones, he had equal billing with Jerry Lewis.

But Lee Evans started as a mainstream comic and he linked up with the alternative acts probably mainly due to his youth. He was doing the Butlin’s Holiday Camp circuit before he latched onto the Alternative circuit. Lee always gets compared to Norman Wisdom and there are similarities: both were boxers, both became fitness fanatics and they’re both very physical comedians. But Lee was never particularly ‘alternative’.

There are three types of comedy. There’s Mainstream – your bow tie and frilly shirt Jim Davidson show. There’s Alternative – which has some sort of intellectual or even Art content. And there’s just plain Weird.

Some of the Alternative acts latch on to the public consciousness and gain some Mainstream success by changing slightly. None of the really alternative comedians have made it. The very nature of ‘alternative’ means there is a limited audience. The mainstream audience is the people who watch BBC1 at 8.30pm on a weekday. So Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson have drifted across from alternative into the mainstream. So have French & Saunders, who started off in the Comic Strip club.

Charlie Chuck is a Weird act who should theoretically never make it. But he might if he goes the Freddie Starr route and tones down his act – which he has already started doing to try to appeal to a wider audience since his appearances as ‘Uncle Peter’ on The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer.

Weird is funny, but the general public generally aren’t ready for it. About the nearest you can get to a Weird Mainstream act is Freddie Starr or Spike Milligan.

Some acts, of course, are just too weird to ever make it. Like Ian Hinchliffe.

I heard about him years and years ago, even before I started with The Greatest Show on Legs. Someone asked me:

“Do you want to go and see this bloke called Ian Hinchliffe who eats glass?”

I never went to see him but, years later, I bumped into him when he was in his fifties and saw him in various pub shows where he threw bits of liver around. He was, he said, a performance artist and in one part of his act he pretended to disembowel himself. He had liver and bits of offal in a bag that he pretended was coming out of his stomach. Then he started throwing it at the audience.

One show I saw was in an East End pub with a particularly rough landlord. The liver and offal flew right over the audience’s head, hit the landlord and knocked the optics off behind the bar. The landlord came over to beat him up and Ian Hinchliffe jumped out of the first floor window. He landed on the landlord’s car, putting a big dent in the bonnet. He didn’t perform at that pub again.

At another gig in Birmingham, a member of the audience got up halfway through and left. Ian Hinchliffe stopped the show and followed him home. Quite what the audience felt, I don’t know.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

How to sell yourself to a TV producer + how to control uncontrollable talent

(This blog was also published on the Chortle comedy website and in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday, I had tea with a very good but not yet famous comedy performer.

He was, quite rightly, lamenting the homogenised nature of comedians on television and said he did not think he was suitable for television because he liked to try to be original.

This is a complicated area because, much as I admire Michael McIntyre’s act – and I do –  I prefer to see an act which can be brilliant but which may, on occasions not quite work – rather than an act which is slickly guaranteed to be effective 100% of the time and exactly the same every performance.

Yesterday, to the very good but not yet famous comedy performer, I mentioned a middle-ranking English comedian whom I admire.

He has an act which he performs and it is a very good act which he regularly updates and tweaks. When this comedian has a good audience, he is reliably funny. Very good value for money.

When he has a rowdy audience, however, he is far, far better. Because, if he is heckled or interrupted in some way, it sets him off at a tangent from his regular act. He soars away from sentence to sentence to idea to idea and can be brilliantly funny, then he comes back to the backbone of his regular act, then he will soar away again on surreal tangents, playing to the unpredictable audience’s reaction.

This is not necessarily what TV wants, though.

Another act we talked about yesterday used to be reliably unreliable. The comedian updated and varied his act regularly but there was a certain predictability about it. Perhaps 20% or 30% of the act did not work. Perhaps 70% or 60% of the act would be successfully funny, though nothing special. Very often the remaining 10% of the act, though, could be utterly brilliant – sheer near-genius comedy. The downside was that, occasionally, that 10% did not happen. But it was always worth seeing the comedian’s act because of even the promise of that 10% of totally original genius.

Again, though, that is not what television wants.

Television is an expensive business and requires an act which can be pretty-much guaranteed not to fail or sag. You do not want to throw away an entire recording. You have to know what to expect. The director ideally needs to know exactly what the act will do verbally, visually and spatially – where he or she will be on the stage – so the cameras will catch the right angles. And the act is best for the director when it is exactly the same in the rehearsal, the dress rehearsal and during the recording.

Reliability is what TV ideally needs.

But reliability and comedic genius are not necessarily the same thing.

So does this explain why there are so many middling-but-not-very-original comedians on TV?

Yes and no.

My advice to the comedian with whom I had tea yesterday was the same as it always is to comedians.

If you approach a television researcher or producer, your viewpoint should not be that you are a small unknown comedian approaching a bigtime person who can help your career develop. Your mental viewpoint should be that you want to help the television researcher or producer develop their own career.

The TV person has a life and career just as you do. They are struggling to maintain their job, to get new and better jobs just as much as you are. You are dealing with an individual human being not a large monolithic company.

Keep repeating to yourself:

“This other person is a frail human being too. He/she eats, shits, farts, gets ill, needs to make money to survive and will die alone just like me.”

The way that TV person can develop their career is by appearing to spot talent other people cannot spot or have not yet spotted. So, perhaps surprisingly, they really are looking for originality although – this is important – they are looking for “controllable originality”. They really are not looking for someone who is a clone of 25 other comics people have already seen on TV.

That will not get them a promotion from researcher to producer or get them a job on a better TV show with a higher salary. They will succeed if they can spot “the next new big thing” before anyone else. Even if they cannot find originality, they have to be able to say to the person above them who takes decisions (or to the person who may give them their next job) that they found this act with mainstream or at least accessible cult appeal who is actually very original and unlike anything seen before.

The technical term for this in the world of television is “bullshitting”.

There is, at this point, though, a fine balance.

The thing they are looking for is “controllable originality”.

The fine line between these two words is complicated by how effective the producer or director is. The better the producer or director, the less controllable the comedian has to be.

Several years ago, a TV director I know who lives in a far-flung corner of the UK stayed at my home in London while he was directing a TV series for a minor channel. He was directing an unknown comedian in a show which roamed around the streets and, by and large, had no script. It relied on the comedian.

The show was semi-anarchic and – as I know because I worked on the legendarily anarchic children’s show Tiswas – you have to be very organised to create effectively what appears to be anarchy. If you do not have control, the whole thing may fall apart into tedious, disjointed irrelevance.

The director of this new would-be anarchic TV show would come home of an evening raving to me about how irresponsible and uncontrollable the comedian – who was taking drugs at the time – was.

The director would tell me all the irresponsible, uncontrollable things the comedian had done and I would think, but not say:

“Well, that sounds great to me. You should be going with the comedian and trying to cover what he does, rather than keep him to the rough script you are trying to follow.”

What was required was a totally self-confident director which this one was not. The director had to be confident that he could edit his way out of any problems and this one was not.

The comedian was a young Russell Brand.

I was also at the studio recording of the first episode in an expensive  TV series starring Michael Barrymore. I knew the producer who was – and is – an utterly brilliant director of entertainment shows. This, though, was one of his first shows as a producer.

Michael Barrymore (after he got over his initial urge to imitate John Cleese) could be wonderfully original – almost the definitive uncontrollable comedian who needed a strongly confident producer and/or director.

In the TV recording I saw, which involved Barrymore going into the audience a lot and interacting with real people, the show kept being stopped because Barrymore kept going off-script. The floor manager would stop the recording and, relaying directions from ‘the box’, remind Barrymore that he had to say or do X or Y.

They were trying to keep him and control him within a structure which was too tight. Barrymore had to have a structure to control the potential anarchy. But it had to be a loose structure and you had to put him on a long leash and just follow what he did. The producer in question did manage to do this as the series progressed.

One brilliant piece of lateral thinking which I did work on was an entertainment series for the late but not too lamented company BSB (later bought by Sky).

It was a large, complicated variety show and the producer employed a director who had little experience of directing entertainment shows. But what he did have was (a) a sense of humour and (b) lots and lots of experience directing sports events.

This is relevant because directing a sports event means covering an event which has a loose structure but within which you do not know exactly what is going to happen. The director has to be prepared for anything to happen and to have the cameras in the right place to catch it when it does.

He was a very confident director working for a justifiably very confident producer and it worked well although, because it was screened on BSB, it got zilch viewers.

This comes back to what researchers and producers are looking for when they see or are approached by comedians and, indeed, any performer.

They think they want and are looking for true originality… but, if they are not particularly talented researchers or producers, they will compromise according to their lack of talent.

The phrase is “controllable originality”.

The more talented the TV person, the more important the word “originality” is.

The less talented the TV person, the more important the word “controllable” becomes.

As we can see from current TV shows, there are an awful lot of less talented and less confident TV people around.

But it still remains the case that, to sell a truly original act to a TV person, you have to emphasise its originality… though you also have to emphasise its controllability and potential mainstream or large cult appeal as well as suck on the TV person’s ego like a giant tit – which the TV person probably is.

The key thing is not to look at the ‘sell’ from your own viewpoint as a little unknown person approaching a big TV company.

You have to look at the situation from the small and possibly untalented TV person’s viewpoint –

“What will this performer do for ME? How will using this performer advance my own career and increase my own job prospects?”

Do not compromise on the originality of your act – just sell it with ‘spin’ appropriate to the wanker you are approaching.

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Television, Theatre

Why I am very confused about gay sex

So, as promised, after my blogs about drink and drugs… sex.

Gay sex

Last week, someone was telling me about a friend of theirs (whom I have never met) who thinks she is gay but is not absolutely certain.

This always comes as a mystery to me.

I don’t understand how people can be confused about their own sexuality.

If you are a man and you get a hard-on looking at some boy band perform then, I would say, you should know you are gay.

If you also get a hard-on looking at a bouncy girl band, then the odds are that you are bi-sexual.

If you only get a hard-on looking at a bouncy girl band, you are heterosexual.

It seems easy enough to me.

I have never got a hard-on looking at any other male except, of course, Basil Brush.

The red fur. The voice. The bush.

I am not gay, but I dream of the fox.

Knowing if you are gay should be, I would have thought, easy.

Apparently I am wrong.

Knowing if someone else is gay, of course, is another matter and is the reason I am writing this blog, because I was told things about two showbiz people’s sexuality last week that made my figurative jaw hit the floor.

Of which more later.

I once worked with someone at London Weekend Television who appeared to be gay. When he arrived, everyone assumed he was but not with 100% certainty. Eventually, the uncertainty became too much for one production secretary who asked him outright.

He said he was not at all gay, but he had worked with so many gay men in the theatre and in TV Entertainment that their campness had, as it were, rubbed off onto him. He was not gay but he was slightly camp.

This was all the easier to understand because, at the time, there was a legendary and wonderful associate producer at LWT called Michael Longmire (now dead) who had such a camp voice, speech pattern and general demeanour that it was almost impossible to be in the room with him for more than four minutes without lapsing into his style.

“My deeeeear!” you would find yourself saying, “How could anyone POSSibly wear those two colours together. I mean, my deeeeah, it’s imPOSSible, just imPOSSible!”

He was a joy to work with because you could not POSSibly feel anything other than – well – uplifted in his presence.

Ooh matron.

He was born to work in Entertainment.

Campness and gayness, of course, are slightly different. Michael was both. The other person at LWT was slightly camp but not at all gay.

When I was at LWT, roughly the same production teams worked on the TV series Game For a Laugh and Surprise Surprise. Both were high-rating peaktime family shows.

I remember a humorous item was filmed for Surprise Surprise which included the ever-cuddly gay co-presenter Christopher Biggins being involved in a nude male centrefold photograph. The item was never screened because, after a long discussion, it was felt that the final edited item came across as too sexual for an early-evening ITV slot. It felt slightly tacky in a sexual way, not mass-appeal downmarket in a camp way.

Discussion rambled to a similarly sexually risqué item which had been shot on Game For a Laugh with co-presenter Matthew Kelly, who was also gay (although I am not sure if he had ‘come out’ at that point). The item had been transmitted without any problem on Game For a Laugh.

The conclusion reached and the reason for not screening the Surprise Surprise item was that, in an almost indefinable way, Christopher Biggins came across on screen as gay and Matthew Kelly came across as camp.

In family peaktime TV in the mid-1980s, gay was not totally acceptable but camp was, as it has always been a strong and totally accepted element in British entertainment.

Of course, it does not matter a… toss… if you are gay or not. But it seems to me slightly strange when people do not know if they are gay.

The difference between gay and camp I can understand though, logically, their acceptability should not differ. That too is slightly strange.

But to me much stranger still, in this day and age, is if someone pretends to be straight when they are gay or – even more bizarre – vice versa.

Of course, back in the Stone Age, when male (but not female) homosexuality was illegal, gay showbiz people had to stay in the cupboard or be arrested. But why bother now?

Michael Barrymore (before the swimming pool incident) damaged his career slightly  – not by being gay but by lying and saying he was not gay. He worried that his mums & grannies fanbase would not accept it; but he was wrong.

On the other hand, I suppose if ‘the’ famous Hollywood star whom everyone knows about really is gay, it might damage the credibility of his romantic scenes with female co-stars.

But John Barrowman in Doctor Who and Torchwood is totally accepted as a dashing, rather macho action hero; he is even seen as a heart-throb in a strange hetero way.

The two things which shocked me last week were both about men who were stars in their heyday, which has now passed, but they are both still living.

One I suppose I can understand. He was a rough, tough, macho action star in a classic TV series – much in the John Barrowman mode – and apparently he was camp as a row of tents (although he married).

Perhaps he was right and the public at that time would not have accepted him; it was slightly before the Game For a Laugh/Surprise Surprise incident, but only very slightly.

The other case is more bizarre, happened in roughly the same period as the height of the action star’s fame and in the same period as the Game For a Laugh/Surprise Surprise discussion. And it does my head in trying to understand the logic.

This second guy was a fairly prominent Light Entertainment star in the mid-1980s whose entire success was built round a gay persona. My dear, everyone knew he was camp as a row of tents. His every action screamed it out. His selling point was his campness. His entire act was his campness.

Except, apparently, he wasn’t and isn’t.

Apparently he was and is 100% heterosexual. Not gay. Not bi. Totally 100% heterosexual.

I had heard this before but could scarcely believe it. But apparently it is true. Why on earth he made this bizarre career choice at a period when there was a slight residual danger in being gay I cannot get my mind round at all. I know of one very major piece of damage which was inflicted on his career because his perceived gayness.

The act was not gay. It was screamingly, traditionally camp. But camp to such an extent he was assumed to be gay at a time when gay men (unlike John Barrowman today) were not going to be considered for definitively hetero roles.

Why did he decide to adopt the persona?

I cannot begin to fathom it.

As I say, there was one spectacular own goal as a result of it, which severely damaged his career.

I would say who he is except that, if he wants to pretend he is in the cupboard when he never had the key, who am I to ‘in’ him. Or whatever the appropriate phrase is.

What is the phrase?

I am totally confused.

Generally.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Movies, Sex, Television