Tag Archives: Michael Brunström

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 18: The real spirit of the Fringe returns for one day

Stoic Mark Dean Quinn sits  by the Blundabus

Today turned into very much a Spirit of The Fringe day: a spirit far too often submerged by giant posters and promoters/managers/agents/venues screwing their performers. As is often muttered, SOMEONE is making money, but it is rarely the performers.

Yesterday’s blog included Mark Dean Quinn attaching other people’s stars and quotes to his own flyers… and enticing Narin Oz into this moral jungle.

Narin today told me: “The fake stars don’t work. It’s useless without people knowing what the real show is about!”

But Mark Dean Quinn is sticking to his figurative guns and actual stars.

Meanwhile, the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club shows chaired by feared comedy critic Kate Copstick and my loveable self continue. Today on Twitter, someone calling themselves TheAntiCrit Tweeted:

5 STARS The Grouchy Club – After the usual dodgy 1 STAR start, legendary fest talkfest is firing on all cylinders.

Today, the conversation in this alleged comedy chat show turned to the upcoming one-off Malcolm Hardee show (in which I am not involved) staged by former squatters on his Wibbley Wobbley boat, the rapist tendencies of the Kenyan police and an adopted lady in the audience who was meeting her birth mother for only the second time (mum is staging a Fringe show), who had had a brain operation recently and had gone blind in one eye while losing peripheral vision in the other. All human life is, indeed, mulled-over at The Grouchy Club.

Rowdy Peter Michael Marino rousing just part of his audience

I stayed on in the Lounge of the Counting House to see the lovely Peter Michael Marino’s show titled Show Up which was full-to-overflowing and which, much like The Grouchy Club, happily varies in content from day-to-day because it is highly audience-based.

Michael is American and, in their quaint Colonial lingo, a ‘hyphenate’ – a stage performer-producer-director force of Nature who can (again in their quaint Colonial tongue) ‘own’ a room. Wonderful audience control and charisma. He is occasionally called ‘Blackout Pete’ because he was conceived during an electrical blackout in New York.

Possibly too much information.

The most interesting part of the show for me, though, was when performer Jane Hill, who was in the packed audience, revealed that she used to “make tampons”. I could have asked her for more details after the show but decided that some things are better left to the imagination. In this case, the vision of her knitting tampons in an armchair in her quaintly thatched home as part of some little-known cottage industry.

My next trip was to the small wooden garden shed next to Bob Slayer’s Blundabus where Michael Brunström had promised an unadvertised one-off event of an undefined – and, as it turned out, indefinable – type.

Michael Brunström in fetching fruity shorts

Unusually, he did not turn up in a lady’s dress or Greek toga but in some very fetching white shorts with a pineapple motif.

The shed had a notice on it which was, loosely, also the show’s title and format – UP TO YOU.

“When I conceived it,” Michael explained, “I knew this would be a very stressful Saturday, especially for performers: it’s busy and the whole machinery, the whole ‘game’ of Edinburgh seems to be building up to this big crescendo next week of awards and wotnot. Winners and losers starting to be announced. Today is quite a frantic, busy day and what I wanted to do was just have a little space where we weren’t bothering about any of that. We’re just doing whatever we want to do. Just to leave Edinburgh aside for a little bit and just have a bit of fun. That’s all.”

Shed Art – the audience’s impression of Michael Bruström

The audience was me and a very amiable couple who were up for any new Fringe experiences. The event included trying to play rummy with a pack of playing cards, Michael reading from E. W. Hornung’s stories of Raffles, the gentleman thief, the female half of the couple – unbidden – drawing a sketch of Michael, the male half of the couple whipping eggs, Andy Barr chopping some edible green vegetables, Mark Dean Quinn cooking an omelette and everyone eating said. The couple gave him a definite genuine 5-stars for his omelette-making skills.

Mark Dean Quinn holds up a vegetable while Michael Brunström reads from Raffles aloud

The show was due to last 20 minutes. I left after half an hour.

I was later told that it continued for another hour after I left.

It was, like The Grouchy Club, entirely free.

Later, I went off to join Arthur Smith’s annual hour-long alternative tour of the Royal Mile – again, totally free, totally unpredictable.

This is the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

People doing things for no reason except enjoyment.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 15: Participation hell and real tears in a comedian’s eyes

Hell is other people en masse, as Jean-Paul Sartre did not say.

God! How I hate audience participation!

Not all audience participation, just some.

As mentioned before in this blog, I am allergic to certain things in comedy.

One is stand-up character comedy when it is an attempt by an actor or actress to create a ‘real’ character. or, almost worse, a fake ‘eccentric’ character when the performer does not have any streak of eccentricity themselves. This is not comedy; it is a drama school showreel. The more cartoony, the less real, the more I like it.

The other thing that I can’t take is mass jollity. Singalongs, dancealongs and people doing almost anything as a group instead of as individuals just ain’t me. I can think of nothing worse than people singing in gigantic groups. Or doing anything in gigantic groups.

So perhaps it was foolhardy of me to accept a ticket for a late-night show called Juan Vesuvius: I Am Your Deejay at Assembly’s George Square Theatre, allegedly presented by a Venezuelan DJ (actually New Zealander Barnie Duncan in his third Fringe show).

Juan Vesuvius aka Barnie Duncan – Arghh! Help! Let me out!

It started as Manuel-from-Fawlty-Towers style character comedy then, once the character was established, turned into a brash, loud, glittery, music-music-music lecture on the history of disco music, disco clubs and related social music phenomena. It is tremendous entertainment. Wildly exciting. Terrifically atmospheric. And, as anyone who read my blog about The Elvis Dead, it is not remotely for me. At the end of the show, people were up on their feet dancing and waving their arms about. I was internally screaming: Arghh! Help! Let me out!

The audience loved it. And I got a new insight into my dourness.

At the risk of sounding like some desperate Miss World contestant, I’m interested in people. People as individuals.

150 people dancing the same movements to the same music or 10,000 people singing a song in a stadium is nothing to do with people. It has to do with psychological insecurity and a need to feel wanted.

Sitting at the back of the Grouchy Club, a silent man

The concept of the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club at the Counting House is to talk to the audience. One person at a time. Community singing is not encouraged. Individual opinions, anecdotes and bees-in-bonnets are encouraged.

Today, those people included Nick Awde from The Stage, director Sarah Chew, Ian Dunn from the British Comedy Guide, Robert Peacock from The Wee Review and Ewan Spence from multiple podcasts, Forbes magazine and the Eurovision Song Contest. And performers.

And no random non-industry punters. Which is perfect. Because it meant we could gossip, for example, about one performer’s objection to a one-star review he got from The Wee Review and his consequent, continuing campaign to get hold of Robert Peacock’s home address, threats of legal action, articles in the New York Times etc etc. It is possibly the subject of a future blog, except the current copied-and-pasted basic information is over 3,700 words long.

Michael Brunström, gloriously surreal, with a bag of Oz compost at his feet

The real eccentricity of the day, though, started when I went to see the gloriously surreal Michael Brunström’s show Parsley at the Dragonfly. Anything that starts with the performer in some sort of ancient Grecian dress, draped with  some sort of green-leafed climbing plant and playing the recorder is good for me.

If he then gives out whoopee whistles to the audience, asking them to randomly blow them whenever they like throughout the show, it can only get even better. And does.

The on-stage character is, of course, exactly that – a character, not the real Michael Brunström… but I can’t help observing it’s not THAT different from him. Writs may arrive in my letter box next week.

In the gloom, Mr Twonkey announces the bad news to his disappointed audience

I was also due to see Mr Twonkey perform his Christmas in The Jungle show at the Dragonfly. Alas, there was a power cut before he started and he was forced to cancel the show.

The admirable Mr Twonkey is, again, a surreally eccentric character (played by ever-amiable Paul Vickers).

And, again, the on-another-planet character on-stage may not be exactly the same as the person playing him, but I think they may live on the same planet as each other… just not on planet Earth.

Which brings me to Lewis Schaffer.

I went back to see his Unopened Letters From My Mother show again at the Counting House. I saw it around a week ago.

Each night, he is opening a different letter from his mother which he received but never read.

Someone has described this show as part comedy, part tragedy, part sociological experiment, part psychological insight and 100% voyeurism.

It may have been me in that last sentence.

Tonight, in her unopened letter from 2002, his mother called him a shit and said he was dead to her. She is now dead. The tears in his eyes were genuine.

Lewis Schaffer’s unopened letters from his mother

Lewis Schaffer does not really know why he did not open the letters and, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why he decided to do the show at all. I have a terrible feeling that he is doing these shows as a way of daring the audiences – and daring himself – to dislike him.

The previous time I saw this show, he opened and read the letter towards the end of the show. Tonight, he opened and read it towards the start.

He is trying out different things each night.

For me, opening and reading the letter towards the start was a mistake, because he was so emotionally affected by the contents tonight that he was not in the same control of his show that he usually has.

Even when performers appear to be themselves on-stage they are, of course, performing as a particular version of themselves. They are not themselves.

Lewis Schaffer’s show tonight was a fascinating, unique voyeuristic experience, watching an actual person on-stage showing raw emotions and trying to recover from them – part performer, part real human being. Fascinating.

Colin Buckie – from Bobby to Lou

Someone who should have been at the Grouchy Club but wasn’t was Colin Buckie, who owns Bobby’s Sandwich Bar by the Greyfriars Bobby statue. I met him because he was chatting to former submariner Eric in the Abattoir by the Purple Cow.

Such sentences seem reasonable in Edinburgh during the Fringe… I met him because he was chatting to former submariner Eric in the Abattoir by the Purple Cow.

Colin had once sat next to Velvet Underground rocker Lou Reed at a Burns Night Supper in Edinburgh.

“It was three years before he died,” Colin told me. “It was an unusual night. It was at the Reid Music Institute, the Reid Hall at Edinburgh University. We had a lovely evening round a table and Lou Reed stood up and read out a poem or a story by Edgar Allan Poe – he was a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe – and then some readings of Robert Burns. He was a huge fan of Robert Burns too. He said: I love these lyrics.

“I mean, primarily, Lou Reed was a lyricist. He was very interested in poetry and William Burroughs and beat poetry and…”

“He,” I asked, “read out Edgar Allan Poe stuff on a Burns Night?”

“He did,” said Colin. “I was astounded I was sitting next to Lou Reed. I have never been starstruck before or since. I was so astonished, I never mentioned once to him that he was Lou Reed.”

Will people, in future, speak in such awe of having been in the presence of Lewis Schaffer?

Only time will tell.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 13: The Elvis Dead, compost and comedy in a shed

I ended today soaked through with Irn Bru and rain.

The day started off like a normal Fringe day.

“Michael Brunström wants to borrow some of my compost,” performer Narin Oz told me, as I walked into Fringe Central. This made perfect sense at the time – a sign of how your brain soon gets affected by the Fringe.

I was on my way to the first Grouchy Club of the Fringe, supposedly chaired by Kate Copstick and me – but she had been dragged off by The Scotsman to review former First Minister Alex Salmond’s chat show at the Assembly Rooms on other side of town.

Becky Fury stood in for Copstick. Same hair; no white streak. The front row of our overwhelming audience (it’s all comparative) included two women who had seen Lewis Schaffer’s show last night and had not liked it.

Martha McBrier – castigated by some for playing a didgeridoo – arrived with a small brown box.

Copstick arrived when the show was almost over, telling chilling tales of Alex Salmond singing.

Cultural appropriation for Martha McBrier to play the box?

Martha McBrier played the small brown box by blowing into it. She claimed it was a ‘box didgeridoo’.

It was unclear to both her and us if women were banned from playing it, as they are with linear didgeridoos.

We started discussing Lewis Schaffer again.

At this point, Lewis Schaffer phoned asking me to send him a picture of himself.

Then I was off to see Michael Brunström, Phil Jarvis and  Alwin Solanky perform the legendary 20-minute routine Dinner For One in a small garden shed beside Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

Dinner For One, recorded in English for German audiences in 1963 is extraordinarily famous in Germany, Austria, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, South Africa and Australia. In fact, loads of places except the UK.

(Left-Right) Alwin Solanky, Phil Jarvis and Michael Brunström

Phil Jarvis introduced this shed-based production in German, then Dinner For One was performed in English with Phil as the butler, Michael Brunström in drag as the lady and Alwin Solanky as the tiger skin rug. The shed miraculously contained an audience of (I think) eight people, with more peering in through the open door.

Dinner For One: a cast over the top; an audience under threat

The spilling, throwing and spewing of Irn Bru – standing in for the original show’s alcoholic drinks – was extensive.

The result was that I was (with some pride) the only audience member left in the shed by the end.

I had taken the precaution of wearing a coat which I bought in Nuremberg and which, fortunately, has a liquid-proof hood.

This production of Dinner For One epitomised the spirit of the Fringe – people performing something for no logical reason whatsoever, ignoring financial recompense, audience numbers and any common sense.

You did, indeed, have to be there.

As did I at Nathan Cassidy’s one-off event The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final because I was booked to be one of the judges – well, THE judge, as it turned out.

I did not know what to expect from this.

I blogged about its clear Cunning Stunt Award intentions in a blog almost three weeks ago.

At the Awards (L-R) Nick Helm, Rich Wilson, Nathan Cassidy and Sarah Callaghan (Photograph by Rat Pack Productions)

As it turned out, it was pretty much what it said on the label – six good comics doing 5-minute MC-style intros – each introducing the next – in an attempt to win an alleged £5,000 prize.

The comedians/MCs were Sarah Callaghan, Nick Helm, Joey Page, Mark Silcox, Chris Turner and Rich Wilson.

Unsurprisingly, in a shock twist, Nathan Cassidy won his own £5,000.

Very enjoyable, a real audience-pleaser, but I’m not convinced it’s a Cunning Stunt. The door money DID go to charity, though.

That is not up to me, though.

Fellow Malcolm Hardee judges Marissa Burgess, Bruce Dessau, Kate Copstick, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith all have equal says to me.

Talking of Malcolm Hardee – and who isn’t at the Fringe? – the wonderful 2011 Award winner Johnny Sorrow and Bob Blackman’s Tray have arrived in Edinburgh. I saw them tonight at The Newsroom, the small venue at the top of Leith Walk. From their energy, he/they could have been playing Radio City Music Hall.

THAT is how to play to an audience of one.

No audience problem for The Elvis Dead, though.

The Elvis Dead – Cultural event or niche pastiche?

It is probably the hottest and most talked-about show in Edinburgh.

In fact, the buzz around it started at the Leicester Comedy Festival back in February and has built to dizzying heights since. It is superbly well put together together and performed.

But I am not the target audience.

It reminded me of my experience over a week ago when I saw Mother’s Ruin – about gin – with an audience fully into the subject. The Elvis Dead is a musical re-telling of the movie Evil Dead II through pastiches of Elvis Presley songs.

My problem is that I have not seen Evil Dead II; I am not a particular fan of Elvis Presley; and singalong, clapalong-stompalong-whoopalong, crowd-bonding events are not my thing. Mea culpa.

The audience LOVED it. The only-begetter of this crowd-pleasing triumph, Rob Kemp, is getting full houses every night. But for me, the elevator pitch is that it is Jollyboat rabble-rousing (I like Jollyboat) meets Harriet Braine niche pastiche (I admire Harriet Braine).

Braine and brawn vie for niche pastiche attention

Harriet Braine performs superb pastiche songs about fine art and artists – very very clever songs about Magritte, Cezanne, Van Gogh, whatever whoever. But I don’t know the subject well enough to fully appreciate them. So the full effect floats or zooms over my head, as with The Elvis Dead.

Rob Kemp says he is returning to Edinburgh next year with a Beetlejuice show.

I HAVE seen Beetlejuice.

But I am not a massive fan.

On the other hand… if we were talking about a musical version of The Wild Bunch… I would be queuing-up like the Dead Elvis fans are.

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 1: Good shows, a questionable director and a late disaster

Mark Borkowski is looking for originality

In the afternoon, with Kate Copstick, I recorded the first in a revived series of Grouchy Club Podcasts with stunt-loving PR guru Mark Borkowski who is up here partly to find right-wing comedians who may appear in a series of TV shows on RT (Russia Today). Well, that is my spin on it. Really he is looking for anyone who is so original and different that they are unlikely to get onto the currently bland and unoriginal British TV channels. Mark, in performance terms, has a taste for the bizarre and the original. He is well worth a listen.

After that, I went to see Robert White’s show billed as a comedy opera InstraMENTAL which was – rather dauntingly for the first Fringe show I have seen this year – utterly brilliant. Robert won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality in 2010 so can he be nominated again? Who knows? This unified show is so different it is not what he won for before and, unexpectedly, Kate Copstick’s voice turns up about ¾ of the way through. When I texted her about being in his show, it was news to her.

Narin Oz, budgerigar & Brunström belly paint

I had forgotten to take a photo of Mark Borkowski during the podcast recording, something I did not fail to do at Fringe Central when I was accosted by Narin Oz, who showed me a photo on her phone of her blue budgerigar in front of a blue painting created by Malcolm Hardee Award winning Michael Brunström’s belly.

Anyone present at the relevant Brunström shows will be aware this is not a joke.

Narin also showed me a photo of herself covered in mud and pointed out that her show #DirtyWoman includes copious amounts of real mud. She told me all her #DirtyWoman shows are being billed as ‘work-in-progress’ shows and, after the Edinburgh shows are finished, she will do previews in London of the already-performed shows. She said she reckons she may end up performing back in her mother’s womb. You maybe had to be there.

Elf Lyons – colourful Swan

Later, I saw that infinitely-rare thing, an act that has arguably been made even better by going to see that Gaulier man in France. Admittedly, we are talking about the already-highly-talented Elf Lyons. In her show Swan, she is telling and acting out the story of Swan Lake in eccentric costumes with dancing and mime and ongoing spiel in a form of Franglais. It is difficult to do justice to it all in a written description but, in parts, it is a sort-of disguised stand-up show with a Gaulier veneer, a lot of movement and her personality making it sparkle. She was justifiably playing to a full room.

In the audience watching her was Juliette Burton, whose Butterfly Effect show was today and will in future be (it is getting heavily booked-up ahead) playing to full houses.

All of the above titbits are part of the joy of the Fringe.

But I also received an email today from an act telling me about their show’s director:

The cobbles of Edinburgh have seen some blood flow in the last 70 years of the Fringe.

“I have paid (the named person) more than £2,000 over the last year to be director for my show and (the person) just told me TODAY that they won’t be coming up to the Fringe this year as if that’s the norm. They say their other clients who have shows here don’t mind. And I am even expected to pay an invoice for August because (the person) says they can direct my performance from London. It has really knocked me for six. This same person was here for my first few shows last year. I thought a director’s job was to sit in the audience early on to take notes. I worked really really hard doing various jobs to pay the director’s fees.”

Then, as I was about to post this blog online, Kate Copstick turned up at 1.00am (we are sharing a flat) saying she is due to review highly-esteemed musical act Die Roten Punkte for the Scotsman tomorrow night (well, tonight, in fact) – their opening night – but British Airways have lost all their musical equipment collected over many years and a very, very specifically-designed drum kit.

“British Airways,” Copstick told me, “don’t seem very concerned”.

Meanwhile, Die Roten Punkte are trying to borrow equipment and have arranged an emergency technical run-through at 07.00am.

The Edinburgh Fringe. Home of dreams and nightmares.

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

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

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

Michael Brunstrom last night - as Mary Quant

Michael Brunström last night – as Mary Quant

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

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

They are very good at self-promotion.

Which is what the email was about.

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

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

But now to grander things – linguistics.

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

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

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

Which left me none the wiser.

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

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

стендап истка

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

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

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

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

But I just thought I would clear that up slightly.

до свидания товарищ

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

Michael Brunström holds his Malcolm Hardee Award

Michael Brunström and Malcolm Hardee Award

The annual Malcolm Hardee Awards are given to individuals.

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

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

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

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

“On my bookshelf.”

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

Michael Brunström not Noel Edmonds

Michael Brunström’s eye not Noel Edmonds’

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

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

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

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

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

“Where were you brought up?”

“West London.”

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

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

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

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

“What was his job?”

“He was a management consultant.”

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

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

“What are the others now?”

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

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

“I don’t find writing easy.”

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

“I’ve never been a writer.”

Ken Campbell - The éminence grise of alternative comedy

Ken Campbell – The éminence grise of alternative comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You like constraints?” I asked.

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

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

Michael Brunström wants to be constrained by food

Michael Brunström wants to be constrained by food

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

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

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

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

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

“No sneezing,” I said.

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

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

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

“Why art?” I asked.

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

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Not only Fools and Horses in Peckham – Now they have absurdist comedians

Tina Turner - Tea Lady performs at last night’s show

Tina Turner – Tea Lady performs at last night’s PTOO show

NB NOT FOR THE EASILY OFFENDED

Michael Brunström won the increasingly prestigious main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the recent Edinburgh Fringe but, by the time it was awarded, he had finished his run and was back in London. So I gave him the trophy last night.

I gave it to him shortly before a Pull the Other One comedy night at the mis-named CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey Buildings, Peckham.

The CLF Art Cafe is mis-named because it is really a large dance hall (and used as such at weekends) in a vast rambliing building which used to be, among other things, a Victorian sweatshop and an armaments factory. Pull The Other One are running four not-quite-monthly variety nights there between now and March, as well as their monthly comedy nights in nearby Nunhead and – perhaps – more shows in Leipzig.

One of last nights poster survivors

One of last night’s show posters which survived

Vivienne and Martin Soan run Pull The Other One and put up 200 posters plugging the new show, but almost all disappeared quickly. This might have been due to heavy rain or because “It’s posters war round here,” as Martin says. “It’s very much like the Edinburgh Fringe. People ripping down your posters to put theirs up. It’s all happening here.”

“Peckham?” I asked. “Home of Only Fools and Horses and Del Boy?”

“You know it is,” said Martin.

Martin had been going to perform with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in Edinburgh – actually titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s The Increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – And It’s Free! but, instead, had to be in London for the premiere of Steve Oram’s new film entitled Aaaaaaah!

There’s been a lot of Aaaaaahsing about lately.

There is a trailer for Aaaaaaah! on YouTube.

“I’ve got a tiny cameo role in the movie,” Martin told me last night. “Two brief shots of me as a has-been rockstar in his underpants singing at a coked-up party.”

“Has Aaaaaaah!,” I asked, “got naked women and armadillos?’

“Yes,” said Martin, then added, “well, I’m lying about the armadillos. But it has naked women and a lot of action and graphic violence – but not gratuitous. And, in it, Steve has created this TV world for them to watch.”

“Like?” I asked.

“Cookery programmes, but done in the genre – without giving the game away – of the whole premise of the movie. There are just so many elements to it.”

“Is it even odder than his previous film Sightseers?” I asked.

“Extremely odd, but brilliant.”

“Much like Michael Brunström,” I said.

Well, no, I did not say that.

But I have to cover over the half hour gap between the above conversation with Martin and me giving Michael Brunström his Malcolm Hardee Award.

Michael keeps his Award next to his books by Boris Vian

Michael keeps his Award next to his books by Boris Vian – French writer, poet, musician, singer, translator, critic, actor, inventor and important influence on the French jazz scene.

“You will be wanting to say you are deeply honoured,” I told Michael.

“I’m deeply honoured,” said Michael. “Last year, I did ten shows and got nominated for the Award. This year, I did six shows and won it. Next year, I’m thinking of not turning up at all.”

“Where are you going to put your Award?” I asked. “Laurence Owen put his on a shelf next to two small Daleks.”

“I have a bookshelf,” said Michael. “Are you only running the Awards until 2017?”

“Well,” I said, “In 2007, I only had eleven years’ worth of trophies made. So I run out of them in 2017.”

“After that,” suggested Michael, “you should just steal trophies and palm them off as  Malcolm Hardee Awards.”

“You’re right,” I said, brightening up. “It would be a fitting tribute and it’s what he would have wanted.”

At that point, Brian Damage arrived for his performance.

Brian Damage with Vicky as Krysstal

Brian Damage bearded with his wife Vicky de Lacy as Krysstal

Well, no, he did not.

But I have to cover over the gap between the conversation with Michael above and Brian talking about my newly-grown beard.

“You should think ZZ Top,” he told me. “What you got now is just bum fluff. Think of a beard as a straight line down to your waist. It catches food. You will never go hungry.”

As he said this, Spencer Jones arrived.

No. You are right. He did not. But, later, he told me about his bad drive back from the Edinburgh Fringe on Tuesday.

“I didn’t just have babies in the car,” he explained. “I had budgerigars and, because the budgies were in the back, I couldn’t recline my seat and have a quick hour’s sleep in that long 12-hour drive back to London. So I had four Red Bulls and two large coffees. Yesterday – the day after – was weird.”

Spencer has a budgie close to his heart

Spencer has a budgie close to his heart

“You took your budgies up to the Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What did the budgies have to say about that?”

“They twittered on for a while, but they were OK about it. I nearly took them on stage up in Edinburgh. I thought Who’s ever taken budgies on stage? But I realised it would freak them out.”

“The audience?”

“The budgies.”

“I had,” I told Spencer, “a budgerigar act on a couple of TV shows I did.”

“I think his name was Don…” said Spencer.

“Don Crown,” I said. “I met him six or seven years later and he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers. His act had been destroyed by an act of God.”

“I think he had a song,” said Spencer, “which we used to sing in our house: Budgie Man... He’s the Budge-Budge-Budgie Man…”

There is a video on YouTube featuring Don Crown and his budgies.

“Do your budgies speak?” I asked.

“No,” said Spencer. “They fly around the house.”

“Shitting everywhere?”

“Shitting everywhere,” agreed Spencer.

“Much like children,” I suggested.

A budgerigar not owned by Spencer not shitting in his house

A budgerigar not owned by Spencer not shitting in his house

“Yeah,” agreed Spencer. “The reason I bought the first budgie was that, before my girlfriend and me had kids, I wanted to see if me and Ruth would get on looking after a little life. So I bought a budgie without telling her and we got on fine, so then we had kids. But then the budgie needed a friend. I had bought it thinking it was a boy, but it wasn’t. So we had a girl budgie called Ernie and we bought another one called Dirk.”

“Is it possible to ‘doctor’ male budgerigars?” I asked.

“I doubt if anyone’s ever tried.”

“Otherwise they’d breed all over the place,” I said.

“I think you have to have a very high calcium diet,” said Spencer.

“The owner?” I asked.

“The budgerigars,” said Spencer. “Though I do have quite a high calcium diet and have two kids.”

This morning, I looked up Don Crown and found recent YouTube clips of him with his budgies.

So either I imagined meeting him after he became allergic to feathers or he got over it.

Perhaps I have started hallucinating past events. But who has to?

This morning, I got an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It said:

A man in Kelowna, British Columbia, has grown the world’s largest cucumber which he is planning on turning into the world’s largest pickle and he is wondering if anybody is making the worlds largest hot dog.

Michael Brunström also posted a photo of himself online this morning, holding the Malcolm Hardee Award.

Michael Brunstrom holds his Malcolm Hardee Award

Michael Brunström holds his increasingly prestigious Award as Malcolm Hardee would have wanted

 

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