Tag Archives: Miranda Hart

Critic Kate Copstick on the Edinburgh Fosters (ex-Perrier) Comedy Awards

The Grouchy Club live in Edinburgh (Photograph by Sandra Smith0

Copstick and I hosted the live Grouchy Club in Edinburgh (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

The latest weekly Grouchy Club podcast is now online.

During the recording, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I talked about staging monthly live Grouchy Club shows/meetings in London – in the performance area behind Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush.

Details on the Grouchy Club website.

In this very brief extract from the new podcast, she and I talk about the recent Fosters Awards (formerly Perrier Awards) run by producer and Nimax Theatres owner Nica Burns at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I run the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Fringe. Judges with me this year were Kate Copstick and fellow comedy critics Marissa Burgess, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith.

There are few people I know that I admire more than Nica Burns. I think she’s an incredible woman who has done incredible things for comedy. I think she’s so genuine and she’s given so much I don’t know why she’s not a fucking Dame. There’s obviously been some kind of mistake.

Well, if your ceiling falls on the punters, it’s not good, is it?

That’s not her fault. That was nothing to do with her. Anyway, I think she’s an incredible woman, an incredible force for good in theatre and comedy and live performance.

Yes, she is.

But I do think that the Fosters are becoming more and more relevant only to the industry. That whole list – everybody on that list – it just seemed that Ooh! You can see them popping up on Radio 4 Extra or telly. They’ve all got ‘slots’ – even the clowny ones. You think: Well, they could go there; they could go here. There was no flash of genius.

I don’t know if they still do it, but they brought in members of the public as judges.

Yes, they always do.

A terrible idea, I think – They (the public) don’t know what they want.

Well, to be fair, they have to go through a much more stringent process than any of the industry judges and it’s just as possible, if not more likely, that you’re going to find some numpty who’s some kind of line producer for BBC Comedy. There are some very dull people working in professional comedy, John.

So you’ve given up working in television again?

(LAUGHS) I have indeed. But there are some very very dull people.

Yes, but they can spot talent, whereas…

What do you mean they can spot talent?

No, I take it back. I take it back.

Wash your mouth out. Have another Crunchie biscuit. (SHE STUFFS A BISCUIT IN MY MOUTH) And, while John’s munching on the Crunchie biscuit… Of course they can’t. Otherwise a completely different lot of people would be on telly and the programmes that are on telly would be much better instead of little comedy production line sausages, which is what they are. When I started working in telly, someone said to me: There is a reason why television is called a medium. I even said to… I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this; I hope she doesn’t mind… I bumped into Nica Burns and said Oh, has the panel been to see Jessie Cave? and Nica said Oh, Marmite! Which I can understand. Some people loathed her; some people loved her.

‘Marmite’ is almost a compliment.

Exactly. I said: Isn’t that great! and she said Well, you know, it divided the panel and I said Well, what are you going for? Lowest common denominator? And I suppose, because it comes to a vote at the end, that’s exactly what it is. It’s the kind of blandy people that everybody liked. It’s the Mirandas and the Jack Whitehalls… And I’m not saying… I mean, Jack Whitehall was a little superstar when he started, but he’s a very smart boy with a very smart dad and they know…

… and a very smart mum…

I haven’t met his mum. But they know where to go, how much to dumb yourself down to keep yourself in a lot of work in a lot of television programmes and it is lowest common denominator. That lowest common denominator might be different… Twenty years ago, that lowest common denominator was Les Dawson; it was Michael Barrymore….

… who were great…

… and nowadays… it’s… I don’t think an award should be looking at being given… that a panel, a judging panel should not be looking at giving an award to the lowest common denominator. There need to be people on that panel passionate enough to do the Twelve Angry Men thing – persuade the rest of the brilliance in somebody who is… I am not saying Jessie Cave should have won. She IS Marmite and I thought I would hate her and I loved her. It was an extraordinary performance…. I just really think it’s a… a worry almost everybody on that list was so forgettable.

The Grouchy Club podcasts are on Podomatic
and can also be downloaded from iTunes.

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Comedian Lindsay Sharman is NOT posh nor a bargain bucket Miranda Hart

Lindsay Sharman as herself in a selfie

The real Lindsay Sharman captured in a selfie

“I keep getting compared to Miranda Hart,” comedian Lindsay Sharman told me when I met her in Soho yesterday.

“Tall, posh voice, y’know,” she said. “The other week, Time Out called me the bargain bucket Miranda Hart. I thought Well, at least I’ve been noticed; at least I’m not speaking into the void completely. On the other hand, there’s Is this what people are actually going to start thinking? I do get hit with the ‘posh’ stick quite a lot and I don’t know whether to live up to that or to drastically change my act.”

The first time I saw Lindsay was at the always extraordinary monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in South East London (where she is now their regular compere). She was performing as a very angry poetess with a strong Scottish accent. Is she really Scottish? I thought and, by the end of her act, I had decided she either definitely was or, if not, she certainly had Scottish blood relations.

She is not and has not.

There is a clip of her on YouTube.

“I did a gig recently,” she told me, “and there were a couple of Scottish people in the front row, rough as anything, and they were loving it until about two minutes before the end when one of ‘em said to the other: I don’t think she’s fuckin’ Scoootish! and they looked like they were about to beat me up, so I ended with Thankyou very much, goodnight! and got the hell out of it as quickly as possible.”

“Why is the poetess character Scottish?” I asked.

“Because I knew I couldn’t do a really aggressive character in my own posh English voice,” said Lindsay. “It would just sound like I was terribly angry about the lack of Waitrose shops in the area. So I went for an accent I was comfortable with – and the Scottish accent is more characterful. There is an element of aggression it… It allows you to have a bit more bite and…” Then she started to laugh and corrected herself… “But it’s still friendly at the same time!…” she added. She leant towards the microphone on my iPhone and said clearly: “I like the Scottish people very much

“You see, I’m doing my first hour-long Edinburgh Fringe solo show in August,” she explained. “Madame Magenta: Libris Mystica.”

(There is a video of her as Madame Magenta on YouTube)

“That’s your other character,” I said.

“I think it’s just me in about 20 years,” she laughed. “It’s me but not giving a shit about what people think – and in a turban. She’s a fortune-teller, a psychic, a medium and just a shyster, really. She’s doing it for the money. In a way, it’s exploring those folk who exploit the vulnerable.”

“Comedians?” I asked.

“No, they exploit themselves,” said Lindsay.

“Would you go back to being an actress?” I asked.

“I hated being horrendously unsuccessful,” Lindsay laughed. “I’d like to be able to balance doing acting and comedy. But I do like generating my own material and I like the camaraderie on the comedy circuit

“I was an actress years ago, when I was aged about 18-23, but very unsuccessful, so I gave it up. Height was a problem too. Most actors are absolute midgets (Lindsay is 5’10”) and they’re not just short, they’re perfectly scaled-down. They’re these weenie little people. I think I could probably beat Tom Cruise in a fair fight.

Lindsay Sharman

“Actors have got a hard, shiny exterior”

“As an actress, I always got cast in comedy parts – if I was ever cast – and I always felt ridiculous if I was ever cast in anything that wasn’t funny. I did an acting course in Reading for a year. We did a play every two weeks so, inevitably, I was going to have to play a serious role. I remember having to deliver this godawful rape speech, feeling ludicrous and wanting to stick in some inappropriate jokes. I managed to stop myself although, on the second night, they decided they wanted some atmospheric music and one of the other actors started humming Babooshka behind me.”

“Actors are of a type,” I said, “and comedians are of a type. Comedians are all barking mad.”

“I think we’re just more honest with our neuroses,” said Lindsay. “Actors have got this hard, shiny exterior when they’re moving through life.”

“There’s the cliché,” I said, “that actors have to always be someone else.”

“When they’re not acting,” suggested Lindsay, “they’re playing the part of being actors. I used to be a member of The Actors’ Centre in Charing Cross Road and I always felt deeply uncomfortable there, because someone would ask how I was doing and I would say Oh awful! Can’t get arrested for work. Just being honest. Then I would ask How’s it for you? and they’d go Last week I had a meeting with blah blah and I’ve got a really exciting project I can’t tell you about and they’d give you their potted CV and tell you all the exciting things that were going to happen. And I’d believe them. I’d think Wow! You’re doing really well! Actors just have a different basket of neuroses from comedians.”

“And you stopped acting because?” I asked.

“Because I got to such a level of poverty and disillusionment,” Lindsay explained. “I had a job touring musicals round old people’s homes which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Then I decided I was going to become a lawyer.”

“Eh?” I said.

“I signed up for a law course then, about a week later, thought What the fuck am I doing? I’m not interested in the law and changed it to an English course at Greenwich University. Later, I worked in the Business School where no-one spoke English. Greenwich has an office in China that just takes on anyone and promises they’ll teach them English when they get to Greenwich. But the English Department was very good; I had some great tutors there.

“After that, I got on the BT graduate management scheme where they train you to be a leader. It lasted about 18 months, then they paid me to go away. Then I became a stand-up.”

“You tend to hide behind characters,” I said. “The angry Scottish poet and Madame Magenta the psychic.”

“Everybody seemed to think I was being a character..."

“Everybody seemed to think I was being a character…”

“Well,” said Lindsay, “I didn’t for the first three years, but then I realised everybody seemed to think I was being a character when I was being myself anyway.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because when I go on stage as me,” explained Lindsay, “I get even posher-sounding. I used to start with a couple of posh jokes which didn’t relate to my real life at all – Yes. I know what I sound like. Let’s get that out of the way and move on – I’m not posh but, when I say I’m not, no-one ever believes me.

“I was born in Great Yarmouth and my entire family are from Great Yarmouth. My surname goes back to the Domesday Book in Norfolk. Sharman means ‘shearer of sheep’.”

“How did your posh accent come out of your Great Yarmouth background?” I asked. “Did you have speech therapy?”

“No,” replied Lindsay. “We moved around a lot and I lived abroad for seven years. I went to Brunei when I was 8. And then I went to boarding school in Singapore for a couple of years. Brunei didn’t have any schools for foreigners beyond the age of 11, though it did for the locals. When we got there, my sister was 11 and tried the local school, but it was educationally all over the place; she had a range of ages in her class. A lot of people in Brunei send their kids to boarding school in England but that’s a 14-hour flight away, so we were sent to boarding school in Singapore instead. I suppose I’m the product of social mobility.”

“Like a gypsy,” I said.

“Actually,” said Lindsay, “I do have gypsy blood in me from way back – my great-great grandmother got together with someone from the travelling fair that used to come to Great Yarmouth every year and had a baby in great shame.

“My dad worked for the Shell oil company. Well, he did loads of different things. He was manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop at one point. And he was a damp proofer. They had a terrible damp chicken problem.

“I’m in a bit of a weird transition period at the moment.”

“I’m in a bit of a weird transition…”

“I’m in a bit of a weird transition period at the moment. I’m trying to cut out a lot of the really depressingly shit gigs because they’re not even helping me develop new material… but I’m not a club comic, really. They don’t entirely embrace character acts at the moment.

“The clubs where you can earn a living are the slightly tougher hen and stag night ones and you’ve got to go in there quite aggressively with gags, which isn’t really my style. I’m more of a chaotic meanderer. I have sort-of Get Out of Jail Free card with my act by being deliberately chaotic.”

“Your act isn’t chaotic,” I said.

“There is an element of Oh! What am I doing? Bwahh!! Bwaah!!” said Lindsay.

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Dan March: Santa Claus via BBC TV’s “Miranda” sitcom & an Auschwitz man

Dan - right - and (as Santa) left

Dan March – right – and (in Santa role) left

What is it with comedy people I know being Father Christmas in department stores this year?

Last month in my blog, it turned out Bob Slayer was being a Santa this year.

Just over a week ago, I mentioned comedy performer Dan March’s 40th birthday party in a blogAnd, when I talked to him last week, it turned out he, too, was being a Santa this year – for Selfridge’s.

“Have you been a Santa before?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied. “I was Santa for Disney in their store on Oxford Street about ten years ago. I used to sit in the window and people would be brought in to me. It had its lovely moments and you get letters and they totally believe you.”

Dan’s 2009 solo show about appearing in Blockbusters

Dan’s 2009 solo show about Blockbusters

I met Dan in 2009, when he performed a one-man show called Goldrunner at the Edinburgh Fringe about how, as a 17-year-old in 1991, he had won the TV gameshow Blockbusters.

“You haven’t done a solo show at the Fringe since Goldrunner in 2009?” I asked.

“No. It’s been the (comedy trio) Real McGuffins since then. We started five years ago, before Goldrunner.”

“Sketch groups have had their day, haven’t they?” I asked.

Dan (top) with The Real McGuffins

Dan (top) is one of The Real McGuffins

“There’s always room for sketch comedy,” said Dan. “We’re working with a producer at a production company at the moment. We pitched four ideas, they liked one of them , so now it’s early stages.”

“And you might be doing a solo Edinburgh show next year?”

“I still haven’t made the final decision. I think it’s more about having a story to tell and wanting to tell it and there’s a couple of things I’m interested in telling. One is quite dark, so it might be a straight theatre piece. Or I could go down the full comedy route. I’ll be writing some stuff over Christmas and see if it’s taking shape by the middle of January.”

“Dark works well in Edinburgh for comedy,” I said. “And you’re still a straight actor as well as a comedy actor.”

“I thought I was a very serious actor,” said Dan. “I was in Casualty and EastEnders – I sold the Queen Vic to Peggy Mitchell back in 2001. I played estate agent Mr Hammond; I was in it for about a month.”

“Did you get recognised in the street?”

“I got recognised at a friend’s wedding,” laughed Dan, “and I got recognised the other day, when I was compering a wine-tasting evening. I sold a pub in EastEnders, ran a pub in Casualty and advertised a Belgian beer: so who better to host a wine-tasting evening?

“I thought I was a serious actor"

“I thought I was a serious actor”

“I thought I was quite a serious straight actor and then I did News Revue at the Canal Cafe where I met Gareth Tunley, who’s now directing quite a few things – he directed Goldrunner at the Edinburgh Fringe. I wrote a bit with him for Radio 4 for The News Huddlines and I started drifting in and out of comedy and it was only about six years ago I took the total plunge of having a comedy agent and writing shows and doing Edinburgh really full-on. But a lot of stand-ups now alternate and do some serious roles. Terry Alderton’s in EastEnders at the moment.”

EastEnders should cast Janey Godley,” I said. “She ran a pub for years and she has the genuine dodgy gangster background. Producers should cast comedians more. Good comedians have perfect timing, which is the most important thing in acting too.”

“The last couple of years,” said Dan, “I feel the experience of doing comedy has fed into my acting. I’ve just filmed an episode of a BBC3 sitcom Pramface. I think having gigged a lot in the last five years has really helped my acting. Even when you’re going for pure reality and not gags, the timing is there. Maintaining energy and controlling the audience while keeping in mind where you have to end up.

“I did do a very serious play this year. I think all performers get itchy feet for certain aspects if you haven’t done it for a little while. If you’ve done a lot of television, you get itchy for theatre; if you’ve done a lot of theatre, you get itchy to do telly. It does exercise different muscles, but you really cannot beat live performances.”

“You miss the immediate audible audience response?” I suggested.

“I was in Miranda,” said Dan, “and it was genuinely a joy to work on that programme. She’s a workaholic; she works really hard and people really do love her. She is genuinely famous. She goes out in front of that audience of 400 and they rip the roof off. The live audience response is phenomenal.”

“So, in ten years time?” I asked.

“I’d like to be a regular in a sitcom,” Dan replied. “There’s nothing better than making someone laugh. No better feeling than witnessing that and – in a live studio sitcom – you get that. Though, equally, if you’re filming something and the rest of the crew are laughing and enjoying it, then you know you’re onto something good too.”

Dan March practises his King Canute abilities for future use

Dan March practises his King Canute abilities for future use

“But presumably,” I said, “a 50-year-old comedian has more of a career problem than a 50-year-old actor because the live comedy audience is maybe aged 20-35 and they won’t relate to you.”

“Well,” suggested Dan, “Lewis Schaffer seems to be doing alright. He’s on the up.”

“But can he keep it up at his age?” I asked. “Lewis Schaffer’s shows are like sex. Have you seen his shows?”

“No,” said Dan.

“You have to experience at least two in a row to get the full impact of the unpredictability,” I said.

“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” laughed Dan. “Whether you can keep it up. The older you get, I think the wiser you get about how you use your time. I’m trying to be more focussed.”

“Apparently,” I said, “there’s some famous saying that, if you have not reached where you want to reach by the time you are 40, you are not going to reach it… Sadly I read this when I was 42.”

“I think that’s harsh,” said Dan. “Was it Margaret Thatcher said that? I know she said if you are still travelling on a bus when you’re 40, you’re a loser.”

“Did you read that on a bus?” I asked.

“No,” laughed Dan, “but I’ve just read an interesting book called Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Viktor Frankl’s bestselling book

Viktor Frankl’s bestselling book

“He was viewed as the successor to Freud in psychotherapy terms. He was put in Auschwitz (and other concentration camps) and survived, then wrote a book looking on his experiences as objectively as possible: Why did certain people survive and others just gave up?

“He looked at what we want from life and there are three main schools of thought. There’s the hedonistic lifestyle of living for immediate pleasure. There’s looking for power. with money as an offshoot of that. And then there’s looking for meaning – looking for the essence of life. There’s really profound stuff in this very short book.

“He said there was this one guy who had this dream in 1942/1943 in Auschwitz that the War would end on a certain date and that’s when they’d be liberated. So he was fine: probably one of the strongest guys in the camp. He made it all the way through and was getting really excited the last week before he thought Auschwitz was going to be liberated. And then it didn’t happen. They were not liberated and, within a week, he was dead. He just gave up.”

“When I was a kid growing up in Scotland,” I said, “the thing that was always drummed and drummed and drummed into your head was the story of Robert The Bruce and the spiderHowever impossible anything may seem, you just keep going. If you want to do it or if you think you right, you just keep going. Keep at it. If you want it, keep going. Keep trying to get that first thread across the gap that you can build the whole spider’s web from. Dogged relentless determination. Never give up.”

“Yes,” said Dan. “You have to find out what it is that keeps you going. For me, it’s about being the best performer I can possibly be. The best actor I can be. The best funny man I can be. If that means doing more acting or more comedy, I’ll do that. I enjoy making people laugh and if, in ten years time, I’m still doing comedy – great. If, in ten years, I’m doing straight drama, then I will be equally happy… I’m happy where I am at the moment.”


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