Tag Archives: Mr Methane

Phartman, Mr Methane and the 2018 World Fart Championships in Finland 

(artwork by Timo Kokkila)

My chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professional performing flatulist, flew off to Bratislava this morning to spread the fame of British farting. But, in July, an even more important trip beckons.

Saturday 7th July sees the World Fart Championships being held again at Utajärvi in Finland.

I blogged about the Championships back in July 2013.

Mr Methane does not compete, of course – he is a one-off. But he will be hosting the Championships with Finland’s own comic book superhero Phartman played by Esko Väyrynen.

So, obviously, I Skyped Esko Väyrynen to hear more about it.

Britain’s Mr Methane (left) and Finland’s Phartman at the World Fart Championships back in 2013


Phartman performer Esko talked to me via Skype from Finland

JOHN: Your English is very good.

ESKO: I like to watch English police series like Inspector Morse and Lewis and Blackadder and that kind of thing. Strange British comedies are very popular in Finland like Jeeves and Wooster. I like British humour. I don’t know why. Dry humour. With Finnish people, lots of us like British humour.

JOHN: Clearly – because you like farting.

ESKO: Yes. But I do not fart when I eat food or I am eating at the table. It is not civilised behaviour. You have to hold the line somewhere. My mother told me: “Do not fart at the kitchen table or when you are making meals. You have to do it some other time.”

JOHN: Is your mother proud of you appearing as Phartman?

ESKO: I don’t think so. I don’t live for publicity, but I am not ashamed to be farting in public. It is fun for me. But I am lucky. I have two dogs. At home, I can always blame one of the dogs.

JOHN: How many times have the Fart Championships been held?

ESKO: This is only the third time. Five years ago – 2013 – was the first World Championships. One year earlier, in 2012, there was a Finnish Championships. I think this year will be the last time, though. 

JOHN: Why?

Utajärvi is a small town with a big superhero (artwork by Timo Kokkila)

ESKO: It takes lots of time and resources and all of us are volunteers, doing it for fun. None of us get paid and it is a very small town, Utajärvi – 3,000 people. We don’t have resources enough – manpower, womanpower or money. Any money we get goes to the local junior soccer club. Even though it is humour, it is humour for good.

JOHN: How many people came to see the event last time?

ESKO: Maybe 500 local people. There was also another event – mud soccer at the same time – a Finnish Championship. Maybe 200 or 300 came to see mud soccer five years ago. We played soccer in mud. That is why maybe 500 people saw the Fart Championships – maybe. And maybe there were 20 people farting; just one woman, though.

JOHN: Was there anyone from abroad?

ESKO: The winners were from Russia. And there was one family from Australia. I don’t know if they came just for the contest; maybe they were in Finland already. I did not ask.

JOHN: Are you Phartman only during the Championships or you do other things as the character during the year?

ESKO: Only at the Championships. Phartman – Peräsmies – is a comic book hero. I am just playing Phartman at these events.

JOHN: Is Phartman like a Marvel superhero?

The original underground Phartman comic (artwork by Timo Kokkila)

ESKO: He is a different type of superhero. He is a former alcoholic and when he was walking there was some type of explosion when pea soup tins spread all over the place and Phartman got hit by one pea soup tin that was radioactive and he ate it and, after he ate it, he got a souperpower for farts and he uses his farts to save the world.

He is not a common superhero like Spider-Man or Iron Man. Of course, he is against crime and criminals but, most times, he helps people accidentally.

He does not know how to use his powers. Almost every time it is an accident.

Son of Fartman is now aimed at school kids (artwork by Timo Kokkila)

Timo Kokkila created Phartman and the comic strip appeared in Pahkasika – it means Warthog in English – a very popular underground magazine, from 1983 to 2000. It was very rare humour in that time. (Phartman was killed-off in the comic strip but) Phartman had a son who has appeared since 2003 in the Koululainen monthly magazine for pupils in school.

JOHN: Do you have a daytime ‘real’ job?

ESKO: I work as a nurse at a hospital.

JOHN: What sort of hospital?

ESKO: I think it is not a surprise that I am a psychiatric nurse in a psychiatric ward – maybe that is one reason for my odd humour.

JOHN: You must be interested in the way people think differently.

ESKO: Maybe. Humans’ thinking is a very difficult thing. It is very hard work and maybe it is one reason I am interested in farting.

JOHN: Escapism, maybe?… In Britain, it seems that a surprising number of comedians have been doctors or trained as doctors. Maybe it releases the pressure?

ESKO: Yes, maybe… Also, always when you meet someone from Britain, you have to ask: What kind of weather is there? Is it raining?

JOHN: Surprisingly not. There is a bright blue sky with small white fluffy clouds. Hot and humid. Have you been to Britain?

ESKO: No. I do not fly, but it has always been my daydream to go by ship to Scotland and see soccer clubs – Rangers versus Celtic – or a Scottish pub. That is my daydream.

JOHN: Ah.

(artwork by Timo Kokkila)

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Is this an average Canadian family? Stripper, conservator, Reverend, shrink.

My occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith with two policemen in Toronto. I’ve no idea why

Anna Smith lives in Vancouver.

She is this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

Yesterday, I got an email from her. It read:


My Dad has started a blog and my sister the priest got arrested… again!


“Tell me more…” I asked.

Instead, I got this message from her father, Jaime Smith:


Hullo John Fleming –

I am the father of three daughters all born in Argentina where I was stateless, having renounced US nationality before we emigrated to Canada.

I was born in the US, but left because of conscription in the interval of ‘peace’  between the Korean & Vietnam wars. I renounced my US citizenship, changed my name, became a naturalized Argentine citizen, travelled back to university in the US as a ‘native-born foreign student’ then left a second time for Canada to teach astronomy & physics, became naturalized again as Canadian (but kept the Argentine passport just in case…). Then I went to medical school and specialty training in psychiatry. Some say I had a colourful life and encouraged me to write about it, hence the autobiography and bloggery.

I went to Argentina because I had a job offer there photographing faint blue stars at the Córdoba Astronomical Observatory. This was paid by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, so my emigration to Argentina was actually sponsored by the US military.

Anna, my eldest daughter, you know as she occasionally contributes to your blog. A retired stripper (London, Belgium, Finland, Malaysia) she lives on a boat on the Fraser River and does volunteer public health work with street ladies in Vancoocoo. That’s Vancouver.

I had a patient when I was working as a shrink in Vancouver who told me that he met Richard Bonynge (ex-impresario of Vancouver Opera) in Rome, who used the term Vancoocoo, being displeased with his being terminated there for mounting experimental and rare operas that didn’t bring in the punters and their money. After they fired him, the next season they went back to full house productions of La Traviata, La Bohème and Carmen – guaranteed old warhorses. I thought the term Vancoocoo appropriate.  That’s where I trained in psychiatry after medical school.

Kjerstin, my middle daughter, is a textile conservator at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. She has a PhD in mending from London – Hampton Court Palace etc. She is going to a conference on mummies in Tenerife later this month, where she will give talk on gopher hide robes covering frozen corpses.

In Canada, the New West Record reported Rev. Emilie Smith’s arrest earlier this week. She had joined other religious leaders to block a company’s gates in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples who object to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion

Emilie, my youngest daughter, is the vicar of St. Barnabas Anglican Church in New Westminster, a Vancoocoo suburb. She is socially conscious to the extreme, gets arrested at demonstrations, went through three unsatisfactory husbands and is now getting married to her lesbian partner in July.

I also have 6.5 grandsons (the 0.5 is biologically female but currently growing a moustache and transitioning to male. Plays rugby football.)  I also have two great-grandchildren – one male and the other female.

Well, they are at this time anyway.

My daughters’ mum died in 2011 – we had been married 55 years. Now I have a gay younger Chinese boyfriend who inspired me to learn about his language.

I first trained in philosophy (BA), then astronomy (MS), then medicine (MD) and finally psychiatry (FRSM). I studied languages (Mandarin and Finnish) at the University of Victoria in British Columbia after I retired from practice.

I have become interested in non Indo-European languages and translated a Finnish detective story into English.

I studied Finnish because my maternal grandparents were from there in the late 19th century before it became an independent country in 1917. It had previously been known as the Grand Duchy of Finland and belonged to Russia. I already knew Latin and the Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian and a bit of Slavic languages and wanted to try something completely different. 

When I awaken early and desire to go back to sleep, I usually do mental arithmetic in a language other than English – like Spanish, German, Finnish or Mandarin Chinese. Should that not work I may get up and have a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie or just reflect on some activity or idea of particular interest to me.

The 2013 Gay Pride march in Helsinki (Image by Yle Uutiset)

They have great trams in Helsinki – I carried a Canadian flag in the gay pride parade there in 2013. I was leaving Helsinki the same day in July once as Mr Methane, the UK farteur you occasionally write about, but I smelled nothing in the airport.

I wrote a 68 page autobiography earlier this year – only the bare bones of 1933-2017, no more than one page per year and a few even more compressed. After that, I decided to continue writing and settled on the blogosphere after reading your postings. 

So this is your fault, but I am having fun with it. During my 30 year career as a clinical psychiatrist I wrote and published professional articles and book reviews in medical and other journals.

When in stateless exile in Argentina, in the mid 1950s, I worked as a journalist for United Press. I wrote articles on diverse issues such as international commerce and the quality of the race track as seen by Formula One driver Stirling Moss.

I have been churning out 500 words daily since I started my blog 10 days ago. The focus is loosely on books and other literary topics.

You can read my daily drivel, if you are interested, at https://karhunluola.com.

Karhu means bear in Finnish; ‘luola’ means cave, ‘karhunluola’ means ‘bear’s cave’.  Name of my flat.

Strictly speaking, the grammatically correct expression would  be ‘karhunluolasta’,  literally meaning ‘from the cave of the bear’.

Watch out for woozles.

 

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“Variety is Back and it’s Slightly Fat…”

“It is a marketing nightmare,” Slightly Fat Features originator Goronwy Thomas aka Goronwy Thom told me.

Wednesday to Saturday this coming week, Slightly Fat Features are back at the Leicester Square Theatre in London with The Slightly Fat Show. Six shows in four days – four evening shows; two matinees. Their blurb reads:

“Stuffed to the seams with staggering stunts, lots of laughs and orchestrated mayhem to dazzle and delight. Hard to describe until you witness it live. Suitable for kids but not a kids’ show. Cirque du Soliel meets Monty Python. This unique group has to be seen live to be truly understood!”

For once, a marketing blurb that is true.

“So why a marketing nightmare?” I asked.

“Because,” Goronwy told me, “we are straddling two things. We are a family-friendly show – it is totally clean; there’s no swearing. But, as soon as you are seen as a family show, you can lose a comedy audience, because they don’t want to see a kids’ show. And, if you are billed as a comedy show, you can lose the kids’ audience. That really has been a marketing problem for us.”

“Is that why you are doing matinees AND evening shows?” I asked.

Showstoppers do two shows,” said Goronwy. “There is Showstoppers For Kids and then there is also the normal one as well. We have done some late-night stuff and all-adult stuff. In Leicester Square, the 4.00pm shows will be very very family-based and the 7.00pm ones won’t be so much but, to be honest, the show stays exactly the same. We are straddling two things.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for the show?” I asked. “A strapline?”

“Variety is back and it’s Slightly Fat,” said Goronwy.

When I saw their show in 2014, it included juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine (presumably we won’t be seeing that again!), a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience. The show got a standing ovation from the genuinely ordinary punter-filled audience at the end.

Before that, I had seen Slightly Fat member Herbie Treehead at the Glastonbury Festival; he also performed in this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Will they,” I asked Goronwy, “be the same seven people I saw in 2014?”

“Always the same seven since 2010. But, of course, with lots of new material.”

“You been trying it out somewhere?” I asked.

“Lancaster, Canterbury, York, Sidmouth, a lot of places to run it in.”

“All seven of you?”

“Mostly. One of our members – Richard Garaghty – has been filming Tim Burton’s Dumbo. He’s been doing that most of this year, dipping in and out of our try-outs, but he’s doing all the shows in Leicester Square.”

“Where did you started Slightly Fat Features?” I asked.

“Sidmouth in Devon.”

“That’s a slightly odd place to start.”

Slightly Fat Features – extremely indescribable

“A lot of us were old friends from street performing in Covent Garden. Some had known each other since the early 1990s though I didn’t meet any of them until about 2000. Then, when I moved from London to Sidmouth, I wanted an excuse for my mates to come down, so I put on a gig. We did that again and again and brought in guest variety and speciality acts until, in 2010, we said: Let’s just do it as the seven of us.

“We did stuff at the Roundhouse in London and it went on from there. The Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Montreal in 2014. London’s West End in 2014. We all still work individually or as duos. We come together as Slightly Fat three or four or five times a year.”

“It must be a nightmare finding gaps in your schedules and getting together.”

“It is, but it’s worth it.”

“But you won’t,” I suggested, “have any creative clashes because your skills don’t particularly overlap.”

“Not really. And, since about 2013, Petra Massey has done additional direction on top of it and she acts as a sort of UN peacemaker. Where a routine ends. Certain lines. Certain gags. Looking at the bigger picture sometimes. If you get that laugh there, it might underwhelm the bigger picture. Especially with character comedy. Yeah, it DOES get a laugh, but let’s lose it so we can get a bigger laugh later on. Those kind of discussions. And avoiding in-jokes.”

“Why these seven people? Was there a conscious balancing of skills?”

“Originally, we were nine. Then one moved to New Zealand and one dropped out. I don’t think there was any conscious deciding: Oh, he’s a juggler; he’s an escapologist. It was just people who liked spending time together and developing stuff.”

“All seven of you continue to do separate street acts?” I asked.

“Yes. Apart from Robert Lee, who’s a musician. Me and Richard Garaghty have worked a lot as a double act for years now, mainly at European street festivals. And ‘booked street performing’, where you are invited to a town to perform. About a third of my work is probably still outdoor work and you can’t beat it for the immediacy and improvisation with stuff happening. It’s unbeatable for that, though you have to be careful you don’t get too stylistically lost in it.”

“How?”

“Sometimes, in order to keep an audience and sustain them and make them pay you, you have to… Well, I have seen brilliant street performers go inside on a stage in a theatre and their style needs a bit of tweaking, otherwise it can be a bit shouty. Because you have more focus from an audience in a theatre. Street performers are just talking and talking and talking and talking. In a theatre, you can get away with more quiet parts. Street style can sometimes be too fast in a theatre.”

“With seven people to divide it between, you’re not going to make money.”

“No,” Goronwy laughed. “We are seven plus a stage manager sometimes plus accommodation, travel. We are absolutely not going to be hugely rich from it. But it’s a place where we can develop material; that’s a golden thing to have.”

“Have you got a five-year plan?” I asked.

“No. My five-year plan is not to have a five-year plan.”

“I understand,” I said, “that The Boy With Tape on His Face has always had five-year plans.”

“I think it’s destined to underwhelm you – you might not get there. Or you might find it too easy to get there and it puts up a barrier I don’t think we need. But there have been discussions about whether or not we should have one – exactly because of The Boy With Tape on His Face. Exactly that.”

“Have you thought,” I asked, “about America’s Got Talent?”

“That is,” agreed Goronwy, “what Boy With Tape on His Face did. And Piff and Paul Zerdin.”

“I think,” I said, “Mr Methane, farteur of this parish, was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent. He is not German.”

“We haven’t been approached by America’s Got Talent yet,” said Goronwy, “but we have been by Britain’s Got Talent.”

“Well,” I said, “I think everyone should appear on anything and everything because you never know where things may lead, but a lot of people disagree.”

“In the professional industry,” Goronwy replied, “as far as I can tell, America’s Got Talent has got more prestige than Britain’s Got Talent; and it might break you into the States – Piff went over there and now he is touring the US.”

“The seven of you are good enough for Vegas,” I said.

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The golden age of exotic dancers remembered in a new documentary

The legendary Judith Stein

The legendary Judith Stein in the Golden Age

Two weekends ago, I came down with a very nasty flu.

When I eventually got better, I opened an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She was raving in glowing terms about a documentary she had seen called League of Exotique Dancers.

It was a documentary about burlesque dancers in what is described as ‘the Golden Age’.

“The film,” Anna told me, “includes much never-before-seen footage of exotic dancers (much of it from a private collection of over 300 rare early black and white films of exotic dancers), photos from the private collections of the dancers themselves and interviews with the dancers today.

“And Kitten Natividad is in the movie!!!” she added. “She is hilarious! AND Russ Meyer!”

“Ah,” I replied. “The beloved Russ…”

“Russ, Russ…” agreed Anna. “Very funny indeed. He is wearing a snazzy jacket. Maybe it could inspire David McGillivray to make a jacket film. I wasn’t cultured enough to appreciate Russ Meyer movies when I was young. I preferred porn films with exotic locales and bad translations.”

Anna is not someone without knowledge of the world of exotic dancing. She told me:

“When Beneath The Valley of The Ultravixens (starring Kitten) was released, I was dancing at The Metro Cinema in Toronto. We did shows between the films. It was a vast, echoey, run-down place, but the owner was a nice foreign man who paid us really well.

“He hired me to do voice recordings on the answering machine to announce the coming attractions. I would make up exciting announcements: Chesty Morgan has just arrived from New York and will be here until Friday, four shows a day, starting at noon! Next week, Nurse Annie is flying in from Argentina to attend to your needs….

Anna as her alter ego ‘Nurse Annie'

Anna’s alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’ caused problems

“That one didn’t work out so well because a reporter from the local Spanish paper showed up wanting to interview Nurse Annie (who was me).

“The cashier was an old lady who was practically blind and often she would accidentally let small groups of twelve year old boys into the cinema. I would get out on stage and the twelve year olds would be sitting in the front row like idiots and I would storm off the stage and call the projectionist on the intercom to get them out of there.

“The League of Exotique Dancers also depicts how the dancers coped with the dramatic industry changes over the years, the hardships they overcame and then how they reacted when they were asked to return to the stage… after absences of thirty years!

“It also showed how we used to dance to live bands. And there were comedians too ! And funny strippers…

Camille in 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

Camille 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

“I was laughing through most of the movie, and crying… The film was BRILLIANT… Plus I was at a writers’ workshop for hookers all afternoon…There were eleven of us…

“On opening night in Vancouver, 66 year old Judith Stein performed a comic striptease before the movie started…

“After seeing the film (and making myself known to all in the following Q&A session) I went out with a group of directors and editors including Exotique‘s amazingly intelligent (some might say wily) young female director Rama Rau,  producer Ed Barreveld and Judith Stein.

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary's Vancouver premiere

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary’s Vancouver premiere

“When I asked Judith how to get into The Burlesque Hall of Fame show in Las Vegas, she asked me how old I was. I told her my age and she said: “You’re too young. You’re not allowed in until you’re sixty.“

“Don’t quote me on this, unless you can’t help it, but I have never seen a contemporary burlesque stripper move as well as the older ex-professional ones, (such as myself haha). One of the dancers in the movie noted that although she admires the efforts of contemporary burlesque dancers the fact is that, for most of them it is a hobby rather than a profession. She also admired the working strippers of today, lap dancers and pole dancers who make a lot of money and see glamorous, travel, etc. She said they work really hard for it though..

“When I see contemporary burlesque I find it usually looks a bit too contrived. Obviously, when we did the shows six and seven days a week for years on end, that experience became part of our stage presence and we became good at adapting and improvising according to the club and audience.

Anna Smith lives a quiet life near Vancouver

Anna Smith lives quietly in Canada

“Since I didn’t know anyone, but had been kindly invited along by Ed and Judith, I didn’t speak much, but sat there fascinated, listening to their astonishing and articulate discussion about film making,

Editors are fuckers…they have to be… etc.

“Somehow, toward the end of the night, I found myself hearing two men (I have no idea who they were) talking very seriously about Mr Methane.

Mr Methane?” I cried out. “I know Mr Methane!

“The two men looked at me with surprise. One of them was Irish and he said in disbelief:

You know Mr. Methane?

Well,” I said. “I mean I know who he IS… We appear in the same blog, sometimes even on the same page… Sometimes it is a bit embarrassing.

Mr Methane

Mr Methane – not a known exotic dancer

“I asked the Irishman who had shown an interest: “How do you know Mr Methane?

Oh,” he told me, a bit exhaustedly, “I have been trying to make a film about him for years… about eight years… What blog?

John Fleming’s blog,” I said.

“The man scrambled for a pen. After all, he was Irish.

Just look for TheJohnFleming,” I said.

Is he on Facebook?

He is on Facebook. He is on Twitter. He is on everything.

“I promise to Skype you when I get a phone again. I keep hoping my old (lost) phone will appear and been trying to revive several old ones without success.

“My sister on Vancouver Island has a WordPress blog about dolls… “

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Prince and the tangled web which gave farter Mr Methane his big US TV break

Prince in 2008 (Photo by Micahmedia)

Prince in 2008 (Photo by Micahmedia)

I stopped writing this blog daily at the end of last year, thinking it would give me more time to do other things.

Since stopping, I have had less time. Who knew? I am now seven un-transcribed blogs behind.

Almost four weeks ago, I had a chat with Mr Methane – the world’s only professional performing farter.

Around midnight last night, he texted me a message. Surprisingly, it did not say: Where the fuck is the blog your were going to write? Instead, it read:

“Quite stunned and saddened to hear about the death of Prince – an artist whose global success indirectly led to me appearing on the Howard Stern Show in the US.

“I made my first ever visit to the Howard Stern Show thanks to the hard work of Lenny Shabes. He was President of WATV. Lenny was a big fan of Howard and became aware of my alimentary talents while in London visiting his friend, artist manager and producer Steve Fargnoli – a man responsible for the careers of Prince and also possibly my biggest fan Sinéad O’Connor.

Mr Methane Let’s Rip in his VHS release

Mr Methane Let’s Rip opened him up to the US audience

“Steve Fargnoli introduced Lenny to my manager Barrie Barlow and, on returning to the States, Lenny sent a copy of my video Mr Methane Lets Rip to Howard’s producer Gary Dell’Abate AKA ‘Baba Booey’.

“Lenny followed it up with an astonishing 90-odd phone calls until Gary and Howard eventually caved in and watched the tape.

“Gary and Howard liked what they saw and invited me to the show where I performed a special rendition of Happy Birthday.

“The appearance was judged to be a success and was shown on Howard’s E TV & CBS television shows with Howard Stern proclaiming himself to be a huge Mr. Methane fan.

“This may have never happened if Prince’s Purple Rain hadn’t established Steve Fargnoli as a giant of music business management with an office in London.

“The law of unintended consequences strikes again.”

There is a video on YouTube of Mr Methane’s first appearance on the Howard Stern Show.

Last year, I wrote a blog which pointed out Mr Methane is related to the Queen of England and Thurston de Basset, Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

It now turns out that, as well as being related to Queen Elizabeth II, he is also related to Lord Byron. Genuinely.

When Mr Methane and I met again a month ago in St Pancras station, he was NOT going to the Paaspop festival in Holland. He had been booked to perform in a cabaret tent at the festival but then, for unknown reasons, the cabaret tent and all its acts were cancelled. They paid him half his fee and all his travel costs. So, instead of going to Holland, he took a train down from Macclesfield to London to celebrate what he called his “birthday we won’t mention.”

Mr Methane’s sister is still researching the family tree.

“Our grandma was Joan Byron,” Mr Methane told me, “and she married into the Bassets. She came from the Byron dynasty which used to hang out originally at Clayton Hall, where Manchester City’s football ground is now.

“We’ve got another grandma – Cecilia de Warren and her dad was the Earl of Surrey. She’s a connection that takes us back to the Plantagenets.”

“So,” I said, “your sister’s doing all this family research.”

Mr Methane wearing a Howard Stern badge

Mr Methane wearing a Howard Stern badge

“Yes. She’s got a BA and an MA and she took the BA in Art History. Before she came out with her Art History degree, I used to think Salford Van Hire was a Dutch painter.”

“Wey-hey!” I said.

“I’ve learned a lot off other people,” Mr Methane continued. “Barrie, my business manager is in the music industry and I knew very little about that too. I used to think Dexy’s Midnight Runners was a laxative.”

“Wey-hey!” I said. “So what have you got coming up in your farting career?”

“I’ve got a very very secret thing that I can’t talk about in Finland.”

“And sadly,” I said, “you can’t do the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show in Edinburgh in August because…”

“…I’m at the Dorset Steam Fair,” agreed Mr Methane. “Blowing my own trumpet. Then I’ve got to start writing the Mr Methane book. It’s going to be a long time in the process, but this year’s going to be the start of that. I think I need to leave a legacy. I don’t know whether to call it Behind The Behind or Life at The Bottom.”

“This will be your auto-blow-ography?” I asked.

“Yes, there will be loads of double-entendres in it,” agreed Mr Methane. “There’s something else I’m doing… I should write a list, shouldn’t I? But, being a performer, I don’t write lists, I just have things rattling around in me that come out.”

At this point, our conversation was interrupted by a text on his phone from a friend. It read:

A Belgian Shepherd dog not on the beach (Photo by Ulrik Wallström)

A Belgian Shepherd dog shot not on the beach (Photograph by Ulrik Wallström)

Can’t get on the beach for sheep.

“That’s right,” Mr Methane told me. “A friend has got a couple of big Belgian Shepherd Dogs and the sheep graze on the salt marsh, so you can’t have big Belgian Shepherd dogs chasing the sheep, can you?”

“No,” I agreed, “you can’t.”

I had no idea what we were talking about.

It often happens.

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Comedy legend John Dowie: changed by Spike Milligan’s Bed-Sitting Room

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie is difficult to describe. Wikipedia’s current attempt is: “a British comedian, musician and writer. He began performing stand-up comedy in 1969.”

His own website describes him as: “Not working. Not writing. Not performing. Not Twittering. Not on Facebook. Not on Radio. Not on TV. Not doing game shows, chat shows, list shows, grumpy-old whatever shows. Not doing quiz shows. Not doing adverts. Not doing voice-overs for insurance companies/banks/supermarkets/dodgy yogurts.”

The synopsis of his up-coming autobiography starts: “If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake.”

I know John Dowie because he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology of comedians’ (often dark) short stories which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee.

The book that was not suspended

A foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb

John’s was the story of a Northern comedian who has a foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb. The Daily Mirror called it: “a wrist-slashingly brutal account of a Bernard Manning-esque comic who plans blood-thirsty revenge. Disturbing? Very.” The Chortle website called it a “breathlessly entertaining yarn”.

Now he is crowdfunding his new book The Freewheeling John Dowie.

“How long are you crowdfunding for?” I asked him.

“They reckon the average book takes about six weeks or two months.”

“Have you started writing it?”

“I’ve already written it!”

“So the crowdfunding is just for the physical creation of it?”

“Yes, you have to reach a funding target for the printing process to begin.”

“So what have you been doing,” I asked, “since the triumph that was Sit-Down Comedy?”

“I have been riding my bicycle.”

“Where?”

“France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Ireland which is horrible, Wales, up and down England.”

“I like Ireland,” I said.

“Bad roads,” said John Dowie.

“And you are publishing your autobiography by crowdfunding…?”

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunder

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunding and bicycling

“Well, it’s not actually an autobiography,” John corrected me. “It’s like an autobiography, but with the boring bits cut out. There is no stuff like Birmingham is an industrial town in the heart of the Midlands. It’s got autobiographical elements. But, if you are a nobody such as I, then the only way you can tell a story about yourself is if it is a story that stands in its own right.”

“So how do you want The Freewheeling John Dowie described?” I asked. “A bicycling autobiography?”

“Yeah,” said John. “Well, if you ride a bike and you’re in a quiet piece of the world, what do you do? Your mind is free to wander and, as it wanders, you find yourself going from place to place in your mind that you were not expecting to go.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to write your autobiography now?”

“I’m 65 and I’ve been retired for 15 years,” explained John. “And, if you’re 65, you’re fucked. So I thought: If I’m fucked, I’d better spend my time working because I’m of more use as a fucked-up performer than I am as a fucked-up retiree.”

“You were born in 1950?” I asked.

“Yes. Just in time to miss Elvis Presley and just in time to get the Beatles.”

“Did you approach a ‘proper’ publisher for the book?” I asked.

“No… Well, I think Unbound are more proper than publishers, because they care about the things they make. A friend of mine has a client who’s a comedian who went to a voice-over studio to record her book and was regaled by the engineers with all the comedians who came in to read the books they ‘wrote’ but had never even read yet – and finding mistakes in their own books – Ooh! My mother isn’t called Dorothy! Those are books done by ‘proper’ publishers.”

John Dowie - a living legend from the early alternate days

John Dowie – a living legend from the early alternate days

“Is there what they call a ‘narrative arc’ in your cycling autobiography?” I asked.

“Well, it begins and ends with a Spike Milligan story.”

“I met him once,” I said. “I think he must have got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.”

“I think,” John said, “that he got more crotchety as he got older. When I met him, he was very decent to me. I was hanging around backstage after one of his shows. He was touring a play which he wrote with John AntrobusThe Bed-Sitting Room. People talk about taking LSD for the first time and how it changed their life. Watching The Bed-Sitting Room changed my life. It was like a door had opened.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I had not experienced anything like it before. Live comedy. I was 15 or 16.”

“So you didn’t know what you wanted to be?”

“No.”

“And you decided to be Spike Milligan?”

“Yeah. That’s more or less it, yeah. I became Spike Milligan for a period. Apart from the talented bits, obviously.”

“What happened when you stopped being Spike Milligan?”

“I got my friends back.”

“Why? Because you were rude as Spike Milligan?”

“No. Just not funny.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

Naked Noolies and I Don’t Want To Be Your Amputee

“And then, I said, “you became one of the living legends of the original Alternative Comedy circuit.”

“Well,” said John, “I’m living. That’s halfway there.”

“But you are,” I said, “one of the originators of Alternative Comedy.”

“I don’t think so,” said John. “I don’t think I’m one of them and it’s not as if it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there. I was coincidental more than anything. It wasn’t as if anybody saw me and thought: Oh, let’s start a movement. I considered myself to be in the same field as Ivor Cutler and Ron Geesin.”

“Wow!” I said. “Ron Geesin! I had forgotten him!”

“Yes,” said John. “He was great. He was a John Peel discovery. Ron played Mother’s Club in Birmingham where John Peel’s Birmingham audience used to go religiously to see the acts John Peel played on the radio. Ron Geesin came on and did his first number on the piano and the place went fucking barmy and Ron Geesin said to the audience: Listen, nobody is THAT good.”

Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

AOK Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

At this point, farteur Mr Methane, who was sitting with us, piped up: “Weren’t you involved with Tony Wilson years ago?” he asked. “On Factory Records.”

“Yeah,” said John. “The first one. The first Factory Records release. FAC- 2… FAC- 1 was the poster. I was on the same record as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the Durutti Column. It was a double EP.”

“Ah!” I said.

Then he said to me: “It’s all very good if you know everything about comedy, John, but, if you don’t know about pop music…”

“Why should people crowdfund your autobiography?” I asked.

“Because I’m fuckin’ fantastic,” he replied.

I tend to agree.

If you want to crowd fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-freewheeling-john-dowie

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The award-winning comic who almost joined the French Foreign Legion

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the Awards last night

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the SYTYF Awards in Edinburgh

Luca Cupani won the already prestigious So You Think You’re Funny? contest at the recent Edinburgh Fringe.

This Saturday, he appears with fellow Puma Londinese Italians as part of the launch weekend for Bob Slayer’s Blundabus in Hackney.

Next July, Luca goes to the mega-prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.

“Part of the prize for winning So You Think You’re Funny?” Luca told me, “is to go to Montreal and appear in a showcase for British comedy and I will have the spot as the up-and-coming British comedian.”

“So you,” I said, “an Italian, are representing Britain.”

“Yes,” said Luca. “This year was really a UKIP comedy. The runner up in So You Think You’re Funny? was Yuriko Kotani, who is Japanese. What I like about the UK is that I manage to win a competition despite my accent and broken English. This would not happen in Italy.”

“Don’t let the Queen down,” I said.

“She’s the head of Canada,” replied Luca, “and she’s not Canadian. This year, America’s Got Talent was won by an English ventriloquist.”

“And my chum Mr Methane, the farteur,” I said, “was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent, despite having nothing to do with Germany.”

“Ah,” said Luca, “but he speaks an international language.”

“You were an actor in Italy,” I said to Luca, “before coming here to do comedy. Why did you become an actor?”

“I was not happy with my job.”

“What was your job?”

“I was a freelance editor at a publisher. Not a bad job, but it did not pay very well. I thought: I’m not going to do this forever. I was already 35 and still living at home with my parents. I loved my parents but my mother was very possessive. When you do something that is boring, you sit at a desk and work and get up and ten years have passed and you do not have any memory of this.

Luca cupani took a selfie in London this week

Luca Cupani took a selfie in London this week

“Since I left that job, I now remember almost every single day, because every day something new happens. Sometimes horrible things like my mother dying, my father dying. But also sometimes beautiful things. New people. So I was looking for a way to get out of my boring job. And I thought: Why not join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Errrrrrr,” I said, surprised.

“I would never have joined the Italian Army,” said Luca, “because I’m not particularly patriotic. To be honest, Italy should be ruled by someone else. But, in the French Foreign Legion, they don’t bother where you are from. So I thought: Why not? It seemed a safe place to hide.”

“Did you mention this to your mother?” I asked.

“I tried. I thought about running away, but my father was disabled and I could not leave him alone.”

“But,” I said, “if you had joined the French Foreign Legion…”

“I just had this idea,” said Luca, “that, if something went wrong, I would join the French Foreign Legion.”

“Perhaps you should still consider it,” I suggested. “There must be an Edinburgh Fringe show and a book in it…”

“You can join the French Foreign Legion until you are 40 or 50,” mused Luca. “The transition from being a freelance editor or proof reader behind a desk to becoming a comedian or an actor did not change things too much money-wise – and uncertainty about the future was pretty much the same – but now I feel more free.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide not to join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Because it is so boring. I checked the website and the entry pay was only something like 200 Euros more than I was earning – to stay in French Guinea in the jungle – and you had to learn French. That could have been good, because I would have learnt another language, but you also have to sing and I sing terribly.”

“They sing?” I asked.

“They sing a lot,” said Luca. “Even before dinner. I learned one of their songs: Adieu vieille Europe…”

“Is it,” I asked, “one of the strict rules of the French Foreign Legion? You have to sing?”

“Yes. And then you have to iron your own uniforms. It is a clash between being macho and being quite camp. Their uniform is unique, so they make a lot of effort into putting the pleat correctly in it when you do the ironing. You have to put a lot of effort into the ironing and then, maybe, you have to kill someone.”

“Kill someone?” I asked.

“You have to, maybe. I don’t know. My favourite group in the French Foreign Legion were the Pioneers – the people who make bridges.”

Sappers?” I asked.

French Foreign Legion Pioneer wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather apron

French Foreign Legion Pioneers wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather aprons

“Yes. There are very few of them.”

“I guess there are not many bridges in the desert,” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Luca. “Their symbol is an axe and an apron open on one side. I don’t know why it is open on one side. And a long beard.”

“A bird?” I asked.

“A beard. A very long beard. And they hold axes and wear aprons. They seem very proud of their aprons.

“I also decided not to join because a friend of mine knew someone who had been in the French Foreign Legion and he was not happy and he left before his contract ended because he was heavily bullied. Apparently they were ‘fond’ of him.”

“Fond of him?” I asked.

“They fancied him,” explained Luca. “And I know men can fancy me. And so I thought: Mmmm. If I am in the jungle in French Guinea and find I am the most attractive ‘girl’ in the battalion, they will never get my heart but still they can…

“…get your butt?” I suggested.

Luca nodded.

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