Tag Archives: Mr Twonkey

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 10: Why I don’t like character comedy + Donald Trump

Simon Jay in character after today’s show

“It has come a long way since you saw it in that basement room in London,” Simon Jay told me this afternoon.

I first met Simon when he staged Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm at the Bread & Roses venue in Clapham in April 2015. But he was talking about his Donald Trump comedy show in 2016, which has now transformed into Trumpageddon and is playing to full houses at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh.

It cannot be easy to perform as Donald Trump – part real person, part Timothy Burton living fantasy character – in a scripted show with so much back story Simon has to know and the nightmare of up-dating as the real-life Trump bandwagon careers off in wild new directions every day. The show is, of course, scripted and some of the audience interaction can be prepared, but not all. And yesterday, the previous day’s North Korean lunacy had been incorporated into the narrative.

I tend not to like character comedy but with a caveat.

Simon Jay being made into the leader of the free world

The closer the act is to what might be a real person, the less I like it.

I spent much of my TV life finding bizarre acts and eccentric people. If I see a character act pretending to be an eccentric who could be real, I think: Why am I watching this theatre school performance of someone who is not being themselves pretending to be an interesting person when I could actually be watching the real interesting person?

The less ‘real’ and the more ‘cartoony’ the character is, the more likely I am to appreciate the act.

Charlie Chuck, for example, was/is believable to the point that people would/do ask me: Is he really like that? (No, of course he is not.) But ‘Charlie Chuck’ was/is an OTT cartoon-style character.

The interesting thing about Donald Trump and Trumpageddon is that it is an impression of a totally real person but the real Trump is pretty-much a cartoon character.

Perhaps all this is why stand-up comedy attracts me.

I am interested in people. Real people. Ideally eccentric people.

Sally Beaton – fluently funny, fascinating and real

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award contender Cally Beaton is a not eccentric, but she is assuredly real. Her show Cally Beaton’s Super Cally Fragile Lipstick is about her autistic son (who agreed to be mentioned on stage after negotiations over a meal at Nando’s), bisexuality and things menopausal. Sounds like a tough comedy show to sell, but Cally is fluently funny, fascinating and manages to pitch herself to Edinburgh Fringe AND Radio 4 audiences. She comes across as a real person chatting to the audience. Which is what the best modern stand-up is.

On stage, modern stand-up comics tend to perform as (slightly heightened versions of) themselves.

Actors pretend to be characters totally different from themselves.

I prefer comics.

A character comedian with caveats and cravat

Which makes Milo McCabe’s show interesting, because he is performing as a character: the slightly anachronistic Terry-Thomas-ish, dressing gown and cravat-wearing Talented Mr Hawke. It sort-of could-be a real, very well-observed person from a slightly early era, but it is also (successfully) a cartoon character.

In reality, the character would be rather sleazy and unlikable. In Milo’s audience-pleasing, fleshed-out character act, he is rather loveable. The audience totally believes in the character. But Milo also cleverly – by reading letters to Mr Hawke from other people – briefly slips in two or three totally different voices which remind the audience (and demonstrate to any agents/promoters present) that they are watching a skilled comic actor who would be equally interesting in other situations.

Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

As mentioned in previous blogs, Milo McCabe’s father Mike McCabe is performing at the Fringe as the late comic Frank Carson. That is another genre entirely and my brain is too sleep-deprived and befuddled to go into it.

One reason I tend to see no point in watching comic actors who are performing as fictional characters who are too close to ‘real’ people who could actually exist is that the lives of real people are always wildly more OTT than anything anyone could possibly think up.

Hello Scott Agnew.

Scott Agnew puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’

His show is titled Spunk on My Lady’s Face which is an extreme under-selling of the outrageousness of some of his stories. Scott always puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’.

Tonight he was playing to an audience of what seemed to me to be mostly straight couples and I initially thought: Oh dear, this could go ether way! But they were guffawing-away pretty much all the way through Scott’s wild, true gay stories.

It was a bit like running through the highlights of the Emperor Nero’s excesses during the most decadent days of the Roman Empire. If you think you have heard outrageously excessive stories, you ain’t heard nothing till you have sat through 55 minutes of Scott Agnew.

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Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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Why audiences would rather pay than see free comedy shows in London

Martin Soan and Paul Vickers before a Pull The Other One

Martin and Vivienne Soan have been running Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead, South London, for over ten years. The shows are monthly. You pay to enter; and, in my opinion, they are always value for money whoever is on the bill.

Relatively recently, they also started monthly sister shows – free to enter – called It’s Got Bells On.

These two monthly comedy shows mean Martin and Vivienne run shows roughly every fortnight.

Pull The Other One is at the Ivy House in Nunhead; It’s Got Bells On is at the Old Nun’s Head in – you guessed it – Nunhead.

Martin has always paid acts to perform at It’s Got Bells On, though entry has been free for audiences. From this Friday, though, Martin is going to charge £3 entry.

“Why?” I asked him a couple of weeks ago, before a Pull The Other One show.

Also sitting at the table, mute, was Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“So,” I said, turning back to Martin Soan, “why start charging entry?”

“Well,” said Martin, “I started It’s Got Bells On because I was getting a little tired of putting on stuff that sells. If I book a big name like Alan Davies or Omid Djalili or Stewart Lee at Pull The Other One, people will happily pay to come along.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan

“If I don’t have a big name, people won’t come along in such big numbers, Which is very frustrating because all the shows are always consistently good. (Martin tells the truth here.) It doesn’t matter who is on, the shows are worth the same ticket price. The fickle nature of the public, though, is that more will come along if they see a name they recognise. And, because the audience is paying, the acts feel they have to deliver risk-free performances.

“So I wanted to have a free-to-enter evening which would allow acts to be more anarchic and experiment more without worrying about the possibility of failing. I could also feed off It’s Got Bells On and transfer acts tried-out there into Pull The Other One.

“What happened was that the first few months of It’s Got Bells On were incredibly successful. I didn’t realise at the time why, but the (mostly South London) acts I was putting on were bringing along lots of friends. But then, when I started having acts on from North London, they didn’t bring friends and I had only 20-30 people coming in, which was disappointing.”

“Why,” I asked, “would charging get you bigger audiences?”

“People have been talking to me, saying: I didn’t want to come along because it was free so, obviously, it was not going to be very good. Which isn’t true, but that’s what they think. So I thought: Right, fuck it. We will charge the audience, but all the ticket money will go directly to the Clowns Without Borders charity. 

It’s Got Bells On – £3 this Friday in Nunhead

So the people who won’t come to free shows because they think they will be shit may come to this pay show because they assume it will be better. But we will keep the essential elements of It’s Got Bells On – freedom from having to do risk-free comedy and allowing people to experiment. And I will still (as before) pay everyone £20 to perform. So it’s good for the performers and hopefully now people will start taking it a bit more seriously because there’s an admission fee (which goes directly to Clowns Without Borders).

“I’m still gobsmacked by the attitude of audiences out there. People have got these boundaries of what they will allow themselves to experience. If the performers have been on television, then that’s OK. They will come. At Pull The Other One, invariably, when we have really big names on, we will put acts either side who are completely nuts and the audience will come out saying: I loved the Big Name but that guy who did the blah blah blah whatever – I REALLY, REALLY loved him!

“The whole idea of It’s Got Bells On was to be free so acts feel no pressure not to fail… but I have never known an act to fail there. Generally, if you get up and do something new, then your adrenaline and determination will carry the whole thing through.”

Martin smiled.

Martin Soan decided not to have bluetooth

“Why do you have a green tooth?” I asked. “That wasn’t there before.”

“I wanted bluetooth to communicate better but I got a green tooth instead.”

“Ah,” I said. I turned to Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey. “Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Paul lives in Edinburgh but had come to London to appear in various shows.

“Are you staying with Lewis Schaffer?” I asked.

“No. I’m staying with Martin here. That means I won’t have to do the book.”

“Do the book?” I asked.

“You remember I told you about the book?” Paul told me. “I Can Teach You How To Read Properly by Lewis Schaffer.

“Ah,” I said. “Do you have any books at your place?” I asked Martin.

“I do have a pop-up Kama Sutra,” he replied.

“A pop-up Kama Sutra?” I repeated.

“Yes. You open the pages and figures pop up fucking each other and, if you move the pages correctly, you get the penis going in and out.”

“How much did that cost?” I asked.

“It was 15p from a charity shop in Peckham.”

“That must be an interesting charity shop,” I said.

“It was in the children’s section.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin. “That’s the God’s honest truth.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just because it was a pop-up book and they assumed it was for children?”

“I suppose so,” said Martin. “I don’t think anyone had opened the book and looked inside.”

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“Ah,” I said.

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Mr Twonkey on the Chicken Church cult and being hit by Lewis Schaffer’s spoon

twonkey_malcolmhardeeaward

Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey had forgotten too

“Why are we meeting?” I asked Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey, surrealist performer and winner of the 2016 increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

“I have forgotten,” he told me.

“Me too,” I said. “Are you doing the Leicester Comedy Festival?”

“I am. On 9th and 10th of February. And the Museum of Comedy in London on the 15th of April.”

“Maybe that’s why,” I suggested. “What else have you been doing?”

“I have been taking advice on relationships from Lewis Schaffer.”

“Are you mad?” I asked

“He has algorithms,” Paul told me, “and he is trying to teach me how to read. He says I haven’t learnt how to read properly. I am dyslexic, but he is convinced that it is not a real disease. He thinks I am not trying hard enough.”

“He is teaching you too read?” I asked.

“He has a book,” Paul explained, “and I have to read words that have similar sounds and get used to reading and recognising them.”

“What is the book called?” I asked.

Lewis Schaffer’s book

Lewis Schaffer’s book without wooden spoon

“This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer. When I mess up, he hits me with a wooden spoon. It is based on a similar thing to Dr Seuss. It does actually work. But it is tedious and unpleasant. I think Lewis Schaffer finds it funny – and I did to start with, but then it became tiring…

“…and painful,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “Lewis Schaffer was upset because I didn’t take the book with me last time. He said they had printed it out specially for me.”

“There is,” I asked, “only one copy of This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer?”

“I think there may be 3 or 4 copies. But he has got a copy that is specifically for me. It is signed at the front and  it is my copy. We have had two sessions so far.”

“When was the previous one?” I asked.

“In May last year, I think.”

“Have you progressed?”

“Not as much as I thought. He showed me the page where we left off last time, and it was only halfway through the first page. But I think he may be cheating; I am sure I did more than just that page.”

“Is it enjoyable?” I asked.

“No,” said Paul. “It is not a fun activity and, last time, I did it before and after a gig so I was quite tired. But that doesn’t stop him. He’s relentless.”

A page from Lewis Schaffer’s book

A page from Lewis Schaffer’s relentless book

“Relentless in what?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Just relentlessly… erm… cruel, I suppose. It seems a bit cruel.”

“I thought you were seeing him for relationship counselling?”

“Well, there is that as well, but he has not written a book about relationships. He just has an algorithm that he feels will work.”

“An algorithm on relationships?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the algorithm?”

“It is based on the fact that all people are fundamentally selfish.”

“Lewis Schaffer thinks other people are too inward-looking?” I asked.

Paul laughed: “I am not sure I can repeat a lot of what was said.”

“Are you going to follow his advice?”

“It is always good to get the Lewis Schaffer’s perspective on a situation.”

“No it isn’t,” I said. “On relationships??? That seems like a very bad idea. You are going to end up an emotional wreck with no self confidence and speaking with a fake American accent.”

A selfie by Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey

A Soho selfie by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

“That is true,” Paul agreed.

“Who first suggested,” I asked, “that you should go to Lewis Schaffer for reading lessons and relationship counselling?”

“That’s just what he sees as necessary when I turn up,” Paul replied. “That’s his idea of passing time with me.”

“Better than conversing…?” I asked.

“Well,” mused Paul, “he made me a chicken sandwich and then he took the book out… and the wooden spoon.”

I asked: “Does he keep a special wooden spoon for lessons?”

“Yeah,” said Paul. “That’s the one he beats you with.”

“This should be a show at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“It’s quite tedious, though,” Paul told me. “It really is quite tedious. It’s like blog – slob – cog – mob – gob – hob – lob. Quite tedious.”

“What does this supposedly teach you?” I asked.

“It teaches you how to recognise how certain things sound, because he says I get my Bs and Ds mixed up, which is true. And that I have difficulty recognising sounds and words. When I look at a page, I do sometimes have that thing where I can see words backwards. It’s partly why I ended up going down the road I’ve gone down. Apparently dyslexic people either turn to crime  or art… I could be in prison…

A selfie by Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey

Another selfie by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

“…instead of being hit by a wooden spoon?” I asked.

“The dyslexia has actually affected my life,” Paul continued. “If only Lewis Schaffer had got to me sooner, then maybe I would have turned into an upstanding member of society.”

“I am not convinced,” I told him, “that you are learning to read. You are just getting bruised.”

“He sees it as doing a good thing,” Paul countered.

Then there was a long pause.

“Well, I don’t know if he does,” he added thoughtfully.

“Anyway,” I said, “what is this new show you are taking to Leicester, the Museum of Comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“If you could push my Museum of Comedy show on the 15th of April that would be cool,” said Paul.

“And the new show is…?” I prompted.

“It is called Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”

Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in The Jungle

Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in The Jungle – is not in a jungle

“Is it going o be performed at Christmas in a jungle?”

“No. At the Museum of Comedy in London on 15th April.”

“Have you written it all?”

“More or less.”

“Which?” I asked. “More or less?”

“Well, I have a beginning and an end but, because it has never been performed in front of an audience, I don’t entirely know how much of it works. I have a rough story.”

“Which is?”

“My manager – I don’t have a manager but, in Twonkey World I do – he sends me to do the Iquitos Fringe in the Hallucinogenic Peruvian jungle. The idea is he is trying to get rid of me, cos he has other acts who are more prestigious and exciting to manage.”

“Are you,” I asked, “going to have a jungle in the venue?”

“Yeah. My long-suffering other half, Mary, has made a jungle for me and some of my puppets have turned to a religious cult called The Chieftains of Paradise Who Welcome Evil.

“They wear a lot of rosettes and they believe that Jesus, when he rested, actually went to Hawaii and, when he was in Hawaii, he came up with some ideas like the Solomon Islands and Canada and the piña colada.

“I am trying to wean the puppets off the religious cult and the only way to be rescued from the jungle is for someone to go to the Chicken Church – which actually exists. It is not in the Peruvian jungle, but it’s a massive church that looks like a chicken. Well, it is not supposed to be a chicken: it’s supposed to be a dove but it looks more like a chicken. It has become a tourist attraction.

The Chicken Church in the Indonesian jungle

The real Chicken Church is actually in the Indonesian jungle

“The idea is that, if the puppets get to the Chicken Church and ring the bells, then the rescue helicopters will come and lift us all to safety.

“There is a song about the Chicken Church in Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”

“That would be,” I said, “the show which is going to be at London’s Museum of Comedy on 15th April?”

“Yes. The song is from a new album by Paul Vickers & The Leg with the working title Sherbert and Chilli – but that’s a long way from finished. We have about twelve tracks written and demo-ed. Christmas in The Jungle is another of the songs. It takes a while to finish these things… and there is always the temptation to try and get it right this time.”

“Do you,” I asked, “resist that temptation?”

“Well, I think I sometimes get it right accidentally. I do know how to persist and I know when something has gathered a certain amount of mass and it may be worth presenting to people, but it’s difficult to know when anything is ever really truly finished. It’s quite tricky to constantly mine the human consciousness for those gems or whatever they are.”

“Have you thought of doing something completely different – like not being Mr Twonkey?”

“I could have gone into advertising, but I didn’t. I could have gone any number of ways.”

“You still can,” I suggested.

“Yeah. That’s the thing. You feel you are in a very small, tight little room but, when you find those little doors it can take the roof off and it becomes expansive again. When people talk about writers’ block it’s really that they don’t have the keys to a door yet.

Paul Vickers tries a new look after our chat

Paul Vickers tried a new look for Mr Twonkey after our chat

David Lynch explains it really well. He says that sometimes you get little bits of ideas but you can’t work out what to do with them or how they connect and everything you need is in one room but it is a room you are not allowed access to yet.

“I think the ideas I have are not necessarily always fully explored. Jennifer’s Robot Arm – the play that I did – was originally just a 500-word story but I realised I could expand it out. There’s a lot of things I have like that; they could be expanded out. I would like to write more plays.”

twonkeychristmasjungle_leicester

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Mr Twonkey’s Buxton Fringe Diary

Mr Twonkey was front-page news in Buxton

Mr Twonkey was big front-page news in Buxton

Performers often preview their Edinburgh Fringe shows at the Buxton Fringe.

This year, the Buxton Fringe runs 6th-24th July and the Edinburgh Fringe officially 5th (but, in fact, 3rd) to 29th August

Paul Vickers  is a songwriter, comic and puppeteer who performs as Mr Twonkey

Last year in Edinburgh, he was nominated for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

He will be performing his new show Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel in Edinburgh next month and has just returned from performing it for three nights in Buxton. This is his diary of what happened over the weekend…


DAY ONE

Mr Twonkey performed late night in Buxton

Mr Twonkey performed late night underground in Buxton

As soon as I arrived, I headed for a vegetable shepherd’s pie. The table I choose to sit at was about three foot taller than all the other tables. I had set myself up to be the freak straight away. Old ladies gazed at me gloomily as Old Blue Eyes provided the swinging soundtrack. I felt so vulnerable.

Afterwards, I walked along the high street and spotted some teenagers dressed in World War 2 clobber. They had just performed their first show and all seemed to think the audience was a little nervous and quiet as they hammered their show into them like a night raid on Coventry.

The evening came round fast.

First I did Barrel of Laughs which was a mixed bill show. I tried out new songs and it all went down very well. People started singing along automatically which was unusual. It was almost as if they knew the songs better then me, which was a little creepy.

My late solo show was more sparsely attended. However I had a reviewer in and he loved it, saying I was as mad as a trumpet made from ear wax but enjoyable all the same.

My Air BnB was incredibly minimal. When I opened the door to my room, the handle came right off. I went straight to bed.

DAY TWO

Mr Twonkey stared at the viaduct and the grass near Buxton

Mr Twonkey stared at the viaduct and the grass

The morning began with a fright as I heard a penguin flapping about in the loft above my head. Luckily, I managed to secure the door to the hatch with an old broom. I would be horrified having to deal with a bird flapping around my small room hungry for berries and seeds. Or fish.

I decided not to start my day with a punishing schedule of Fringe shows but to immerse myself in the sanctuary of nature and stone temples.

First I went off to stare down a viaduct and, just up the road from that humped wonder, I found a lovely farm shop. They served cherry Bakewell ice cream, which was pretty much the best thing ever.

Afterwards, I tried talking to a horse and a farmer caught me at it. He said he once had a bull that rolled it eyes when it was hungry.

Then I walked back into town refueled and ready to give Buxton a show to remember.

I picked up a new cast member in a junk shop called Maggie Mae – a fine coconut frog belly monster with a devilish grin.

I played to a busy house. The show fell straight off the bone, which is the way I like it: loose but tasty.

After my success, I read an old copy of the Buxton Advertiser and fell asleep.

DAY THREE

Mary Queen of Scots used to rub herself against the stalagmites in Poole’s Cavern

Mary Queen of Scots used to rub herself against the stalagmites in Poole’s Cavern (Photograph by Stephen Elwyn Roddick)

The morning began with a hop, skip and a jump down a cave – Poole’s Cavern. This comprises a network of tunnels that Mary Queen of Scots used to visit via candlelight as she feverishly rubbed her body up and down the stalagmites in a desperate effort to try and cure her rampant arthritis.

I also learned about the beaker people. Their bodies were discovered when the area near Solomon’s Temple (a Victorian viewing booth on the moor) was excavated. Apparently they were buried with beakers between their legs so that when they arrived in heaven they would not go thirsty.

In the afternoon, Buxton was simply throbbing with brass bands, vintage sports cars, cream teas and jollity. People in blazers tiptoed around the opera house gorging themselves on fancy cakes and antiques. The sun was so hot you could hear the huge laminated portraits in front of the Milton’s Head sizzle: a bizarre tribute to the fallen Prince, John Lennon, Whitney Houston and Cilla Black.

As the day drew on, posh people left the park and were soon replaced by local yobs kicking bottles of Buxton spring water around in a hateful manner. I started to feel a little nervous about my final Buxton show.

I gave them my most physical show yet.

I was burnt-out but satisfied by the end of it.

I did it!

I blasted the Buxton Fringe.

I gave them a bit of Twonkey and – you know what? – I think they liked him.

As for me, I don’t care for the guy.

Paul Vickers on Skype yesterday

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Edinburgh Fringe: The unavoidable Lewis Schaffer & the African President

Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap(Photo by Trudy Brambrough)

Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap (Photograph by Trudy Brambrough)

Yesterday, I was talking to critic Kate Copstick and I think we came to the conclusion that, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there is no one ‘hot’ act whom everyone is talking about. Although Phil Nichol seems to be everywhere either as a performer or as a producer – the ten shows to promote the tenth anniversary of his Comedians’ Theatre Company is only the tip of an iceberg.

I saw one of his shows yesterday – Giant Leap, about the alleged writing of Neil Armstrong’s first words during the allegedly faked Moon landing in 1969.

This is the one which has Lewis Schaffer in his first on-stage acting role since his schooldays. And he is very good. But, talking to him afterwards, it was all about the review he got for his stand-up comedy show from critic Bruce Dessau. It was only a 3-star review and Lewis Schaffer seems to think Bruce told him it could have been a 4-star review but he (Lewis Schaffer) was not bad enough. If you build an entire career on being a failure as a comic, you rather screw yourself if you are rather too good. Sure enough, when I looked up the review, it ends with the words: “Go along and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good gig. But if you are lucky maybe you will catch him have a bad gig”

Mr Twonkey and friend yesterday

Mr Twonkey and his close friend yesterday

Also in the audience at Giant Leap was Mr Twonkey who, the previous day, had supplied cheese at the surprisingly busy Grouchy Club show. He told me he had run out of cheese and was not coming to our second show.

And no-one else did either. The allotted time – 3.45pm at The Counting House Lounge – arrived and no-one turned up to participate, something that hadn’t happened in the two Fringes we have been doing it.

But then, three minutes later, Italian Luca Cupani turned up. So the three of us – Kate Copstick, Luca and I talked about his forthcoming appearance in the final of So You Think You’re Funny, comedy in general, Italy and toilets. I have posted a 26 minute extract online in what I presume will be a daily podcast extract from the show.

Today’s Grouchy Club will be interesting as Copstick is off at some dodgy venue doing a panel discussion with Janey Godley and others for online magazine Spiked on the subject of That’s Not Funny! Are Offence-Seekers Killing Comedy?

So, tomorrow, there may be a podcast posted of an extract from me talking to myself.

Anyway, after today’s threesome, I went off to see Nathan Cassidy pulling another publicity stunt in the Cowgate for his Back To The Future shows featuring the DeLorean car he has managed to half-inch from someone (possibly in the past).

Jo Burke, mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

Jo Burke was mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

I seem to spend most of my days figuratively bumping into people in the street but yesterday, by the DeLorean, I was literally bumped-into by Jo Burke.

She appeared to be having a fit of the giggles and, on leaving (she was rushing to Waverley station to put a friend on a train) got stopped by a fan who wanted her to sign a copy of her iScream book for him.

Thought to self afterwards: Was that impromptu book-signing a set-up?

Decision by self: No, I don’t think it was. I think it was actually real. It was bizarre. This is Edinburgh. Bizarre things happen all the time.

When I too left the DeLorean, 30 seconds later, I bumped into Alexander Bennett, but only figuratively.

Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene

Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene

“All hail Alexander Bennett!” I shouted out. “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my blog?”

“John,” he replied, “you are the bottom-feeder of comedy. You are scraping around. Have you got any anecdotes? Have you got any anecdotes so I can sort-of write down what you’ve said.

“That’s a bit harsh,” I said. “I hailed you – and this is what I get.”

“The trouble is,” said Alexander, “my catchphrase (All hail Alexander Bennett!) is only working with you. Maybe it will take off and…”

At this point, I saw John Robertson walking fast on the other side of the road holding a placard advertising his Dark Room show.

I shouted loudly across the street: “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my increasingly prestigious blog?”

He half raised his hand in what looked like a slightly tired acknowledgement and hurried on his way.

When I too hurried on my way, I got a message from Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Claire Smith: Lewis Schaffer was ASTONISHING yesterday.

Matt Price looking for a bargain yesterday

Matt Price looking for a bargain in Edinburgh yesterday

I turned a corner and bumped into Matt Price. He and his partner Martha McBrier are turning into Lewis Schaffer.

Ever since Martha got a 5-star review in The Scotsman, their venue has been swamped by ‘star-chasers’ – people who only go to shows because they have stars in The Scotsman and elsewhere, not because they are interested in the show as such.

“You are turning into Lewis Schaffer,” I said. “If good things happen, you get worried.”

“He has re-defined failure and it’s amazing,” said Matt. “We saw him yesterday and Martha had never seen him perform before. It was just unbelievable. Amazing. Martha said: Oh. Is this what he does, then?”

Then my evening was spent watching three superb comedy shows.

Lynn Ruth Miller: Get a Grip
Arguably the warmest and cuddliest autobiographical storyteller on the Fringe. Well, I got a cuddle, so I’m happy.

Janey Godley: Honest To Godley
I think I have said in this blog before that she is he most all-round creative person I have ever met and these two quotes from elsewhere still remain true:

“The most outspoken female stand-up in Britain” (Daily Telegraph)

 “Some of the sharpest-elbowed comedy in the world” (New York Times)

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: The Man Who Stole My Identity
President Obonjo, African dictator, is actually comedian Benjamin Bello and he lives in St Albans – on the same railway line as me. So I have had about three rail journey chats with him – one of which I think involved the basic idea of this show – but only seen him perform one 10-minute spot in London. This hour-long show was a revelation.

He has great audience control. The character was immediately taken-to-heart by a mostly male audience. And then he takes the uniform off, becomes Benjamin Bello and analyses the nature of character comedy, wonders why the character he writes and performs is funnier than he himself is on stage… and then puts the uniform back on and becomes the character again.

Loud, loud laughter in the first and third sections; total silence in the middle broken by occasional laughter when he bungs in a joke. But it is not silence because they don’t like the performance. It is the silence of wrapt attention and – I think – fascination.

Nothing at all like what I expected.

The downside of the Edinburgh Fringe is that, although he got in a good audience last night, he is unlikely to get reviewed because he is unknown, hidden away in the labyrinth of the impenetrably badly-signed Cowgatehead venue and does not have a big-bucks promoter behind him.

So it goes.

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