Tag Archives: My Family

Behind the scenes of Ariane Sherine’s “Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn” video

Yesterday’s blog was about Ariane Sherine’s comic music video of her Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn. I play the UK Labour Party leader. In just over a day, the YouTube video had been seen by over 2,000 people.

There has been feedback.

Ian Dunt, editor of the politics.co.uk website Tweeted: @ArianeSherine‘s deeply disturbing sexual obsession with Jeremy Corbyn continues. Profoundly NSFW.

After Ariane Tweeted: “Joking aside, I am going to vote Labour on June 8th, and I urge you to do the same,” one annoyed woman Tweeted: “I am wondering quite genuinely what would move you to compose such a vituperative piece of video.”

When I pointed out that ‘humour’ was involved, the lady replied sic in three Tweets (too many letters for one): “Assuming your epreiteration affirms your claim that this was purely ‘humour’ rather than malice emitting flatus or being urinated on by dogs it seems to be pitched at those who would laugh as easily at people falling over.”

So I think this shows both that the video has hit a wide audience and proved that a little linguistic learning is no guarantee of coherence.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics and never one to overstate the case, commented from Kenya: “John Fleming is a revelation. Part sex god and part tragic hero. A vastly untapped dramatic potential.”

She has a point.

The top reviews are in: “Part sex god and part tragic hero”

On Facebook, Mervyn Stutter, the talent-spotting equivalent of Simon Cowell at the Edinburgh Fringe for over a quarter of a century, appeared to want to book me on his Fringe show this year but, on further probing, backtracked, saying: “We only want the bed scene. Can you do 5 minutes?”

I find that both sexist and ageist.

A more heartwarming response was from Mysterious Mark who runs the British Comedy Guide website. He is nicknamed ‘Mysterious Mark’ because he does not like photos being taken of him and, a couple of people have told me, he seems not to cast reflections in mirrors.

He e-mailed me:

“I’m not sure if this is flattering or not to say John, but I honestly didn’t recognise you until about half way through watching the video. Then I remembered you mentioning, the last time we met, that you were about to play the Labour leader and it all came together in my mind and I went “WOAH! WOAH! WOAH! IS IT? YES, IT IS JOHN!”. It wasn’t until the credits rolled I was 100% sure though. It really is a fantastic video… well, apart from the bit where we get to see your thrusting behind,”

Ariane preparing for a sad part of the video

I told him that Ariane has great attention to detail.

She downloaded four headshots of Jeremy Corbyn from the internet (different angles) and then had them blown up and combined onto what I guess was an A2 photograph.

She then booked me into a top hair stylist and they cut my beard to the correct shape with those photos as reference. My eyebrows are bushier than Corbyn’s, so they lessened the depth (front to back) of my eyebrows and re-shaped them. He also has a pointier chin than me but the shaping of the beard helped change my apparent jaw shape.

We were going to add hair on top (Corbyn is not bald on top; I am) but this didn’t work properly, so she bought a Lenin hat and a Panama hat – both of the exact type and colour Corbyn has worn – (the Panama hat band is of a colour type he has worn). So the top of my head is covered at all times. Interesting aside – a Lenin cap and a Lennon cap are the same thing, which I had not consciously twigged.

The suit colours are as per Corbyn and the spectacles were replicas of the type Corbyn has appeared in (The bastard now seems to not wear specs!!!)

It is the beard and me looking over the top of the specs (which Corbyn does) which confuse the look of my face. If I looked over the top of the specs and kept my chin down, it looked more Corbyny.

Morning Star front-page; the back is even better

There are two jokey fake Morning Star covers and back pages in correct type style. And much more.

The props, hair and beard trims and extras appearing in crowd scenes cost Ariane over £1,000 combined.

The video was shot and edited by the unnecessarily tall Graham Nunn, Ariane’s best friend of 20 years whom she married for real last month.

He gave Ariane £50 worth of ASOS vouchers for Christmas and she spent them on a wedding dress for the Corbyn video – not knowing that she and Graham would fall back in love and she would end up marrying him for real in the Corbyn dress in Las Vegas.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is only the second script she has done since leaving television writing in 2008. The last television series she worked on was the BBC1 primetime sitcom My Family.

Ariane has been involved in various videos since then, including one for her Hitler Moustache song in which Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) and her now-husband Graham Nunn both appeared.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is the first video she has ever directed.

“At times,” she says, “I got frustrated with the process, but I think I got the best out of John Fleming and he’s actually a really decent actor, given that I cast him for his looks rather than his acting!”

That is one of the crosses I have to bear. Women just want me for my body, not for my mind. In fact, Ariane had tried to hire a professional Jeremy Corbyn lookalike to cavort in bed with her. There were plenty available, but the going rate – for example at the Susan Scott Lookalikes agency – was “£600 for up to three hours plus expenses plus VAT” which, Ariane says, “made me think it might be cheaper to hire the man himself.”

She settled for me because although I would nor work for peanuts (I don’t like them) I would work for green tea and Tesco baked beans.

Ariane plied me with Tesco baked beans

She also brought in various extras for crowd scenes, including comics Kayleigh Cassidy, Siân Doughty, Henrik Elmer, Angelo Marcos, and Tommy West.

“The extras,” says Ariane, “were all brilliant and I couldn’t have asked for more professional, easy-to-work-with, punctual supporting actors. It could have been stressful, but I totally loved the day of the ensemble shoot.

“It was hard to simultaneously act and direct. The scene where John is singing to me (the singing voice is actually her husband Graham’s) and taking the engagement ring out of his pocket was the hardest to get right. In contrast, the sex scenes were surprisingly easy!”

It has been often said that I am surprisingly easy, bordering on the desperate.

Ariane’s favourite scene is the one in which Jeremy Corbyn looks at a framed photo of Diane Abbott during sex and has an immediate orgasm. I suggested I should twitch my toes at this point, which Ariane thought worked well.

I am available for roles in any upcoming porno foot fetish films.

Ariane has said in print: “John’s house, used for the shoot, is still cluttered with Jeremy Corbyn video props. At some stage, he will get his house back.”

I am not so sure. As with my house, so with my sanity.

There is a clause in my contract with Ariane saying that I will have my house back but, as all Marx Brothers fans will atest, everybody knows there ain’t no Sanity Clause.

And yes, obviously, my threshold of shame is high.

Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn is one of 13 tracks on Ariane’s album Beautiful Filth, which is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc.

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The decline of British television comedy. The elitist iceberg of Brexit and Trump.

The Grouchy Club Podcast

Below is a short extract from the 100th Grouchy Club Podcast in which the (yes she certainly is) controversial comedy critic Kate Copstick and I ramble on about anything that takes our fancy, occasionally stumbling into the subject of British comedy. Occasionally, too, we stumble into cyber-trouble.

This may be one such example.


JOHN: There is a sort of bizarre snootiness in comedy where the Oxbridge elite…

COPSTICK: Oh yes…

JOHN: …who, by-and-large, don’t get (big) ratings for their shows – are very snooty about people who do get ratings. For example, Benny Hill.

COPSTICK: Yep…

JOHN: …who at the height – the height – of his fame and his ratings success and his foreign sales for Thames Television – He must have been churning money out like nobody’s business for Thames Television – was dragged into – was it Brian Tesler’s office? Someone’s office… and told they were getting rid of him because he was in bad taste.

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: He was staggeringly popular. I heard that when he died – I dunno if this is an urban myth – Chinese television broke into their broadcasts to announce it as a newsflash.

COPSTICK: I’m sure that’s absolutely true.

JOHN: But I mean he was staggeringly popular. They didn’t like him because they said he was sexist.

COPSTICK: But I think that… I’m going to get a bit political here, John…

JOHN: Oh God! We’re going to be in trouble!

COPSTICK: Only mildly…

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: …and fleetingly.

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: Just fleetingly.

JOHN: That’s never stopped her before.

COPSTICK: I think that is exactly the same thing – talking about the Oxbridge elite and all that running TV, so they say what gets dumped because they don’t like it – They are the ones whose voices are out there but Benny Hill had gazillions of viewers – I think that’s exactly the same thing we got with Brexit and the Trump vote – because the people at the top…

JOHN: This is Copstick!

COPSTICK: …the people at the top are completely unrepresentative of the mass of the voting iceberg that is underwater. And somehow, when the bottom mass of the iceberg rises up and votes for Brexit or Trump, it’s all Oh! Shock! Horror! How can this have happened? Well, it happened because it was always there. You just weren’t listening to it.

JOHN: Also, I was talking to someone the other day and said that, in my erstwhile youth, when they had sitcoms, they used to have them on at 8 o’clock or 8.30 at night or 7.30 at night. Nowadays, sitcoms are on at 10.30 or 11.00…

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: … because, in my youth, the sitcoms got massive ratings and now the humour, the comedy is not getting big ratings because it’s being scheduled and programmed and decided on by people who don’t like what the public like.

COPSTICK: Which is why Mrs Brown’s Boys is the highest rated…

JOHN: Yes and that’s only on at 10.30 because he keeps saying Feckin’ or something, doesn’t he?

COPSTICK: People are very snotty about it: Ooh! Mrs Brown’s Boys!

JOHN: I saw one episode and thought: Oh, that’s not really for me. But, of its type, it’s well done. I mean, Mrs Brown’s Boys and My Family must be, recently, the biggest sitcoms on…

COPSTICK: Absolutely. And surely somebody somewhere in some television company must see that.

JOHN: There is a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes going around.

COPSTICK: Ooh!

JOHN: I have to say Vic & Bob – sorry – I never ever thought they were funny. There was one pilot for, I think, Granada, which I saw and liked: it never got made into a series because no-one else liked it, but I have never ever ever thought Vic & Bob were funny. They were always in minority slots and, when the BBC I think it was tried them at peak time on a Saturday night they came a phenomenal cropper. With good reason. Because they ain’t funny… (LAUGHS) …in my populist opinion! (LAUGHS) But what do I know?

COPSTICK: I have almost stopped watching comedy on TV because there is very little that appeals to me and makes me laugh.

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Ariane Sherine tells backstage tales of comedy amid rampant multi-tasking

ArianeSherine_AdventuresStandUpComicYesterday, ‘new’ musical comic Ariane Sherine sent out to her subscribers the first edition of her weekly e-mail Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic. The comedy industry website Chortle will be running monthly highlights from it.

“So,” I asked Ariane, “Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic will end up as a book?”

“I hope so,” she told me. “It’s so much fun to do a gig and write it up, even if it’s been a bad gig. It’s quite cathartic.”

“Except,” I said, “you will be hated by all the other stand-up comics, because you will grass them up.”

“No,” she laughed. “I’m not going to mention people’s names or dates or places or gig names. Anybody who was at the gig will know what happened, but it’s no different from posting on Facebook saying: Did a gig here and blah-di-blah. I will anonymise it.”

It is a rare thing for someone who has been working as a musical stand-up comic for only three weeks to get a regular piece on the Chortle website. It is also very unusual to get booked for a paid gig after being seen in the first week; and another paid gig after being seen in the second week. But Ariane does have a bit of previous.

She was a stand-up act 13 years ago for around six months. Back then she got into the Laughing Horse New Act Final but quit stand-up before the event to focus on comedy writing for TV shows, including BBC1’s My Family, BBC2’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Channel 4’s Countdown.

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric - do not try this at home

Beautiful Filth – Ariane’s 2014 album as ‘The Lovely Electric’

She has also written regularly for The Guardian, as well as The Sunday Times, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, NME and Esquire, appeared on BBC1’s Breakfast, BBC London News, ITV1’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show, Radio 4’s iPM and Sunday, released a 2014 album of songs called Beautiful Filth and duetted with Tim Minchin at London’s Palace Theatre.

It is also very rare for a ‘new’ comic to have recent quotes like “Quite brilliant” (critic Kate Copstick)… “If she’s not a huge success, it’ll be an absolute travesty” (Charlie Brooker)… She could be a female Tom Lehrer.

Which is why she was on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast last week.

Afterwards, I asked Ariane something I had forgotten to ask her on the podcast (a vivid reflection of my limitations):

“Why go back on the comedy circuit after 13 years?”

“Because it’s the truest form of comedy,” she told me. “People can’t fake laughter – not belly laughter. And you get instant feedback on your work. Whereas, if you write for telly, you might only get feedback on your work from the producer and the script editor.

“What you’re saying on stage is: I find this funny. I think this is funny. And then the audience has the most visceral emotional reaction to what you’ve said. They say: Yes, I agree. This is funny. I am laughing. And that’s wonderful. It just makes you feel so… loved.”

“So,” I said, “performing comedy gives validation to insecure people.”

“Yes,” said Ariane. “I would agree with that.”

“Punters,” I said, “think all comedians must be extroverts to get up there on stage, but almost all the comedians I know want to hide in a cave. There’s that dichotomy between wanting to hide away and getting up on stage and exposing yourself to potential rejection. Actors can hide behind a character, but comedians are more exposed.”

“Yes,” said Ariane. “Unless they’re character comedians.”

Richard Dawkins publicising the Atheist Bus Campaign which Ariane created in 2009

Richard Dawkins helped publicise the Atheist Bus Campaign which Ariane successfully created in 2009

“In 2009,” I prompted, “ you compiled The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas – with contributions from 42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers. And now you see The Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic as a book. You are also simultaneously writing two other books at the moment?”

“Yes.”

“What are they about?”

“One is a funny look at trying to lose a load of weight. Another is a book about mental illness – which is a novel.”

“Any particular mental illness?” I asked.

“Pure O.”

“Isn’t that,” I asked, “an Agatha Christie detective?”

“No,” laughed Ariane. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s about the intrusive thoughts that people get which they can’t shake. Pure O is meant to denote only the Obsession part of OCD. So people with Pure O don’t carry out compulsions to the same extent. They don’t take action. They just get very, very upset by the thoughts in their head.”

“Why are you writing a novel about that?” I asked. “Is it autobiographical?”

“Not entirely autobiographical, no. But I’m very familiar with the thought processes.”

“Because?”

“Because I have OCD.”

“I just assume,” I said, “that OCD is arranging all your books and albums in alphabetical order.”

“No, I think that’s an unhelpful portrayal by the media.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s when you have a thought that really scares you and you place too much importance on that thought. So you might think: I’m going to walk down this bridge and throw myself off it. And instead of doing the normal thing and walking down the bridge anyway, you avoid bridges. Or you will only walk down the bridge while holding somebody’s hand. That kind of thing.

“You take action because of this awful thought in your head and, when people are perfectionists and do arrange everything in order, it’s because they think something terrible will happen if they don’t do that. When people clean or wash their hands repeatedly, it’s because they think they’re going to get a terrible disease or contract a terrible virus and die.”

“So why do this as a novel and not something more autobiographical?”

“Because I think it will reach a lot more people as a novel.”

In her first week back on the comedy circuit, Ariane sang about Jeremy Corbyn and Adolf Hitler.

To sign up for Ariane’s weekly email Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic, send a message to ariane.sherine@gmail.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.

 

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Comic Philip Simon notices a Jewish change in the UK and fears for his knees

David Mitchell - not Philip Simon

David Mitchell, 2009 – not Philip Simon, 2015

A few weeks ago, I was a judge on the Last Minute Comedy Comedian of the Year awards.

The winner was Philip Simon.

“You mentioned in your act at the Awards,” I told him in Borehamwood this week, “that you look a bit like David Mitchell.”

“I don’t get mistaken for him in the street but, when I say it in gigs, there’s enough people who go: Ah! That’s what it is!

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

“The day after the General Election a few weeks ago, I did an Ed Miliband lookalike job where I had to eat a bacon sandwich. I was brought in late to replace a previous lookalike because they had decided the previous guy looked too Asian to be Ed Miliband.”

“You ate a bacon sandwich?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re Jewish?”

“Yes. I don’t consider myself a ‘Jewish’ comic, but I like that there is that niche I can fit into”

“And you were telling me,” I said, “that there’s been some anti-Semitism creeping into UK audiences.”

“I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitism,” Philip corrected me. “But it used to be I might mention in my set that I am Jewish and, depending where I was in the country, most people would probably think: Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know much about Jews. Tell me more.

“Now there’s a real sense of – intake of breath – What’s he gonna say? As if, by mentioning you’re Jewish, it means it has to be political. There is now a noticeable atmosphere that is created in rooms round the country that I don’t think was there a year ago.

“I have personal beliefs about the situation – I’ve got family in Israel; we’ve gone to Israel for holidays most of our lives; I believe in a self-governing two-state solution – but I don’t write jokes about it. I don’t want to talk about it on stage because there’s no comedy in it for me.

“Another Jewish comedian I know says he has also noticed a decline in the acceptance of Jewish comedians. And he’s not particularly in-yer-face Jewish or political. I don’t think it has stopped me getting any bookings, but it’s certainly an interesting new dynamic.”

“Well,” I said. “Now you’re an award-winning comedian…”

“Apparently so.”

“So offers have been flooding in?”

“E-mails have been filtering in. Someone did try and introduce me the other night as lastminute.com’s comedian of the year instead of Last Minute Comedy’s.”

“You’re doing your own show at the Edinburgh Fringe but not until next year?”

Philip Simon in Borehamwood

The real Philip Simon in Borehamwood has dating show plans

“Yes. It’s in its very early stages. It will be a show about Jewish dating and Jewish parenthood.”

“Is Jewish dating different from any other dating?”

“Oh yes. Laced with guilt. The premise I have is that we all know each other, so it becomes very complicated. You could never have a dark side to your life, because everyone knows everyone.”

“Surely,” I asked, “South London and North London must be separate?”

“Not now,” said Philip. “With Facebook, mutual friends pop up all over the place. If you go on a blind date and want to find out about the person, you just go onto Facebook and find three or four mutual friends – which could end up good or bad.

“The premise of my show is…Young Jewish boy, out on the dating world, meets someone, they get pregnant … All anecdotal…”

“And autobiographical?” I asked.

“Yeah. We have a baby. But things are going very very well. I mean, it’s not an EastEnders/Jeremy Kyle situation.”

“Is she a full-time mum?”

“She’s a clinical psychologist.”

“And you’re a comedian.”

“Yes. She is actually really good to take to a comedy gig, because she won’t necessarily watch me. She will watch the audience and can tell me at what point they stopped laughing or laughed more and she can read an audience far better than I can.”

“You used to be an actor,” I said, “but now – apart from occasional Ed Milibands – you’re mostly a comic.”

“Yes. I used to do a few TV bits, a couple of bits in sitcoms. I had three lines in My Family.”

“Not a series much admired by comedians,” I said.

“Well,” said Philip, “it was an American writer who came over here and said: This is the format they do in America, so let’s do our show like that.

“What would happen would be they would have a really good original script. Then everyone got their little paws on it – I want that joke – Let’s change that joke – and, by the time, it goes to air, it’s been edited to a different thing. When we did the read-through round the table, it was hilarious. Really strong comedy. But, by the time it was whittled down to the half hour that went out…”

“A bit bland?” I suggested.

“Yeah. But it was a good fun job to do.”

And you were in Peppa Pig on stage,” I prompted.

Not Peppa Pig but Philip Simon again

Not Peppa Pig’s daddy but Philip Simon in Borehamwood

“Yes, that was an amazing job – a year and a half of touring the UK, doing the West End. It was like Avenue Q where the actors were on stage holding the puppets and you could see both. We were onstage talking, singing, acting, dancing with the puppets. I was Daddy Pig, which was the biggest and I’m not officially allowed to say it destroyed my back, but it destroyed my back. I was attached to him with a kind of harness. It was just such a ridiculously heavy puppet. But there was an article in the Jewish Chronicle saying: Philip Simon Brings Home The Bacon.”

“And it may or may not have buggered your back.”

“I now do puppet workshops,” said Philip. “Teaching teachers how to take puppets into the classroom to work with the kids.”

“So what’s next for you?” I asked.

“I’ve signed up to do a stupid bike ride this weekend – London to Amsterdam via Harwich. We finish at Anne Frank’s house and get a tour of the house. We are cycling nearly 150 miles.”

For charity?”

“Yes. The Anne Frank Trust. It should be fun, but I’m a bit worried my knees are going to give way.”

“Have you cycled 150 miles before?”

“No. I’ve done London to Brighton for charity a couple of times in the past and that’s 60 miles. On this Amsterdam ride, the first day we do 80 miles and that will probably destroy my knees. The organisers are calling the route ‘undulating’. On Saturday, I will either be in Amsterdam or in Casualty at some hospital.”

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Ariane Sherine on why she gave up comedy and turned to Beautiful Filth

Ariane Sherine yesterday

Ariane Sherine was at Soho Theatre yesterday

Yesterday, the Guardian ran an online piece by Ariane Sherine, one of their regular writers. It was headlined:

I’D BEEN UNEMPLOYED FOR A YEAR… SO I FORMED A BAND, OF COURSE

and the subtitle was:

What’s a 34-year-old single mum on benefits meant to do when all else fails? Pursue the most unrealistic career path imaginable!

So, of course, yesterday I had a chat with Ariane.

“I did nine months on the comedy circuit in 2002/2003,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s just the most amazing thing to make a crowd of people laugh,” she told me. “I always think comedy is the truest art form because people can’t fake laughter. Anybody can clap after a performance out of politeness, but people don’t tend to laugh out of politeness. Not real, proper belly laughs. It feels wonderful and it feels like a validation of your own personality. If you think something’s funny and other people think it’s funny too, then they identify with you and it’s amazing, it’s wonderful and I loved it.”

“It’s like being hugged on stage?” I asked.

“I don’t know about a hug. It’s certainly warm.”

“But you stopped,” I said.

Arine Sheine was worried by a website

Ariane Sherine: worried by website

“I stopped comedy because I was so scared Steve Bennett might give me a terrible review on his Chortle website. I gave it up because I was scriptwriting and thought I don’t want producers to Google me, find this hypothetical Chortle review and think: Oh, she’s not funny.

“I still wanted that validation through my writing. I started writing for sitcoms. I wrote for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and My Family and material for Countdown. But you don’t really get credit for that: it’s never really your own because, on sitcoms, you have script editors who may ask you to do eight re-writes based on their notes and, by the end of it, it’s not your script any more. I have no particular wish to go back into scriptwriting, but I do really miss comedy.”

“So why not go back to it again?”

“Because the circuit is a harsh, cruel place,” Ariane laughed.

“So you’ve been sitting around doing nothing…” I said.

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric - do not try this at home

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric – smutty, maybe nutty

“I’m looking after my three-year-old daughter half the time,” replied Ariane, “and, the rest of the time, I’m always working on projects. I’ve been working on this album since January.

“Ah yes!” I said. “It’s you and a friend, you call yourself The Lovely Electric and the album is called Beautiful Filth. Out today.”

“And it’s available on iTunes and from Spotify,” said Ariane. “I wanted to do comedy songs because I missed doing stand-up.”

Tracks on her Beautiful Filth album include:

Don’t Have Sex With a Goat
Thank You For Not Smelling of Fish
I Think His Penis Died

The opening lyrics to the track Cum Face are:

You are so beautiful
I’d watch you at the IMAX
I love the way you look
Except for when you climax
You flare your nostrils out
And, for what it’s worth
You scrunch your cheeks up
Like a hamster giving birth

I don’t want to see your cum face
I don’t want to watch you come
I don’t want to see your cum face
So let’s do it up the bum
I don’t want to see your cum face
I’d rather watch my mum
I don’t want to see your cum face
So let’s do it up the bum

There is a video for the song Hitler Moustache on YouTube.

“My politics are very left-leaning,” Ariane told me, “and I think a lot of people I like might not like the album, because it’s very smutty.”

“So,” I said, “you decided to record a pop album whose lyrics are untransmittable on radio. Why? That’s no way to make money.”

“Well, you never know,” said Ariane. “Tim Minchin is pretty successful. But it is true Beautiful Filth is an album about sex. We don’t have any clean songs on it.”

“But why,” I asked,” write an album about sex in such a way that it can’t be widely disseminated?”

“Because it’s funny and the humour I enjoy is really rude. Think of Monty Python – The Penis Song. (There is a version on YouTube.)

Charlie Brooker reacts to Ariane’s Hitler Moustache

Charlie Brooker reacts to the Hitler Moustache

“How come Charlie Brooker is in your Hitler Moustache music video?” I asked.

“I met him when I was working in telly,” explained Ariane, “He’s the loveliest bloke. He has just helped me so much. He gave me my start in journalism because the Guardian asked him: Do you know any good comedy writers who could add a bit of levity to the comment pages? and he suggested me. So he’s basically responsible for my whole journalistic career. Then he gave me a quote for my last book, he gave me a quote for this album, he wrote for The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, which was a book I edited, got me a job on Big Brother – writing the website stuff.”

“So why do you want to be a singer-songwriter now?”

“Because it’s fun and because I did a music degree. It culminated in work experience at the NME.”

“And you started writing at the NME?”

“Yes. Then I was runner-up in the BBC New Sitcom Writers Award. I started writing for Children’s BBC and other places. I’ve always been a writer in one form or another. But then I had a nervous breakdown in 2010.”

Ariane wrote about her feelings

The Guardian piece

“That,” I said, “was well before your daughter – who is now three – was born.”

“Yeah. I wrote a Guardian piece about it. Basically a load of really horrible things happened. I had had a very violent, disturbed childhood, so I got depressed in my teens – started cutting myself and became anorexic – and was put on a load of anti-depressants that didn’t help.

“I was pregnant when I was 24 and my boyfriend turned violent and hit me in the face and caused my ear to bleed and then he suffocated me and it was horrible. So that happened and then I kind of picked myself up from that after about a year but was still very depressed. I was 24.”

“You’re 34 now.”

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

“Yes. I was 24 and carried on writing for telly and then the Atheist Bus Campaign came out of a piece I had written for the Guardian. I got lots of threats when I did that. Random strangers. Religious people who didn’t like the campaign. I really, genuinely felt a bit… and I couldn’t work for… I didn’t feel able to do anything in public for over three years. My Guardian pieces stopped in August 2010 and it was only in December 2013 that I started writing again. It was a big chunk of time to lose, but…”

“What made you start again?” I asked.

“I was put on some anti-depressants that were Tricyclics, so they were different from the SSRIs that I was taking before.”

“SSRIs?” I asked.

“Things like Prozac and Seroxat. But now I’m on this amazing one. It’s amazing and it has just made life worth living again.”

“There was,” I said, “an act I knew called the Amazing Mr Smith who was given Seroxat. Last year, he took it for two nights and then killed himself by jumping off a cliff.”

“Sometimes they can make you a lot worse before they make you better,” said Ariane. “When you read the leaflet and you read This medication might induce suicidal thoughts you think Well why am I taking it?”

“But you’re OK now?” I asked.

“Well, I’m on three different medications now: anti-psychotic ones, anti-convulsant and anti-depressant.”

“Anti-psychotic is different from anti-depressant,” I said.

“It’s a horrible thing,” said Ariane. “I was convinced people were trying to kill me. I was convinced the government and MI5 were out to kill me.”

“As you were working for the Guardian,” I said, “maybe they were.”

“I remember the caretaker in my block of flats,” said Ariane, “was scrubbing the walls outside and I was convinced he was doing it to spy on me. When you get to that state that you’re convinced everybody’s out to get you, you can’t walk down the road because you’re scared and I desperately needed help and I got put on these anti-psychotics, but they alone didn’t make everything better.

“Then I got pregnant and I couldn’t be put on anything else. So I spent my pregnancy planning my suicide.”

“How were you going to kill yourself?”

“Helium.”

“You were going to laugh yourself to death?” I asked.

“I’m glad I can laugh about it now,” said Ariane.

“I’m interested in comedians,” I said, “because they’re all mad as hatters.”

“Well,” said Ariane, “for years I was so terrified of letting people know I was struggling with mental illness but, as soon as I did, there were all these journalists and comedians who told me: I’ve had the same thing. It was amazing,

“I think these pills I’m on have actually given me courage I would not have had ordinarily. So I don’t see it as brave to come out as mentally ill – it’s just these pills I’m on. There’s no way I would ever have been able to do it without the pills.”

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British comedy audiences do not now and have never wanted true originality

Lewis Schaffer viewed in a way he might not like

Lewis Schaffer viewed in an unflatterling light

In his blog today, British-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer does a U-turn.

He had previously criticised London’s Comedy Store for putting on “boring shows that set a poor standard for British live comedy”.

Now he says he has changed his mind and been persuaded that, currently, audiences “don’t want interesting” because of the global economic situation and other problems. He says they now don’t want chaos or anarchy, they want something less original.

But, I have to say, this is nothing new. ‘Twas ever thus.

What was the big comedy success on British TV thirty years ago?

Obviously, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

No.

It was Terry and June, the comfortable sofa-based sitcom much-derided by comedy cognoscenti then and now for being dull and unoriginal.

OK, there was also Fawlty Towers but – in pure format terms – Fawlty Towers is unoriginal. It is basically three OTT comedy stereotypes in a single location doing often slapstick comedy.

Monty Python was truly original and played around with the television medium. And Middle England did not watch it on its original transmissions.

I remember Monty Python’s original transmissions. They were shoved all over the place in the schedule. People did not watch in vast droves and it did not appeal to the core mainstream audience.

However, in the 1990s, Reeves & Mortimer did manage to combine originality with vast audience success… didn’t they?

No they did not.

They were a Channel 4 and BBC2 act. When the BBC foolishly attempted to put them in their own show on BBC1 at peaktime on a Saturday night, it was an unmitigated ratings disaster.

What have the big TV comedy successes of the past few years been?

My Family. Very cosy. Vastly popular. Much derided by comedy critics and the comedy industry.

Now we have Mrs Brown’s Boys. Again, disliked by circuit comedians, possibly through jealousy.

And then there is Miranda… indeed, anything with Miranda Hart in it.

We are not talking cutting edge (or even necessarily funny) here.

Who are the biggest stand-ups in the UK?

Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay.

Personally, I admire Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay’s technique, but I would not pay to see them.

Comedy Store audiences would.

Because – a vast generalisation – the larger the audience appeal the less original and less ground-breaking the performance.

Originality does not equate with success in the same way that success does not necessarily equate with talent.

I have heard it said that Lewis Schaffer is a “comedian’s comedian” – other comedians will stand at the back of his audience with mouths open just to see what happens.

He could be a major mainstream TV presenter of factual documentaries. Lewis Schaffer. He is basically Bill Bryson with attitude.

He could even, perhaps, be successful performing at the Comedy Store in London.

But we will probably never know.

To quote the great American comedian Donald Rumsfeld:

There are known knowns.

There are known unknowns.

And there are unknown unknowns.

Lewis Schaffer, oddly, fits into all of those categories.

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How (some) talented British television producers put comedy talent on TV

Before you read this blog, I should point out that I have never met the comedian Jack Whitehall and, as far as I can see, he is an entirely amiable, talented chap who has every reason to continue breathing and, indeed, to prosper…

Now…

In this blog a couple of days ago, I had a chat with chav comedy character Devvo about how TV companies could not quite come to terms with the Devvo character yet the arguably similar Lee Nelson character arrived on UK TV screens.

Yesterday I asked comedy entrepreneur Bob Slayer who was helping and handling Devvo at the time, what he remembered. This is what he told me.

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Monkey Kingdom were the first production company to put Devvo on TV. They did a thing for Funny Cuts on E4, which you can see online (there are two uploads)

This one has currently had 2.1 million views:

And here is one of several short stings for a Channel 4 programme called Whatever. It has had 500,000 views:

I was in the meeting when Monkey Kingdom suggested filming Devvo in London and making it look like Doncaster. Is this normal? The very being of Devvo is that he is the Donny Soldier from Yorkshire… But, to be fair, they realised this pretty quickly and backed down. I also got a funny text from Devvo while filming to tell me he had found out the dog that they had brought in for one bit of filming was on more per day than he was.

Overall, though, the Monkey Kingdom guys did do a good job and they let Devvo get involved in the edit. We were looking forward to working with them again and were discussing a pitch to Channel 4 but then they got The Charlotte Church Show greenlighted and dropped all development projects.

Devvo then did a thing for BBC TV with Ken Korda (Adam Buxton). It was a bad start when we met the TV people in the office that the producers of My Family were using.

They filmed some great non-scripted stuff around the BBC. But then they wouldn’t let us see it prior to broadcast, let alone get involved in the edit which they did an absolute bollix job on and then put a shite laughter track on it… I hope it is not online!

(IT IS)

There were a few other things as well and then the BBC decided to make a show called The Wall. They put it out to tender to three production companies and to the BBC in-house. All three of the production companies got in touch with us to put Devvo in their pitch. Charlie Brooker’s Zeppatron was one of these and they ended up winning the pitch.

What they kept telling us was that they liked Devvo because he was the ‘real deal’ and not just someone dressed up as a chav. They expected him to be a big hit in The Wall and so we were also planning his own series.

As the show got closer, we started to get odd requests. Like could they put a laughter track on it. To which we said no because he is not just dressed-up as a chav. This happened a couple of times and they apologised that someone higher up was obviously nervous. And, of course, in the end they replaced Devvo with Simon Brodkin dressed up as the Lee Nelson chav character. That was the safe choice…

A producer guy that we met along the way who helped us out and tried to steer us through the murky waters of TV was, at the time, also producing a show written by Wil Hodgson – a sitcom about dogging. The genius of this was that dogging was just the glue that made it all work – it was always in the background and never explicit. It showcased Wil’s writing brilliantly and really showed how hilarious it is to see quite normal people in abnormal situations.

I was at the read-through at Soho Theatre with Johnny Vegas in the lead role and Cariad Lloyd opposite him. It also had Morwenna Banks and just a really strong cast. ITV gave them a development deal. Then, a few months down the line and many meetings and going backwards and forwards, ITV said We love it… but… Can you rewrite it without the dogging?!

That is like asking to make Father Ted a little less Irish… I expect some eedjit did ask the Father Ted people that at some stage but fortunately they were left alone!

It’s no wonder that we get so much shite like My Family and that Jack Whitehall is allowed to continue breathing. Please can someone stand on his windpipe?

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