Tag Archives: Nelly Scott

Zuma Puma is on her way to Mexico via Canada: “Clown is nothing like improv!”

Zuma Puma on Skype from the Midlands

Zuma via Skype, going to Mexico via Canada

Canadian performer Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott is leaving Britain next Thursday. She has left her London flat and was with family up in the Midlands when I talked to her via Skype.

“Why are you going back to Canada?” I asked.

“To get to Mexico.”

“Why via Canada?”

“Because it was £100 cheaper and I can visit my family in Toronto. I might even teach a clown intensive at my mum’s university – Brock University. She teaches playwriting and directing there. I am going to Mexico on a one-way ticket.”

“Why Mexico?” I asked. “It’s full of Mexicans.”

“Exactly,” said Nelly. “I love the Mexicans. I have wanted to go there for a very long time.”

“Why? Are they lacking clowns in Mexico?”

“Yes. I’m going to work with my friend and his company La Bouffant Sociale. He was my clown partner in the Cirque du Soleil School in Montreal. I studied there for a year – L’École de Clown et Comédie.”

“You are going to Mexico City?”

“We are just meeting there and then we’re going to a salty beach where we have a 15-day artist residency, building a show out of beach garbage. So that’ll be exciting. Then there is a tour in Mexico.”

“But before you go, you’re busy in London,” I prompted.

“Yes. This Thursday, we’re doing One Man, Two Ghosts at Unscene 199 Festival at New River Studios in Manor House.”

“Which is…?”

“You saw it in Edinburgh and said you liked it.”

“I did, but for those who didn’t see it…”

“It’s a clown farce: basically Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit as told by three complete idiots. A two-layered story of what’s happening in the play and with the players beneath the play.”

“And then,” I said, “your last Lost Cabaret show in Stockwell on Friday.”

Annie Bashford and Nathan Lang at the Edinburgh Fringe

Annie Bashford and Nathan Lang at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

“Well, it’s not the last. I’m handing it over to Nathan Lang and Annie Bashford who will be continuing it monthly.”

“Until you come back from the Americas?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t know if I will come back to London. I might come back to Bristol. I feel I’m pretty much done in London.”

“You’ve been invited back to do a full run of One Man, Two Ghosts at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe at the New Town Theatre.”

“Yes. I will be back maybe in June or July next year to take One Man, Two Ghosts to the next stage.”

“And this coming weekend you are also doing your Clown Life Intensive workshops…”

“Yes. At The Pleasance Theatre in London on Saturday and Sunday.”

“What is Clown Life Intensive?” I asked.

“It’s a merging between the world of clown and personal development. So it’s clowning but not just for performers – it’s for anyone who’s interested in building their confidence and personal development, discovering their humour and looking at tools to play and understand themselves a bit more. So it’s a deep development process. You look at yourself and it’s an amplification of who you are.

“There are bits of themselves that most people don’t want to admit – they’re OCD or forgetful or a bit slow. Everyone’s got an issue. It is taking that issue and amplifying it, owning it and saying Yeah, this is a part of me. For instance, in One Man, Two Ghosts, I play a bit of a star diva and it’s all about me and how good the show is and a perfectionist and that IS me – that’s who I am. It’s just amplified to the next extent where everyone can laugh about it because it’s something and someone they all recognise.

clownlifeintensive“Clown is honest and it’s real. It’s liberating for audiences but also for the performers and my objective with the workshop is not for everyone to leave saying: I am now a clown! I am interested in people who are interested in personal development and understanding self and owning themself as a person and understanding how they connect with audiences and relate to people in life.

“Clown has been the most healing and incredible tool for personal development in my life. And there are loads of tools and techniques that have a real parallel between life and performance that I want to teach.

“It’s not like a weekend of intense guru-type development. I’m not there to be a therapist. But there are loads of tools and techniques and exercises that can teach someone a lot about themself and which are loads of fun. It’s basically a weekend of insane amounts of laughter and play, which is good for anybody… with the added bonus of being challenging at times. It is rewarding for anybody.”

“You did the Gaulier course in Paris, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Why would these people not go to Gaulier instead?”

Sacha Baron Cohen - What was the hardest thing he has done?

Sacha Baron Cohen – The hardest thing he has done? (Photograph by Michael Bulcik)

“To go to Gauilier, you have to be the most committed performer in the world. Gaulier is the hardest school anyone’s ever gone to. Sacha Baron Cohen said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. You have to really want to be a performer to go to Gaulier.”

“Why is it hard?” I asked.

“Because he is so challenging. He does not accept anything that is not your most brilliant. You are shit until you find magic and how rare is it to find magic? When you have the whole audience in your hand, that happens once in a while and he teaches you to recognise when that happens and how to make that happen as much as possible. You are not hungry enough as a performer until you want every performance to be at that level. That’s what he teaches.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. “You happy with all that?”

“As long as you don’t say again that Clown is just like improv. Last time you said that, I had to write this whole post about No! It’s nothing like improv! It is so far from improv.

Alright.

Clown is not like improv.

There. I have said it.

onemantwoghosts

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Just one of many hectic months in the trippy life of Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma

I stopped writing this blog daily at the end of last year. I thought it would give me more time to do other things. But, as is to be expected from the Third Law of Surreality, I am even more tied-up.

Nelly Scott in London over a month ago

Nelly Scott being low-key in London a month ago

Over a month ago, I chatted to performer Nelly Scott, aka Zuma Puma. It was the day before she left London on a one-way ticket for France. She wanted me to mention her web series Grumpy Lettuce.

“We’ve got 14 episodes in all,” she told me. “We’ve got ten released. There were seven in the first season and then we waited until February and then started releasing the next batch. We might come back with a third season, but we’re also writing short films and a feature. It was a wild, really crazy, long journey. It took so long! The editing!”

The same might be said about this blog.

“You’re going to France for an indeterminate length of time?” I asked her over a month ago.

“Well, yeah,” she told me. “I just got a one-way ticket. There’s a swami staying in my house right now.”

“A what?” I asked.

“A swami.”

“Is he sitting in your house or levitating?” I asked.

“He’s pretty much levitating. He’s reading all of our palms, telling our fortunes, giving us life insights. It’s great. He came to stay the night and he’s been there for about two weeks now.”

“How does one get a swami?” I asked.

“Basically,”Nelly told me, “you make a friend who has invited a swami over to this country to stay and then, when the swami arrives, your friend’s house is in complete chaos, so he sends the swami to you and then you have a swami and it’s kind of hilarious, because there are five of us in the house and we all are kind of swami-sitters. We pass him around.

“One day, I took Swami to see Big Ben. And the other night, I accidentally took him to a hip-hop night. I thought it was a hippy night but, when we showed up, there was hip-hop in a really cool space. He thought it was hilarious. He said: Nobody is going to believe that I came! He was taking pictures. All these really beautiful women were coming over and giving him hugs and saying: Wow! You look like some spiritual guru!”

“Did he bop?” I asked.

“No. He liked lying on a couch and watched. He observed.”

“And,” I asked, “you call him Swami? You actually say: Are you hungry, Swami? Do you want a cup of tea, Swami?

“Yeah,” replied Nelly. “We know his name, but we just call him Swami, because that’s how he was introduced to us.”

“He’s from India?” I asked.

“No, he’s from Panama, but he’s been living in India for the last many years, living in caves and…”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“In Elephant.”

“So,” I said, “ he’s moved from the caves of India to the Elephant?”

“Yes. But he’s going to Spain soon. I’m going to meet up with him there. It’s kinda like he’s my brother, my uncle and a strange caveman all in one.”

“Why France and why a one-way ticket?” I asked.

Zuma Puma with the Grumpy Lettuce logo

Nelly as Zuma Puma promoting the Grumpy Lettuce logo

“Because I have a crazy friend who is a muralist and she met a man who lives in France and she said: Come stay with us and we will build a puppet. I am developing a one-woman show, but I keep questioning what its purpose is.”

“What sort of puppet?” I asked.

“It’s gonna be a creepy baby.”

“A glove or a string puppet?”

“I don’t know. It might be a harness puppet. Last time I met up with this friend, she convinced me to go to San Francisco and, when I showed up, the people she was staying with were so not-cool with her inviting me because she had never told them she invited me.

“I ended up homeless, sleeping in a tent in central San Francisco. Before that, I spent my nights looking for parties. I would go into a party and, before the party ended, go to a quiet corner and fall asleep cos, at the end of a party at 3.00am, you are not going to go over to a nice young lady who is asleep in the corner and tell her to go out into the streets where it’s cold in December.

“I did that for about two weeks – crashing parties where I didn’t know anybody. I would just pretend I was part of it, then fall asleep in the corner… until I found the tent.”

“Why have I not had a life like this?” I asked.

“You still can,” said Nelly. “You can meet Swami… Swami lives like that. He has no plan ever and he just lives in caves and does fire ceremonies all over the world.”

“So,” I said, “you are going to France just for the hell of it?”

“I guess,” said Nelly. “And to find new inspiration. I am going on a quest to reconnect with my creativity. I am going to go, live it and come back with all these stories.”

That was over a month ago. So, yesterday, I thought I had better catch up on what has happened since. I got this reply:

“You silly, ridiculous man, hahahah! Since we spoke, I have gone to France, devised a show, made a weird music video for music we have yet to find, travelled to Spain where I stayed for 4 days on the top of a quartz crystal mountain with seven women as a tag-along, then travelled down Catalunya and filmed for ten days with my dear friend Swami – the Fire Keeper movie – returned home, did a voice-over job, started an improv intensive to refresh me and am already one third sold out for my very own clown intro workshop called Clown Life which I will be facilitating April 23rd & 24th at the Pleasance Theatre in London.

“Here’s the Facebook link: Clown Life Weekend Intensive, London and the ticket link: https://billetto.co.uk/clown-life-weekend-intensive

Zuma Puma - Clown Life

“Grumpy Lettuce is still happening. We have the final two episodes of Season 2 to be released in the next few weeks. They had to go on hold, obviously, because of my going away but we will start to release them again in the next few weeks.

“Here’s the link to our YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF2TqFBtMiEyuU1TFaUfbsg and the last episode we released. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHLGnLWfcw4 ”

I feel exhausted just reading about what Nelly Scott has done in the last month.

I am unworthy.

I have wasted my last month.

Where can I find a cave?

What will Nelly do next?

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Award-nominated Nelly Scott and Zuma Puma and the Grumpy Lettuce series

Nelly as Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards

The last time Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott appeared in this blog was in May last year, when she was showing her armpit hair at her weekly Lost Cabaret show.

“I’ve got an agent now,” she told me this week, “and I’m doing auditions. I did one yesterday for the lead role in a feature film. I don’t know if they’ll take me, because I think they probably want a British actor and I’m Canadian.”

Lost Cabaret continues, as do her occasional appearances as Nancy Sanazi singing Jackboots Are Made For Walking and other subtle classics in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Nights – the next one is this Saturday at the Leicester Comedy FestivalDas Vegas 3 (Zis Time We Win).

“It’s going to be filmed by a Canadian documentary artist,” Zuma/Nelly told me, “which might be really fascinating; I don’t know how the Canadian audience will react to Das Vegas Night.”

And then there is her upcoming Grumpy Lettuce web series.

Zuma Puma with the Grumpy Lettuce logo

Jolly Zuma Puma with the Grumpy Lettuce logo (she drew it)

“It’s going to be up-and-running at the end of April or early May,” Zuma/Nelly told me. “We have something like 14 episodes already filmed and now we’re doing post-production, but it takes time. We have three editors working on it. The director Andrew Phan and I go to the editing studio every Saturday.”

“You’re not the director?” I asked.

“No. I’m the creator. Directing film is not like directing theatre; I don’t know anything about film, which is kinda why I wanted to do this project. Well, it’s not that I don’t know anything about film. I did a web series last year and some short films.”

“What was the web series last year?” I asked.

Joz Norris and Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma in The Backbenchers

Award-nominated Backbenchers Joz Norris and Nelly Scott

The Backbenchers – Joz Norris was in it as well and both of us have been nominated as Best Actors in comedy at the L.A.Web Festival in April, which they say is the biggest web festival in the world.”

“And now Grumpy Lettuce?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve been working on that since before June last year. My boyfriend Kamal and I were thinking that a lot of people have come through Lost Cabaret – We need to get these characters on film. That would be such an interesting project – So we started thinking up situations to fit characters like Dan Lees’ Jazz Prophet or Annie Bashford as The Widow or Sharney Nougher’s Australian therapist or Kamal’s Bollywood star character – he puts a wig over his dreadlocks.”

“What’s your character?” I asked.

Zuma Puma grabbed two audience members last night

Zuma Puma with two audience members at the Lost Cabaret

“I’m my Zuma Puma leopard-print character who just shows up unexpectedly and randomly. But we all play multiple characters, sometimes straight. The idea of Grumpy Lettuce is that it’s like Mighty Boosh characters put into our own real world – normal everyday situations – and then we meet these wild out-there characters, like you sometimes do in normal life.”

“Why is it taking so much post-production?”

“Because there’s 23 sketches. We probably have over 50 hours of filming and each hour we have to make into a minute-an-a-half or a 2-minute sketch.”

“Why is it called Grumpy Lettuce?

“It goes back to when I first moved to London two yeas ago. I moved here for my grandfather’s  funeral and visited Annie Bashford and started playing like the times we were back at Gaulier in Paris and we came up with this ridiculous sketch with The Widow where she got naked with the lettuce.

The Widow (left) with Nelly Scott: What What?

What What? The Lettuce? – The Widow (left) with Nelly Scott

“So we started to look up names for our double act because we were calling ourselves The What-Whats, which is a horrible name. We looked up ‘lettuce’ online and the first thing that came up was ‘grumpy lettuce’ with the Urban Dictionary meaning for ‘grumpy lettuce’.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“Unkempt vagina. So Annie and I thought: This is perfect. That’s exactly what we want to call our female double-act. 

“Then Annie and I stopped working together – we’re still good friends – and so, when Kamal and I were coming up with names for the web series, the great ones we thought of were already taken. Or, if we decided on one and got the Facebook page and started designing a logo, some of the other cast members would say: No! That’s a horrible name! And the only great name I could think of was Grumpy Lettuce.

“It’s got a double-meaning, it’s funny and you get an image in your head of an angry-looking lettuce, which is kinda cute. If you think of a grumpy lettuce, you think of a lettuce that doesn’t quite fit in, which is kinda what our web series is about – all of these characters don’t fit into our real world, even though some are based on real-life people. And, the minute I told people Grumpy Lettuce, everyone said: That’s an amazing name!”

“And Annie Bashford is in it,” I said.

“Yes. She almost got crushed during the shoot.”

“Physically?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“By a lettuce?”

“No. By a very dangerous stunt that I would have made safer if I had been there on that day. I don’t want to give away the punchline of the sketch.”

“I always find,” I said, “that it’s best not to kill the performers.”

Different Ways To Kill Annie,” said Zuma/Nelly, “Maybe that’s what the show should have been called.”

“The logo might be difficult,” I suggested.

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My gay day in Soho yesterday and, later, seeing women’s armpit hair in Stockwell

Me and my new friend in Soho yesterday

Me and my new boy friend in Soho yesterday

So, I was at a gay bar in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon, talking to this young ‘boy’ with stubble on his chin. I did not ask his name and we went into an alleyway beside the Vue cinemas in Leicester Square where he asked me: “Do you want me to take my penis out?” then stuck his hand into his trousers and started rummaging around.

But more about that later.

I was in another bar a couple of weeks ago – the Soho Theatre bar – and Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott told me:

“I was in this film and one of my teeshirts was a little bit shorter and I was thinking Oh no! What if they’re really upset? and I was walking round the set trying to cover up the fact that I’m a woman with armpit hair, when it’s actually like a matter of pride for me. I was thinking What if this is unacceptable for this character?

“But you were playing the part of a killer,” I said. “A homicidal female psychopath.”

“Exactly,” said Nelly. “Why would she be shaving her armpits? – When would she have the time in between killing people?”

“Why are you so proud of your armpit hair?” I asked Nelly.

Michael Brunström stands in a bucket of water

Michael Brunström stands in a bucket of water

“I love it,” she told me. I love the texture of it. I like stroking it. I like how it keeps my arms warm. And I like my own smell. That’s another bonus. I would wear it as a perfume.”

Last night, I went to her always extraordinarily bizarre weekly Lost Cabaret show in Stockwell which she comperes as Zuma Puma. Somehow the sight of Michael Brunström standing in a bucket of water passionately reading a random article from a Yachting magazine seemed quite normal in the context of Lost Cabaret.

Sharney Emma Nougher (left) & Zuma Puma raise their arms

Zuma Puma (right) and Sharney Nougher raise their arms

After the show, Zuma Puma and Sharney Nougher showed me their armpit hair.

I was very grateful.

It was a fairly ordinary day.

I am always grateful for small kindnesses.

So back to my gay afternoon in Soho yesterday…

The young ‘boy’ I met asked five men in the gay Ku Bar if they fancied him. Three did. Well, two did and one said: “Only if you are in the process of transgendering.”

Juliette Burton as herself

Juliette Burton as herself

A shrewd observation, because yesterday was Day Five in performer Juliette Burton’s week of shooting partly-hidden-camera video inserts for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Look At Me (co-written by comedienne Janey Godley). It is about how people’s external image affects how people perceive them as people.

“Each day has been challenging in different ways,” Juliette told me yesterday.

DAY ONE 

Juliette dressed as what, merely for understandability’s sake, I would describe as ‘tarty’.

“It had the biggest reaction from other people,” she told me. “I was dressed in a costume that was inspired by The Only Way Is Essex, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Jordan before she became Katie Price. I started at King’s Cross, then got on a bus to Soho Square and walked through to Covent Garden. Wherever I went, people stared at me and some of the looks I got – we’ve looked at the video we shot – were so disdainful and so scornfuI. I did not do anything tarty. All I did was walk past dressed in a particular way.”

DAY TWO

Juliette partially made-up, with and ‘old’ cheek and throat

Juliette during her transformation, partially made-up, with an ‘old’ cheek and throat

Juliette was made up to look like an old lady.

“That was more liberating in some ways,” she told me, “because I was less noticeable. But, in some ways, it was more emotional.”

“How?” I asked.

“You’ll have to come and see the show,” Juliette said. “It was a sad day.”

DAY THREE

Juliette wore a ‘fat suit’ and was made-up to look fat.

“That was very difficult for personal reasons,” Juliette explained, “because there were some emotional things going on inside me that I hadn’t anticipated. The prosthetics were very good and the character was confident and bold and bright. I was about a size 18 in the prosthetics. I wanted to reclaim my experience when I had been that size, because I used to be a size 20. I wanted to reclaim how I felt about myself back then.”

DAY FOUR

Juliette under cover, literally

Juliette – literally under-cover

“I thought this was going to be my hijab day,” said Juliette. “The hijab is what Moslem women wear when only their face and hands are exposed. The niqab only exposes their eyes and hands. I thought the hijab I had ordered online had a headscarf and a black dress but, in fact, it actually had niqab headgear as well.

“So sometimes I dressed in a niqab, sometimes in a hijab. That was very interesting because most people don’t bat an eyelid if you walk round London like that, though there were some experiences I had that were quite shocking.

“What I hadn’t anticipated, again, was the internal journey. There’s stuff that goes on psychologically that I hadn’t anticipated.”

“But, to find out, I’ll have to come and see the show in Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” laughed Juliette.

DAY FIVE

Juliette (left) and the reaction of friends Lizzy Mace and Frankie Lowe

Juliette (left) arrives at Ku Bar + the reaction to her changed personality by her friends Lizzy Mace and Frankie Lowe

“Well,” said Juliette, “That’s today. I’m dressed as a man and you say I make quite a good man.”

“You look like a rather effete South American boy,” I told her. “You could maybe make money selling yourself in Rio during the World Cup.”

Make-up artist Sarah-Jane Lyon had given Juliette a false Adam’s apple.

“And I’ve got a bulge,” said Juliette. “A foam penis. Do you want to see it?”

“No,” I said.

“Don’t you want me to take my penis out?” Juliette asked.

“Don’t you want me to take my penis out?”

“Don’t you want me to take my penis out?” Juliette asked.

“No,” I said. “Not down an alleyway in Soho. I’ve seen too many real ones on stage.”

“So you’re bored with penises?”

“I’ve been too close to too many pricks,” I said. “I worked at the BBC.”

“It’s a foam penis,” said Juliette.

“I would prefer to see Martin Soan’s singing and dancing vagina,” I replied.

That was yesterday in a Soho alley.

Today Juliette is in Stoke-on-Trent shooting extra footage for her pop video to promote Look at Me.

And, on Sunday, she is back in London, to shoot more hidden camera reactions to her superficial appearance.

“I will be wearing pink underwear,” Juliette told me, “and fishnets, a wig, flippers, snorkel, body paint, absurd make-up and I will have a giant glittery purple peanut on my head and be carrying a bright pink dog. A real one.”

“What will the dog be wearing?” I asked.

“The dog will be wearing a tutu, of course,” said Juliet matter-of-factly.

“Of course it will,” I said. “Do you have armpit hair, Juliette?”

There is a promotional video for Look At Me on YouTube.

and also one for Zuma Puma’s Lost Cabaret shows

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Why comedy writers and performers are different and clowns are not clowns?

James Hamilton at the Soho Theatre bar yesterday

James Hamilton – Soho Theatre bar yesterday

So yesterday afternoon I went to the Soho Theatre bar to talk to Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma about her weekly – always unique – Friday night Lost Cabaret shows in London.

It never happened.

I arrived early and found multiple Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee James Hamilton sitting at a table, writing his sketch group Casual Violence’s next show for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“How much have you written?” I asked.

“10%,” he said glumly.

“I was going to do a solo show this year,” he told me, “but I got talked into doing a Casual Violence one. Do you remember the Siamese Twin hit-men from Choose Death? I am giving them a full story. They work together as assassins until one of them decides he would rather be a baker instead. They fall out and decide to go their separate ways.”

Casual Violence 2014 Edinburgh show

Casual Violence: new 2014 Edinburgh show

“The Siamese Twins?” I asked.

“Yes,” said James. “It’s about the brotherly dynamic.”

Then Nelly arrived.

James and Nelly had never met before, but it transpired they had both been on Dr Brown/Phil Burgers‘ clown workshops.

Clown workshops seem to be trendy for performers at the moment but, as far as I can see, have nothing to do with clowns as any normal person would recognise the word. They are actually improvisation workshops under a ‘sexier’ title.

Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, James (a writer who performs) found the workshops more difficult than Nelly (a performer who can write).

“The people who could be themselves or a version of themselves on stage,” said James, “were the people who did best in the workshop and I wish to god I could do it. I loved the workshop and got so much out of it but I also really struggled. It was so difficult.”

“It is really difficult,” agreed Nelly. But those people had probably been to loads of these workshops and practised a lot of dropping it and ‘being with themselves’. Or hadn’t been to anything at all.”

“Yes,” said James, “a lot of people who did best in that workshop had never done any performing of any kind.”

“The people who find it hardest, I think,” said Nelly, “are people like actors or stand-up comedians. With actors, there’s always this mask: that they never want to show themselves. With comedians, they’ve always got to have a punchline. Stand-up is very wordy; it’s always about what they’re saying, not what they’re doing. Whereas, in clowning, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it and how you do it. It’s all about How not What.”

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma with James Hamilton

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma with James Hamilton yesterday

“It’s a very performance-driven thing,” said James, “whereas I tend to approach stuff from a very writery point of view. Writing is very introverted and thinking about ideas and not letting go. All the clowning stuff is very counter to that. Not in a bad way. But it’s the opposite of what you’re taught as a writer.

“I remember at the workshop,” James continued, “being told off because I had an idea before going on stage. So what I did for the rest of the workshop was every time I had an idea ahead of going on stage I would immediately dismiss it because I knew if I went ahead with that idea he would pull me up on it. He wanted people to go on stage with nothing and then find something.”

“Well,” said Nelly, “it’s OK for you to come on stage with an idea, but you have to be ready to drop it in a split second if the audience hate it. People who come on stage with an idea can be more in love with their idea than they are with the audience. It’s not necessarily that he wants people to come onto the stage with nothing, because some people literally don’t have anything and it’s boring. You need to have something. What’s your impulse? What are you thinking? But, if it doesn’t work, you just throw it out the window. You do whatever it takes to make the audience love you.”

“I think, when I do more solo things,” said James, “it will be more of an even balance but the way it works at the moment is I’m the sole writer for a group of people, so I need to bring stuff in. It doesn’t need to be perfectly finished. We play with it and develop it. But it does come from a very scripted starting point.”

“When I go on stage,” said Nelly. “I always have an idea of something. I’ll have a character and a costume or I’ll come up with a game and go on stage and play with that.”

“The fact people can do that is amazing,” said James. “It just terrifies me. Though in an appealing way. It makes me want to do it.”

“It doesn’t matter if you flop at some point,” said Nelly, “provided you bring the audience eventually to this place of magic and then they forget about the bit that flopped.”

James had told me earlier that he had been “talked into” doing a Casual Violence show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and, in a sense, the same thing had happened with Nelly and Lost Cabaret.

Zuma Puma (centre bottom) + her collective

Zuma Puma (centre bottom) + her collective

“I wasn’t going to go to the Fringe this year,” she told us. “I thought: I need a break. I’m going to be in Spain for the month lying naked on the beach or hitchhiking to Morocco and singing on the top of mountains until five in the morning. But then (regular performer) Dan Lees applied for a spot for Lost Cabaret at the Fringe and told me about it after we had been accepted.”

“So,” said James, “you will have to defer your month of naked hitchhiking to the top of mountains at five in the morning.”

“I’ll still do that,” said Nelly. “Maybe before I go to the Fringe.”

“You told me,” I said, “that you’ve been going for lots of castings recently.”

“Lots of auditions for short films,” said Nelly, “which I’m finding interesting, because a lot of writers are shit.”

“Are you cast as Girl 1 or Girl 2?” asked James.

“I’m usually cast as a femme fatale killer,” Nelly replied, “which is fun. I’m OK with that. But how many scripts are just so degrading to women?”

“Women are either in films to have sex or to be killed,” I said.

“There is a website called Casting Call Woe,” said James, “which has genuine casting calls which are horrendously sexist and awful.”

Currently on the site are these four descriptions of projected movies:

The actress would need an ‘Easy Access Skirt’ with leggings underneath so that the skirt could be lifted up and it would look convincingly like she was ‘being taken from behind. Consent to have fake vomit thrown on her. 

Please send a pic of your tongue so I can approve of your tongue length.

The egg shoots from her vagina and directly into the doctor’s mouth.

Bikinis will get this movie attention. Great acting will get it respect. 

“I got a script for a short film,” said Nelly. “Somehow they had got funding for it. I don’t know how. They were looking for an actress who could play seductive but bad and I thought Oh, I can play femme fatale no problem. But then I read the script and there is a scene where a female crime investigator is talking to me – I’m this girl who is covered in blood and freaking out – and she starts putting her hand up the girl’s skirt and fingering her. There was no conversation before the investigator starts randomly fingering the girl. And, in the next scene, her face is in the girl’s vagina – there’s a shot of the investigator’s head between this girl’s legs. What the fuck has this got to do with the investigation? And then she kills the girl. It drives me nuts. I will have to start writing.”

There is a Lost Cabaret showreel on YouTube.

and also a trailer for Casual Violence’s comedy.

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Comedy’s future in London and what is happening in Canada, Japan and Kenya

PTOO last night - Zuma Puma as ‘The Colonel’

PTOO last night – Zuma Puma as ‘The Colonel’

Last night, I got three interesting e-mails and saw the best potential TV series not yet on TV – Vivienne & Martin Soan’s monthly live comedy show Pull The Other One in South East London.

The PTOO format is bizarre acts plus one token stand-up comedian, which I think might be the next step in the future of comedy in the UK.

Call me obsessed but, with the apparent decline of straight comedy clubs and the rise of the Cabaret Section at the Edinburgh Fringe, something feels likely to change.

Lindsay Sharman compered last night

Lindsay Sharman did it by the book last night

Last night at PTOO, the ever-TV-friendly-faced Lindsay Sharman hosted Cheekykita, who harassed the audience in a crash-helmet, then turned into a black hole… wonderfully acerbic (OK – viciously bitter) musical comedian Kate Lucas (who, last month, was crowned Mercury Comedian of the Year at the Leicester Comedy Festival)… the always wonderfully intense Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott as a wildly OTT Russian colonel… the Greatest Show on Legs with Martin Soan as a psychotic gay sergeant major… Simon Munnery being superbly funny as the token stand-up (You know, when Simon Munnery is the token normal comedian, everything else has to be SERIOUSLY weird!)… and Darren Walsh being extraordinarily punny (last month he won the first UK Pun Championhips) with lots of surreal visual and audio gags meaning he kept well to the bizarre variety act side of normal stand-up.

Peter Morey drawing as Simon Munnery performed

Peter Morey drew; Simon Munnery performed

While all this went on, artist Peter Morey was drawing his live visual interpretation of the show on the door of the venue as he listened to the acts perform.

The audience included Comedy Store improviser Stephen Frost and new comedy entrepreneur and showman Adam Taffler.

For once in my life, I felt trendy.

Then I went home.

I have no idea who this man is

This man is in Vancouver. I do not know him.

There was an unexplained e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She is currently working in a bookshop in Vancouver. There was no text in the e-mail, just an attached picture. The e-mail was titled Finns and Doukabors have visited the shop. I have no idea what this means.

According to Wikipedia, the Doukabors were a Russian religious sect who emigrated to Canada in the 19th century to escape persecution by the Tsarist authorities. And, according to the 2001 census, over 131,040 Canadians claim Finnish ancestry.

I have no idea what relevance either of these facts may or may not actually have to anything else.

Then I opened an e-mail from British comedian Bob Slayer who, among many other things, used to be a horse jockey (unlikely but true) and managed Japanese rock band Electric Eel Shock (who are descending on Britain next month).

They provided some of the music for the movie Killer Bitch, in which one of them got killed by having a fish rammed down his throat. One of the movie’s online samplers uses their music. (Do not view this adult material if you can ever be offended by anything and – really – NB do not buy from the website named at the end, only from reputable retailers.)

A week ago, Bob Slayer flew to Japan. I had no idea why. Last night’s e-mail explained:

The reason why we are here is our friends Kaori and Jamie are getting married. Kaori was in a London-based Japanese two-piece band called Yumi Yumi. They both helped me out lots in the early days of managing Electric Eel Shock. After that band, Kaori joined Mercury Award nominated The Go Team as guitarist, keyboardist and occasional vocalist. Jamie was the bass player.

DAY 1 – We arrive in Kumamoto after 24 hours travelling. We took a flight from London to Tokyo then several bullet trains. Some of them were even the right ones. The highlight of the wedding food is a plate of raw horse meat, a local delicacy. I will never watch the Grand National in the same way again.

Day 3 – Where did day 2 disappear? A booze and a jetlag fug?

Day 5 – Today we are in Settsu-shi, near Osaka, at the house of Aki Morimoto otherwise known as front man of Electric Eel Shock. He has produced a little boy since I saw him last and Taira (3 years old) and I bond over sword fighting and cartoons of Anpanman, Japan’s most popular anime for kids, where all the characters have heads made out of different flavoured breads. I also build a 7 foot Lego tower.

Day 6 – Osaka’s speciality food is takoyaki and okonimaki – octopus batter balls and a savoury pancake made with chopped cabbage. Both are covered in mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. It seems that, although Japan spent a lot of its history closed off from the outside world, some imports had a big influence 150 years ago. Barbershop poles are red and white and the Japanese word for suit is ‘Savillrow’.

After this, I opened an e-mail from comedy critic Kate Copstick, currently in Kenya. She told me:

Hoping to be boarding a plane to Britain this time next week, barring any intervening ghastliness.

I am on one crutch and reasonably mobile.

All in all it could be worse.

I think – unusually – she may be under-stating the case.

But that is another story.

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The birth of new comedy talent and the death of an amazing British eccentric

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret show

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret

I went to see Zuma Puma’s weekly Lost Cabaret show last night, definitely one of the most consistently weird shows in London.

One member of the audience – Jeff – let out that he had been off work for seven weeks due to stress. He was rather withdrawn and shy. He ended up – of his own accord – stripping his shirt off and dancing on the stage.

Weird is the word. And Lost Cabaret manages to be consistently weird every week I have seen it, thanks to MC Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott. Last night her mum was there from Canada. I can see where she gets her charisma from.

Jeff, Jody Kamali & Zuma Puma’s mum last night

Jeff, Jody Kamali and Zuma Puma’s mum shook it last night

Lost Cabaret is the sort of show people (including, sometimes, moi) forget when they say comedy acts are not as bizarre and eccentric as they used to be.

Sadly, yesterday was also when I found out via a report in Chortle that The Amazing Mr Smith had died last Sunday.

His body was found at the bottom of a 100ft cliff at West Bay in Dorset.

There is a showreel of his eccentric acts on YouTube.

He was never widely known but, as Chortle reported, he toured America five times, as well as appearing in shows in Holland, Germany, Norway and Jordan.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

I first saw him when I auditioned him for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross in 1987. He would have been 39 then; he was 65 when he died last weekend. So it goes.

His birthday was on April 1st and, in the mid-1990s when I was working in Prague, I sent him an unsigned birthday card on the basis he did not know I was in Prague and he would wonder who had sent it. We talked and met after that, but there was never any mention of the birthday card. Why would there be? For some reason I now wish I had told him I sent it.

Derek Smith was a quiet man – a research scientist when I first met him. But he would get up on stage and play The Blue Danube on 32 condoms or have the entire audience sing along to the theme tune of The Dam Busters while someone spun a propeller attached to his nose or perform Also Sprach Zarathustra – the theme from 2001 – by stamping his feet on the floor.

Scots performer Alex Frackleton, now living in the Czech Republic, told me yesterday:

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

The rather shy, gentle man who gave sound advice

“He was a lovely man. Unique. I met him at a folk festival.

“I was performing my Ballad of Michael Malloy poem – it is 36 verses long and it takes about 5 minutes to perform. Afterwards, he came up and introduced himself as Mr Smith. I thought that was a bit eccentric at the time but I’m a kinda live & let live kinda guy, so what the hell?

“He told me I should do the sounds of the environment around the poem. So the screech of the brakes of the taxi, the nee-naw sound of the ambulance, the hissing sound of the gas when they put Michael Malloy’s head in the oven – all these sounds should be conveyed as part of the poem, part of the canvas I was painting on stage (his words).

“I told him I wasn’t musical, couldn’t sing nor play a musical instrument to save myself and he told me that it didn’t matter because I had vocal cords and no-one said I had to sing or blow a trumpet! I am very sad to hear about his death.”

Writer and film producer David McGillivray told me:

Mr Smith in the recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith at home in a recent Vimeo mini-doc

“I saw him in Crouch End. He was completely different from all the other acts on the bill. I said to my partner, Let’s book him and he agreed. We ran Stew’s Cabaret in Hackney in the 1980s. He was a delightful eccentric.”

TV producer Danny Greenstone said: “Ah, a shame indeed. What a lovely fella he was… And how brave, too, to have graced Game For A Laugh more than once…”

Club-runner Steven Taylor told me: “He did a gig for me and was very funny and a thoroughly good chap. A gent.”

And Derek was a gentle man. Immensely likeable.

There is a 6’30” mini-documentary film about him on Vimeo by his friend Alan Deakins, although Derek mostly stays in character as Mr Smith.

In the mini-documentary, he says:

“Stand-up comedians these days at these alternative comedy clubs: they’re really worried that other people are going to steal their material. I don’t have that worry. Anybody could do this. Anybody could do my own act, but they don’t, do they?.. It’s nice to be able to make people laugh, isn’t it, really? You stand there and you’ve got a hundred people or so in front of you, all laughing, and that’s quite a nice feeling.”

R.I.P. Derek Smith – The Amazing Mr Smith.

So it goes.

The 7 minute audition tape (with very bad sound) shot when I first saw him perform is on YouTube

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