Tag Archives: New Zealand

Samantha Hannah… A bad day in Australia and a trans-world romance

Next Up – it’s Samantha Hannah’s lockdown special show

Samantha Hannah got in touch with me in July to plug her newly online NextUp Comedy show – How To Find Happiness in a Year – it’s her 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show shot in her living room at home during the UK Coronavirus Lockdown with her partner as the sole member of the audience. NextUp had been going to film it on stage in front of a live audience until COVID-19 intervened.

But, when they saw her living room version, they snapped it up.

Hello. I thought. That’s interesting.

And also Samantha comes from Perth in Scotland. My mother was born in a village just outside Perth.

That’s interesting, I thought.

We met on 30th July in a pretty much deserted Covent Garden Piazza.

It was very interesting.

Three problems.

I have been lazy.

Lockdown Lethargy hit me.

And her back-story is so interesting, she is not getting much of a plug for her NextUp show here…


Samantha in a deserted Covent Garden…

SAMANTHA: I performed on the UK comedy circuit for about two years, about six nights a week. Then I gave up in 2009 for about seven years. Didn’t do any stand-up.

JOHN: You had always fancied being a stand-up?

SAMANTHA: Well, I studied Performing Arts at university then went more down a directing route – youth theatre, helping adults with learning difficulties… 

JOHN: Adults with learning difficulties? The comedy circuit…

SAMANTHA: (LAUGHS) No!

When I moved to London, I didn’t have the connections to do the work I’d done in Scotland, so I auditioned for A Christmas Carol at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town and did that for several weeks, but I always loved writing comedy sketches. I was writing them and putting them on the British Comedy Guide forum… Someone saw one of the sketches online and asked to film it.

The sketch never got filmed, but the director of A Christmas Carol asked: “Who was that guy you were meeting?” 

“Oh,” I said, “he does comedy.”

“You do comedy? Why don’t you put on a show here for the next six weeks after this run finishes?”

“…a space to do whatever I wanted…”

So I was basically given a space above the theatre to do whatever I wanted… I got a few people together and put on a show that was about 3½ hours long with so many acts and so many intervals and Aaron Barschak did like a full hour of stand-up at the very end.

It was a most bizarre experience but, because I did it for about six weeks, I met lots of actors. I wanted to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, but everyone dropped out, so then I did a stand-up course to meet other people to write and perform with.

Then I realised: Oh! You can just do it on your own! You don’t have to rely on anybody and people won’t drop out!

That’s basically how I got into comedy.

JOHN: But then, after two years, you gave up for seven years. Why?

SAMANTHA: I think I just got burnt out by the circuit. I was doing some 20-minuters and getting paid, but I wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t know why I was doing it. It just wasn’t giving me any joy.

And also I met someone who was also in the industry – never do that. He was a promoter.

I gave up comedy; we broke up; my brother passed away and I just went travelling. I went to Australia for a year. I worked in ski-fields in the middle of nowhere, worked at Madame Tussauds in Sydney, making wax hands…

A very hand-some figure at Madame Tussaud’s in Sydney

JOHN: What qualifications do you need to make wax hands?

SAMANTHA: I have no idea. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I was just doing what came along. I worked on a cattle farm in Queensland…

JOHN: You rode horses?

SAMANTHA: I was given a horse by the owners and they said: “We trust this horse with our 3-year-old, so you will be fine.” 

One day I was mustering cattle and the horse was getting really unhappy. At one point, we went over mud and the horse really didn’t like it, started bucking and threw me off. I landed on my head on a rock – luckily I had a helmet on. The helmet got dented and, obviously, I was quite dazed and confused.

All the farmers around were saying: “You’ve gotta get back on the horse and teach it a lesson!”

But I couldn’t, so one of the other farmers, she jumped on the back of the horse and rode it off and gave it a telling-off.

Later that same day, we had to go into the bull pen, sorting out the cows and bulls…

Samantha’s animal encounters were unlike this (Photo: David Clode via UnSplash)

JOHN: This sounds like a bad idea.

SAMANTHA: I was told: “You’re alright. The bulls are not going to go for you. You’re fine.”

But this one bull just locked eyes on me and started charging towards me.

You know about ‘fight or flight’?

I did nothing. I was just staring at it and the farmer was looking at me like: Why is this girl not doing anything? And, at the last moment, as it got to me, it suddenly swerved out of the way. So it was fine.

When we got back to the farm that day, the mum took my dented helmet and was going to separate the sun visor from it… But, as she took it apart, she saw that, inside the helmet was a redback nest with a redback in it – a very poisonous spider – the Australian black widow. If I had been bitten by the spider, I probably wouldn’t have known because I was so dazed by hitting my head on the rock.

JOHN: An eventful day…

SAMANTHA: And then, a couple of days later, an eastern brown – one of the deadliest snakes in the world – came into the house and got behind the TV set.

JOHN: I’ve never really fancied going to Australia. New Zealand, yes.

SAMANTHA: My mother and father came over to visit me in Australia and wanted to go to New Zealand, so we went there. After they left, I stayed on and worked there in Queenstown – another ski resort – and lived in Glenorchy with an old man and an unrelated 7-year-old child. We watched Lord of the Rings. Then I decided to move up to Wellington and to write a show about trying to find a husband in a year.

I posted a Tinder profile…

…and I started to say Yes to EVERYone who replied. 

JOHN: New Zealand is a relatively small country.

SAMANTHA: Several times I ran out of matches. You could only do 100 every 12 hours.

JOHN: How many did you do? 400?

SAMANTHA: Oh, there were more than that! I went on a few dates. A few nice guys. And then, the day I got to Wellington, I was getting a bit sick of it. But the next morning, when I woke up, I’d had a Match with someone called Toby…

He was a New Zealander in London, doing his own experiment, trying to understand the algorithms and he thought he probably wanted to move back to New Zealand. He had thought: I’ll set it to New Zealand and see what happens. So he set it to Wellington.

He was in London, really near to where I used to live. And I was in Wellington, literally one stop away from where he used to go to university.

Samantha’s pic on Tinder. She liked melons.

We started Messaging. He was a data scientist. I asked if he could do an analytics report to see if we were a good match. He put all our messages into Excel and looked for commonly-used words and sentiments. I was going to use the results as part of my show.

JOHN: Were you a good match?

SAMANTHA: We had our first phone call when I was quite drunk and, when I woke up the next day, didn’t really remember it but, because he had Uber Eats for Wellington, he used it to send me breakfast. And that was it. He was clearly the person for me. I met his parents before I met him.

Six weeks after the first message, I flew back to the UK to meet him. I arrived about 05.00am in the morning after a 38-hour flight… and he wasn’t there.

Then he turned up with a bottle of Copella apple juice in hand, because I had kept telling him how much I liked Copella apple juice. And we decided: “Right! Let’s go on our first date!”

JOHN: How did you decide what sort of date it would be?

SAMANTHA: It was six o’clock in the morning. I needed food and to go to sleep. But it was still a bit nerve-wracking. Imagine if you flew 12,000 miles to meet someone and…

Anyway, it was fine and we had a week together, then he went back to New Zealand for Christmas and I went up to Scotland.

In the New Year, we dithered a bit, because he was thinking about going back to New Zealand, But then he broke his leg in a ski-ing accident in France.

JOHN: You arranged this?

SAMANTHA: I wasn’t there! But, when he came back to the UK, he was very ill. He had picked up a bug. I was nursing him back to health and we just decided, because he couldn’t run away with a broken leg, we would go for it.

“…I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber…”

JOHN: And you wrote the show…

SAMANTHA: Yes. How to Find a Husband in a Year at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber at 11.00am in the morning. I wasn’t even in the Fringe Programme. Then my second show, in 2019, was How To Find Happiness in a Year.

JOHN: Which is your NextUp show… But the Rule of Three. There has to be a third How To show…Were you preparing it as your 2020 Edinburgh show before coronavirus hit?

SAMANTHA: Yes: How To Win At Life.

JOHN: Edinburgh in 2021?

SAMANTHA: I hope so.

All’s Well That Ends Well… The happy couple – Samantha Hannah and Toby – at home in London

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There’s more to Richard O’Brien than the Rocky Horror Show’s Riff Raff…

Three weeks ago in this blog I mentioned the sad death of Douglas Gray of The Alberts, the extraordinary surreal brothers little remembered by ordinary punters now but whose influence on British comedy was so great that Douglas got a full-page obituary in The Times.

Richard O’Brien – creator of The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show – commented on the blog: “I had the great pleasure of working with Tony and Douglas, plus Tony’s son Sinbad, in Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid theatre in 1969. Each day was a delightful excursion into organised chaos…”

So obviously, I had to ask him about it. He now lives in New Zealand…


Richard O’Brien with a statue of him as Riff Raff erected in Hamilton, New Zealand, at the site of the barber shop where he cut hair in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

JOHN: New Zealand? Why on earth New Zealand?

RICHARD: Well, my parents emigrated to New Zealand in 1952 when I was ten and I was brought up there – went through puberty, adolescence, all that kind of stuff – the BIG bit of growing-up, basically.

JOHN: New Zealand seems a very sensible place. Not surreal or anarchic or OTT…

RICHARD: What was really nice about it was that it was a middle classless society. Nobody was your social superior. It was an egalitarian meritocracy, about as good as it could get. Not ideal but still wonderful.

JOHN: So when you came back to Britain in 1964, you found they couldn’t socially classify you because you had not been brought up here?

RICHARD: I had a great card to play. If I was with people who were a bit snobby, I was out of the equation. I had a go-anywhere card because England at that time was a deeply class-ridden society – still is to an extent – look at Boris and his chums.

BBC reported that Richard “delighted in shaking up the conservative sexual attitudes of the 1970s”

It was wonderful. I could go absolutely anywhere and I was not on any level of their thinking. So it was wonderful.

Being under-educated and unsophisticated, I kept my mouth shut and I wasn’t a bad-looking boy, so I was invited to places because, well, we ARE so fucking shallow, aren’t we? And, as long as I was well-mannered and a good listener, I was welcome anywhere. It was great.

JOHN: One of the first things you did over here was work as a stuntman on the movie Carry On Cowboy… Whaaat? 

RICHARD: It was simply because, in 1965, there was an opening to do that. I did three movies in 1965: Carry On Cowboy, The Fighting Prince of Donegal and that early version of Casino Royale which nobody understands. But I didn’t really want to be a stuntman. I wanted to be an actor.

JOHN: Which you became…

“Delightful excursion into organised chaos”

RICHARD: And, in 1968, Sean Kenny decided to direct and design Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid Theatre and he got together an incredible cast. A huge range of actors. It was quite wonderful. Some real ‘characters’. And, of course, The Alberts were part of that.

JOHN: You said that the Mermaid show experience with The Alberts was “a delightful excursion into organised chaos”

RICHARD: Douglas would turn up in a kilt and in all kinds of uniforms. They might come on stage with a wheelbarrow but there was bound to be an explosion somewhere. They would wear pinafores with naked bodies painted on the front. Quite childish; very childish. You couldn’t really call it professional. It was like throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what would stick. But it was delightful.

“I think what I really wanted to do was take my guitar and go round the world singing songs” (Photograph c 1964)

JOHN: You are an actor/writer/musician/TV person. Which one did you want to be when you were 16?

RICHARD: I am ‘musical’. I wouldn’t call myself a musician. I play the guitar a little and I sing and I have a good ear.

I wrote songs when I was in my teenage years: mostly derivative rock n roll stuff. I think what I really wanted to do was take my guitar and go round the world singing songs.

I wouldn’t have minded singing folk songs – going round the world learning different countries’ folk songs.

I like writing songs, but mostly because I like storytelling. I love narrative poetry. I think probably my strength more than anything else is writing lyrics. Dressing-up and making-believe was always a kind of joy. Acting is not really a job for grown-ups. It’s a childish kind of thing to want to dress up and make-believe. But it’s a very enjoyable one.

…as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show…

JOHN: Your obituary in The Times is inevitably going to have “Rocky Horror” in the headline. 

RICHARD: Well, of course it will. It’s one of the longest-running movies ever in movie history. It’s a silly piece of adolescent fun and nonsense. You can’t take it seriously and yet it’s had an incredible effect on a lot of people. It’s given a lot of people hope in their world if they’re lonely and lost. Rocky Horror’s got a sense of Well, you’re not alone.

It would be perverse for me not to acknowledge Rocky Horror.

JOHN: Rocky Horror re-routed your career?

RICHARD: It probably took me away from acting. I maybe thought I should stay at home and be writing more. The nice thing was I was successful without anybody knowing who I was if I walked down the street.

Willie Rushton was a lovely man whom I got to know – he was in Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid. He was on television all the time and I would walk down the street with him and everybody would come up to him and I would stand beside him and, in monetary terms and in theatrical terms, I was doing as well as he was but nobody knew who I was. I had this wonderful anonymity… but that disappeared when I started doing The Crystal Maze on TV. The anonymity all went out the window.

Richard’s anonymity disappeared doing The Crystal Maze

JOHN: Everyone wants fame and fortune…

RICHARD: I didn’t want to be famous. Honestly. And I didn’t want to have a lot of money. Luckily, something went wrong and I achieved both those ends. But I wasn’t searching for it. Never was.

JOHN: What is the least known or least appreciated creative thing you have been involved in that you are most proud of?

RICHARD: Proud of? I don’t like pride. It comes before a fall. 

Even with Gay Pride… I think it’s really silly to be proud of something which you are by default… Be glad. Over the moon. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes. Deliriously happy. Fantastic. Yes. 

Proud to be black? Proud to be white? Proud to be straight? Proud to be what you are by default?… Proud to be blond? – How stupid would that be?

JOHN: But, if I pushed you on what is most underestimated…

RICHARD: I adapted The Dancing Years by Ivor Novello which we did with Gillian Lynne (the choreographer of Cats and Phantom of The Opera). I think we did a wonderful job on it and we had two stagings of it upstairs in a rehearsal room at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London – lots and lots of people there – and grown men were crying at the end. They were weeping. I think we did that very well but we weren’t allowed to go further with it, which was a great, great shame.

JOHN: You’re knocking on a bit. Old blokes cannot be creative…

RICHARD: Well, I’m 78, I’ve just had a stroke, but I’m still working… 

JOHN: On what?

RICHARD: A satirical fairy tale.

JOHN: And then?

RICHARD: I’m going to go and have a sit-down and maybe a cup of tea.

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Filed under Acting, Cult, Movies, Theatre

Comedian Matt Roper’s addiction treatment gets upstaged by Chris Dangerfield’s continuing addiction

Matt Roper yesterday: concerned at Chris Dangerfield’s addiction tales

Matt Roper yesterday: concerned at Chris addiction tales

It was comedian Matt Roper’s own fault not mine. It really was.

He is trying to kick his nicotine habit in Totnes and he was up in London for a casting session on a film. So we decided to meet up for a chat about his Buddhist-like non-smoking treatment and there might be a blog in it for me. But the trouble was, before we met at Bar Italia in Soho, Matt had perhaps foolishly invited Chris Dangerfield to join us – he lives nearby.

Chris joined us briefly, then said he had to go off and do something, so Matt and I had time to start our chat.

“I’m organising my funeral on Thursday this week,” Matt told me.

“You mean the living wake you told me about a few weeks ago?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “I still might have a living wake before I go away to New York at the end of November.”

“New York?” I asked.

“A mate of mine is on Broadway,” Matt explained. “And (comedian) Rick Shapiro and his wife Tracey have invited me to Thanksgiving in New Jersey.”

“How is Rick?” I asked.

“He’s fine,” said Matt. “You know he was mis-diagnosed and mis-prescribed. He had a heart attack, he had amnesia and he fell in love with his bedside lamp.”

“Was it just an infatuation or was it the real thing?” I asked.

“I think it was probably an infatuation,” said Matt. “The shape of his lamp, you know…”

“It was a one light stand?” I asked.

“His vision was all gone,” said Matt, “and he was on a lot of medical drugs. It might have been an Anglepoise or something quite curvy. Basically, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and he was mis-diagnosed in the months before and he was mis-medicated… But he’s getting stronger and more lucid.”

“So you were going to hold a living wake for yourself before you go out to the States,” I said, “but instead you’re now going to organise your own funeral?”

“No,” said Matt. “Not instead of. As well as. Death feels quite close to me. Both my parents died quite early and my health hasn’t been the best this past year. I’d rather everything is sorted out now and not a mess when…”

At this point, Chris Dangerfield returned.

“I’m talking about death,” Matt told him. “I’m organising my funeral.”

Chris laughed.

“I’m quite at peace with death,” mused Matt. “Obviously, I don’t want it to happen just yet, but there’s a guy who arranges alternative funerals in Totnes, so I’m going to put some money into an account and give him a music playlist and then it’s all sorted.”

“Where’s the logic in all that?” asked Chris Dangerfield. “Let other people pay for your funeral.”

“You’re looking surprisingly healthy,” I said to Chris. “Considering what’s happening in your life.”

Chris Dangerfield yesterday with abandoned police bike behind

Chris Dangerfield yesterday with police bike behind

“I’m a connoisseur of the poppy,” replied Chris, “by which I mean a victim of hideous and chronic addiction. My habit is China White. That’s what it’s called, but it’s actually from Vietnam. It doesn’t need any citric acid to break it down; it’ll break down in water. But the point is, I’ve been getting it on the Silk Road, the ‘deep web’, as we spoke about last time I saw you.

“I’m spoiled in a sort of suicidally-spoiled way. When I can’t get China White, I have to get street heroin and that’s what I just got and I have to put so much fucking in it’s like gravy by the end…”

“You still look well,” I said.

“I got rid of a glamour model’s veins intentionally as a cosmetic procedure,” said Chris. “She was talking to me about how citric acid damages veins. My arms have got none. They used to be like an adult male. Now I’m like a child. Citric damages your veins: they retract from the surface of the skin.

“So I told her that and she got me to do it so her skin would be smooth. I wouldn’t do that to anyone now. It’s damaging and unnecessary. But, at the time, I said Yeah, I’ll help you out. So, every day, I’d give her a citric injection and she lost all her veins. Mine, as you see, have gone.”

He showed us his smooth right arm.

“And you’ve lost the veins on the back of your hands,” I agreed.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “Look at your hands, John. Loads of veins visible. Mine have gone.”

“You can’t have lost your veins,” I said.

“They do. They do. They collapse,” said Chris. “They die. Sometimes they fall under and separate. Don’t make it a smack blog, John. We got better things to talk about than that, surely?”

“My thrombosis,” suggested Matt. “You’re on heroin and looking healthy. And I’m the one who’s on his death bed.”

“If you don’t have veins in your hand,” I asked Chris, “how does the blood get to your fingers?”

“Capillaries,” answered Chris, “which are smaller veins.”

“I was always shit at science,” I said.

“I’ve seen people stick needles under their fingernails,” said Chris. “What I went to, before I went to my groin, I…”

“Don’t forget this is being recorded,” I said.

“I don’t give a fuck,” said Chris. “What it is is, because you’re pulling more blood into the solution, it’ll congeal and… so what you do is snap the needle off and stick it up your bum. And, when there’s ten of you living in a squat in Bethnal Green and you’re all doing that 20 or 25 times a day and you’re not very clean about it and you meet a girl at Soho House…

“We’d all be in Soho House in lovely suits charming all these lovely women and saying Oh, come back to our house and when they came back to the squat in Bethnal Green… One of the rooms had no floorboards, because we’d burnt them all for heat, but the gaps were maybe 6 inches deep with poo-covered syringes.

“Do the maths. There were maybe ten of us there, on and off, doing maybe 20 a day – that’s 200 a day – nearly 1,500 a week for a couple of years. Multiply it by 52 or 104…”

“I think,” said Matt, “that Chris is a natural choice to lead Bethnal Green’s new tourism campaign.”

“I loved living there, though,” said Chris. “I really did. I loved it.”

“You told me,” I said, “that you’d tried to get off the smack recently but you’d failed.”

A bag of China White heroin

Is China White heroin equivalent to a packet of cigarettes?

“I had a friend the other day say to me I just don’t understand why you keep doing it and I said You smoke tobacco, yeah? and he said Yeah and I said Bronchitis, septicemia, cancer, your clothes stink, you stink, your teeth are yellow, your fingers are yellow, it costs you more than crack cocaine now. You wanna stop? He said Yeah, well... and I asked Well, why don’t you? It’s the same. There’s no real difference. There’s damage and how it affects your lifestyle, but the basic reality of being powerless over a substance – or behaviour – is the same. I would do anything to be clean. And, when I’m clean, I’d do anything to be using.”

“It’s a bit like being from New Zealand,” I suggested. “When New Zealanders are actually there, they want to leave and, when they’re away from it, they want to go back.”

“Over the last 25 years of using,” said Chris, “I’ve had a few clean years and they were the best years.”

“And now you make good money on your lock-picking business,” I prompted.

“With no financial investment,” said Chris, “just a good reputation and a mailing list, I can sell a product before I’ve bought it. So I send out to the mailing list… Say 500 people respond with a purchase… then the money’s in my account. The product arrives and I send it out. There’s only a 4-day turnaround. On this latest product, the profit after tax is about £25,000.”

“Is that actually true?” I asked.

“What do you mean Is it true??” Chris asked. “John, if I’m going to lie, it’s going to be better than I’ve earned some money – It’s going to be I STOLE some money. It’s easy to make money. I don’t understand people who can’t make money.

“I’ve a BBC TV documentary coming up. Essentially, I was walking round Soho trying to put forward responsible arguments about my lifestyle to a girl and her production team.”

“Your sexual lifestyle?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “Well, some of it. Also Rupert Everett is interviewing me for Channel 4 in a couple of weeks. That’ll be fun. I thought I’d be clean by then. His autobiography’s amazing.”

“What’s he interviewing you about?” I asked.

“Same thing, probably. I’ll confess things and they give me some publicity. And I’m doing a BBC Radio 4 show for Hardeep Singh Kohli where he has dinner with people.”

“Are you performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next year?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“What’s the show called?” I asked.

He told us.

Matt and I laughed out loud.

“I’ll only perform it three or four times before,” said Chris, “then the full run at the Fringe. They’ll never let me put that title in the Fringe Programme, though.”

“There won’t be a problem printing it in the Programme,” I said. “The words are OK.”

He then described the poster design.

“They may well,” I said, “hang you from a lamp post in Edinburgh.”

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When Scots comedians Billy Connolly and Janey Godley met in New Zealand

When Billy Met Janey in New Zealand

Scottish comedienne/writer/actress Janey Godley is possibly the best all-round creative I have ever encountered.

There’s a lot of bullshit in the wonderful world of comedy. But she genuinely is a multi-award-winning comedian. She genuinely is a best-selling author. She genuinely is a force of nature, mentally and visually fluent – yes, she can even paint on the rare occasion she actually pulls her bloody finger out. She promised me a picture in 2005. I still haven’t had it.

Like many others, I first became aware of her in 2003 at the Edinburgh Fringe, when I saw her comedy show Caught In The Act of Being Myself and then two days later, her straight one-woman play The Point Of Yes about heroin. Both told basically the same overlapping autobiographical story but in two dramatically different styles. One got belly laughs for tragic subjects that were in themselves not funny; the other told a straight dramatic story but had glimpses of humour.

It was the breadth of her performance ability which was impressive.

In 2004, the Financial Times wrote that seeing her breakthrough comedy show Good Godley! was “not unlike the sensation of shock and delight, thirty years ago, of seeing very early Billy Connolly” and, since then, she has repeatedly been referred to as “the female Billy Connolly”, probably because critics can’t think of another Scots comedian – but also because they both share an easy-going anecdotal style – though there is a difference.

As the Glasgow Evening Times wrote: “Like most professional comics, Janey gets her raw material by throwing an empty bucket down the well of experience. But her personal well is far deeper than most – and considerably darker”. The London Evening Standard wrote that hers was “the kind of gig that sends a chill through you even as you are laughing” and could “have the room in a mix of giggles and incredulous gasps.”

As a result of seeing her at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe, I recommended her to an editor at publisher Random House’s imprint Ebury Press and, rather to my surprise (because she was almost totally unknown both in England AND in Scotland at the time), they virtually tore her arm off in their rush to sign up her autobiography… and they had only heard just the bare outline of her extraordinary life story.

I allegedly edited the book though, once she got the hang of it, there was little need to edit anything apart from occasional punctuation and spelling (a much-over-rated thing, as I have mentioned in this blog before). And we did have a long initial talk about the extent to which the dialogue could or should reflect Glaswegian dialect.

It is (and I own no percentage) an extraordinarily gripping read. To me, it seems like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe, Jilly Cooper and Last Exit To Brooklyn. It was a top ten bestseller in both hardback and paperback.

Which brings us to Billy Connolly and New Zealand.

Janey has always admired Billy Connolly. In her autobiography, she wrote:

“The one good thing about having Charlie in our house was that he brought along his Philips stereo record player and I was in awe of his music collection. The Stylistics, Abba, all the best new disco hits and LPs by cutting-edge Glasgow comedian Billy Connolly. Wow! I’d think, He can tell a story that isn’t funny but the way he tells it makes it funny! I would rush back from school before Charlie got home from his work as an apprentice electrician and play the vinyl records on his big rubber-matted turntable through his big loudspeakers.”

Janey has been to the New Zealand Comedy Festival four times, winning prizes on each trip.

At the moment, she is there again and the impossible (therefore, in the real world, the inevitable) coincidence happened this week. She ended up in the same hotel as Billy Connolly.

As she tells it in her blog today:

________

“The Big Man is in town and was staying in the same hotel as me and (daughter) Ashley. To make matters worse, the hotel slip under every door every day a note about the weather and about comedy shows at the festival. So they slipped under his door: Come see Janey Godley at the International Comedy festival and see why the press call her the female Billy Connolly. I was horrified to know this! He would read that shit!

“I had small dreamy moments, we would meet in the lobby and by some miracle we would be pals for life meeting up again!

“I certainly had to stem the overwhelming desire to stalk every corridor and hunt him down, so I eventually gave the reception a copy of my autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a short note to be sent to his room. The fact he may ever read my book would have been enough for me, I am not joking – it was that or I started hacking into the reception computer to find his room.

“So, there was me and Ashley sitting having a cup of tea in the most beautiful hotel room we have ever been in and my phone rang.

Hello, Billy Connolly here, the Scottish voice boomed out.”

________

The rest of what happened is in Janey’s blog today.

But the point of the story as far as I am concerned is this…

I have seen how some people react to Janey.

Comedian Boothby Graffoe once said: “She is brilliant; she is also terrifying.”

The (Glasgow) Herald called her Good Godley! show “frequently hilarious, frequently frightening” and called Janey herself “a little intimidating and exceptionally funny”.

The Edinburgh Guide said: “The thing about wee Janey is she’s a wee bit scary, OK? A wee bit scary and a big bit talented…”

She once told me when I interviewed her for a magazine: “I have the confidence to get up on stage because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

She genuinely is a multi-award-winning comedian. She genuinely is a best-selling author. She genuinely is a force of nature. And people are often intimidated by that and by her personality.

But she, too, has heroes.

Because she, too, is only a frail, creative human being with all the insecurities which that entails.

People are only people.

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US comic Lewis Schaffer explains why there are so few US comics on UK TV

There are some very good US comedians living and working in the UK. Yesterday morning, I wrote a blog lamenting the fact that few of them appear on British TV and radio. One of the American comics I included was Lewis Schaffer, a performer with an almost admirable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Last night, I went to see a screening of a re-cut version of documentary film The Tunnel, about the late Malcolm Hardee’s legendary London comedy club.

Lewis Schaffer was there too. Afterwards, he told me this:

__________

You know why Americans who live in Britain are not on TV over here?

Because the English know that really funny Americans

(a) they would have heard of already and

(b) would live in America.

Have people heard of Jerry Seinfeld? Yes.

Have people heard of Lewis Schaffer? No.

The American comedians who are not on TV in this country… are not on TV because the TV producers and the audience look at them and think, “This guy’s a nobody. Why do we have to have him here?”

They know that the Australians who are on TV in this country are top comedians in Australia. That is why they are here in Britain.

The Australians who are successful in Australia have to come here.

The American comedians who are successful or could be successful in America don’t come here to live and work; they are in America.

The truth is, if I was a ‘somebody’ I would never have come here. I have two kids now who keep me here. But I did not have kids when I came here. I was a loser in America. I am a loser here, but I would still have been a loser if I had stayed in America.

When the English see an Australian on TV, they think, “He might be as good as us. That’s why he’s here – because he was too big for Australia and he got the hell out.”

When they see someone from New Zealand, they think the same thing.

When they see an American here, unless they’re famous already, they think “What? He couldn’t get work in America?”

And they’re right. He couldn’t.

__________

A couple of nights ago, Lewis Schaffer played his 250th Free Until Famous show at the Source Below in Soho – London’s longest-running solo comedy show.

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How thinking up a good TV format can make you a millionaire or screw you with a horrendous court case

Last weekend I posted a blog about Mr Methane phoning me from Manchester Airport on his way home from recording a TV show in Denmark. It turned out he wasn’t on his way home. He is still away on his professional travels – farting around the world, some might call it – but he has given me more details of the Danish show he appeared in.

He was brought on stage as Mr Methane and farted in the face of a man whom he had to make laugh within 60 seconds. Mr Methane tells me:

“The show comes out in Denmark in the autumn and is called My Man Can: the ladies bet on what their man will be able to achieve and he has fuck-all idea what’s going on because he is in a glass cylinder listening to Take That or some other shite music that’s being piped in. It’s a bit like a modern day Mr & Mrs with a slightly different twist so Derek Batey doesn’t see them in court.”

It does sound a bit like that to me too and I also thought Derek Batey created the TV gameshow Mr and Mrs but, in fact, it was created by the legendary Canadian TV quiz show uber-creater Roy Ward Dickson

TV formats are big business. I remember the ATV series Blockbusters hosted by Bob Holness (the request “Give me a pee, Bob” was oft-quoted by fans).

It was based on a US format and, in the UK, was networked on ITV from 1983 to 1993. In one period, I think in the late 1980s, it ran every day around teatime Monday to Friday. From memory (and I may be wrong on details) at that time the format creators were getting £5,000 per show and the show was transmitted for six months every year – I think they transmitted for three months, then had three months off air, then transmitted for another three months and so on.

That is serious money in the late 1980s. To save you the calculation, 26 x 6 x £5,000 = £780,000 per year for a format thought up several years before; and the format was also running on US TV and in several other countries around the world and, for all I know, could still be running in several countries around the world 25 years later.

That is why format ownership and copyright is so important. If you have an idea, it can maintain your millionaire status 25 years down the line. Ripping-off formats is an extraordinary phenomenon. You would think, given the amount of money involved, that there would be some workable law against it, but there isn’t. One factor, of course, is that you cannot copyright an idea; you can only copyright a format and there lies the rub that will probably stop you and me becoming millionaires.

My Man Can, for example, is most definitely not a rip-off of Mr and Mrs. The format of My Man Can is that “four women gamble with the abilities their partners possess – and put the men’s courage and skills to the test. She sits at a gambling table and bets her rivals that her man can accomplish certain tasks. He waits helplessly in a soundproof cubicle, waiting to hear the task his wife has accepted on his behalf. Each of the women is given 100 gambling chips which she uses to bet on her partner’s performance in each round of the game.”

The most definitive horror story I know about formats is the scandalous failure of Hughie Green to get the courts’ protection over the format to his Opportunity Knocks talent show.

Green first started Opportunity Knocks as a radio show in 1949. As a TV series, it ran from 1956 to 1978 and was later revived with Bob Monkhouse and Les Dawson presenting 1987-1990.

Hughie Green invented a thing called “the clap-o-meter” which measured the decibel volume of clapping by the studio audience after an act had performed. But the acts were voted-on by viewers and Green’s several catch-phrases included “Tonight, Opportunity Knocks for…” and “Don’t forget to vote-vote-vote. Cos your vote counts.”

The way I remember the copyright problem is that, one day in the 1980s, Hughie Green got a letter from the Inland Revenue asking why, on his tax return, he had not declared his royalties from the New Zealand version of Opportunity Knocks in 1975 and 1978. This was the first time he knew there was a New Zealand version.

It turned out the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation had transmitted a TV talent show series which not only ran along the same lines as Hughie Green’s show but which was actually titled Opportunity Knocks, had a clap-o-meter to measure audience clapping and used the catchphrases “Tonight, Opportunity Knocks for…” and “Don’t forget to vote-vote-vote. Cos your vote counts.”

Not surprisingly, in 1989, Green sued the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation for copyright infringement. He lost. He appealed. He lost. My memory is that it ultimately reached the House of Lords in London, sitting as the highest court of appeal in the Commonwealth. He lost. Because all the courts decided that a largely unscripted show which was different every week (which is what a talent show is) with “a loose format defined by catchphrases and accessories” (such as the clap-o-meter) was not copyrightable and “there were no formal scripts and no ‘format bible’ to express the unique elements that made up the show”.

In 2005, Simon Fuller sued Simon Cowell claiming that Cowell’s The X-Factor was a rip-off of Fuller’s own Pop Idol. The case was quickly adjourned and settled out of court within a month. Copyright disputes are not something you want to take to court.

Once upon two times, I interviewed separately the former friends Brian Clemens (main creative force behind The Avengers TV series) and Terry Nation (who created the Daleks for Doctor Who). BBC TV had transmitted a series called Survivors 1975-1977 which Terry Nation had created. Or so he said. Brian Clemens claimed he had told Terry Nation the detailed idea for Survivors several years before and Nation had ripped him off. It destroyed their friendship.

As I say, I interviewed both separately.

I can tell you that both of them absolutely, totally believed they were in the right.

Brian Clemens absolutely 100% believed he had told Terry Nation the format and had been intentionally ripped-off.

Terry Nation absolutely 100% believed that Survivors was his idea.

They fought a case in the High Court in London and, eventually, both abandoned the case because of the astronomically-mounting costs. Neither could afford to fight the case.

There’s a lesson in legal systems here.

Basically, even if you are fairly wealthy, you cannot afford to defend your own copyright. If you are fighting as individuals, the legal fees will crucify you. If  you are foolish enough to fight any large company, they have more money to stretch out legal cases longer with better lawyers than you. They will win. In the case of Hughie Green, even if you are rich and famous, you may be no different from a man who is wearing a blindfold and who, when he takes it off, finds someone is farting in his face.

When BBC TV remade Survivors in 2008, it was said to be “not a remake of the original BBC television series” but “loosely based on the novel of the same name that Nation wrote following the first season of the original series.”

Guess why.

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Someone appears to be trying to screw me out of money I am owed and that never seems to end well

When I was newly 18 – just a couple of months after my 18th birthday – I tried to kill myself over a girl. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve never regretted it.

But, being a novice at such things, I used drugs – aspirin, paracetamol and codeine. This was a mistake. I had always been shit at Chemistry in school. I always came last in Chemistry, except on one occasion when I came next-to-last. The Chemistry master wrote on my report A fair try and emigrated to New Zealand.

The reason I mention this is that people have always tended to mis-read me. For one thing, they misread nihilism for jollity: a very strange misreading, even if it is occasionally humorous nihilism.

But people (as always) read other people’s thoughts and actions based on their own psychological make-up. This seems to mean that most people think I give a shit.

And they assume that I will calculate consequences in the same way that they would. This is not necessarily true. When I get into a tussle of tiffs. I do calculate consequences, but I may calculate them (from other people’s viewpoints) unexpectedly, in the sense that a scorched earth policy or the Cold War nuclear concept of MAD (mutual assured destruction) does not worry me. I do try to warn people about this, but they seem to ignore the warnings.

They are so used to reading between the lines that they don’t really pay attention to what is actually being said.

If you have, at a point earlier in your life, assumed that you would cease to exist in 60 or 30 or 10 minutes time and if that was an outcome you decided was acceptable – welcome, even – then, trust me, risk calculation later in life may not be on the same measurement scale that other people assume.

The comedian Janey Godley has said of performing comedy: “If I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

She speaks from experience.

In different circumstances, so do I, though I have never had a gun held at my head. Though there was that unfortunate incident with the young Yugoslav soldier sitting up a tree in a forest outside Titograd.

The fact I genuinely care very little about consequences may also have something to do with having had a Scottish – and Scots Presbyterian – upbringing. The world is full of greys. It is not black and white. But, whereas others may not see a dividing line between the shades of grey I see from my personal viewpoint, I do.

Most decisions and most things in life don’t matter. But, if I decide something DOES matter, then I know where I have drawn that line. One side of that pencil thin line is what is acceptable. On the other side of that pencil thin line is something that is unacceptable under all circumstances.

Up to that line, I am told I am very malleable. If that line is crossed, though, then I will attempt to rip your throat out.

My rule of thumb is three strikes and you are out.

Fuck the consequences.

Just thought I’d mention it…

Now, anyone got any money-making propositions they want to run past me?

Perhaps a job as a risk assessment advisor?

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Ants, anarchy, chaos and progress

At school, science was always sold to me by my teachers as being about facts and I was crap at it. I always felt my chemistry teacher fled to New Zealand to avoid having to mark my incompetence and lack of interest any more. If science had been sold to me as a creative curiosity into how things work and why the world is the way it is, I might have been interested.

So it was potentially a bit intimidating going to yesterday’s European Science Television and New Media Awards Evening at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in Savoy Place which, in 1923, was one of the first homes of the (then so-called) British Broadcasting Company.

But I enjoyed the evening and did learn that, around the world, 60 volcanoes explode every year and that no one ant in any ant colony knows everything that is happening within the colony nor how it is organised over-all… No one individual ant controls nor supervises everything and yet colonies successfully thrive in an astonishingly complex way.

This would seem to be an argument for anarchy although I know from experience that to create anything which seems to be very anarchic you have to organise everything with immense care. I remember a production meeting for the children’s TV series Tiswas in which producer Glyn Edwards said he was worried that the shows ran too smoothly and nothing ever went seriously wrong; it looked anarchic but it ran smoothly. We never did figure out how to build-in real catastrophes.

Chaos and progress are two sides of the same coin in the same sense that you can only create by destroying what previously existed and, by destroying anything which exists, you are, by definition, creating something new. In Hindu mythology Shiva, the god of destruction, destroys creation in his Tandava dance; but, as he dances, out of the mists, he creates a new world.

My occasionally revived company is named Shivadance Productions for that very reason.

It might be a wanky name; it might not be. But at least it’s memorable. As is the view from the third floor Riverside Room at Savoy Place. That has to be one of the best views of London.

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