Tag Archives: Nick Revell

Nick Revell has found the purpose of comedy and it could be very painful

Nick Revell talked to me at Soho Theatre

Nick Revell – could this man ever become a UK politician?

Comedian Nick Revell is working on his next hour-long show. We had tea together in Soho.

“What is the new show called?” I asked him.

Feminist Porno Jihadi.”

“So you are not mellowing?” I asked.

“There’s quite a lot of religion in it,” Nick told me. “But not all anti-religious.”

“No knob gags?” I asked.

“There were a couple, but I took them out – largely for pace and placement rather than on grounds of principle.”

“You can’t,” I suggested, “do this sort of comedy now, can you? It’s like going back to the serious political comedy of the 1980s. You’re supposed to do The Mighty Boosh nowadays.”

“I would not say much of it is polemical,” argued Nick. “There’s quite a strong surreal element to this show in terms of the nature of the narrative.”

“You could be a politician,” I said.

“I could be a politician,” he agreed.

“Oh,” I said. “Your tone sounded surprisingly positive.”

“I could be,” Nick repeated. “But I’m not interested in being one.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I’m quite interested and reasonably literate in that field but, on stage, there’s something about having the licence and freedom from the constraint of responsibility. I think one is probably just as practically useful offering some kind of argument from the stage and engaging with extra-Parliamentary politics in some way as you are trying to work within the system as a whole. I can foresee the Labour Party just collapsing now. What’s the point of them?

“Going back to religion, though, it’s just a convenient panacea to ascribe all bad human behaviour to organised religion. I think we are quite capable of finding reasons to hate and assault each other based on differences that need have no spiritual or escatological background… Football clubs, colour of hair, different supermarket carrier bags.”

“Are you worried about annoying people and their reactions?” I asked. “Death threats, even?”

“I’ve had threats of violence and death from various different people over the years. And, over the years, I’ve been interested in exploring the reasons and impulses for social and political violence.

“People will look at lunatic psychopaths and just put them into a separate category of lunatic psychopaths, but I think it’s really a continuum between that and the ‘ordinary’ human condition with fantasies of whatever kind which we never put into practice – whether it’s violence or sex or whatever it might be. There are always different ways that the id is messing us around and mud-wresting with the super-ego.”

“So what sort of people have threatened you?’ I asked.

“Members of the British armed forces, Irish Republicans, Zionist Jews, fundamentalist Moslems, various bruisers, hen parties…

“The purpose of comedy is not about challenging authority or satirising institutions or bringing truth to power or bearing witness to injustice. We are the only creatures who laugh. Comedy is about helping people find their common humanity. And I have succeeded in that. Yes, it may be the desire to kick the shit out of me, but that’s a start.”

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Comic Nick Revell explains how Tai Chi and comedy let The Force be with him

Nick Revell practises Tai Chi in the Pull The Other One flat in Leipzig

Nick practises Tai Chi at Pull The Other One’s flat in Leipzig

Today, I am on a 12-hour train journey back to London from Leipzig. I am posting this blog from Frankfurt.

Comedian Nick Revell left Leipzig yesterday morning.

Before he left, I asked him about his daily Tai Chi exercises.

“Any similarity with stand-up comedy?” I asked.

“Well, I suppose stand-up is like a dance,” he replied, “in that you’re interacting with the audience, ideally imposing your plan on them.

“In Tai Chi, you are learning the martial arts moves. If someone attacks, you deflect and defend and then you hit. In stand-up, you’re rolling with whatever comes your way and incorporating that into the act, whether it’s changes of direction or deflections of a heckle or whatever.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that, once you’ve done comedy for a fair bit of time, you’ve learnt a set of moves…”

“Yes,” agreed Nick, “In Tai Chi, you learn a set of moves and link them together in a standard way – a learnt sequence of appropriate responses. In comedy, once you’ve done it for a fair time, you have also learnt a sequence of appropriate responses which you can adapt to fit the situation. But then, when you’re in a real situation, of course, you do whatever is necessary in the moment. To get to the point where all those moves are natural to you and they’ve got into the muscle memory, it’s practice practice practice. Then you can bring one out at the right time and then change to something else.”

“Have you read William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade,” I asked, “where he says….”

“Yes,” said Nick, completing my sentence: “Nobody KNOWS anything.

“Because creating things is not a science,” I said. “It’s an art… Also a performer cares what the audience thinks of them as a person.”

“Except I certainly don’t get worked up about an audience ‘liking’ me or not,” said Nick. “The idea of wanting to be ‘liked’ by the audience and doing it to be admired in some kind of pervy I wanna be your friend way… That just seems really odd to me.”

“For me it’s about having some vague sense of an instinct about how you want to communicate certain ideas and opinions through a particular medium which, for whatever reason, I have some kind of aptitude for. It’s not about using it in order to make friends that I’m never going to meet. That’s what Facebook is for.”

“So,” I said, why ARE you doing it? To force your ideas down other people’s throats?”

“No,” said Nick, “not to force ‘em at all. Absolutely not.”

“Isn’t it like going to Speakers’ Corner and getting paid?” I suggested.

Nick Revell

Nick Revell mediating it through the generation of a laugh

“No it’s not,” argued Nick.”Because you have the rule to judge it by that it has to be funny or it has to get a laugh or, if it’s not getting a laugh at a certain point, it’s because you’re doing so deliberately. You can guarantee you’re not shoving anything down someone’s throat if you’re generating a laugh. I think mediating it through the generation of a laugh is what keeps it as Art rather that just a nutter yelling at people at Speakers’ Corner.”

“But there is the performer’s wild insecurity,” I said.

“Well,” said Nick, “when you see people starting off in comedy, very often the fundamental attitude that does come across is Please like me and that really has nothing to do with it at all. The more you do it, the more points you can go to anywhere from where you are and you don’t have to do things in a set order. The attitude should not be Please like me. It should be I’m here and I know what I’m doing. Whether it’s surrealist or polemical  or satirical, it’s about a sense of authority.”

“But,” I said, “after 10 or 20 years, most comedians are still terrified, aren’t they? They have just learnt how to mask the Please like me face.”

“I don’t think it’s about masking it,” said Nick. “I think you find different ways of focussing.”

“You mean masking it from yourself,” I suggested.

“I don’t think you…” said Nick, “Well, maybe. But it’s more a case that once you know what you’re doing, the focus is at a different level. You’re always aware it could go tits-up. Like, in cricket, a batsman might get an incredible unplayable first ball so, to an extent, you have to accept what’s in the hands of Fate that you can’t control.

“In stand-up, you get a sense of what you can expect from the room and what’s possible or not possible. Sometimes playing an unplayable room is really relaxing because, if it’s unplayable, then you know you can’t succeed, so you might as well do it with no fear of failure.”

“But,” I said, “surely being a stand-up comedian is just masochism. If a comedian goes on stage and does the most brilliant gig of their career, they think I can never be that good again. If they do a shit gig, it just confirms they are as bad as they have always feared they might be.”

Nick Revell

Nick Revell was worried when he re-started

“Well, when I started again in stand-up around 2003 after ten years off,” replied Nick, “I was terrified because I had not done it for so long and I thought All I can do is lose my reputation. I knew I would inevitably lose my reputation before I regained it. I knew it would take time to get back into it. So I thought I’m not going to judge myself on every gig. I’m going to take it in stages and assess it every six months. I think to judge yourself gig by gig is silly but, again, maybe it relates to why you’re doing it.”

“You seem to be doing it,” I suggested, “because you want to show to yourself that you have a mastery of the technique.”

“No,” said Nick. “I do like the feeling of entertaining an audience. There’s nothing more delightful than feeling the audience in a room are, in some way, bonded in the same energy. I honestly don’t think it’s a case of Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. It’s just that on certain lucky, rare nights, you are the agency that generates something which exists in-between you and the audience and really feels fantastic. It has fuck-all to do with showing off; it’s about channeling that ‘thing’ and also about expressing your own ideas. I don’t see it as being liked. I see it as talking about ideas that interest me in a way that generates laughs or, at least, generates interest in other people.”

“The other way I try to goad comedians,” I pointed out, “is to say they’re all psychopaths. You want to control the audience to such an extent that they lose control over their basic bodily functions. They can’t stop themselves from laughing: you control their laughter.”

“For me, it’s not about controlling an audience,’ said Nick. “It’s the feeling that something I can do can put people into this mood. Do you see the distinction?”

“You get a kick out of your workmanlike ability,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Nick. “Absolutely. And sometimes it becomes so totally instinctive. Like in martial arts. Friends of mine who are really good martial artists tell me that, when they’re fighting and really in the zone, everything slows down and there’s some kind of sense you’re so in control of it you’re not aware of doing it.

Nick Revell practises Tai Chi in the Pull The Other One flat in Leipzig

Nick Revell trying to get to an instinctive point in Leipzig

“Through technical ability and practice practice practice you can get to a point where it’s so instinctive that, if you trust yourself far enough not to think about being in control of it, you can get to a place where all the instincts that have been tempered and put in place through practice practice practice take over.”

“That sounds like Luke Skywalker at the end of the first Star Wars,” I said, “learning he has to let The Force be with him.”

“Absolutely it is,” agreed Nick.

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Comedy performer Martin Soan, aged 15, led into crime by a latter-day Fagin

Nick Revell (left) takes photo of Martin & Vivienne Soan yesterday at Leipzig station

Nick Revell (left) takes a photo of Martin and Vivienne Soan yesterday after arriving at Leipzig railway station in Germany

I travelled with comedian Nick Revell from the UK to Leipzig in Germany yesterday. This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith had told me I was lucky to have gone to Leipzig, Germany, not the one in Saskatchewan.

“You are better off in the German Leipzig than the Canadian Leipzig,” she told me, “as ours is a mere hamlet, where the only industries are drug and alcohol treatment centers although, on the other hand, these must be fertile grounds for comic material.”

I am here in Leipzig, Germany, to see Vivienne & Martin Soan’s’s first German version of their Pull The Other One club on Saturday night. The new one is billed as Comedy Confusion From London.

Last night (from left) Nick Revell, Mick, Steve & Martin Soan

Last night (from left) Nick Revell, Mick, Steve & Martin Soan

Much jollity was had last night with Martin, his wife Vivienne, Martin’s schoolfriend Steve and Steve’s friend Mick.

Mick had come over here to go to robot maker Jim Whiting’s club Bimbo Town. Alas, this closed last year and so Mick was thus more than a little vague as to why he was now here.

Last night, I recorded three extremely interesting stories for the blog today, got toothache overnight and woke up to find all three of the recordings (which I had watched recording) no longer existed. One of the mysteries of 21st century cyberspace.

But then, this morning, Martin, Vivienne and I had breakfast.

“Steve was a weekend hippy,” said Martin. “He admits he was. He used to come round to our commune in Colchester when I was a teenager. He saw what was happening – but from the outside.

Martin (right) with Steve remembers the hippie commune

Martin (right) with Steve remembers the hippie commune

“This bloke called Tom took over the hippy commune. Tom was probably around 27. He was incredibly handsome. Women went for him immediately. Old ladies used to be charmed by him. He ended up in Colchester from exactly the same East End (of London) streets as me. He was from Stratford; I was from Forest Gate.

“Tom got his girlfriend Maureen to seduce me when I was about 15 so he could recruit me into his ‘crime syndicate’, such as it was. He taught me how to shoplift, how to pick locks…”

“How to break into cigarette machines,” added Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “How to use diversionary tactics to lean over shop counters and get stuff. He also used me as bait. He used to point men out to me in bars. I used to flirt with them and then walk out the back with them and he used to fleece ‘em – beat them up. I only did that a couple of times, to be honest. It wasn’t a regular thing.

“The first job he got me to do was to break into a dairy. He told me how to knock off the locks. All these milk floats were parked up and, in those days (when milk was delivered to your door in electric-powered ‘milk float’ vehicles) they used to have cigarettes in the back of the floats as well.

“So Tom chucked me over the wall, I went and smacked the locks off the back of the milk floats and I was so scared I just filled up my swag bags as quickly as I could with packets of Corn Flakes, jumped back over the wall, jumped in the car, got back to the squat and emptied all the Corn Flakes onto a table. Tom just looked at me and whacked me.”

“He didn’t burst out laughing?” asked Vivienne.

“No,” said Martin. “I wasn’t proud of all this but, if I didn’t do it, he would beat me up. What he used to do that was frightening was – if I disappointed him or his temper flared up – he used to batter me and then, after be battered me, he used to cuddle me.

“It was very, very creepy indeed and it all built up to a confrontation where he held me and his girlfriend Maureen captive in my flat and he beat us up, just regularly beat us up over the period of a day and a half. He used one of her shoes – a stiletto, I always remember it – he kept on whacking us with this stiletto shoe.”

“He hit you all over the body?” I asked.

“On the head,” said Martin. “In the head. Just beating us and beating us and beating us. It was horrible.

“He was one of the characters in my life before (comedian) Malcolm Hardee turned up. Two of the other characters were Waff and Taff. They may be in Leipzig tomorrow.”

“So there was Waff, Taff and Tom?” asked Vivienne.

“Mmmm…” said Martin.

“But,” said Vivienne, “Waff and Taff were not…”

“They were not violent,” said Martin. “They were hippies, but we used to all get up to…”

“So,” asked Vivienne, “were they all scared of Tom as well?”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Everybody was scared of Tom.”

“So who rescued you from Tom in the end?” asked Vivienne.

“No-one. I ran away. I had to escape the squat because it was just getting mental. I’d already been in trouble with the law.”

“Is that when you were made a ward of court,” Vivienne asked, “for stealing the carpet from the doctor’s surgery?”

“Yup,” said Martin. “When I was 15.”

“The hippy commune just got out of control because of drugs?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “Because of Tom. It became violent. Poor old Tom.”

“Poor old Tom?” I asked.

“A homo erotic fuckwit,” said Martin.

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My egg throwing goes into a new text book and financial provocateur Max Keiser launches his own currency

My blog yesterday was about giving a speech at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral.

An earlier choice for speaker had been juggler Steve Rawlings, who toured the UK with Chris. But it turned out he was in Berlin. He had got scouted by Cirque du Soleil, gone out to meet them and become part of their artist list.

Last night (still in Berlin) he told me:

“One of my favourite memories of Chris was when he was struggling to get gigs and I’d got him one in a club down in the South of England and had picked him up at his house and taken him to the gig.

“He did a great show, of course, and afterwards went off to the bar to celebrate while I went off to do my act.

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby recreated movie Zulu in the UK

“At the end of the night, after the gig, I found him at the bar totally drunk doing his impersonation of the songs and chants of the Zulu army – as in the movie Zulu – when they attacked Rorke’s Drift, complete with spear and shield motions.

“He was performing this to two very large and very angry-looking black guys.

“I managed to drag him away before someone killed him, but the funny thing was – being Chris – all the sounds and words of the chants would have been 100% accurate and it would never have occurred to him that sharing this knowledge with two big black guys would have caused offence.”

Steve also remembered: “Playing Trivial Pursuits with Chris was a bit pointless as he knew all the answers and would only stop going around the board when he got one wrong on purpose so you would keep playing with him”.

If you are reading this blog on the day it was posted, there is a high likelihood I will still be making my own way to Germany. I am travelling to Leipzig with comedian Nick Revell (unless something goes wrong with the trains) for the first gig at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s new Leipzig club – a sort of Pull The Other One East – at Noch Besser Leben (which translates as Still Better Living). Obviously, Nick is performing and I am not. Martin and Vivienne are not that experimental nor mental.

Going to Leipzig seemed like a good idea when it was first suggested and still seems a fairly good idea despite the fact it is a 12-hour train trip.

When this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith heard I was going to Leipzig, her reaction was: “Not Leipzig, Saskatchewan, I hope!”

“Why?” I asked. So far, there has been no response.

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

Comedian Matt Roper’s response was: “I’m in San Francisco, showering them with spittle tonight (as his character Wilfredo), then off to Los Angeles tomorrow. Nothing really much to write about here, except that I finally managed to make it coast to coast across the US without flying!”

This seemed mildly eccentric – and then I opened three bizarre e-mails one-after-the-other.

The first was from publishers Pearson Education, asking if they could use 79 words from one of my 2012 blogs about the World Egg Throwing Championships in a new educational textbook they are producing titled Skills For Writing. They said: “We would like to request permission to include the material, within the electronic components of our publication.”

I have no idea what this really means nor why they want to use 79 words from the blog, versions of which were re-published both in the UK edition of the Huffington Post and by the Indian news site WSN (We Speak News).

John Ward smashes the losing egg on his forehead

John Ward loses to me as he smashes an egg on his forehead

The blog’s headline was World Egg Throwing Championships: Cheaper and Funnier Than the Olympics and the words Pearson want to use are:

I triumphed in the Russian Egg Roulette heats in face-offs with two small children, who seemed to be the only children in the contest. I faced John Ward in the semi-final. I triumphed again.

In the grand final, I unfortunately faced a large man called Jerry Cullen, dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. The first four of the six eggs we smashed on our foreheads were hard-boiled, leaving only two more eggs – one for each of us…

The fact that Pearson Education wanted to use this in a textbook entitled Skills For Writing was a little surprising. But not as surprising as the next e-mail I opened, which told me that Max Keiser – whom I like to describe as an American financial provocateur who appears on Russian and Iranian TV and who has occasionally appeared in my blog… was launching his own currency last night, not totally dissimilar to Bitcoin. It is being called Maxcoin.

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English channel

I asked Max to tell me more. He sent me an e-mail saying:

“Maxcoin is being developed at the University of Bristol which has some of the best crypto talent in the world. Anybody looking to get into a fast growing industry that pays incredibly well should look into their programs.”

This doesn’t help me much, but then he sent me an even more jaw-dropping e-mail detailing something that I am not allowed to talk about for another couple of weeks.

We live in interesting times, but then we always have.

Ashley Storrie, the daughter of my chum Janey Godley, has been nominated as Best New Scottish Comedian by Capital FM. The awards are being announced on 22nd March and you can vote here.

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