Tag Archives: OCD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“What are they about?”

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

“Any particular mental illness?” I asked.

“Pure O.”

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

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

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

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

“Because?”

“Because I have OCD.”

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

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

“So what is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A stand-up comic struck down with amusia before the Edinburgh Fringe

As anyone wise enough to read this blog regularly will know, I love the very funny US TV detective series Monk which has a central character with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. So I am now a sucker for any OCD stories.

Which brings me to British stand-up comedian and writer Gill Smith, who (as I explained in recent a blog) inspired the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award – now there’s something for her to put on her gravestone.

Last week, she asked me to wantonly plug her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show in this blog.

I am a man of principle. It is not something I would normally do except for wads of used £50 notes or, at the very least, a free meal. But, perhaps foolishly lured by the carrot of OCD, I told her:

“I will give you a blatant plug if you give me a quirky anecdote.”

So…

The lovely Gill Smith is returning to the Fringe this year with her new show OCD: the Singing Obsessive – at The Three Sisters as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The hour-long show is 6:05pm from 4th to 28th August daily… except every Tuesday.

Only someone with OCD, of course, could even conceive of performing a full run of Edinburgh Fringe shows daily – but not do them every Tuesday.

That was not the quirky detail Gill told me, though – she probably doesn’t even think that IS quirky…

The billing for her show reads: “For years Gill Smith resisted her biggest obsession – breaking into song… Now she’s accepted her own obsessive toe-tapping and is sharing her inner soundtrack.”

There proved to be a slight problem about this concept, though, which she discovered in her pre-production preparations.

“In the course of planning the show,” Gill tells me, “I discovered that I can’t actually sing! Of course, I’ll be doing so anyway. But my singing tutor and I found that I do actually suffer from a little-known condition called ‘amusia‘, which is the musical equivalent of dyslexia… It doesn’t stop me enjoying singing… but I can’t promise others, especially those with good pitch, will find it as enjoyable!”

When Gill told me that her condition is actually called ‘amusia’ I began to think she was taking the piss – she is, after all, an esteemed former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner.

But, no, it’s all true, She actually does have this condition and, incredibly, it is actually called ‘amusia’ – surely that name must be like striking gold for a comedian.

“The even better word for the condition,” say Gill, “is the Japanese one – ‘onchi’ – which translates most closely as ‘tone idiot’… I love it!”

I disagree.

Amusia.

Who would have thought?

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A classic comedy venue + extraordinary news of an unknown comedy legend

It is very sad that, the last couple of years, Brian Damage and Krysstal have not been running their Pear Shaped venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was always a heady mix of the talented and the eccentric with their own late-night Pear Shaped shows reserved for occasionally gobsmackingly odd acts.

Last night, Brian Damage told me they had stopped “because it had become a job. It wasn’t fun any more.”

They – or, rather, Pear Shaped’s glamorous éminence auburn Vicky de Lacey – had an extraordinary track record of talent spotting good acts for the Pear Shaped venue in Edinburgh, climaxing with Wil Hodgson winning the Perrier Best Newcomer award in 2004 and Laura Solon winning the main Perrier comedy award in 2005.

I was at the weekly Pear Shaped comedy club in London’s Fitzrovia last night – the grand daddy of Open Mic nights – and it was, as ever, eclectic.

Co-host Anthony Miller managed to define a typical Pear Shaped evening by explaining: “It’s like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme – sometimes people die, but that’s not the intention.”

Anthony Miller can do no wrong in my eyes because of his enthusiasm for the brilliant US OCD detective series Monk which I make no apologies for having blogged in January was “the most consistently funny situation comedy currently screening on British television”. Last night, Anthony was beaming with happiness when he asked me if I had seen the final episode of Monk which, indeed, I had: a triumph of quirky humour. Which is something that can also be said of Pear Shaped though without the hand wipes and obsessive cleanliness.

The attraction of Brian Damage & Krysstal’s weekly club is that there is no visible quality control. It is a true open spot evening. Two or three may die; others may be brilliant.

Intermingled in last night’s line-up of thirteen (unlucky for some, lucky for others) were a couple of extremely dodgy acts plus a couple of surprisingly strong acts which had only been performing for two months and for one year. But also on the bill were the strongly up-and-coming Sanderson Jones and – amazing – the overwhelmingly original and always brightly-attired Robert White, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality. He was trying out new material and there is almost nowhere better to do that than Pear Shaped with its heady mix of ‘real’ audience and comedians watching other comedians.

The most extraordinary thing last night, though, was kept until the end, when Anthony Miller and plucky Al Mandolino told me that eternal open spot legend and anti-comic Jimbo has a new character called Tony Bournemouth and is going to unleash it/himself on an unsuspecting and entirely innocent Edinburgh Fringe audience in a 30-minute show this August.

Al and Anthony told me they thought Jimbo’s Tony Bournemouth incarnation might turn out to be the dark horse at this year’s Fringe.

Mmmmmm…….

Jimbo has been on the London comedy circuit for around twenty years and remains triumphantly unknown except by aficionados of seriously bizarre comedy.

But he is appearing as Tony Bournemouth at Pear Shaped in Fitzrovia either in a fortnight or possibly next week. Pear Shaped is ever unpredictable.

And THIS I have to see.

It could be another triumph for Brian Damage and Krysstal, eternal purveyors of unexpected and occasionally under-appreciated acts to the comedy world.

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Cunning Stunts, Chainsaw-Jugglers and 8-Month-Old Babies

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

There’s been a distinct lack of publicity stunts in Edinburgh this year. The Fringe used to be full of bizarre events and admirably surreal attempts to steal a few column inches in The Scotsman. Where are the naked tractor rides, the motorcycle-riding chainsaw-jugglers and the men and women dressed as woodland creatures committing sex acts illegal in the majority of American states?

At the moment, front-runner for the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (for best Fringe publicity stunt) would seem to be Stewart Lee for his accidental promotion of the Frank Chickens who were not performing at the Fringe although, ironically, he was so successful in unintentionally raising their profile that they then made a one-off appearance (the first in 25 years) on his own Stewbilee book-promotion show.

People are at least starting to try now.

Always pro-active New York promoter Cal Wynter phoned me up to tell me Manos The Greek is going to offer to re-finance the ruined Greek economy.

Meanwhile, I bumped into Gill Smith, the 2008 recipient of (and, indeed, inspiration for) the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

In 2008, she sent me an e-mail nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that she could then justifiably put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE (because she had nominated herself). She reckoned Malcolm would have approved. I agreed he would.

So we gave her a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt of the Fringe on the basis that, if we didn’t give her a Malcolm Hardee Award of some kind, she’d give herself one, thus diminishing our credibility.

This year, Gill is up here performing with her 8-month old daughter who does not take part in the stage show itself but who collects the money afterwards at Gill’s Free Festival show OCD: The Next Generation. Very difficult not to give money to an 8-month old smiling up at you expectantly.

The fact Gill is a new-ish mum is attracting other new-ish mums with small kids to her show and she reckons there might be some mileage in trying to get publicity on the basis that her show has had the largest number of audience members simultaneously breast-feeding.

Her husband has meanwhile been amusing himself by trying to (often successfully) persuade people that the baby long-pictured on the Gilded Balloon’s So You Think You’re Funny posters grew up to become the young woman bending over on the Spank! posters. Given that the Gilded Balloon is celebrating its 25th birthday this year, it is credible though deeply untrue.

Something of which Malcolm Hardee would have certainly approved: “credible though deeply untrue”.

The 2010 Malcolm Hardee Awards are announced next Friday 27th August during Shaggers.

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