Tag Archives: Patrick Monahan

Jody Kamali has learned from mistakes like being in the worst Edinburgh show

Jody Kamali with some flowers yesterday

Jody Kamali sat with some flowers yesterday

I have never had a good memory.

A good visual memory, yes.

But, for facts, no. A shit memory.

This can cause problems and embarrassments… like yesterday afternoon.

I met up with character comedy performer Jody Kamali whom – as it turned out – I wrongly thought I had first encountered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012.

It started off well enough.

He wanted me to mention his Hallowe’en show this Friday in Sydenham.

Jody Kamali’s House of Horror

Fernando’s House of Horror Comedy Variety Show

“It’s called Fernando’s House of Horror Comedy Variety Show,” he told me. “It’s my shambolic through-character from Spectacular! (his 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show) but more dark – with Marny Godden, Cheekykita, The Hoover Lady, a man who is half-human half-walrus and Dan Lees as a jazz-singing Freddie Krueger and a Half-Frog Half-Matthew McConaughey.”

“I saw the half-human half-walrus last week,” I said, “at the Spectacular Spectrum of Now. What is The Hoover Lady?”

“She’s got Hoovers,” explained Jody. “Giant Hoovers. Very dark and strange. She goes around sucking people up.”

“There used to be a man with a talking Hoover,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jody. “I saw him busking years ago on the tube.”

“Wrong place,” I said. “I saw a band of seven Romanian gypsies busking on a tube train the other day in the rush hour. They hadn’t thought it through. It is not a good idea in the rush hour and also they would have to divide any money seven ways. Wrong time; wrong place; wrong act.”

“I’m doing my solo Edinburgh Fringe show Spectacular! in Chippenham on 26th November,” Jody prompted.

Jody Kamali - half Iranian

Iran comics: the new rock ’n’ roll

“That’s very wise,” I said. “You’re part-Iranian, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Jody. “Half Iranian.”

“British comedy seems to be awash with part-Iranians,” I said. “There’s you, Patrick Monahan, Omid Djalili, Shappi Khorsandi…”

“Iranian comedy in the States is rock ’n’ roll,” said Jody. “They fill stadiums.”

“Iranians?” I said.

“American-Iranians,” said Jody.

“And you’re from Bristol,” I said.

“My mum is from Bristol. She’s half Irish and apparently we also have black ancestry, which makes sense, because Bristol was a big slave trade area. I’m told ‘Jody’ as a name in the black slave community meant someone who went off with other people’s wives.”

“No thespians in the family?” I asked.

“No. No. But, in Bristol, HTV had a drama centre. They used to put the kids on local TV shows. There was money going around in local ITV in the 1990s. I guess that’s how I got a taste for performing.”

“So,” I asked, “you wanted to be an actor?”

Jody Kamali - Not a stand-up comedian – a levitated character one

Not a stand-up comedian – he’s more of a levitated character one

“I got obsessed with musical theatre for some reason,” said Jody, “but I don’t sing very well. When I was at university in 1999, I did a comedy course called The Tut and Shive and on the course was Patrick Monahan, Steve Carlin – it was Carling with a G then – Steve Williams and I think, the year before me, Josie Long had done that course.

“It was very stand-up. It was 90% persona, 5% material and 5% the bollocks to get up and do it. I think I’m addicted to it. A compulsion to do it, no matter what. When I was 6 or 7, the teacher asked who wanted to be in the Nativity play and I remember that feeling of wanting to do it.”

“Who did you play?” I asked.

“I think it was Joseph’s dodgy brother who betrayed him”

“Are you sure? I asked. “All I ever got was stories about sheep and the Virgin Mary. Was there was a dodgy brother lurking around?”

“I’m sure there was an evil brother,” said Jody.

Jodi Kamali - money man 2012

Jody was Dirty Filthy Rich at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2102

“And now you’re a character comedian,” I said. “When I first met you in Edinburgh, your character was that red-braces, inspirational business speaker guy.”

“Shall we,” Jody asked, “go back to when you first reviewed me? Do you remember that?”

“Oh dear,” I said. “No I don’t. Did I review you? This sounds like it is going to be bad. What did I say?”

“You were reviewing for Chortle in 2004,” Jody reminded me.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“I particularly remember it…” Jody started.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“…because you called the show an omelette without an egg.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “Really?”

“But, weirdly,” said Jody, “it’s gone from Chortle.”

Jody Kamali - An Audience With Dominguez

“We devised the show a week before we did it,” he admits now

“Sounds rather vicious,” I said. “Dear me. That’s why I don’t do reviews any more. Now I just blog about people I like doing interesting things well. Like you.”

“I was young,” said Jody. “There were three of us. We devised the show a week before we did it, which we thought was enough. It was about a Latin-American pop star.”

“The next year, we did the Sally Swallows show.”

“Oh God,” I said. “Is that Londonian?”

“Yes. Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian.“

“Oh shit!” I said.

“That was in 2005. So, John,” said Jody, “we do have a history.”

“I still,” I said, “bear the mental scars of having to sit through an hour of Londinian.”

“The guy,” said Jody, “who was in my 2004 show AND in Londinian is now a very, very successful children’s television presenter. But we had no creative control over Londonian. The woman behind it just wanted it to be gross and was obsessed by The League of Gentlemen. As performers, we did not have any input. Not anything.”

A 2005 photocall in Edinburgh for the Sally Swallows show

This seldom seen publicity shot from a 2005 photocall possibly shows what Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian was trying to achieve

“I have a vague memory,” I said, “of thinking: Three of these people are far too good to be in this show. There was so much work put into that show, but I think it was the worst thing I have ever seen at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Yeah. She put a lot in it,” said Jody.

“The design, the music, everything,” I said. “Loads of work. All excellent. All except the script and the idea.”

“She was amazing at selling it,” said Jody. “She got lots of BBC people in. She got a centre spread in the Scottish Sun. there was a big spread in The Scotsman. The amount of press she got was unbelievable. She hyped the thing up because she believed in it so much as the next big thing. It was so over-the-top. My role was basically that I was an ice-cream seller and, when I ran out of ice-cream, I had to masturbate into a cone and give it to the kids.”

“There were kids?” I asked.

“One of the guys,” Jody reminded me, “played a kid going: Hello! Do you have any ice cream, please? and, as I climaxed, I had to sing as an operatic tenor: Eeaauuugh!!!”

“I went to see it,” I told Jody, “because the reviews were so catastrophic. There was so much anticipation in the audience before the show, because we had all come knowing it was a catastrophe. There was real excitement in the air.”

“I remember your review,” said Jody.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“That is exactly what you said,” Jody told me: “Oh dear… Where do I start?… I remember The Scotsman review was: Avoid like the plague.”

In fact, Jody’s memory is faulty. The Scotsman’s review read (in its entirety):

Complete revulsion is too pleasant a summary of my feelings for this sketch show. Not one ‘joke’ leaves the listener feeling anything less than soiled. Avoid like death.

“What’s the woman behind it doing now?” I asked.”

Jody Kamali - “and all because the lady loves supermarket bags

“…and all because the lady loves plastic supermarket bags”

“She’s now in wildlife presenting,” Jody told me. “She does things with Bill Oddie. She had a part in EastEnders years ago and wanted to do comedy, but I think she…”

“…realised the error of her ways?” I suggested.

“I’ve wiped all evidence of it from my CV,” Jody said. “My agent told me I should put it in, ‘because they’ll see how you’ve progressed’. But I said: No way. I can’t be associated with it. It was the worst show… For me it was like How not to do an Edinburgh Fringe show, but I did learn how hype can really sell a show.”

“You can learn a lot more from a failure than from a success,” I suggested. “What is your Edinburgh show next year?”

“At the moment, I’m toying with… As a performer you toy with: Do I take it the next level now?

“Which is?” I asked.

“Really push yourself to do something even more risky, more personal, but blend it…”

Jody |Kamali with the same flowers yesterday

Jody Kamali sat with the same flowers yesterday

“It’s easier,” I said, “for a reviewer or a feature writer to do a piece about a personal, autobiographical show. Stand-ups telling gags are just doing the same things in not-very-different ways. Variety acts are more interesting because they fall into different areas. But all autobiographical shows are, by definition, unique and have more meat to write about. My Ten Years of Heroin Hell or whatever.”

“But why are we doing shows at the Fringe?” asked Jody. “Just to get noticed? Or to do a really entertaining show?”

“The eternal question,” I said. “And not just in Edinburgh.”

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a financial bribe to win a Malcolm Hardee Award

Joz Norris

Shameless Norris tries to sway my principles

Yesterday, with the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations announced, I bumped into performer Joz Norris in the street, who tried to persuade me it was not too late for him to win for a Cunning Stunt Award.

“What’s your cunning stunt?” I asked.

“Although the nominations have been announced and I’m not in them, you could give me the Award on Friday anyway. That would be a cunning stunt.”

“Why should I?” I asked.

“Because I can give you £10 right now.”

“Times are tough,” I said. “It is a tempting offer. Let me think about it.”

Keep your eyes out for the Awards announcement on Friday and see what my conclusion was.

This morning, I got a Facebook message about the Awards from performer Ashley Frieze. He wrote:

Is there room in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for the “luckiest Fringe venue company”? – It has to go to the Freestival for losing one venue, then another, then all their acts, then having their poorly-attended venue broken into and set on fire… surely… I just wanted to nominate them for something, but “biggest clusterfuck of 50 years of the Fringe” seemed unkind.

I almost regretted the Award shortlist had already been announced on Monday because of some of the shows I saw yesterday.

Not quite… If any of the judges DID see a worthy show, it COULD in theory win because, as a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee, the rules are whatever rules we make up along the way.

(R-L) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and possibly deaf sound man

(Right-to-left) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and their possibly deaf sound man yesterday

The shows I saw yesterday started with former main Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Johnny Sorrow, performing with a man in a balaclava who used to be known as Sir Richard Swann and who is now known as Richard Drake. the last couple of days, he has been coming in to The Grouchy Club and sitting in the corner of the room in his red knitted balaclava saying nothing. He could grow to be an elephant in the room.

He and Johnny Sorrow are performing this year as Bob Blackman’s Tray. they previously performed as The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

Yesterday, when I came into the Three Sisters venue, I bumped into performer Ian Fox who, last year, was helping out the Bob Blackman duo as their sound technician.

“You’re not doing it this year?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “This year, they have a deaf sound technician.”

I think this was literally true. It would be par for the brilliantly surreal course.

While waiting to go into the Bob Blackman show, I just had time for a half hour chat with Irish-born writer Ian Smith, whom I blogged about last month. He lives in Sri Lanka, has just been working in Algeria and is over in Scotland for a week. But we were interrupted. He only had time to tell me that he once opened a Cuban bar in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and that, in 2012, the current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had his iTunes account hacked into and it turned out he was a massive fan of camp novelty group Right Said Fred. Ian wrote about it in his own blog Blood and Porridge.

“I am a big Heavy Metal fan,” Ian told me, “and you never get murderous dictators who are into Heavy Metal.”

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

At this point, we got interrupted by an American girl dressed as a showgirl. She was flyering for her show Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl which, annoyingly, I don’t think I can fit-in in Edinburgh (though I will see it in London).

The show sounds fascinating because it is the story of how she – Amelia Kallman –  went to Shanghai and opened China’s first burlesque nightclub. The Chinese authorities and the Triads were not amused.

Since relocating to the UK, she has lectured at Cambridge University, written a graphic novel, scripts for television and a book also called Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl.

Equally interesting was her husband Norman Gosney who was born in Bristol but lived, for 25 years, in the penthouse of the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York (where he and Amelia ran an illegal speakeasy The Blushing Diamond). It was a conversation we had no time to have, but Norman, Ian Smith and I have all been to North Korea at various points and, when you have, you always want to talk to fellow travellers about it.

There is a promo video for Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl on YouTube.

Other stand-out shows I saw yesterday included Patrick Monahan’s extraordinarily entertaining and energetic audience-thrilling romp The Disco Years. It is his first show where autobiography creeps in but, yet to come, there is still what I suspect will be a humdinger of a future autobiographical Edinburgh show.

Then I was able to catch the end of Spencer Jones’ show as The Herbert in Proper Job – wildly inventive prop-based comedy.

And, when I got back to my Edinburgh flat, there was a message from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith, currently roaming the streets of Edinburgh.

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

We are both enormous fans of gay (it becomes relevant in the next paragraph) American comic David Mills.

“During his show, “Sandra told me, “I said: Oooh look. The ISIS flag is behind you. It really did look like it.”

Actually, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a black flag with a PBH Free Fringe logo.

Equally confusing is a video that has appeared today on YouTube.

On Monday, we nominated Miss Behave for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for putting brown cardboard signs up around town with the hashtag MBGS (tangentially promoting Miss Behave’s Game Show). She claims that it is not her putting up these signs and now this bizarre semi-hidden-camera video has appeared on YouTube.

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One man’s day at the Edinburgh Fringe: name-dropping, walking and hugging

Jo Romero - Scenes of a Sensual Nature

Jo Romero – Scenes of a Sensual Nature with comic actors

A sign of the times yesterday morning.

I was sitting in Cowgate waiting to go into Jo Romero’s Scenes of a Sensual Nature – four playlets with Jo in various states of undress, Mick Ferry stripped to the waist, Gary Colman doing a sex tape, James Dowdeswell looking nervous and David Mills in a vest. Something for everyone.

So…

There I was, sitting in Cowgate typing a text message, when I heard a voice say: “Are you interested in comedy shows?”

It was a comedian whom I had seen in clubs a few times. We had never met. He handed me a flyer and pitched his show. When he left, I checked and, sure enough, we were Facebook Friends.

But we had never met.

Later, waiting to go into the Noise Next Door’s Really, Really Good Afternoon Show, I bumped into comedian Diane Spencer. She told me she had had ten Norwegians in her Power Tool audience the previous day. I told her comic Lindsay Sharman had had five Norwegians in her show the previous day. It sounded like they were different groups of Norwegians. I went and joined the Noise Next Door queue. The two people behind me started talking in Norwegian. Totally true. (I used to work for a Scandinavian TV company.) Inexplicable but true.

The Noise Next Door

The Noise Next Door seem to come with a built-in TV aerial

The Noise Next Door are a faultless improv troupe. Why they do no have a TV series is more a reflection on TV producers and commissioners rather than on them.

After the Noise Next Door show, I went to see the Laughing Horse Free Comedy Selection show.

On the way, I passed Bob Slayer’s double decker BlundaBus venue. Bob told me: “I have a blocked urinal. Somebody was sick in it. This is the exciting end of running a bus venue.”

At this point, performer John Robertson joined us.

“Parking this bus,” continued Bob, “was easy but these toilets have cost me £1,000. I can’t afford to have them filling up. They are no-poo toilets. I hope people don’t find them. There are no signs to them. Have you seen the sign inside?

WE DON’T GIVE A SHIT AND WE
WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU DO NOT TOO

Bob Slayer and John Robertson at the BlundaBus yesterday

Bob Slayer and John Robertson at the BlundaBus yesterday

“Bob’s toilets,” said John Robertson, “are the only venues on the Fringe you don’t want to have full.”

As John Robertson and I walked along the Cowgate, we saw comedian Patrick Monahan coming towards us.

“Oh dear,” I said to John, “he is going to, isn’t he?”

Sure enough, Patrick spread his arms wide, said nothing, hugged us both simultaneously and then continued along the Cowgate.

John and I then bumped into eccentric performer Mr Twonkey. John went into the Underbelly venue. I continued walking along with Mr Twonkey, who told me he had been unable to think up a decent idea to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. I tried to console him but it proved impossible.

When I got to the Laughing Horse Free Comedy Selection show it was, unlike Bob Slayer’ blocked toilet, filled to the brim and overflowing. I stayed to see Juliette Burton’s set. She hugged me. I left.

This gave me time to go and record a Grouchy Club Podcast with Kate Copstick.

Tim Renkow

Tim Renkow: man with a dangerous title

Then I went to see Tim Renkow’s show Kim Jong-Un, Muhammad, Jesus and Other Power Hungry Maniacs. Highly intelligent. Very funny. As expected.

Tim hugged me as I left and I went to have a chat with Kate Cook, who had asked to meet up so she could plug her show Invisible Woman.

“Food is essential here in Edinburgh,” she started.

I said: “It’s fairly essential everywhere.”

“Yes,” admitted Kate, “but somehow you really notice it is working as fuel here. I can’t eat just before a show and I ate too early this morning. So, by the time I was getting towards the end of my show today, I could feel the madness setting in. You have seen my show. It’s quite physical.”

“It is very good,” I said. “What sort of madness?”

“I miss my dog,” said Kate. “I think animals keep you sane. I do feel a little bit mad in Edinburgh, but maybe you need to. It’s completely mad here. In a good way.”

“How?” I asked.

“I suppose we’re all very vulnerable,” Kate explained.

“People,” I said, “talk about all the performers’ egos but I suppose all the vulnerabilities are feeding on each other too.”

Kate Cook at Soho Theatre

Kate Cook – she misses her dog, but has a supportive Wolf

“We are all vulnerable,” said Kate, “and maybe we all need one another. I think everyone’s actually quite supportive of one another. I brought a technician up with me called Max Valentin Wolf. That’s a good name, isn’t it? He doesn’t look like he’s called Max Valentin Wolf.”

“Bob Slayer’s toilet is blocked-up,” I told Kate.

“On the BlundaBus?”

“Yes. Apparently it takes liquids but not solids. That is a bit of a drawback in a toilet. Where is your show?”

“The Mash House. It’s very nice. It smells of wood.”

“Like being buried alive?”

“No.”

“Any humorous show-publicising anecdotes?” I asked.

Kate Cook - Invisible Woman

A wooden leg, one arm, a pipe and chickens

“I play lots of characters in the show,” said Kate. “Invisible Woman. You’ve seen it.”

“I have,” I said. “It’s very good,”

“It’s very fast-paced,” said Kate, “and yesterday I got some scenes mixed up, which has always been my nightmare. I was being the man with a wooden leg and I should’ve been the posh lady with one arm. So I had to apologise to the audience and make a joke about it and then become the lady with one arm. And, during the same show, a box full of rubber ducks fell off a chair backstage and you can imagine what sort of noise that made.”

“Quacks?” I asked.

“Chickens,” said Kate. “They were chickens.”

“What?” I asked.

“Well, I’m a chicken,” said Kate.

Then there was a distraction and we lost that line of conversation.

Kate joined me to see Die Roten Punkte: Haus Party.

Kate Copstick lip-syncing at the Haus Party

Kate Copstick with low-key lip-syncing at the Haus Party

Frankly, you can’t go very wrong if you perform as a brother-and-sister German neo punk band duo with guests Paul Foot being surreal, a big black transvestite called Le Gateau Chocolat who can sing anything from Wagner to Whitney Houston, critic Kate Copstick lip-syncing a song and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Adrienne Truscott taking her clothes off. It was the second time in a week that I had gone to a show where Adrienne Truscott took her clothes off. I am not complaining. Just saying.

After all this finished, Kate Cook hugged me goodbye and I left for The Illicit Thrill at the Voodoo Rooms – a show which had been recommended to me.

Frank Sanazi & The Iraq Pack with two punters

Frank Sanazi and The Iraq Pack + two happy Iraq Pack fans

When I arrived, Frank Sanazi’s Iraq Pack were having photos taken with their fans.

I also bumped into Paul Eccentric, who is here in Edinburgh as a punter until, on Wednesday, his book The Edinburgh Fringe in a Nutshell is launched in Leith. (I blogged about the London launch last month) He had a large bandage on his hand.

Paul Eccentric fell over a tree

Paul Eccentric. An arboreal tale of movement

“What happened?” I asked.

“I fell over a tree,” he told me.

“You fell over a tree?” I asked.

“It moved,” he explained.

“That’s the trouble with trees,” I said.

Waiting for The Illicit Thrill to start, I checked my e-mails.

Mark, a man of mystery who runs the British Comedy Guide website, had sent me a piece about Abigoliah Schamaun, who has been plastering fake review quotes and stars on her show posters. He suggested she might be a worthy Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nominee.

Abigoliah Schamaun poster

Abigoliah Schamaun poster. A cunning stunt?

The quotes include: “A true talent!” (Just One Person’s Opinion) and “Funny. Hilarious. I laughed Loads!” (Rather Redundant Mag)

I must have not paid attention when The Illicit Thrill was recommended to me. It turned out to be a fairly straight hour-long strip show. Not really a Fringe show, more a well-produced strip show. In its own terms, it was extremely well-done, although excellent local rock band Black Cat Bone looked mildly embarrassed. We were given fake dollar bills on entry to stick in assorted garters and gaps.

Whereas Adrienne Truscott had been completely naked earlier in the evening, the professional strippers in The Illicit Thrill kept their lower regions thong-covered. Unless I missed something. I do not think I did. I am not sure what this difference in nudity between art and populist perv entertainment demonstrates sociologically (The Illicit Thrill’s slogan on the dollar bills is: Teaching Edinburgh To Perv Responsibly). But I am sure it must illuminate something.

Illicit Thrill dollar bills

Crisp Illicit Thrill dollar bills awaiting insertion late last night

The Illicit Thrill included Mother Masochista – a stripping nun – and, separately, JC – a Jesus Christ male stripper of whom I have been an admirer ever since seeing him in 2013 at a Frank Sanazi extravaganza at the Fringe.

Last night, he did not go as far as he did in that extravaganza, but apparently he returns to the Fringe in his own show next week: Christ on a Bike.

After that, I walked back to my flat at about 02.30 in the morning with the slightest of toothaches, amid a fairly common Edinburgh late-night event which is unbilled and rarely mentioned – flocks of giant white seagulls swooping low and fast along the roads and around the junctions, as if looking for small dogs, children or crushed egos to snatch off the darkened streets.

Sometimes I think I might as well have taken drugs.

 

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Juliette Burton (a cow) complicates Edinburgh Fringe venues even more

Busy Juliette Burton arrives at King’s Cross

Busy Juliette Burton, King’s Cross

The Edinburgh Fringe venues in August are already guaranteed to be a mess with the Cowgatehead debacle (subject of already too many earlier blogs) meaning many ‘free’ shows will be in the wrong venues and/or at the wrong times or will not exist at all.

Now I have discovered even some ‘pay’ venues will be slightly confusing.

I met Juliette Burton at King’s Cross station to talk about her updated Look at Me show which is being previewed at the Leicester Square Theatre tomorrow night and Thursday night.

“I’ve been adding extra bits to it because of recent newsworthy events,” she told me.

“All that hoo-hah about the ‘beach ready’ ads?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m impressed,” I told Juliette, “that you are not mentioning the product name. The yellow thing we don’t name so they don’t get unnecessary publicity. You wrote about it in Standard Issue and the Huffington Post.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “And it highlights the issues that are brought up in Look at Me. I’ve also been adding in jokes and making it more about me.”

“And,” I said, “you’re taking it back to the Gilded Balloon venue at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.”

“Yes. I’m doing it at the Gilded Balloon for six days, but the Pleasance Dome is housing me and a couple of other people.”

“What?” I said. “You are not actually in the Gilded Balloon building itself?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I’m not exactly sure. It’s called The Gilded Balloon Study, but it’s housed in the Pleasance Dome.”

Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon and Anthony Alderson of the Pleasance

Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon and Anthony Alderson of the Pleasance venues – civilised, amiable Fringe competitors

The Gilded Balloon and the Pleasance are two competing venues at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I understand it, the Gilded Balloon’s old press office was going to be turned into a venue this year, but there were problems and the Pleasance venue next door helped out by providing space.

“I’m just happy it’s all so amicable,” Juliette told me. “It’s nice when people work together to overcome obstacles.”

“Yes it is,” I said. “Is that all you’re doing in Edinburgh this year, apart from competing in the annual Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 28th August?”

(The Edinburgh Fringe is all about blatant promotion.)

“Well, I’m also doing Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour at the Jekyll & Hyde pub for one week and some shows with Abnormally Funny People.”

“Why are you appearing with Abnormally Funny People?” I asked. “You’re not disabled.”

“Because I’ve got mental health problems.”

“Surely that doesn’t count?’

“It’s a disability,” said Juliette. “There are lots of disabilities that are invisible. I always used to feel quite nervous about classing it as a disability.

“I’ve also been nominated for the National Diversity Awards 2015. I’ve been nominated by somebody else, but I have to put together evidence that I am, in fact, a role model for diversity.”

“Diversity” I asked, “is what?”

“It’s about breaking down barriers and encouraging people to embrace everybody, no matter what they look like or what they’ve been through.”

“If you want to embrace everybody, you should team up with Patrick Monahan,” I suggested. “So why are you diverse?”

“Because I’m a nutter. But I’m keen to be less of a campaigner and more of a comedy person now. I’m nominated for the Funny Women Awards on 23rd June. And my videos from MCM ComicCon are coming out soon.”

“You were dressed as your short film character SuperMum, weren’t you?” I asked

Juliette burton - coming soon as supreme

Juliette – also available in different costumes, including cow

“The SuperMum screening was at MCM ComicCon,” said Juliette, “but I was running round dressed as lots of different characters – Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy,  a cow…”

“A cow?” I asked.

“I was running round ComicCon interviewing people for VidFest UK.”

“A cow?” I repeated.

“A cow,” confirmed Juliette.

“A cow normally requires two people,“ I pointed out to her.

“I am two people,” she said. “I give you two for the price of one. I was the whole cow. Actually, weirdly, that was the costume I felt most at home in.”

“Your udder-worldly character?” I asked.

“Very good,” said Juliette, unconvincingly. “My milk shake brought all the boys to the yard… I’m recording another audio book for the RNIB in July.”

“Another Mills & Boon?” I asked.

“No. It’s a dark thriller with murder in it.”

“You should be a PR,” I suggested. “But you are so busy you probably don’t have the time.”

“Do you want me to tell you about my dental appointment and/or my lump?” Juliette asked.

“Probably not,” I said.

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How a non-comedy fan got turned on to UK comedy by one man and a TV show

Sandra Smith outside soho Theatre yesterday

Sandra Smith – not originally a comedy fan

I was first aware of Sandra Smith when she turned up every day at a week of chat shows which I chaired at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Since then, she has been turning up at all sorts of comedy shows. Yesterday I said to her:

“You told me you ‘discovered’ comedy two or three years ago. How can you suddenly have discovered comedy?”

“When I was growing up,” she told me, “I didn’t like comedy at all, because I grew up in a time when everyone wanted to tell you a joke and I found it excruciating. I just wished they wouldn’t.”

“Why was people telling you a joke excruciating?”

“Because I felt I would have to ‘get’ it and I would have to laugh, because they’d be embarrassed if I didn’t. It was just a nightmare. I didn’t like comedy and, even today, I’d prefer a drama over a comedy film.

“So I didn’t engage with people like – I guess they were stand-up comedians – Bob Monkhouse and Bob Hope and all that sort of thing. I just thought: What are they doing?

“So,” I asked, “how did you start to get interested in comedy?”

“It was after I had been with a friend to see Paul O’Grady recording a TV show on the South Bank and Pat Monahan was doing the warm-up. I didn’t know anything about warm-ups, but I thought Pat was really good with the people.

“I was not going to go again, because it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, but then I was told Jo Brand was going to be hosting the Paul O’Grady show, so I went along again. Then I watched a Graham Norton Show being recorded.

Show Me The Funny with Pat Monahan second from left

ITV Show Me The Funny with Pat Monahan second from left

“And then I saw Show Me The Funny on ITV, which I liked. I think I am the only person in the world who did.”

“Why on earth,” I asked, “did you like it?”

“Because it was all very new to me and I thought: Oh! There’s that bloke from Paul O’Grady (Patrick Monahan) on it. Comedians were starting to come into my awareness a bit.”

Show Me The Funny,” I said, “was a terrible dog’s dinner of a format.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Sandra told me. “I was seeing all these comedians and I thought they were all new. I thought Pat was new. I hadn’t got a clue. I would have loved it more if there had been more stand-up instead of all the chitter-chatter, but I liked the exchanges between the comedians. I enjoyed it.”

“You say you wanted more stand-up in it,” I pointed out, “yet you said you hated jokes.”

“Yes, but it was different, somehow. I was getting to like it, because it’s not really just jokes nowadays, is it? It’s more observational stuff. It’s different.

Billy Connolly with Janey Godley

Scots Billy Connolly and Janey Godley

“Before that, I had seen Billy Connolly and I hadn’t realised that he was a stand-up. I thought he was just a great storyteller and I thought: How does he do that? I loved that.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re the perfect audience for modern comedy, because it used to be short gags but now it’s mostly storytelling… So you were getting to like it…”

“Yes,” explained Sandra. “And then Pat Monahan came to Brighton where I live and, because it was someone I knew of, I went with a friend to see him at the Komedia. I hadn’t been there before. It was great.

“Then I was up in London one day and saw that Pat was on at the 99 Club and it was quite a big deal for me to walk into a comedy club by myself. And from then on, I started to like comedy and saw more. It was like opening a door and seeing this different world.

“I like performance – I always have. In my early years, my mum used to take me to the Theatre Royal in Brighton and we’d sit in the gods. I wasn’t particularly engaged with that; I just went along; I went to the cinema a lot; and a friend would take me up to London for ballet and music and her mum was in the theatre as a dancer. But not comedy before I saw Pat.”

“And then you went up to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes. I went up for two weeks in 2013. I just loved it. I had a fabulous time. I went to your show that year (John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show) because I had been reading your blog.”

“How had you stumbled on my blog?”

“I can’t remember, but I started reading it and it just seemed interesting. Then I saw you were doing a show and, as is my wont, I just booked a ticket for every day.”

Kate Copstick co-hosted that show most days,” I said. “Did you know of Copstick?”

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick at my 2013 Fringe chat show

“Yes. Because she was a judge on Show Me The Funny. But I went to your show because there were going to be people there I had never seen before. I had never heard of Arthur Smith.”

“How on earth had you avoided Arthur Smith?” I asked. “He’s ubiquitous.”

“By not watching comedy. My daughter knew about him because she’d heard him on the radio.”

“And you like him now because…?”

“Because he’s just an engaging bloke. I saw him singing Leonard Cohen. And I saw Sol Bernstein a few weeks ago. I loved him.”

“Did you think he was really an American comedian?” I asked.

“I wasn’t sure.”

I told Sandra: “I saw him play a Monkey Business show a few weeks ago and I think about 80% of the audience thought he was real.”

“I did,” admitted Sandra, “watching it. I wasn’t sure. Then I thought: Perhaps he’s not. It was just delightful at the time.”

“Do you think Lewis Schaffer is a character act?” I asked.

“I don’t know what to make of him. I’ve only seen him twice. Is he really as insecure as he seems? Or is that put on?”

I answered her, but let us not go yet again into the psychology and/or performance art of Lewis Schaffer.

Sandra said of Lewis Schaffer: “I thought maybe he was a totally different person away from the stage. I will have to see him again. I can’t get a handle on his act. I think it’s probably different every time. Somebody walked out of the first show I saw him in. That was great. It was wonderful. I think it was the Madeleine McCann joke she objected to. She had given a sort-of warning sound Ooooaarghh! and then it was Oh! This is too much! and she stamped out. It was funny, because she walked out and, somehow, her jacket got caught on the door and landed on the floor and she didn’t come back for it: one of the staff did.”

“Who else do you like now?” I asked.

“I liked seeing Dr Brown because watching it was exciting because I didn’t know what he would do next – It was like Red Bastard, who I’ve seen three times. And I like the fellah who stands upside down on his head – Terry Alderton.”

“So you like a bit of bizarre,” I said.

Sandra Smith - fan of the bizarre

Sandra Smith – fan of the bizarre – at Soho Theatre yesterday

“Yes. Oh yes. And I like Luisa Omielan. She’s just funny and uplifting. And Janey Godley. Every time I go into one of her shows, I feel very welcome – it’s a real rush of Oh! I feel welcome! But, at the same time, she can be a tartar.”

“Have you read her autobiography?”

“Yes. Oh yes. It’s not the sort of book I would normally read, but I couldn’t put it down. It’s amazing. She’s a natural storyteller. I like storytelling.”

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Clinically depressed comedian starts monthly two-hour Happy Hour club

Juliette does not feel blue - she feels yellow

Juliette does not feel blue – she feels yellow

“The branding of the venue is yellow. The posters are yellow. So today, when I knew I was meeting you,” Juliette Burton told me yesterday, ‘I put on a yellow top. Maybe I over-think things a little bit.”

When I talked to Juliette back in February, she told me she was starting a new monthly comedy club in April – the first Tuesday of every month. Well, it is now April and the club starts this Tuesday.

She told me back in February that it is called Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour despite the fact each show will run for about two hours and is hosted by someone with clinical depression.

“It is,” she told me yesterday, “false advertising all the way.”

“How much does it cost to get in?” I asked.

“It’s pay-as-you-feel,” said Juliette, “and we hope people will feel generous. It’s a guaranteed uplifting night.”

Indeed, the posters proclaim:

HAPPINESS GUARANTEED OR YOUR MONEY BACK

Pleasant juliette at the Pleasance, London, yesterday

Juliette preparing a two-hour Hour yesterday

‘You are not really a stand-up comedian,” I said to Juliette. “You’re a performer of hour-long, highly-researched, documentary comedy shows with lots of facts. Why are you doing these shows?”

“Because,” she told me, I will be compering and I can try out material for my future docu-comedy shows. But also it will let me do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – muck about on stage and be more myself. With my docu-comedy, there’s so much research packed in that I have to be really tight on the time and there’s very little chance for me to improvise anything.

“I’m going to be trying out some new material I’m quite nervous about at the Happy Hour. I’m going to be most open about my darkest mental health problems. But it will be upliftingly dark stuff.”

“And you are having guests?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “This Tuesday, there’s comedy mind-reader Doug Segal, Eleanor Conway is bringing all the breasts – she has lovely bosoms – and then there is James Hamilton who will provide darkness. I want the audience to leave feeling uplifted, so he is going to come along and do some comedy which will make them feel sad. He’s usually part of sketch group Casual Violence but he’s testing solo stuff out on Tuesday.’

“Is he being sad?” I asked. “Or is he being just plain weird, which is what Casual Violence is.”

“Casual Violence,” said Juliette, “is very weird and twisted and dark and wonderful and so full of pathos. When I see their shows, I always end up crying in at least one sketch. So it will be interesting to see what James does on his own.

“And we also have Matt Francis who does ‘proper’ stand-up comedy. Very bright and uplifting. He was recommended to me by Patrick Monahan.”

“Did Patrick Monahan hug you?” I asked.

“Of course he did,” said Juliette. “He is Patrick Monahan.”

“One day,” I said, “I may meet someone he has not hugged. But it could take a long time. Anyway, this new club night is at a new venue.”

The first Happy Hour guests, clockwise from top left) Doug Segal, Eleanor Conway, Matt Francis, James Hamilton

The first Happy Hour guests (clockwise from the top left) Doug Segal, Eleanor Conway, Matt Francis, James Hamilton

“Yes, The Canvas in Shoreditch. It’s London’s first Happy Cafe, which is nothing to do with drugs. They have a programme of events that actively encourage happiness, including things like free massages, which they had the other day when I went for a rehearsal. Not dodgy massages. Proper massages. The Happy Cafe is run by the same woman who is charge of Body Gossip, the charity for body confidence and body image.

“They are the reason we are able to make it a free night. It’s pay-as-you-feel. If everyone pays £5, that will hopefully cover the costs to the venue – they have to have staff in – and then we will split any profit between the charity and hopefully the costs of the acts.”

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Comedy is difficult because tragedy can be funny & jokes can sadden audiences

In the final week of the recent  Edinburgh Fringe, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows. In the third show, the guests were English eccentric adventurer Tim Fitzhigham and comedian Patrick Monahan. This is a brief extract:

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Tim Fitzhigham (left) and Patrick Monahan chat in Edinburgh

Tim Fitzhigham (left) & Patrick Monahan chat in Edinburgh

JOHN: Remind us what your background is, Patrick.

PATRICK: Me dad is Irish, me mum’s Iranian and I grew up in Teesside in North East England.

TIM: It’s almost the set-up for a joke… A Geordie, an Iranian and an Irish guy…

PATRICK: Well, I did a gig in Germany and they were laughing at the set-ups, not the punchlines. I would say Me dad’s from Ireland, me mum’s from Iran… and they’d go Ha ha! Oh yes!… and I’d think I’ve not done the joke yet. Then I’d add: We spent most of our family holidays in Customs and they wouldn’t laugh. They’d react Yes, that is true.

I did those jokes for a few years but I thought I don’t want to get pigeon-holed. One year, I’d like to just talk about the Irish-Iranian background stuff. But I don’t think I’ve matured enough as a comic yet to do that. It gets quite serious and you think Oh god, do people really want to hear about…

TIM: Well, the stuff you want to talk about in a serious way… I tried it and people were crying with laughter. I was going into what was, in my head, a very moving section of my show about when our family home sank and… (AUDIENCE LAUGHTER)… You see? It’s already started. I thought this was my confessional minute and I was explaining how, when I was a child, my father would just close off the doors and lock them because they’d gone under the water line. I thought it was a real, emotional tear-jerker and I said to the audience: Dad closed the kitchen door and he locked it and said Don’t play in there any more and then he turned to me and said Where’s the cat? I was really moved by that. The cat had gone under the water line. The cat had drowned. But the way I phrased it must have been a disaster, because the audience was weeping with laughter.

PATRICK: Once, about a year ago, I was playing a theatre in Didcot and thought I’d do some personal stuff. I had a joke about my grandparents – the Iranian and the Irish. There was one point where our families didn’t speak when I was growing up. I told the audience, as a kid, I loved old people, but our family never spoke – the Irish and the Iranians. So I said I used to go to old people’s homes with biscuits, just so old people would talk to me. And the whole audience just went Aaawwwwww….. I’m trying to do a joke here but, for a minute, they were just Aaawwwwwwing and I thought What have I done here? They were all really sad. So I thought OK, let’s talk about something different. So I never really touch on the personal stuff now.

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