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.
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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…”
“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.”