Tag Archives: performance

How to fail at the Edinburgh Fringe

How NOT to succeed at the Edinburgh Fringe

At around this time each year, a lot of performers preview their upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows in London.

‘Preview’ in this case is a word with many meanings. It can mean the full, finished Edinburgh show; or a jerky show with the performer reading some or all of it off notes; or some thrown-together mishmash of ideas which do not yet gel but which may yet end up as a smooth Edinburgh show in August.

I have been seeing a lot of previews recently and, earlier this week, I saw one which was fully written, rehearsed and well-performed. Unusually, the show was in a packed-to-overflowing venue and went down a storm. The audience LOVED it, as well they might, because it was skilfully crafted to appeal to them.

And, as I watched it, I saw – minute by minute, second by second – an almost 100% Edinburgh Fringe disaster unfolding before me.

The show comprised observational comedy and was tailor-made for a wide audience who could identify through their own experience with all the observations in the show. To make it even more enjoyable, there were a large number of audience participation sections – dividing the audience down the middle; that sort of stuff.

The audience loved it.

We now have a flashback to my erstwhile youth when, on big TV shows like Sunday Night at The London Palladium, major US comedy stars would be flown over to the UK and would smoothly perform their slick, tried-and-tested material… material about living in New York; material about eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day; material about mom’s apple pie.

You can see where I am going with this.

The comedian I saw this week had a very-well-put-together themed show with the linking device narrative of a trip on the Underground, visits to ‘West End’ clubs etc etc. It was not just very very English; it was utterly London-centric and almost certainly could not easily have the London elements removed and replaced with other references.

One bit was: “You know what it’s like at 12 o’clock on a Saturday on the Central Line…”

The act performing this has never, as far as I know, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe before and this is his certainly his first show there.

The first hurdle he has fallen at is Know your audience.

The last time I heard any figures, the Fringe Society reckoned that around 60% of audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe come from EH postcodes. That means that they come from Edinburgh. Not even Glasgow or Fife. Specifically Edinburgh.

Sometimes ‘newbie’ performers assume that, at the Edinburgh Fringe, they are playing to the same audiences they play to in London. They are not. They are often not even playing to English audiences. They are playing to Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, American, wherever audiences. And to English audiences.

It is reasonable for the performer to assume they are British audiences because foreigners will make allowance for the fact they have come to see UK comedy.

But it is not reasonable to assume they are audiences from South East England. The show I saw would likely get right up the proverbial noses of audiences in Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth and Newcastle let alone Edinburgh or Glasgow.

It will come across in Scotland as “yon fuckin’ wee English cunt” showing disrespect for where he is.

I have seen South London audiences turn on comedians who talk too much about life in North London.

Move that to the Scottish/English divide and magnify it 100 times. Especially at the moment.

Of course, that figure of 60% of Fringe audiences coming from EH postcodes can only be from research taken from people buying tickets for pay shows. Who knows the make-up of audiences going to free comedy shows? But it may not be much different.

And the other thing to consider is word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is HUGE at the Edinburgh Fringe. Totally unheard-of acts in obscure venues can suddenly take-off and become the hottest shows in town. Or in both towns (in Edinburgh). And, if any would-be Fringe performer reading this does not know why I wrote “both towns”, then he or she has not researched the city they are playing enough.

Again, the last figures I heard from the Fringe Society were that the average Fringe visitor stays for three days.

But those are visitors to the city and the word-of-mouth between genuine visitors is highly unlikely to be vastly significant. The real word-of-mouth is what happens between the locals (remember that EH postcode) and between the media. A single 5-star review of an obscure show from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman will likely fill a venue for the whole run and ensure the rest of the media pay attention.

When those American comedians used to play sets of American-themed observational comedy on Sunday Night at The London Palladium, UK audiences felt they were being shown contempt. The Scots have never taken kindly to English comedians per se (see endless horror stories of the dangers of playing the Glasgow Empire in its heyday).

My advice to any London comedian playing the Edinburgh Fringe is:

1) Remember Edinburgh is not in England

2) The audiences you are playing to are not entirely and possibly not even predominately from England.

3) The audiences you are playing to are almost certainly not predominately from London.

4) Showing what may be perceived as contempt for your audience is never going to end well.

5) The word ‘England’ is not the same as ‘the UK’ or ‘Britain’ or ‘here’.

6) Edinburgh is north of Watford.

7) If you do not know what a ‘Weegie’ is, you may end up ‘brown bread’ on stage.

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Why audiences do not need to laugh for a live comedy show to be successful

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Dumbing-down will never be an option for intelligent, increasingly-prestigious comedy commentators like us

This evening, I recorded the latest weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with comedy critic Kate Copstick.

We were possibly going to talk about the art of writing but, as usual, we got sidetracked. So we ended up talking, among other things, about great new UK comedy acts we had seen, the time when Copstick played Carnegie Hall, the abstract joy of listening to foreign-language comedy, why UK audiences laugh, why Chinese audiences do not necessarily react, why Copstick describes me as “the goldfish of comedy” and the death of US theatre producer Calvin Wynter.

We also talked about why audiences do not need to laugh for a comedy show to be successful. Here is a tiny part of that conversation:


JOHN
You can do a 60-minute comedy show and, if it’s intellectually stimulating and fascinating, it doesn’t really need three-laughs-a-minute.

COPSTICK
I think one of the things that comics need to remember is that the show is for the audience. If the audience are loving it quietly, that’s fine. Out-Loud laughter is really for the comic – to reassure him or her that they’re doing tremendously well and that the audience absolutely adore them and are hanging on their every word.

Some comics will say: Oh! Smiling’s no use to me… Well, I (the audience) am not here for you. I am here for me. I have paid money to sit and enjoy this show however I choose to enjoy this show.

JOHN
But it is difficult to react to an audience that you can’t ‘read’ – and you can’t read them very easily if they don’t laugh.

COPSTICK
Well, you should be able to – if you’re a professional performer.


The full 36-minute podcast is available HERE.

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Last night I saw a woman sing with her hand up several dead animals’ heads

The queue stretch along the tunnel last night

Queue stretched along a tunnel while dead animals warmed up

Last night was surreal.

Well, there is surreal and then there is pure gimmickry.

I am not sure which I saw last night.

Pull The Other One comedy club runner Vivienne Soan and I went to see a variety of dead animals sing and perform in The Vaults, which are in an extraordinary officially-graffiti-encouraged tunnel under Waterloo station in London.

The event was artist Charlie Tuesday Gates’ allegedly ‘private’ view and stage performance of exhibits at her Museum of Death.

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house + nose

A very, very large audience was hanging around and queuing outside the venue for about half an hour after the billed start time because, according to the security guy on the door “They’re warming up inside.”

This is not something you necessarily want to hear about performing dead animals.

According to the tease by Saatchi Art, who know a thing or two about ‘bigging-up’ Art: “Despite never describing herself as a taxidermist, Charlie Tuesday Gates was instrumental in bringing this previously dark art into the mainstream with her pioneering performance series, D.I.Y Taxidermy LIVE!”

Charlie Tuesday Gates is a vegan.

The come-on for the show went:

Vivienne watched an ‘animaal-ation’ film last night

Vivienne watched a 21st century fox ‘animal-ation’ art film

“Gates’ first solo show since retirement transports you into a fantasy underworld where beauty and death collide with nostalgia and borderline insanity… Controversial ‘animalation’ video pieces will also be screened and a special live performance of Gates’ Musical: ‘SING FOR YOUR LIFE!’ in which real animals are manipulated by hand to perform, sing and dance in a bizarre talent contest: a cross between X-Factor and Pet Rescue…. Where the recently deceased compete for the chance to live again.

“Her fashion brand ‘Mind Like Magpie’ provides the perfect complement to her sculptural work: wearable art that will be showcased alongside the exhibition… Pieces have been commissioned for Elton John, Beyoncé and even appeared on the holy head of Cara Delevingne.”

So there were the exhibits last night…

…and then there was the performance.

Charlie Tuesday Gates

Charlie Tuesday Gates – hand up dead beast

Basically Charlie Tuesday Gates sang while her hand was inside the heads of dead, skinned animals, moving them as if they were doing the singing… and a man manipulated the fore-legs of the dead foxes, badgers, dogs etc. He used sticks attached to the limbs. It was a bit like some Muppet musical staged during the Weimar Republic with disembowelled dead animals.

Someone in the audience told us: “You know, she normally gives live skinning demonstrations during her shows?”

We didn’t.

Is it Art or is it gimmicky?

Is it Art or just a gimmick? People thought Art.

According to the publicity: “Working with audience participation, she skins and stuffs an animal using only the most basic ingredients: salt, sanitary towels and Shake n’ Vac.”

There has been talk of Charlie Tuesday Gates appearing at one of Vivienne & Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One shows at Nunhead, in London.

I said to Vivienne after the show, as we left through the graffiti-festooned tunnels under Waterloo station: “You should maybe put her on at Pull The Other One in Leipzig. It might remind them of Berlin in 1936. When is your next Leipzig show?”

“June the 7th,” said Vivienne.

“Have you any locals on the bill?” I asked.

“We have Felix & Jander, a couple of local artists in Leipzig. Jander is a mathematician and an artist. He is going to give a lecture to the audience on mathematics.”

“Is he a fine artist or a performance artist?” I asked.

“A performance, fine and mathematical artist,” replied Vivienne.

This did not make things any clearer.

But, perhaps, I would not have it any other way.

Last night was surreal.

That is good.

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Why comedy writers and performers are different and clowns are not clowns?

James Hamilton at the Soho Theatre bar yesterday

James Hamilton – Soho Theatre bar yesterday

So yesterday afternoon I went to the Soho Theatre bar to talk to Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma about her weekly – always unique – Friday night Lost Cabaret shows in London.

It never happened.

I arrived early and found multiple Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee James Hamilton sitting at a table, writing his sketch group Casual Violence’s next show for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“How much have you written?” I asked.

“10%,” he said glumly.

“I was going to do a solo show this year,” he told me, “but I got talked into doing a Casual Violence one. Do you remember the Siamese Twin hit-men from Choose Death? I am giving them a full story. They work together as assassins until one of them decides he would rather be a baker instead. They fall out and decide to go their separate ways.”

Casual Violence 2014 Edinburgh show

Casual Violence: new 2014 Edinburgh show

“The Siamese Twins?” I asked.

“Yes,” said James. “It’s about the brotherly dynamic.”

Then Nelly arrived.

James and Nelly had never met before, but it transpired they had both been on Dr Brown/Phil Burgers‘ clown workshops.

Clown workshops seem to be trendy for performers at the moment but, as far as I can see, have nothing to do with clowns as any normal person would recognise the word. They are actually improvisation workshops under a ‘sexier’ title.

Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, James (a writer who performs) found the workshops more difficult than Nelly (a performer who can write).

“The people who could be themselves or a version of themselves on stage,” said James, “were the people who did best in the workshop and I wish to god I could do it. I loved the workshop and got so much out of it but I also really struggled. It was so difficult.”

“It is really difficult,” agreed Nelly. But those people had probably been to loads of these workshops and practised a lot of dropping it and ‘being with themselves’. Or hadn’t been to anything at all.”

“Yes,” said James, “a lot of people who did best in that workshop had never done any performing of any kind.”

“The people who find it hardest, I think,” said Nelly, “are people like actors or stand-up comedians. With actors, there’s always this mask: that they never want to show themselves. With comedians, they’ve always got to have a punchline. Stand-up is very wordy; it’s always about what they’re saying, not what they’re doing. Whereas, in clowning, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it and how you do it. It’s all about How not What.”

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma with James Hamilton

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma with James Hamilton yesterday

“It’s a very performance-driven thing,” said James, “whereas I tend to approach stuff from a very writery point of view. Writing is very introverted and thinking about ideas and not letting go. All the clowning stuff is very counter to that. Not in a bad way. But it’s the opposite of what you’re taught as a writer.

“I remember at the workshop,” James continued, “being told off because I had an idea before going on stage. So what I did for the rest of the workshop was every time I had an idea ahead of going on stage I would immediately dismiss it because I knew if I went ahead with that idea he would pull me up on it. He wanted people to go on stage with nothing and then find something.”

“Well,” said Nelly, “it’s OK for you to come on stage with an idea, but you have to be ready to drop it in a split second if the audience hate it. People who come on stage with an idea can be more in love with their idea than they are with the audience. It’s not necessarily that he wants people to come onto the stage with nothing, because some people literally don’t have anything and it’s boring. You need to have something. What’s your impulse? What are you thinking? But, if it doesn’t work, you just throw it out the window. You do whatever it takes to make the audience love you.”

“I think, when I do more solo things,” said James, “it will be more of an even balance but the way it works at the moment is I’m the sole writer for a group of people, so I need to bring stuff in. It doesn’t need to be perfectly finished. We play with it and develop it. But it does come from a very scripted starting point.”

“When I go on stage,” said Nelly. “I always have an idea of something. I’ll have a character and a costume or I’ll come up with a game and go on stage and play with that.”

“The fact people can do that is amazing,” said James. “It just terrifies me. Though in an appealing way. It makes me want to do it.”

“It doesn’t matter if you flop at some point,” said Nelly, “provided you bring the audience eventually to this place of magic and then they forget about the bit that flopped.”

James had told me earlier that he had been “talked into” doing a Casual Violence show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and, in a sense, the same thing had happened with Nelly and Lost Cabaret.

Zuma Puma (centre bottom) + her collective

Zuma Puma (centre bottom) + her collective

“I wasn’t going to go to the Fringe this year,” she told us. “I thought: I need a break. I’m going to be in Spain for the month lying naked on the beach or hitchhiking to Morocco and singing on the top of mountains until five in the morning. But then (regular performer) Dan Lees applied for a spot for Lost Cabaret at the Fringe and told me about it after we had been accepted.”

“So,” said James, “you will have to defer your month of naked hitchhiking to the top of mountains at five in the morning.”

“I’ll still do that,” said Nelly. “Maybe before I go to the Fringe.”

“You told me,” I said, “that you’ve been going for lots of castings recently.”

“Lots of auditions for short films,” said Nelly, “which I’m finding interesting, because a lot of writers are shit.”

“Are you cast as Girl 1 or Girl 2?” asked James.

“I’m usually cast as a femme fatale killer,” Nelly replied, “which is fun. I’m OK with that. But how many scripts are just so degrading to women?”

“Women are either in films to have sex or to be killed,” I said.

“There is a website called Casting Call Woe,” said James, “which has genuine casting calls which are horrendously sexist and awful.”

Currently on the site are these four descriptions of projected movies:

The actress would need an ‘Easy Access Skirt’ with leggings underneath so that the skirt could be lifted up and it would look convincingly like she was ‘being taken from behind. Consent to have fake vomit thrown on her. 

Please send a pic of your tongue so I can approve of your tongue length.

The egg shoots from her vagina and directly into the doctor’s mouth.

Bikinis will get this movie attention. Great acting will get it respect. 

“I got a script for a short film,” said Nelly. “Somehow they had got funding for it. I don’t know how. They were looking for an actress who could play seductive but bad and I thought Oh, I can play femme fatale no problem. But then I read the script and there is a scene where a female crime investigator is talking to me – I’m this girl who is covered in blood and freaking out – and she starts putting her hand up the girl’s skirt and fingering her. There was no conversation before the investigator starts randomly fingering the girl. And, in the next scene, her face is in the girl’s vagina – there’s a shot of the investigator’s head between this girl’s legs. What the fuck has this got to do with the investigation? And then she kills the girl. It drives me nuts. I will have to start writing.”

There is a Lost Cabaret showreel on YouTube.

and also a trailer for Casual Violence’s comedy.

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Comic Simon Munnery talks about fylm making – yes fylm making – and horses

Simon Munnery last night under a picture of Benny Hill at the Comedy Pub

Simon Munnery last night under a picture of Benny Hill at the Comedy Pub in London

Comedian Simon Munnery lives on my railway line.

Well, not ON my railway line. That would be surreal. But he lives near Bedford, just north of London and I live in Borehamwood on the NW edge of London. We have bumped into each other a couple of times on Thameslink trains.

Last night I chatted to him at the Comedy Pub in London, just before he appeared on Phil Kay’s always-fascinating monthly Goodfather Comedy show.

“So,” I said to Simon, “next Tuesday you’re at the Leicester Square Theatre for ten nights with a show called Simon Munnery – Fylm. Is that the same as your 2012 Edinburgh Fringe show Simon Munnery: Fylm-Makker and your 2013 one Simon Munnery: Fylm?”

“Same format,” he said. “Different material.”

“So it was…” I started and then interrupted myself. “What have you been doing with your hand?” I asked.

He had grey-black marks on each of the knuckles of his right hand.

“Putting coal in a fire,” he said.

“Your own or someone else’s?”

“My own.”

“You’ve moved,” I said. “You live in rural tranquility now.”

“Except horses,” said Simon. “Horse boxes.”

“Horses or horse boxes?” I asked.

“Mainly horse boxes,” he replied. “I’d say ten-to-one horse boxes. You see a horse every so often but, despite having legs, they’re driven around. That’s how they live.”

“You’re not really a rural person,” I said.

“Turns out we are,” said Simon.

“Where were you born?”

“Edgware. But gradually, due to economic forces, we’ve been slowly moving out of town. We rented just outside Bedford for a long time and then my wife was given some money and I saved some and we put it together and bought a house.”

Simon and his wife tried for several years to have children but failed. Then he got testicular cancer and had to have one testicle removed. Shortly afterwards, his wife became pregnant. He has said on stage that he thinks the testicle was holding him back.

“Every time I meet you,” I said, “you seem to have more children. How many now?”

“Three children, one house, one wife, one dog… one future, one country, one leader, one Reich… no… One dog. His name is Leo.”

“Named after?”

“Leonardo da Vinci. My daughter named him.”

“At what age?”

“Two years ago, when she was eight.”

“You have a very cultured daughter.”

“I don’t think she knew who Leonardo da Vinci was. She might have thought he was Leonardo di Caprio.”

“So,” I said, “Fylm…”

Simon Munnery performing at Goodfather Comedy last night

Simon Munnery performing at Goodfather Comedy last night

“It’s pronounced Fylm,” said Simon, pronouncing the Y like the vowel in Fie or Why. “Fylm. If it was pronounced film, that would be the same as film and you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two.”

“Between film and film?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Simon.

“The last time I saw you,” I said, “you were measuring the seats at the back of the auditorium in the Leicester Square Theatre.”

“That was for my box,” said Simon. “Before, I had a lot of trouble getting my box in there for the show and it was very uncomfortable. I use a box as a device, like a lever. A simple device which allows me to either film myself or, by changing the lighting, film the table in front of me. It requires a box round the camera and a half-silvered mirror.”

“You sit at the back of the audience during Fylm,” I said. “So they never see you.”

“At the beginning,” said Simon, “I do explain You won’t see me any more just to get that out of the way and then I go to the back.”

“And then you should switch on a recording and leave the building and go home,” I suggested.

“I wonder if that would work,” said Simon. “I don’t think it would.”

“I think it might,” I said.

“Well, one day I’ll try it,” said Simon, “but, to me it’s more like you can learn something from talking through a camera and talking visually.”

“You or the audience can learn something?” I asked.

“Me,” said Simon. “How to communicate with an audience visually. You can learn something about stand-up by doing stand-up. You can learn something about making film or visual stuff by making visual stuff in front of an audience and see what they like and don’t like.”

“Do you want to get into film making?” I asked.

“I am making live films by doing the show.”

“You can’t have live film,” I said. “Film is film is recorded.”

“No, that’s what I mean,” said Simon. “It’s a new word – Fylm – it is a live film.”

“So it’s pronounced Fy-lm,” I said, “because it’s a combination of ‘live’ and ‘film’?”

“As I say in my show,” Simon continued, “the camera amplifies the face in the same way a microphone amplifies the voice and it’s an instrument that should be used by live performers. That’s my theory. Most comedians speak through a microphone which translates their voice into an electrical signal which goes through an amplifier and a speaker and it comes out louder. It’s a kind of distancing device. There is something odd about it.

The poster for Simon’s new Fylm show

The poster for Simon’s new Fylm stage show

“So what I’ve chosen, in addition to the microphone, is to speak directly into a camera. The camera is connected to a video projector which projects my face onto a screen in front of the audience. So, as well as hearing me amplified, you also see me amplified. It allows me to use my face to do very tiny motions… (Simon laughed)… But let’s not talk about that!… very tiny motions of the face.”

“Isn’t,” I suggested, “communicating with the voice and face rather similar to performing live in a small room?”

“But there’s something odd about performing with a microphone,” argued Simon. “It takes your voice, puts it through a machine and makes it louder from a different place. The camera does the same thing but visually.”

“So,” I said, “you’re saying you want to do something you can’t do live on stage, which is to be seen and heard by the audience?”

“The camera amplifies the face,” said Simon, “the same way the microphone amplifies the voice. So, obviously, I can be seen live on stage and comedians do quite big things and pace around the stage and what you’re actually watching in the audience is that canvas, that shape. The performer has to fill that space or be very very still. But what you’re watching is a big canvas with a curtain and a stick figure moving around. I’m saying there is more you can do within that canvas. For example, a big face. That’s more of a communicating thing than a tiny face. An amplified face can communicate more – and more subtly – I think.”

“And why is it different every show?” I asked.

“I forget bits,” laughed Simon. “Or I put new bits in or try things. It’s quite exciting every time I do it. Some bits are quite seat-of-the-pants anyway.”

“Are you going to do more shows like this?” I asked.

“Every show’s a new one,” said Simon.

“Is there a narrative?” I asked.

“No. Just  load of stuff slung together. There might be a narrative. Bits fall out. Bits come in. Maybe there’s a narrative. Might be. Might not.”

There is an extract from the DVD of Simon Munnery Fylm Makker on YouTube.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Tomorrow night, Chris Dangerfield risks performing comedy in Swansea again

Chris Dangerfield & Trevor Lock in Swansea last November

Chris Dangerfield (left) with Trevor Lock before their notorious Swansea gig last year

Last November, I blogged about comedian Chris Dangerfield’s visit to Swansea with Trevor Lock for a gig which, let us say, divided the audience.

At the time, Trevor told me: “A fair few people got up and left by the table-load, unable to stomach it. Others who stayed forgot they didn’t like it and found themselves laughing. Many just ignored what was happening on stage and just carried on with their Friday night but many also seemed to be only waiting for Chris to stop so they could start singing his name again.”

It was producer Richard Griffiths’ first gig as a promoter and also his first gig as a stand-up comedian. The evening was coincidentally filmed as part of a six-episode fly-on-the-wall BBC3 documentary series called Swansea Call Centre, due to be screened soon.

“The series is gonna be rammed with David Brent type characters,” Richard tells me.

By last November, the Beeb had been filming for over a year at the call centre where Richard then worked (he has recently left).

As he was in the process of organising his first comedy night and, as he had Chris Dangerfield and Trevor Lock coming from London to Swansea to perform, the film crew wanted to follow the storyline of Richard ‘going showbiz’.

“Will I become the first person in Britain to have his stand-up debut watched by over a million people?” Richard asked me this week. “I’m new to all this. I had always wanted to perform and it was a combination of that, Chris saying in one of your blogs that I was hilarious but ‘too scared’ to go on stage and an email from a mate that made my mind up. The BBC were there filming all night and I understand they are definitely using it as one of the stories in an episode… So, going by their usual figures, a million people will see my comedy debut… Is this a world record?”

It was a charity gig and Richard raised £2,000 that night. The girl concerned recently had her operation successfully.

But now – tomorrow – Richard has booked Chris Dangerfield back at his new Swansea comedy night, this time with by New Zealander Benjamin Crellin.

“Are you mad?” I asked Richard last night.

Richard Griffiths being filmed for BBC3 last November

Richard Griffiths being filmed for BBC3 last November

“Well,” he told me, “to put anything on in Swansea without the full blessing of the Freemasons you have to be mad. But Chris was on his way to drug detox last time, so the city ain’t seen the best of him yet. Anyway, I’m actively looking to upset everyone with these comedy nights purely to offset all the good work I do behind closed doors. I was threatened with ‘bad Ju-Ju’ by a local Jehovah if I had Dangerfield back in Swansea but it’s a risk worth taking.

“I packed my job in a few weeks back so, even though I make no money from these nights, I create employment for others from my lofty position of dole bum.”

I asked Chris Dangerfield if it was a mad idea for him to go back into what, last time, was like an over-sensitive lion’s den of a gig.

“Well,” he replied. “It’s good for comics. They shout at you throughout the whole gig, they throw things at you, they heckle in grunts and groans and people storm out ‘in protest’, not at what you’re saying but at what you’re not saying  – Where’s the jokes? they shout.

“All these things happen elsewhere of course but, with these gigs, it’s as if that bloke, woman or couple from one-in-three gigs everywhere else have all turned up to this gig. It teaches you an important lesson – the gig is about them, not you. They’ve paid to have a laugh. The comic is getting paid whatever happens. Lose the ego. If the audience are enjoying what they’re doing, just help facilitate that. Don’t get all uppity about it and don’t think But what about my story about the soap-dish?

“Richard’s Swansea gig is like a baptism of fire and gigs afterwards feel positively breezy in comparison.”

“So,” I asked, “are you going to tailor your show to the audience?”

Chris with Page 3 girl Brandy Brewer this week

Chris out in London with Page 3 girl Brandy Brewer this week

“Unless it’s one of my own 60-minute shows,” Chris said, “I don’t really know what I’m going to talk about until I’m on stage. I’ve got a lifetime of stories. Often, I’ll just start chatting with the audience and something will spark something off – a memory I’m excited to remember – and the audience responds to that.

“If they’re not playing ball, I’ll do something that I hope on the spot they’ll appreciate; which is another ability I had to learn, often painfully. Once, I opened with a 5 minute improvised song – mainly the repeated chorus What’s your favourite cake? I kept trying to get them to join in, convinced they would. But they didn’t.

“I’ve frequently also been politely asked just to leave. A promoter once called me over half way through a 30 minute set and said calmly, almost apologetically: Can you just stop, please. I’ll still pay you.”

“Did you learn anything from your last show in Swansea?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Chris replied. “I quite like the Swansea crowd. It’s not a nice place Swansea. In many important ways – such as cultural and economic – it is neglected and poverty-stricken. But the people are refreshingly human. There’s a simultaneous acceptance and pride. I like people from Swansea. And they chant my name a la football terraces for a good five minutes after I’ve walked on stage, which is both pleasant and easy money.”

The rather ominous poster for tomorrow’s gig

Apathy-destroying poster for gig tomorrow

From Richard’s point of view, though: “The apathy of the locals is my real issue. My Don from Sexy Beast ticket selling style don’t always work. This will be my third night promoting a gig. So apathetic locals, huge distances for comics to travel, my own debatable mental health and a war chest of about £26 makes it all seem a bit daft really. But what’s the choice? I’m only after a regular 150 needles I guess… but ideally all in the same haystack.”

“Have you got an escape plan?” I asked Chris Dangerfield. “A get-out strategy like the Americans should have had in Afghanistan?”

“Valium,” he answered.

“You got any photos from last time that I can use without people suing me?” I asked.

“Maybe on the other computer,” he replied. “I’ll look. Remember, Trevor Lock refused to go last time unless I stopped the smack and got by on codeine tablets. Predictably, I took about 30 and felt quite nice, but the camera picked up an altogether different image.”

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UK comedian Martin Soan once met a strange man at Bimbotown in Germany

Martin Soan at home in London last night, his mind boggled.

Martin Soan – at home in London last night.

I had never heard of Bimbotown in Germany until British comedian Martin Soan told me about it last night. He was raving to me about the joys of Leipzig.

“It’s a genius place, John,” he told me. “It’s full of such beautiful architecture. the central nervous system for 19th and 20th century music conservatoire education, great resistance against Fascism throughout the Second World War, the Green Lung.”

“The Green Lung?” I asked.

“Hitler created it,” Martin explained. “The Saxons were building the largest navigable waterway from the south to the north. The two parts ended up 300 metres apart. Hitler came to power, hated Saxony and stopped the construction and, to this day, those two canals stand 300 metres apart. But all the land in between and around was given over to the infrastructure – warehousing and goods yards, train systems – and it all turned into ruins in the Second World War. When they came out of it, it just grew up as a park.

“So now, in Leipzig, wherever you go, you go through glorious countryside. And Bimbotown’s there.”

“Bimbo Town?”

“Bimbotown,” Martin confirmed. “Probably the world’s greatest semi-automata-automated-automaton of a club. It’s genius. Run by Jim Whiting.”

“Ah,” I said, “I met him in London in about 1986, I was looking for people to be on Game For a Laugh and went to his first floor flat in Archway Road and, going up the stairs, I think there were moving robotic things on the walls and, in his flat, I think there were things moving on the walls and a mechanical man sitting on the sofa.”

There is a clip of his 1986 flat and work on YouTube.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Jim Whiting’s in Leipzig now. Plus there’s this other art guy called Henrik Håkansson who has ensured that the Turner Prize winner gets exhibited second in Leipzig: so it’s now shown in London, then Leipzig, then New York.

“Leipzig’s becoming a hugely important cultural place. I’ve not been for a few years and I’m slightly worried that the romantic, slightly-decaying, forgotten East German aspect which is Saxon – they consider themselves completely different from West Germany obviously – might disappear.”

“And Jim Whiting?” I prompted.

“Genius artist,” said Martin, “dealing in welding, machinery and anything to do with the finer aspects of engineering. He does beauty on an industrial scale, but he’s also a fine engineer on a tiny scale too. Wide vision.”

“So what’s Bimbotown?”

“It’s a concept he came up with. It’s a club with music, bands, comedians. But incorporated into his club are things like…

“You sit down at huge, sweeping unusual-looking bars and stools are installed which are bolted to the ground and they have tractor-like seats. Very comfortable. They incorporate your bum. So you’re sitting on one of these and suddenly – WHOOSH! – your seat zooms upwards and you’re sitting up in the air on this seat and everyone’s laughing.

“Another thing was when I was standing at the bar and everyone had pints of beer. I looked along the bar and everyone simultaneously grabbed their drinks and took them off the bar. I thought What’s that about? and suddenly my glass was just – WHOOSHKKK – knocked over… There was a wire above the huge, sweeping bar which had six East German greatcoats moving round the whole club forever and ever and ever so, when people at the bar saw the next greatcoat coming, they just lifted their glasses off the bar.

“In one part of the club, you’ll be sitting down on chairs over here with a live band over there and suddenly everyone goes WHOOOOAAA! and the whole area with the chairs is on a false floor and suddenly you are sitting there on the chairs moving round the club.

“There was actually one bed ride where you got on these East German beds and it took off and you went round art instalations. Absolutely amazing.

“The people who push the buttons to make all this happen are just ordinary people sitting on armchairs with a table in front of them with BUTTON A, B, C, D. It takes them a while to work out what the buttons do. So they press this – What’s this? – There’s nothing happening! – But, when they press one button, a bar stool is rising with someone sitting on it – rising up into the air. Absolute genius! Loads of stuff.”

“Did you perform there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Three times.

“I met this guy in the club, an old guy – and he had a shopping trolley. He had his whole life in this shopping trolley. He had books and all the significant things in his life. He had a hat on his head, was wearing sunglasses, had a huge beard, a greatcoat, was hunched over this shopping trolley. And people were coming up to him and talking to him; some people were slightly abusive to him, trying to make him react. But he didn’t do anything. He just listened to them for a while, then just moved off. He went through the whole place like that. Enormous club.

“In the end, I actually went up to him and said: Man, you’re doing a fucking genius job. I’ve been watching you for about twenty minutes. I’m stoned, I’m drunk but – I tell you what – that doesn’t take away from my keenness and observation. You are a fucking performance genius.

“He just listened to me and moved off.

“But, as he moved off, there was the flash of a strobe light – because there were lights all over the club flashing and strobing – and I saw he had no legs.

“It was just an automaton machine going round the club. It took me in. It convinced me. I was drunk and stoned and the lights were flashing and the music was great and I thought it was real. I thought he was real. But it was a machine.”

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Filed under Comedy, Germany, Humor, Humour, Puppets, Robotics