Tag Archives: Perth

Award-winning comedy performer John Robertson: Blood and Charm and S&M

John Robertson - 17th December 2014

John Robertson in Dean Street, Soho, yesterday afternoon

Comedy performer John Robertson was brought up in Perth, Australia and now lives with his wife Jo Marsh in London. He is probably best known as creator of The Dark Room show. I had tea with John yesterday afternoon in Soho. He was on his way to the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society’s British Comedy Awards to receive an award.

“What is tonight’s award for?” I asked.

“The awards which are being given out,” he told me, “are not for anything. People were booked for the evening on the basis of whether they wanted to present or receive an award. I quite like the idea of going to an un-real awards ceremony to not receive an award. So I have to go and say Thankyou for something that isn’t occurring.”

“Have a pen,” I said and gave him a pen. “It’s an award from my blog.”

“I always take the title of your blog – So It Goes,” said John, “to be a Kurt Vonnegut reference.”

“Yes,” I said. “Also, in my erstwhile youth, Tony Wilson – you know the movie 24 Hour Party People? – he used to present a Granada TV music programme from Manchester called So It Goes. Presumably also a hommage to Slaughterhouse-Five.”

“Manchester,” said John, “is a place I never end up in.”

“At that time,” I said, “it was nicknamed Madchester. I had the chance to go to Tony Wilson’s Hacienda club a few times but never went because I thought it was probably some naff disco. It wasn’t, of course. I should have gone.”

“In Perth,” said John, “I used to go to a Goth club called Sin and everyone there was crapping on about how much better it was when it was called Dominion.

“But I really preferred Sin cos Dominion I just associated with… Dominion was where my really dumb 14-year-old friends were getting in without being carded and then coming back having done some dull, faint half-S&M with each other.”

“S&M?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said John. “A little bit of the old bondage. The third time I went to Sin, I took a crucifix and all the girls kept trying to sit on it to prove a point. They were trying to do The Exorcist.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“About 18.”

“Aged 16,” I asked, “what did you want to be?”

John Robertson

Aged 16, John Robertson wanted to be lawyer

“I wanted to be a lawyer, because I understood that’s where the money was. But, at school, someone’s dad was a very well-known barrister. He came in, gave us a talk and just revealed himself to be the most dull man on the planet. So I gave up on that dream. It was a bit dry and boring.”

At this point, I started to take some photographs of John.

“Let me see?” he asked. “Oh, can you send me that one? I like the crucifixion imagery behind me.”

“What am I going to write a blog about?” I asked. “What have you been up to?”

“Last week,” said John, “I went down to the face-sitting protest outside Parliament.”

“That was,” I checked, “something about protesting against restrictive new pornography laws?”

“Yes.”

“Did you sit on a face or were you sat on?”

“I watched,” said John. “I defaulted to my usual position. There was some Dutch TV talk show host running around inviting people to penetrate themselves with his microphone. But the whole thing was really deeply charming. All these very English people: We’re here to protect our rights. We’re being quirky and eccentric. It was the most English style of protest I can imagine. There was a woman wearing jodhpurs and tweed sitting on someone’s face while drinking a cup of tea.”

By this time, John was drawing with the pen I had given him.

John’s drawing of a man with a tie

John’s drawing of a man with a tie & big nose

“All I can do is just variations of men in a tie,” he told me. “That’s all I do. Men in ties.”

“Looks a bit like a dodgy Fagin,” I said.

“When I was a kid in Perth and used to draw people,” said John, “I was always roundly criticised because I gave everyone a nose that looked like a dick. Just a big phallic nose. And I still do. Everyone ends up with this distended, bulbous thing.”

“What was growing up in Perth like?” I asked.

“When I was a boy, there was a news report which started: If you were to take a rifle and fire it down St George’s Terrace at midnight, you would normally hit nothing. Except last night, when you would have hit a stolen Army personnel carrier. A guy had broken into the barracks, stolen an Army personnel carrier and just driven it through the completely empty middle of Perth.”

“Nowadays,” I said, “that would go viral on YouTube.”

“I once watched a documentary,” John continued, “where a porn star was asked: What do you like? And she said: Well, I like stuff in my mouth. Because, since I was a child, people have been shoving things into my mouth. The interview didn’t take it any further than that but she said to cope with it she fetishised it.”

“Shoving things into her mouth?” I asked.

“Whether she meant dummies or dentists or abuse I don’t know,” said John. “I hope it wasn’t abuse. I took it to be more of a dental thing. Perhaps she just had a particularly bad reaction to oral dental work and needed to build something to cope with it. Strange, isn’t it?

This morning’s newspaper headline in London

This morning’s newspaper headline in London

“I woke up this morning to news of the massacre in Pakistan and I thought: That’s too difficult. 132 schoolchildren have been murdered. That’s too hard to process. But imagine the luxury of being able to say: That’s too hard to process. I mean, Life is too hard to process.

“I also just read the note points – the summary – of the CIA torture report and, as someone who’s into S&M, that makes very uncomfortable reading. You’re thinking Oh, that’s dreadful, but getting a faint tingle. S&M is a combination of the things that horrify you and sex.”

“Are you into S&M?” I asked.

“Hugely,” said John. “Hugely. I’m a bondage man.”

“Is it OK to quote that?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said John. “I went to the face-sitting demonstration. I wasn’t there for no reason. I’m fascinated because, since coming to London, through all this ‘British repression’, you just have to say You know what I like? Bondage and other people will say Oh, yes, actually, I do too… and everyone comes out.”

“It’s not my thing,” I said. “I’m into M&S not S&M. I think it may be an English rather than a British thing. The cliché explanation is that it’s the English public school system does it…”

“I’ve been to a Scottish bondage club,” said John. “They were playing The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ The Impression That I Get, which is a great song for a bondage club.

“But the thing about English public schools… I went to an all-boys school in Australia and, on the first day of being in the ‘big school’, we were not given lockers, we were given these cages that were roughly the size of a boy. Within about an hour, a kid called Cayden had been shoved in and locked in one. He ended up getting stabbed with various things.”

“You should do an Edinburgh Fringe show about it,” I suggested.

“I did,” said John. “In 2012. It was called Blood and Charm.”

“Well,” I said, “that destroys any pretence I might have that I know what’s happening or happened at the Fringe. Why Blood and Charm?”

“I saw a show done by a very dear friend of mine and the opening line was: The things in this show didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. So I thought: What if I take a whole bunch of true stuff and I complement it with real fantasy nonsense – a lot of bloodthirsty fairy tales and things like that – and treat both with the same disdain? So I started with: My father killed himself.

“Did he?”

“Yes, my dad hung himself. So I thought I’ll weave that through and do this Hansel & Gretel thing and then this thing that sounds like it’s real and which ends with this zombie vagina and then…”

“What’s a zombie vagina?” I asked.

John Robertson - Blood and Charm

John Robertson – Blood and Charm at the Edinburgh Fringe

“The vagina of a zombie. It kills you. It’s the end of a story where this man looks at this woman and then suddenly this hand shoots out of her vagina and gouges out his eyes and pulls him in and eats him, really chomps on him.”

“Well,” I said, “I could say We’ve all been there… but…”

“All I ever wanted,” said John, “was to be isolated and left with my thoughts that may or may not be real.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“I thought, if I said that, it would make a good end to your blog.”

“It possibly needs explanation,” I suggested.

“I just wanted to be left alone with the people I love and the people I want to do strange and terrible things to and have a great time and make a great deal of money telling you what I think.”

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Faking publicity quotes and why you don’t want to sit in a chair in Perth, Oz

In June last year, John Robertson and Jo Marsh got married in a chicken shed in Australia. I blogged about it at the time and there is a video on YouTube:

John Robertson is a comedian and originator of the extraordinary stage show The Dark Room.

Jo Marsh worked as Programming Director at the Wild West Comedy Festival in Australia for two years, then got head-hunted by a businessman who owned the title Perth International Comedy Festival. She started that from scratch and built it into a multi-million dollar business in two years.

Last August, they were at the Edinburgh Fringe. Then they moved to Britain. First Brighton. Now London.

Why?

John and Jo join Sir John Betjamin in London

John & Jo join Sir John Betjeman in London

“The opportunities here are so vast,” Jo told me at St Pancras station (don’t ask – I just like it). “When you get an Arts job in Australia,” she explained, “you literally sit in your chair at your job and you make a little bum-crease in it and you never leave. In Western Australia, the only way people get Arts jobs is if other people die, because there are so few in Australia. The opportunities are greater here in Britain. The pubs are nicer. And real culture is being made in London.”

“So you moved to Britain to…” I prompted.

“To mess up your culture,” suggested John.

“Perth is lovely,” said Jo. “It’s a great place if you want to retire or make babies and it’s well-lit.”

“It’s incredible what the sun can do,” agreed John.

“In Perth,” explained Jo, “I learned as much as I possibly could but, if I stayed there, I would just be doing the same thing over and over again and I wanted to come here and learn more and do more and experience more than I would in Perth, which is the most isolated city in the world.”

“You managed, though.” John said, “in that isolation to create a beautiful boutique festival that was a huge commercial success.”

“But, having done that,” explained Jo, “I would just be…”

At that point, a man with no legs glided past us on a skateboard.

“Hello,” he said as he passed our table and then he was gone. It somewhat threw the conversation.

“I’ve got a follower on Twitter,” I said rather distractedly to Jo, “who claims he has had five Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations. I’ve never heard of him. I think he’s a fake person. But Malcolm would have approved.”

“In Australia,” Jo told me, “people just say they’ve won an award because no-one’s going to check up. They’ll win the Least Most Annoying Song award and suddenly they say they’ve won the Best Comedy Song in Western Australia award. There was a Best Local Act award which got put on posters as Best Comedian, Western Australia. There are quotes like Amazing… Entertaining and the original quote was actually It’s amazing how un-entertaining this show is.”

Jo and John remembered publicity scams

Jo and John – Would you trust this man in a Dark Room?

“Just like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Do you know the Jason Wood story? He got a one-star review from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman and the next day Copstick is walking round Edinburgh and, on all his posters, Jason has put A STAR! (The Scotsman).”

“Someone we know,” said John, “uses the press quote A natural comedian… which is actually from a slightly longer quote which said Not a natural comedian. That’s a work of publicity genius.”

“There’s a story about Alan Carr,” I said, “which I think is true but might be apocryphal. In his early days, he is supposed to have put on his Edinburgh Fringe posters: Carr is the future of British comedy – which was an absolutely correct quote. It was not mis-quoting anything in any way. Except the quote was from a review of a show by Jimmy Carr not Alan Carr. Even if it’s not true, it’s an admirable example of lateral publicity thinking.”

“I was on BBC Radio Scotland,” said John. “I rocked up to do their Comedy Cafe. It was me, a little American woman ventriloquist and a really grumpy huge Irish guy who hated both of us. It began with the presenter saying: So, John, you’ve been named as one of Australia’s top comics and I think I’m not going to correct him. – The quote was actually One of Austrialia’s Top Ten young comedians and it’s from Zoo magazine and I’m on the list because the guy who wrote the list is a friend of mine and it came after an article – which he also wrote – that say’s he is the best comedian in Australia.”

“Should I plug The Dark Room?” I asked.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

The Dark Room – some time in time in Holland

“Probably,” said John.

“You could say it’s won a Tony Award,” I suggested.

“Perhaps an Antonio Antonioni Award as best non-Spanish Spanish play by a non-Spaniard?” suggested John.

So?” I asked.

“It looks like we’re going to do The Dark Room weekly in a pub in London,” John told me, “and there’s a place in the Netherlands – Harlingen where we might do it sometime between this year and 2016.”

“At any point between those two dates?” I asked.

“Yes?”

“Why such a wide window of possibility?”

“No idea. I’m also doing The Dark Room at the Edinburgh Fringe again this year and possibly at a London theatre after that.”

“And probably,” I checked, “in Holland, but it could be any time between 2014 and 2016?”

“Yes.”

“But the exact date or dates is or are unknown.”

“Yes.”

“I feel I am in a dark room,” I said.

The Dark Room is also on YouTube:

On the subject of fakery, the bit about the legless man on a skateboard did not actually happen at St Pancras while I was talking to Jo and John.

It actually DID happen when I was talking to Gareth Morinan outside Bar Italia in Soho last week. It did not fit comfortably into that blog, but I felt it deserved to appear somewhere and it seemed to fit here. I needed a ‘bridge’ between unconnected quotes and the legless man seemed to fit. So it is true and yet untrue simultaneously.

Which seems apt here.

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Australian comic John Robertson gets married in a chicken shed after a coma

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Well, here’s to you, Mrs Robinson...

Well, here’s to you, Mrs Robinson…

I was distracted this week by being on jury service and then being in bed for two days, sweaty and coughy and generally drippy from various parts of my body.

So I forgot that Australian performer John Robertson got married last Saturday to his girlfriend Jo Marsh in Perth (the Australian one) after eight years together.

Jo is Festival Director of the Perth International Comedy Festival.

“How did you two meet?” I asked.

“Jo was in a massive car accident,” explained John, “and ended up in a coma. At the same time, I auditioned on Australian Idol. There’s a clip of it on YouTube.

“Jo awoke from her coma in a hospital bed and turned on the TV – and saw that. She loved it.

“Months later, I went to see a play that her then-boyfriend was in. I didn’t think he was very good. The next day I ran into him in KFC and said I thought you were very good. He then went Australian Idol guy! My girlfriend loves you! and he put me on the phone to her. We had a great conversation. She can’t remember it, because she was high on morphine. I can, because I was high on recognition. A bit later, he left her. She met me at a party, recognised me from Australian Idol and, while she denies this, I said Hello. There are a lot of unattractive people about to fuck in that hot tub. I would like to go home. So we did.”

“Did you plan a traditional white wedding?” I asked John yesterday.

“Hell, no,” he told me. “That was the first thing we got rid of. We just smashed everything we loved into one big, beautiful clusterfuck. She’d always loved an urban farm covered in graffiti and chickens – so we thought we’d get married in their shed. We spent the first third of this year playing the video game Skyrim and said Look at those rusty cages holding those bones! Let’s make some and fill them with lights! Look at these black-and-white wall hangings covered with eyes. Could a priest stand in front of those and scare the shit out of everyone?

The chapel, says John “before we lit the joint"

John’s layout for the fake cathedral – “before we lit the joint”

“So we were married by a priest in a fake cathedral made of lights and netting, inside in a shed, inside an urban farm with chickens and graffiti everywhere.

“Usually your groom and his mates are clustered in an awkward line somewhere near the celebrant and smiling nervously.

“My crew came through a door at the back of the room holding sparklers and marching to Motorhead. I’m a massive wrestling fan, so me walking about became two wrestling entrances – Triple H (Lemmy screaming It’s All About The Game And How You Play It!) and Shawn Michaels.

“Upon reaching the front, my crew formed a line behind me with the priest and wedding MC. When I dropped down to flex my biceps, they let off party poppers.

“Once we’d finished our ludicrous funsies, Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady rang out and comedian-turned-Mars One-astronaut-applicant Josh Richards walked out, performing some manner of dance with a Japanese fan.

“Soon after that, he was joined by another bridesmaid, doing the same thing.

John and Jo dance at the wedding in Perth

John and Jo dance at their truly not unusual wedding in Perth

“And then they were both grabbed by Jo’s sister and hauled to the front – whereupon YEAAHHH! – the opening scream from Tom Jones’ If I Only Knew rang out… And out walked my father-in-law – a 6′ 3” grey-mulletted Texan in full black formal cowboy gear with a ten gallon hat on.

“He gestured and BOOM – there stood Jo, pale and lovely in a white and blood-red corset, massive hoop skirt and five-mile long train. She marched up the aisle as the whole crowd clapped and danced to It’s Not Unusual.

“Then we cried a bit which, for a man in a striped suit with cowboy boots and anime hair, is a fun thing to do.

“The sermon was performed by comedian-turned-priest Chris Bedding. The MCing and crowd-threatening was done by comedian Werzel Montague. The Flaming Lips’ song Do You Realize?? was sung and strummed on ukulele by comedian Don Smith, who forgave me for singing along off-key and weeping, staring into my new wife’s eyes.”

“And the reception?” I asked.

“It was held,” John told me, “inside the same fairy-lights and netting area, with the false chapel raised up into the ceiling. Seats were arranged medieval-style for the convenient access of dancing girls and we had a sword fight instead of a bridal waltz.

Time for bridal waltz – Everybody stands up, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On breaks out, everybody giggles… Jo starts saying, What is this? I say You love Celine Dion! YOU LOVE CELINE DION! and we’re pulled apart by our groomsmen and bridesmaids respectively.

“Werzel then brings us our ceremonial swords – What’s that? – The fight music from Star Trek comes on and we hack away at each other as only two completely hammered and ill-practised people can.

“After I refused to stay down for the part where she (all Errol Flynn-like) pins my sword to the ground and punches me in the head, she snogged me.

“It’s a good way to end, no? The video is on YouTube.

“Then it was time for music. So what comes on the speakers immediately? Too Drunk To Fuck by The Dead Kennedys. Too late to do anything about that, we jitter around the floor. As it turns out, we were.”

“Why marriage?” I asked.

“We understand each other,” John told me. “She’s tolerant and feisty and brainy and pretty and we’ve come a long way from driving around in her car, hunting for pastries at three in the morning. We’ve been together eight years – you learn a lot about a person in that time – and they can still surprise you. Also, when she gets too soppy, I cheer her up by joking about death – and when I get too soppy she cheers me up by telling me I’m being an idiot.”

“What are you doing at the moment?”

“I’ve been tinkering with lights and making all manner of unspeakable horrors happen for The Dark Room at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Hiding secret things in secret places. Practising my punishment voice. Wondering if it’s possible to build an enormous hand with which to stroke audiences. Raiding IKEA.”

“Are you developing The Dark Room in any other media?”

“I’m still working on making it a proper video game and I want it to be a book.”

“Or a major feature film with Spielberg directing?” I asked.

“Ah,” said John, “I stopped returning Spielberg’s calls after he asked if the room could be not really dark at all, and played by Tom Cruise“.

And beyond that?

“I’ve been working on a YouTube series The White Room for Hat Trick Productions. Unlike The Dark Room, you’re not trying to escape anything, but you might be trying to find something – it’s a parody of open world games, so there’s the ostensible freedom to do anything, but combined with I’ve lost my beard! Go and find it for me! and then the quest is really quick and easy, like every quest in every one of those games, you know what I mean?”

“Is Jo coming with you to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?” I asked.

“Oh, God yeah and we’re moving to the UK. Australia’s great, but I’m done now. I want to come to where I first saw well-dressed surrealists in suits causing real trouble. So we’re moving to Brighton! It’s coastal! It’s cold! Australian Goth icon Nick Cave lives there! Then I travel! TRAVEL! I do a preview show of The Dark Room at Leicester Square Theatre on July 24th. Then the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Do I take it?” I asked, “that now you are married you are not going to settle down with pipe, slippers and a koala?”

“Koalas carry syphilis,” said John, “and I have never settled down.”

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Oz comedy news: mermaids in Perth and British Laughing Horse in Adelaide

Marcel Lucont and mermaid in tank in Perth

Comedy promoter Alex Petty of Laughing Horse and Edinburgh’s Free Festival tells me he has no news of Bob Slayer more up-to-date than my blog of yesterday, when Bob had fled Perth for Coober Pedythe opal-mining centre of the world.

“I last saw him heading for the Outback with Jimbo and a goat in a van,” Alex says. “I’m hoping he survives the trip (and more importantly the Outback survives Bob) and he makes it to the Adelaide Fringe, which starts on the 24th.

“Perth is a relatively little town, but it clearly couldn’t handle the over-the-top charms of Mr Slayer, who managed to out-drink everyone and get in trouble in his first two days in the town even with the limited about of drinking time available (half the bars close at 9pm for god sake). Bob has promised to behave for Adelaide. Let’s see.

Perth is a great little Fringe. A baby Fringe that will hopefully grow over the coming years. Probably what Edinburgh was like 50 years ago, but with sun, mosquitoes and expensive beer. The size of the Fringe fits the city perfectly. Unlike Edinburgh. It’s well worth visiting British performers thinking about doing Perth as well as Adelaide and Melbourne. (but let’s hope it doesn’t grow too big!).

Eric and Marcel Lucont had great runs and Marcel was last seen swimming around a tank with some mermaids. You don’t get that in Edinburgh; there would be ice on the water.”

Alex’s Laughing Horse, Alan Anderson and Nik Coppin are running the Austral venue at the upcoming Adelaide Fringe.

Alex says: “It seems odd to me that, in Adelaide, performers can travel half way around the world, put on paid shows and come home with a profit and a tan – both of which are near-impossible in Edinburgh. I’m getting into Adelaide to build the venue and hoping it will be a warmer version of what I do in Edinburgh with the Free Festival.”

Alex, never one to hold back on publicity, says: “We’re bringing Free Festival acts Nik Coppin with his Shaggers show, David Lemkin, Blues singer Mike McKeon, storyteller Sameena Zehra, comic John Scott. It’s great fun to get these shows from their freebie venues in Edinburgh to the other side of the planet. And of course Bob Slayer… possibly… if he gets there.

Alex is also bringing over to Adelaide the much-admired-by-me German comic Paco Erhard (blogged about here) and also Hollywood comic and actor Craig Shaynak, a sturdily-built chap who once threatened to beat me up over what he perceived as a lukewarm review by me of an old show of his which I wrote for the Chortle website. I think he was joking. He has always otherwise been terribly friendly to me. And he is very funny. An excellent performer. I cannot praise him enough. I love him. I want us to have babies together. He may not have been joking.

I notice Alex is also staging a Laughing Horse pick-of-the-Fringe show and has (as he did at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe) blatantly stolen the late Malcolm Hardee’s idea of prefixing the title with “Aaaaaaargh!” so it gets an early alphabetical listing in the programme.

It’s blatant theft!

He has nicked Malcolm’s idea!

Malcolm would be proud of him.

And I think I could beat him in a fair fight.

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British comedian Eric, in Australia, has brief encounters with drunk Bob Slayer

British comedian Eric and newborn baby in Australia

“We’re getting on like a house on fire,” someone said as they watched a house burning in yellow flames.

With my sleep-patterns disturbed, that very unusual thing has happened again: I remember part of my dreams last night.

People were arriving in a big room for the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Someone said they were looking for “more overton.”

I could not understand what this meant.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the by-now-Edinburgh-Fringe-veteran comedian Eric has been having his sleep patterns disturbed by his new baby Erica. This is not a dream. More a welcome nightmare.

“My whole day is taken up looking after the little one,” he told me in an e-mail over a week ago. “I hardly go out, unless it is to the shop to buy food. The only conversation I have is about the little one, who incidentally seems to take having her nappy removed as her cue to let loose; she managed to get it all up my arm and halfway across the kitchen the other day.”

He had a respite last week, though, when he flew solo from Adelaide to Perth for a series of shows at the Perth Festival. Or, as it turned out, one of the Perth festivals.

It is relevant to mention at this point that British comedian Bob Slayer was supposed to be sending ‘reports’ on his progress in Australia to this blog, but has gone AWOL.

These are extracts from Eric’s diary of last week:

Monday 6th February

I arrive in Perth from Adelaide in a 31 degree heat to find an elderly lady being given a good sniffing-over by one of the airport security dogs. Aha! I think, The only drugs you are going to find on her will have been prescribed by her doctor! But this dog is not looking for drugs; it is a ‘fruit dog’ and this old lady looks a likely suspect to be smuggling in a nectarine or a kumquat. I walk quickly past them hoping the dog does not smell the mango flavoured ice cream I spilt in my lap from the in-flight meal.

Walking across the concourse I bump into Ollie Simon, who is just leaving for Sydney having completed her duties as manager of the Axis of Awesome, an Aussie trio of talented musicians/comedians who are performing at the Fringe World Festival Perth (FWFP) – not to be confused with the Perth Festival, which does not start for another four days yet nor the Perth Fringe Festival which, according to the publicity, was initially due to replace the Fringe World Festival Perth (FWFP) in 2012.

Then I bump into Alex Petty (of the Edinburgh Free Festival) and Bob Slayer. Alex also arrived in Perth this afternoon, but from the UK, so he is significantly more jet-lagged than me. Bob looks like a man who has been here since he was deported for stealing bread and is none too happy about it. I later learn from Alex that Bob has been banished from the Fringe World Festival Perth (FWFP) and has had all his shows cancelled. I try to talk to him about it, but all I get out of him are animal noises.

We head off to see Marcel Lucont’s last show at the FWFP but, when we arrive, there seems to be some debate among the security staff as to whether Bob Slayer is allowed in. After a lot of talking into radios and one girl slipping away to make a discrete phone call to the festival director, Bob is finally issued with a ticket.

Tuesday 7th February

I arrive at the RTRfm radio studio at 7.10am to be interviewed. The interviewer is a guy called Peter Barr, a lovely chap and we chat for several minutes. (Listen here)

Later, I see a show called Polly’s Waffle. I arrive late and have to sit in the front row. Everyone else in the front row is swathed in plastic sheeting. I find out why a few minutes later when we all get covered in food, thrown at us by the very comely Summer Williams.

Marcel Lucont invites me to join him for some supper at an Italian restaurant and I arrive to find Bob Slayer licking a painting on the wall.

Wednesday 8th February

It is my first show today. After the show, I have a drink in the venue’s beer garden and receive a text informing me that Bob Slayer has been refused entry to the Treasury Beer Garden and I am summoned to join him at the Brass Monkey. So I head across town.

On arrival, I find Slayer, his face covered in Emulsion (apparently as a cheap alternative to sunscreen) sitting in the outdoor courtyard rocking backwards and forwards on his chair. He looks up, sees me, slips and jams his hand in between his chair and the railings. He ponces a pint off me and then just sits in silence drinking the beer I have just bought him and rubbing his hand. He is clearly in some discomfort.

Thursday 9th February

I go to Fast Eddie’s for supper with Alex Petty. Walking back across town towards our respective accommodation, we find a single stiletto abandoned on the pavement. A few yards away is a poster advertising Jelly Wrestling.

Friday 10th February

Bob Slayer was last seen tethered to a goat being put in the back of a van, smelling like he has been liberally greased in goose-fat.

I join Alex Petty at the Lucky Shag. I break my own golden rule of foreign travel and have a British beer: a pint of Hobgoblin Ruby – it is not easily found and it is a stonking good ale.

The barmaid has some difficulty pouring it and, after several unsuccessful attempts to stop it bubbling up and overflowing, I ask if there is anything I can do to help. She looks me straight in the eyes and offers to “suck the head off for me.” Then, seeing the look on my face, realises what she has said and we both blush furiously.

Saturday 11th February

As I enter my venue to do my show, the security guard warns me that I have to behave myself tonight or he will throw me out again…

“What do you mean throw me out again?” I ask.

“I had to throw you out last night as you had had too much to drink,” he answers.

“No you didn’t,” I protest. “I didn’t even have a drink here last night!” But it is no good, he is convinced that he ejected me the night before and there appears to be nothing I can do to convince him it wasn’t me.

I wonder: Has Bob Slayer been dressing up as me and causing trouble? Surely not…

I go on to St Georges Terrace, where trapeze artists are suspended high above the city throwing out feathers to mark the opening of the Perth Festival (which, if the posters are anything to go by, translates as the Perth International Arts Festival 10 Feb – 3 March). There are a LOT of feathers – and I mean a LOT of feathers – there are hundreds of people covered in the things and, when the crowd eventually disperses, it looks like a blanket of snow has fallen across the city. I feel that as they have gone to so much effort that it would be inappropriate to point out that today is actually the 11th.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Dreams, Drink, Theatre

How a comic’s Christmas baby was born rather late in Australia’s summer sun

I woke up this morning to about six inches of snow as far as the eye could see. Things are said to be worse in the Ukraine. Well, they are. People are dying from the cold.

Things are allegedly better in Australia.

I say ‘allegedly’ because I prefer the snow to the sun – probably a consequence of being partly brought-up on a hill in Aberdeen. There was a block of flats involved.

But I digress already.

I mentioned in passing in a blog a couple of days ago British comedian Eric, who has recently become a father in Australia.

A few people thought my blog was rather sketchy – “At least you could have mentioned the baby’s name,” someone said to me.

Eric is in Adelaide at the moment, but flies to Perth tomorrow to the Fringe World Festival, where he will tell tales of his past as a submariner.

Then he flies back to the Adelaide Fringe, 24 February to 18 March.

So the new baby will be well-travelled very early.

Eric met the new baby’s mum Helen when he was performing his show at the Adelaide Fringe back in 2010.

The baby was due on 18th December last year and the plan was to fly out from Britain to Australia in October, have the baby, then have a typical Aussie Christmas morning on the beach followed by a BBQ.

But, Eric told me this week in an e-mail from Oz:

…the baby had other plans and when we woke up on Christmas morning, she was still in residence in mummy’s tummy and didn’t show any signs of joining us any time soon. So we went to the beach as planned, with Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody blasting out of everybody’s radio. It was the first time I had ever taken any notice of the line, “Are you waiting for the family to arrive?”

While we were at the beach we phoned the hospital, as there had been some water that wasn’t provided by the sea… and the midwife told us to go to the hospital.

 Although they let us out again, we had to go back first thing on Boxing Day (or Proclamation Day as they call it here).

So, at 7.00am, we packed our bags and set off.

As we got to the end of the drive we were flagged down by our elderly neighbour. I thought: Oh! How nice! She is waving us down to say Merry Christmas and wish us well for the delivery!

But, instead, she said: You’ve got to help me! I’ve got no electricity!

She was making Christmas dinner and it was going to be ruined if I couldn’t get the oven back on. So I spent the next few minutes sorting out her electricity supply.

It was something with apricots apparently…

As we set off again, the car radio was playing Johnny Mathis – When a Child is Born.

Twenty-six long hours later, Johnny’s prediction came true.

A water birth if you’re interested.

And she is the most gorgeous little baby girl. Well, according to everyone we meet anyway. Although I must admit I do agree with everyone. And I’m not biased.

We debated names for her… Well, I say we debated… Her mother told me what she was going to be called and I agreed. As I met Helen when she came to see my show, it is perhaps only right that the baby’s name should be meaningful.

So she is now called baby Erica.

Her poos are mustard colour

* * *

So tomorrow, rather worryingly, Eric, Helen and Erica are heading towards Perth where, by all accounts, British comedian Bob Slayer is proving the truth of his show’s title Bob Slayer Will Out-Drink Australia.

What happens in the coming week when there is a triple culture clash between Australia, Bob Slayer and baby Erica and family, I dread to think. Eric tells me:

I played cricket with Bob at the Comedians’ Cricket Match back in the UK last May (my blog about it is hereand we were under strict instructions to wear ‘whites’. The opposition laughed as Bob strode to the crease dressed from head to foot in black, then promptly stopped laughing as he hit their star bowler for six! That’s the thing with Bob: you never know what he is going to do, either onstage or off…

Stay tuned.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Parenthood

Three comedians & a baby in Australia + the problem of German stereotypes

(Part of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Things are looking up Down Under.

I got a message yesterday from Australia, which started:

Carlsberg don’t do Press Releases, but if they did perhaps it would read…

It then told me that amiable British sub-mariner turned stand-up comedian Eric had had a baby. Well, Helen had. This somewhat belated (it arrived on 31st January!) ‘press release’ read:

Tuesday December 27 2011 at Flinders Medical Centre, Adelaide, South Australia …. 09:03hrs ACDT (23:33hrs Monday 26 Dec GMT)

Blonde Hair. Blue Eyes. Both mother and baby are doing well. After a process that began on Xmas morning at 9am Both parents are tired but absolutely delighted.

Sorry we couldn’t notify you before, but we are exhausted and so are our phone batteries. This info is somewhat belated, but as you can imagine our lives have been literally turned ‘upside down’. We have been trying to send you this for a while now…

I also got a message from a euphoric Bob Slayer in Australia saying:

Hey, Mr John, The Drum magazine wrote a nice feature on me on page 21 in their centre spread and I had an interview on RTRfm Radio in Perth. I like to think that I managed to be surprisingly funny, considering it was 8:25am. I did not know before this there were two 8.25s in the day. My first show is tonight, tickets seem to be selling at a beautiful rate and I have negotiated free beer from the venue!

Comedian three in this blog is Paco Erhard, who is taking his 5-Step Guide to Being German show to the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festival after a one-off at London’s Leicester Square Theatre on 13th February. This is the show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last August and wrote about in a So It Goes blog and in Mensa Magazine (Paco is a member).

On his re-designed website, he quotes a line of mine:

Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

“Quoting a nonentity like me smacks of desperation,” I suggested to him. “And you have five star reviews you can quote from reputable publications. Festivals Review said you were one of the ten best shows at the Fringe!”

“Well,” he replied, “your quote expresses too nicely how I want to be seen to not use it.”

So what will Australians make of Paco’s German show?

“I try to refute German stereotypes,” he tells me, “but, ironically, I actually have quite a bit of difficulty making people believe I’m really German. I don’t look or sound stereotypically German enough, especially outside my solo show – ie in normal comedy gigs.

“Some people watch my act for 20 minutes, hear me talk about being German and they’ll still think Why is this Irish guy pretending to be German? It’s a weird, paradoxical situation. Should I put on a German accent and dye my hair blond, in order to convince people that Germans are not like they think?  It’s ridiculous that I should have to desperately convince people I am German, thereby conjuring up all the stereotypes that they allegedly hold about Germans, just in order to then blame them for thinking what I have just brought up and then telling them what we’re really like. Okay, this is an extreme description, but there is a bit of that involved in some comedy club gigs that I do.

“That’s why I like festivals more at present, because there the people come to see my show because they are interested in the topic and it is established well before the show that I am really German. That way I can just be myself more or less. However, I do have some sort of accent, so if I don’t say anything about where I’m from, they’ll sit there more focussed on trying to find out where my accent is from than on my comedy. Maybe I should just use my real name, Erhard Hübener. But I wanna see the MC who can pronounce that or the punter who will remember it after the gig, no matter how much he liked me. I could be on TV every day and, in the credits, I’d probably still be called The German guy. Oh well.

“I don’t think my show is a show about stereotypes. I try to go beyond that. But I do address the stereotypes at the beginning of the show. It’s important to me to do that in a clever, deconstructive, ridiculing way (although I still have one or two in there that are a bit naff… but hey, they get a laugh and I’m a whore…)… it would be a lie to say I don’t do stereotypes at all. However, I think you have to address them to get them out of the way. It would be silly to pretend they aren’t there. And, especially when talking to people who still cherish some of those stereotypes somewhere deep in their hearts, you have to pick them up where they are… they won’t follow you on the journey of your show if you depart from a point of knowledge or an attitude that they don’t have yet.

“I am off to Adelaide and Melbourne on the 21st of February and I think doing the Australian festivals will make me a much better comedian. In my comedy here in Britain I still lean on the (alleged) British-German conflict too much, which is one thing I really want to get away from. I was strongly influenced by my five or six years of being a compere to those Sun-reading package-holiday imbeciles in Majorca, most of whom I actually liked, but a considerable amount of whom gave me a lot of (stupid) shit about being German.

“Some Brits seem to think that they have a sense of humour or know how to be funny (there’s a difference between these two) when in reality they are just stupid, unoriginal and offensive. (But it’s okay, you know, because everybody knows that, just like fish, Germans don’t have feelings.) So I came to Britain thinking I would be up against a lot of hostility just because of my nationality and that I’d better talk about being German a lot and also giving them a bit of a hard time for being British. While I realised quickly that British people in Britain were very, very different from the ones I had encountered on Spain’s beaches, that old feeling of hurt and defensiveness paired with a certain aggressiveness remained with me for quite a bit of time and I think hasn’t completely gone away yet. It was a real epiphany a few months ago when I realised that most Brits actually quite like the Germans.

“Anyway, this whole issue won’t be, well, ‘an issue’ in Australia. Which will be a relief, a challenge and an adventure all rolled in one. I’m free of all that old We don’t like each other bullshit, that subconscious unrealistic feeling that somehow there is a rift between me and the audience (that I then involuntarily fortify by addressing it implicitly). I can’t use that as a crutch anymore. All of that material I had best forget about doing in Australia. They won’t care. So I will have to dig deep within myself for the things I really want to say. Which I already did to a large degree at the Edinburgh Fringe last August. But I know my show can definitely be further purged of all that. And I have a lot of stuff I’ve been wanting to say for a long time… and I will say it now in Australia. Also, I will improve the show’s structure a lot for Australia. And then I’ll bring all that back to Britain. (And also I will have free rein to say some rough things about Britain without hurting anybody’s feelings or getting bottles thrown at me :-D)

“I will need quite a bit of new material for Australia, but I see that more as an opportunity to finally use some great material I’ve been writing for years and that I never got to do.

“I have some concerns, but they are less to do with the art, than the marketing. I’ve been bitching about having gotten a lot of grief from Brits about being German, but being ‘a German comedian’ simply is a fantastic selling point in Britain. I do think I had a good or maybe even very good show in Edinburgh, so yes, I delivered, but I think lots of people came because GERMAN COMEDIAN stands out of the crowd more than “British white middle-class comedian, number 2417”. It’s a selling point and it helps me. Not when I’m on stage – then I better be funny – but to get people into my shows. And I don’t know if this selling point is quite so strong in Australia. They live on the other side of the world, so their attitude to Germany is bound to be very different from Britain’s, which has had a direct relationship with Germany – in good times and in bad ones – for centuries. They might not go for it as much. Who knows? I hope they do.”

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Germany, Racism, Theatre, Uncategorized