Tag Archives: Philippe Gaulier

Zuma Puma is on her way to Mexico via Canada: “Clown is nothing like improv!”

Zuma Puma on Skype from the Midlands

Zuma via Skype, going to Mexico via Canada

Canadian performer Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott is leaving Britain next Thursday. She has left her London flat and was with family up in the Midlands when I talked to her via Skype.

“Why are you going back to Canada?” I asked.

“To get to Mexico.”

“Why via Canada?”

“Because it was £100 cheaper and I can visit my family in Toronto. I might even teach a clown intensive at my mum’s university – Brock University. She teaches playwriting and directing there. I am going to Mexico on a one-way ticket.”

“Why Mexico?” I asked. “It’s full of Mexicans.”

“Exactly,” said Nelly. “I love the Mexicans. I have wanted to go there for a very long time.”

“Why? Are they lacking clowns in Mexico?”

“Yes. I’m going to work with my friend and his company La Bouffant Sociale. He was my clown partner in the Cirque du Soleil School in Montreal. I studied there for a year – L’École de Clown et Comédie.”

“You are going to Mexico City?”

“We are just meeting there and then we’re going to a salty beach where we have a 15-day artist residency, building a show out of beach garbage. So that’ll be exciting. Then there is a tour in Mexico.”

“But before you go, you’re busy in London,” I prompted.

“Yes. This Thursday, we’re doing One Man, Two Ghosts at Unscene 199 Festival at New River Studios in Manor House.”

“Which is…?”

“You saw it in Edinburgh and said you liked it.”

“I did, but for those who didn’t see it…”

“It’s a clown farce: basically Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit as told by three complete idiots. A two-layered story of what’s happening in the play and with the players beneath the play.”

“And then,” I said, “your last Lost Cabaret show in Stockwell on Friday.”

Annie Bashford and Nathan Lang at the Edinburgh Fringe

Annie Bashford and Nathan Lang at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

“Well, it’s not the last. I’m handing it over to Nathan Lang and Annie Bashford who will be continuing it monthly.”

“Until you come back from the Americas?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t know if I will come back to London. I might come back to Bristol. I feel I’m pretty much done in London.”

“You’ve been invited back to do a full run of One Man, Two Ghosts at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe at the New Town Theatre.”

“Yes. I will be back maybe in June or July next year to take One Man, Two Ghosts to the next stage.”

“And this coming weekend you are also doing your Clown Life Intensive workshops…”

“Yes. At The Pleasance Theatre in London on Saturday and Sunday.”

“What is Clown Life Intensive?” I asked.

“It’s a merging between the world of clown and personal development. So it’s clowning but not just for performers – it’s for anyone who’s interested in building their confidence and personal development, discovering their humour and looking at tools to play and understand themselves a bit more. So it’s a deep development process. You look at yourself and it’s an amplification of who you are.

“There are bits of themselves that most people don’t want to admit – they’re OCD or forgetful or a bit slow. Everyone’s got an issue. It is taking that issue and amplifying it, owning it and saying Yeah, this is a part of me. For instance, in One Man, Two Ghosts, I play a bit of a star diva and it’s all about me and how good the show is and a perfectionist and that IS me – that’s who I am. It’s just amplified to the next extent where everyone can laugh about it because it’s something and someone they all recognise.

clownlifeintensive“Clown is honest and it’s real. It’s liberating for audiences but also for the performers and my objective with the workshop is not for everyone to leave saying: I am now a clown! I am interested in people who are interested in personal development and understanding self and owning themself as a person and understanding how they connect with audiences and relate to people in life.

“Clown has been the most healing and incredible tool for personal development in my life. And there are loads of tools and techniques that have a real parallel between life and performance that I want to teach.

“It’s not like a weekend of intense guru-type development. I’m not there to be a therapist. But there are loads of tools and techniques and exercises that can teach someone a lot about themself and which are loads of fun. It’s basically a weekend of insane amounts of laughter and play, which is good for anybody… with the added bonus of being challenging at times. It is rewarding for anybody.”

“You did the Gaulier course in Paris, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Why would these people not go to Gaulier instead?”

Sacha Baron Cohen - What was the hardest thing he has done?

Sacha Baron Cohen – The hardest thing he has done? (Photograph by Michael Bulcik)

“To go to Gauilier, you have to be the most committed performer in the world. Gaulier is the hardest school anyone’s ever gone to. Sacha Baron Cohen said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. You have to really want to be a performer to go to Gaulier.”

“Why is it hard?” I asked.

“Because he is so challenging. He does not accept anything that is not your most brilliant. You are shit until you find magic and how rare is it to find magic? When you have the whole audience in your hand, that happens once in a while and he teaches you to recognise when that happens and how to make that happen as much as possible. You are not hungry enough as a performer until you want every performance to be at that level. That’s what he teaches.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. “You happy with all that?”

“As long as you don’t say again that Clown is just like improv. Last time you said that, I had to write this whole post about No! It’s nothing like improv! It is so far from improv.

Alright.

Clown is not like improv.

There. I have said it.

onemantwoghosts

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Hell To Play: Alexander Bennett on Gaulier, DeLarge and hypnotising frogs

Alexander Bennett - Hell to Play as the Devil

Alexander Bennett – Hell to Play as Devil

So I met comedy performer Alexander Bennett because he wanted to publicise his show Hell To Play, which is on at the Backyard Comedy Club next Tuesday, 8th December, featuring comics Bec Hill and Andrew O’Neill.

Alexander plays The Devil.

“OK,” I said, “remind me of the elevator pitch for Hell To Play?”

“It is,” he replied, “a gameshow set in Hell hosted by the Devil. Two comedians compete to save their souls and all of the games revolve round people who live in or are destined to go to Hell.

“In Edinburgh, at the Fringe, it was a genuine underground success. We had people coming two or three times to see the show and we filled the room nearly every night. We’re trying to find a London home for it, so we’re doing a Christmas show at the Backyard where, for Christmas, the Devil is going to give people their souls. There’s the potential that I would write a new one every month.”

“Alright,” I told him, putting my iPhone on the table between us. “You know how this works. You get to plug something but you also have to tell me a humorous anecdote about something irrelevant and I will effortlessly blend the two together in an increasingly prestigious way.”

“You’ve got a formula now?” he asked.

“Same as it always was,” I said. “I get other people to come up with ideas for me.”

“I don’t like this at all,” Alexander told me. “You’ve streamlined the process and made it awful. You walk in, you sit down,  you throw a mobile phone at somebody, you get them to do the thing and you say: Right! Were you raped or have you ever been addicted to heroin? and then that’s a blog.”

“That’s it,” I admitted. “And your point is?”

“I went to the University of Westminster,” said Alexander.

“I’d forgotten that,” I said. “That’s a good link. That’s where you, I and Jihadi John, the ISIS beheader, went.”

“Yes,” said Alexander. “And Trisha and Jon Ronson, Charlie Brooker, several members of Pink Floyd…”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere for the blog,” I said.

Eleanor Morton, Joz Norris, Alexander Bennett, Michael , Brunstrom

Alexander in Edinburgh this year with Eleanor Morton, Joz Norris and Michael Brunström

“I’m going to do something different in Edinburgh next year,” suggested Alexander. “I haven’t been brave enough before now to do what I think my solo character should be like.”

“That sounds promising,” I said. “Any heroin or mental homes involved? Are you going to talk about your life?”

“No,” said Alexander. “No heroin or mental homes involved. Sorry. There are various things I would not talk about on stage yet, but I don’t have a problem opening up on stage. I just don’t think it’s particularly interesting. There are a whole streak of comics who think the best way to be a comedian is to really expose your own psychology. “

“Would you go study under Gaulier in Paris?” I ventured.

“If I had the money, I would,” Alexander told me,“because I think it’s interesting. There are some people I really like who have benefitted by going to Gaulier.”

“Well I think,” I told him, “it’s mostly just going on stage, staring at people and waiting for something to happen. I could do that. I suspect he’s destroyed some talented comedians because he tells them to go on stage unscripted and to live in the moment. I think going to Second City in Canada to study improvisation is probably better.”

“That’s probably more up my street,” said Alexander. “But it’s horses for courses. Different things work for different comedians. Gaulier has made some people better; it’s made some worse. It’s the same with the whole opening-up on stage and being yourself. It’s made some comedians better and some worse. The amount of comedians I still see in Edinburgh using it as therapy! That annoys me. Comedy is meant to be an entertainment, even if you’re making a serious point.”

“Have you heard of Stinker Murdoch?” I asked him.

“No. It sounds like a Johnny Sorrow reference.”

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

Johnny Sorrow (right) at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Ah!… “ I said. “Johnny Sorrow!”

“I love Johnny Sorrow,” said Alexander. “Was it you told me he had an audience of Japanese schoolgirls?”

“No.”

“They thought he was brilliant and were trying to take photos of him in action but, every time they raised their cameras, he would stop what he was doing and do a silly pose. Eh? Clifton? The Guv’nor?… Me mother!… It’s a bloody big house!

The best piece of improvisation I’ve ever seen was Johnny Sorrow in the Manchester Comedy Festival at a gig where there were three people in the audience, one of whom was French and Johnny was screaming, standing on a table: You’ll never see this at Jongleurs!”

“You had to be there,” I suggested. “As is often the case with Johnny.”

“Yes. The first time I went to the Edinburgh Fringe,” Alexander continued, “I sat with Richard Rycroft and various people in the flat, doing THAT Johnny Sorrow joke in the way other comedians might tell it. Like Chris Rock.”

“Did you ever see Johnny Immaterial?” I asked. “Great act. Though he didn’t actually HAVE an act. Hello. the name’s immaterial. Johnny Immaterial.

“There’s another interesting guy in the Midlands, “ Alexander told me, “called Lozi Lee, who wanders into punchlines occasionally. These are the strange and interesting people.”

“Did you say you had an interest in hypnotism?” I asked.

“I was afraid of hypnotism,” said Alexander. “It was the only phobia I had. I was afraid of being hypnotised. When I was at film school, I wrote a short film about a hypnotist who did psychic things as well.”

“I think,” I told him, “I would be difficult to hypnotise.”

“The easiest people to hypnotise,” he replied, “are intelligent, imaginative people…”

“Exactly,” I said.

“…because, basically, the person who is being hypnotised is doing all the work themselves, so they need both those qualities to do it. I had a book at university about stage hypnotism.”

“Called?” I asked.

“I can’t remember the title, but it was by Ormond McGill and it gave me a little peek into how the world works. The implications of those things are gargantuan.  How people influence themselves without realising it. “

“Have you used that in your comedy?” I asked.

“The direction I’m trying to take the solo show next year,” he explained, “is that the experience is a little bit like being hypnotised. But it’s not going to be like the stuff I read in the book. You cannot be genuinely funny if you’re a hypnotist, because, for it to work, you need to have a sort of doctorly demeanour – that’s all part of the psychology which makes it work.

“There are comedy hypnotists, but the comedy and the hypnotism are very separated. It’s all presentation. There ARE certainly things like speaking softly: things you would associate with calmness. There are certain tropes like using the word ‘sleep’. Sleep is the wrong word for people who are hypnotised. It looks like they’re sleeping but they’re not.  People who are hypnotised are not unconscious. But, using that word – ’sleep’ – their brains know what to do.

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange

“My solo show is hopefully going to be a bit like when Alex DeLarge has his eyes open in Clockwork Orange. That’s what I’m going for.”

“Have you tried to hypnotise people?” I asked.

“No, because learning how to do it it would take ages and, when I was reading the book, I was reading it at university, so the only people I was interacting with were fellow students or comedians and I couldn’t come across to any of those people in a doctorly, mysterious way. You couldn’t hypnotise a wife or partner or a parent.”

“What about a chihuahua?” I asked.

“There is,” replied Alexander, “a section in the book on how to hypnotise animals.”

“You’re joking.” I said.

“No.”

“But they don’t understand what’s going on,” I said.

“Animals are odd,” explained Alexander, “because they have physical things. The way you hypnotise a frog is you hold it flat, between your two hands, turn it upside down and it will stay there. So it gives the impression of hypnosis. You must know the way to hypnotise a chicken?”

“Must I?” I asked.

“You hold it on the ground so its neck and head are pointing along the ground. Then you get a piece of chalk and draw a white line away from its beak and it will just stay there. You can pick it up and it will be limp and it will take a couple of moments to come to… There is a way of doing rabbits.”

Alexander Bennett and dog

Alexander Bennett with unhypnotised dog

“Are we still talking about hypnotism?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Other animals?”

“A lot of it is just turning them upside down.”

“I tried that with a woman,” I said. “It didn’t work.”

Alexander looked at me.

“No,” I said, “I don’t know what it means either. That’s why I am not a comedian.”

I left soon afterwards.

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The Grouchy Club Podcast: a tad surreal

THIS BLOG WAS WRITTEN AND WAS INTENDED TO BE POSTED ON FRIDAY 23rd OCTOBER. IT IS BEING POSTED ON SUNDAY 25th OCTOBER BECAUSE I WAS UNABLE TO POST IT.

THE MORAL TO THIS IS: DON’T START A BLOG WITH WORDPRESS.

NOW READ ON, AS IF IT WERE LAST FRIDAY…

Copstick (left) and me (on the right)

Copstick & me: It was not just the hair that was out of control


This evening, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our 36th weekly Grouchy Club Podcast.

Copstick had bumped into someone this week who told her that, last weekend, he had got unbelievably drunk, booked into a hotel from Friday to Monday and, still drunk, simply listened to the previous 35 Grouchy Club Podcasts one after the other. 

This sounds made-up, but is true.

I can only worry for his mental well-being.

Copstick and I usually do not discuss in advance what we are going to talk about but we usually stumble into some subject. 

That was going to change this evening.

I thought it would be interesting to talk about How to interview someone.

So we actually had a topic.

But, as it turned out, we never discussed it.

The podcast recording ended 24 minutes later.

This is a short extract. If anyone understands what was going on, do let us know… I think printing a conversation, word-for-word without editing, can have its own type of surreal splendour…


COPSTICK
Talking of Richard Gadd…

JOHN
… and who isn’t?

COPSTICK
Well we are. Spencer Jones, who was also up in Edinburgh, with a show that…

JOHN
… tragically I should have nominated and didn’t…

COPSTICK
It should have been nominated for all manner of loveliness… I’m just wondering… It crossed my mind… he’s doing terribly well on the old television advert front. He did a credit card advert where he was getting married, which was all lovely and very sweet. And now he’s doing something for dentists, where he’s grinning and clowning into camera with a set of ghastly fake teeth, encouraging people to go and get their teeth fixed for their selfie – Do it for your selfie!

JOHN
I dislike him now. It’s the part I was born to play. (RATTLES TEETH)

COPSTICK
That looked every bit as gross as it sounded, people of the ether. I just wonder, if you are trying to be taken seriously as a Gaulier-inspired, trend-setting…

JOHN
Train set?’

COPSTICK
…free-thinking, creative, clowning comic of the one-hour show format… I wonder if it makes it more difficult to be taken seriously when people are going: Oh, you’re the bloke from the advert, with the bad teeth, aren’t you?

JOHN
I don’t think so, because Dr Ryegold…

COPSTICK
George Ryegold

JOHN
… he’s in lots of adverts. He’s in about three adverts.

COPSTICK
Ah, yes, but his character in those adverts…

JOHN
… is the character, yes.

COPSTICK
… is really quite George Ryegold.

JOHN
Yes.

COPSTICK
The SpecSavers one with the dead cat.

JOHN
Yes, he’s George as opposed to Toby.

COPSTICK
He’d kind of George-ish. He’s not quite as rancid and humanity-loathing and drunk and perverted as George, because it’s difficult to do that in an advert…

JOHN
I’d buy the product!

COPSTICK
… for SpecSavers.

JOHN
I’d buy it.

COPSTICK
SpecSavers?

JOHN
I dunno. there’s something about a dead cat. Yeah, dead cats…

COPSTICK
Yeah. The dead cat. Should’ve gone to SpecSavers.

JOHN
Indeed. How we laughed.

COPSTICK
It’s quite ‘him’ – I mean it’s quite George. this… I dunno… If you’re meant to be… I don’t know… It was just that, last year, Spencer did say it did quite get to him a bit that he was constantly being stopped and asked if he was the one that was getting married.

JOHN
That’s OK. It’s recognition.

COPSTICK
Yes, but…

JOHN
I was trying to think of other people who…

COPSTICK
… is there the wrong kind of recognition? Look, this is a topic, John. we have hit on a topic!

JOHN
Can I point out…

COPSTICK
Is there the wrong kind of recognition?

JOHN
Can I point out that, although she’s a bit further along in the process, Nicole Kidman is now appearing with meerkats.

COPSTICK
I know!

JOHN
Very impressive.

COPSTICK
How badly must her career be going? Or How much money must they have?

JOHN
Well, I did think how much money because, well, Hollywood stars do do lots of ads in Japan, don’t they, and…

COPSTICK
Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it before her…

JOHN
… with the meerkats, yes.

COPSTICK
… with the meerkats AND now Sylvester Stallone is advertising Warburton’s bread.

JOHN
You’re joking!

COPSTICK
No! Sylvester Stallone is advertising Warburton’s bread.


The full 24-minute podcast can be heard HERE.

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Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma on clowns, feminists, being a schizophrenic Fascist singer and living in a cave in Canada

nellyscott_24sept2013_cut

Nelly aka Zuma Puma talked to me in London this week

I have blogged three times before about the charismatic Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma – about her schizophrenic Fascist singing Nancy Sanazi character at the Edinburgh Fringe in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II and at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show… as part of the Fringe show Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret… and last week as host of the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows in London.

But I have never been sure how to categorise her. Actress, comedian, clown, puppeteer, singer/songwriter? She seems to do ’em all. I also made the initial mistake of thinking she was from the US. Never a good thing.

“I’m Canadian,” she reminded me this week. “Originally from St Catherines, Ontario near Toronto. Well, actually, I’m from everywhere. We moved around a lot.”

Zuma Puma grabbed two audience members last night

Nelly as Zuma Puma at the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows

“So what did you want to be as a kid?” I asked. “An actress?”

“My mother is a theatre director and my father’s a set designer,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “So I was just like doing theatre forever.”

In fact, aged 12, she was also dancing with Canada’s Opera Atelier. When she was 17, she had an award-winning role at one of Canada’s most prestigious theatres – the Shaw Festival Theatre.

“I was one of the witches in The Crucible in a 6-month run in the main stage,” she told me (without mentioning the award she got).

“That was when it all started,” she told me. “The woman who played Abigail in The Crucible became a great mentor for me and she had studied at Canada’s National Theatre School, which is where I wanted to go. But she said: Don’t go to the National Theatre School. I spent four years there and then I went to L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and re-did it all and now I’m getting all the work… Gaulier’s a genius. If you can, just go straight to him.

Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris

Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris

“So, when I finished high school in Canada, I went to study with Philippe Gaulier in Paris. I showed up there thinking I was this very serious actress and just flopped every day for about six months. Every day I’d come on and Philippe Gaulier would say Oh you are this boring Canadian little rabbit lost in the forest taking a poo poo. Oh she is so beautiful. Wow. You love her. You want to fuck her every night of your life. That’s what he’d say every day and then he’d ask someone I had had a crush on in the class and they would say No, she’s a boring rabbit poo poo in the Canadian forest.”

“This sounds like some cult breaking down your personality,” I said.

“But I WAS shit,” insisted Nelly/Zuma. “He was training us to find the magic, to know how to identify it when we were on our own. And so, after six months of flopping every day trying to be this serious actress, we started the character section – character/clown/comedy – and I came out the first day and I stayed on stage for 15 minutes and everyone was laughing and I’d never… It was the best moment of my life… For some reason, all this time I’d thought I was a serious actress and it turned out that I was a lot funnier than I thought I was.”

“And after that you went back to Canada?” I asked.

Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

“I went from Paris back to Victoria, British Columbia,” said Nelly/Zuma, “where I lived in a cave with a man named Caveman Dan and then I hitchhiked to California and around California. I was singing at this time – R&B, Blues, jazz and a little bit hip-hop.”

“With bands?” I asked.

“Yeah, doing stuff with producers and musicians and all sorts of people for years. I ended up teaching at a circus school in Costa Rica, met a band there and toured with them to Peru for ten months. Kind of just being an idiot on the road.

“After that, I decided I wanted to finish my clown school in Montreal because I’d sort of started it and done little bits here and there.”

In fact, she studied puppetry at the Banff Arts Centre, completing L’Ecole Clown et Comedie with Gaulier’s Protege and Cirque du Soleil’s first clowns Francine Côté and James Keylon in Montreal.

“I had just finished the clown school,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “when my grandfather passed away in 2012 – he was British. We all came here for the funeral and, afterwards, my parents asked me When do you want to leave? and I said Give me an open flight and I’ll figure it out. Then I went to Buddhafield and met Adam Oliver (her cohort in Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe) at a hippie festival and came to London to visit Annie Bashford who I’d gone to Gaulier with.

Nelly as Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

Nelly: Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe

“She was playing Anne Stank (a singing Anne Frank) in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night gigs with Agent Lynch playing Nancy Sanazi. Then Agent Lynch got picked up to perform with La Clique and Annie suggested me to Pete (Frank Sanazi) as his new Nancy Sanazi; I was only staying with her for a week.

“After doing Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we had a few gigs lined up and Pete said Stay a couple of months so I said I’d stay until Christmas and I was also doing a double act with Annie back then – we were called Grumpy Lettuce.

“At the end of October, we did a show at Lost Theatre in London and the artistic director wanted to start up a cabaret night called Lost Cabaret at the Priory Arms in Stockwell and was looking for a compere, so I did that.”

“You’re certainly busy,” I said. “Do you have an agent?”

“No, I’d like one. Actually, I don’t know what’s happening with the Adam Lost Cabaret at the moment. He’s so busy producing a million and one things… Maybe we’ll do some double acty stuff in various places.”

“And then you’ve got these London Play Group workshops for adults that start next Wednesday,” I asked, trying to be helpful. “What are they about?”

Nelly (left) & Annie - Grumpy Lettuce

Nelly (left) & Annie – Grumpy Lettuce

“Well, replied Nelly/Zuma, “a bunch of adults will come and we’ll get absolutely ridiculous, have loads of fun, play ridiculous games together – just like playful children’s games – improvisation, clown games – like how to find your ridiculous self, how to become free in your self-expression on stage and how to bring that play into life. That’s what we’re exploring. Finding pleasure in life, connecting to people in a playful community and making friends with this hub of people who feel they don’t have enough play or laughter in their life because we’re forced to live this adult lifestyle. Finding a way to be ridiculous.

“I’m also starting a feminist theatre show as part of a group of four people. We’re just starting to talk about it. We feel there’s loads of feminist festivals all over the country that we’d love to tour with our bizarre show. We feel there’s a lot of angry feminists who have made it all about angry women who hate men and we want to bring it back to equality and involve men in feminist theatre and say a man can be a feminist too.”

“So there are men involved?”

“Dan Lees,” said Nelly, “who was in Moonfish Rhumba.”

“And so the bizarreness continues,” I said.

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