Tag Archives: play

Festive farting, yet another West End theatre dud + Northern transvestite nun

Great Britain - Emperor’s New Clothes

Great Britain – Emperor’s New Clothes

Chris Tarrant once told me: “You are on your own planet. Stay there.”

I have never been sure whether this showed admiration or contempt.

But last night, I felt I was on my own planet.

I saw the play Great Britain (about national newspapers hacking telephones) at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, in London.

It was written by the same man who wrote the West End and Broadway triumph One Man, Two Guvnors and current London success Made in Dagenham.

The Evening Standard called it “a timely look at the tangled relationship between the press, politicians and the police”.

I would say more succinctly “trite, obvious and nothing new to say.”

The Sunday Times, Guardian and Independent gave it 4-star reviews.

According to the Daily Telegraph’s 4-star review, it had “a triumphant premiere at the National Theatre” and the audience last night seemed to enjoy it.

There had been a lot of work put into it but, to my mind, it sank tediously and disastrously amid a tsunami of atmospheric detail and mis-delivered jokes because it largely ignored the building of any rising linear plot and had no doubt fine actors attempting to deliver funny lines and failing because they were actors not comics.

It was a comedy show for people who never go to live comedy.

It was like watching university students at the Edinburgh Fringe perform a series of potentially funny self-contained sketches about the same subject which failed to gel into a single unified whole.

At the end of Act 1 – an act bereft of the build-up of any strong linear plot – my eternally-un-named friend and I were on the verge of ordering strychnine at the bar and could only admire one line each from the whole hour-plus performance. Both lines were about pandas in Scotland – nothing to do with the play’s subject.

Act II seemed better, but this may have been because my expectations were several levels below zero.

It was like listening to people farting around with words.

I would rather have the real thing.

I may or may not be spending New Year’s Eve with my chum Mr Methane (the world’s only professionally performing farter). A foreign film crew might or might not be coming over to shoot him… with cameras.

He is one of the least self-centred of performers.

Last night, I came home to a message from him saying:

“I have just discovered Musical Ruth on YouTube.

Musical Ruth - better than a West End play

Musical Ruth – nun can out-perform in public areas Up North

“She is Nuntastic!

“She/he seems to get paid by local Councils – mainly in the North and Midlands of England – to go around town centres gently harassing what is left of their dwindling consumer base. He is a quality performer/showman. We may actually know him. He/she does look a bit like Adrian Edmondson. Definitely a character for your blog I think.”

Mr Methane has a point but – hey! – it is almost Christmas and I can’t be bothered to contact Musical Ruth.

A very quick check round, though, unearths the fact that I do not have my finger anywhere near the pulse on eccentric performers because Derby-born Matthew Hunt (aka Musical Ruth) has been performing for 20 years, became a Nun act in 2006 and is now based in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire – somewhere I suspect is a hotbed of oddity.

I have now seen three West End Theatre duds in a row.

And Musical Ruth.

Bring Musical Ruth to the West End.

Or take me back to my own planet.

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Filed under Eccentrics, Theatre

Gay Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Now Linked To Sight Gags for Perverts

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

“It’s not a play. It’s not a musical. What is it?” I asked writer Jon Brittain at Bar Italia in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon.

He co-wrote and directs Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which this week starts a 4-week run at Theatre 503 in Battersea.

“Well,” replied Jon, “we describe it as a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza. The idea behind it is that Margaret Thatcher, played by a man, has become a cabaret singer and she tells you the story of how she went from being Prime Minister to cabaret singer.

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matthew Tedford stars as Margaret Thatcher, queening it up

“Basically, we tell the story of Section 28 – the law that stops councils funding the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It’s Margaret Thatcher, played by my friend Matt Tedford (who co-wrote the show) and two dancers in hot pants and moustaches who dance along to songs and play all the other parts in the show while never really wearing anything more than hot pants and moustaches – including when they play women and children.

“My girlfriend Laura was very confused about the whole thing. We rehearsed in our living room and I think having to hear the voice of Maggie Thatcher all the time got a bit grating for her.”

Jon also directed John Kearns’ award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Jon Brittain (right) with John Kearns

Jon Brittain (right) with comic John Kearns

“John and I did a double act together at UEA – the University of East Anglia,” explained Jon, “and he’d been in a lot of plays I’d directed.”

“Was there,” I asked, “much difference between directing Sight Gags For Perverts and Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho?”

“Not much,” replied Jon. “John and Matt are both really spontaneous. John knows where he wants to get to and, if something happens in the room, he will respond to it… and Matt’s very much the same, even though Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a much more rigid script and much more about the story.

“John’s Edinburgh show was much more about the experience and he could go off in different directions. His show was deceptively stupid, but he’d thought about it loads and it was very intricately layered and worked-out. There was a really powerful emotional feeling behind it: a real sadness and loneliness and desperation behind the very silly, seemingly stupid, surreal stories he was telling.”

“But you have directed straight plays as well,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jon. “Directing comedy is different from directing a play… With a play, you’re saying Stand here… Do this… As the director of a comedy show, you go in and suggest There is a problem here: how are you going to solve it? and the performer is the one who has to come up with the solution.

John Kearns in Sight Gags For Perverts

John Kearns in the award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts

“During my time in Edinburgh with John, we had a lot of conversations about the end of his show and how to tie together the loose ends. I made a lot of suggestions as to how he could do that and then I went away and came back at the end of the run and he had solved the problem in a way that was entirely different to any of my suggestions. But I think my useful function was asking the questions and pointing out the problem.

“I think there’s a temptation in theatre plays to say everyone has assigned roles – the actors do this; the writer does this; the director does this – and no-one crosses-over into other people’s fields. Whereas I do a lot of crossing-over. I direct my own stuff and do the sound design and, in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Matt acts and writes and there’s a lot of crossing-over.”

“How did the idea for Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho come about?I asked.

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher – Queen of Soho poster

“Matt hadn’t performed in about five years – not since university. He’d been a civil servant and other things. I held a Hallowe’en party in 2012 and he came along dressed as Margaret Thatcher – in the same costume he uses in the play – with a wig. He looked amazing. He had a pint of milk in his handbag that he would pull out and say: Would you like some? No, it’s not for sharing.

“Then I was asked if I wanted to write something for a night of short plays – Thatcherwrite – a few months after Margaret Thatcher’s death. So I asked Matt to write something with me.

The original night

The original night when Margaret Thatcher first appeared

“We wrote a 15-minute version which he performed on the Thatcherwrite night. Most of the other plays were, by-and-large, quite serious. A play about the Falklands War. A play about the housing bubble.

“So we thought it would work if, at the end of the night, suddenly an announcer went: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for your headline act of the evening – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho! – and she comes out and sings YMCA with two backing dancers in hot pants. Just make it, on the surface, as stupid and silly and ridiculous as possible. Though there is a point underneath, because it is about Section 28 and gay rights and what she could have done if she’d chosen to.

Two dancers who always keep their moustaches

Margaret Thatcher + 2 dancers never without the moustaches

“From our research – which we pretend not to have done but which we did do – it sounds like she had gay friends and was OK with them as individuals, but she supported this legislation and so, with our play, we imagine what might have happened if she’d actually supported gay causes. That’s underlying it, but we try to do it in the most ridiculous, stupid way possible so that any kind of message is buried deep down.

“Even during the most po-faced emotional monologue we have in it, in the background there are dancers doing the most disgusting dance moves, grinding and slapping their arses in slow motion.

“One of our male dancers plays Jill Knight, an MP in the 1980s, but in a bright pink cardigan still wearing his moustache and we have Peter Tatchell as if played by Ray Winstone.”

“You are not interested in performing yourself any more?” I asked.

“I’d be really interested in doing some story-telling,” said Jon. “About five years ago, I did stand-up very loosely for about a year and then very often for about a year and, at the end of that, I just wasn’t having fun. The reason I stepped away from it was I didn’t really have a ‘voice’. I could write stuff, but there was no unified point of view when I performed and I didn’t feel I could find it.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that a writer of plays can change into different voices, but a stand-up comedian can’t switch from warm-and-cuddly one moment and Frankie Boyle the next.”

Jon Brittain - a working playwright

Jon Brittain – a working playwright who knows his Ps and Qs

“Yes,” agreed Jon. “And I felt confident writing dialogue for stage plays and more confident of the worth of it. When I was writing jokes, almost every single one I thought: I don’t know if this is going to work. When I write a story, everything in that is working towards the telling of the story. I felt much more confident and comfortable with that. So I would quite like to return to standing up on a stage – but telling a story not jokes.

“I don’t really subscribe to the barriers between comedy and storytelling and theatre anyway. It’s people in the industry who like to put the barriers up so they can figure what section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme it goes in and what person from what TV Department should go and see it.”

“If they still had such things,” I asked, “what would you write in your passport – writer, director or performer?”

“I don’t really act at all, though I do the voice of Winston Churchill in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho – I do the voice and someone else operates a portrait where the mouth moves.”

“Like Captain Pugwash,” I said.

“That was the aesthetic we were going for.”

“But obviously without Seaman Staines…”

“Only backstage,” said Jon.

I think I’m a writer first and the directing comes out of that. I’d really like to direct more stand-up comedy and direct in different media – film, stage, live comedy. But I think I’m going to take a year off theatre and just write television scripts, because I’ve started making a bit of headway. Me and Suzi Ruffell have written a sitcom script that’s in development.”

“You’ve worked in TV already haven’t you?” I asked.

“I did six months at Cartoon Network,” replied Jon, “which was like in a writers’ room. It was called The Amazing World of GumballI worked with James Lamont and Jon Foster who wrote The Harry Hill Movie.”

“Do you get repeat fees on the Cartoon Network programmes or was there a buy-out?” I asked.

“Oh, there was a total buy-out. When my agent sent me along, the first thing said was: Whatever you do, do not create any characters!

“Wise advice,” I said. “When people are dead like Margaret Thatcher, it’s always comforting.”

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Jimmy Savile writer in tabloid storm labels my blog as ‘revolutionary’ and drunken UK comic Slayer as ‘political’

Nick Awde Facebook photo

Nick Awde as he wants to be seen on his Facebook page

Writer Nick Awde wanted to interview me for a book he is currently writing.

UK comedian and Edinburgh Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer told me that Nick had received a death threat because he has written a play called Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show for the upcoming Fringe in August. The truth is more complicated than that. And it is not the first time he has been threatened.

“I did an anthology on Women in Islam and got at least one death threat out of that.,” Nick told me this morning, when I Skyped him at his home in Paris.

“So are you actually doing a physical Punch & Judy show in Edinburgh?” I asked.

“No,” he told me. “No puppets. No-one wants to put their hand up Jimmy Savile.”

“So how are you doing it?” I asked.

“It will be live actors,” Nick explained, “playing all the characters in a Punch & Judy way.”

“Dressed as Punch & Judy?” I asked.

“Still don’t know,” said Nick. “Budgetry constraints.”

“Will you be making a guest appearance in the show at Edinburgh?” I asked.

Nick laughed: “What? So the audience can beat the crap out of me? No.”

“You could be the policemen or the crocodile,” I suggested.

“Well, trying to get the crocodile into it is difficult. I don’t think there were any crocodiles supporting Jimmy Savile although, God knows, everyone was in on it. Maybe he was given the keys to the zoos as well.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show

“Jimmy Savile was there because Society put him there and Society’s problem after his death is trying to deal with the fact that we all put him there, especially all the pillars of Society – but we support the pillars. We all looked at him and thought There’s a creepy old man and probably a lot of people did think There’s a dirty old man. But we still went along with it.”

“So why Punch & Judy?” I asked.

“We take our children – we encourage our children,” explained Nick, “to go see Punch & Judy like we did as children and our parents and parents’ parents did before them. We go off and we laugh and joke and are wowed and throw money at the puppet master afterwards… but we are watching a man who is a wife-beater, a child-killer and who also takes on every single pillar of Society. Even if he does get beaten up by them, he ends up beating them up or avoiding them or avoiding the issue entirely. This is Jimmy Savile. He did exactly the same thing. He bullied his way through Society.”

“And,” I said, “the press reaction to the show’s imminent staging has been what?”

“The tabloid reaction so far is interesting,” said Nick. “Oh! What about the victims? they ask. Well, in fact, this format avoids the victims. The format of Punch & Judy is a great way to avoid anything to do with the victims. The match is perfect. You concentrate on Jimmy Savile and his dealings with Society.”

“But it’s not a puppet show,” I double-checked.

“Everyone said they did not want to do it as a puppet show,” said Nick. “I think it should be done as a puppet show but I don’t have any money to put it on because – guess what? – I won’t personally profit from the show. So I can’t be accused of trying to cash in.”

“So the tabloids at least can’t accuse you of that,” I said.

Nick Awde talking to me from Paris this morning, via Skype

Nick Awde talking to me from Paris this morning, via Skype

“The tabloids who are going to come gunning for me,” said Nick, “indeed gunning for anyone who wants to try and address things that they don’t want to be addressed or which they don’t want to be addressed in their way… These are the same tabloids who are sitting on the files which they have on people like Jimmy Savile and a lot of other people in Society, a lot of whom are big names, who are still alive and still doing it.”

“You mean in showbiz or politics?” I asked.

“Everything,” said Nick. “There’s no conspiracy about it. You and I, we understand this. We understand why they do it. Like me, I think you are very much up for the independence of the press. We don’t want the government being able to force people to hand over things like the Obama government recently did to Associated Press in America.

“I’ve seen these files. Anyone who’s worked for a long time on national newspapers will have come across a file somewhere and it’s not Da Vinci Code stuff. It makes perfect common sense that people will come to a newspaper for whatever reason. Some will come wanting money. Some will come because the police or institutions have put them down and they will go to a newspaper and say Please help me. It could be whistleblowers or victims themselves. In this case, it’s child abuse or institutionalised child abuse.

“The newspapers put it on record. They think about whether they have enough to publish and also whether it’s a juicy-enough story. Very rarely do they hand the files over to PC Plod because you never know… You could use it one day for one reason or another.”

“And these,” I said, “are the same tabloids who have been attacking your upcoming play without having seen it.”

“Yes,” said Nick, “these are the same tabloids who’ve been sitting on these documents and possibly also have files on a lot of victims – a lot more than we think – accumulated over the years. These are the same ones who want to criticise someone for trying to address Jimmy Savile’s relationship with the institutions which kept him in power for sixty years.”

“Surely,” I said, “being attacked by the tabloids is great because it’s publicity for your play?”

“Sure,” said Nick. “But incitement to violence is something different.”

“Who was inciting violence?” I asked.

“The Daily Star,” he replied and held up a double-page spread headlined:

Nick holds up a Daily Star double spread via Skype

Nick holds up Daily Star double spread for me this morning

SICK NICK DESERVES A PUNCH FOR SAVILE PLAY

Nick has written, edited or illustrated more than 50 books.

He has freelanced as a feature writer and critic for The Stage for more than twenty years, as well as being a political journalist and, more recently, a book publisher.

“What sort of books do you publish?” I asked him this morning.

Things like phrasebooks for non-European languages spoken in countries where people have been generally fucked around by things like oil politics,” he replied. “Places where it’s the ordinary people who lose out, like Chechnya, Somalia, Armenia.”

“So how does a Chechen-Somali phrasebook publisher end up with a drunken ne’er-do-well like comedian Bob Slayer?” I asked.

Critic Nick Awde (left) and comic Bob Slayer yesterday

Nick Awde + Bob Slayer being piratical rather than political

“Because I think he’s very political in what he does,” said Nick.

“Is he?” I asked, incredulous. “This presumably is political with a small pee?”

“Oh yes,” said Nick. “But I’m political with a small ‘p’ too. I think Bob’s Alternative Fringe is extraordinarily political in terms of what it is. It evolves, whereas things like the Free Fringe don’t evolve.

“I write in theatre very much as a political thing, because theatre really gives people a voice. You know that. The way you write about comedy and report on comedy in your blog – not just the young blood that’s coming up, but the old revolutionaries and all the rest of it. I think you can see the effect the revolutionary side of live comedy has had on people over the years.”

“Well, that’ll go straight onto my publicity,” I said. “John Fleming – Revolutionary. I can see it up in lights now.”

“I really do believe it,” insisted Nick.

“I’m all for anything provided there are knob gags in it,” I said.

“I don’t think there will be knob gags in Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show,” said Nick, “unless there might be a knob gag which would have existed in a real Punch & Judy show.”

Daily Express - ‘Outrage’

Daily Express – ‘Outrage’

“Well, rude bits are part of traditional satire,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Nick. “Tits, knobs, poo, crap, dicks and farting. In satire, you are literally throwing all that at the people at the top and telling them: You are the same as us! It’s a bit of a rocky road to follow – you will be excoriated by all sides at some points – but the people who have done it well have made people think. People time and time again quote satire.”

“And I gather your Jimmy Savile show is going to be satire,” I said.

“Obviously,” said Nick, “you can’t do the hardcore stuff on television or radio but, live on stage, there can be far more hard-hitting stuff.”

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Edinburgh Fringe… Sex workers, naked men, a Twitter sensation and Alan Carr

One fan of Chris Dangerfield’s act has expert views on shows

Enterprising Edinburgh Fringe act Chris Dangerfield, whose show Sex Tourist is sponsored by a local escort agency, e-mailed me this morning:

“A sex worker with a blog likes my show,” he said. “How nice. She’s also asked me out for a coffee.”

Headed Hooker-tainment at Edinburgh Fringe, it is an interesting blog and no doubt hopes to ape the success of Belle de Jour.

But, as the lady’s fees start at £190 per hour or £1,000 for the night, I am not plugging the blog’s address except for hard cash.

Interestingly, though, she says this:

________

Assaulted with jokes about sex workers from the very first show I saw at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival, I’m trying to understand why we’re supposedly the edgiest, funniest material on everyone’s lips right now…

Now that racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are less acceptable in main-stream entertainment, it seems like sex workers are really the only ‘other’ people to pick on. Because that’s the real reason that this kind of comedy works; it used to be OK to laugh at people of colour or gays because it used to be OK to think they actually *were* different.

It’s OK to make jokes at sex workers because they in no way could be sitting next to you in the audience, oh no. Sex workers all walk around with red flashing lights over their heads, everyone knows that… Transphobia particularly is still fairly prevalent in entertainment, and anyone saying that the acceptance of drag or ladyboy shows is good for trans rights is fairly misguided…

The unspoken issue here is that, of course, many performers at Edinburgh must also themselves be sex workers or have had sex work experience. Supporting a creative career is very hard to do around a 9-5 job although, of course, other kinds of self-employed or freelance work are probably possible.

________

Now, from naked women to naked men…

Two thirds of the Greatest Show on Legs arrive in Edinburgh tomorrow. Famed for their Naked Balloon Dance, they are the reason why it was widely said the late Malcolm Hardee literally had “the biggest bollocks in showbusiness”.

They have not performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this century and, with Malcolm Hardee dead and Steve Bowditch banned by the Peter Buckley Hill Free Fringe from performing at the rival Alternative Fringe’s Hive venue on pain of excommunication, the line-up is original members (I use the term innocently) Martin Soan and Martin Clarke plus the shy performing wallflower that is Bob Slayer.

They are billed as performing their hour-long show – Aaaaaaaaaaaaarghh! It’s the Greatest Show on Legs – from this Wednesday to Sunday but are now adding what they call a public dress rehearsal (without dresses) tomorrow night at 9.15pm. Well, I’ll be there for sure.

Janey Godley’s viral sensation – on stage tonight in Edinburgh

And I will also be at the other big unbilled gig of the Fringe week tonight – Janey Godley’s one-performance-one-night-only play #timandfreya based on the extraordinary viral Twitter success of her live blow-by-blow tweets about an overheard argument in a train between the titular Tim and Freya.

The half-hour stage version was dramatised by Janey’s daughter Ashley Storrie, who also appears in it tonight.

“It was an amazing conversation between Tim and Freya,” Janey tells me, “Everybody loved it. But it’s no really a play because there’s gaps. I was Tweeting between Glasgow, Carlisle and Oxenhome. So Ashley had to adapt it and introduce new characters to drive the story forward.”

Ashley herself plays the new character Laura and Philip Larkin (no, not that one – he’s dead) is Alec.

“Do you know why they’re called Laura and Alec?” Janey asked me.

“No,” I said.

“Because they were the characters in Brief Encounter,” said Janey.

“And you’re in it?” I asked.

“I play the ticket collector,” Janey replied. “Rick Wilson, the lead singer from the Kaiser Chiefs, called me and wanted to play Tim because he was fascinated by the story when he read the original Tweets. And I got an e-mail from an actress in Los Angeles who wanted to come over and play Freya. This is true! I said, No. It’s for one night and there’s no money! I’m no letting people do that. That’s insanity.

“One really weird thing is that lots of people have been Tweeting me and e-mailing me saying they do a wee Tim & Freya sketch themselves in their office. They’ve been ‘acting’ the Tweets out loud to each other.

“Rick from the Kaiser Chiefs told me he and his girlfriend did that and everybody read it out and an actor Jack Klaff, who was in Star Wars – he played Red something (Red Four) – Ashley recognised his voice on the phone as a man who was in Star Wars… Jack Klaff called me and gave me ideas about what to do with the story, so everybody’s been calling me and wanting to be involved.”

“Rick Wilson really wanted to do it, didn’t he?” I said.

“Yes, he phoned to apologise when the band schedule eventually came through: I can’t do it. I’m really sorry.

“And the comedian Alan Carr,” I said.

“Yes,” said Janey, “Alan Carr was desperate but he has a Channel 4 pilot tonight. He wanted to push a trolley saying Teas! Coffees! Teas! Coffees! which would have been good.”

Whatever happens tonight, like the original train journey, it should be an interesting trip. And as the real Tim – the man on the train – contacted Janey after he read the Tweets, even he might be there in the audience…

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Comic Janey Godley’s daughter Ashley Storrie collapses in a Glasgow street

Mother and daughter team Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie

As I’m mentioned in it in passing…

To hear Janey Godley‘s weekly podcast Episode 109, CLICK HERE

Janey talks with daughter Ashley Storrie about her collapse in a Glasgow street this week.

Plus Janey on BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute + interviews with writer Neil Gaiman and musician Dean Friedman + Fringe shows to catch. And Ashley reads from her 2001 teenage diary.

The one-off, one-night-only performance of #timandfreya dramatised by Ashley from Janey’s viral Twitter tweets about an overheard argument on a train from Glasgow to London is being staged at the Pleasance venue in Edinburgh on Monday (20th August) at 7.15pm.

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Sucking up or sucking off? UK Prime Ministers, Rupert Murdoch and a puff

Look, I only plug people and things I believe in on this blog so, with that in mind, read on…

British Prime Ministers have been sucking Rupert Murdoch’s corporate cock since the 1960s. It’s nothing new. Nor is amorality.

Lance Price was a special advisor to Tony Blair. In 1998, he became deputy to Blair’s Communications Director, Alastair Campbell; and he was the Labour Party’s Director of Communications from 2000 until the General Election of 2001. Price says Blair was under Murdoch’s thumb from the beginning:

“I started working for Tony Blair a year after he became Prime Minister. I was shocked to be told by one of those who’d been closely involved with the talks in Australia, and subsequently, that: ‘We’ve promised News International we won’t make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them’.”

But – hey! ho! – political pragmatism, like journalistic amorality, is good news for some…

My elfin comedian chum Laura Lexx is staging her first straight play Ink at the Edinburgh Fringe in three weeks time.

The play is actually about the London 7/7 terrorist bombings and the media intrusion into victims’ lives but, of course, the subject of where the journalistic tipping point lies between investigative illumination and amoral intrusion is timeless.

Laura’s press release (written months ago) says: When reporting the news is business, is there space for truth and a conscience?… Will we accept hack journalism as a necessary evil for swift information?

It could have been written last week about the phone hacking scandal and the closure of the News of the World. It is a subject, as the red-tops might themselves say, RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES – but of eternal relevance.

The play’s billing reads: “Ordinary man blown up by terrorists – he made jam and had a son. Nothing special. The media made that clear as they conjured headlines from victims and sprinkled them between crosswords.”

My elfin chum Laura Lexx was both a Chortle and Paramount Student comedy finalist in her first six months of live stand-up performance; then she went on to reach the semi-finals of both the Laughing Horse and Funny Women competitions.

I saw Ink when it was a student production at the University of Kent.

It was impressive then.

With the number of actors in the cast cut back for financial reasons and the writing sharpened up even more, it will be interesting to see how it fares at the Edinburgh Fringe, given its accidentally up-to-the-minute relevance.

Now.. if only I could see some RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES angle for my own two spaghetti-juggling events at the Fringe…

My head is spinning.

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Gags, foreplay, punchlines and the theory of male and female orgasms in British comedy

Yesterday, I went to a comedy conference at the British Library in London and learned a few things.

Lucy Greeves who, with comedian Jimmy Carr, wrote the book The Naked Jape: Uncovering the Hidden World of Jokes, used the interesting simile that a joke is like a knight’s move on a chess board – it goes forward, then there’s an unexpected sideways move. That’s the punchline.

And  Chris C.P. Lee (now a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Salford, but previously a performer in cult musical comedy group Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias) claimed there were no comedy double acts until the 1920s for legal reasons – because two people performing on stage in the UK were legally defined as being part of a theatrical “play” and music halls were not licensed for theatrical performances at that time.

The most jaw-dropping claim, though, came from Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire who said research showed that, when a man tells a joke, 70% of the women in an audience laugh. But, when a woman tells a joke, only 30% of the men in the audience laugh.

There was no explanation of this.

But maybe it really is true that men and women laugh at different things.

Long-time comedy scriptwriter and performer Barry Cryer suggested that women laugh at life, whereas men laugh at gags.

And comedian Arthur Smith suggested, perhaps rather mischievously, that jokes are appreciated like an orgasm: men like an exciting build-up and a sudden release of tension – a gag with a quick punchline – whereas women prefer stories to gags – a slower, longer build-up.

But, as the old saying goes, to get a hit record you need a song AND a singer.

Back in the showbiz mists of the last century, I remember being at the Edinburgh Fringe and every night for three weeks standing in the balcony of the original Gilded Balloon – before the venue got burnt down – watching the end of comedian Sean Lock’s act. He used to try out a different new gag every night and, if I worked, he would add the gag into future shows and remove an old one.

There was one gag he tried – involving a fork and doggie style sex – which I was fascinated by because it was a very good gag but, as far as I could see from my very good vantage point looking down on the audience from the balcony, all the men laughed at it but none of the women did.

Unusually, Sean persisted with this gag fo three or possibly four nights – with no laughs from the women – until all the men AND all the women laughed. After that, ever night, everyone laughed. As far as I could hear, he had changed none of the words and had not changed the delivery. I asked him what he had done.

“I changed the way I said it,” he told me. “I made myself slightly more innocent. So it’s less threatening.”

I tried to spot this in future performances but, even after he told me, I couldn’t see what he had changed.

The successful result, though, was clearly there to see and the difference was dramatic.

The sign of a great comic. Which Sean is.

You need a song AND a singer to have a hit record.

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