Tag Archives: Pope Lonergan

How to perform a comedy show to an audience with dementia in a care home

Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project

So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…

“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”

“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”

“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”

“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”

“And these shows lead to?” I asked.

“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”

“What is limbic?” I asked.

Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)

“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”

“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”

“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.

“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”

“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”

“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”

“At what age?” I asked.

“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”

“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.

Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea

“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”

“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”

“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”

“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”

“Of course you can,” he told me.

“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”

“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.

“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.

“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”

“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”

“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”

“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.

October 2nd Benefit before the gig on 9th

“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”

“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”

“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”

“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.

“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.

“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.

“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”

“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”

Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”

“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”

“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”

“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”

“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.

“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

The weekly Grouchy Club Podcast, a pea in a belly button and the man on a train

Copstick and me podcasting from a London sofa

Copstick & me podcasting this afternoon from a comfortable sofa somewhere in London

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our weekly Grouchy Club Podcast today, from a sofa somewhere in London. I failed to introduce it properly because I failed to know what date it is today.

I was feeling vague. I often do. 

This is how the podcast starts:


Copstick
It’s Sunday the 12th of April.

John
Which year?

Copstick
2015

John
Are we sure about this?

Copstick
Yes, I’m absolutely sure about this.

John
Even in the Jewish calendar that Lewis Schaffer follows?

Copstick
Not at all in the Jewish calendar, because we’re not going by the Jewish calendar and we are not mentioning Lewis Schaffer.

John
But we just have – twice.

Copstick
No! The fact that you just drop his name in doesn’t count on some spurious…

John
It wasn’t spurious. He’s Jewish and…

Copstick
It was spurious.

John
… he’s got a calendar.

Copstick
There’s no need to bring Judaism into it this early in the podcast.

John
It’s not Judaism. It’s Lewis Schaffer.

Copstick
You’re just saying it again.

John (thinking aloud)
Jewish Schaffer.

Copstick
You’re just doing this to win a bet. You’re not allowed to talk about him any more. I did go on Facebook and ask people to suggest things that are non-him-related that we could talk about and nobody apart from Pope – how do you pronounce his second name?

John & Copstick (in unison)
Lonergan

Copstick
Pope Lonergan suggested…

John
Pope Lonergan the Second…

Copstick
… either Jabontinsky, who was a dreadful revisionist Zionist chap who wanted a Jewish state on both sides – quote “both sides” – of the Jordan. And his alternative to that was James Joyce. I don’t like James Joyce. I battled my way through his works when I was in school. I like more punctuation than James Joyce puts in his novels.

John (to the recording device)
So… Welcome to the Grouchy Club podcast which is about comedy.

Copstick
Generally speaking.

John
… and Lewis Schaffer.

Copstick
No it’s not! And just saying the name doesn’t win you the bet. I want to talk – well, not really, but I’m grasping at straws here…

John
You always want to talk.

Copstick
Did you see…

John
No.

Copstick
Did you see the Madonna?

John
I did.

Copstick
Stand-up.

John
I did.

Copstick
What did you think?


We continued for another 38 minutes covering, among other things:

music star Madonna as a stand-up comedian, the Edinburgh Fringe, Trevor Noah, Reggie Watts, Canadian comedians, Abnormally Funny People, Tanya Lee Davis, the Malcolm Hardee Awards, Liz Carr, more James Joyce, comics who are funny off-stage, Martha McBrier, Janey Godley, Glasgow humour, non-funny humour, the TV series Scotch and Wry, Rikki Fulton, Scottish and Scandinavian humour, Norman Lovett, Stewart Lee, BBC TV comedy commissioning, Michael McIntyre, Tony Blair, God, Kenya, al-Shabaab, the Islamic State, Sara Mason’s new show title, Bob Slayer’s Heroes venues and Italian comics…

Pea found two days after a failed belly dance

Pea found two days after a failed belly dance

And Lewis Schaffer.

And the pea I found in the bath, which I think had been in my belly-button for two days after a sadly short and failed attempt at belly-dancing. The origin of the pea remains fundamentally uncertain but, with limited clues, this is the best solution I can come up with.

Plus Copstick’s offer to stage free London shows in a 45-50-seater space for comedians who want to preview their Edinburgh Fringe (or other) shows between mid-May and August this year.

A true Socialist with commendably groomed hands

A committed Socialist with excellent hands

I then went home on the train and sat opposite a man wearing a lot of badges who was reading the Weekly Worker socialist newspaper. His hands did not look like a man who had done much manual labour.

I am only saying. I may well have seriously miscalculated and misjudged his endeavours and experience. I am sure he is very nice. And certainly caring.

Now I think I am going to a very early bed. I feel quite exhausted.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Podcasts