Tag Archives: populist

We may have mis-nominated an act for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards

So, eleven hours after starting the seven-hour drive from Edinburgh to London, I got home.

Don’t ask. Don’t intrude on private grief.

But I came down the M6 and went through Leicester.

Think about it, but don’t ask.

It was an English Bank Holiday Monday on the roads.

So this is the blog I wrote yesterday but did not post… I was too busy crying into my steering wheel.

________

Whenever Scots singer Andi Neate performs during the Edinburgh Fringe, I always try to see her show; a wonderful voice.

This year, in Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, at least six people were recording the show on their mobile phones.

Welcome to the 21st century.

The relevance will become clear later.

This year, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best stunt publicising an act or  show at the Edinburgh Fringe was jointly won by Kunt and the Gang and his publicist Bob Slayer.

I saw Kunt’s penultimate Fringe show in Edinburgh last week and afterwards I thought maybe, as well as the Cunning Stunt Award, we should have nominated him for the Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award.

Bob Slayer was very keen on Kunt last year.

He harassed me into seeing the act upstairs at the small and cramped Meadow Bar as part of the Free Festival. I remember I was very impressed by Kunt’s talent, but thought there was an inevitable potential professional cul-de-sac ahead.

If you are called Kunt and you sing very explicitly about sex – however amusingly – you just ain’t going (at this moment in time) to get on BBC Radio, let alone TV; and you are not going to get signed by any major record label in the current economic climate, if at all.

I suggested to Kunt last year that, parallel to his Kunt and the Gang act, he could start to develop a second songwriting career not involving explicitly sexual lyrics; I thought he could make a fortune writing equally clever lyrics to equally compulsive pop tunes – whereas, with Kunt and the Gang’s songs, he would only make a decent, if steady, living playing to Chav and Torremolinos type audiences and he would be limited forever to that niche market.

He was not convinced.

And now, well…

I think I was wrong.

Watching his penultimate show in Edinburgh this year changed my mind.

I remembered Kunt had genuinely clever lyrics but they really are wonderfully clever. Not just the lyrics, but the vast use of populist names. And the songs have wonderfully bopalong tunes. He tells me the tunes are highly-influenced by 1980s TV ads. Whatever their origin, I sat through an hour of songs and every one was a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head top pop tune.

His show as part of the Free Festival this year, at The Hive, had no weak spots – the songs were fascinating, the presentation he managed to vary – and he unleashed some kitsch 80s pop video choreography which last year’s Meadow Bar show had been too physically restricted to show off.

It was a 5-star show; a 100% Heat magazine crowd pleaser.

And it was the audience which changed my mind about Kunt.

For one thing, the venue was overflowing; it was an amazingly over-full house.

Then there were the smatterings of people in the audience who were singing along with the lyrics. They knew the songs well and not just the choruses – they knew every word of the verses too. This was a real pop music gig. Kunt has a solid fan base.

They had clearly watched the videos (which oddly have less energy and impact than his live performances) and/or downloaded the albums (which equally oddly are on iTunes – a particular shock to me as iTunes surreally removed the Killer Bitch DVD within three days for being distastefully OTT).

A few years ago, Kunt and the Gang would have had very limited potential but now everything is changing fast.

People are recording Andi Neate gigs on their smartphones.

Sales of books, newspapers, magazines, CDs and DVDs appear to be in unstoppable free-fall because of internet viewing and downloads.

Most of Kunt’s songs may still be currently utterly untransmittable on radio or TV and he may never get a recording contract from a major record label, but who buys CDs any more? Increasingly fewer people. They go to iTunes instead.

Kunt is potentially a major cult internet download target for the World of Warcraft and iPod generation and word of mouth could turn Kunt and the Gang into a high-grossing name.

Maybe.

Who knows?

In the current maelstrom of rapidly-changing media, who really knows what is going on and what may happen? Not me.

In Kunt’s recent fake Edinburgh Fringe press release, he and Bob Slayer wrote:

I know who my audience is and they find us naturally through the internet or word of mouth. They are proper people like bricklayers, carpet fitters, shop workers, central heating engineers, students and drug dealers.”

There is a lot of truth in that and what is being described is a mass-market British audience.

There is the Daily Mail audience and there is the Chav audience.

Both are massive.

Guardian-readers? A tiny if vocal minority.

Forget them.

Never underestimate the Daily Mail readership.

Never underestimate Essex man and woman.

Kunt and the Gang is potentially massive with one of those two audiences.

Meanwhile, on a more domestic front, my MacBook Pro laptop does not work, my Hoover does not work and the kitchen has partially flooded one drip at a time during the four weeks I have been away in Edinburgh, despite the fact the water supply was turned off…

Don’t ask. Don’t intrude on private grief.

Real life? Don’t talk to me about real life.

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Filed under Comedy, Internet, Music

The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Religion, Theatre