Tag Archives: propaganda

“Being a stockbroker is like being a comedian”: Russia Today’s Max Keiser

Max with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

Max (right) with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

If you want to see the heir of the late American comedian Bill Hicks performing, where do you look?

Not in British comedy clubs where Bill Hicks is the comedians’ comedian. Certainly not in America,  where Bill Hicks only came to most people’s attention fairly recently.

Perhaps one place to look is a television programme transmitted three times a week on the RT channel (The channel used to be called Russia Today.) American presenter Max Keiser is RT’s economic guru; he fronts his own show: The Keiser Report.

Max Keiser (extreme left) on 10 O'Clock Live

Max (perhaps suitably on the extreme left) on 10 O’Clock Live

Last month, he was a guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You. Last year, he was a guest on Channel 4’s comedy series 10 O’Clock Livepresented by Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. 

Jimmy Carr came up to me after the show,” Max told me yesterday in Soho. “He was very nice and wanted to know more about my views on the economy. A few weeks later, I was having lunch over at his place – beautiful house, beautiful tennis court. He had me up there to talk about gold and silver. He said he was prepared to buy a ton – that’s 32,000 ounces – of silver. Since that lunch, the price has dropped about 50%. So that’s probably why I haven’t heard from Jimmy since then.”

“And you’re a fan of Bill Hicks,” I said.

“If anyone is a big fan of comedy and they watch my show on RT,” said Max. “they’ll recognise that I borrow heavily from him. I liked Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and that raw, unvarnished truthfulness is something we’ve always tried to strive for in The Keiser Report. It’s just very raw and sometimes it works not from having people’s funny bone tickled but because they are uncomfortable.”

Max Keiser presents his Report on Russia Today TV

Max presents Keiser Report next to Boris Johnson’s City Hall

“But The Keiser Report,” I said, “is a current affairs show – a news show covering business and finance – that is not normally a comic area.”

“At this point in time,” replied Max, “the financial world and the banks are so pathetically corrupt that it’s impossible to cover them without having, to some degree, a satirical view. Very few things which banks do, in this country at this point, are legal. Virtually 100% of everything all the Big Four banks do is illegal.”

“Could you be pushing this angle because you’re a presenter on the Russian government’s own TV channel?” I asked.

“Well, the show is produced by Associated Press,” said Max. “which is an American company. The show is recorded at a TV studio that’s part of London & Partners, which is London Mayor Boris Johnson’s public relations division. And we make other shows with Associated Press which are sold to other outlets. We sold a show to Press TV.”

“Thats worse!” I said. “That’s the Iranian government!. These are dodgy people we are talking about.”

“These are fine international news organisations,” said Max. “We’ve done a show for BBC World News. We did shows for Al Jazeera English.”

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English, Doha

“Ah, now,” I said. “Al Jazeera English is a very, very good news channel, though I don’t know about the Arabic version.”

“When we were in Doha where Al Jazeera English is based,” said Max, “there was this famous car park with the Al Jazeera English building on one side and the Al Jazeera Arabic building on the other and they really did not get along. So there is a perpetual stand-off in Doha and occasionally executives would be taken out to the car park and…”

“Beheaded?” I suggested.

“…left to their own devices,” continued Max. “And that’s not easy to do, because you need an exit visa. So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.”

“What show did you make for them?” I asked.

“We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.”

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?

“Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still seems to want to be fighting the Cold War. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the US, they still think it’s 1970. They don’t understand that Russia and the Russian economy has leapfrogged well beyond what was happening during the Cold War, well past the Soviet Union. They are very entrepreneurial in Russia and the TV network is very savvy. They have a bigger reach than the BBC – over 800 million. I think they’ve really taken the top position in the world right now as far as global international satellite and cable TV is concerned. And whatever we can do to support that, we’re happy to do. In this country, I would say the relationship with the Soviet Union is quite strained. Other countries have moved on from their Cold War perception.”

“You’ll get a Hero of the Soviet Union medal,” I told Max. “You’ve had other comedians on The Keiser Report, haven’t you?”

Max Keiser (right) interviews comedian Frankie Boyle on Russia Today

Frankie Boyle (left) interviewed on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Yes, we’ve had Frankie Boyle. I’m a big fan of his. A no-holds-barred comedian who’s willing to take big risks.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I think he and I talked about the state of the media.”

“But you’re a business show.”

“Yeah, but so much of business now is driven by perception and that perception is driven by the media. The Stock Market – whether it’s the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones – it’s a hologram driven by perception. There’s no actual equity in those markets; it’s completely a bubble puffed up on zero collateral.”

“What were you before being a TV presenter?” I asked.

“I started out as a stockbroker for Paine Webber on Wall Street in the early 1980s. Before that, I was at New York University and I was doing stand-up comedy. I made the transition from doing comedy to being a stockbroker at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period.”

“Why?”

“Because, surprisingly, being a stockbroker is not that much different from being a comedian. You’re telling stories to people, going through a lot of stories quite rapidly and you are essentially getting people not to laugh but to say: Give me 1,000 shares. To get to that moment, you use the same techniques as a comedian: pacing, word-choice, empathy.

“I was at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. Rich Hall was doing improvisation down in the theatre district. Robin Williams was at Catch a Rising Star. On the West Coast, you had Steve Martin. It was the beginning of that huge new wave when comedy became the new rock ’n’ roll and then TV shows came out of that.

“Watching Robin Williams work was pretty remarkable. During that time, before he went on stage, his ritual was to line up seven or eight Kamikaze cocktails. They’re extremely potent alcoholic concoctions. As the MC was about to introduce him, he’d just go Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang and down those suckers and then hit the stage with all that energy.

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser is into a post “Comedy is Rock ’n’ Roll” period

“Now we’re into a post Comedy is rock ’n’ roll period. I’m hoping we’re getting back to the more politicised comedy – the Lenny Bruce type of comedy – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway. A lot of people who do comedy here in London go to the United States and come back and tell me: It’s great; it’s all very funny; but it’s homogenised. They’re all doing the same kind of jokes, which is because of this huge thing called TV: the sitcoms. They’re looking for a certain type to fill a certain spot and there’s 10,000 comics trying to get that one spot and they’re all doing the same act.

“I love the comedy here in London, because it’s completely different. There’s a lot of political edginess to it. A lot of comedians here identify themselves as ‘left wing’. In America, there is no left wing. There’s only slightly right-of-centre and extreme right-of-centre and the fanatical right.”

“Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I went for the first time last year.”

“You should do a show up there,” I suggested.

“I would like to take a show up there though, if I do, I’d have to workshop it here in London beforehand. But I’ve already been doing my Stand-Up Rage show in cities around the world: Dublin, Los Angeles, London.

“People are fans of my rages on The Keiser Report and this is a 60-minute rage without any control whatsoever. I go into a fugue state in a white rage. Afterwards, I literally have no memory of what I’ve said. It’s a cathartic experience and the audience, in many cases, achieve a level of ecstasy.”

There was a slight pause.

“So you don’t have a script,” I asked. “You just go off on a rant?”

“I start off on one basic idea,” explained Max, “and I will refer to headlines and each usually triggers a good ten minutes of rage. Then, to catch my breath, I will maybe cut to a 20 second music or video blurb.”

“And you rage about politics?” I asked.

“It’s about the bankers and the banksters because, when you have this merging of the private banking interests and the political interests otherwise known as Fascism… I mean, London is the capital of financial terrorism. This is where the financial Jihadis congregate.”

“You do good headline,” I said.

“If you go down to the City of London,” continued Max, “they have the madrassas – otherwise known as HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. These are the madrassas of banking fanaticism. They pursue market fundamentalism which says they can blow themselves up and others around them – not to seek THE Prophet but some profit.”

(The Keiser Report is transmitted on RT, with editions also available on YouTube)

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North Korea – the Leaders’ spectacles

A woman walks in front of the Great Statues

Did I mention the loudspeakers on the street lamp posts and the small speaker vans roaming the streets?

At 7.15am, sweet and sickly music drifts through Pyongyang, like unavoidable muzak. Freedom means your own choice of music. There is no choice of music in the morning streets of North Korea.

Last night in my hotel… rock hard bed; no mattress; cold water; no hot water. Our young female guide slept in the lobby because there were no spare rooms.

In the morning, we are taken to see the giant statue of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung on Mansudae Hill, which I first saw when I was here before in 1986. And, in fact, as of today, there are now two statues – of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and of his recently-deceased son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il.

What surprises me is that, in both statues, the Leaders are wearing spectacles.

Kim Il-sung’s statue was not wearing spectacles in 1986.

Our North Korean guide, a little surprised that I had remembered the statue so well, explains that the original Kim Il-sung statue was replaced at some unknown time by a new one in which he wore spectacles and was smiling.

“The Great Leader felt he looked too stern in the first statue,” the guide explains “He wanted to smile at his people.”

So now both statues smile.

Then we are whisked off to a gigantic flower exhibition packed like sardines in a thimble. And to the Great Leader’s birthplace.

We are also taken to the American spy ship USS Pueblo, captured in 1968 and now moored on the river bank in Pyongyang. It is guarded by armed sailors. Do the North Koreans really dream the Americans will try to snatch it back? We are shown round the ship and treated to a film on the perfidy of the American Imperialists, but we are not allowed to enter the ship’s code room, the entrance to which is blocked by a uniformed, unsmiling North Korean sailor.

Why? I wonder.

Do they think there are still secret messages lurking there, un-decoded since 1968, which we could use to undermine the people’s paradise of North Korea?

As we leave the Pueblo, there is an American standing on the bow, like Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. On the river bank, a cameraman is profusely thanking a North Korean minder. We are told the man on the bow is a reporter for the (right wing) Fox News TV channel in the US and he is recording a report.

Have the North Koreans totally lost the plot?

Yes, of course they have.

We are taken for a ride in the metro. Only a few stops because, as I understand it, only a few stops are decked-out in the Stalinesque marble-and-chandelier manner.

Our first train is relatively empty. Our second is packed tight, not dissimilar to the London Underground in the high tourist season but even more like the Tokyo Metro with people pushing and elbowing to get on. I stand by the door, my back protected, slightly separated from our guides/guards by the shoulder-to-shoulder throng.

A small, wiry man perhaps in his mid-thirties pushes onto the train and sees my white Western face.

“Where you from?” he asks.

We have been told (true or false) that English is now taught in all North Korean schools.

“England,” I reply. “UK… London.”

“I love your country,” the man says, pushing past, looking into my face. “I love your Par-lee-ment. Our country is…”

His last word is, annoyingly, inaudible. It sounds like “putrid” but cannot be: it is too sophisticated a word for his limited English vocabulary.

I hold my finger up to my lips, as if to say, “Quiet!” and glance sideways towards our guides to warn him they are there. Then he is lost in the stuffed carriage.

I do not know what he said, but it was not complimentary.

Short and slippery slope, I think to myself.

Later, I ask one of our guides where Kim Il-sung used to live. I am told he used to live in what is now his mausoleum: the very grand Kumsusan Memorial Palace (currently closed for unknown reasons)

“Where did Kim Jong-il live?” I ask.

“I do not know,” I am told. “It is not known.”

In fact, anyone outside North Korea can see inside what used to be Kim Jong-Il’s compound on Google Earth. You can see the swimming pool, the water slide, the personal train station which linked into the metro system and, one presumes, into the above-ground rail system.

That is what is so mystifying about the North Korean paranoia about GPS positioning. You can bring a computer into the country; you can bring a WiFi-enabled Kindle into the country; but you cannot bring in mobile phones or tablets, because they have GPS positioning. They have not yet twigged that the more modern digital cameras have GPS. They are obsessed with the danger of people with GPS-enabled devices.

But anyone with a GPS iPhone or iPad is not actually a security risk who is going to help the Americans target their cruise missiles. Because the GPS positioning we use comes from the American spy satellites anyway. Anything I can do on an iPhone or iPad is something I do courtesy of the CIA and the NSA.

The North Koreans are obsessed by people seeing into secret above-ground areas, but seem to ignore the fact that the satellites can see everything anyway and, going to any computer in my home, I can see Pyongyang in detail on Google Earth.

In the evening, from my hotel window, I see another big fireworks display taking place near the river, by the Tower of the Juche Idea.

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How to pretend in a blog that you are successful in showbusiness by targeted, relentless b***sh****ng…

Three things have always held me back from a glittering and financially wildly successful career in showbiz: I’m not gay, I’m not Jewish and I’m shit at schmoozing.

Ooh – and I’m spectacularly lacking in any discernible performing talent of any kind.

However, I can bullshit quite well after many years of turning occasional sows’ ears of TV schedules into silk purses in on-air channel trailers.

Someone bemoaning the naivety of North Korean government propaganda in the 1980s once said to me: “You can only do good propaganda if you do NOT believe in what you’re saying. The trouble we have here is that these people believe what they’re saying.”

So, with that in mind, let me tell you all about my glamour-filled afternoon in London’s showbizzy Soho district yesterday.

After lunch, I went to St Martin’s College of Art in Charing Cross Road, forever immortalised in Pulp’s Top Ten hit Common People – “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge… She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College”.

(See what I did there? It might have sounded irrelevant, but you get tiny amounts of reflected glory from selective name-dropping. Unless that name is Gary Glitter)

The comedian Charmian Hughes was already at the photo studio in St Martin’s, getting publicity shots taken for her upcoming Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments.

(Always mention quality show names in passing and, again, you will get some slight reflected glory. Never mention inept productions unless it’s the current IKEA TV ad and even then only if you’re trying to capitalise on shitloads of previous hits on your blog.)

I was at St Martin’s to get photos taken of myself for use as publicity at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I know, up there in August, I will be directing one show, producing another and chairing two debates.

(Always self-promote, however crass it seems. All publicity is good publicity, unless it involves Gary Glitter.)

Director Mel Brooks once told me (name-drop) during a very brief encounter:

“Always open your mouth when you do it – a publicity shot. It makes you look happier, more extrovert, more full of confidence and that’s half the job!”

A female comedienne, who had better remain nameless (never annoy the Talent) once told me:

“Don’t allow the photographer to take shots of you from a level lower than your chin because a shot taken looking upwards at your face will accentuate any double chins, jowls and flabby bits.”

And I learned a lot once by going to a photo shoot with the very lovely Isla St Clair (name-drop) who was a revelation (give credit where credit is due), offering the camera a continually changing range of angles and expressions for the photographer to choose from.

I am not a natural and I tried my best at St Martin’s, though I seem to have trouble doing that old Hollywood standby – looking over my shoulder at the camera. My neck – like my good self, perhaps – seems to be either too thick or too stiff.

(Self-deprecation can be appealing in the UK, though don’t try it in the US – they see it as lack of self-confidence.)

I hate photos of myself. I may be turning into a luvvie, but I have always realised one thing – I am very definitely not photogenic. (Again, use self-deprecation sparingly if you have a US audience)

Towards the end of the photo session, I started jumping in the air, something The Beatles (name-drop) did much more successfully on a beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1963. My legs are not as good as the 21 year old Paul McCartney’s. (name-drop combined with self-deprecation)

At the very end of the session, I was pouring water into my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it turned out not to be. Don’t ask.

After that, I went off to Leicester Square to have tea with stand-up comedian, qualified psychotherapist and occasional PR/marketing guru Shelley Cooper. She told me she has accidentally developed a new on-stage confidence and I advised her to adopt a new approach to performing her comedy. I told her:

“Don’t think of writing comedy material. Instead, think of what really, genuinely gets up your nose, go on stage and rant about it and, through personality, natural comic tendencies and experience, the comedy element will add itself in.”

(That’s more than a bit pompous and a therefore a bit iffy, but the pro factor of being seen to give advice to a psychotherapist probably just-about outweighs the negative factors.)

As I left Shelley outside the Prince Charles Cinema, she turned left, I turned right and almost immediately I bumped into John Park, editor of Fringe Report – he is the man who did not design the Baghdad metro system. I always think he did, but he didn’t. It’s a long story. I still lament the passing of his monthly Fringe Report parties. Fringe Report also gave me an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’ – basically an award for being the best awarder of awards – something which has always endeared them and him to me. (True, but beware of too-blatant crawling to John Park)

John P told me he has written a play about love called Wild Elusive Butterfly which the Wireless Theatre Company will be recording in the next couple of months for internet streaming and download.

(Always plug something which sounds like it may be very good in the hope of some reflected glory.)

“Is it all singing, all dancing and with a dolphin in it?” I asked John P.

“You know?” he asked me. “Someone mentioned it?”

“Eh?”

“We have a porpoise,” John told me.

“You have a purpose?”

“We have a porpoise – in the play. You know the story of Freddie the Dolphin?”

“I don’t.”

“There was a court case where a man was accused of assaulting a dolphin because he…”

“Ah!,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “The dolphin-wanking case! I loved it.”

In 1991, animal-rights campaigner Alan Cooper was accused in Newcastle of “outraging public decency” with local aquatic celebrity Freddie The Dolphin by masturbating the dolphin’s penis with his armpit.

“In court,” explained John, “one of the Defence Counsel’s angles was that a dolphin’s penis is a means of communication.”

“I heard it’s not uncommon,” I said. “All round Britain, dolphins are swimming up to people and sticking their penises in the swimmers’ armpits to have a wank. People are too embarrassed to complain or even mention it and you can hardly prosecute a dolphin for sexual harassment. I think that the…”

“Anyway,” said John, “it was a great line and I felt had to have it in the play. A dolphin’s penis is a means of communication. A great line. Although, in my play, it’s a porpoise. I think they may be different.”

“Everyone needs a purpose,” I said.

“I think I have to be going,” said John, looking at his watch.

(When in doubt, make up dialogue, but keep it close to what was actually said and try to add in a dash of self-deprecating humour, if possible. Unless you are trying to impress people in the US.)

Glamour? Glitz? Showbiz sparkle?

I live it every day, luv.

While we were walking through Soho, Shelley Cooper said to me: “That was Suggs.”

“What?”

“On that corner, back there. That was Suggs of Madness talking to Boy George’s ex-boyfriend.”

“Did he recognise me?”

“It’s unlikely,” Shelley said.

“I suppose so,” I agreed.

By the way, the dolphin man was found innocent after several expert witnesses were called.

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Moscow myths in 1984. London riots in 2011. Mindless knee-jerk reactions in a fantasy world.

Last night, I was watching TV news footage of the riots in London.

NO CUTS! NO CUTS! NO CUTS! the placards read.

And one placard read GET OUT OF LIBYA!

In 1984 – yup, that reads 1984 – I came back from a trip to the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. At that time, I was working at Granada TV in Manchester and mentioned to someone there that I had taken a train to the end of a Moscow metro line, where the stations were dull, drab, grey concrete shells totally unlike the ornate architecturally splendid stations in central Moscow. I had wandered around a normal, non-tourist suburb and the supermarkets had almost empty shelves.

“Oh, you’ve been reading too much propaganda,” she told me. “The supermarkets don’t have empty shelves in Moscow.”

She had never been to the Soviet Union.

I thought, Hold on…

A couple of days before, I had myself taken a train to the end of a Moscow metro line, wandered around a normal, non-tourist suburb and seen the supermarkets had almost empty shelves.

“Oh, you’ve been reading too much propaganda,” she told me.

But she had. Sometimes people believe in a fantasy.

I thought of that again last night.

NO CUTS! NO CUTS! NO CUTS! the placards read.

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