Tag Archives: psychology

Comic Lynn Ruth Miller is “Ridiculously Old and Getting Better” in a monastery

Here, in the latest of her travelogues, 85-year-old globetrotting American comedienne and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, tells us about her latest jaunt…


Lynn Ruth’s passport photo is even worse…

I went to Farfa in Italy.

When we landed in Rome, I apologised to the officer because my passport photo was so bad but he said he could recognise me. I said I had to wait ten years before I got a new one and that one would be even worse than the one I had.

He agreed.

Maddie from Wales was waiting for me. She and Nader Shabahangi – my dearest of friends from San Francisco – are running an Eldership Academy in Farfa and I was an honoured guest.

Nadar’s mother Elizabeth is convinced that I am a burden to her son, taking disgusting advantage of him. I have tired him out; I have incurred huge expenses, what with his having to rent a car and forcing her darling baby to stay awake hours past his bedtime. Nader is 62 years old.

Throughout the ride home she reminded me that, if my plane had not landed so late, Nader could have gotten his much-needed rest. She also pointed out that, because of me, he had to drive at night and it was very difficult for him because the road was dark. She told me repeatedly that they had to leave Farfa early because of my late arrival and now had to drive back on an unfamiliar road, which was a hardship for all of them. She explained several times that both she and Nader desperately needed their rest and I had thoughtlessly and deliberately deprived them both of that requirement.

Nader’s car had a navigating device that spoke to him in Italian. Maddie helped him interpret the route and we only got lost three times. We arrived at the monastery in Farfa at midnight.  

Yes. 

A monastery.

Many people from around the world go to this monastery because it is a well-known B&B.

My beautiful room was on the third floor of the immaculate monastery with a lovely view of the hills. I had a private bathroom, plenty of hot water and a desk for my computer. But NOT a WiFi connection.

“Ridiculously Old and Getting Better” – soon

Nader, who does not share his mother’s opinion of my value (whew),  brought me some yogurt and a galley copy of my brand new book Ridiculously Old and Getting Better, which is my take on living a good, productive and satisfying life. At that point, though, I thought the title should have been: Why the Fuck Am I Still Around Making Everyone Suffer?

I managed to read half the book and then drifted off to sleep in that very quiet peaceful place where the air smells sweet and you can actually hear birds singing without a hearing aid.

I awoke the next morning feeling a bit more like the title of my book and met the first of three of the most charming nuns ever. The first was Citadel (really) originally from the Philippines who fixed the plug on my computer and explained that I could get WiFi in the sitting rooms, but the entire monastery loses its wi-fi when the wind blows. Ordinarily, I would think this is a tragedy but somehow it felt like a blessed relief.  

Gabriella came to clean my room, extolled over the book and Justine made me a special breakfast. They are all three happy, smiling people. The interesting thing is that ALL the nuns there are happy, smiling people. It makes me wonder if a celibate life is the secret to happiness.  

Statistics say that single women without children are the most content and, if the nuns are any indication, the answer to the world‘s malaise is to confine all men in a separate camp where women who want to ruin their lives can get it on and have a baby. The rest of us can just go about our business growing flowers and dancing in the sunlight, as women do. 

Elizabeth came to get me because she is a devout Christian woman who believes in being kind to the vermin of this world. She scampered down four flights of stairs to remind me that she is in better shape than I am. She hugged Justine several times and gave me a triumphant look to remind me that I am scum and she is blessed.

Maddie told me a bit about herself.  She is a potter from Wales. Her husband died three years ago but had vascular dementia for about 20 years. She has two sons both very intelligent and creative and an artistic daughter. She and Nader along with Julia from Australia have been running the workshop at the monastery for three years.  

In the garden, I met two others on the course: Iris whose real name is Ruth and her husband Spider who is really interesting and very well-travelled because his father was in the military. He lived his early years in Paris but cannot speak a word of French. The two met in a cooking school some forty years ago, have one child and are both fun to be with.They are from Sonoma in California. They work with the elderly there and are interested now in coming to terms with their own advancing years.

Another person I met in the garden was from Cape Town, South Africa. His name is Rein. He has a small company that provides services to care homes in Cape Town and is without doubt the most well-read human being on the planet.  

I am quite a reader but there is not one book I mentioned that he has not only read but can discuss the plot of far more intelligently than I. (I AM American) He is a delight.

Farfa. Lovely but with dodgy WiFi (Photo by Renio Linossi)

We all met in the garden because it was the only place where you could get on the Internet (sometimes). 

The rest of the group had arrived by dinner time: all truly wonderful, innovative, creative people from all over the world.

Joyce and Ed were from Denver, Colorado; Anna from near Brighton, England; and Bernie, a doctor, from Redding, California.  

They were all there (some had returned from previous years) to explore who they are and where they are going in their lives as older people. Of course, they all looked like children to me, but I am guessing most are in their sixties with the exception of Bernie who is 52.  

Ageing is a frightening thing to contemplate in this plastic world that worships muscular, fit bodies, healthy diets, endless plastic surgery and non-surgical techniques to make us all look like teenagers without the angst.

I do not fit into this picture.

That first night, I took a late-night walk with Spider. He said it was his losses that made him strong. His closest friend, the man who married him to Iris whose real name is Ruth, died of multiple sclerosis at 62 and he has never yet come to terms with his own loss. He is making up for the gap in his life with the elderly people he is helping now in Sonoma.

Joyce is 72 and into mysticism and The Kabala. She brought up her daughter alone and managed to travel the world and experiment in a variety of life styles, always supporting herself and her daughter. Ed just retired from a counselling type thing in Berkeley and he has been her best friend for at least forty years.  

Everyone in the group connected with one another. The discussions were hugely interesting and very spirited.

One of the more interesting topics was how we listen to one another. Ed showed us there are three levels of listening. One is about the hearer, one is about the listener and the third when it is about what the speaker is feeling. We listen not just with our ears, but with our eyes and with our body.  

This is why Facebook and Instagram are robbing us of the ability to hear what our friends mean when they type in a remark online.

The finale of my stay was my talk on Optimistic Ageing, which I have already done in the UK for the Brighton Women’s Institute, the retired NHS workers of South Croydon and the Mental Health Unit in Birmingham. 

Seeing the back of  her forthcoming book…

This time though, I was preaching to the choir because every one of the people in this group takes risks and makes waves in an effort to live the fullest, most meaningful life possible. It was an exhilarating experience to be part of their search for meaning and direction.

I am now home in London, practising bowing and saying “Ah! So!” to prepare for my trip to Japan where I am planning to tell jokes and rip off my clothes.

Maybe then they will forgive me for Hiroshima.

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Filed under Age, Humor, Humour, Psychology

Why I don’t trust people who have no wrinkles on their faces…

Are lines on a face necessarily a good thing? (Photo: Pierrick Van-Troost via UnSplash)

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog about how you can seldom learn much from watching perfection but you can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes (and your own)…

I don’t trust people over a certain age who have totally wrinkle-free foreheads and no spidery skin wrinkles at the side of their eyes. This tends to go against the prevailing orthodoxy that everyone should look young and wrinkle-free.

But, if you don’t have any wrinkles, you haven’t experienced bad times. In fact, you haven’t experienced much at all. So you are likely (I am not saying certainly) to be less than averagely sympathetic to or understanding of other people’s problems.

A wrinkle isn’t just a one-off frown or a one-off laugh with the eyes.

It is the result of repeated somethings.

Of course, if you have had a shit time, you may have gone to the other extreme and have turned into a soul-less bastard with no empathy, sympathy or any other form of pathy except possibly psychopathy.

Mass murderers and evil incarnates tend, I think, to have quite lined faces too.

So a wrinkly face ain’t always a guarantee of anything. 

But at least it doesn’t mean the person is a shallow, inexperienced, inward-looking shell of a half-human who sees the world only by looking outward and not by trying to see the world from other people’s viewpoints.

Poet WH Auden – a man famous for his memorable lines…

I think this obsession with wrinkles came about when an English teacher at my school went on-and-on in awe-struck admiration at the look of poet WH Auden’s face, telling us something like: “Just look at all the experience in that face!”

I remember sitting in a tube train after that looking at my reflection in the window opposite and raising my eyebrows to create wrinkles in my forehead… then being disappointed when, lowering my eyebrows, the skin on my forehead returned to its virgin, furrow-free blandness.

Now the top half of my face, given the wrong type of side-lighting, can look like a cross between a furrowed field and the number of lines in Tolstoy’s War & Peace and it will only get worse.

On the other hand – or face – there is only a very thin dividing line between being experienced in a good way that may show admirable humanity and being a wrinkly old fucker, possibly psychopathic, sat in the corner mumbling into his own beard, beer or spittle.

I think I may go and have a lie-down now.

This is what an ageing app thinks I will look like when I am older, though it is pretty-much me now…

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Jonathan Hansler on being Basil Fawlty AND Peter Cook and what happened…

Jonathan Hansler spoke to me at Soho Theatre in London

Jonathan Hansler appeared in this blog back in 2012, when a blue plaque was going to be unveiled on the site of Peter Cook’s old Establishment Club in London’s Soho and when Jonathan was going off to the Cannes Film Festival.

This month, he is involved in two separate productions featuring comedy icons – he performs the John Cleese role in Fawlty Towers Live: The Themed Dinner Show throughout the Edinburgh Fringe… and his play about Peter Cook and Dudley MooreGoodbye: The (After) Life of Cook & Moore – plays six dates at Dingwalls in London, starting this Friday.

Pete & Dud, Cook & Moore: show this month

He usually plays Peter Cook but, because of his Edinburgh commitment can’t on this occasion.


JOHN: So you can’t be in the Pete & Dud show in London…

JONATHAN: No. but I’m thrilled because Kev Orkian, who plays Dudley Moore, has taken the reins of producer, which is lovely, because it’s a play I dearly love.

JOHN: You’re getting typed as an interpreter of comedy icons – Peter Cook AND John Cleese.

JONATHAN: How I got interested in the world of entertainment all came from seeing John Cleese and Peter Cook on a park bench doing the ‘interesting facts’ sketch at The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979.

I was a little boy and I saw Peter just reeling out this stuff and I thought: That’s what I want to do! Instead of asking for an Action Man that Christmas, I wanted a book of scripts.

JOHN: You co-wrote Goodbye: The (After) Life of Cook & Moore.

JONATHAN: Yes. Some young reviewer wrote: “Fans of Cook and Moore will enjoy hearing the classic lines re-deployed…” Well, we wrote the whole fucking thing. Every bloody line in that is ours.

JOHN: We…?

JONATHAN: Yes. I got stuck on about Page 30. I didn’t know where I was going with it. It didn’t seem to have a structure. Then I re-met Clive Greenwood at a party. He has this incredible knowledge of post-War comedy and he came on board and started to write it with me. He was the more logical one and I was typically like Cook, totally rambling and going off into spirals of imagination.

JOHN: It is set when Pete and Dud are dead.

JONATHAN: Yes. The whole thing is NOT a series of Pete n Dud sketches. Not one. It’s our interpretation of how they are forced to become their characters after they’re dead by a Divine Force that is ‘judging’ them for their Derek & Clive routines. Peter has had to wait seven years for Dudley to turn up and he is running a bar in the afterlife

JOHN: Why did you think: I wanna do a play about two dead comics after they have died?

JONATHAN: My father had died and I no longer had a father figure. Peter became a sort of father figure to me, because I loved his humour so much. I had this idea about all these comics kept in a Prisoner of War camp in heaven in the afterlife. 

Peter and Dudley were the prime focus but other comics are there. I usually play Peter. Kev Orkian plays Dudley – he has been playing the piano since he was 4. And Clive Greenwood plays all the other characters – Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, Leonard Rossiter, Frankie Howerd, Terry-Thomas… and Lord Reith of the BBC.

I can’t be Peter this time because I’m in Edinburgh doing the Fawlty Towers dinners at the Carlton Hilton on the North Bridge twice daily – 48 shows throughout the Fringe. That ends on 27th August and the last two performances of The (After) Life are on the 30th and 31st August, so I’m going back to London to watch those – and very proudly so.

‘”The only one that does the original scripts.”

Our ‘official’ Fawlty Towers show – sanctioned by John Cleese – is the only one that does the original scripts – so, for the first time in 40 years, people can hear those live.

JOHN: As an actor, you must be frustrated at having to copy someone else’s interpretation so closely?

JONATHAN: No, I’m not, actually. When John Cleese put the Australian show together, he said he didn’t want a carbon copy of himself; so I have a very Cleesian performance, but with my own twist on it.

JOHN: Which is?

JONATHAN: (LAUGHS) I’m not absolutely sure! There’s a lot of improvisation involved, because it’s a dinner show.

JOHN: With the audience sitting as if they are in the Fawlty Towers dining room…?

JONATHAN: Yes. We have to improvise round the tables with my own words and we put the script on top of that.

JOHN: What else do you have in the pipeline?

JONATHAN: One of the biggest things is an initiative I helped set up (with Andrew Eborn) called Canned Laughter. A lot of comedians and people who drink have this false laughter or they play games so we don’t know what lies behind. So I opened up an initiative with Equity with the slogan

IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK

The nervous energy which performers have is anxiety – and that’s where the problems start… Depression and all those things that lurk underneath and I’ve been through them all and, coming out the other side of booze, you start to realise where you have been and what you’ve come to and what you have to do to stop other people going down the same path.

Jonathan’s drinking days are behind him…

JOHN: How long have you been off the booze?

JONATHAN: 5½ years. And off sugars. I used to be: I’ll do every pill in the world! I’ll do every cigarette in the world! I’d do every drug in the world! I’d go to every club in the world!

JOHN: And now you have taken up knitting cardigans?

JONATHAN: (LAUGHS) No! My revolution and my rebellion comes in my writing, I think.

JOHN: You are writing other things?

JONATHAN: I am writing, but I am terrified. I am going to eventually do an hour’s stand-up on anxiety and about my childhood. I don’t give a fuck if people know now. I was abused. That’s why I wear blue chakra round my neck – because I was orally abused twice. at different times, I was in a school which had a paedophile headmaster and…

JOHN: What’s a blue chakra for?

Jonathan’s blue chakra with its healing sodalite stones…

JONATHAN: The blue chakra is the throat chakra, which is about the art of communication. This is a stone called sodalite and it actually gives… whether you believe it or not; a lot of people don’t and that’s fine… but I need something to believe in because of my past so I can’t help but believe in it and I’m happy to believe in it. As mad as it gets, that’s what I have to believe in, because they tried to hang me twice… Once when I was in my prep school and once in my senior school.

JOHN: Who tried to hang you?

JONATHAN: The kids. Y’know. Just brutal kids. Really brutal kids. There is a huge court case going on about my old school and paedophilia. There were boys who had it far worse than me.

There was one guy who forced me orally to do what I had to do. I think he was probably being abused himself. I think the kids who were being abused were picking on other kids who weren’t being abused. It was horrendous. Just horrible, horrible, horrible.

That’s another reason why I’ve done Canned Laughter.

JOHN: Peter Cook drank a lot.

JONATHAN: A director once said to me – after I got sober: “The reason why you can play Peter so well is because you were both on similar paths of self-destruction.”

Peter Cook (left) and Jonathan Hansler: very parallel people

We are very parallel. Very parallel people. That sense of loneliness. I was sent away to a boarding school at 9 years old like Peter. My parents went to the Middle East; his parents were in Gibraltar. He had asthma and, in those days, they didn’t have inhalers, so he was injected with ephedrine which sent you to the ceiling. He must have been floating around on the ceiling every night. No wonder his mind became the mind it did because he was being given these strange drugs to stop his asthma.

JOHN: Presumably talking about what happened to you at school is, to an extent, cathartic.

JONATHAN: I’ve got to a point where I don’t give a shit. I also want to explain why I’ve been maybe so awkward over previous years.

“…the anxiety it takes to play Basil Fawlty…”

Why is it – and it’s a stigma – that people say: “Performers are difficult to work with”? Have they ever asked why? God knows what happened to them earlier in life. And they still have to keep their teeth smiling and their tits up in this industry and bow down and cow down to all these people who… Y’know?… It’s wrong. People should know each other more and understand each other more and, by understanding each other, we grow together and we become real.

JOHN: I know comedians rather than actors but, to an extent, it IS true that all comedians are mad. You wouldn’t want to do it otherwise. There has to be something in you that needs the fulfilment of applause and acceptance.

JONATHAN: People say: “Oh, you’re so lucky to be playing Basil Fawlty…” But do you know the anxiety it takes to play Basil Fawlty?”

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Filed under Acting, Comedy, Mental health, Psychology

Facebook? – One reader says: “Alas the only solution to this is (literal) civil war”

On 25th April this year, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog entitled:

ARE THE FACEBOOK POLICE ABOUT TO BAN ME BECAUSE OF MY SEXUALLY RISQUÉ NAME?

Today it received a reader comment from someone calling himself or herself or ‘they’selves ‘Republican Realism’ which I print in its entirety below.

I am keeping schtum…


(Photograph by Vlad Tchompalov via UnSplash)

Alas the only solution to this is (literal) civil war. In every country. Scorching the earth clean of, firstly, those who believe in copyright – meaning those who believe journalism, music, “design” or any form of “talk” constitutes actual productive “work” (it doesn’t). And secondly those who believe that there is any such thing as an original thought (there isn’t). And war on those who believe in such crimes against logic and reality itself as anti-“hate speech” laws, laws that conflate fiction/hypothesis with fact (not just the “cartoon porn laws” but all laws pertaining to threats and “conspiracies”) and all those who believe that their interpretations of anything anyone “communicates” (sic) invalidate the “communicator”‘s own intentions. Fact: Your feelings exist only in your own head. Therefore they don’t exist and are no-one else’s business. But this cannot be explained to people who are incapable of rational perception. They are an intractable threat to the sane, the competent, And you know what we do to intractable threats. Ownership is inherently abusive, and governance inherently destructive. Alas, governance cannot be transcended. To turn the other cheek is to be complicit.


Schtum. That’s what I am keeping.

 

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Juliette Burton: Defined as an erotica-reading introvert extrovert performer

“I have now moved to the label of ‘single’…”

Juliette Burton’s new show Defined has just opened at the Edinburgh Fringe. So…


JOHN: What’s it about?

JULIETTE: How we define ourselves and the labels we use. I was labelled as ‘engaged’ last year and I have now moved to the label of ‘single’.

JOHN: But not ‘vacant’.

JULIETTE: (LAUGHS) No. Certainly not my mind. There’s too much to think about. I started using a dating app after I broke up with my fiancé and, when I was filling out the dating profile, I realised they tend to ask you to tick either/or boxes:

Male/Female

Straight/Gay

Left/Right politically

It got me thinking about the extremes we sometimes get pushed towards – optimism/pessimism – introvert/extrovert – whereas we are maybe somewhere in the middle or are both at various times.

In the past, I have been defined by a whole list of mental health conditions and sometimes, in previous shows, I may have defined myself through the mental conditions I have, like a ‘mental health comedy girl’. Whereas, in fact, there’s a lot more to it.

Juliette Burton: in last year’s Butterfly Effect

I have been writing this show for ages and the main thing I want it to be is… well, I did a national tour of the previous show Butterfly Effect and, in that, I started testing out material for this show.

I genuinely think the new show is the funniest I have ever done and the only thing I want to be defined as now is funny.

JOHN: Do the dating apps ask what you do for a living?

JULIETTE: Yes. And I always wonder: Am I Theatre or am I Comedy? I used to think I was Theatre, but now I think I’m Comedy.

JOHN: So what do you put on the dating apps as a job?

JULIETTE: ’Journalist’ usually. (LAUGHS) I’m a journalist at heart. My shows are truthful and I don’t like dishonesty generally. One of the problems in saying you are a ‘comedian’, of course, is that you get asked: “Tell us a joke, then!”

JOHN: How do you react?

JULIETTE: I usually tell them that’s like me asking them to act out their job.

JOHN: You also do voice-over work.

JULIETTE: Yes. I have done educational language tapes and sung songs for people learning English as a Foreign Language. I’ve done corporate training videos. I’ve done audio books for children and adults. Usually I do newly-published books.

JOHN: And for the blind…

JULIETTE: I used to do audio books for the RNIB. That’s how I got into voice-over work.

JOHN: Why did you start?

“Do you do all the voices in the erotica…?”

JULIETTE: Two reasons. One is I used to work as a newsreader for BBC Radio, which led into voice-over work. And I also got into audio books because my granny had gone blind by the end of her life but her mind was so sharp and she just used to devour audio books. The local library had to ship in audio books from across the country because she kept getting through them so quickly. I always tried to think about her when I was recording audio books… (LAUGHS) except when doing erotica.

JOHN: You do all the voices in the erotica?

JULIETTE: All the voices.

JOHN: So Lady Chatterley AND Mellors…

JULIETTE: Exactly. (LAUGHS) Everybody needs to experience the full kaleidoscopic beauty and glory that is being alive.

JOHN: Is it mildly embarrassing?

JULIETTE: Oh yes. Especially when the studio engineer is your ex-fiancé.

JOHN: That happened?

JULIETTE: Yes, And I talk about it in my show. The last erotica book I recorded was just about a month after we broke up, in the middle of the heatwave last year. It was very awkward and we started having arguments about how you pronounce words like EE-THER or EYE-THER in the now-infamous sentence: “He could have licked either of my lactating nipples”… That’s a genuine sentence I had to read.

That book was actually – for erotica – very well researched. But, in all the books I’ve done – maybe 50 or more – I have only done 2 or 3 erotica.

JOHN: Has the voice-over work impacted – a horrible American word – on your stage performances?

JULIETTE: Yes. It has forced me to really get better at my accents. My repertoire has got much stronger with accents in general. Also, when you record audio books, you are speaking to just one person, you are not speaking to a whole audience in a group. 

I now like thinking about that when I am on stage. Although it is a whole audience, you are really still just appealing to that one person who is experiencing your show. So it teaches you how to be a bit more personal and personable.

“Shows CAN change your perception…”

I want every single person in the room to feel special. It sounds saccharine. It IS saccharine. But shows CAN change your perception of and perspective on the world and your attitude towards yourself. I have been to shows like that and I want every audience member to leave my shows feeling like they can take on the world and they have more fortitude, more resilience because of the show.

This last year has been a hard one for me. The break-up with my fiancé was the right thing, but it was hard. And I’ve had quite a few recent deaths in my family – and friends – A friend passed away earlier this year. Even my therapist for the last ten years passed away, which I thought was hilarious at the time. 

JOHN: Why?

JULIETTE: Because she was the one person I could actually turn to.

The thing that kept me going was the fact I had to perform a show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I had to do all my previews before that and there would be audiences out there who needed to laugh about dark things in their lives.

JOHN: You are very likeable, bright and bubbly on stage… Sally Sunshine.

JULIETTE: I hope I’m not too TV kids’ presenter any more because I don’t feel like that any more. I am trying to move away from saccharine stuff.

JOHN: You’ve changed?

JULIETTE: I think so. I think I was quite naive. Now I’ve come down to earth and I’m a bit more grounded. But I still want all my audience to feel like they’re part of a community. When I did that national tour last year, it made me realise the value of a comedy show to help unite groups of complete strangers. If they can laugh about things like mental illness and grief, then they become a kind of community on that one night. Especially in these times when people feel quite divided politically and socially. 

JOHN: You were involved in the recent Pride events. Why? You’re not gay.

JULIETTE: Well, sexuality is fluid.

“…where no-one will talk to me…”

JOHN: Fluid is definitely in there, yes.

JULIETTE: I was invited to join in by someone who works for the mental health charity SANE. I ended up wearing an amazing feather headdress on the SANE float and I look completely blissed-out in the photographs – not because I’m feeling super-confident but because I’m thinking, on that float in this crowd of people, Finally I have found somewhere where no-one will talk to me.

JOHN: Why is that good?

JULIETTE: Because I’m a very introverted person.

JOHN: So you don’t like people talking to you…

JULIETTE: Why do you think I stand on stage and hold a microphone for an hour talking at them? 

When I am flyering in the street, I think I feel more naked than when I’m on stage. You are more prone to rejection when you’re flyering. I am a very introverted extrovert.

That’s part of what the new show is about. You can be an introverted extrovert. You can be an optimist AND a pessimist. You don’t have to be one thing or the other.

JOHN: But you tend to stand next to the door and chat to the audience as they come in…

JULIETTE: Yes. Because then they are individual, special people who are there for their own experience of the show. They are individuals, not a whole big collective. I want every single person to know they matter because, without those people coming to my shows… It’s all about finding other people who want to hear what I have to say and can relate to what I have to say…

JOHN: You are working on a book. What’s it about?

JULIETTE: How to be relentlessly positive and how to find the light in dark times.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology

Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore – but still has views

Joe Wells is a political comedian. He has written for Have I Got News For You and performed as support act to Frankie Boyle and Alexei Sayle.

Joe Wells faces a bit of a career crisis…

His previous Edinburgh Fringe shows were Night of The Living Tories (2014), 10 Things I Hate About UKIP (2016) and I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative (2017).

But this August his show is entitled: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore!

So that’s a bit of a career crisis.

Between the ages of 8 and 15, he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He overcame it with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. When he was 15, he started writing about his experiences of OCD.

These writings went on to form the basis of his first book Touch and Go Joe.


JOHN: So… you have been doing previews of your new show before it hits Edinburgh…

JOE: Yes. In some of my previews, I’ve felt a bit self-conscious because, in part of the show, I am really quite earnest and I worry that is going to be a bit weird for the preview audiences. Though I know, in Edinburgh, they are going to be open to that. There is so much different stuff at the Edinburgh Fringe and people go there with such an open mind.

JOHN: Your show says what it’s about in the title: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore! Anything else?

JOE: One of the things I would like the show to be is a sort of defence of Comedy because, from all sides, it feels like it’s trendy to slag off Comedy. From the Left, people are saying Comedy is bullying and horrible. From the Right, they say Comedy has become too PC and comedians are just saying what people want to hear. 

I don’t think either of those things is true.

Comedy is great because it puts viewpoints in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear those viewpoints. That is what the Left should be striving for: getting people to hear from voices they don’t often hear.

But the Left has become quite insular: Let’s just talk amongst ourselves.

JOHN: Maybe Comedy audiences tend to be Left-leaning.

JOE: I want there to be Right Wing people in my audience so I can put forward my ideas of how I want the world to be. Why wouldn’t I want that?

French National Assembly: the original Left and Right Wingers

JOHN: There is this idea that defining politics as Left or Right is wrong. It’s just an accident of history – the way they sat in the French National Assembly. Thinking about Left and Right is misleading – it’s not a straight line: it’s a circle. If you take Left and Right to their extreme extremes, they both end up in the same place. A more sensible division might be Authoritarian and Libertarian.

JOE: But then, again, that becomes full circle. I want us to have a Welfare State; I want us to have… things which some people would see as Authoritarian. I think… yeah… I dunno. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The thing is comedians do not really know what they are talking about. I think that’s partly why I don’t want to do political stuff any more. I mean, I’m not a political theorist.

JOHN: But you do want to put your views out there, like all comedians… And all comedians are misfits. Different. If they were more like everyone else, then they wouldn’t be interesting to listen to. It’s because they can come up with a bizarre, unexpected angle – a different viewpoint on something. Michael McIntyre is arguably the most successful stand-up in Britain at the moment. And he is telling ordinary people about things they see every day – nothing new – but they haven’t seen those things from his viewpoint before.

JOE: I think he’s great, though I’m not queueing up to buy tickets. His routine about the bus stop is just a powerfully-written routine. Yes, to some extent, you have to be on the outside looking in.

JOHN: In a sense, if you do not have a character defect, maybe you cannot be a good comedian.

Joe Wells manages to fit into a bath…

JOE: I can’t think of many comedians who really properly ‘fit in’.

But, outside of comedy, I do know loads of people who I think do fit it. They know where they belong in things. Even though there are comedians who take their kids to school and lead a ‘normal’ life, they’re still a little bit… not so normal.

JOHN: Why did doing specifically political comedy attract you?

JOE: I talk about it in the show… I was an angry young man and a lot of that anger came from stuff that was not to do with politics. But at 18 or 19 I would go on protests – and shouting and being a political comedian and rallying against things was incredibly cathartic.

I am still a big Leftie and there’s still lots of injustices and things I want to change, but I’ve realised that the reason I fitted so neatly into being an angry political comedian was because I got to feel OK about being angry.

When we talk about mental health, people say: It’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel this or that. But you rarely hear people say: It’s OK to feel really angry about things which aren’t anyone’s fault. I can feel angry about things that happened in the past and there’s rarely an individual I can blame for stuff that’s happened in the past. But I can still feel that anger. And it’s valid. It’s OK to feel really angry.

I have felt angry a lot of my life.

JOHN: Because…?

JOE: Well the show has a ‘reveal’ – about whether or not I am autistic. I was assessed for autism in February this year. The reveal is whether they said I am… or not.

“Why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?” (Photograph by Ed Moore)

I did have those traits and I was different. I could not make friends and I didn’t fit in. I thought: Why can’t I fit in here at school? I feel I’m nice and I feel I’m a kind person. So why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?

I think that informed a lot of my life growing up. I don’t have many male friends. Most of my good friends are women. I would go to parties and see all the men would talk together. They’ve got some jigsaw pieces where they fit together and it works. There was something that was not working with me.

I have always had a real chip on my shoulder about football. I hated football fans.

But then I realised what it is is that my dad used to take me to football and it was so noisy. I hated all that shouting and noise. I found it overwhelming and horrible and I felt angry with the people making that noise. And, in my head, I created a story about that – Football fans are horrible!

But now I know lots of people who are into football and that’s fine… It’s not football fans I hate – It’s that noise. But I felt the anger and had to come up with a reason for why I felt that anger.

People need a narrative around why they feel a certain way and, if there’s no narrative…

One of the things I talk about in the show is that, in Comedy, everyone has their say.

“They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat…” (Photograph by Hannah Reding via UnSplash)

There are problems with diversity in Comedy – of course there are – but, moreso than in any other industry or art form, there are people from COMPLETELY different backgrounds, COMPLETELY different world views, seeing things in COMPLETELY different ways.

I would argue that Comedy is more neurodiverse than any other…

JOHN: Neurodiverse? What does that mean?

JOE: People think differently. There’s a book NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. The basic idea is we have bio-diversity and different animals all play their role. You need all those animals. They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat – but they all co-exist and are necessary. Same with cultural diversity.

And we also have neuro-diversity. Some people are more on the autistic side; others are good at social things and are very good at connecting to people emotionally; it’s all part of diversity.

The old way of looking at things is that there is this ‘good way’ of being and thinking, but actually the best way is for everyone to think and view things differently.

A lot of comics think about things differently and come at things from different angles and that’s part of how you write comedy – looking at things in a different way.

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Michael Livesley: “an outrageous talent” has a comedy show and slimming advice

“An outrageous talent,” is how Stephen Fry described him.

“Bellowing, manic chutzpah,” said Robin Ince.

“Brilliant! Berserk! Simply wonderful!” wrote the Guardian.

But now Michael Livesley is quite literally only Half The Man he was and that is the title of his first ever show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.

He has appeared in this blog a few times before, when he was staging Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Vivian Stanshall tribute shows with, among others, Neil Innes, Rick Wakeman and Stephen Fry .

Half The Man is totally different…

…Michael Palin (left) with the old-style Michael Livesley…


The new-look Michael Livesley – “It’s time for me to move on”

JOHN: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year… Why?

MICHAEL: It’s time for me to move on.

JOHN: The show is in the Comedy section But you’re not a stand-up comedian, are you?

MICHAEL: No.

JOHN: So what are you?

MICHAEL: I don’t know. I suppose the word Storyteller fits. I was a singer and then I ended-up getting into acting. I’m just talking about me life, really.

JOHN: The show is…?

MICHAEL: The line that sums it up is: Losing weight is a thermodynamic process. Eat less; move more. But it’s one that’s complicated by emotional baggage.

It’s not just about losing weight. It’s about what leads people to the psychology of locking themselves indoors and hiding away from society and filling the void – the dearth of having a social life or a life in general, filling that emotional void with food and drinking. Which is what I was doing.

JOHN: But with humour?

MICHAEL: It definitely has laughs!

JOHN: So you have lost a bit of weight…

MICHAEL: Yes, I started on the 20th of September 2018 when I was 23 stone 4lbs and, by January 2019, I’d lost five stone.

JOHN: And how much are you now, at the start of July 2019?

MICHAEL: 13 stone.

JOHN: And that’s the show?

MICHAEL: Well, I found out a lot about myself, not just by going through the process of losing weight but in the process of writing this show. I found out where my triggers were. Did you have breakfast this morning?

JOHN: Two boiled eggs. Two slices of toast.

MICHAEL: You see, in the past, I couldn’t have done that. I would have had to have 12 pieces of toast and 10 eggs. And it’s all down to this thing called the Scarcity and Abundancy Mentality.

People who have a Scarcity Mentality have… well… How many pies would you like?… ALL of them… How many pints of beer would you like?… How many have you GOT? I want to have them all because I don’t know when there’s going to be more.

Michael sings with Neil Innes at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre

It went back to all the poverty when I was growing up. Me nan had a saying: It’s like giving a donkey strawberries.

The donkey won’t stop eating strawberries and that’s kinda what I’m like. It’s not what I WAS like. It’s what I AM like.

So I changed me diet to this ketogenic diet which removes carbohydrates.

JOHN: Why?

MICHAEL: Because carbohydrate for me is… Once that chain reaction of glucose and sugar and everything within my body starts, it gives me a reward in the brain – a hormonal reward – it spikes insulin – whatever you want to say – that is addictive to me. That pleasure feeling is addictive to me.

That’s the physical addiction side of it.

But then there’s the attachment side of it. That goes on in a part of the brain I refer to as the pub-conscious. The attachment side of it is: Remember when that person split up with you, you had that big pizza and that big bottle of cola and aaah you felt good? Or: You remember when that person died, after the funeral you got really pissed and you were having a laugh with your mates?

All these things ‘leave a ring around the bath’ as they say. And you try to emulate these things like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations where she’s in her wedding dress and has the wedding cake. You try to surround yourself and build an artifice dedicated to the past. But the past has gone. 

Michael (left) and his friend Lee photographed in June 1993 (top image) and in a June 2019 re-staging of the same photo

So the day you realise the past is dead, that’s the day that things start to change. Because you realise that actually there is a life to lead. It’s about the hard work of recognising that. Letting go of the past. Letting go of all the emotional crutches that were sustaining you in a non-life.

All these shitty things happened to me in the past, but I’m still worthy of fulfilling the potential of living my life.

That’s what I realised.

German compound verbs seem to come up an awful lot when I’m writing. The one German word that describes all this is torschlusspanik – ‘gate shut panic’ – which means ‘time is running out’.

We call it a mid-life crisis.

That feeling is what happened to me. I got this torschlusspanik.

People like you were telling me I should be getting on with things. You know you’re capable of at least having a go at this stuff. Get on with it. What’s standing in your way? – Oh, well, I don’t want to stand out there being 24 stone because of all the criticism and all the public shaming.

Public humiliation forms a big component of fat people’s lives. And the name-calling and all the other shit you go through in life… which bit by bit by bit makes you retreat and shrink your world down to your basic ‘Sitting in a room surrounded by things that give you comfort in the hope that you can reignite that fire within your mind and within your emotional being’.

So that’s kind of the story. I lay on my side for so long that the hair on my left leg stopped growing. Honestly. Truly. I was so lazy, my hair couldn’t be arsed growing.

JOHN: But you weren’t just sitting in a room doing nothing. You were constantly going off on stage being jolly and singing and joking.

The old Michael (beer bottle in hand) with Rick Wakeman

MICHAEL: I was doing that every now and then but, in-between, I’d lock myself away and drink and drink and drink – just crazy fucking drinking.

JOHN: And you moved back from London to Lancashire. Was that linked?

MICHAEL: I suppose now, looking back, you could say that gave me the support that I needed and made me feel less anxious. Because anxiety and depression were completely and utterly ruining me life.

JOHN: And…?

MICHAEL: Charles Bukowski, the American poet, has this great poem called The Spark about how shit his life was but how he kept this spark and how he would have to blow on it to keep it alive and it was kinda keeping him alive. The poem ends with the great line: A spark can set a whole forest on fire. Just a spark. Save it.

My show is about me trying to do everything I could to give me the outward confidence to match what I believed I could potentially do to improve myself and improve the life of others.

It’s a modern phenomenon: eating all this crap and locking ourselves away. We didn’t used to have the option. You had to get off your arse and go out to work every day.

JOHN: You don’t want to lose any more weight, do you?

MICHAEL: Well, I could but I can’t. I’ve been on these monitors at the gym that tell your body fat and I’ve got no body fat to lose. I’ve got so much muscle now. I’ve never been that guy. I’ve become muscular by accident.

JOHN: What are you going to do after the Fringe?

MICHAEL: I’d like to tour the show. And I do the videos online. I’ve been doing videos talking about the process.

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