Tag Archives: racism

Edinburgh Fringe Day 3: Female comic accused of blowing a male instrument

Juliette Burton: one too many female comics?

Juliette Burton shared an interesting flyering experience with me.

“Hi there,” she said to a man in the street today, “would you like to see my show The Butterfly Effect?”

“Oh, hmm,” he replied apologetically, “the thing is I’ve already booked to see TWO female comedians.”

“So,” Juliette asked him, “you can’t see three? You know female comedians are the same as male comedians just with vaginas, right?!”

“He seemed,” Juliette told me, “to shut down when I vagina-ed him, so I walked away.”

The World’s Best MC Award posters – What is the real scam?

What I have been noticing is that there seem to be a lot of posters around town for Nathan Cassidy’s World’s Best MC Award Grand Final. This is the show where I am supposedly one of the judges.

As mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago, it seems to me likely to be an attempt to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and I was convinced I will turn up to an empty room. But with all these posters, there is no way Nathan can avoid real punters turning up. So I do not know what the scam (if scam it is) can be.

The Fringe thrives on uncertainties.

The Edinburgh Students’ Union Dome at Potterrow is doomed

I was told today that the Potterrow Dome building is definitely being closed and replaced later this year. Well, presumably it might take a couple of years to rebuild, as such things tend to. It will remain a Student Union afterwards but what this means to the Pleasance Dome venue at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I know not and – hey! – I can’t be bothered to ask.

I only live in the Edinburgh bubble of Fringe shows which, at this early point, are having a slight problem of over-running. I was told that, earlier in the week, one of the Big Four venues had consecutive shows over-running to such an extent that they ended up an hour late and simply cancelled one performer’s entire show to catch up.

Kieron Nicholson – clever writer about dinosaur academia war

This morning, I saw Bone Wars, a cleverly-written show about dinosaur academia by Kieron Nicholson and Nicholas Cooke, with Michelle Wormleighton playing all the other parts, male, female and arguably other (i.e. God).

Am I the only person who never realised the logic – mentioned in Bone Wars – that, if God made Man in his own image, then God must share all Man’s many flaws?

Weird.

Which is a terrible link to the fact I had a double-dose of Weirdos at the Hive today.

Head Weirdo Adam Larter un-knowingly chose PR legend Mark Borkowski as a punter to get up onto the stage in his L’Art Nouveau show – something that could have severely damaged his future prospects if it had gone wrong. But, luckily, it may have the opposite effect.

Fellow Weirdo Ali Brice had a good audience for his Never-Ending Pencil show and was superb – pacing, audience control, improv, surrealism, serious sections, everything worked wonderfully.

Ali Brice (right) chats with Mark Dean Quinn

Ali told me before the show that, a couple of weeks ago, he had seen me in a street in Wood Green, London. But I have not been there for years; possibly not this century. A couple of hours later, Claire Smith (Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge) phoned me to say Come back and have a tea with me! as I had just walked past her in Bristo Square… Except I had been sitting in Finnegan’s Wake pub in a different part of town for the last 15 minutes or so.

So there must be someone roaming round London and Edinburgh looking like me.

He has my sympathy.

Belly Dancing in the Old Anatomy Theatre of the University of Edinburgh launched Death on The Fringe

Later I went to the launch of the annual Death on the Fringe, organised by Robert James Peacock, which showcases a range of Fringe shows to promote more open and supportive attitudes and behaviours to death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.

Always eclectic, it included belly-dancer Shantisha aka Miroslava Bronnikova, Scottish Comedian of the Year Rosco McClelland, chanteuse Woodstock Taylor and Pauline Goldsmith with a coffin.

Late night, I saw Andy Barr in Tropic of Admin on a desert island where the audience was involved in a place crash. I may have been hallucinating by this point.

Accusations against a woman blowing a didgeridoo

And, before that, I saw the ever-amiable and ever funny Martha McBrier’s show Balamory Doubtfire, in which the diminutive but plucky Glaswegian eventually plays a didgeridoo. Beforehand, she told me she was “a wee bit upset” because of an email she had received.

“This woman, “Martha explained, “emailed me on my website. She said I have subjugated an entire culture. She told me I am ignorant and that I should research culture and apparently women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo. It’s a men’s instrument.”

“So you are being racist AND sexist?” I asked.

“Apparently I’m being sexist and reverse racist.”

“What does ‘reverse racist’ mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But she quoted a rapper called Nas. As Nas said, she said, Respect.”

“Nas,” I admitted, “is a bit of a philosopher, isn’t he?”

“Women have been blowing on men’s objects”

“The thing is,” Martha told me, “women have been blowing on men’s objects for some time and no-one has complained before this.”

“Who is the offended woman?” I asked.

“It turns out she is a white sociology professor.”

“How,” I asked, “did you find that out? Did she tell you?”

“Well,” Martha told me, “I have people in the know and, by that, I mean people whose internet works in their flat in Edinburgh and they Googled her.”

“So she’s a highly-knowledgable professor?” I asked.

“Well,” Martha replied, “a didgeridoo is apparently called a yidaki and I’m a musician, so I’ll know that, obviously. But she spelled it wrong. She’s probably using the white reverse racist spelling. The thing is, I took up the didgeridoo on medical advice.”

“For your lungs?” I asked.

“Yes, to increase my peak flow and to reduce stress.”

“To increase your what?” I asked.

“My peak flow,” replied Martha.

“Ah,” I said.

“My flow has peaked,” Martha informed me, “but they want it even better. They told me the didgeridoo is commonly used to help sleep apnea, snoring, asthma.”

“But, if you play the didgeridoo in bed to help sleep apnea,” I suggested, “it’s not going to increase your partner’s happiness in bed.”

“Well,” said Martha, “I’ve had no complaints so far.”

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It appears you CAN make a success of “nice, kind, friendly, accessible comedy”

Quantum Leopard boss James Ross at King’s Cross

Quantum boss James Ross at King’s Cross

The monthly-ish Quantum Leopard comedy show in London this Saturday is sold out in advance – as always.

Organiser James Ross does not have a website for the shows. He thinks it would be a waste of time and money. He says: “The Quantum Leopard Facebook group is very much the key mechanism for publicity.”

His shows are also booked solid with acts for the next six months. Clearly, he must be doing something right.

I met James at King’s Cross station in London. He had just returned from a tour of Scotland and the North of England and performing in people’s front rooms in Edinburgh and Newcastle.

“Was that” I asked, “just a ploy to get free accommodation in people’s front rooms?”

“That helps.” laughed James. “Don’t get me wrong. But popping along, doing my show for an hour is a good way of meeting people properly. Interesting places, interesting people and it’s a fun thing.”

“How many people fit into a living room?” I asked.

“About a dozen, which is all I need.”

“How,” I asked, “do you find people who want comedy performed in their front rooms?”

“So far, most are ones I met when I was doing my ‘bucket speech’ at the end of my Edinburgh Fringe show last year. I did one show last Thursday in London. One in Edinburgh on Saturday. And I’m booking some more in.”

“Your policy on comedy material at the regular Quantum Leopard shows in London,” I said, “is quite restrictive.”

“Yes,” James agreed. “The content policy is no racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, chav bashing… No picking on the audience, no rape jokes… And, in return, no heckling from the audience.”

James Ross show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

The James Ross comedy show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

“If you ban all that,” I suggested, “there’s nothing much left.”

“I strongly but politely disagree,” he told me.

“You allow plenty of four-letter words, though.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine. That’s yesterday’s taboo.”

“So why this policy on what material comics can use?” I asked.

“The mini-manifesto behind it is that there is an audience for nice, kind, friendly accessible comedy that is not really very well served by a lot of comedy clubs. There are so many people who just get put off going to mainstream comedy clubs. There are a lot of MCs out there who are channeling some really quite barely-controlled rage. And a lot of men who have a problem with women or picking victims and thinking that ‘really horrible’ is the same as ‘funny’. It’s just not on and audiences don’t like it. A lot of the comedy circuit is horrible and our gigs are so much more fun for much nicer people.

“The reason why we get full houses at Quantum Leopard and why people come back month after month is because people know it is a safe place to be. They CAN sit on the front row to have a good view of a nice show and they know they’re not going to have the piss ripped out of them. If people want the ‘intimate bullying’ experience, there are plenty of places that serve it up.”

“Do you have a real job?” I asked.

“At the moment, I’m working for a non-partisan political fact-checking charity. My specialism is media monitoring. I don’t really want to do comedy full time.”

“Why?”

James hosts a Quantum Leopard show

James hosts a Quantum Leopard show

“Because the pay is terrible and it is really insecure. It’s not the sort of wage or stability you can raise a family on, unless you’re happy to live on lentils in the back of your car. Also, a lot of the decision-makers in comedy are really unpleasant people and I don’t want to have to suck up to them in order to make enough money to live. I always want to have the option to turn down a terrible gig or a gig for a terrible promoter.”

“So you really want to do politics?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, really. I think there are enough people like me in politics already – pale, male, Oxbridge.”

“So you are not going to stand for Parliament?”

“No way. You have to be polite to a lot more people than I’m constitutional capable of being.”

“Where are you going to be in ten year’s time?”

“Comedy-wise, I would like to be one of these people who do ‘a fun hour’ every August (at the Edinburgh Fringe) and who gets asked to do the fun gigs rather than having to chase them. A nice second income from something that I enjoy. I don’t want to have to do something for a living that I would otherwise enjoy. If you become financially dependent on it and you have to do it, then it’s much less compelling.

“I think the idea that you must enjoy what you do is an incredibly self-indulgent modern thing. Over 95% of human history, 95% of human beings worked at something they didn’t enjoy and probably died at 30 or in childbirth. So saying: Oh! This job doesn’t creatively fulfil me! is…  Well, if you enjoyed your job, you would be paying them to do it because it would then be a hobby. Expecting labour to be anything other than alienating under a capitalist system one of whose fundamental precepts is the alienation of labour is nonsense and foolish and self-regarding hippie nonsense. That’s the type of philosophy you get on the back of a carton of Innocent Smoothies. That’s not a way to live.”

“So you like Mr Corbyn?” I asked.

“Mr Corbyn is brilliant.”

“I get him muddled up,” I said, “with Mr Corbett, who had his hand up Sooty.”

Sooty

Sooty – in no way related to Jeremy Corbyn’s hand

“Sooty & Sweep were my introduction to comedy,” said James. “I was always taken by my parents to Southport. There’s this big Scottish Dancing Convention there and they met while Scottish dancing. In the other big theatre part of this big hall there was always The Sooty Show. So my grandma would take me and my little brother to see Sooty & Sweep while my parents were off doing their Scottish dancing in the other room.”

“Why were they interested in Scottish Dancing?” I asked. “A Scottish background? Or a love of the surreal?”

“I honestly don’t know,” James replied. “I love my parents very much, but I think their sense of the surreal is really quite limited. My dad is a Scout leader; my mum is a Guide leader. They are both pillars of the community. I think they are a little puzzled where this strange changeling child came from.

“But I get my love of admin and organisation from them. The number of spreadsheets that back up what I do is colossal and there’s a bit of Public Service ethos behind Quantum Leopard. It’s got like a mission.”

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My true, vile, anti-Semitic nature is revealed by the Twitter Trollosphere

As far as I am aware, I only have two prejudices, both totally indefensible.

One is because I really have never met a nice white South African. I think it may have been caused by the education system under apartheid trying to instil self-confidence. In my experience, they really have all been a bunch of arrogant bastards. But, of course, that is blind prejudice.

The other genuinely indefensible prejudice I am aware of is that I am unthinkingly prejudiced when it comes to Jews.

If I know I am going to meet someone called Peter Smith, I have no pre-judgments about him.

If I am going to meet someone called David Bernstein (presumably Jewish) then I assume he will be highly intelligent, highly educated, sophisticated and I will probably get on well with him.

That is blind, unthinking prejudice partly fuelled by my childhood and partly by history. And it partly (but not wholly) transfers from Jews as people to Israel as a state.

Vile, anti-Semitic Copstick & Fleming of the Grouchy Club

Vile, anti-Semitic Copstick & Fleming of the Grouchy Club

In my erstwhile impressionable youth, the Israeli Foreign Minister was Aba Eban (who sounded like an English public schoolboy) and the Prime Minister was Golda Meir (who had an American accent). The Palestinians and Arabs on TV always had representatives with harsh-edged ach-ach-ach accents. So the Israelis were “like us” and the Arabs were clearly foreigners “not like us”. Blind, unthinking prejudice.

As for Jews, I went to a grammar school near Gants Hill in Essex/London which had a very high percentage of Jews. I can’t really remember, but I think my year had A, B, C and D streams. Almost all the Jews were in the A stream with only a few stragglers in the B stream.

When there were Jewish holidays, a lot of lessons in the A stream were effectively replaced by general knowledge tests or similar.

I do remember that, in Latin lessons, there used to be three rows in class. But, when there was a Jewish holiday, there was only half a row,

So my impression was that Jews were intelligent.

That is blind, unthinking prejudice, just as bad as the opposite would be.

And that prejudice sort-of transfers to the Arab-Israeli/Palestinian situation. Look, don’t hassle and troll me (as if that would stop them!) but I think, if the IRA had been sitting in fields south of Dublin lobbing shells and missiles over into Liverpool, Blackpool and Macclesfield, the British Government would have done something even more active than sending the SAS into the south of Ireland to sit in fields and occasionally assassinate people.

Which brings us to this week and Kate Copstick, my Grouchy Club co-host and one of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges.

Copstick has never been known to mince her words or necessarily to think too long and hard before speaking. It is a good quality if you want to be a controversial journalist, TV producer and comedy critic.

We disagree on several things, including Palestine. I would say she has a bee in her bonnet about it. She would no doubt say I am an ill-informed idiot.

The offending and offensive anti-Semitic piece

The offending and offensive anti-Semitic piece posted on Facebook

This week, she posted a link on Facebook to an article. I notoriously don’t much look at Facebook or Twitter but, after the link started getting mentioned, I took a look at it and gave up after 3 or 4 paragraphs and seeing the first picture. The article basically was pushing a particularly stupid conspiracy theory in which the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was behind ISIS. The picture was what I can only describe as a 1936-style Nazi cartoon Jew replacing Jihadi John in a pre-beheading hostage still. I am told that, later on, the conspiracy theory being pushed was that Israeli-backed ISIS was doing its dark deeds to kill off all the Catholics in Europe. Apparently Copstick, in classic style, had posted this WHY ARE ISIS NOT KILLING JEWS? piece without reading the whole thing on the basis it was an interesting concept. (My paraphrase not hers.)

And, indeed, no-one can say it is not an interesting concept!

On Wednesday (or was it yesterday? – it’s been a complicated week), I became slightly aware of this posting because @cliffordslapper was suggesting to Twitter followers: “Maybe try via her podcast co-host, @thejohnfleming”.

This led me to @TracyAnnO’s Tweet: “Maybe we should all ask John if he endorses her views?”

and

@londonette – how do u suggest contacting her? They are employed to represent her.They should at least act as a conduit

@lucyinglis – That’s true. Or through the paper? Or facebook?

@londonette – both have been attempted. Agents are there to deal with this sort of enquiry. End of.

As I was looking after a somewhat active 4-year-old at the time and don’t live on Twitter, the next time I looked, there was a positive flurry of Tweets along the lines of:

@BennettArron – I too have known John a long time. Perhaps he will respond.

@TracyAnnO – Silence as we know in all forms of bullying,are complicity

The latter was much liked and ReTweeted which, I thought, was a bit rich in the circumstances.

The Tweets continued unabated and unseen by me until later as in, for example:

@londonette – Hi John – I really do hope you’ll distance yourself from raging antisemite Kate Copstick

@TracyAnnO – Denying Holocaust isn’t good look is it @theJohnfleming  @Copstick.Even for #clickbait self promo.

@londonette – I’m shocked u didn’t challenge her more at the time – podcast is a truly horrible listen

Where on earth a podcast came into it, I had no idea. But comedian Bennett Arron very sensibly emailed me, saying:

“Hi John, You might have missed the backlash about Kate Copstick on social media. Just wanted your thoughts on what she said on the podcast. Hope all’s well.”

My reply was, by now having belatedly scrawled through seemingly endless Twitter bollocks:

“I’ve seen the Twitter stuff. Podcast I don’t know. She’s going to talk about Twitter on the Grouchy Club Podcast recorded this Friday – possibly not posted until Saturday as I’m busy. As far as I understand it, she didn’t read the whole thing she posted. I only read the start. I’m looking after a 4-year-old, which is all I care about. If anyone has any objection to anything Copstick says or posts, that’s between them and her, not me. If anyone wants to have a go at me about things I haven’t said or thought, they can go fuck themselves.”

Bennett came back with: “Fair enough. Enjoy being with the 4 year old. Great age :)”

I then read, Tweeted by @londonette: “In case you haven’t heard it. Includes antisemitic rant by The Scotsman’s Kate Copstick AUDIO: The Grouchy Club Podcast: Jewish Comedian of the Year, a man with plastic testicles, the best Holocaust joke

At this point I realised they were referring to a Grouchy Club Podcast posted on 6th December 2015 headlined JEWISH HOLOCAUST JOKES (a legendary routine by Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer) and with the description:

Kate Copstick talks to John Fleming about the Jewish Comedian of the Year, a man with plastic testicles, the best Holocaust joke, trans-gender comic Will/Sarah Franken, Lewis Schaffer, The World of Pain, British TV censorship, how BBC TV executive Alan Yentob re-cut controversial comic Jerry Sadowitz, the power of TV advertisers and Noel Gay TV.

At this point, the podcast had been online for over three months, had 258 hits and had had no complaints.

Around 11 hours later, @londonette Tweeted to me: Hi @thejohnfleming have you taken this podcast down? Is it because of this? http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/155767/anger-comedians-daesh-post

This refers to a Jewish Chronicle piece headed ANGER AT COMEDIAN’S DAESH POST mentioning, in passing: “Ms Copstick, who was a regular guest on BBC comedy show Chucklevision”.

In the only Twitter reply I have so far made to any of all this, assuming @londonette had had the podcast removed, I replied:

“No I have not taken it down. If it HAS been censored, I will repost it on multiple sites. Fuck off.”

Obviously highly sensitive, despite a Twitter profile describing herself as: Freelance Journalist & comms, after an astonishingly long time at BBC News, @londonette replied:

“No need for expletives. You posted a ragingly antisemitic rant by @copstick for public consumption. It’s now gone.”

In fact, when I checked later, it turned out she was wrong. The podcast, should you want to listen, remains online at:

http://thegrouchyclub.podomatic.com/entry/2015-12-06T17_56_46-08_00

Reactions (among many) to my Tweet included:

@stephenpollard: This man posted an appalling antisemitic rant. When asked why it’s now down he says ‘Fuck off’. Nice

@brendancommins: What a tosser!

@BigotedIslamism (an account calling itself Humiliate Hamas): bigoted pig

The account Islamists Exposed @JailNaziScum simply posted my Twitter address: @thejohnfleming

Other responses included:

@TracyAnnO: Horrible  response Mr Flemming. The pressure of collusion getting to you.?

@Kaztastic: heard the one about the bearded anti Semite posing as a comedy blogger? Shame on you Fleming.

@ziegfieldstar: Why is it that these anti Semitic vermin are always physically ugly as well as psychologically.

I then got an email from my blog’s South Coast correspondent saying: “I am getting tweets from this woman, @londonette, hell bent on what I don’t know. I was going to reply telling her that no way is Copstick racist or anti Semitic. It’s OK that they want to challenge and express distaste for something. That is everyone’s right. It’s the stoking of the fire that I object to. Saying ‘Fuck off’ isn’t always the best way forward.”

I replied:

“Nah. Fuck ’em. The origin of their hatred is fair enough. But they’re now just mindless trolls. As bad as the Fascists they hate.”

That remains my view.

No doubt there will be further comments on social media. Welcome to the 21st century.

Copstick will have her say in the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast being recorded tonight and possibly at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Live in London on 12th April.

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Is a Japanese comic doing their act in English with a Japanese accent racist?

Louise Reay Chinese

Image for Louise’s Chinese language show It’s Only Words

Last night, I went to see the final of the Leicester Square Theatre’s New Comedian of The Year competition, rightly won by character act LJ Da Funk (aka Zak Splijt).

One of the acts was the highly esteemed Louise Reay.

In a previous So It Goes blog, about her Edinburgh Fringe show, she explained to me: “I’ve always been interested in communication. People have a real mental barrier about languages and the way we communicate.

“But just one look can mean so much. We communicate all the time. Look at my hands. I can’t stop them moving. There’s so much more than language going on. That’s what my show’s all about. There was a very spurious 1960s experiment which proved that only 7% of communication was verbal. So my whole show is an experiment in the 93%. If I did it in French, it wouldn’t work, because most people maybe understand enough.”

Today, one review of last night’s show said: “Louise Reay was the first oddball of the night, coming on speaking Chinese and then explaining, via placards, that her whole act would be in Chinese. It could easily have been seen as racist, but Reay was more of an absurdist. I didn’t think it was offensive, maybe if I was Chinese – and very sensitive –  I might have felt differently.”

Italian comedian Giacinto Palmieri is currently conducting a three-year PhD research project for the University of Surrey at Guildford. It is on the self-translation of stand-up comedy – comedians who translate and adapt their own material from one language to another.

On Facebook, his response to the review was “I don’t understand why the possibility of considering Louise Reay’s act racist is even entertained (although, fortunately, rejected). She does not even pretend to be Chinese; she just plays on the absurdity of using a language the majority of the audience cannot understand.”

The reviewer (alright, it was the admirable Bruce Dessau) came back to Giacinto with: “As you say, I did consider it before rejecting it. But I still wonder if a Chinese person would be OK with it, though I don’t like the idea of being offended on other people’s behalf so I won’t be offended on behalf of the entire Chinese population!”

Giacinto, responded: “Indeed. But I think we need to go a step further: even if they were offended, they wouldn’t be justified in being so. Offence, even when real and not hypothetical, cannot be its own justification.”

A warm welcome for Louise in Nanjing during the BBC2 TV series The School that turned Chinese

A warm welcome for Louise in Nanjing during filming for her BBC2 documentary series The School That Turned Chinese

At this point, Louise pointed out: “My Edinburgh show was sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Edinburgh, which is funded by the Hanban, the culture department of the Chinese government. This would appear to indicate that my act is generally supported by both the Chinese and the academic community of Chinese speakers. I would add as a general point that it is not remotely racist (for a white English person) to speak real Chinese. A Chinese person speaking English is never questioned on the matter. The Independent wrote an article about it all in case of interest.”

Interestingly, by a quirk of scheduling at last night’s show, Louise Reay’s act (an English woman performing in Chinese) was immediately followed by Japanese comic Yuriko Kotani speaking English with a Japanese accent. She won the BBC Radio New Comedy Award last week.

There has never been any suggestion that her act could, in any way, at any time, be considered racist.

Louise Reay is currently working on her next solo show, titled Que Sera, 些拉 

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Comics Lewis Schaffer & Will Franken. Name-calling and some missing money

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken by a Big Mac toilet

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken outside a Big Mac toilet

Yesterday’s blog was the first part of a chat I had with UK-based American comics Lewis Schaffer and Will Franken. A few months ago, Will decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken. Now read on…


“You got mad at me,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “because I called you Will all that time.”

“You were the only one,” replied Will, “that did not call me Sarah throughout the whole seven months – not just at the Edinburgh Fringe – all the months leading up to it.”

“I don’t care about other people,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” I said to Will, “you are not going to be appearing as Sarah after you finish with this show?”

“I dunno,” said Will.

“What are the alternatives?” I asked. “Are you going to be the ‘real’ Will Franken?

“I have no idea,” he told me.

“It might be difficult to backtrack,” I suggested.

“Yes,” agreed Will. “Are people going to think I took the piss? There was this outpouring of love when I came out as Sarah. But, at the end of the day, they don’t have to live this life. I do and I’ve personally found it a fucker. I had no interest in taking hormones or having the operation. I wanted to keep my wing-wang.”

“Yes,” I said. “People thought: He’s so brave for doing it. And, if you backtrack, they might say: He was just doing it for publicity.

“Of course I wasn’t!” said Will.

“I know,” I said, “but that’s what they might think.”

Lewis Schaffer (left) and will Franken check video shot

Mr Schaffer (left) & Mr Franken watch a video

Lewis Schaffer said: “We always think: What effect will it have on my career?” When I moved to England, I got an offer to appear on the TV series Wife Swap. My wife at the time did not want to do it and I didn’t want to do it either.”

“Did they tell you who you would swap with?” I asked.

“No.”

“A celebrity?” I asked.

“No. It wasn’t a Celebrity Wife Swap. But the first thing I thought was: How will this help my career? Not the money.”

Will said: “The first thing that goes though my head now is: Is there money? I don’t think about exposure any more.”

“Would you lend him money?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I did,” he said.

“I needed a guest on my radio show,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “because I’m very last minute. I was desperate for a guest. I said to Will: Come down. I’ll loan you £50.

“I thought,” said Will, “that you told me: I’ll give you £50.”

“I’m not gonna GIVE you £50,” said Lewis. “So since then, he’s given me a total of £8 back.”

“Anyway,” I said. “Career advancement…”

“You don’t write funny,” Lewis Schaffer told Will. “You should write funny.”

“What ya talkin’ about?” Will asked.

“You CAN write funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You do write funny.”

“I do write funny,” said Will.

“But often,” said Lewis Schaffer, “you write very seriously in the middle of the night.”

“Well, surely that is good,” I said.

“It’s not good,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“What do you mean it’s not good?” asked WIll.

Lewis Schaffer (left and Will Franken sharing fast food

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken share a love of fast food

“Because,” said Lewis Schaffer, “in real life, you are never not funny. When you talk to people, you are never serious for more than a minute.”

“I played Hate ’n’ Live,” said Will and the subject for me was Islam. I thought it was tailor-made for me. I deal with jihad and radical, y’know… I mean, any type of hypocrisy, I’ve got to go after it. I see something so hypocritical with I personally hate Christians, but…The hypocrisy to me is just astounding. I’ve been obsessed with this for about ten years.

“At a show, this girl said to me: I was just in the Middle East and I found Islam really interesting. So I asked: What was your favourite part? The homophobia? And it turns into this, like, tense… She said nobody questioned her her whole life. She said she went to Cambridge… I said: Mohammed; six-year-old brides… She said: nine-year-old… I said: Oh, nine years old. I do apologise… She got tense and she walked out and I was angry and I said: You fucking Maoist!

“Her boyfriend came back in and said: Why did you call my girlfriend a bitch? I said: I didn’t call her a bitch; I called her a Maoist, which is actually worse. But then I hated myself, because I don’t want to be that person.”

“You mean confrontational?” I asked.

“Yeah but then, at the same time, I feel there’s so much brainwashing…”

“That’s my point,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He’s made my point for me. My point is that, when you’re with people, you are rarely serious to the point of not being funny.”

“I’m getting confused,” I said.

“That’s your default position,” said Lewis Schaffer, still talking to Will. “When you’re with people, that’s your default position. But I’ve seen what you write and sometimes what you write is serious because you’re in the privacy of your own home and you don’t feel the need to be funny as you would when you actually see someone’s face.”

“True,” said Will.

“The reason I notice that,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “is that is like me when I wrote my blog for those three months. I was writing in the privacy of my home and it was just bitterness-bitterness-bitterness-bitterness-bitterness. But, when I’m out with people, it’s bitterness-joke-bitterness-joke-joke-bitterness and they don’t really notice the bitterness.”

One of Will Franken’s blogs

An old Will Franken blog

“I used to write really funny blogs,” said Will. “Back when I smoked a lot of weed, I was constantly on the blog. Some of them were really, really weird. Some of them were long libertarian treatises that were serious and academic. Some would be like fake obituaries for a woman names Dolores Oatmeal.”

“What about the serious blogs?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Some,” replied Will, “I just went through and deleted. Sometimes I get serious. I think I have that kind of…”

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I know you do. But, when you are actually with people, if you see somebody not being happy with what you’re saying, it’s not that you backtrack, but you know, deep down inside, you want to make a joke about everything when you look at their face. You see somebody’s face and you say to yourself: I’m going to make them laugh.

“Or sometimes I wanna run away,” said Will. “I wanna be like Christopher Hitchens. I would love to be that detached emotionally,”

“You can’t do that,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I can’t do that,” Will agreed, “because I’m too passionate.”


After our chat finished, Lewis Schaffer recorded a 2-minute chat with Will/Sarah Franken and me inside a Big Mac toilet… It is on YouTube.

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Will Franken revert from being Sarah?

Lewis Schaffer (left) with Will/Sarah Franken and apple pie/cheeseburger

Lewis Schaffer (left) + Will and/or Sarah Franken in London last night plus an apple pie and one of three cheeseburgers

A few months ago, London-based American comic Will Franken decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken.

I met Will/Sarah last night for a chat with fellow American comedian Lewis Schaffer. Will/Sarah was wearing men’s clothes, so I shall call him Will in what follows.

We met at a branch of McDonald’s in Holborn. Lewis Schaffer ordered apple pie and brought his own water. Will Franken ordered three double cheeseburgers and a small Coke. They are Americans. What can I say?


Sarah Franken’s current stage show

“When I became Sarah… a feeling of being accepted.”

“So,” I asked Will, “are you going to revert to being Will again?”

“Well,” he replied, “I was making a pros and cons list…”

“So Sarah might be a pro and Will a con?” I asked.

“I look on this as a prolonged break,” he said.

“Dressing as a man?”

“Yes. When I became Sarah, there was a feeling of being accepted, but there were a lot of comments and abuse in East London – I’m 6’5”; I stick out like a sore thumb. A lot of people were nasty. They shouted out: Gay boy! Trans-sexual!”

“This was in Bethnal Green,” I said, “and I’ve heard you say there were particular problems from Moslems.”

“…and sometimes,” said Will, “you would get the tourists who just wanted a photo like you were the Ronald McDonald clown.”

“You could charge them,” I told him.

“I’m a whore,” he replied, “but I never sell out when the opportunity presents itself.”

“Because you don’t want to be a success,” suggested Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, that’s not being a success,” argued Will. “Being a tranny and getting your photo taken.”

“That’s why you did it,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Because you knew it would annoy people.”

“That’s not why I did it,” countered Will.

“That’s why I would do it,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But the other problem,” said Will, “is I fancy women and I think I was like kinda swept up in this idea: Oh! Women love confidence! It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. As long as you’re confident. That’s what women are attracted to. But I found it was just utterly confusing. I didn’t know when to make the move. I mean, I never knew when to make a move when I was Will either, but Sarah confused the hell out of me.”

Will/Sarah Franken - "I didn’t know when to make the move"

Will/Sarah Franken – “I didn’t know when to make the move”

“A female friend,” I said, “once told me the biggest turn-on line for any woman was a man saying: I think I MIGHT be gay. Then it’s a challenge… So, surely, if you dress in women’s clothing but say you’re still heterosexual that might surely be even more of a turn-on?”

“Women want to hunt,” suggested Lewis Schaffer. “Like men. It’s human nature to want to hunt. But women, unfortunately, are not really allowed to hunt so, if you give them an opportunity, I think they really enjoy that.”

“I need people,” said Will, “but I’m very afraid of them too. I think I’m really shy and withdrawn in a lot of ways.”

“That’s all comedians,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Comedians,” I suggested, “are often extroverts who want to hide in a cave.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Will.

“I am like a refrigerator light bulb,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You open the door and I’m on… If I’m at home or with someone I know, I’m miserable but – out and about, if I meet strangers…”

“That’s where you and I differ,” Will told him, then turned to me: “Lewis Schaffer will be a really good friend and he will stand with you in Leicester Square and say: Look, you DON’T wanna get the razor blades. There’s no reason to put your wrist in the way. And then he sees someone passing and it’s: Tommy! How are ya? and he’ll go right off. When somebody passes by that he knows – he could hate their guts – but he will…”

“Because,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “I’m happy to see them.”

“But why,” asked Will, “would you be happy to see someone you don’t like?”

“Because,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “I know the guy, so I think I must like him, else why would I know him?”

“And then,” said Will, “I have to remind you that you don’t like them.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But,” I said to Will, “to get back on the Sarah track, you found there were drawbacks…”

SarahFranken_photoMihaelaBodlovic

By the time you get to the 15th or 20th interview …

“Yes,” said Will. “The stares, the comments, the wanting to get laid by women. And then there was feeling like I was a poster child for trans-genderism. The first interview you do about trans-genderism feels really cool but, by the time you get to the 15th or 20th, you’re like… I mean, you know I do other things apart from being trans-gender? I developed sympathy for what black comedians must go through in interviews – black, black, black, black, clack, black, black.

“I think one of the most interesting things in the show I’m doing right now at the Museum of Comedy – Who Keeps Making All These People? – is that it’s completely blasphemous towards radical Islam… I think that is more newsworthy, given recent events.”

“I think,” said Lewis Schaffer, “the reason you’re not a huge success is you get bored. In order to be a success in comedy – a success in anything – you gotta do the same shit all the time, over and over and over again.”

“I love,” said Will, “how you don’t consider yourself a success, yet you sit here and hold court on how to be a success.”

“That’s right,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t think I’m a success – I think, objectively speaking, a guy who lives in his living room, who has to buy a phone in Tesco’s, is not a success.”

“Back on the Sarah and Will track,” I said. “Will, your current show…”

“It’s the one I did in Edinburgh,” Will told me. “Who Keeps Making All These People?

“You know what your show is about?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “It’s about How can I annoy people?

“That’s not true,” said Will.

“Yes it is,” insisted Lewis Schaffer.

“What are you talking about?” asked Will.

“That’s what your show is about.”

“No it’s not.”

“You,” I told Lewis Schaffer, “are just trying to be annoying.”

“Your thing,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “is similar to mine, except I have a filter on what I say… I’m trying to make it funny. You will say it whether it’s funny or not…”

“But,” said Will, “my show IS funny!”

“…and then it becomes funny,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “You will say things even if you haven’t figured out how to make them funny.”

“Excuse me,” I said to Lewis Schaffer. “Pot kettle black.”

The Division Bell started ringing for Will in 2014

Did The Division Bell start ringing for Will back in 2014?

“My show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – in 2014,” said Will, “was like a Pink Floyd album. Weird sound cues and everything. It just felt like a psychedelic experience. I liked it. This year’s show – when I came out as Sarah – it felt more like Johnny Rotten. Like the style was the same but I began riffing. I’m starting to do some stuff off the top of my head. I feel more vulnerable doing that.”

“Because you’re being you?” I asked.

“Yeah. Cos, if I’m putting on an accent, it could be that guy’s beliefs. If I’m speaking as myself, it’s really scary.”

“What,” I asked, “was your act like five years ago? Were you not you?”

“Never was,” said Will. “The first Edinburgh show I did, I started off as a British butler and I think I ended as a disabled teenage American girl.”

“In 2014” said Lewis Schaffer, “you were BBC Radio and you were drinking and you were talking to somebody on the phone.”

“So coming out as Sarah,” I said, “is just another way of not being you – another mask.”

“No,” said Will, “I don’t think so. I felt Sarah was me.”

“But,” I said, “you were wearing clothes you were not wearing before, therefore that’s a costume, in a sense.”

“Well, I think that’s why the riffing this year. I felt I just had to go out there and just explain: I’m a character comedian, but this is not a character and here’s some of the shit I deal with. This show is so heavy. There is about ten minutes of peripherally related trans-gender related stuff and then it reaches a point where it just flips and I go after over-diagnosis and the psychiatric industry and ISIS and that was my reaction to what I thought would be people expecting me to write a nice little show about coming out – which I didn’t want to write. I got even angrier and less-PC as a result.”

(TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW)

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Kate Copstick’s Kenya: underwear, circumcision and marrying a Moslem

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara charity

Yesterday’s blog was about comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Kenyan charity Mama Biashara, which helps local women and others with seed money and advice on starting small-scale businesses. I guess Copstick spends maybe six months of the year out there.

This is part of her latest report on life there this week.

Bear in mind when reading it that, according to the Daily Mail this week, initiation ceremonies at Oxford University can involve future Prime Ministers sticking their penis into a dead pig’s mouth.


I meet Julius – a long longtime Mama Biashara stalwart.

Recently it was the ‘initiation’ season.

Initiation (for the Luhyas of Western Kenya) involves taking the boys (aged about 13/15) out into the bush, stripping them naked and circumcising them. Circumcision like this is a big thing for many tribes.

“It is all about,” says Julius, “your blood being spilled on the earth and joining you to the land forever.”

The little bleeders (as we might call them) are left for a night, then given an animal skin apron and left for another night and then given another animal skin blanket to wrap themselves in and then, says Julius, “they are heroes”.

Women at this time are used only to prepare and carry food to the bush and leave it for the menfolk to eat. The new heroes are immediately a cut above the female of the tribe. Pun accidental but I like it.

Julius suggests a new business for Mama Biashara – selling ladies’ underwear.

Many Western Kenyan women walk 30 km per day to and from the fields where they collect a big tub of soil which, if they are lucky, contains tiny particles of gold. “They have great problems,” says Julius, “with their sweaty swingy breasts and their chafing thighs.” So this new business will sell sports bras and biker shorts. Plus normal bras and panties.

As a humanitarian, I hate to think of thighs chafing in the searing heat of Western Kenya and I tell Julius we will go to Eastleigh and buy the stock.

He would like to have a gift of bra and panties for his new wife, he says. She makes him healthy, he says. He has three kids and she has two and I have a feeling we are heading for more underwear. They are not having any more children, says Julius. I tell him I am delighted to hear it. But then he explains the pressure every man is under to produce as many children as possible.

He then details the tradition concerning childless men and women. When they die, they are buried face down with a thorny branch shoved up their arse.

I am horrified. But apparently childlessness is the worst disgrace you can commit.

I suspect my offer of condoms will be rejected.

Apropos of a chat about Western Kenyan sex workers and my saying that I had never met a Kenyan man who did not avail himself of the services of a commercial sex worker, Julius goes on – he is a bottomless fund of local belief – to tell me about how Kikuyu ladies turn to sex work for the money. And that non commercial Kikuyu ladies demand commitment but are a bit shit at sex.

“Brown ladies,” he says, “have sex in their blood.” Lighter skinned women are hot to trot and don’t care who is in the saddle. And there is something about the thighs of “brown ladies” which casts a spell on men and they are powerless to resist their wiles. Men, it seems, are helpless in the grip of a brown lady’s thighs.

“Black thighs do not have the same power,” says Julius.

He and I go off to Eastleigh.

This is basically Little Somalia: a massive slummy sprawl absolutely seething with business of all kinds.

Say what you like about the Somali people, but they can get you anything from anywhere and do it at a rock bottom price. We buy the anti-thigh-chafing bikers and loads of knickery stuff and bras. Julius is fondling a camisole with lacy trimming and sparkly bits. The kind of thing that might, I suspect, be worn by a sexually rampant “brown lady”. He also suggests we get some knickers with high cut thighs in a sort of hideous red leopard print.

“The shoshos are making bricks from mud,” I remind him. “Why do you want them to dress like sex workers?”

The young lady (in full ninja) with the beautiful eyes, who is the shop owner, crinkles them in laughter.

Julius wants to know whether he could marry a Moslem girl without converting.

“No,” we are told by the Lovely Eyes Girl and her slightly-less-lovely but still-attractive mother.

“What if the Moslem girl converted to Christianity?” he asks.

We get a few variations of burning in hell.

“But it is the same God,” points out Julius (hugely broadminded for him).

There still seems to be a lot of burning in hell going on.

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