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Jimmy O: a ‘blackballed’ comic inspired by Jerry Sadowitz & Bernard Manning

Jimmy O yesterday in Wigan via Skype

Jimmy O chats in a Wigan internet cafe yesterday via Skype

A couple of months ago, I saw Waves of Laughter, an episode of BBC2 TV documentary series Funny Business. It was about comedians performing on cruise ships.

According to the BBC publicity blurb: “This film follows the fortunes of Jimmy O – a virgin water-borne comic, as he makes his very first cruise, and tries to learn the ropes in a hurry when he is thrown in at the deep end.”

He sank, so I was interested when he contacted me about a charity single his band Clown Prince are releasing for online download on 3rd May.

“What sort of music is it?” I asked.

“I always say it’s sugar-coated pop with a twist of melancholy,” He told me yesterday. He was in Wigan. I was on Skype.

“Comedy happened by accident,” he said. “Me main passion in life were music. It’s a cliché, but I were the class clown at school. People were always telling me I were funny. So, when the band originally broke up and I had no creative outlet left, I never thought I’ll be a comedian, I just thought I’ll stand on stage to test just how funny I actually am.

“Me band’s doing stuff again now, but I thought we’d do it online rather than live. To test it. And we’ll give the proceeds to a local stroke charity in Wigan and Leigh – Think Ahead

“I lost me mum to a stroke two years ago, which is a harrowing experience. It puts a lot of this entertainment bullshit into perspective.”

“How are things after the BBC documentary?” I asked.

“I’m on the dole,” replied Jimmy. “I live in a council house in Wigan with no carpets, paper hanging off the wall, a broken fridge and a broken telly. I’m basically a tribesman. I wonder what Michael McIntyre’s doing this morning. He’ll be sat in his £8 million house.

“I have problems getting booked.

The glitz and glamour of showbiz

Jimmy O amid the glorious glitz and glamour of showbiz

“When I first started out, Jerry Sadowitz was me idol. When I ran a club, I’d love to have booked him, but he’s always telling me to Fuck off on Twitter. He was the first comedian I felt passionate about. But I grew up with the pre-conceived idea of a real professional comedian being Bernard Manning. I used to watch the show The Comedians on telly.

“I actually supported Bernard Manning once. I was quite lucky. When I started out and was only ten gigs old and I were shit, I got the chance to support Bernard Manning. After that, I thought I don’t understand this Political Correctness. It’s such a middle class bar.

“You can make jokes about the poor. You can make rape jokes. You can make cancer jokes. You can make all the disabled remarks like Ricky Gervais does. But, as soon as you mention something like an asylum-seeker…

“When I went onto the alternative Manchester circuit, I told a gag which got me blackballed effectively. I said:

“I’ve got a friend. He’s a Kosovan asylum-seeker. I invited him round our house and said Make yourself at home. So he raped me wife and ate the dog. 

“I had another one:

“My girl said she wanted some smellies for Christmas, so I got her a tramp and a gypsy.

“Just a silly one-liner.

“But, as soon as I done that, I was known as ‘the racist’ and I was blackballed on the Manchester comedy scene and it’s kinda carried on. The vilification has carried on in the six years I’ve been doing stand-up. I’ve had promoters tell me We’ve had discussions. I’ve heard other promoters talk about you and because of ‘The Gypsy Joke’ you won’t get bookings. I have this reputation that precedes me.”

“Political correctness is an interestingly variable thing,” I said.

‘It’s a class thing,‘ said Jimmy. ‘If a middle class student had gone on stage and delivered that gag, it would be post-modern irony. If I go on stage – I look like a hod-carrier – I’m seen as a piece of racist BNP poster-boy filth.

“They’re just gags and it shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t have to police yourself. It’s comedy. Is it a George Carlin quote? It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line and offend. The nature of comedy is a dark art. It comes from a dark place. Most comedians are mental. The best ones are.

Jimmy like Total Abuse from Jerry Sadowitz

Total Abuse inspired

“I first saw Jerry Sadowitz on an ITV morning show called The Time, The Place when I was 15 years old. This episode was about swearing and they had Jerry Sadowitz and his manager sat in the audience. This is a clip from your show… and it was like Beep… beep… beep… beep… Being 15, I thought This is great! so I got me mum to buy me his Total Abuse DVD and I loved it. It was amazing! When I started doing comedy, he was the man I wanted to be like. That’s why I did asylum-seeker jokes. I thought: Well, he’s doing it…

“I grew up on a council estate in Wigan. I had a loving mother and a cold, distant, cruel father. He never beat me, but he was always putting me down so I’ve been instilled with this fucking Grimaldi complex – you know – the tortured clown. Most entertainers are dysfunctional to varying degrees and they stand on a stage to say Please like me.

“Other ‘normal’ people go out on a weekend and go for a dance and that’s their showtime. But the more twisted of us go stand on a stage and get shouted at.”

“And a TV documentary about cruise ship entertainers is a bigger stage,” I said.

“I’d been on television before,” Jimmy replied. “A show called Living With Kimberly Stewart: a reality TV show with Rod Stewart’s daughter on Living TV. Twelve contestants. The premise was Kimberly Stewart had no friends in the UK, so she had to find two flatmates to live with her. This was 2007 and Kimberley was in her late twenties.

The world of Kimberly Stewart on the cover of Hello!

Kimberly Stewart’s world: the cover of Hello!

“I fill out the application form and I’m brutally honest. I’m an unemployed comedian. I have a battered old Astra car. I live with me mother. I guess because I was raw and different, they invited me down to auditions at Endemol in London and it was full of girls who looked like they’d just come off an FHM shoot and guys in scarves and pointy-toed boots who looked like they’d been in Duran Duran and I’m a bloke from Wigan with a flat cap on and a pair of £7 jeans from Asda.

“There were tasks every week and, because I had been involved in music, there was a music task. Donny & Dirk Tourette were on the show doing the music task as well – Donny Tourette was on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.

“The producer took us to the London School of Music. Donny & Dirk Tourette were sat down with loads of Stella beer cans round them. Having a comedic slant, if you’re in a strange situation, you tend to fall back on comedy. Dirk Tourette’s hair were bright blond, with a straight fringe and straight down the sides.

“I said: I know you off the telly… It’s Jim’ll Fix It!

“And he said: You cunt! You Northern cunt! It were like something out of Grange Hill. He actually said: I’m gonna put your ‘ead dahn the toilet! There’s footage of the fight on YouTube, but they’ve edited all this bit out.

“So it started a push-and-pull. His brother Donny ran over with a full can of Stella and smashed it in me face – the footage is on YouTube.

“Donny Tourette scratched me eye. I had to go to Moorfields Eye Hospital. One of me regrets is I didn’t punch him; I just grappled him to the floor because, at the time I was green and thought Well, I don’t want to get thrown off this show. I thought it could be me ticket to the chocolate factory. But it turned out to be me ticket to the fucking meat counter in Tesco.”

“When I saw you on the BBC2 cruise ship show,” I said, “I thought He’s playing a professional Northerner on-and-off stage and I can’t see what the guy’s really like.”

“Well,” explained Jimmy, “I had a dichotomy that had been bothering me for a while. I had developed this dopey, Northern, Ken Goodwin type character. I’d shuffle onto the stage looking bewildered and get laughs.

“I had developed this act which was very old school: dead-pan one-liners. But I’d got bored with it and me delivery had become so slow and dragged-out… My goal now is to become more like myself on stage, but there’s something very scary about that. It’s like going on stage naked.

“People told me: You’re funnier as yourself. But it’s like when someone tells you something and, deep down inside, you know it too and you’re in a state of comedic denial.

“I’m not a cruise ship entertainer. I’m not from a world of cheesy smiles and Come on, Beryl, let’s have a dance; it’s Beryl’s birthday, everybody! Comedically, that’s not what I want to do. My goal is to be myself now. That BBC cruise ship documentary put the final nail into the coffin of my old act.”

There is an extract from the upcoming Jimmy O/Clown Prince charity single Cradle Me on SoundCloud:

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Is comedy more or less important than sewage management?

Years ago, I was on a BBC shorthand writing course and one of the other guys on the course was a BBC News Trainee and Cambridge University graduate called Peter Bazalgette; there was something interesting about his eyes – a creative inquisitiveness – that made me think he had immense talent.

But he never got anywhere in BBC News.

He ended up as a researcher on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life! and, from there, he became producer on one of the most unimaginatively-titled BBC TV shows ever: Food and Drink. 

He made a big success of that and in doing so, it is often said, he created the new concept of celebrity chefs. He then started his own company, making Changing Rooms, Ground Force and  Ready, Steady Cook amongst others.

His company ended up as part of Endemol and it is Bazalgette who is credited with making the Dutch TV format Big Brother such a big success in the UK and worldwide. By 2007, he was on Endemol’s global board with a salary of £4.6 million.

Last year, I saw another Cambridge University graduate perform at the Edinburgh Fringe – Dec Munro – and he had a creative inquisitiveness in his eyes similar to Peter Bazalgette’s.

Dec currently runs the monthly Test Tube Comedy show at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London’s Little Venice. I saw the show for the first time last night and he is an exceptionally good compere.

I always think it is more difficult to be a good compere than a good comedian and, very often, I have seen good comedians make bad comperes.

Ivor Dembina and Janey Godley – both, perhaps not coincidentally, storytellers rather than pure gag-based comics – are that rare thing: good comedians AND good comperes.

The late Malcolm Hardee – with the best will in the world – was not a particularly good comedian in a normal stand-up spot on a comedy bill – he really did survive for about 25 years on around six gags – but he was a brilliant, vastly underestimated compere as well as a club owner and spotter of raw talent and, as was often said, his greatest comedy act was actually his life off-stage.

Dec Munro has strong on-stage charisma and, judging by last night’s show, a good eye for putting together a bill, combining the more adventurous parts of the circuit – George Ryegold and Doctor Brown last night – with new acts who are very likely to have a big future – the very impressive musical act Rachel Parris

Of course, if they read this, I could have just destroyed Dec Munro’s and Rachel Parris’ careers. There is nothing worse than reading good mentions of your performance and believing them.

And I don’t know where either will end up.

In three years, Rachel Parris has the ability to be a major TV comedy performer. And Dec Munro should be a TV producer. But broadcast television is yesterday’s medium even with Simon Cowell’s successful mega shows. And no-one knows what the replacement is.

Perhaps Dec Munro and Rachel Parris will ride the crest of an upcoming wave; perhaps they will fade away. Showbiz is a dangerously random business. But, then, so is everything in life.

Peter Bazalgette is the great-great-grandson of sewer pioneer Sir Joseph Bazalgette who created central London’s sewer network which was instrumental in stopping the city’s cholera epidemics.

Sometimes handling shit in a better way can be more important than being a successful showbiz performer or producer.

You can create your own punchline to that.

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“My name is Ozymandias, comic of comics”… maybe

I will need incontinence pads soon.

I thought I’d blogged somewhere before about my theory that most comedians are a combination of masochist and psychopath… and then I thought maybe I hadn’t. And then I was sure I had, but I couldn’t find it. And then I did here. Clearly my memory is going. Not that it was ever very good. I’m sure this Coalition Attacking Libya semi-war thing has happened before. Several times. After a while, all post-Korean wars seem to merge into one.

On my Facebook page a few days ago, I mentioned a Sunday Mail interview with the immensely talented Scots comedian and magician Jerry Sadowitz.

In 1995, when the late Malcolm Hardee was writing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, I asked him: “Who is the most talented comedian who has not yet made it?”

He immediately said: “Jerry Sadowitz”.

Or, in fact, “Gerry Sadowitz” because, at that time, I think Jerry was still (as far as we could see fairly randomly) alternating between billing himself as Gerry Sadowitz and Jerry Sadowitz.

In the Sunday Mail interview, it was claimed Jerry predicted he will die penniless and lonely and described himself as a failure who had struggled to find work since his last television series almost a decade ago. It sounded pretty downbeat.

Though, in fact, he can fill large theatres, is very highly regarded by the media and, as the Sunday Mail pointed out, he has been voted one of the greatest stand up comedians of all time.

On my Facebook page, one reaction to the interview, from bubbly comedienne Charmian Hughes, was:

“Yes, failure is a strangely seductive and addictive mistress – so much safer and predictable than the vagaries of success. You know where you are when you think you are not going anywhere!”

I agree. I have seen several performers blow their chance of success. It’s as if they have struggled for so long that they know they can deal with failure, disappointment and rejection, but success is a great – and therefore a dangerous and very frightening – unknown. The pain of rejection is like a release of acid in the stomach and, once you know you can survive it, like all strong physical feelings, it can become addictive.

It is something I think I have noticed in a lot of stand-up comics – perhaps it’s something in all performers. There is this inner, outgoing, self-confident need to show-off combined with a sometimes almost paralysing self-doubt.

This can manifest itself in two areas.

One is publicity where the effervescent, outgoing performer is so fearful of being hurt by criticism that they want to hide inside a bag inside a wardrobe inside a cave in a vast impenetrable mountain range. I’ve been involved with more than one performer who refused to do interviews or any publicity which would expose even the most general details of their private self to any public view.

The other area is even more extreme – career self-harm – and it is epitomised, let’s say, by former punk rocker Johnny Rotten walking off I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! when it became crystal clear he was going to win it. Anyone who knows the comedy business will be able to remember an exact parallel on another TV reality show involving a successful comic on his way up.

I once chatted to that comedian and said, quite honestly though perhaps a tad insensitively, that I did not know why he had not been picked up by TV producers in the past.

“It could be,” he suggested, “that I have a tendency to tell them they’re cunts.”

“That would probably do it,” I had to agree.

It is the conflict between wanting to perform yet being phenomenally over-sensitive and the fear of failure.

Charmian Hughes admits, “I have done a couple of self-saboteuring things in my life. One was not returning the call of a BBC Radio One producer who came up to me after a show and asked me to write for her before that was a fashionable Radio One thing. I pretended it wasn’t my thing artistically but, of course, inside I was afraid I would be shit at it. The result was I slammed that door in my own face.”

Another comic told me:

“It’s like a knot in the pit of your stomach. The fear. You know you’re going to go up there alone on stage and they may hate you. Not your material. It’s not like doing Shakespeare or Alan Ayckbourn where you are an actor in a play. They see the comic up there on stage telling jokes and it is you. Just you. If they hate you, it is because they hate you for yourself. You have to get up on stage to get the attention you want but, at the same time, the last thing you want is attention. You want to be in the spotlight and you want to hide and both emotions are inside you simultaneously.

“That’s what the problem with publicity is. You want everyone in the whole world to know who you are and to reassure you that you are brilliant and better than anyone else. But, at the same time, you don’t want anyone to know who you are: you want to run away and hide, because you are just a little kid standing up there alone, afraid that you will get told off and you are on the brink of crying inside. It’s like a physical knot inside your stomach.”

Charmian Hughes says:

“I remember a kind of exuberant horror at what I was doing and feeling quite angry with the people who wanted to promote me which quickly turned to self pity when they then didn’t. It takes a lot of personal untangling. Of course, all that was in extremis and I would recognise it immediately now… maybe!”

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