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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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Lewis Schaffer sees Jackie Mason and explains to me what a Jewish comic is

Jackie Mason show flyer

The Jackie Mason flyer for his London shows

Last night, London-based American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer and I went to see legendary American Jewish comedian Jackie Mason at the Adelphi Theatre in London – allegedly his last ever London appearances.

Afterwards, we went to Kentish Town for his regular Thursday night gig at the Monkey Business Comedy Club. Lewis Schaffer’s regular Thursday night gig; not Jackie Mason’s.

At the Adelphi Theatre, the flyer had trumpeted: ALL NEW MATERIAL!

Lewis Schaffer had recognised a Ronald Reagan/Iran Contra joke from the 1980s which Jackie Mason had changed into a Sepp Blatter/FIFA joke for this week.

“That was smart of him to do,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But then,” I said, “people don’t necessarily go to a Jackie Mason show for new jokes.”

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s like that old story about the dog. It’s not that the dog can talk well. It’s that he can talk at all. The fact Jackie Mason can do 45 minutes, then a break, then 40 minutes and never for a minute did you think: Oh my, he’s forgotten his act… I mean, I’m 58 years old and I have moments of panic when I think: Shit! what the fuck do I say next? He’s 83 – a full 25 years older than I am.”

“I think,” I said, “he thought he was being more outrageous than he was. He apologised for bad-mouthing Starbucks!”

“I don’t think he thought he was outrageous.” said Lewis Schaffer. “I think that’s just part of his act.”

“His style was slightly similar to yours,” I suggested.

“People have said there’s a similarity between us. But it’s the same thing with Woody Allen. We’re all of a type. There’s a certain tone.”

“I saw some old-style Borscht Belt comedian at Soho Theatre,” I said. “I have never really thought of you as a ‘Jewish’ comedian but, when I saw this guy, I thought: That style, that delivery – pure New York Jewish – it’s pure Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, basically, what a Jewish comedian is…” said Lewis Schaffer, “is that the insult comes at the end after you butter somebody up – as opposed to insulting them at the beginning.”

“Do non-Jewish comedians do that?” I asked.

“Ma-a-y-y-b-e,” replied Lewis Schaffer cautiously. “Was that funny?”

“I’m surprised Jackie Mason didn’t mention you,” I joked.

“Maybe he didn’t know I was there.” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “They’ve forgotten about me in America. Not that they ever knew I was there…

“I thought to myself when I was watching Jackie Mason tonight: Maybe I can take his act when he dies. There were a couple of good jokes in there about being older. I’m getting old. I’ve already talked to Robin Ince and Robin Ince says I can have his followers, his fans, though there was some question about the fact they might not like me.”

“Robin Ince,” I said, “is not happy about the PBH fiasco at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“He’s lovely and loyal to PBH,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t think he fully understands the severity of what’s been going on.”

“You are,” I prompted, “charging £5 for your Fringe show this year…”

A rare sight last night - Lewis Schaffer writing material

A rare sight last night – Lewis Schaffer writing material (on his way to Monkey Business gig)

“I’m charging £5,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Is the show,” I asked, “still called Free Until Famous?

“Yes; Free Until Famous: £5.”

“You’ll get arrested under the Trade Descriptions Act,” I said.

“It says it right there; Free Until Famous: £5… It doesn’t say that the entry is free. It says I am free.”

“How?” I asked. “Free to roam the grasslands like a gazelle?”

“I’m free most weekends,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m free to do other gigs.”

“That’s your good luck in not having a PBH Free Fringe contract,” I replied.

“I’m free most days,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “The Edinburgh show is just an extension of my Free Until Famous tour.”

“This is the tour you are not telling anyone about?” I asked.

“No. I’m not telling anyone. 45 dates. It’s the most amazing thing that has ever been done. I am really proud of myself. On the other hand, I’ve been doing bugger all work in the last six months.”

“But,” I said, “you’re doing a 45-gig tour, your weekly radio show and at least two weekly London gigs – a full show at the Leicester Square Theatre every week and weekly stuff at Monkey Business.”

“I feel,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I should be getting more gigs. That’s how you get successful. It’s not just about doing the gigs but getting the gigs. I’m the hardest-working failure in the comedy business. I’m not doing my weekly shows at the Leicester Square Theatre any more. They’re at the Museum of Comedy.  It’s a much better room. It doesn’t have any pillars blocking the view, so now I can see the empty chairs. The Museum of Comedy is perfect for me because I’m getting old, though I’m not as old as Jackie Mason.

“Jackie Mason is charging £51-£86 for tickets. The reason I’m charging £5 at the Edinburgh Fringe, not doing it for free, is I want to weed out the people who are not insane. My target audience is people who are a bit loopy who will like what I do. Do you think that’s true? I don’t know. I just said it right now. Is it true? Is it funny? The reason I’m charging £5 is because I was just fed up with people walking in and wandering out of my free shows.”

Lewis schaffer performing at Monkey business last night

Lewis Schaffer performing at Monkey Business

“They don’t wander out,” I said. “Well… occasionally someone walks out if you tell a joke about Madeleine McCann or the Holocaust. You may get someone walk out because you’ve offended them, but no-one ever wanders out due to tedium.”

“They don’t wander out,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because they’re intimidated. But they don’t feel committed. That’s the trouble with free shows. My audience is not committed.”

“I suspect some of your audiences have been or will be,” I said.

“They just wander in to see what’s going on,” moped Lewis Schaffer. “I want to be respected. I feel like I’m that character in the Woody Allen movie Broadway Danny Rose, where he wants to be respected as a comedian. I want to be respected and I think it’s a huge mistake I have made to charge £5, because I think no-one is going to come and see me.”

Welcome to the world of Lewis Schaffer, comedian, where every silver lining has a cloud.

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Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh Fringe street scene: this could be a comedian…

Yesterday’s blog about the unnecessary chaos surrounding PBH Free Fringe and Freestival shows at the Edinburgh Fringe estimated the financial damage to around 150-170 acts at around £77,000 in total.

As I wrote yesterday: It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

As an example of the effect of the intransigence on one individual act, 2015 UK Pun champion Leo Kearse has told me this:


Short answer – I’m currently down about £1,200

I had two shows booked in to Cowgatehead and St John’s – Pun Man’s Pun Party and Hate ‘n’ Live (a show where comedians improvise rants about audience topics pulled out of a bucket).

They are both great shows. They will be replaced by some shit from the PBH z-list. I shudder to think how shit that’ll be.

I have paid Freestival fees, Fringe registration, train tickets, accommodation deposit.

I’m baffled as to how the current situation is beneficial to the venue owners, the Fringe Society, the audiences, or the acts.

I think PBH and his evil cohorts have behaved despicably to cause maximum disruption to the acts.

I doubt I’ll do the Edinburgh Fringe again. Other festivals offer better gigs and better exposure.

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:


Promoter Bob Slayer has also issued a press release about surrealist act Michael Brunström:


MICHAEL BRUNSTRÖM: THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEAM

Michael Brunström, nominated last year for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, has moved his Edinburgh Fringe 2015 show to Heroes @ The Hive, following the dispute between PBH Free Fringe and Freestival over programming rights to the Cowgatehead venue.

More money wasted: the poster Michael Brumstrom had designed for his Freestival show

More money wasted: the poster Michael had designed for his once-a-Freestival-show

Heroes promoter Bob Slayer offered Brunström a slot at the Big Cave in The Hive in exchange for a large (400g) bar of Toblerone. This agreement was made orally.

“Both PBH Free Fringe and Freestival could learn a thing or two from Bob Slayer about professionalism, efficiency and mature behaviour,” said Brunström.

Heroes will also be hosting Phil Kay and Russell Hicks – whose show Psychedelicious had also been scheduled at Cowgatehead – in Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

In 2014 Michael Brunström was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show The Human Loire, in which he impersonated the longest river in France, nailed grapes to Ted Cruz’s face and chewed the legs off a heron. Brunström’s 2015 show, The Golden Age of Steam, includes further surreal stunts involving his body, voice, legs, some ping-pong balls and a tiny fern.


Interestingly, Pear Shaped Comedy’s Anthony Miller had this comment to make on my blog of yesterday, in which I mentioned the PBH Free Fringe’s contract which (uniquely among Fringe operators) bans acts appearing or wanting to appear at a PBH Free Fringe venue from appearing or negotiating to appear at any other free venue. I called this a restriction of trade. Anthony Miller wrote:


Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

I still maintain that by applying exclusivity terms to people over who else they can work for BEFORE employing people (and he is an employer even if he pays people by venue barter) he is attempting to run a de facto pre-entry closed shop system. This is illegal.

Someone said it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not just that it’s stupid, but the law – when it works – exists to protect us from destructive patterns and practices in society.

So why is it illegal? Why is it more than just an old man with eccentric rules on which of his competitors his acts and people who want to gig for him can also gig for?

It is illegal because the effective purpose of all pre-entry closed shop systems is effective control over entry into the labour market by one body with the effective result of decreasing the overall number of people in the labour market. And that is exactly what is happening here.

It is not an accident that a load of people are now going to the Fringe NOT to work. It is by design.

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.

Why?

He wants to control the number of people entering the labour market.

Why?

Then he can decrease competition.

Why?

He has become a victim of his own success…. Monopoly of £0 entry gigs gives him control of who does and doesn’t enter the labour market. And that is what he wants.

This situation is not an accident. It is the inevitable long term consequence of any closed shop system. A system which always puts one-person coterie in charge of who can work and who can enter the workforce.

I am sure PBH has an incredibly long waiting list… but would it be so long if people who were not on it did not fear blacklisting?


Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

I also this morning received some reaction from Robin Ince to a reference in yesterday’s blog to an upcoming benefit gig for the Free Fringe which includes performers Stewart Lee, Nick Helm and Robin Ince. Robin writes:


Stewart. Nick and I agreed to do benefit to support acts doing Free Fringe; we have no gain from it. Maybe it is time we stopped doing benefits and let the lazy comedy fucks who can’t be bothered to do any to start doing ten minutes here and there.

Do I support the acts who have been fucked over. Yes. Would I do a benefit for them? Yes.

Do I think Freestival are innocent victims and PBH is the big villain?  No.


Meanwhile, the saga continues.

A general perception I think (including by me) was that the fact there were three members of the same family – all called Kenny Waugh – somehow involved in the saga meant there was chaos between Kennies. In fact, I understand, there was only the one Kenny – the middle one – involved in talking to both the PBH Free Fringe and to the Freestival.

The Waugh family – one or more of them – rent the Cowgatehead building from the Crolla family. 

A Crolla family is involved in ownership of the La Favorita pizza company which sponsors the Freestival. But, as I understand it, they are different Crolla families.

Elio Crolla, who was involved in the Cowgatehead building last year, died on 26th January this year, which will not have helped the tangled web of ownership, rentals and rights within the building.

I think my head may soon explode.

 

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“I was thinking of an evening called The Comedians’ Talking Therapy Group”

Jorik Mol, curator of what is on The Comedian’s Bookshelf

Jorik Mol… curator of what is on The Comedian’s Bookshelf

Last time I chatted to Jorik Mol for a blog back in December, he was about to perform for dogs and could not tell me much about attempting to write Raoul Moat: The Opera with Ellis of Ellis & Rose.

This week, still no news on Raoul Moat: The Opera and he was enthusing about his monthly Comedian’s Bookshelf shows

Jorik (who is Dutch) got his BA Hons degree in English Literature & Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam after writing a dissertation on The Goon Show. He is now doing a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.

Robin Ince,” I said, “used to run a night called The Bad Book Club.”

“But that was more about bad books,” said Jorik. “At The Comedian’s Bookshelf, we ask comedians to write a set about their favourite book or author. It’s been interesting at worst and absolutely mind-blowing at best.

“If you buy a book, you basically buy Thinking – you buy the author’s insights. A book is thought, is emotion, is the brain. More than a film or a video game or a painting, it works because narrative takes on life and something happens and you see and empathise with things that don’t exist.

“When you take a books’s thoughts to live comedy, where you don’t just have text, you have rhythm and musicality and physicality, you can work all those different things round these original thoughts. And that cannot not – a double negative – it cannot NOT bring out something creative.”

“Comedians nowadays,” I suggested, “tend to tell funny stories. They don’t do gags.”

“Jokes,” said Jorik, “are a narrative. Some information is given, then there is a comedic pivot and then a new narrative has to be worked up – from the ground up – very very quickly. There’s a gap that is bridged within the cognitive system.”

“I am a simple chap,” I asked. “What is the comedic pivot? The twist before the punchline?”

“It is the thing that changes the story from Narrative A to Narrative B,” explained Jorik. “If Narrative A is the feed-line and build-up, then the comedic pivot is where it changes and there is a leap to a second narrative that works. What the brain hates most of all is to be wrong.”

“Surely,” I said, “in most good jokes, the brain is wrong. It is misled and then you laugh from shock and/or relief.”

“No,” said Jorik, “Your brain is wrong first and then it is right. The reason you laugh is because your brain sends you endorphins because this second time you have seen it correctly. Well done brain. Endorphin buzz.”

“What,” I asked, “about when you laugh with relief at a horror film?”

“That is because,” said Jorik, “you thought you might be attacked and laughter is a way for the cognitive system to say Chill the fuck out. So laughter is introduced and endorphins are introduced to make you feel safe.”

I asked: “What about My wife’s got no nose – How does she smell? – Terrible?”

“The word Smell is the pivot,” said Jorik. “That’s just linguistics. That’s the pivot and then the entirety of the narrative changes – You have a smelly wife.

“What next for you?” I asked.

“I was thinking of starting an evening called The Comedians’ Talking Therapy Group,” Jorik told me.It would be a night when comedians talk about their problems – personal, psychiatric, money, gambling, sexual. I would talk about how life and depression is so much fun. I would get someone to headline talking about his or her anxiety or talking about trying to commit suicide – all of the LOLs and all of the pain. There is a night a little like that already – Karl Schultz’s It Might Get Ugly. I did some very dark material there and my parents were in the audience.”

“What did they think?”

“They loved it. I had explained a little about the comedy world to my mother. She told one of the other comedians: I hope you don’t die on stage.

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What was heard and was not heard at comic Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby R.I.P

I was asked to speak at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday.

Chris was… umm… an audio comic. He created sound effects with his mouth…. The Trooping The Colour ceremony… Aerial combat in the Battle of Britain, including the sound of Spitfires scrambling on the ground and an aerial battle with German bombers… Formula 1 motor races.

It was an interesting funeral service. While it was happening, there was the faint sound of bagpipes far in the distance outside – despite the fact the service took place in highly-built-up Brockley in South East London. At the climax of the service, there was the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. And, during a reading by his brother, the brother’s mobile telephone rang – he could not find where the phone was for about 15 seconds and it kept ringing as he searched for it.

If I were of a less cynical disposition, I might have thought Chris was still lurking and larking about.

The theoretical duration of my speech was unknown until it happened – modern crematoria are a conveyor belt of farewells – so I wrote a 4-minute one assuming it might end up having to be cut to 2 minutes. The vicar had started looking at the clock by the time he got to me, so I cut the speech back to maybe 90 seconds on the day. This is the full 4-minute version:

* * * * * *

I’ve been asked to say something about what Chris was like as a comedy performer.

Usually, when you are a comedy performer, it is a bad thing to finish your act to complete silence and no laughter. But I saw this happen to Chris twice.

What happened was that he finished doing his act and the audience just stared at him in silence for about three seconds – which is a long time. But then there was a sudden eruption of clapping, cheers and whoops.

They had just been stunned into silence and could barely believe what they’d just seen – and heard.

And that’s what Chris did – he stunned people.

When news of his death got around, there was a Twitter exchange between the comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili.

Robin tweeted – “If comedians don’t make it onto TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it.”

Omid replied – “Chris Luby has done no TV (that’s not actually true) but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy” – Omid said – “It’s heroic lunacy.”

Apparently Chris was not a man to go on long car journeys with because, at every turn, you would get the sound of a Spitfire banking or diving as if it were attacking a Messerschmitt and every time you changed gear he would add in loud and slightly terrifying sound effects.

But, whenever people tell me of long car journeys with Chris and their urge to throttle him, they – oddly – tell it in a very warm-hearted way. They found it oddly endearing.

Arthur Smith told me:

“Chris was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner on car journeys to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like…. But he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world” – Arthur Smith said – “and I hope he’s enjoying the molecules in the stars.”

Comedian Adam Wide said his favourite visual image was…

“when we were organising a treasure hunt for a computer firm all over the village of Beaulieu, Chris was dressed as a RAF pilot (with a sound system) standing at a bus-stop doing his full Battle of Britain routine while apparently waiting for a Spitfire to arrive at the bus stop.”

When Chris died, the actors’ trade union Equity Tweeted:

“We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one-man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.”

Indeed it was.

Like Chris. Once seen. Never forgotten.

I also got a message from a man called John Hawes. He said:

“I was 13 years old when I met Chris Luby. He was a cadet and I was treated to the first of many of Chris’s famous shows.

“That was in 1979.

“I haven’t seen him in 25 years and it brings a tear to my eye knowing he has been entertaining people over the years and to read the wonderful stories of Chris and his adventures. He was a special man and will be missed.”

I think he affected a lot of people like that.

I know Chris’s sound effects were unforgettable. But my main memory of Chris, oddly. is not the sounds he made but his eyes. His eyes always seemed to be sparkling. They were very bright and sparkly. And that’s bright in every sense. They lit up and he WAS bright. Very intelligent. And I guess very sensitive.

I always think that, if you die and just one person cries, you have done something right in your life. You have not lived in vain. And, I think when people heard Chris had died there were a good few tears being shed.

The other side of that is that I suspect there will be a lot of laughter in heaven tonight. The angels, quite frankly, are going to be pissing themselves over Trooping the Colour.

I don’t know what angels laughing sounds like. But I used to know a man who could have done a realistic impression of what they sound like. And I’m very sad he’s not still here to do that or to do the sound of the RAF fly-past he so richly deserves.

Rest in Peace, Chris – though it will probably be interrupted by the sound of the Queen reviewing Trooping The Colour.

* * * *

When comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, Chris Luby spoke or, rather, made noises in his honour. He performed the sound of a flypast by an RAF jet. Here is a 53 second audio extract from that 2005 funeral service which is just as much of a tribute to Chris Luby himself.

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Memories by other comedians of comic impressionist and eccentric Chris Luby

Chris Luby - the forces’ favourite

Chris Luby swapped between Army and Air Force acts

Comedian Chris Luby died in London on Saturday. He fell down a staircase at home when (it is said) he was drunk.

In January 2005, his friend, mentor and occasional manager/agent Malcolm Hardee drowned when he fell into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. Malcolm, too, was drunk at the time.

It is a very British thing.

Chris and Malcolm ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Greenland Dock.

Chris’ comic stage act was to use his mouth and considerable lung power to perform audio recreations of Trooping The Colour, Formula 1 races and bombing raids/aerial combat in World War II. The act usually went well though, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show in 1998, Chris’ act was not much appreciated by some sections of the audience and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler yelled out: “Do a glider!”

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All are now dead. So it goes.

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All now dead.

In its 2005 report of Malcolm Hardee’s death by drowning, the London Evening Standard wrote:

His business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. “His death will leave a huge hole,” said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. “He ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium, which was the most extraordinary club ever.

“It set people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy.”

Now both Malcolm and Chris are dead. So it goes.

In a possibly frightening illustration that nothing is private nor forgotten by Google in this Cyber Age, I can tell you that, on 24th September 2010, comedian Alan Davies Tweeted:

Chris Luby did the Spitfire, the Lancaster and various marching bands. Did many gigs with that fella. Bonkers…

Yesterday, Alan Tweeted about Chris: He could name 6 of anything.

Malcolm Hardee is still remembered in the comedy industry and by media people, though not yet by the Great British public.

A Twitter conversation between comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili on 28th September 2012 went:

ROBIN INCE: If comedians don’t make it to TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it (true of all I suppose).

OMID DJALILI: Chris Luby has done no TV but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy, it’s heroic lunacy.

ROBIN  INCE: I never had a lift with him because I had been warned of those long air shows all the way up the M1.

This refers to Chris’ habit of doing his aeroplane impersonation act on long journeys (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog).

Comedian Charmian Hughes said yesterday:

I will never forget the time I had Chris and Malcolm in the back of my car on the way back from a gig in Birmingham. They were so distracting that, at the roundabout at Hammersmith flyover, I pranged another car. Luckily Malcolm was a brilliant witness and pointed out that it was the other car’s fault, which it was. But I would have anticipated him if they hadn’t been so noisy! Farewell Chris, a kind, sweet, generous, often annoying, and noisome man.

Malcolm and Chris’ friend Steven Taylor aka ‘Steve From Up North’ says:

One of my favourite memories was on the way back from a gig in, I think, Blackburn. There was Chris, myself, Malcolm Hardee and Jo Brand. Chris was annoying us all – doing the noises of the gear changes and the engine. Suddenly, Jo said to him: “Chris, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll open that door and push you out and you can do the sound effect of your body bouncing down a motorway!” He was a great guy and true eccentric.

Brian Damage remembers:

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Hardee comedy intermingled with Luby quiz nights.

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Malcolm Hardee’s comedy nights mixed with Chris Luby’s quiz nights.

We had a three hour car journey with Chris a few years ago. To keep us entertained he did a quiz… all the way to the gig. We were exhausted by the time we got there. On the way home, he did another quiz – with exactly the same questions. Apart from his quizzes, he was one of my favourite people.

Promoter Kev Wright says:

I was proud to get Chris Luby on at our Cracking Night Out at The Hackney Empire. I must have told him it started at 7 and he turned up on time… But he told me it was the second time he had been there that day as he had already been knocking on the stage door at 7 in the morning, as thats the time he thought we meant! The cleaner had told him to go away and he came back across London twelve hours later for 7 in the evening.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he also performed on a comedy bus.

Brian Crane remembers: Ah, the comedy bus with Malcolm as the naked conductor and Chris Luby on the mic as announcer… a classic night, never to be forgotten.

I booked Chris on TV shows with ‘mad inventor’ John Ward at least a couple of times. Yesterday, John told me:

Oddly, I was bringing Chris to mind only the other day as we live in a flight path for the RAF Memorial Flight and they often fly their Spitfire over our place on the way to gigs and I thought how smashing it would be to get him to come up to see us this summer – I thought I would take him up to the base at RAF Coningsby and introduce him.

Chris Luby - once met, never forgotten

ATTEN-SHUN! – Chris Luby – A very loud act

I met Chris twice when he was doing his act on Prove It (presented by Chris Tarrant) for TVS light years ago – once for the pilot and once for the actual show. The first time, I recall being in the canteen in the TVS studios with my lunch and, as I was sorting myself out, I thought I heard an army battalion in the distance or at least in the building but – No – I suddenly found myself in the World of Chris Luby. He had moved towards me sideways so that I did not see him speaking or, for that matter, doing his act of impersonating sounds that you don’t normally associate with a single person on his own.

His Spitfire impression was a masterpiece as he talked through the process involved in getting the plane into the air – starting the engine from cold, the warming-up before take-off, then climbing up to 5,000 feet or so, levelling off and then spotting the ‘Hun’, going into battle and, after shooting one down in flames, his descent and landing.

The second time we met on Prove It, once again, the TVS canteen was his stage as that week’s guests were sitting down having a bite to eat at lunchtime and, having not seen him perform in the rehearsals, they were baffled as they sat there training their ears to fathom out where the noise was coming from. It was just Chris creating the sound of a WW2 Spitfire all on his own. But to see four full-grown adults standing against a window and opening it to look for a plane that seemed to be rather close – in fact even overhead – It was a classic moment.

When he appeared on the show that second time, he had broken his leg. He lurched on to the studio floor dressed in a Coldstream Guardsman’s uniform plus busby with his leg all done up – but he was still brilliant despite this minor upset. He was a real trouper or should that be trooper?… R.I.P. and I hope he keeps ‘em laughing in the ‘hanger in the sky’.

Yesterday, comedians were Twittering.

Ian Stone suggested: There should be a marching band at his funeral.

Andy Smart thought: It’ll be a lot noisier where ever he’s gone!

Even the trade union Equity Tweeted:

We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.

Arthur Smith told me last night:

He was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: “I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like….” but he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world. I hope he is enjoying the molecules in the stars.

Jenny Eclair Tweeted:

Oh please can all the mad, bad, bonkers and wonderful old timers from the old days of alternative comedy stop dying?

and, when I asked her about Chris Luby last night, she told me:

I just remember when Malcolm offered me out-of-town gigs asking if Chris would be in the same car and taking the train rather than be trapped with him doing Spitfires in my ear!

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Comedy audiences “haven’t had a good night out unless they’ve thrown-up a few times and punched their girlfriend”

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

NealeWelch_16feb2013

Neale Welch at the Comedy Cafe sound desk on Saturday

I was at London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre at the weekend, talking to outspoken owner Noel Faulkner and his business sidekick Neale Welch who, with a marketing background, perhaps promotes the club in less controversial style.

“Why is the Comedy Cafe moving to single-artist shows after August?” I asked Neale.

“Partly,” Neale explained, “because of a decline in the demand for mixed-bill shows – an MC and three acts. Plus increased competition. And it’s costing us more in marketing to get the same amount of people in for those shows. It costs more to get people in than it did previously.

Say goodbye to the logo

Say goodbye to the old Comedy Cafe  logo

“We’re also re-designing our logo, moving it from the smiley face of the 1990s and refurbishing the room again – we only did it 18 months ago… Lots of little tweaks to make a big over-all change.”

“Are comedy club audiences really declining?” I asked.

“If you look on Google Trends,” Neale told me, “at the graph of Google searches for comedy… live… stand-up between 2004 and 2012 it declines steadily. If you look at live… comedy… London it shows the same decline. So there’s less people searching for live stand-up comedy and, if that’s going down then, probably, the demand is going down too.”

“Did anything happen to the search graph in 2008 with the financial crash?” I asked.

“Not particularly,” said Neale. “It’s not a fiscal cliff. It’s a steady decline.”

“So,” I said, “you’re going to be changing the type of shows you put on.”

“At the end of this month,” Neale explained, “we’ll be booking acts up until August for normal club shows and then, after that, we’ll be booking single-artist shows to run on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays after August.”

“It was over a year ago,” Noel Faulkner reminded me, “that we decided to turn the old Comedy Cafe into more of a theatre-type venue – the Comedy Cafe Theatre – and attract a theatre-type audience and now that’s actually happening.”

“What’s the difference between the theatre audience and the comedy audience?” I asked.

NoelFaulkner_16feb2013

Noel Faulkner at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

“The theatre audience,” replied Noel, “can actually all read and write and they have an IQ of some level. The comedy audience are feckin’ brain dead and don’t know why we’re not giving them Michael McIntyre.”

“But this is the audience you’ve been catering to for years,” I prompted.

“Well,” said Noel, “we’ve all been catering to them for years. Poor old Jongleurs and the Comedy Store Late Show too. Of course you have to cater to the masses. We all have to suck the corporate cock, whether we’re gay or not.”

“So what different type of comedy will these theatrical comedians be doing in their one-person shows?” I asked Noel.

“It’s not a difference in comedy,” explained Noel. “Comics do what they do, but it’s better if you have a sophisticated audience. The other problem, though, is that sophisticated audiences don’t spend money. They have a couple of drinks and they’re happy. They don’t have to get shit-faced, because their lives aren’t horrible. Whereas your average comedy audience – their lives are so horrible that they go crazy at weekends and they feel they haven’t had a good night out unless they’ve thrown-up a few times, had a fight and punched their girlfriend.”

“In that case, surely,” I suggested, “as a businessman, you should be appealing to the drunken comedy audience who throw money around and not to the more sophisticated audience who don’t spend money.”

“If that’s what I wanted to do for a living,” said Noel, “but, if I just wanted to make a living, I could deal crystal meth or run a lap-dancing club.”

“So,” I asked, “the comedians are going to do the same things but longer in their one-person shows…?”

“Well,” said Noel. “Comedians doing these one-person shows are not compelled to come out with a gag every thirty seconds. It’s going the way I planned it. I want a theatre.”

“You always wanted a theatre?”

“I always wanted a feckin’ audience that would sit down and appreciate the effort that’s gone into it,” said Noel.

The Comedy Cafe is also expanding into producing comedy shows as downloadable MP3s. Soon they are going to release shows recorded at the Comedy Cafe Theatre by Steve N Allen, Anil Desai, Robin Ince, Michael Legge and Eric McElroy.

The sound of comedy from the Cafe

Expanding Cafe laughter – from live shows to mp3 downloads

“When’s that happening?” I asked Neale Welch.

“It’s just being cut now,” he told me. “I’m sorting out the webpage, the hosting and the PayPal and the functionality, so I’m thinking in the next two weeks; something like that. They’ll be released under the individual artists’ names; there will be a standalone page linked-to from our website; the Comedy Cafe will just be a footnote; we’ve just facilitated it.”

“And the appeal of the audio recordings to you is…?” I asked.

“They give us interesting live shows,” Neale told me. “And a bit of legacy. They will still be there in a few years time. We can build the business into more than one arm. We already have the club, the talent agency, a casting agency. It just gives us another arm.”

“And it means you have content beyond live shows,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Neale. “And we are looking into other content formats.”

Set List - shows coming to Comedy Cafe

Set List comes to Comedy Cafe Theatre

Neale told me the Comedy Cafe is also having Paul Provenza’s superb Set List comedy improvisation shows coming in for a run every Monday from March 11th for six weeks.

“And then,” Noel Faulkner told me, “we’ve another big production company coming in as well. I can’t name them yet. But they’ll come in weekly or monthly with their acts to prepare them for their TV programmes. A lot of people in the comedy business are suddenly realising there’s a small 120-seat space that is really keen to do good theatre. There’s room for three cameras. A tiny stage, but it works: it’s cosy, it’s intimate and it’s what I always wanted to do.”

“In a recent blog,” I said, “I mentioned how, in the future, streaming live club comedy on the internet might affect club business. And Don Ward’s Comedy Store is doing feature films of its shows.”

The Comedy Store film - "It won't work"

The Comedy Store film. “It’s a great idea… It won’t work”

“It won’t work,” said Noel. “It’s a great idea and I asked him why the cinemas are doing it. He told me it’s on the slow movie nights and I thought Well, on the slow movie nights – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – people don’t want to go out. Why go see a movie on a Tuesday night when you can see it on a Friday or Saturday night? So it’s a Tuesday night and there are comics on the big screen? Well, first of all, you don’t need to see a comic on a big screen, because there’s not a lot to look at. And what? You’re going to go all the way down town to a movie theatre and pay top dollar when you can just nip over to the Comedy Store for the same price on a Tuesday night?”

“But punters can’t pop down to the Comedy Store if they live in Plymouth or Aberdeen,” I suggested.

“Well,” replied Noel, “all they have to do is flip over to YouTube or the Dave TV channel and they can see the exact same comedy on a screen.”

“I can’t see the feature film idea working,” I said, “but, in the future, if you did live streaming from the Comedy Store or the Comedy Cafe and it cost a punter only 99p to watch it in Norwich or Belfast or the Outer Hebrides instead of coming to London to see the same acts…”

“Yes,” said Noel. “If, for £5, you could catch the Late Show at the Comedy Store on the internet outside London, that would be great. But the Comedy Store isn’t doing that. They’re trying to fill a cinema. Also, if you’re in a cinema, are people really going to laugh? If there’s only 100 people spread out over 600 seats, you don’t get the atmosphere of a live club.”

“But what happens,” I asked, “when there is live streaming of good acts from a good club at a cheap price? Janey Godley looked into live-streaming her Edinburgh Fringe show from the Underbelly in, I think, 2005 and they couldn’t do it technically from that building at that time. I’ve never understood why no-one has live-streamed their Edinburgh shows so people can see them in Los Angeles and Adelaide. In a few years time, you could have the Comedy Cafe doing a live show to people in London and live-streaming it on a 99p pay-per view so people can see it in Newcastle or Cardiff.”

“Make it £1,” said Noel. “Don’t do this 99p shit.”

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