Tag Archives: Russell Howard

Comedian Ivor Dembina on the comparative pain of Jerry Sadowitz, Frankie Boyle and Lewis Schaffer

Comic investigator Liam Lonergan

Comic questions from Lonergan

My last two days’  blogs have been extracts from a chat Liam Lonergan had with comedian and club owner Ivor Dembina for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

This is a final extract.

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Liam Lonergan: How long have you been doing comedy?

Ivor Dembina: Well I came into it in the early 1980s. I was the second wave. The first wave was Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall, The Young Ones and all that lot. They got going in 1979. I would have come in about 1982, 1983.

Liam: So, since you started stand-up, have you been able to sustain it as a career or have you at any point had to have another career?

Ivor: Well, for thirty years I’ve earned a small living from it. The money has come primarily through running little clubs and promoting gigs. I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve been abroad a couple of times. I’ve never earned much serious money from it. I’ve never really sought to. That’s been secondary. But some people have got very rich out of it. No question. I mean, some of ‘em are multi-millionaires.

Liam: Russell Brand.

Ivor: Well, Russell Brand, Russell Howard. Harry Hill must be worth an absolute fortune. Frank Skinner.

Liam: Harry Hill had the golden handcuff contract with ITV where he was getting I think it was £10 million over three years.

Ivor: These are people that, when I last worked with them, I gave them £50. Steve Coogan. Y’know, these people they’re millionaires many times over. And just work it out for yourself. An agency like Off The Kerb, when they got £20 million out of the BBC for Jonathan Ross they got 15% of it. They got £3 million for one deal.

Someone like Russell Howard was charging £40 a ticket for – I can’t remember exactly but – something like an 18,000 capacity venue for 55 minutes work… Micky Flanagan does four nights at the O2. You see a poster with Micky on it. Then a week later you see the same poster only this time it’s a DVD of the show. The people who go and buy it provided the laughter track. Now they’re going to buy the DVD.

Ivor Dembina on the pendulum swings of UK comedy

Ivor Dembina: Was he too left-leaning for TV?

Liam: Did you ever make an attempt to penetrate that side of it? Did you ever wanna get into TV?

Ivor: I was never a gagster. Television never wanted me and I never wanted TV. I thought I’m not bad as a live comic. I’m worth seeing. I think I write quite interesting jokes. I just don’t think telly’s for me. Yeah, there are times when I think I wouldn’t mind some of that. The things that I really envy about people who have made it on television are they don’t have to bust their balls to get an audience. People will turn up because they’ve been heard of. And they get to play in nice venues because, obviously, if you’re playing a West End theatre, the whole atmosphere is designed to make you look good. You’ve got perfect sound. The lights are great. The audience is comfortable. You haven’t got people walking in and out of the bar. You haven’t got a PA that’s gonna collapse on you. You haven’t got a group of drunks in the front row. You haven’t got to deal with it. You just go on and do what you do. To me, it’s the only incentive for fame: that you’d get invited to play in nice rooms.

Liam: So what would be a really good night for you?

Ivor: Well, I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe last year playing a small fifty seater venue and it sold out throughout the run. And I was amazed. I was genuinely shocked that fifty people wanted to come and see me every night. I’m not being modest here. I thought: Bloody hell. Well maybe my show’s not that bad. I’ve just got used to failure. I don’t resent it. These are choices that I’ve made. A lot of the people who have had good television careers, they’re very talented, they’re very funny. I mean, Frank Skinner’s an incredibly funny guy. And, in his way, so is Michael McIntyre. It’s not my taste but McIntyre’s great.

Liam: With that sort of demographic.

Ivor: It really works, yeah. But I’m more interested in comedy as an art form where, basically, you’re communicating something human to the audience or sharing something with them. I think that tends to work, roughly, in auditoriums up to about a maximum of 200 people. This arena comedy, I just don’t get it. One of my favourite comedians of all time is Woody Allen. If he came over here and did a theatre I would do my best to get a ticket. But, if he was on at the O2 Arena, I wouldn’t go. What’s the point?

I think what’s happened with me is that, in London… I’m a bit like Lewis Schaffer. Quite a lot of people sort of know who I am. Quite a lot of those like me. They might come and see me again.

Liam: You’ve got your own dedicated following, as Lewis Schaffer seems to have. The thing I found quite remarkable with Lewis was that everyone who was coming up to the door he knew their names. Instantly. He was instantly on first names terms. And it was like he’s cultivated this atmosphere that was, sort of, a tree house gang.

Lewis Schaffer: creating a cult

Lewis Schaffer: creating his own cult?

Ivor: You used the word cultivated. It’s interesting. If you break down the word cultivated you get the word cult. What he’s trying to do is create a cult of Lewis Schaffer, which is beginning to work a bit but ultimately his problem now is… we’re not in that main world of agents or TV or…

Liam: Well, that’s my main angle. It’s people who are just outside of…

Ivor: At the moment people like me and Lewis qualify. You could say that Stewart Lee is very interesting to observe at the moment because he was in that position but now he’s got his own TV series and he’s had his show on at The National Theatre. Mark Thomas is a bit like that. On the one hand he’s Leftie, he’s got his credentials. But he’s ‘appy to knock out a DVD or pop up on telly. Jerry Sadowitz is another one. He’s great. He’s way outside… He’s absolutely brilliant. He’s fantastic.

Liam: Lewis Schaffer said he thought Jerry Sadowitz was good but he thought he lacked humanity. He thought he was just… just pitbull teeth. [Lewis Schaffer disputes he ever said this – SEE HIS COMEBACK HERE]

Ivor: I don’t agree. I think Jerry has got a great humanity. Whenever I see Jerry I never think You’re cruel. Never think that. I get that sometimes when I watch Frankie Boyle. I think he plays to people’s cruelty. But I just think Jerry’s dead funny.

Liam: Jerry seems real. Someone who’s quite embittered. Someone who’s got a chip on his shoulder, who’s punching upwards.

Ivor: He’s letting us see his pain. And that’s fine. Whereas I think with someone like Frankie Boyle it’s more of a case of What can I say that’s going to really wind people up? And he does it and he does it very well. But if you go look at a Frankie Boyle video and you cut away to the audience, they’re exactly the same sort of people who are laughing at Michael McIntyre. It’s cruelty for the masses. Whereas Jerry is showing us his pain and making us laugh at it at the same time. What I think Frankie Boyle does is Let’s have a laugh at the pain of others. Big difference.

Liam: That’s why I thought it was good with Lewis Schaffer because even though it comes across as quite polished like Mort Sahl or the old…

Ivor: The old vaudeville…

Liam: … there is a neediness. There is that sort of ‘revealing himself’ that I think is very attractive.

Ivor: He just needs to relax a bit. Relaxation isn’t his strength.

Liam: Do you feel, in your own personal… Do you think pathology… does that feed into, into your act?

Ivor: One of the myths in comedy is that all comedians are somehow depressives or manic depressives. It’s just bullshit. Obviously some people have definitely experienced mental health problems. Spike Milligan, Tony Hancock. Russell Brand has been very open about his addictions. But when we were talking about Jerry Sadowitz… he puts his pain on stage. He allows you to see it but it’s got nothing to do with mania or psychosis or mental health.

It’s about putting pain onstage in a way that other people will appreciate. Not to upset them. Peter Hoopal once said to me: “You can show ‘em the scars but never show ‘em the wounds”.

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How to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

The increasingly prestigious target of stunts

Honestly.

You just have to say the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are increasingly prestigious at the Edinburgh Fringe and they start to be.

One of the three annual awards is the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting an Edinburgh Fringe show.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Richard Herring’s clever publicity scam and Cunning Stunt Award contender in which he announced he had decided not spend lots of money on lamp post ads during the Fringe and instead spend lots of money giving away a free copy of his DVD entitled 10 to members of his audience.

Cunning Lewis Schaffer

Lewis Schaffer tries to hijack Richard Herring

Two days ago, Lewis Schaffer announced he will be spending the entire promotional budget for his Fringe show Lewis Schaffer is Better Than You on giving every paying member of his audience a free copy of… Richard Herring’s DVD.

Lewis Schaffer’s show is part of Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want variation on the Free Festival.

Lewis Schaffer said: “I thought, this year, why not spend my entire £75 budget on something that people might actually want? People love Richard Herring. At first, I thought I would give them a DVD of my own shows, but my shows are unfilmable and people don’t like me as much as Richard.”

Lewis Schaffer cannily added that the offer lasts only as long as his unspecified stocks last and only, he said, “if I can strike a deal with Richard Herring to get them cheap and, if not, I’ll give a copy of a similar DVD or other gift with a value of greater than £1 to all paying customers at each show.”

I am not sure if ripping off someone else’s stunt disqualifies Lewis Schaffer from consideration for the Cunning Stunt Award or actually makes him even more considerable than Richard.

Piratical comedian Malcolm Hardee (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee would not have approved of any real rules (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

As there are no actual rules for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards, this is something we will have to decide nearer the date, possibly on a whim. Having any actual pre-determined rules would have been anathema to Malcolm.

A couple of days ago, I also got an email from the Fringe Office saying:

We’ve been getting a lot of enquiries about the Fringe awards for this year, so I wanted to add a line to the award summaries on our website to clarify how acts can enter their shows for the awards. Please could you let me know how acts can enter for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award or are they nominated or just selected by the judges? And then I’ll add that to the details on the website.

The only answer I could think of giving was:

God preserve us from people actually applying for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. We have enough problems! Acts are selected by the judges via osmosis, gossip, buzz and word-of-mouth.

Juliette Burton video shoot

Juliette Burton completed her pop video shooting yesterday

Juliette Burton, I guess, is another Cunning Stunt contender. Yesterday, I went to see her shoot the final scene for a pop video promoting her Edinburgh show When I Grow Up. It is only part of a whole raft of linked promotional ideas she has lined up. This might bode well as, last year, Stuart Goldsmith won the Cunning Stunt Award for multiple linked promotional ideas.

Juliette also got me to come along to a meeting she was having with her choreographer Omari Carter near the MI6 building. She told me she had once worked nearby, but this was less impressive than one comedian I know who was actually interviewed for a job at MI6.

I arrived too late to stop Bob Slayer drinking

Alas I arrived at cricket too late to stop Bob Slayer drinking

After that, I drove down to see the Comedians’ Cricket Match at Staplefield in Sussex, where Bob Slayer had apparently tried to swing the game by being one of three batsmen simultaneously playing.

And in a blatant, slightly drunk, attempt to curry favour before the Fringe, he tried to ingratiate himself by telling me:

“Your blog is very effective at getting publicity.”

He is publishing Phil Kay’s autobiography The Wholly Viable, financing it via an appeal on Kickstarter.

I blogged about it at the end of last month and, as of yesterday, the Kickstarter appeal for £3,333 had raised £4,727 – that’s over 141% of the target, with 2o days still to go.

“Your blog sent a few interesting backers to Phil’s Kickstarter,” Bob told me. “Russell Howard and Alan Davies are the latest backers, who also include Glenn Wool, Isy Suttie, Arthur Smith, Miss Behave, Chris Evans – who may or may not be the ginger one – Davey Byrne, who may or may not be the frontman of Talking Heads and John Steel – who may or may not be the original drummer for The Animals.”

Frankly, I think it’s more likely to be John Steed of The Avengers.

This is not normal - it is Phil Kay

Kay supported by Alan Davies, Russell Howard, Johnny Vegas

“Facebook has referred most backers to the Kickstarter page,” figure-fancying Bob told me, “with Twitter just behind it and there have been Tweets from Richard Herring, Johnny Vegas, Boothby Graffoe and Limmy.”

So there you have it, an increasingly prestigious blog effective at getting publicity which you should be proud to read, if only for the increasing bullshit factor.

But back to reality.

At the time of posting this on Monday morning, I am just about to leave for jury service at a court somewhere in England. My jury service was supposed to end last Friday, but has trundled on to today and possibly tomorrow.

There may be a future blog in this – not that I am one to be increasingly obsessive about seeing everything as a blog possibility.

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