Tag Archives: Scientology

A new religion rises, as Fascism rears its comedy head at the Edinburgh Fringe

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Snapped shamefully asleep by Scotsman snoop Claire Smith

Snapped shamefully asleep in Brooke’s Bar at the Pleasance by Scotsman snoop Claire Smith

I have only been at the Edinburgh Fringe for less than four days and already lack of sleep is clearly getting to me.

I was shamefully snapped sleeping in the Press Room of the Pleasance Dome by Scotsman reporter Claire Smith. No-one likes a grass, Claire…

In today’s blog, I was thinking of majoring on the show Dave Millett and Tim Renkow Are Meandering With Purpose – featuring two of the most interesting, thoughtful and intelligent pieces of complementary comedy I have ever seen at the Fringe.

But, as regular readers of this blog will know, I tend to rather go for superficial crass excess.

Thus we have Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – Wonder & Joy and Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II.

A few years ago, I tried to persuade comedian Simon Munnery that we should start a religion by writing a book together. How difficult can it be? L.Ron Hubbard managed it.

All you need to do is read a few Californian self-help books, note the chapter headings and build a pseudo-philosophy round them. People want to be led.

Alas Simon was not keen to be a godhead.

Twin godheads of a new comedy religion rising in our midst?

Twin godheads of a new comedy religion rising in our midst?

But Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans seem set to fill that gap in the market with their successful series of Sunday Assembly events in London and elsewhere. Others have taken up the idea in other countries and, from October to December, Sanderson & Pippa will be embarking on a roadshow called 40 Dates and 40 Nights, hosting Sunday Assemblies across the UK, Europe, the US and Australia.

Their current Edinburgh Fringe show – Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – Wonder & Joy – which I saw last night – well, it was less a case of seeing it than experiencing it – is less a show, more a cross between an orgasm, a Nuremberg Rally and a drug or adrenaline-fuelled disco rave.

One of the quieter moments last night

One of the quieter moments of Wonder & Joy last night

Singalongs, chants, games, nostalgic disco music and a lot of shouting, bouncing up and down and waving your arms – or, well, anything you fancy – in the air. That was the format. And very sweaty and joyous it was too. Much like the start of a new religion or cult, but without (so far) any animal sacrifice or mass suicides in the jungle. But give them time… Give them time.

At the end of the show, Sanderson yelled at the bouncing audience, “This is not a show – It’s a movement!”

And he could be right

Sanderson Jones proves he is an android

Sanderson Jones encourages new believers

Sanderson encouraged anyone to get in touch if they wanted to start a Sunday Assembly in their town. And, at midday on the next two Sundays, their atheist celebrations of life will be held in Edinburgh.

I am not sure if I will be going. I am not sure I have that much sweat in my body to give. All that bouncing, pogo-ing and waving yourself around! At my age, I just want tea and Victoria sponge and to have the spittle dabbed from the side of my mouth by a nurse.

The only downside of the show last night was that, coming out of the Hive venue’s ‘Bunker’ room, I realised that poor Lewis Schaffer had been trying to perform his show in the adjoining room. It must have been like trying to perform a spoken word show during a Rolling Stones concert.

As I said, the show in the Hive’s Bunker room was part orgasm and part Nuremberg Rally.

Nazi but nice - Frank last night

Nazi but nice: Frank sang last night

Perhaps even closer to a combination of an orgasm, Nuremberg Rally and bunker show was Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II at the Voodoo Rooms.

I saw this glorious celebration of bad taste with comedian Maureen Younger and – linking back to the start of this blog – Claire Smith of the Scotsman.

Maureen speaks fluent German and was able to vouch for the veracity of the occasional little snippets of German. I can vouch for the bad taste. Frank Sanazi claimed that, last week, he had been ejected from PC World.

I had gone expecting more of the same admirable old Frank Sanazi routines though (as blogged about two days ago) missing his fine rendition of Auschwitz Craft.

In fact, this was a real humdinger of a fake Vegas show in the kitsch surroundings of the Voodoo Rooms.

Lofty Anne Stank’s sang of her diary

There was a lofty performance by Anne Stank with her diary

The beloved Führer of Fun sang all his regulars, but also appeared in character as Tom Moans (an aged Tom Jones with a zimmer frame and tight leather trousers belting out pastiches of his songs).

Plus there were the added joys of Maureen Dietrich (I think I heard that right), Anne Stank (emerging from a wardrobe to sing about her diary, then searching for eroticism and love among the men in the audience).

Nancy Sanazi raises a black gloved Reich hand

Nancy Sanazi raised a black gloved Reich hand

And there was a new, even better, version of Nancy Sanazi not just singing Jackboots Are Made For Walking but with an almost genuinely frightening split personality – part dumb American blonde, part screaming, wild-eyed homicidal/genocidal schizophrenic.

Oh – and, just to round off the evening, Jesus Christ appeared, transforming from Messiah to Full Monty type stripper/dancer with red ribbons flowing from the wounds in his hands like some Maoist Chinese ballet from the 1960s.

Nazi but nice.

The whole show.

Frank Sanazi and his stormtroupers triumphed.

Bob Slayer -desperate for books

Bob Slayer – desperate for books, even though he lacks shelves

Meanwhile, in the more mundane world of Edinburgh Fringe promotion, Bob Slayer has put out an appeal for books. Bob’s Bookshop has proved a good idea as a venue, but is sadly lacking in the bookshop area… though Phil Kay‘s long-awaited crowdfunded autobiographical opus is allegedly arriving in the Bookshop on Friday.

My secret view revealed

My secret view of Edinburgh will be revealed

Before that, Such Small Portions’ book Secret Edinburgh with contributions from 160 comedians and vaguely comedy-connected people (including a non-humorous piece from me) should be arriving at other book shops in Edinburgh (and online) on Wednesday after, co-editor Andrew Mickel tells me, the books got held up at the Turkey/Bulgaria border.

Obviously.

This is the Edinburgh Fringe we are talking about. However unlikely or impossible anything is, it may happen.

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Why do people keep criticising macho, talented, not really small Tom Cruise?

Jim Grant aka Lee Child, father of Reacher

Jim Grant aka Lee Child, father of Reacher

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to see the new Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher.

I wanted to see it because the original novel was written by Lee Child, the pen-name of Jim Grant, a quiet, self-contained man I used to work with at Granada TV in Manchester. We were not friends; we just worked in the same department; and we have not kept in touch. But I knew him in a general way.

So I have an interest, but no personal axe to grind.

Jack Reacher was wonderful.

I was not expecting too much of it. Perhaps because of that, I was amazed at how good it was.

Quite a few reviews rightly praised the acting of German film director Werner Herzog who was cast as the terrifyingly icy villain. And some appreciated the always wonderful actor Robert Duvall. But Tom Cruise got little credit. Why?

I may be totally wrong, but I thought he may have partly based his Jack Reacher character’s apparent inner stillness on Jim Grant/Lee Child (who appears very briefly in the background of one scene as a police desk sergeant.)

Some of the reviews I read before seeing the film were rather lukewarm, rather grudging. Most seemed to carp on about how Tom Cruise does not look like the 6’5″ Jack Reacher of the novels.

Well, tough shit.

Sean Connery looked nothing like the English James Bond in the original Ian Fleming novels. Indeed, the Bond movies’ plots have almost nothing to do with the novels from which they nick their titles.

I have not read any of Lee Child’s 17 Jack Reacher novels but, if the plot of this first Jack Reacher movie bears any relation to the original book (One Shot) then ‘Lee Child’ writes bloody good books.

My eternally-un-named friend – often a Rom Com movie lover – and I had sat through a DVD of the appalling near-laugh-free zone that is Bridesmaids the previous night. When we came out of the cinema last night after seeing Jack Reacher, she simply said to me: “That was wonderful”. And it was, apart from a single bizarrely miscalculated scene in which Reacher throws away his gun and his advantage to have a macho fistfight… What was that all about?

The rest? Absolutely wonderful.

So why the grudging reviews? And why the constant sniping at Tom Cruise for being small?

It seemed a lot of the carping reviews were obsessed with the fact that, in the books, Jack Reacher is 6’5” and Tom Cruise is famously tiny. It didn’t make any difference to me, a non-reader of the books. He played ‘tough’ very effectively, just as he does in his Mission Impossible movies.

But, in any case, he is not actually small. He is 5’7″. The same height as Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Robert Downey Jnr… Are they small?

Daniel Radcliffe is 5’5″ and Emilio Estevez is 5’4; Jack Black, who played the large Gulliver, is 5’6″. Ben Stiller is 5’8″. Are they candidates for a re-make of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs? I think not.

Perhaps people keep criticising Tom Cruise because he is so successful or perhaps because he is a Scientologist. Who knows? It makes no difference to his acting or movie producing ability.

All I know is that he is a good actor and a good producer.

You don’t get cast by directors Michael Mann or Steven Spielberg or Paul Thomas Anderson just for being a Big Name. You get cast for acting ability. And, in the pre-credit sequence of Mission Impossible III, he gives a virtual masterclass in how to act the whole gamut of emotions.

He also produced the four Mission Impossible films.

The first was awful (employing visual stylist Brian De Palma as director, then filling the movie with scenes of people talking to each other, sometimes over tables in dull rooms)… but Mission Impossible II was very good… Mission Impossible III was an utterly superb piece of film-making… one of my favourite films… and the fourth Mission Impossible was a return to the quality of the second film. Not a bad average.

I just hope Tom Cruise makes at least another sixteen Jack Reacher movies, even if he will be a bit long in the tooth by the end.

Perhaps, like James Bond, they will re-cast occasionally.

But, for the foreseeable future, I am more than happy to watch Tom Cruise be tall and macho and talented.

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The road to Hell – my defence of sexist, racist and (yes certainly) rape jokes

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Frankie Boyle’s autobiography

As I write this, comedian Frankie Boyle is still in the High Court. He is suing the Daily Mirror for libel after they called him a “racist”. His barrister says it is perfectly OK to call him “vile” but not a racist.

His barrister told the jury that, during his Channel 4 Tramadol Nights show, Frankie had told a joke which contained the word ‘nigger’. The thrust of his argument was that racist words do not necessarily mean racist thoughts. Frankie Boyle, his barrister said, was attacking racists in the joke. Context is everything.

Almost a fortnight ago, I wrote a blog headed In Defence of rape jokes though, in fact, it said that I do not like rape jokes, as I have known and worked with three women who were raped as children and, by and large, the people who tell rape jokes are bad comedians going for a cheap (shock) laugh.

I wrote: “Trying to ban rape jokes is like trying to put sticking plaster over a symptom to hide an unsightly abscess, not cure the problem. It is the wrong target. The aim, surely, should be trying to stop audiences laughing at rape jokes.”

My So It Goes blog was picked up and reprinted a week later by the Huffington Post (though dated by them as 4th October).

In response to that Huffington Post piece, I got this e-mail from the people at ‘Rape Is No Joke’ (whom I had not named):

___

Dear John Flemming, (sic)

I am writing to correct a number of inaccuracies in your article ‘In Defence of Rape Jokes’ regarding our campaign ‘Rape Is No Joke’.

We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes and we do not believe a ban on something will fundamentally tackle an issue.

We are not calling for the subject of rape to become a taboo that is never mentioned in comedy. We are against jokes that trivialise the issue and the victim (which the vast majority of jokes about rape do).

Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues as part of our campaign.

Our aim is to educate and tackle the, increasingly common, attitude that rape is something to be laughed at.

Obviously comedy isn’t the biggest offence facing women. However, comedy doesn’t exist in a bubble, it often reflects and has an effect on attitudes in wider society. Rape jokes add to the culture of dismissal and trivialising of rape that exists all too often in wider society. Whilst 80,000 women in the UK are raped every year, only 15% of them report it. Many of the other 85% are scared they won’t be believed or taken seriously. We want to start to tackle that culture. And we want to be able to enjoy comedy without misogyny.

We would be grateful if you could edit your article accordingly and remove the claims we want to ‘ban’ rape jokes.

Yours Sincerely,

_________

Now, far be it from me to criticise well-intentioned people, but this e-mail says: “We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes… Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues”

If that ain’t advocating a ban on rape jokes, then daffodils are fish.

Good intentions. Bad idea.

The problem with banning any joke about anything is that who defines what the subject or the object of a  joke is? No rape jokes would, presumably mean no jokes – or sarcastic comments – about some of the late Jimmy Savile’s appalling activities. And, as I said in my original blog, where does it end? If rape jokes are banned then, surely, you must also ban jokes about murder. And, if you ban jokes about certain subjects told live on stage then, logically, you have to ban those same jokes on television and ban them in books, magazines and newspapers. Pretty soon, you will be trying to avoid people reading unacceptable comments previously expressed by burning books.

Today, comedian Rowan Atkinson is in the papers attacking the Public Order Act and “the creeping culture of censoriousness” and the “new intolerance”.

Rowan Atkinson attacks – in the Daily Mail today

According to today’s Daily Mail – not a publication known for criticising the police – a 16-year-old boy was recently arrested under the Public Order Act for peacefully holding up a placard reading ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, on the grounds that it might insult Scientologists.

In 2005, the Daily Mail points out, an Oxford University student was arrested for saying to a policeman: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?” Thames Valley police said he had made “homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by”. And a 16-year-old from Newcastle who growled and said “Woof!” to a labrador within earshot of police was prosecuted and fined £200 (later over-turned on appeal).

If the policing of public morality is happening at this unimportant level to this ludicrousness, then how much more oppressive would be the policing of any ban on more serious things – like jokes about rape?

Frankie Boyle’s barrister has been saying in court that the comedian has been called “racist” for telling jokes which were actively aimed against racists.

In a comment on my Facebook page about the Frankie Boyle court case, comedian Richard Herring observes:

“In none of the examples I have seen is Boyle using the words in a context other than to highlight other’s racism. If he is racist for just using the word, then anyone saying, ‘saying the word Paki is racist‘ is racist. So presumably everyone involved in the court case can now be called racist.”

Rowan Atkinson said yesterday: ‘The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm… can be interpreted as insult.”

The same can be said of jokes about rape. In my original blog, I linked to a superb piece of comedy by Janey Godley in which she referred to the fact that she herself was repeatedly raped as a child. This could, very clearly, be labelled a ‘rape joke’ though, in fact, it is not in any way making a joke of rape.

Banning any jokes about anything is a bad idea. Trying to get comedy club owners to ban comedians who (they believe) tell or have told or may tell ‘rape jokes’ is not just a bad idea, it is actively dangerous. Where does the censorship end?

Freedom of speech includes the right to be offensive.

The road to totalitarianism – to a police state – is partially paved with the good intentions of well-meaning people.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system, Racism, Sex

Socialism? Religion? Self-help groups? They’re all the same…

“Some things we know we know… Some things we know we don’t know… Some things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Who said that?

No. Not ex-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It was a 76 year-old American woman presenting a life-changing seminar last night. I am not sure if she stole the lines from him or if he went to one of these seminars and stole the lines from her; I fear it may be the latter.

“Life-change” was the object – “the freedom to be yourself” – You pay £375 for the basic course, £590 for the advanced course and, if you come into the “teens and young” category, you pay £390.

This was just an introductory talk to draw new punters in.

Provided I don’t have to pay, I am a sucker for these things.

On a rainy day in 1969, I went into the Scientology building in London’s Tottenham Court Road. They attached me to a box, asked me questions to which I had to give Yes/No answers but most of which did not have Yes/No answers and then they told me that I was adrift in life and confused but Scientology could sort me out.

I went to an American Christian preacher’s event at Earl’s Court during which he asked any people in the audience who were HIV Positive to come up on stage and he would ‘cure’ them. Some did. He touched them. He told them they no longer had HIV. He told people in the audience to donate to his organisation not what they could afford to pay but more than they could afford, because “God will provide”.

I spent around 25 years in TV promotions and marketing. I am interested in the techniques of persuasion.

I once got told I had definitely won a prize in a time-share company’s draw which I had not entered: anything from a golden carriage clock to a car and luxury holiday. I was interested to see how they could avoid giving me something so I went along to their Leicester Square office where, before you got the prize, you had to watch a promotional film and have a chat with a representative who put forward a surprisingly strong and persuasive argument as to why I would be foolish not to buy the time-share I did not need. Eventually, I got given the cheap carriage clock. I did not ‘invest’ in the time-share.

Last night’s seminar involved around 200 people, maybe 30 of whom were ‘guests’ like me. As soon as I arrived, the phrase “Happy Clappy” leapt into my mind.  I do find innocent American over-enthusiasm very tiring. Surely people must damage their facial muscles by smiling so widely for so long? All that optimism was profoundly un-British and lasted from 7.15pm-10.45pm. The real courses last all day – from ten in the morning until midnight.

The first words by the woman presenting the evening were “I missed you” and there was heavy usage in the first three minutes of phrases like “just amazing” and “such an honour”. I half expected the words “insanely great” to be used and to see the late Steve Jobs emerge with an unexpected new Apple product to enthusiastic applause.

And there really was a lot of applause – and the occasional Whoop! – over the next three-and-a-half hours. Happy Clappy it really was and I was clapped-out by the end of it.

I am not one of Life’s natural Whoopers.

I have nothing against Happy Clappy but it does feel un-British. I could never stomach The Price Is Right with Leslie Crowther, which last night’s enthusiasm faintly resembled, though without the light bulbs.

Instead of guessing the price of and winning prizes, you had to spot your real problems, spot or be helped to spot the immediate solutions and sign up there-and-then for the course.

Last night’s offering was really a pyramid scheme – current participants introduce friends whose lives can be changed – with the addition of a series of increasingly-expensive course levels.

It resembled many ‘self-help’ courses: they are basically substitute religions and are very big on “we are all your support team” language.

Someone said to me: “It’s a con,” but I am not sure I agree. There was some heavy selling going on. If anyone looked susceptible to joining then two, sometimes three people would try to convince them to sign-up for the course, with un-blinking eye-contact enthusiasm.

But I have seen that with born-again or new-born Christians. They have, they believe, found the answer to Life and have had their own lives transformed, so they want to share the joyful good news. I am even prepared to believe Scientology is not the evil world-devouring Behemoth it is sometimes portrayed as but just has lots of genuine believers blinkered by their belief in their own ‘Right’ness into doing occasionally suspect things.

Much like Tony Blair or Socialism. (I obviously do not link those two.)

In 1986, I talked to a girl in a bookshop in Pyongyang in North Korea. She had actually seen – in the flesh – not a photo – the real person – she had seen and been in the presence of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Her eyes shone like exploding supernovas as she told me the story. It was as if she had seen Jesus.

Socialism, I have always thought, is more of a religion than a political philosophy. Because Socialism has the true answer to life and, if implemented, perfection and a people’s paradise will inevitably follow, as it has in North Korea. If someone of a Militant Tendency persuasion meets a Conservative voter, the Conservative voter is likely to think the left-winger is misguided. But the Militant Tendency person will think the Conservative voter is evil.

Last night, thank God, conversion not extermination was the idea.

I was approached by a very likeable, wide-eyed young man from Slovenia.

“I wanted to travel,” he told me, “but did not have the confidence to travel until I did the course.”

“Where did you do the course?” I asked.

“Here in London.” he replied. “I came here from Slovenia to do the course… And now I am a photographer. I always wanted to be a photographer. I am going to India to take photographs.”

“How do you support yourself?” I asked. “Do you sell the photographs?”

“I have a job working in Starbucks,” he told me.

In religion, people take comfort from the fact they ‘know’ that there are High Priests with a better – indeed, total – knowledge of how the world works and how you can reach that high, ultimate plateau of spiritual and philosophical attainment.

Last night was a religious ceremony with a teacher who was selling courses not a Church or a political party.

“You are already powerful, it just got covered over; you are already free, you just forgot,” was one line.

“You are powerful in the face of failure.”

“When you get balance, you’re able to walk.”

“Make a difference to everyone, including yourself… Everyone wins.”

As in some churches, people in the audience stood up to “share” and to give testimony:

“I realised that I have a very large family and it’s seven billion strong!”

“As soon as you start spending, money comes in!”

“I cured my asthma!”

As the woman leading the meeting said: “This is a miracle space… Your sharing tonight was breathtaking to me… Don’t forget, kick the ‘but’ out of your life and put your butt on the line.”

The basic message of the course is: “No action… No result.”

Fair enough.

And it is probably worth £360 for some people to have a support group to encourage them. There is an attraction in fluent speakers for insecure people adrift in their own lives. But it is not for me.

And I have a nasty feeling that, in order to re-build a stronger person, you have to break-down the insecure person who was previously there. Once you have a support group, how do you kick the habit?

It sounds a tad like training a dog. By the time the dog understands what he is supposed to do, he has become dependent on you.

Someone I met said his life had been totally changed in three days by the course.

But he also told me he started the course in 2006 and he is still doing it.

And I do find it unsettling that they have courses for 8-12 year olds.

I did once suggest to the comedian Simon Munnery that he and I should start a religion by reading lots of self-help books and cobbling all the ideas into a philosophy. It worked for L.Ron Hubbard.

Simon turned me down. I think he was wrong.

I am sure the idea still has mileage.

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What Mensa members have in common with mental retards and paedophiles

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

UK-based German comedian Paco Erhard is a freak of nature, just as much as a sheep born with two heads is a freak.

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, his stand-up show got two 5-star reviews.

Edinburgh Guide wrote he is a “stand-up genius… Paco Erhard is going to be big” and Broadway Baby said he is “insightful and hysterical” with “endless original jokes”.

I wrote a blog about him back in August

He is very amiable. But he s still a freak. By definition.

The newly-published November issue of Mensa Magazine has an article about him. There were at least two other Mensa members performing stand-up comedy at the Fringe this year, but I have not asked them if it is OK to ‘out’ them, so they shall remain nameless.

I have, however, asked Paco.

“I don’t mind being outed as a Mensa member,” he told me. “though I have no real idea what the reaction to this in Britain would be. In Germany I think some people fear and mistrust you a bit when you ‘out’ yourself as a Mensa member. But – Hey – Who cares? Just out me.”

Thus this blog.

UK-based German comedian Paco Erhard, like a mental retard, is a freak.

To get into Mensa, you have to get an IQ test score higher than can be achieved by 98% of the population. That does not put you in the ‘top’ 2%… It puts you in a 2% minority of freaks. Anyone different from 98% of the general population is a freak by definition.

IQ tests do not test intelligence. They only test the ability to score high in IQ tests.

They do not test intelligence because intelligence is as changeable as the Atlantic Ocean or a politician’s beliefs.

If I were travelling across the Sahara Desert in a Land Rover which developed a mechanical fault, even given surrealism as part of the trip, I do not think I would want to be travelling with Albert Einstein, because I doubt if Albert Einstein would be able to get the Land Rover going again. I would prefer to be travelling with some spotty, uneducated 16-year-old who is brilliant at mending engines but who is probably thought of as an idiot by everyone who knows him.

If he is in the top 2% of the population in his knowledge of engines, then he is a freak.

Education has nothing to do with intelligence just as IQ tests have nothing to do with intelligence. They test something but no-one can quite define what it is. People in Mensa tend to be computer programmers, teachers and socially inept. They do not tend to be raging successes at anything which would impress the Guardian.

I think the most interesting thing about IQ tests is the curve showing the distribution of IQ scores.

There are various numerical results according to which type of test you take – so a score of 110 may be given a totally different number on another test though it is scored by the same percentage of the population. By definition, the average IQ is always 100. And almost everyone lumps together in a fairly tight bunch on either side of that. The further someone’s IQ score separates from 100, the more freakish and odder that person is.

By 90 or 110, the graph of people’s scores falls precipitously. The interesting thing is that it falls evenly on both sides. The percentage of people scoring over 140 is roughly the same percentage as the percentage scoring under 60.

On the scale that Mensa uses, people have to score over 148 to get into the organisation – that is 2% of the population.

People who score over 148 are very definitely not ‘geniuses’.

They are freaks.

In very round numbers, the UK population is 60 million. The US population is 300 million. With 2% of the population eligible for Mensa membership, that would mean the UK has 1.2 million ‘geniuses’ and the US has 6 million ‘geniuses’.

That is obviously bollocks.

What IQ tests measure – in fact, what any tests about anything reveal – is divergence from the norm.

I remember hearing a radio programme quote the IQ figure at which people are clinically said to be mentally retarded. And it was higher than 52 – in other words, it was less far below the 100 average than Mensa’s 148 score is above the 100 average.

Let us not be PC, here. The people whom doctors used to call ‘mentally retarded’ do clearly think slightly different from Mr, Miss and Mrs 100 Average. That does not mean they are any better or worse. But they do not think in exactly the same way. As a result, they sometimes behave in what are seen as socially inept ways. The ‘bottom’ 2% of IQ scorers are, by definition, ‘freaks’.

For exactly the same mathematical reason, the ‘top’ 2% of scorers are freaks of nature. Anyone who is in the 2% furthest from the 100 score is a freak, especially as most IQ scores are bunched very close to that 100 average mark.

In very rough round figures, 70% of the population have IQs between 85 and 115 – that’s 70% scoring 15 on either side of the 100 average.

People who score between 70-85 (another 15 points away from 100) and 115-130 together account for only another 25%.

By the time you look at scores of 130-145 (another 15 point divergence) you are only talking about 2% of the population.

Mensa entry is 148.

You are not talking about ‘better’ or ‘worse’. You are talking, at both ends of the scores, about divergence from the norm, about brains and thought processes being wired-up ‘incorrectly’. You are talking about freaks of nature.

And, yes, the mathematics do not quite add up. They are rough numbers and I have always been shit at mathematics.

The point is that admitting you are a member of Mensa is a socially and professionally dangerous thing to do, because people get tremendously defensive, therefore aggressive and think you are a twat.

“I think some people fear and mistrust you a bit when you ‘out’ yourself as a Mensa member,” says Paco Erhard.

The Mensa Magazine piece that has just been published about him is, basically, the blog I wrote about him in August.

I joined Mensa in 1969 but never mentioned it to anyone, except a very very few friends, until the early years of this century. By that time, I was old enough to not give a flying fuck what people thought of me.

I took the test in 1969 in much the same spirit that I wandered into the Scientology testing centre in Tottenham Court Road in London one rainy day around the same time. It sounded interesting. And Scientology was certainly… interesting.

No, I did not become a Scientologist.

Nor am I a paedophile. Though admitting you are a paedophile and admitting you are member of Mensa are pretty much on the same scale of social acceptability.

I partly joined because I thought it might, on my CV, offset the fact I had decided to go to (what was then) The Regent Street Polytechnic and study for a Diploma rather than go to a university which would have given me a degree. The irony, of course, was that I could never mention Mensa membership because it makes you less attractive to any employer. No-one wants to employ an up-their-own-arse know-it-all. Which is the perception.

In the early 1970s, through bizarre circumstances, I happened to talk to someone about IQs and mentioned that I had joined Mensa – well, I don’t give a shit about name-dropping either – it was comedian Peter Cook’s then-wife. She said to me:

“You’ve got my sympathy. I know someone else with the same problem.”

She meant it.

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Lewis Schaffer and the unreported theft of all his Edinburgh Fringe jokes

“You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?” I asked Lewis Schaffer. “They call it the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, presumably so people don’t know it’s Scientology.”

“No,” he replied.

Well something strange has happened to him.

American stand-up comic Lewis Schaffer is a former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner and no wonder – he just can’t stop attracting publicity.

This last week, he did a double whammy.

On Thursday, the genuinely very amiable and charming comedy agent Brett Vincent used Twitter to accuse Lewis Schaffer of stealing a joke.

Brett tweeted:

“Hey @LewisSchaffer – I have heard from 3 sources that the first joke in your show is 15 minutes in and its a Ben Hurley gag from 2006? True?”

New Zealand comedian Ben Hurley is one of Brett’s acts.

The gag was: ‘’I lost a good friend in the World Trade Center. I remember telling my friend: Mohammed, stay in flight school! Practice the landings!’

Lewis says he had actually come up with the gag himself straight after the 9/11 terror attacks:

“I have fond memories,” he said in a press release, “of telling the joke in early 2002. It’s the joke that got me banned from Jongleurs. I brought the joke back this year because of the ten year anniversary of 9/11 to remind me of all the good times… A comedian is judged by how soon he or she makes a joke about a tough subject. For instance, I made the very first joke about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance – the day before I kidnapped her. Maybe that was too soon.”

I had tea with Lewis Schaffer at Fringe Central in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon and it was not the spat with ever-affable Brett Vincent which was obsessing him. No, it was the fact that he was living in the Now.

“I am living in the Now,” he told me. “It’s all good.”

“You’re saying meaningless things again,” I told him. “You’re being very American.”

“No I’m not, John. I’m living in the Now.”

That’s when I asked him: “You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?”

“No,” he replied.

“So why,” I asked, “have you suddenly decided to live in the Now?

“Because I realised I’m 54 years old. I have too much shit going on in my life. I have more past than I have future. When you’re 20, you can live in the past because you don’t have much of a past. Now I’m gridlocked. My Now is that I have a show to do but I’m sitting here with you. I’m not even worried about my show in half an hour.

“It’s going good because I’m living in the Now. I’m not going to remember the bad things that have happened to me. I only know that right now is good.”

“And Now is good?” I asked.

“Yes. I got a review today which said my show was over in a flash. Well, it must have been good if it seemed to be over in a flash. Only good shit is over in a flash. Bad shit goes on and on and on. Name anything bad that’s over in a flash besides premature ejaculation.”

“So it’s all good now?” I asked again.

“I had my bag stolen yesterday.”

“Is that good?”

“That’s bad. It had all my jokes in it. I had all the jokes for my show stolen. I was flyering yesterday and I left my joke book in my bag outside and someone stole it. Well, it wasn’t a book, it was a sheet… sheets.. And it had the money from my show. It’s the second year in a row this has happened, though I don’t know how I remember that, because I am living in the Now.

“Every year I make a list. You remember my lists, John? In 2009 it was

“I am not shambolic.

“I don’t hate the audience.

“I don’t think this country is completely shit.

“Discussions confuse people.

“I know Madeleine McCann is not as important to others as she is to me.

“I lost all those lists, all of them; they were in my bag; four years worth of lists. I lost them. Maybe that’s good. They were in the past. Maybe I have to do a new list because now I’m living in the Now.”

“Have you reported it?” I asked.

‘You can’t report it.”

“Of course you can. Someone might find it. It’s the sort of crime where they steal the bag, take the cash and then they throw the bag aw…”

“But,” Lewis interrupted, “They would read the notes and the jokes inside the bag and say to themselves This is Lewis Schaffer’s bag – and they might have given all my jokes to Ben Hurley.”

But you don’t need a list of jokes,” I said, trying to be positive. “You don’t tell jokes; you tell stories with jokes in them.”

“I tell jokes!” Lewis complained.

“But if you can remember the stories,” I persisted, “you’ll remember the jokes. You have been doing your show twice weekly in London for the last year. You’ll remember the jokes because you know the stories.”

“I live in the Now,” Lewis told me. “Those stories were yesterday’s stories. How can I remember them in the Now? You know how critical the reviewers are: they only want to see new jokes. They don’t want to hear my Award-winning Holocaust joke again.”

“It’s the best Holocaust joke I’ve ever heard,” I told him.

“You said that already,” Lewis mumbled. “I have to do a show in half an hour and I have lost my book of jokes. Well, my sheets of jokes; and notes; and my lists.”

He became very serious. He looked me in the eyes:

“What would you – John Fleming – do if someone said to you You have to be on stage in half an hour and do an hour-long comedy show?… Would you think to yourself: I’m shit because I didn’t prepare?… No you wouldn’t, because you didn’t know you had to prepare.

“That’s what I feel about my life. I didn’t know I had to prepare.

“No-one told me. When I was crawling out of my mother’s vagina, no-one told me I had to prepare for an Edinburgh Fringe show. Did you know it was coming? I didn’t know. It’s not as if it’s an annual event. They just spring it on you!”

I looked at Lewis.

“I don’t remember the past,” Lewis said, looking me in the eye, very seriously. “I am living in the Now.”

I said at the beginning of this blog that something strange has happened to Lewis Schaffer.

I take it all back.

He is the same.

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