Tag Archives: Scott Agnew

Gay comic Sam See from Singapore is Coming Out Loud at Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Sam See will be in Edinburgh this August but here he plays the Merry Lion in Singapore.

Scots comic Scott Agnew suggested Sam See from Singapore talk to me.

So we chatted via Skype…


Sam See at home in Singapore yesterday.

JOHN: Your show is called Coming Out Loud. Good title, because the audience knows what it’s going to get.

SAM: (LAUGHS) Dick jokes for an hour!

JOHN: Is there an elevator pitch for the show?

SAM: An openly gay comedian coming from a country where free speech and homosexuality is illegal… Expect dick jokes.

JOHN: Can you say free speech is illegal in Singapore?

SAM: No. In Singapore, I can’t say that free speech is illegal in Singapore. If you criticise the lack of free speech while you are here, you will be… erm… It’s a lovely irony.

JOHN: Is being gay totally illegal in Singapore?

SAM: Yes. It’s 100% illegal. The law itself is as vague as possible. It is basically the old-school English sodomy laws. It is illegal but…

JOHN: So how can you talk on stage about being gay if it’s illegal?

SAM: Because I am not yet popular or famous enough. On stage I always say I am gay. But, if they try to arrest me, I can say it is a character and then they would have to prove I’m gay which… well, good luck to them.

JOHN: So doing this chat with me could get you imprisoned…

SAM: It depends… They would need to prove I have done something untowards with another gentleman…

JOHN: You can say you are gay provided you’ve done nothing about it…?

SAM: Kinda. But, if you are on-stage saying it, they can still fine you or arrest you for homosexual propaganda or propagating that homosexuality is positive.

JOHN: Anyway, Coming Out Loud at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Why?

SAM: A lot of Edinburgh regulars recommended I should give it a bash – Martin Mor told me: “Come over, Sam, do the full run, go crazy and lose money.”

I guess I have to. It’s the Hajj. It’s the Mecca for comics: we all have to do it once in our life. But I don’t understand how people can do it for 10 or 20 years: a whole month!

JOHN: It’s addictive.

Sam is gearing up for Edinburgh with a tour of South East Asia

SAM: I am doing a whole run shows around Asia before it. I am gearing up to play outside my comfort zone.

JOHN: You started performing comedy in 2012…

SAM: Yes. The comedy scene is Asia is less than ten years old.

JOHN: I presume, if you are gay, you can’t play China?

SAM: I can, actually. I have played Brunei, if you can believe that!

JOHN: Did they reverse the law about stoning people to death if they are gay?

SAM: It’s on hold. The law is technically not in effect but it has not been repealed. In very heavy Moslem areas like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, I have to be really careful. If I play there, I try to play in embassies like the British or American so I have that clemency of being on international soil.

JOHN: Remembering this is going online, is it just a problem with Islam?

SAM: No. Myanmar is heavily Buddhist and they set people on fire. In China, they put people in re-education camps. There are heavy beliefs in this part of the world: whether religious or atheistic.

There was a chief from the UN who came down to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya crisis and the chief Buddhist monk of Myanmer called her a slut and threatened to have her raped… Remember this is a man of peace.

JOHN: How do your audiences react to a gay comic?

SAM: They have changed over time. They don’t mind hearing about it; but not too much. When I first started, it was a combination of me not knowing how to tailor the material for the audiences and the audiences not being ready to receive such information. But I have become a more competent performer with time and they have grown with time.

Sam See or Woody Harrelson? You decide.

JOHN: People get pigeonholed. Who do people compare you with?

SAM: I see myself as a much longer-form Joan Rivers, more into storytelling and less insults. 

JOHN: Joan Rivers? So acid-tongued. 

SAM: Yes, acid-tongued, hopefully fast on my feet. But I’ve had comparisons to John Oliver; I’ve had Trevor Noah. For some reason, Woody Harrelson once.

JOHN: What???

SAM: I have no idea why. He is not known for his stand-up comedy!

JOHN: Are there many gay comics in Singapore and surrounds?

SAM: No. I am the one openly gay comedian. There are two who are closeted and one bisexual, but she is more into poetry than stand-up.

JOHN: I presume no-one is admitting to being lesbian?

SAM: None of the locals. There are some expats who come to Asia, do stand-up and say: “I’m proud to be a lesbian.” But then they move on.

JOHN: Things must be getting better. You have been on TV in a weekly Singapore panel show OK Chope!

SAM: No-one had really done the panel show format in the region before. There are variety show formats but not the traditional UK-style panel show. Host, regular panellists and rotating guest panellists.

JOHN: Did it work?

SAM: It was a mess, because it was a topical news show where we were not allowed to talk about news because… well… it’s Singapore.

It was a one-hour show transmitted live, with a zero second delay.

JOHN: Jesus! A zero second delay?

SAM: Yes. I am not kidding.

JOHN: This was actually transmitted? It wasn’t just a pilot?

SAM: Yes, a full season… 7.30pm prime time, before the watershed.

JOHN: Double Jesus!

SAM: We all managed to drink in the afternoon before we shot it.

JOHN: Did the TV company get nervous after Episode One?

SAM: Oh yes. Every week, we would have one of the government censors watching us from a booth. He would give us a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

JOHN: But, if it’s live, it’s too late…

SAM: Well, too late for the show but not too late to put us in jail.

JOHN: And it ended because…

SAM: We made fun of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia who had been accused of being a thief and we made jokes about it and somehow he watched that episode.

JOHN: And the result was…?

SAM: He called our Prime Minister who took us off the air.

JOHN: So the series ended before it was due to end.

SAM: It happened on the last episode at the end of the season.

JOHN: So was someone being intentionally provocative?

Sam See addresses his audience

SAM: No, that whole segment had actually cleared the censors. It was just that, at the time, Malaysia was having an election, so they needed a scapegoat and a way to look strong. If they can get the neighbouring country to formally apologise to them, it makes them look powerful and in control.

JOHN: Do you have a 5-year career plan that starts in Edinburgh and ends in Las Vegas?

SAM: Well, it starts in Edinburgh and then I am in talks with some folks over in the United States for representation. 

JOHN: Presumably, like performers everywhere, you want to move to the US.

SAM: I don’t know. I think I would like to move to one of the other countries, but I would still make Singapore my home base because (a) it is my home and (b) the tax rates are better. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: I suspect Donald Trump thinks Singapore is somewhere in South America.

SAM: No. He knows where we are, because he started the North Korean treaties here.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) You should play North Korea!

SAM: You joke, but some of us have been thinking about it for a while. You just have to find an embassy that’s crazy enough to go along with the idea and just play it on embassy soil and don’t make jokes about the North Korean government or mention South Korea.

JOHN: Getting in might be a problem. And let’s not even fantasise about getting out. Singapore doesn’t have an embassy there, does it?

SAM: We can enter North Korea visa-free.

JOHN: Really???

SAM: Yes, we can just walk in on a holiday.

JOHN: Bloody hell!

 

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 10: Why I don’t like character comedy + Donald Trump

Simon Jay in character after today’s show

“It has come a long way since you saw it in that basement room in London,” Simon Jay told me this afternoon.

I first met Simon when he staged Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm at the Bread & Roses venue in Clapham in April 2015. But he was talking about his Donald Trump comedy show in 2016, which has now transformed into Trumpageddon and is playing to full houses at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh.

It cannot be easy to perform as Donald Trump – part real person, part Timothy Burton living fantasy character – in a scripted show with so much back story Simon has to know and the nightmare of up-dating as the real-life Trump bandwagon careers off in wild new directions every day. The show is, of course, scripted and some of the audience interaction can be prepared, but not all. And yesterday, the previous day’s North Korean lunacy had been incorporated into the narrative.

I tend not to like character comedy but with a caveat.

Simon Jay being made into the leader of the free world

The closer the act is to what might be a real person, the less I like it.

I spent much of my TV life finding bizarre acts and eccentric people. If I see a character act pretending to be an eccentric who could be real, I think: Why am I watching this theatre school performance of someone who is not being themselves pretending to be an interesting person when I could actually be watching the real interesting person?

The less ‘real’ and the more ‘cartoony’ the character is, the more likely I am to appreciate the act.

Charlie Chuck, for example, was/is believable to the point that people would/do ask me: Is he really like that? (No, of course he is not.) But ‘Charlie Chuck’ was/is an OTT cartoon-style character.

The interesting thing about Donald Trump and Trumpageddon is that it is an impression of a totally real person but the real Trump is pretty-much a cartoon character.

Perhaps all this is why stand-up comedy attracts me.

I am interested in people. Real people. Ideally eccentric people.

Sally Beaton – fluently funny, fascinating and real

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award contender Cally Beaton is a not eccentric, but she is assuredly real. Her show Cally Beaton’s Super Cally Fragile Lipstick is about her autistic son (who agreed to be mentioned on stage after negotiations over a meal at Nando’s), bisexuality and things menopausal. Sounds like a tough comedy show to sell, but Cally is fluently funny, fascinating and manages to pitch herself to Edinburgh Fringe AND Radio 4 audiences. She comes across as a real person chatting to the audience. Which is what the best modern stand-up is.

On stage, modern stand-up comics tend to perform as (slightly heightened versions of) themselves.

Actors pretend to be characters totally different from themselves.

I prefer comics.

A character comedian with caveats and cravat

Which makes Milo McCabe’s show interesting, because he is performing as a character: the slightly anachronistic Terry-Thomas-ish, dressing gown and cravat-wearing Talented Mr Hawke. It sort-of could-be a real, very well-observed person from a slightly early era, but it is also (successfully) a cartoon character.

In reality, the character would be rather sleazy and unlikable. In Milo’s audience-pleasing, fleshed-out character act, he is rather loveable. The audience totally believes in the character. But Milo also cleverly – by reading letters to Mr Hawke from other people – briefly slips in two or three totally different voices which remind the audience (and demonstrate to any agents/promoters present) that they are watching a skilled comic actor who would be equally interesting in other situations.

Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

As mentioned in previous blogs, Milo McCabe’s father Mike McCabe is performing at the Fringe as the late comic Frank Carson. That is another genre entirely and my brain is too sleep-deprived and befuddled to go into it.

One reason I tend to see no point in watching comic actors who are performing as fictional characters who are too close to ‘real’ people who could actually exist is that the lives of real people are always wildly more OTT than anything anyone could possibly think up.

Hello Scott Agnew.

Scott Agnew puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’

His show is titled Spunk on My Lady’s Face which is an extreme under-selling of the outrageousness of some of his stories. Scott always puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’.

Tonight he was playing to an audience of what seemed to me to be mostly straight couples and I initially thought: Oh dear, this could go ether way! But they were guffawing-away pretty much all the way through Scott’s wild, true gay stories.

It was a bit like running through the highlights of the Emperor Nero’s excesses during the most decadent days of the Roman Empire. If you think you have heard outrageously excessive stories, you ain’t heard nothing till you have sat through 55 minutes of Scott Agnew.

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Yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe I saw and heard the strangest things

Cassie Atkinson - Supernumerary Rainbow

Ex-stalker Cassie Atkinson has a Supernumerary Rainbow

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, performer Cassie Atkinson and I seemed to be stalking each other. Almost every day, we seemed to bump into each other at least once. This year, she seems to have been replaced by Joz Norris and Scott Agnew. I keep meeting Joz in other people’s shows and Scott on street corners.

Surprisingly, neither were there when I saw Cassie Atkinson’s own new show Supernumerary Rainbow yesterday – in which she interestingly alternates between her on-stage fictional American showbiz character and her real-life Bolton-accented self, explaining why she hides behind characters.

Fringe comedy shows have moved on from gag-telling to storytelling and genuine autobiography over the years and I think it’s interesting when character comedy cracks slightly to reveal (or appear to reveal) the real performer while continuing with the character. Whatever Cassie is doing, it certainly attracted a full audience.

Frizz Frizzle - Ditty Fiddler

Frizz Frizzle – highly popular Ditty Fiddler

Which Friz Frizzle did too.

Attract a full house audience.

Apparently he writes jokes for other comedians. I have no idea what his own act is because, when I arrived at the Globe venue it was so overflowing with punters I could not squeeze in in any way. Ye Gods – that is some underground following he has there. I gave up any attempt to get in and went and had a bun.

On the way to my next show, Joe Davies’ Who’s The Daddy? I bumped into trombonist Faye Treacy who told me she had possibly booked herself into a performance room that was too small – at Cabaret Voltaire.

When she plays her trombone, the front row is in physical peril from her extended slide.

Faye Treacy

Faye Treacy – musical bag lady of Edinburgh

She told me she used to perform with a piano but the trombone was easier to carry. I suggested she look into the possibilities of a piccolo.

“In my room,” Faye told me, “my trombone is in people’s faces and I then loop up my trombone so it’s twelve times the volume.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I do a spoken word piece at that point and, obviously, I can’t speak and play at the same time. I hand out ear plugs at the start of the show. I had the trombonist from Madness turn up and watch my show yesterday. And, last year, I had the entire double bass section from the Philharmonia Orchestra.”

“How many people are in the entire double bass section from the Philharmonia Orchestra?” I asked.

“Twelve,” Faye told me. “I have a ukulele in my show this year as well, so Kate Copstick may hate it. Next year, I was thinking of putting a bass drum on my back and being a one-man band.”

Joe Davies prepares for his show Where’s The Daddy?

Joe prepares for his show Where’s The Daddy?

Joe Davies’ Who’s The Daddy? is about how he discovered, in his 20s, that his father was musical performer Hank Wangford, a man whom most of the audience had never heard of, but whom I almost met when I was working on children’s TV show Tiswas back when the world was young. I travelled all the way from Birmingham to London just to see him perform at a club where he had ‘left my name on the door’ to get in. Except he had not and the club was (like Friz Frizzle’s) so full it was impossible to get in. More about Joe Davies in a future blog.

Hank Wangford was/is a comic Country & Western singer by night – I recommend his  Jogging With Jesus – and a practising gynaecologist by day. He also apparently (Joe has a photo) went on holiday to Morocco with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Roger Waters. Now THERE is a story I would like to hear.

The Raunch

The Raunch – aerial acts, nipple tassels and a thematic misfire

In the evening, I saw The Raunch, a would-be risqué Wild West themed variety night in the circus area on The Meadows. Think aerial acts, naked breasts with nipple tassels, a carnival feel and an attempted Western narrative. Nothing wrong with nipple tassels and sword swallowing nor with any of the acts, but the attempt to theme the whole thing misfired and it needed a visible ringmaster-type person throughout instead of mostly voice-over commentaries.

Then it was Jo Coffey, highly professional and mystifyingly under-used on TV, who bills herself as “the comedy circuit’s fourth shortest comic” – and who seems to have worked on the production teams of more TV shows than I ever did.

Then I saw Femmetamorphosis – a play (in the Theatre section of the Fringe Programme) based round a lingerie party. I went to see it because I accidentally travelled up from London to Edinburgh sitting next to its author and star Sharron Spice. More in a future blog.

Late night at the Fringe is where you often get the really bizarre shows.

Bob Slayer tells tales in his double decker BlunaBus

Bob Slayer tells ad lib tales in his big double decker BlundaBus

Bob Slayer is doing 24 Hour Shows, a great title which means he is doing not day-long shows but a different hour-long show for 24 nights on the top floor of his double decker BlundaBus

And Hate ’n’ Live is always unexpected and interesting with Darius Davies, Leo Kearse and three or four guest comics improvising around why they ‘hate’ various things suggested by the usually-packed-to-gasping audience. Last night one of the comics was the inescapable Lewis Schaffer strangely yet successfully out of his comfort zone.

He had to talk about something other than himself.

You see and hear the strangest things at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The courtyard of the Free Sisters on a Saturday night - one of the seven gateways to hell

The courtyard of the Free Sisters on a Saturday night resembles one of the seven gateways to hell

 

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