Tag Archives: Scottish

Mr Twonkey pays tribute to Ivor Cutler, “embodiment of the Scottish eccentric”

“Embodiment of the Scottish eccentric”

Influences are always interesting.

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers is currently preparing for his new show – Twonkey’s Night Train to Liechtenstein – at the Glasgow Comedy Festival next Friday (9th March). Paul performs as Mr Twonkey, definitely one of the more eccentric acts in British comedy.

He reminded me that today (3rd March) is the anniversary of the death in 2006 of Ivor Cutler – Scottish poet, songwriter, humorist and arguably the eccentric performers’ eccentric.

Mr Twonkey phoned Mr Cutler in the winter of 1995

Paul says Ivor Cutler was “the embodiment of the Scottish eccentric.” His rider in contracts stated that he had to be provided with a two-bar fire and marmalade sandwiches – “Which,” says Paul, “is reason alone to love him. I would like to keep his name alive. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.”

In the winter of 1995, “feeling slightly hung over”, the future Mr Twonkey interviewed the then Mr Cutler by telephone for the music magazine Sun Zoom Spark.

This is what Paul/Mr Twonkey wrote.

I have edited it slightly for length.


An Interview With Ivor Cutler

By Paul Vickers

Mr Ivor Cutler drawing by Grant Pringle to accompany the article in  Sun Zoom Spark

In the heart of World War 2, Ivor Cutler held the position of navigator with the R.A.F, fiddling with maps and charts between 1941-42. He was de-ranked to first aid and store man for the Windsor Engineering Company when his peers noted he had other things on his mind.

He, however, was more suited to teaching movement, drama and African drumming.

He didn’t start writing poetry until 1942 and his creative waters didn’t really flow until he was forty-eight. But, since then, he has been a prolific songwriter with a chest full of wisdom spanning three decades; classic album releases (Dandruff, Jammy Smears and Velvet Donkey) and many books of poetry (Private Habits, Fresh Carpet and A Little Present From Scotland). He has also found time to carry out his numerous duties as chairman of the London Cycling Association.

He has made a name for himself by being a true original with perfect spoken word performance skills and graceful, offbeat sense of comic timing; a difficult man to predict; an impossible man to write questions for; a bona fide enigma, the man behind a huge assortment of atmospheric, melancholy laments.

“How are you doing?” I bellow in the voice of a Yorkshire mining town skivvy.

“Oh… I don’t know… I’m coming to life.”

“Could you give me a brief summary of what a day in the life of Ivor Cutler might consist of?”

“You ought to make yourself known to me…”

“NO. I think perhaps you ought to make yourself known to me don’t you think?”

I stammer and stutter a makeshift introduction. “Oh, I’m really sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Paul. I wrote something about you a year or so ago.”

“Yes… I was very touched by that. You turned out to be unique in saying you laughed yourself sick initially but then began to see there was stuff underneath and I bless you for that. It’s the first time anyone has ever spoken in that way about my work. I’m sure I’m not just seen as one of those belly laugh comics, but the way in which you did it, I think was very revealing”

“Would you like to be taken more seriously?”

“I like to be taken seriously although I use humour as a medium it’s just the way I’m made. It is a way of instantly grabbing people. Yes, of course but not everyone cares to have that happen to them which means 50% of the people who come across my work think it’s great and the other half think I’m a lunatic. I resent that very much.”

“Do people actually get quite aggressive about it?”

“Well not with me but people in positions of power. People who are able to give me gigs or work. A lot of such people think Cutler’s an idiot and we’re certainly not going to put him on our programme. But I don’t want to be seen as complaining about this. It’s very nice to be controversial rather than have the total acceptance of everybody. I mean I worked with the Beatles once – on the Magical Mystery Tour – and I was so glad such a thing never happened to me. This ‘treated like god’ stuff. It would have turned me into a more unpleasant person than I already am,” he giggles heartily.

“I did a tour with Van Morrison some years ago so I got playing all these big places. I’m not crazy about it when it gets over a thousand, because I like to see the audience. I get them to turn the lights up so I can see their faces. I don’t have such a desperate ego problem that I need to play to masses of people. I remember doing a gig in front of three people. It was snowing that night. It was very early in my career and it was a great show… But I prefer more than three actually”

“You seem to find great humour in the cruelty of situations – cruelty in the ways of nature, like the way animals behave.”

“Stick a knife through a tomato –  Owcchh! Spllllcccchhh! That wasn’t very nice!

“Well yes. They’re busy killing one another. If people weren’t to be cruel then the only thing we’d be able to eat would be salt. I mean, all these plants. You stick a knife through a tomato and it goes Owcchh! Spllllcccchhh! That wasn’t very nice! One has to be cruel to survive.”

“But your humour is, at times, very dark”

“Yes, the person who totally changed my way of creative thinking was Franz Kafka who is seen by many to use very black humour indeed.

“The nature of laughter is very often fear. One is glad it’s not happening to oneself. I mean the man slipping on the banana skin gets people laughing. People are glad it’s not them.

“By the way,” he interrupts himself, “I’m not a surrealist. I get that stuck on me a lot. I’m somewhere in between surrealism and realism which makes it difficult for people to know whether to laugh or not. A friend of mine, Phyllis King, used to get dead silence when she performed because people didn’t want to hurt her feelings by laughing.”

“I think your most beautiful song is Squeeze Bees from Jammy Smears. It conjures up this sleepy image of a little girl and a little boy being completely content, sitting in silence and just enjoying the sound of the beehive; very tranquil and romantic.”

“I struck a bee-type noise with the harmonium to get the right emotion. I’m an emotional man. I think people who like to hear emotion get themselves fed by my stuff but of course not all my songs are so emotional. I’m a happy man and I’ll punch the man who says I’m not!”

“What makes you happy?”

“Well I used to collect stones but I’ve grown out of that. People go through life and do something to make them happy for a while and then it becomes boring. In fact boredom has been a very big part of my life. People look at me and think: How can a man like him be bored? Well… I just am, I suppose.”

A Stuggy Pren was a chance to peep inside Mr Cutler’s unique drawers

A photographic exhibition to promote his poetry book, A Stuggy Pren, gave people a chance to go through the keyhole and peep in his drawers, count his cushions and revel in his sentimental attachment to battered and bruised ornaments that litter his home. He is one of the last, great romantic eccentrics and, as the modern world slowly closes in on him, Ivor is slowly pushed out. He rarely plays live nowadays and when he does it’s always in the afternoon, allowing him to return safely home to get a good night’s sleep in his own bed. Anything less than a familiar mattress to Mr Cutler, just won’t do.

“One last question, Mr Cutler. What would you like to see yourself doing at the end of the century?”

“Oh crumbs! Dead, I suppose! The way I find civilisation presently I’d be very happy to be in another world. Life can be very unpleasant for me. I’d be quite happy to shuffle off after doing all one can in a lifetime. You see there’s too much rock music around and I hate loud music. It makes my ears hurt and it interferes with my body clock. I’ve got a lot of fans through John Peel and I’m sure they all like loud music and when I think what they do to me compared to what I do to them, it seems very unfair. I’m a member of the Noise Abatement Society.”

Ivor Cutler: born 15th January 1923; died 3rd March 2006, aged 83.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Poetry

Why “Peep Show” led one American in Los Angeles to love British comedy

The current image on Naomi’s Twitter page

The current public  image displayed on Naomi’s Twitter page

I have had a Twitter account – @thejohnfleming – since March 2009 but, honestly, I have never got the hang of it. Nonetheless, people follow me – only 2,026 at the moment, but every little helps.

Naomi Rohatyn started to follow me last week. Her profile says: “Wildly unsuccessful comedy writer in LA. Aspiring to become wildly unsuccessful comedy writer in London.”

I thought this was fairly interesting as most comedy writers in London seem to aspire to be writers in Los Angeles.

Brandon Burkhart with Naomi with The Pun Dumpster site

Brandon Burkhart with Naomi with The Pun Dumpster site

But just as interesting was the fact she runs a Tumblr website called Pun Dumpster.

It is just a series of pictures of PhotoShopped graffiti on large waste containers.

So, obviously, I FaceTimed her in Los Angeles this morning.

“You like British comedy?” I asked.

Naomi via FaceTime from Los Angeles this morning

Naomi spoke via FaceTime from Los Angeles this morning

“I think the real obsession for me,” she explained, “started a couple of years ago with Peep Show. I think people of my generation in America grew up watching Monty Python… AbFab was on in the 1990s and even The Young Ones played here I think on Comedy Central in the 1990s.

“A couple of years ago I was just tootling around on Hulu and found Peep Show and now I’m obssesed. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about it. So then I became obsessed by everything David Mitchell and Robert Webb did and Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong have ever done and followed the threads. I could follow David Mitchell round all day and listen to his brilliance.”

“You know he’s taken now?” I asked. “He married Victoria Coren.”

“Yes. I hadn’t really been aware of her before. The only panel shows I’d watched were a fair amount of QI because, of course, Stephen Fry is brilliant, but then I sought out Victoria Coren’s panel show and she’s very funny and witty and… this is so embarrassing… I wanna pretend I have fine taste, but.. I was watching 8 Out of 10 Cats and she had this great riff on Goldfinger. David Mitchell and Victoria Coren are perfect for each other.”

There is a clip of Peep Show on YouTube.

“Where do you see all this stuff?” I asked. “On PBS?”

“All on my computer,” said Naomi. “On YouTube or Hulu or Netflix. All the panel shows have been on YouTube.”

“Have you got BBC America?” I asked.

“I don’t have cable. I just watch everything online.”

“Why UK stuff?” I asked.

“Part of why I love British comedy so much,” explained Naomi, “is what I perceive as bleakness in the British soul; a way of looking at the world with a knowing smirk. So much of British comedy starts from the premise that life is basically a series of humiliations and disappointments – whereas American humour is perhaps still uplifting at its core – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just doesn’t have the same gaping ennui, which is something I just love about British comedy.

Naomi Rohatyn

Naomi insists Americans hold no sole patent on stupidity

“I think we do political satire and social satire really well, but there’s still something missing – a different approach to the human experience. In scripted shows, we still tend to default to things that are ultimately uplifting or protagonists that are either utterly likeable or a a clear anti-hero – they’re not just flawed fuck-ups.

“There is also that stereotype – for a good reason – that British humour is wittier and more intelligent than some American stuff. That has a foundation in truth, though it’s not because Americans hold the sole patent on stupidity and ignorance. But I do think there’s a strange cultural rejection here for anything perceived as intellectual.

“Even if you look at something like (the British TV show) The Thick of It and (its US re-make) Veep. I feel Veep is smooth peanut butter as opposed to the chunky original.”

There is a BBC trailer for The Thick of It on YouTube.

“We do have this weird proto-populist rejection of anything that is too intelligent. In The Big Bang Theory – even though they’re supposed to be super-intelligent – it’s low-brow humour.

“When I watch Peep Show it is so grim and vérité, but then they make allusions to Stalingrad and I feel that would come off as somehow so elitist here or people simply wouldn’t get the references. It’s not part of discourse here except in academia. And there’s not such a culture of self-deprecation here as there is in Britain.”

“You’re a writer or stand-up or both?” I asked.

“I would say 90% writer and 10% performer. What I mostly am is a dork.”

“And you write for…?” I asked.

“Yeaahhh…” said Naomi. “We are still working on that.”

“What did you study at college?” I asked.

“Critical Social Thought,” replied Naomi. “Probably the subject least applicable to any actual career. It was the liberaliest arts degree one could get. Our joke was it made you even less employable than an English Major.

Naomi Rohatyn_selfie2

When she moved to LA, Naomi worked on the devil’s testicles

“When I first moved to Los Angeles (from San Diego) I started at the very bottom rung of the entertainment industry, production assisting on many horrible TV reality shows which are woven of the devil’s testicles. I did a lot of random crewing – art department, sound department, post production stuff. Then the 14-hour days started getting to me and I wasn’t writing enough, so I took a day job at a law school for a couple of years and I’ve gone in a straight downward trajectory and now I walk dogs for cash in hand to support my writing habit.

“I feel like now I have goodish contacts here in LA: a lot of friends many of whom do have representation and are legitimate, functioning, employable human beings.”

“What are you writing at the moment?” I asked.

“I’m working on a satirical travel book. A satirical guide to Britain for American travellers. All utterly worthless information – a satire on those Rough Guides.”

“Have far back does your British comedy knowledge go?” I asked. “Do you know British acts like Morecambe and Wise?”

“Yes. This was why Peep Show was such a great gateway drug because it got me into the history of the double act. That’s something we don’t have as much of.”

“Off the top of my head,” I said, “I have to think back to Burns & Allen.”

There is a clip of George Burns and Gracie Allen on YouTube.

“We had Nichols & May,” said Naomi.

“But, in the UK,” I said, “they were not really known as a double act. They were a film director and a writer and, in fact, sadly, Elaine May was not much known here.”

“That’s too bad,” said Naomi.

“Indeed it is,” I said.

“There’s Key & Peele today,” said Naomi, “but double acts seem more of a tradition in British comedy.”

There is a clip of Key & Peele on YouTube.

“I suppose there is a British tradition,” I said. “Reeves & Mortimer, Little & Large, Cannon & Ball… Do you know Tommy Cooper who, in Britain, is really the comedians’ comedian?”

“I don’t know him.”

“You wouldn’t want to live in Britain, though,” I said. “Living in Los Angeles has some advantages. For example, there is sunshine.”

“It is wasted on me,” said Naomi. “I don’t care about the weather, I don’t care about the beach. I can’t swim very well, I don’t surf, I don’t need sunshine. To me, rainy, cold, foggy miserable, dark, damp, grey Britain is perfect because it gives me an excuse to hate everyone and be in a coffee shop writing.”

“You should move to Glasgow,” I said. “You will love the weather and the fact you hate humanity will be much appreciated. If you go round being aggressive, you will fit in perfectly. In fact, if you like bleakness in the British soul… I think Scottish humour is much more dark and dour and straight-faced than English humour – Scotch & Wry or Rikki Fulton or Rab C.Nesbitt.”

“I’ve seen Frankie Boyle on the panel shows,” said Naomi, “but most of my concept of Scottish comedy – or Scottish life in general – is English comedians slagging it off – drug addicts and reprobates and fried Mars bars.”

“That is not comedy,” I said. “That is social realism and reportage.”

There is a clip from Rab C.Nesbitt on YouTube.

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Scots comedians, Daniel Kitson, Eddie Izzard, Jerry Sadowitz and two lesbians

Is this bearded man only 12 years old?

Liam Lonergan with microphone or vegetable?

In yesterday’s blog, I printed part of a chat I had with Liam Lonergan who is compiling a portfolio of long-form articles on stand-up, local theatre, comedy revue and comedy theory as part of his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

Here is another extract:


Liam: I was reading articles about how, in the 1980s, students would get housing benefits or income grants, whereas now it’s more fees not grants. Do you think the fees incurred by universities and students nowadays hinder an active student stand-up scene?

John: No. Because, when you’re talking about students doing stand-up, the thing you’re really talking about is the Edinburgh Fringe and the last seven or ten years the Free Fringe and the Free Festival have been around and that allows anyone to do what they used to do. Though there is a bizarre thing that the English Arts Council won’t give grants to comedians because they say comedy isn’t an art. So they’ll give grants to artists, to ballet dancers, to singers, to musicians but the English Arts Council won’t give grants to comics because comedy isn’t an art.

Liam: Do you think that there’s a richer comedy heritage in Scotland, maybe? Where they consider it an art or…

Rikki Fulton was not in the audience as he is dead

Rikki Fulton – with a slight smile

John: Er, I dunno. Scottish and English comedy? Well, Scottish comedy’s more straight-faced. I remember watching Scotch and Wry – it was a BBC TV series with Rikki Fulton. I had heard about it for years but never seen it and I first saw it when I was working at the UK Gold TV channel in England. I watched an episode and loved it and came down and said to everyone: “Ah! I’ve just watched Scotch and Rye and isn’t it just…” And everyone said “Yeah, isn’t it absolute shit”. And I thought “Isn’t that interesting”. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and they all thought it was shit I think because it was done straight-faced. It was almost Scandinavian. Rikki Fulton doesn’t smile. None of them did, none of the performances were ‘comedy’ performances. All were straight-faced.

Liam: Do you prefer that rather than with a wink?

John: I dunno if it’s a Scottish thing it’s usually straight-faced. I remember – this is irrelevant – I remember being in Queen’s Street station in Glasgow and listening to two tramps sitting on the ground and they were so funny. I mean, they were SO funny. But they were just talking normally to each other. I mean, they weren’t actually ‘being funny’ – it was just their natural speech rhythm and attitude. It was sarcasm or something. Anyway, sorry. I’ve gone off the subject.

Liam: Do you consider there was a golden era for comedy?

John: Nah. The golden era is whenever you were in your teens.

Liam: More receptive to comedy?

John: Teens or early twenties. I mean, the golden era for my parents was the Wartime and just after: ITMA.

Liam: Everyone’s got an era from when they were in their twenties, I suppose.

John: I think what sort of happens with humour is people watch television comedy when they’re teenagers or children because they’re stuck at home. And then they go to college and they don’t watch that much television really – unless it’s daytime television – because they go out and get pissed in the evenings – and then they come back to it when they’re trapped at home with children in their late twenties/early thirties. So there’s a ten year gap and, therefore, the golden era is before that ten year gap – before you stopped watching comedy. When you come back to it ten years later, it never feels quite the same. When was your golden era? What age were you? I mean to me you only look about 12 now.

Liam: Well, I’m 24 now. I remember saving up tokens to get this VHS tape from The Sun newspaper that had loads of bits of Fawlty Towers on it.

John: And, of course, you’re a freak because you’re interested in the craft of comedy. You’re not an ordinary person.

Tony Hancock from a ‘golden era’ or comedy

Tony Hancock – big in a ‘golden era’ of comedy

Liam: I might be an anomaly in that regard. I was watching Hancock’s Half Hour when I was younger and Peter Cook and listening to Derek and Clive. I mean, I don’t know. I was very big on The Office thing but that might be because that came about when I was old enough to properly appreciate the ligaments of comedy.

Another thing… I call it ‘The Daniel Kitson Dichotomy’. He’s someone who seems to sort of espouse a separatist fringe comedy spirit – “I’m a fringe comedian” – But, when you go to get Daniel Kitson tickets, you’re usually on the phone to arts centre switchboards for 45 minutes trying to get through the Daniel Kitson flashmob – because he’s got a sort of business model that is quite profitable. Can he really consider himself a fringe comedian anymore?

John: I thought it was very clever marketing when he, in his early days at the Edinburgh Fringe, would have posters and flyers just saying “Daniel Kitson is on at (wherever)” and appear not to be doing an advert because that’s the best sort of advert. It was a bit like Eddie Izzard kept going on for years about how he couldn’t get on or didn’t want to be on television and he got enormous amounts of publicity by actually not being on television. He said he wanted to write a sitcom about cows which was unfilmable and would never, ever be done. Eventually it was done and it was absolute shit but, of course, it was great publicity to say you were never going to be on television.

Comedian Jerry Sadowitz (left) in Malcolm Hardee: 25 Years in Showbusiness, a 1990 show I produced for Noel Gay/BSB

Comedian Jerry Sadowitz (left) in Malcolm Hardee: 25 Years in Showbusiness, a 1990 show I produced for Noel Gay/BSB

It can backfire on you, because Malcolm Hardee managed Jerry Sadowitz in his early days and he did brilliantly at marketing him as the foul-mouthed comedian who could never be on television. This built up brilliantly and Jerry became famous for being untransmittable. But the downside of it was that television producers ‘knew’ they could not even consider him because they ‘knew’ he could not be put on television. So he never actually got to the point beyond almost being on television – not until much later.

Jerry is interesting because last time I saw him do a full-length stand-up show was about six years ago and I thought “Surely he can’t be as offensive anymore” because comedy has moved on.  Lots of people do the offensive thing. But he still managed to be jaw-droppingly offensive. Extraordinary. Very impressive. He’s brilliant.

Liam: I’m not someone who’s easily phased but when I saw him in Leicester Square Theatre I was quite shocked…I didn’t expect myself to be.

John: I always thought that (but it might not be true) maybe I helped him get on mainstream television because, before he did a late night magic show for Channel 4 (The Other Side of Gerry Sadowitz on Channel 4), I produced a one-off one-hour stand-up show called The Last Laugh With Jerry Sadowitz, for Noel Gay Television/BSB (in 1990).

I talked to him beforehand and said: “BSB don’t really mind about swearing but try not to do too much. You can probably have about four ‘fucks’ and a ‘cunt’ if you’re lucky so try and keep it back. But don’t let it interfere with your flow…” And he did a one-hour, fast-talking show with not a single fuck or cunt in it. I never thought he could do it because I thought the swearing was part of the rhythm of his speech. But he managed to do it without any fucks or cunts at all.

Liam: Did he still get a good response from it without the swear words in?

John: Yeah, it was a wonderful show. Though he did pick on two lesbians in the audience and then he was surprised when they came up to him after the show and berated him. They were so annoyed and offended. He had really gone for them during the show. And he was telling them afterwards: “But it’s just… it’s just comedy. It’s just an act. It’s only comedy”. He didn’t quite see that people could take it more – ehhh – more personally.

He was just a comedian. It was just comedy.


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Edinburgh Fringe normality: bonking, flyering, bitches, bosoms, Charlie Chuck

Normal for Edinburgh yesterday

Yesterday, I blogged about a problem Giacinto Palmieri has in his autobiographical show Pagliaccio, which is “a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between comedians living together at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

His problem is that the two other people involved – a man and a woman –  are both in Edinburgh doing shows this year and the man – of whom Giacinto paints an unflattering portrait in the show – wants to come and see the show, not realising he is characterised in it.

Giacinto is not the only one with this type of problem. Another comedian this year includes in his show details of an Edinburgh Fringe love story with an American ‘journalist’ who is back in Edinburgh this year and whom he is now trying to avoid. The barely-disguised ‘journalist’ is actually a comedian and she is telling her side of the story in her own show.

In Edinburgh, that is normality.

Ever-discreet, I am not naming names, but both comics are Facebook friends of mine – and I bumped into one earlier today. If they read this and one or both would like to get more publicity for their show by talking about adding fact into comedy shows while avoiding mentioning the other person, I would be interested to hear. Edinburgh is all about publicity.

Or perhaps I am just getting old and gossipy.

You know you are getting really old when you can walk through Bristo Square during the Edinburgh Fringe and not get flyered for a comedy show. People see this fat bald man ambling along towards them looking like (I am told) a rather shabby bank manager who has just been sacked… and they assume I cannot possibly be interested in comedy shows. For some reason, I am the one who gets given any flyers for shows based on the Greek classics, family traumas and old age angst in North America.

Yesterday, though, I actually got flyered for a comedy show. The flyerer – a well-spoken Englishman of a certain age – followed me, falsely smelling an immediate ‘sale’.

Hennessy and her friends – A History of Violence

The flyer was for Hennessy & Friends’ A History of Violence which, according to a stapled-on piece of paper, The List has called One of the Top 5 sketch comedy shows at the Fringe.

“It’s a girl leaning on what appears to be two severed dead men’s heads,” I observed.

“That’s my daughter,” the flyerer said.

We got into conversation about why some Scots now really do pretty-much hate the English.

“I do feel genuine resentment towards me when they hear my English accent,” the flyerer said.

“I think it was Margaret Thatcher,” I said. “Before that, there was good-natured rivalry like you might find between Lancashire and Yorkshire…”

“I’m from Lancashire,” the man interrupted.

“Well you know then,” I responded. “It’s good-natured. And it used to be the same with Scotland-England. But I think people felt that Margaret Thatcher didn’t give a shit about Scotland. She figured – entirely reasonably – that there was no point sucking up to the Scots because it was not going to get Conservative MPs elected – that was a lost cause. So she ignored Scotland or worse. And, after that, there seemed to be a real animosity crept into the Scotland-England thing.”

“I lived up here in Edinburgh in the late 1980s,” the man told me. “Down near the Dudleys, down Leith way.”

“Before it became Yuppie?”

“Probably. I don’t know. We were looking for a house and couldn’t find one. They told us: We only sell villas in Edinburgh.

“And you pick up a distinct nastiness in the air?” I asked.

“No, no,” he said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say nasty. If I meet Scotsmen who’ve travelled, they’re a completely different kettle of fish. But I came across someone I don’t think had travelled the day we signed the contracts for selling our house in Edinburgh. Coming out of the Notary’s, my wife and I were talking and this guy heard our accents and, as he came up to us on the pavement, he just went:


“Not in an amiable way?” I asked.

“No, there was definitely a bit of sinister stuff there. My wife and I just looked at each other.”

“And your daughter is on this flyer.”

“My daughter’s name is Miranda Hennessy and I’m Gary, her father. She’s an actress but she’s got a comedy bone – you can always tell when someone’s got comedy in them. They’ve scrimped and saved to be able to put this on. They’ve done loads of promotion and got some good Guardian reviews ahead of coming up here.”

Daphna Baram struts her stuff

Edinburgh is all about publicity. Daphna Baram, the stand-up artist formerly known as ‘Miss D’ is performing a show called Half Past Bitch at Bob Slayer’s Fringe venue The Hive.

When she was promoting it on radio in London before she came up to Edinburgh, she tells me:

“The radio station told me they had a very strict policy about swear words and that we would be taken off air immediately if we as much as mentioned the actual name of the show. So we had to refer to the show as Half Past Itch which – as we did not neglect to remind our audience – actually sounded ruder than the show’s real title. We were told that saying ‘vagina’ or ‘chlamydia’ was borderline but ‘bitch’ was totally unacceptable.

“This,” Daphna told me, “led us to a discussion on air about one of your blogs that week, which was all about censorship in the Fringe Programme and I was quoting bits. It was good fun.

“Ironically, when I showed Bob Slayer the poster for Half Past Bitch, he suggested we print the word bitch’ three times its original size. (Note to readers: Bob Slayer had a small part in the movie Killer Bitch which I financed and which also had problems over the use of the word Bitch – with WH Smith’s and the big supermarket chains.)

“Bob,” Daphna told me today, “was totally right. People’s attention is transfixed on the word ‘bitch’ faster than on my spectacular cleavage.”

I saw both Half Past Bitch and Daphna’s cleavage this afternoon. Both were impressive.

And so was her show.

Charlie Chuck gets ahead with a duck for technical rehearsal

But by 5.26pm this afternoon (the exact time is relevant) I was having tea with Charlie Chuck at the SpaceUK venues’ launch. His Cirque du Charlie Chuck show starts tomorrow.

“Me latex suit gets here on Tuesday,” he told me. “It’s orange and blue. The technical rehearsal is at two o’clock today. It’s six o’clock now, so I’ve got 25 minutes to get there.”

In Edinburgh, that is normality.

And, in Edinburgh this is publicity:

Charlie Chuck will be appearing in the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Friday 24th August.


Filed under Comedy, Marketing, PR, Racism

When Scots comedians Billy Connolly and Janey Godley met in New Zealand

When Billy Met Janey in New Zealand

Scottish comedienne/writer/actress Janey Godley is possibly the best all-round creative I have ever encountered.

There’s a lot of bullshit in the wonderful world of comedy. But she genuinely is a multi-award-winning comedian. She genuinely is a best-selling author. She genuinely is a force of nature, mentally and visually fluent – yes, she can even paint on the rare occasion she actually pulls her bloody finger out. She promised me a picture in 2005. I still haven’t had it.

Like many others, I first became aware of her in 2003 at the Edinburgh Fringe, when I saw her comedy show Caught In The Act of Being Myself and then two days later, her straight one-woman play The Point Of Yes about heroin. Both told basically the same overlapping autobiographical story but in two dramatically different styles. One got belly laughs for tragic subjects that were in themselves not funny; the other told a straight dramatic story but had glimpses of humour.

It was the breadth of her performance ability which was impressive.

In 2004, the Financial Times wrote that seeing her breakthrough comedy show Good Godley! was “not unlike the sensation of shock and delight, thirty years ago, of seeing very early Billy Connolly” and, since then, she has repeatedly been referred to as “the female Billy Connolly”, probably because critics can’t think of another Scots comedian – but also because they both share an easy-going anecdotal style – though there is a difference.

As the Glasgow Evening Times wrote: “Like most professional comics, Janey gets her raw material by throwing an empty bucket down the well of experience. But her personal well is far deeper than most – and considerably darker”. The London Evening Standard wrote that hers was “the kind of gig that sends a chill through you even as you are laughing” and could “have the room in a mix of giggles and incredulous gasps.”

As a result of seeing her at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe, I recommended her to an editor at publisher Random House’s imprint Ebury Press and, rather to my surprise (because she was almost totally unknown both in England AND in Scotland at the time), they virtually tore her arm off in their rush to sign up her autobiography… and they had only heard just the bare outline of her extraordinary life story.

I allegedly edited the book though, once she got the hang of it, there was little need to edit anything apart from occasional punctuation and spelling (a much-over-rated thing, as I have mentioned in this blog before). And we did have a long initial talk about the extent to which the dialogue could or should reflect Glaswegian dialect.

It is (and I own no percentage) an extraordinarily gripping read. To me, it seems like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe, Jilly Cooper and Last Exit To Brooklyn. It was a top ten bestseller in both hardback and paperback.

Which brings us to Billy Connolly and New Zealand.

Janey has always admired Billy Connolly. In her autobiography, she wrote:

“The one good thing about having Charlie in our house was that he brought along his Philips stereo record player and I was in awe of his music collection. The Stylistics, Abba, all the best new disco hits and LPs by cutting-edge Glasgow comedian Billy Connolly. Wow! I’d think, He can tell a story that isn’t funny but the way he tells it makes it funny! I would rush back from school before Charlie got home from his work as an apprentice electrician and play the vinyl records on his big rubber-matted turntable through his big loudspeakers.”

Janey has been to the New Zealand Comedy Festival four times, winning prizes on each trip.

At the moment, she is there again and the impossible (therefore, in the real world, the inevitable) coincidence happened this week. She ended up in the same hotel as Billy Connolly.

As she tells it in her blog today:


“The Big Man is in town and was staying in the same hotel as me and (daughter) Ashley. To make matters worse, the hotel slip under every door every day a note about the weather and about comedy shows at the festival. So they slipped under his door: Come see Janey Godley at the International Comedy festival and see why the press call her the female Billy Connolly. I was horrified to know this! He would read that shit!

“I had small dreamy moments, we would meet in the lobby and by some miracle we would be pals for life meeting up again!

“I certainly had to stem the overwhelming desire to stalk every corridor and hunt him down, so I eventually gave the reception a copy of my autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a short note to be sent to his room. The fact he may ever read my book would have been enough for me, I am not joking – it was that or I started hacking into the reception computer to find his room.

“So, there was me and Ashley sitting having a cup of tea in the most beautiful hotel room we have ever been in and my phone rang.

Hello, Billy Connolly here, the Scottish voice boomed out.”


The rest of what happened is in Janey’s blog today.

But the point of the story as far as I am concerned is this…

I have seen how some people react to Janey.

Comedian Boothby Graffoe once said: “She is brilliant; she is also terrifying.”

The (Glasgow) Herald called her Good Godley! show “frequently hilarious, frequently frightening” and called Janey herself “a little intimidating and exceptionally funny”.

The Edinburgh Guide said: “The thing about wee Janey is she’s a wee bit scary, OK? A wee bit scary and a big bit talented…”

She once told me when I interviewed her for a magazine: “I have the confidence to get up on stage because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

She genuinely is a multi-award-winning comedian. She genuinely is a best-selling author. She genuinely is a force of nature. And people are often intimidated by that and by her personality.

But she, too, has heroes.

Because she, too, is only a frail, creative human being with all the insecurities which that entails.

People are only people.

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Comedy critic Copstick on the drunken rape victim and the convicted footballer

Kate Copstick thinks the victim was not necessarily innocent

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is out in Nairobi at the moment. She wrote about her work there in this blog a couple of months ago.

She runs a charity – Mama Biashara – which helps HIV positive Kenyan women to set up small businesses, thus making them financially independent. She wants, she says, “to give them a hand up, not just a hand out.”

But she has been keeping in touch with what has been happening back in Britain and has sent me the thoughts below. The thoughts she fearlessly expresses here are hers.


Yet again, as I skirt those strange little rivers  with the iridescent  scum and the unmistakable smell that run through most slum areas in the wet season, as I sit with another group of women for whom abuse is as much a part of their day as is hunger, despair and worry for their children, I feel  the rage bubbling up like a serious case of acid indigestion.

Back in Britain, some idiot Welsh twat – 19 or 20 depending on which rag’s clichés you read – went out, got absolutely shit-faced, went to a hotel room with some footballers and shagged. Only she says she can’t remember it. And  they end up in court charged with rape and now one of them is in jail for five years. No violence, no suggestion that anyone poured intoxicating substances down her poor unwilling throat. 

If she had got that drunk and hit someone, then her drunkenness would not be a defence. If she had driven a car and crashed it she would have been committing a crime. But she didn’t. She lay down and got shagged. And suddenly she is the innocent victim. She was too drunk. She doesn’t remember. She couldn’t have consented. If he claimed the same thing … no, can’t see it would establish his ‘innocence’.

I studied law. In Glasgow. Scots Law is based on Principles – like justice, fairness … It comes from the fine heritage of Roman Law. In that law there is something called a Res Nullius. It is something which has been abandoned.  Deliberately or negligently abandoned. It belongs to no-one. Because its erstwhile owner has – deliberately or negligently – abandoned it. It cannot be ‘stolen’. Because it has been abandoned. It cannot be ‘criminally damaged’. Because its owner has given it up. It cannot be raped.

OK, I have had some pretty indiscriminating sex with some pretty indiscriminating people. There is not much fun to be had from shagging a girl who is off her face on something plentiful and probably vodka-based. But surely it does not amount to one of the worst crimes on the statute book?

The women I work with have plenty to complain about. But they don’t. And no-one speaks for them. Maybe some of those who shout so loudly about the rights of stupid girls, well over the age of consent, to incapacitate themselves, make their way into what is blindingly obviously a sexual situation and then be treated like a priceless Dresden china doll should consider that they are not the ones in need of help, rights-wise.


Filed under Drink, Kenya, Legal system, Sex

Rab C. Nesbitt – the return of the native speaker – by his writer/creator

(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

In yesterday’s blog, I quoted Ian Pattison – novelist and creator of, among many other things, iconic Scots character Rab C. Nesbitt.

Ian almost took part in the second inaugural Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debate which I staged at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but he managed to bugger his back in Glasgow and could not get over to Edinburgh.

The success of his long-running Rab C. Nesbitt TV series in England has always surprised me, given the extremely Scottish dialogue.

With the new BBC2 series of Rab C. Nesbitt about to be unleashed on screens across the UK this Wednesday night – 25 years after the character first appeared on screen in Naked Video – I thought I would ask Ian some questions.

This may prove to have been a mistake.

Never mess with a comedy writer…

Q – Is the series a comedy or a drama?

A – At times it appears to be one then the other.

Q – What genre is in your mind when you are writing it?

A – I have no genre in my mind when writing it. My mind never speaks for me and I return the compliment by never speaking for it.

Q – You live in the posh West End of Glasgow now – So what do you know in 2011 about the lives of these dodgy Weegies in Rab C Nesbitt?

A – You are so right to ask this question yet, in a strange way, so wrong. If I, Rab, or anyone else had money, do we really suppose we would cease being ourselves? Glasgow is small. One need never venture far in search of the piquant aroma of poverty; a fragrance that in our city remains impervious to the whims of fashion.

Q – Are the characters based on real people?

A – They seemed real at the time. But then, doesn’t everyone?

Q – Was anyone else ever considered to play the role of Rab C?

A – I believe Lady Astor of Hever was approached to play the role. Legend has it that the string vest chafed her nipples.

Q – Has the enormous success of the TV series been an albatross around your writing neck?

A – Most definitely. Were it not for the intrusion of Nesbitt I might have enjoyed a life of quite contemplation on the roof of Asda, picking off pensioners and clergymen with an air rifle.

Q – The script is broad Scots. In the past, you have made up some of the dialect words, haven’t you?

A – Stornoch. But never so much so that it thrums the groobles. For instance, I would never snash the viewer’s brumpton with a parochial yappa. I find that context invariably stoors the benburb and smoothes the gismet, as I’m sure you’d happily concopulate.

Q – Did you think Rab C. Nesbitt could ever be even screened in England, let alone become very successful, when it is written in – in effect – a foreign language? Surely even people in Wigtownshire would have some trouble with it?

A – Funnily enough, I’m just back from Wigtownshire. The last words the Provost of Whithorn said to me, as I was honoured with one of the town’s ceremonial small brown loaves were, “Be sure to tell John Fleming we have no trouble understanding Rab C Nesbitt.” I hope this is some help to you in your quest for truth.

Q – Whither Nesbitt?

A – Perhaps thither, perhaps not.

Q – Whither Pattison?

A – Yes, I shall, most decidedly whither; which is to say continue to evade the real world.

There is an interesting YouTube clip here about Scottish dialect words – which opens with a very brief clip from a Rab C Nesbitt episode.

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