Tag Archives: Scottish

My weekly diary No 39: self-delusion, Scots pronunciation and Janey Godley

 

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 38

…BEWARE! OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD…

The Komsomolskaya (Circle Line) metro station in Moscow (Photograph by A.Savin via Wikipedia)

SUNDAY 11th OCTOBER

I remember returning to Granada TV in Manchester after a trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s and saying the beautiful metro stations were only in the middle of the city.

I had gone out to the ends of a couple of metro lines where the stations were just dull concrete monstrosities and I had gone into supermarkets where there were lots of empty shelves and only one type of anything on sale; maybe only 3 types of biscuits.

 

Someone I worked with at Granada told me I had been taken in by Western propaganda about the USSR.

They had never been outside the UK.

People hold very strong second and third-hand opinions: even moreso in the new world of social media.

MONDAY 12th OCTOBER

…and the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in people, has amplified and magnified their faults.

Today I mentioned to a friend one stand-up comedian who has crossed that not-so-thin line from being self-obsessed to being an uncaring cunt. It’s school bully mentality. Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility. He doesn’t care if people die provided he gets attention and people look at him.

“Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility” (Image by Jon Tyson, UnSplash)

I paraphrase… slightly… from March this year: “COVID isn’t real. It’s just a panic. The panic will all definitely be over in a couple of weeks. By April 6th. Because I say so… and here’s a photo of me posing in the park. Don’t I look great?”

It’s like a 16-year-old with no conscience. Reality doesn’t exist outside himself. What he says becomes the truth in his mind because he said it.

Or like Donald Trump. You just say what you want and in your own mind it becomes reality. Then, if it doesn’t happen, you say you never said it and that becomes your reality because no-one outside yourself is a real person. They’re like bits of furniture around you, not people.

 

Self-obsession creating a genuine schoolboy bully mentality. Crossing the line from self-obsessed to uncaring, self-deluded cunt.

Great on a comedy stage. Not so good in reality.

One of the best posts I saw early in the pandemic – I wish I had copied it so I know who wrote it (not anyone I actually personally knew) was to the effect of:

I thought my friend had wasted the last ten years of his life sitting around doing nothing and being a failure. How wrong I was! It turns out he must have been spending all his time at home studying epidemiology and virology to a level which puts to shame all those academics and doctors who have spent decades practising in the practical professional medical field. And now he is sharing his wisdom with us all on Facebook.

 

He is not alone. I showed the above diary entry to another comedy industry person I know to test the reaction and they thought I was describing them… I was not…

TUESDAY 13th OCTOBER

Findochty, Findockty or Finechty? (Anne Burgess, Wikipedia)

Life is full of surprises. Today I discovered my eternally-un-named-friend – to my considerable surprise – can pronounce the Scottish ‘ch’ sound correctly. Something few English people can do. For example, they mis-pronounce “Loch Ness” as “Lock Ness” and let us not even go anywhere near Auchterarder or Auchtermuchty.

The explanation seems to be that my eternally-un-named-friend, as a child, was partly brought up in Aden with an Arabic-speaking local as her childminder. A similar sound to the Scottish ‘ch’ turns up in Arabic. For example, though the English call the Gulf state Ba-rain, the locals pronounce it Bach-rain with a sound not too far from the Scottish ‘ch’ or the Welsh double-L as in Llandaff or Llanelli…

So, like me, my eternally-un-named-friend can correctly pronounce the Moray/ex-Banffshire town Findochty… even if the locals themselves pronounce it Finechty.

You can seldom second-guess the pronunciation of British place-names.

WEDNESDAY 14th OCTOBER

 

As if things could not get more bizarre in the current world of coronavirus, a BBC Location Man rang my doorbell mid-afternoon today. He was looking for a location for a forthcoming drama about an ex-SAS man and thought my house looked like somewhere an ex-SAS man would live.

Clearly the ex-SAS man in the drama must be on a downward spiral!

My next-door neighbours have the advantage of a recently-built conservatory at the back. I think I may have scuppered my dramatic chances by telling the Location Man this.

THURSDAY 15th OCTOBER

A comedian of my ken told me today that they are having a bad time in the current world of coronavirus semi-lockdown.

Always look on the bright side of life… Really… No shit…

My words of little wisdom were to suggest that, for a creative person, when things are shit, that’s the time to write it down or to pour it out onto your mobile phone voice recorder for cold creative use later.

Shit requires therapy and is raw material for creativity which is self-therapy. The act of creating can distract and distance you from the shittiness of reality by making it more abstract.

I then looked in a mirror and saw a man with his head up his own arse.

FRIDAY 16th OCTOBER

Janey Godley, Have I Got News For You & Nicola Sturgeon

My Scottish hyphenate chum Janey Godley – the stand-up comic-author-actor-Twitter star-viral YouTube sensation – appeared tonight on both BBC1’s Have I Got News For You AND, in Scotland, on the STV Children’s Appeal in which she performed a comedy sketch with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Janey has just published her latest book Frank Get The Door!

She has another book (possibly two) out next year.

Anyone who has read her jaw-dropping best-selling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark knows that she came from abject poverty with little chance of succeeding in anything except possibly getting put in prison.

The fact that, in a single evening, she appeared on one of BBC TV’s long-established, widely-watched peaktime entertainment shows AND appeared on ITV in tandem with the political leader of Scotland is a tribute to her talent, dogged determination and increasing public popularity. And she has done it all herself.

It is also a reflection on the mindlessness of London-centric Oxbridge-educated executives and commissioners that she does not have her own TV series.

SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER

 

Showbiz, though, is full of scarcely-believable OTT life-stories.

Constance Smith – from Hollywood to homeless – a scarcely-believable OTT true life story

I stumbled on Impulse (1954) on Talking Pictures TV this week. The leading lady in this Hollywood movie was Constance Smith, an English actress I had never heard of. So I looked her up and… Wow!

For starters she was Irish, not English.

She was born in 1928, the first of 11 children, won a Hedy Lamarr lookaline beauty contest in Dublin when she was 16, got a contract with producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Hollywood…

… married British actor Bryan Forbes in 1951 and was a presenter at the 1952 Oscars. By the time her contract expired (she was sacked) in 1953, she had undergone an abortion forced on her by the studio and the first of her three marriages was on the ropes. She divorced Bryan Forbes in 1955.

As the years went on and she failed to get the parts she felt were commensurate with her abilities, she began an embittered descent into a life of drugs and alcohol.

She acted in a run of minor films in Italy between 1955 and 1959 and, during her time in Rome, she first attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

Back in Britain, in 1962, she was sentenced to three months in prison for stabbing her then boyfriend, the documentary maker and film historian Paul Rotha.

In 1968, she stabbed Rotha for a second time and was charged with attempted murder. She and Rotha married in 1974. She also tried several times again to kill herself.

Her last few decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner.

 

She died in June 2003 in Islington, London, aged 75.

Some people win in Life. Some people lose.

Vīta brevis,
ars longa,
occāsiō praeceps,
Experīmentum perīculōsum,
iūdicium difficile.

Life is shit and then you die.

I just looked in the mirror again.

Yup. You guessed right. That man is still there, with his head still up his arse.

… CONTINUED HERE

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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.


STOP THE GAME THERE’S A HEN ON THE FIELD

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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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.

… CONTINUED HERE

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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:

Fee-fi-fo-fum…

“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.

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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.

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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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At the Edinburgh Fringe, Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

(A version of this blog was published in the November 2011 edition of Mensa Magazine)

Paco Erhard is performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe called 5-Step Guide to Being German. We drank English breakfast tea at Fringe Central this week.

“There is an English obsession with Germany,” he told me, “but I think it’s getting less and less. It’s more or less the media who keep it going.”

When I met him, he had just got his first review for his show – a 4-star review – but, the previous day, he told me his show had not been successful –

“I didn’t do as well as I could.

“I am a German. Germany has got an inferiority/superiority complex. We basically have this feeling that nobody likes us and we have to stick together but we are better than everybody thinks we are. So, out of that inferiority complex comes a feeling of superiority and we have had that for too long. Germany has to change.

“As a kid, you don’t know what or who you are,” he told me. “Germany is a baby nation. Our country was just pieced together in 1871 and we don’t know who we are.

“The English are like the Germans. They no longer know who they are – the British Empire has gone; they can’t define who they are. The Scots are like the Bavarians. The Scots know very well who they are, what their traditions are and I would love Scottish-type patriotism for Germany. It’s a positive, very inviting patriotism.

“I like Scotland. I like America – I like how positive they are.

“I studied Literature and Philosophy at the German equivalent of the Open University, so I could travel. I lived in America when I was 17 and loved it – North Carolina – very friendly people and I watched lots of stand-up comedy on TV. That is where it started for me. I think it was more or less the year Bill Hicks died.

“I tried to be a writer for a long time but that meant I just stayed in trying to write and never went out meeting people I could write about. I was not quite normal. I got wrapped up in what I wanted the writing to mean rather than just telling a story.

“I did the whole writing thing until I was in Valencia when I saw an ad for a hotel entertainer in Magaluf and thought, Fuck it. That’s what I’m going to do.

“When I was in Majorca, I realised I liked being on stage and met my girlfriend of the time who was British. She had lived in Tenerife and persuaded me to do some compering and comedy there for British audiences there who were not, on average, all that clever. Wonderful people and I really enjoyed compering for them but, whenever I tried my stand-up, if I made any reference to anything that was outside Jordan and The X-Factor, they did not get very much out of it.

“If you add in a lot of racism and a bit of sexism, then you have a good comedy act for Tenerife. And insult people all the time.”

So did he add in racism and sexism?

“Well,” he told me, “I went to borderline things where I thought, I can still live with saying this and feel morally OK with it and not hate myself. But there was some stuff I could never have done with a clean conscience. It was not that terrible, but I would not like doing it for a long period.”

And did he get a lot of stick from predominantly English audiences for being German?

“Oh yeah, plenty! Sometimes I would say to someone in the front row: Don’t worry. Being German is not contagious: it’s not like you’re going to wake up at five in the morning with an incredible urge to invade Poland…

But, often, if I said that, the audience just sat there puzzled because, as my girlfriend explained to me, they had no idea what Poland had to do with anything. These were not 18 year-olds; they were all older people but, to them, the Second World War was just England v Germany and England won 5-1.

“I had lots of material I could never do and so, just over two years ago, I came to London to do ‘proper’ comedy. And, of course, my selling-point in Britain is that I am a German.

“There came a point when I came back from America when I saw my country from the outside for the first time and I started to not want to be German at all. I felt I was German but different. I was born in Munich but moved eight or nine times as a kid, so I saw how various parts of Germany are so different from each other.

“We do have a sense of humour but there’s a much bigger internal division between the different states and between people’s behaviour in public and in private than in any other country I know of. There is the personality you have in private and the face you show to the outside world. In the workplace, there’s no place for humour or screwing around. In private, you can be a completely different person.

“In Germany, there’s a lot you can hate and love at the same time, like the whole order thing. The precision is great, but sometimes you think Just relax. Let go.

“I was at a wedding in Hamburg a few months back – my girlfriend’s friends – and the father of the bride was told I was a comedian and he tensed up. He thought I would go round later making jokes about it and anarchistically destroy everything that he saw as beautiful.

“I think in Germany, there’s a fear of chaos. Humour is great, but it has its place; it is dangerous if there is too much because it might just corrode everything.

“That’s what I love about Britain. Things are more relaxed.

“Here in Britain, I want to be a comedian first and a German second. I do not want to be a comic German. I want German to be the adjective and the noun to be Comic.

A few days after our chat, Paco got a second review for his show – there had been a reviewer in the day before our chat – he had seen the show which Paco knew had not worked well – the show in which, Paco told me, “I didn’t do as well as I could.”

The Broadway Baby reviewer gave Paco Erhard’s 5-Step Guide to Being German a 5-star review.

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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