Tag Archives: sexism

An amoral legend of ITV in the 1980s…

My commented-upon 2011 blog

Back in the mists of 2011, I blogged about Malcolm Leach, a legendary if decidedly amoral figure in the on-screen promotion departments of independent television companies in the 1980s, breaking hearts and making trailers for programmes.

I mentioned his exploits included trying to buy a regional ITV franchise and persuading an existing ITV company to rent him a car, then selling it without telling them.

In 2012, someone called Jamie spotted the blog and commented:


I knew Malcolm Leach in the early 1990s and I have many fond memories of him. I just happened to think of him this afternoon – I don’t know why – and so my Googling has led me here. It would be a shame if he were no more, yet no surprise. 

The last time I saw Malcolm he was running a pub in Clifton. This would have been around 1993. I went over to visit, with my brother. 

Malcolm knew that I liked a drink back then, and he poured me a pint of cider which, in retrospect, was probably about 12%. An elderly gentleman seated at the bar said to me: “If you drink that, you won’t walk out of here.” 

Malcolm simply said: “Pay no attention to him, Jamie. He has angina and so may die at any moment.”

He cackled with laughter and lit one of his untipped fags. I drank the cider and another one too. And that is the last memory I have of that day and, sadly, of Malcolm.


Malcolm Leach got around, in more ways than one.

In 2014, itinerant voice-over announcer Keith Martin commented on my blog:


I met Malcolm. It could have been at HTV… but was it at Anglia, TVS or Southern?. Could it have been at Rediffusion or Thames or LWT? Perhaps it was at Border, Channel or even ATV? How about Yorkshire, not forgetting BFBS TV? I wish I could remember. Help!


More recently, ex-promo person Simon Kennedy spotted my blog and commented:


I remember from my time at TEN: The Entertainment Network:

The wonderful world of futuristic television channels in 1984

TEN went on air on the night of the 29th of March 1984. The launch party was held at The Kensington Roof Gardens with a feed from the satellite to the screens set up around the room. Industry figures from film and television were on the guest list, as well as our VIP, Superman actor Christopher Reeve. 

Champagne flowed as we headed towards the eight o’clock lift-off. 

Malcolm had prepared a ‘Countdown to TEN’, featuring clips taken from cinema trailers of movies with numbers in their titles. Ten was “10”, and so on, until seven, which used a clip from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. 

Standing between me and the monitor were a group of executives from Disney. The moment Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs hit the screen, they went into a huddle and left even before the end of the promo. No-one else seemed to notice this departure and a cheer went up from the guests as we headed into the first film. The festivities kept going into the night.

The next morning we were understandably late into the office, but Malcolm was nowhere to be found. It seems that the previous night, even before the party wrapped up, we received a communication from the Walt Disney company. 

Malcolm had not cleared the use of any of the clips assuming that, just because he could rent the trailers from National Screen Service, he could include them. And, with that, he drove another shiny nail into his own coffin. 

Disney now demanded that not only did we have to write a grovelling public letter of apology, we also had to put out an announcement on air that day stating we didn’t have the rights to show the clip, that we would not be showing Snow White, nor would we ever be showing Snow White. The hung-over Malcolm was dispatched to make up the announcement and get it on air as soon as possible.

Malcolm lasted a further month at TEN. 

Still I ate well – and often – at L’Escargot (the very expensive restaurant) on his expenses.


I thought Simon might have more anecdotes about Malcolm, so I Skyped him. Before talking to him, I looked up Malcolm Leach on the internet and there was a letter in The Guardian in 2001 from him.

Ex-Granada person David Liddiment started at their on-screen Promotion Dept in Manchester (where Malcolm had worked), then became executive producer on Coronation Street 1987-1991, Head of Entertainment at the BBC 1993-1995 and ITV Director of Programmes 1997-2002.

In 2001, he criticised BBC TV for not fulfilling its cultural responsibilities, which Malcolm took exception to. He wrote to The Guardian:


David Liddiment’s remarks put me in mind of Tom Lehrer’s observation that satire died the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Having spent my working life in the same medium as David, I have never known him troubled before by such lofty concepts as “soul, individual acts of creation and communication: ideas, scenes and spectacle shared with an entranced and receptive nation”. Having presided over ITV’s slide from the mediocre to the downright pathetic, he is perhaps the last person to start lambasting the BBC.

Malcolm Leach, Bath


So he was alive and thriving in 2001.

And I Skyped Simon Kennedy to see if he knew more…


Simon: “There are a lot of stories you can’t blog about…”

SIMON: The last time you and I talked was about 30 years ago at TVS.

JOHN: I guess… So… Malcolm was a bit of a character…

SIMON: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: What are some of the other Malcolm stories?

SIMON: Well, there are a lot of stories you can’t blog about, because some of the people are still alive. (I HAVE CHANGED ALL THE NAMES IN WHAT FOLLOWS)

Dick Waterstone had employed Malcolm at Granada in Manchester and mistakenly took him under his wing. When Dick got the job as Head of Presentation and Promotion at TEN The Entertainment Network, he took Malcolm down to London. 

Malcolm had a very pretty young wife whom we met once but who was then bundled up back in the train to Manchester and remained there while Malcolm began to pick off the women friends of his younger promo producers.

There were about three of us in our early twenties. Pete Beacham had a friend called Sarah, whom Malcolm took a fancy to and they were a little bit of an item for a time until she discovered about the wife up in Manchester.

We then had screaming phone calls coming into the TEN offices. “No, Sarah, Malcolm isn’t here right now. No, really.”

To go into an edit suite and watch a man swigging wine and chain-smoking Gitanes at eleven in the morning was something in and of itself. But it was the Disney thing which finally did for him.

JOHN: He seemed to be irresistibly attractive to women for some bizarre reason. Maybe it was the ‘bad boy’ image.

SIMON: It must have been that. He was one of the most remarkably ugly men I can ever remember meeting.

JOHN: I just remember him as being a bit chunky and shapeless.

SIMON: He was a pain-in-the-ass to work for – he was my boss – because he was so mercurial. ‘Hot and cold’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

The last I heard of him must have been in 1984 when he was given the bum’s rush from TEN and we had one very quick drink before he announced he would be leaving us. He didn’t tell us why. He said he was going to go over and meet his good mate Raúl Castro in Cuba, because he was good friends with ‘the Castro boys’. And that was the last I heard of him. Whether he’s still with us, God only knows.

JOHN: Someone definitively told me he was dead. Though maybe he is going to reappear in Cuba, having conned his way into power. Nothing would surprise me.

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Filed under 1980s, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Television

Becky Fury + the creepy clown sex cult

As if she had not suffered enough, Becky risked all by travelling on a rare Thameslink train

So I got an email from Malcolm Hardee Award winning comic Becky Fury. It read:

“Do you want to do a blog about this creepy clown sex cult that I narrowly avoided joining?”

Well, obviously, there is only one answer to a question like that.

I was, to an extent, however, literally laid low with a spinal problem, so the ever-plucky Becky – rather than talk to me over Skype – decided to risk the wild uncertainties of train travel by Thameslink and the physical risks posed by my coughing fits and nose sniffles to come up to my home in Borehamwood.

This is how the conversation went…


JOHN: A clown sex cult?

BECKY: There was a clowning course. All sex cults need a good USP.

JOHN: How did you find them?

BECKY: He found me.

JOHN: Who?

BECKY: The guru.

JOHN: There’s a guru?

BECKY: Of course. All sex cults need a guru.

JOHN: And his selling point as a Messiah is…?

BECKY: That he has a clown school in a European city.

(NOTE TO READERS – THIS IS NOT, REPEAT NOT, IN PARIS)

BECKY: It seemed to have lots of interesting teachers. But I started getting suspicious when he started offering me a very reduced fee. Also I did an interview online and he wanted to re-name me.

JOHN: To what name?

BECKY: (LAUGHS) Miss Behave.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Did you point out there is already a well-established Miss Behave?

BECKY: I didn’t want to give him any more information.

JOHN: But you wanted to be a clown?

Becky having a happier time in Borehamwood

BECKY: No. That’s the thing. I didn’t want to be a clown and certainly not using the name of someone who was already using that name. I had wanted to learn some techniques. There are always interesting things you can learn from people who are masters of their arts. But he sent me a list of classes that would take place and they included things like ‘Oil Massage’ which I thought maybe should not be on the syllabus for a Clown Course.

JOHN: Maybe all clown courses have it… Maybe Gaulier in Paris has a…

BECKY: No, I don’t think his is a sex cult; more a hate cult.

JOHN: Well, he allegedly breaks you down to build you up. A bit like Charles Manson.

BECKY: Well, this clown cult guy kept re-using the term ‘Family’… and also the word ‘polyamory’. The guy is from the 1960s, so he’s the sort of guy that took a load of acid, ’freaked out’, then became a ‘clown’.

JOHN: I still don’t understand how you got into this. You saw an ad somewhere?

BECKY: No. he found me. He was a Facebook Friend and he contacted me and said he was interested in stuff he had seen I was doing and he thought maybe I would want to attend his course. It all seemed very innocent to start with. But I said I didn’t think I could afford £3,000 for the month’s course. So he said: “What about £1,500? It’s not about the money; it’s about who we get on the course.”

And then he dropped the cost again and I thought: Well, what’s the exchange here? What am I going to have to do? How am I going to be paying?

Becky Fury minting it – but only with chocolate coins

This was just before the Edinburgh Fringe, so I was very distracted. He kept asking me to go on the course, then I got one last message from him and then suddenly I got contacted by another woman who was a clown and it turned out she was his wife. And she was saying: “Well, actually, it’s going to be £3,000.”

So I think I had done something to piss him off. And then there were some other women he was involved with. And then there was an email from another woman basically accusing him of being exactly what I thought he was: that he was this kind of very controlling guru who basically got lots of weak women to come to what was billed as a clown course but basically it was a sex cult.

JOHN: But you are only surmising.

BECKY: Yes.

JOHN: What was the ‘sell’?

BECKY: He said he wanted to direct me in a show and then have me go round Europe saying, “I am the protégée of (HIS NAME),” and all his clown mates would think: That sexy woman? What a fucking man he is! He’s moulded this woman; she’s doing his bidding. It’s a big male ego trip and I’ve had that before. There was another older comedian – a British one. His thing was he wanted me to be his protégée and have everybody saying about him: “Oh! Wow!” 

This recent guy was wanting to change what I was doing. I said: “No. I do comedy… I don’t want to go round Europe doing ‘clowning’. I want to go on the course and learn interesting techniques that I can put into what I do… not be something that you’ve created.”

JOHN: What’s the difference between Comedy and Clowning?

BECKY: Well, you can use aspects of clowning in comedy. It’s just that heightened quality of performance… Well, it’s basically just fucking around, isn’t it?

JOHN: Can I quote that?

Becky knows a thing or two about… erm… messing about…

BECKY: Yeah. That’s all it is. That’s another reason I didn’t go. I’ve done bits of clowning before and really all it is is just fucking about. You need to get yourself in the zone of just fucking about. There are courses on how to be ‘stupid’ and how to ‘uncover your inner fool’. But all of these things are about remembering how to play. And that’s what comedians do. They play – mainly with language a lot of the time.

I’m kinda fed up with these older men wanting to use me to be some kind of extension of themselves.

JOHN: To create through you.

BECKY: Yeah.

JOHN: Those who can do and those who can’t manipulate.

BECKY: They end up using you as a vessel for their thwarted youth – and they get off on it as well, because it’s a male thing. I’ve had this before. I’ve already had that one guru. He did a lot of stuff that was very manipulative and controlling. A lot of the time with these old men that go out with younger women, the reason they do it is some inadequacy of theirs that they don’t want women of their own age to pick up on. So they’ll go for women that are young and naive who think: Oh, wow! This guy is really sorted! when, actually, he’s just a dickhead.

I’m not making any moral judgment. I think it’s just an interesting aspect of humanity.

JOHN: Randy men?

BECKY: Randy clowns.

JOHN: You could have formed a double act: Randy & Miss Behave 2.

BECKY: In a way I would like to have had time to find out what was actually going  in the clown sex cult.

JOHN: But?

BECKY: Unfortunately we only have a finite amount of time on this planet and I have a new comedy show to write for the Leicester Comedy Festival. Anyway, after all that, I never heard from him again.

JOHN: Perhaps you will. Perhaps, one day, there will be a knock on your door and standing there will be a man in a red nose wearing long floppy shoes and beeping a horn at you.

BECKY: Mmmm… Different type of clown.

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What the Dutch are really like – by a London-based American comic…

London-based American globetrotting comedy and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, 85, has briefly returned to the UK from Amsterdam where, below, she found time to jot down a few generalisations.

Don’t blame me!

Lynn Ruth in Amsterdam (Photograph by Neil Robinson)


I believe women in the UK are the most advanced thinkers in the world: liberal, open-minded, ambitious and proud of who they are.

But they cannot hold a candle to Dutch women.

The girls in Amsterdam do not take shit from anyone. They ride their bicycles in their fancy dresses and their sensible shoes (no helmets). They pay their own way and do not consider it polite for you to offer to treat them: they call that patronizing.

They are gorgeous, tall, blonde and independent. They tell you exactly what they think. They are NEVER wrong. AND they are loyal to each other. Do not ever try to criticize someone’s friend here; you will be ground to dust. I find that comforting. I am always sticking my foot in my mouth or stumbling into the wrong opinion but I know my buddies here will protect me and stand behind me, even though they might call me later to tell me what an idiot I am.

My generation – fools that we were – believed women’s work is to cook, clean and pick up after men and children. Not the girls in Amsterdam. You cook for yourself here and take responsibility for your own mess… no-one else’s. What a freedom!!!

The Dutch respect individuals’ right to make decisions about their own bodies in this country. My darling friend Nina is an abortion doctor. If you forgot the morning-after pill or the condom broke, she will help you set things right. Euthanasia is legal here as well. It is a comfort to me to know that, if I start getting loopy, one of my friends can ship me over to Amsterdam and, with a little heroin and a lot of wine, I can cross over to the other side. Just like that.  

No lingering around, helpless and drooling, for me.  

Amsterdam is a delightful city, vibrant and filled with interesting things to see and do, but the local food is execrable. These people love fries drenched in mayonnaise and greasy frikandel, a hot dog filled with greasy chicken, pork and veal, deep-fried and smothered in curry ketchup or applesauce. Everyone here loves pancakes with lots of sugar and anything not sweetened is deep-fried. If that isn’t horrifying enough, the Dutch love candy sprinkles on toast for breakfast. No wonder the incidence of diabetes has spiked here and so has obesity.

Dutch parents are known to take their children to an abandoned place like a forest, give them a sandwich and a bottle of water and let them find their own way home. They call this “Dropping” and it is a beloved tradition here. One Dutch woman put it this way: “You are literally dropping your kids into the world. Of course, you make sure they won’t die, but other than that, they have to find their own way.”

I personally have been trying to find my own way for 85 years 11 months now. No luck so far.

Lynn Ruth’s venue for five nights in Amsterdam…

I was in Amsterdam to perform at its famous Comedy Café, where I was to headline for four days and feature for one. On the way there, on my first night, I passed several coffee shops where the smell of pot almost literally knocked me off my feet and, when I looked inside, I realized that the only people there were tourists. The Dutch do not smoke weed. They prefer something stronger like cocaine or meth.

And they aren’t very fond of tourists either. Last year alone there were more tourists in Amsterdam than there are people in all of Holland. They clog the streets and pee in flower boxes. They also spend billions on trinkets and nonsense that boosts the economy and the Dutch love money. The only thing they hate about the Euro is spending it.

My first night was a Tuesday and the audience was sparse and a bit of a challenge. They were from everywhere in the world, but very few had English as their first language. Getting a laugh is not easy when your audience is processing what you say and translating it back into their own tongue. What I do in that situation is talk slowly and pause after my punch lines. Amy Schumer gave me that advice at least twelve years ago: “When you say something funny, WAIT. Then, they will figure out that they are supposed to laugh.”

And, in Amsterdam at least, she has proven right.

The lovely thing about returning here so many times (this is my fifth visit) is that I see the same comedians and each time I see how they have sharpened their jokes and improved their timing. I also hear comedians that have not changed their set in years and I have heard them say the same thing so much I can chime in on their punch lines.

I get the problem. It is really difficult to carve out a never-fail joke and, when you finally get one and get the timing just right, you are loathe to let it go. It is exactly the same philosophy as allowing your child to make his own mistakes. He will often make a bit of a mess at first but eventually he figures it all out.  

A new joke needs understanding, love and persistence. You have to prune it and rearrange the words. You have to figure out the pauses and the emphases. But for most of us the agony of a silent audience, if we don’t get it right, is too painful. We are terrified to take a chance. So we stick to the winners for years and years and years.

Dutch audiences are very forgiving and very kind. They do not follow a particular comedian unless is he is wildly famous and I do not play in those big name expensive clubs that feature TV stars. In the places I perform, the audience come to have an affordable night out and a good laugh. The line-up means nothing to them and they rarely remember you from one show to another.

Next week, I am in Farfa, Italy, where I will stay in a monastery and show the nuns what they are missing.


(NOTE: Euthanasia is currently only legal in Holland in cases of “hopeless and unbearable” suffering.)

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Some sexual and sectarian attacks on female comics at the Edinburgh Fringe

Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is an emotional strain on all performers but, in one way, perhaps more for female performers.

Yesterday’s blog mentioned Samantha Pressdee and her show Covered (in PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court), which is largely about mental health.

Last night, she posted this on her Facebook page:


My night has ended with the police. I’m very grateful to the transport police. As I was entering Waverley Station to get my train back to where I am staying a man touched me.

I was just walking past and he grabbed my hand which was on my breast because I was holding my backpack straps. I just screamed at him “WHAT THE FUCK, YOU DON’T TOUCH WOMEN AT NIGHT!” (Or in the day. I was in distress. It’s scarier at night on my own.)

Some station staff asked me if I was OK and I said: “It’s fine, he just touched my hand.” Then I realise he is following me, cocky in his body language and pouting his lips suggestively. I just started screaming at him that he was a disgusting pervert and, thankfully, the police were there and went after him. I thought, based on previous experience, There is no point making a statement, but they said the laws are different in Scotland. He could be charged with threatening behaviour. So I will make a statement.

It is not OK to just randomly touch a woman in the street anywhere on her body, EVER. It is this kind of entitlement some people seem to think they have to our bodies that drove me to become a free the nipple activist. My body is not for male gratification. My body is mine.


Meanwhile, it was a fairly normal day for Janey Godley.

In her bestselling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark, she wrote about how her uncle sexually abused her from the age of 5 to 13. She successfully got him prosecuted and jailed 30 years later.

Janey was brought up in a Protestant family. Her uncle was a member of the Orange Order. She faces endless ongoing online sectarian and sexual attacks with occasional death and rape threats from men – often supporters of the Rangers football team (Rangers is traditionally a Protestant team; Celtic is traditionally a Catholic team). 

Given that Janey was brought up Protestant and is, as far as I know, an atheist, the sectarian attacks on her as a Catholic are particularly bizarre.

The example below is a fairly mild version of what she gets.

Yesterday, she Tweeted a 1920 photo of the Edinburgh street where she is currently living during the Fringe and got a response.

Janey’s response?

“A Rangers fan is angry at a street and thinks I am a Catholic. Poor Blair Muircroft. Imagine being this angry on a Sunday morning.”

The last laugh (if that is the correct word) goes to Janey.

Because, also yesterday, her Fringe show at The Counting House got a 4-star review from Broadway World which ended:

“As ever, her show is completely free to attend and filled on a first-come-first-served basis. Many are turned away each day, so early queueing is strongly advised – up to an hour before being guaranteed entry.”

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Filed under Comedy, sectarianism, sexism

In Edinburgh, Becky Fury finds the Spirit of Comedy may have Alzheimer’s

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe started on Wednesday – or yesterday – or possibly today – depending who you are and with whom you are performing.

I am not going to be in Edinburgh for the Fringe but, already, people are telling me what is happening up there. For example, Malcolm Hardee Award winning Becky Fury, who is up there 3rd-25th August performing Becky Fury’s One Hour to Save the World (in 55 Minutes)

This is her Diary so far…


THURSDAY

I arrive in Leith.

I am sitting outside the digs waiting for my host to arrive.

An elderly neighbour pops outside to enquire as to ‘who I am’. An existential question with infinite answers but in this instance I choose to tell him I’m performing at the Festival and I’m waiting for a friend to let me in to the house where I’m staying. 

He seems more than satisfied with this explanation and tells me there is a key hidden under the mat and I can let myself in. I decide this is poor etiquette and decide to wait for my friend. 

It turns out that was the right decision as, when she arrives and I tell her about the friendly elderly neighbour, she tells me she does not have an elderly neighbour and it turns out I was sitting in front of the wrong house.

The old man either has Alzheimer’s or is an arch prankster. 

I would like to think, as I am at a comedy festival, that it is the latter and I have just been welcomed into my new home by the Spirit of Comedy, an archetypal trickster greeting me with all the possibly comic chaos that could ensue.


FRIDAY

Arriving at the venue – Upstairs at the Waverley Bar – we are informed we have to fetch some chairs. We are part of PBH’s Free Fringe.

An interesting discussion ensues with me telling the boys, as banter, that they should carry more chairs than the girls. They look quite hurt. 

I am guessing they are aware of the current bias towards female comics and are feeling that, if they are going to take second place to them, they don’t want to carry all the chairs for their audience to sit on too.

I am in the mood for banter rather than feminist hectoring but I mine the latter for comedic potential and point out that men are physically stronger than women and should accept and capitalise on that or risk becoming a completely obsolete technology and they need to carve some kind of niche for themselves in a world where jars come with a vacuum seal.

To illustrate my point, I say I am carrying three chairs, so the biggest of the lads should take at least four chairs. I size up the smallest guy and offer to carry his chairs for him and give him a piggy back.

Later at the venue a competition ensues with another comedian about who has had the most threesomes; I win, without even needing to resort to the less salubrious back catalogue of tales I have collected. 

The discussion then returns to walking to the venue with the chairs. 

He informs me he did it with six chairs. 

My metaphorical dick is very tired from all the swinging it has been doing this morning, so I allow him that victory. 

I love all the comedians in my venue.

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Jewish comic Lynn Ruth Miller on Hanukkah in Germany and #MeToo

London-based American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues to guest-blog here as she tours the world. Last week, she was in Germany…


Manuel Wolff invited Lynn Ruth to his Boing Club in Cologne

I flew to Cologne to perform at Manuel Wolff’s Boing Comedy Club.

75 years ago, to say the very name ‘Germany’ made my family cringe.

Now, in 2018. I was celebrating my version of Chanukah in that very country and loving it. It is a new world isn’t it?

Lisa, Manuel’s assistant, and I walked the lovely, clean streets sparkling with holiday lights… December in Cologne is alight with Christmas though, to my surprise, I didn’t see a menorah anywhere. Are the Jews still in hiding there?

Since Lisa and I are liberated, modern women, our conversation crept to the big issue women are facing today: the #metoo movement. Our concerns were women’s status in the arts and how we can achieve a level playing field in our professions. Our conversation was especially interesting to me because Cologne was the start of the outrage that blossomed into #metoo. Remember?

New Year’s Eve 2016 in this city, hordes of North African men assaulted white women who were out on the town, celebrating. The press blamed it on the discrepancy between western cultural mores and those in Africa.

“The relationship with a woman, so fundamental to Western modernity, will long remain incomprehensible to the average [refugee or migrant] man,” declared Algerian author Kamel Daoud in Le Monde.

But the #metoo movement has confirmed that it isn’t men of color or rich men or poor men; it is MEN who use women as toys. And that sweeping statement is the root of everyone’s uncertainty about the validity of this plethora of women who have accused men of sexual assault in their past. Every rational person knows that it is only the attitudes of  SOME men, but certainly not ALL of them.

“The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference”

Lisa and I discussed the opportunities for woman to achieve prestige and affluence as easily and quickly as men in Germany and the UK. Both of us are in fields where inequality of opportunity is most apparent. The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference. We two were fighting the same anger. We both have experienced gross injustice in the system, limiting the progress we were trying to make in our careers.

I often wonder if these glass ceilings are more excuses we make for people simply not appreciating our talents. The answer is that it is impossible to be sure.

Statistics certainly support the theory that women have less of a chance to progress in any field or earn as much income for the same work. To me, just being aware of this and talking about the insult that creates is a huge step forward. In my day, this dichotomy was simply accepted. It was a man’s world.

After we finished trying to fix society, I went to my hotel, took a nap and tarted-up for my headline performance at Manuel’s Boing Comedy Club.

The show Manuel creates is fast-paced, professional and funny. He is a superb host and knows just how much to involve his audience, who are mostly German but fluent in English with a mixture of English-speaking students and a smattering of people from all over the globe. The comedians made a point of coming up to me and introducing themselves to me. The audience loved to laugh and the comedian who preceded me was so professional I was terrified to have to follow him His name was David Deeblew. He finished his act by juggling plastic bags in the air while he spoke. I am someone who can barely walk in a straight line when I am sober. You can imagine how intimidated I felt.

Headlining at a show with two intervals means that I must amuse a pretty drunk and very tired audience. Thank goodness it worked and everyone laughed (or I THINK they did. My hearing is definitely NOT what it used to be).

The best part of the evening, though, was afterwards.  

Lynn Ruth and the godfather of stand-up comedy in Germany

All the comedians stayed afterwards to drink and talk about anything and everything. One of the people who stayed was Johnny ‘Hollywood’ Rotnem, an American who is the so-called godfather of English stand-up comedy in Germany. He was the one who started the clubs that are now all over the country. Comedy in German has really taken off here despite the fact that everyone thinks Germans do not have a sense of humor. The number of successful clubs in the country proves that stereotype wrong.

I will be back in Germany soon to do Andy Valvur’s club at Fiddlers Pub in Bonn. Andy is a former San Francisco comedian who knows all the people who were the big names in comedy when I was there.  

We had a place called The Holy City Zoo where Robin Williams among many others cut their teeth on stand-up comedy. Famous people like Will Durst, Johnny Steele, Larry Bubbles Brown, Michael Meehan… all of them began there.

Andy came to my show at Boing Comedy and I felt like I was experiencing a bit of comedic history when I spoke to him about how comedy has expanded, improved and changed.  

Comedians today no longer stick to the rigid set-up/punch-line formula.  I think that is a mistake. Too many words spoil the joke just as too many cooks spoil the broth.

The next morning, I had to get up early to catch the plane to Frankfurt for my two-day comedy workshop and show.

After I arrived in Frankfurt, I crashed until 3.00 pm, then set out for the comedy class. This was a group of ten people who had tried comedy before and wanted a boot-camp kind of refresher. They were from a variety of countries and only two of them spoke English as their first language.  

It must be unbelievably difficult to do humor in a different language from your own, but these people were up for it and all their jokes had huge potential. The two hour class actually lasted four hours but I am satisfied that we gave everyone the personal attention they needed.  

The next day, their assignment was to bring in five minutes of material to practice for a show that night. I thought these people had huge potential and I was very excited to see what the result would be of our intensive joke analysis.

Four of the students joined me for dinner after the show and I got to know them a bit better.  

“It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer”

In the group was Tom from Finland, Pedro from Portugal, Julian from Germany, Clem, a lovely woman from France, Kirthy from India and me from America. It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer together and talking about comedy as a profession even though all of the others work at other jobs. We drank a lot of alcohol. It helped.

The next day was our final class and then the show. We all critiqued each other and, to my delight, all the criticisms incorporated what I had taught: short set ups, strong punches, direct sentences.

The group not only had to master language differences but they had to let go of material they loved that wasn’t working well. They did it and the show was great.  We all went out for dinner afterwards to celebrate.

I had a 7.00am flight back to London and had to battle the German version of Ryanair. For some unknown reason, my backpack registered something lethal and not only did they keep me standing for a half hour waiting for the police to come but, when the officious inspector went through the backpack, he just tossed everything in a pile and let me put everything back together. Of course, there was nothing in the bag but a notebook of jokes, a lot of tissues (just in case) and an American passport.

That might have been what set the detector off. America is not popular these days.

The incident was truly minor, but I was terribly upset and couldn’t seem to regain my equilibrium.

I suspect this is why psychological warfare is so effective. I had done nothing but was made to feel like a dangerous criminal.  

The good news is that the rest of the trip home was lovely and I managed to get through UK passport control relatively quickly and home to bed because I had to get to Top Secret Comedy Club that night.

Which I did.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya on news you tend not to see reported on BBC TV

Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick flew to Nairobi last Wednesday to work with her Kenya-based charity Mama Biashara.

These are her first diary entries from there. I have edited them. Full versions on her Facebook page.


THURSDAY

The market is not busy and my chums there are variously exercised by 

  1. the new fuel tax – 16% – which is having catastrophic effects for them 
  2. the ghastly goings on in Kisumu (see below) 
  3. the riots/killings/house burnings in various areas across the country – all tribal related 
  4. the Chinese and the fact that Kenya is now up to and past its nipples in debt to them. Hence the 16% fuel tax to help Uhuru pay off the 122 billion Kenya shillings that he owes them (payable by 2021) 

The telly is on and the news is covering the hideous rape and murder of a seven months pregnant student in Kisumu. Who just happened to be having an affair with the Governor of Kisumu. After having an affair with his son. She got pregnant and eventually, for various reasons, she forwarded all their texts to his wife and was going to go public with all the gossip when she was kidnapped in a car belonging to said Governor, raped and stabbed multiple times by three goons. 

Now this is bad enough. But as we watch, Mama Bishara helper David voices the opinion of (as helper Felista confirms) “Kenyan men”. 

“She made her cross,” he says forcefully. “How can a woman have sex with a man and then another man and then go to another man? She has brought this on herself. This is what happens.” 

The man at the next table is nodding. 

FRIDAY

I fail miserably to get up early and do lots of sorting out. But I do some and then head off to town to meet Doris and a load of lady hawkers with problems. No one chooses to be a hawker. But 60% of the Nairobi population – SIXTY PER CENT – live in what the government choose to call ‘the informal sector’. Slums. Some worse than others. They cannot afford a shop, or a stall so they hawk.

Now that used to be difficult enough but the new Governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko, elected very much on a “man of the people” ticket, has turned out to be a man of very different people from the huddled masses he claimed to represent. 

Mike is a man of Big Business People.

So it frequently goes like this … 

I have a tiny stall at a roadside in my area. Two things can happen: the government demolishes it to make space for widening a road or making another highway and adding to the Chinese debt OR Mike’s men demolish it because we are not liking the look of the small businesses cluttering the roadsides with their thoughtless attempts at fending off starvation and keeping a roof over their family’s heads.

So, because I cannot trade up and get a formal stall or shop, I trade down and hawk… walking around with my wares (and my young children) or putting my stuff (and my young children) on a sack on a pavement. 

The best prices and highest demand are in the City Centre. Where Mike has just banned hawking. Cue the City Council goons scenting blood and prisons full of old ladies who have been selling carrots or tea at the roadside. 

We are meeting fifteen lady hawkers in town. We start to assemble at the top of Tom Mboya Street in a tiny area which has been deemed safe for hawkers as long as they pay an ‘informal fee’ to the City Council collectors. 

However, it seems that today is a ‘swoop’ day and shrieks from around the corner and a rush of running hawkers tells us the City Council have decided that the informal fee does not work right now and are arresting, confiscating and beating at will. So we run and reassemble across the road. 

I say run. The old lady on crutches goes as fast as she can, the two carrying toddlers waddle and the heavily pregnant girl trots. But, outside, the women are still frightened. So we go to a little cafe. We are safe inside.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Political Correctness has not gone far enough! – Ban Baldism and Beardism!

We have lived long enough in a world where women are constantly undermined in favour of men. For hundreds of years, women have been seen as ‘not as important’ or ‘not as good’ as men.

Recently, it was revealed that BBC TV’s QI host Sandi Toksvig was getting only 40% of the fee previous host Stephen Fry received.

This is outrageous!

The fact that Stephen Fry did the job for ten years and is generally accepted as bringing prestige to the show is not a factor, any more than the fact that Paul Merton has appeared on Have I Got News For You for what seems like generations. Just because he has should not mean he gets paid any more than a one-off guest panelist. People should be paid according to the amount of wordage and length of screen time they have in each episode of each panel show.

Popularity and statistics are less important than pure equality

The fact that Sandi Toksvig currently has 158,000 Twitter followers and Stephen Fry has 12.7 million should not be a factor. This is about equality of pay for people doing the same job.

All comedians in any stage show should be paid exactly the same and there should be a statutory rate per minute no matter whether the comedy is performed in a local club or at the London Palladium. Comedy is comedy. A comedian is a comedian. A presenter is a presenter is a presenter.

There should be statutory rates for plays. All actors playing Hamlet should be paid the same amount. It is outrageous they are not. It is the same play and they are spouting the same words.

“One equal wage for all creative performers” should be the mantra for the 2020s. An actor is an actor. A comic is a comic. A TV presenter is a TV presenter. 

We should ban all financial negotiations on pay and fees

NO PAY DISCRIMINATION!

Talent is a matter of opinion not a fact. We should outlaw performers’ agents and ban all financial negotiations on pay and fees because negotiating is, in itself, an inherently discriminatory endeavour. 

THIS IS ABOUT EQUALITY!

But we should also positively discriminate more generally. 

PC has not gone far enough.  

Equality is not just a right; it is a necessity and should be – it has to be – enforced. 

For years, bald men have been discriminated against and maligned. It is overdue that this is reversed and bald men like me should be paid more and given more job opportunities than more talented, experienced and suitable hirsute men after years of discrimination and ridicule aimed against us. Hairism must be rooted out. We must restore and impose equality.

As far as I am aware, no bald candidate for British Prime Ministership has ever beaten an hairy candidate in a General Election. 

Churchill versus Atlee in two slaphead UK General Elections

With Atlee v Churchill in 1945 and 1951, it was the battle of two slapheads. In the General Election battle between Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock in 1987, Thatcher had the hair and, indeed, the balls.

The fact that baldism is rife in politics and in Society at large is self-evident.

And the same goes for men with beards.

For too long has Society accepted open discrimination against bearded men.

Margaret Thatcher, it is reported, would not appoint any bearded man to her Cabinet.

But this particular discrimination goes way back. It started, I believe, in Britain with the Beard Tax in 16th century England when Queen Elizabeth I introduced a tax on every (male) beard of more than two weeks’ growth.

In 1698, Peter the Great introduced a beard tax in Russia “to bring Russian Society into line with Western European countries”. The Tsarist police were empowered to forcibly shave off the beards of those who refused to pay the tax. This inevitably triggered a revolution in 1917.

But this institutionalised beardism is not just restricted to Right Wing regimes.

Even People’s champion Enver Hoxha fell prey to beardism

When, in 1979, I went to Albania (then under the benevolent leadership of Enver Hoxha) I had to have part of my beard shaved off so there was a gap of at least regulation distance between my chin beard and my sideburns.

Even under a benevolent Socialist regime, beardism can flourish and has flourished.

What all this proves is that there is deep-seated institutionalised beardism and hairism engrained in the very bedrock of society, including  British society.

The only way to rid our country of these pernicious prejudices is to have quotas.

There should be quotas in all jobs in all areas of society for bald men and bearded men related to their percentage of the population at large.

If a hairy-headed or shaved-chin candidate is more qualified to do a job, then he (or she) should be rejected in favour of a bald or bearded candidate, until the correct quotas are met. 

It is unfortunate but it is necessary.

This is about equality.

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Lynn Ruth Miller on US women comics, body taboo defiance, nice Trump voters

Lynn Ruth back in her San Francisco again

The last two blogs have been written by American comedian and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, returning to the US for three weeks of gigs. 

This was what happened on her first weekend back in San Francisco…


Saturday was a Thanksgiving dinner – because I will not be here for the real one – and two shows back-to-back that I thought I would love. 

And, indeed, it was all magnificent. 

We had turkey that tasted like turkey! I do not like to admit that food makes my world go round but it sure did today. Turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, veggies and peach cobbler for dessert.  

Still stuffed, I left for the Retzlaff Winery where I MC’d a show I helped establish ten years ago with Michelle Hemmenway. It has grown by leaps and bounds and  the place was filled with comedy lovers.  

I opened the show for an all-woman line-up and the sad thing was that the women were really not very sharp even though the admission was high enough for people to expect to hear the Bay Area’s finest.

This is not to say that Michelle has not booked some wonderful people but it was very mediocre. The headliner especially made me sad because her jokes were really marvellous, clever and well thought-out  but they were spaced so far apart she lost the rhythm of her set. 

I am very, very spoiled I guess. In London, the women are sharp if not sharper than the men. I have to say they are a challenge to me and I doubt I will ever be as funny and wonderful as they are. Someone like Tiff Stevenson makes me realize how much farther I need to go to be a great comedian.  

Not so in the Bay Area. These women keep the stereotype alive… that we are funny in our way but not great.

But we all CAN be exceptional if we give it the time and the attention it takes. 

Stand-up comedy is an art and cannot be mastered in a month, a year or even five years. It takes time.

All things that are worth it do.  

I left the winery to run into the city to do another show called Body Taboo Defiance.  

This was a burlesque show but Dottie Lux, the producer and originator of the show, wanted me to talk about my anorexia.  

I sang one song and told the story of the chocolate icebox cake and people came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes telling me how much they loved what I did. It was very gratifying.  

In fact, to my surprise, the entire night was brilliant for me because people were so accepting and so receptive to me… if only they had been that when I lived here.  

I guess that is the way it is in the world. No-one thinks much of the kid next door. It is the one out-of-towner that shimmers and glows.  

The rest of that show was unique in the extreme. 

It was all dance and naked burlesque with one man who wanted to be a woman, one woman who wanted to be a man, one black girl who wanted to be anything but what she was and Dottie Lux herself who stripped to the flesh and painted her body parts with blue paint she blotted on paper and pasted to a ladder.  

We saw bodies that were misshapen, flabby, solid and lean and what I loved about the show was that – because they all were naked we didn’t judge their looks – we judged the quality of the dance and the message their movement gave us.  

It was truly a thoughtful, interesting show that made us all question our own body image problems. The women in the show were brave and courageous and each beautiful in their own individual way.   

Sunday was catch-up day and, once again, I was struck by how far I have drifted from Bay Area values.  

Many of the lovely people I am with voted for Trump.  

One beautiful friend whose husband is physically falling apart and needs home care voted for Trump not realizing that her vote encouraged his administration to cut the very services she needs to keep her husband alive and comfortable.  

She is a wise and liberal woman in every way as are the others that I have met here who voted Republican. 

It is almost impossible for me to come to terms with their reasoning when I know them as superb people who are intelligent, socially-conscious, kind and loving human beings… not the idiots we in Britain assume are the clods who wanted Trump to be in the White House. 

Go figure.

I also met with two women who were in direct contrast with one another. 

One is a writer who has published a beautiful book but, to keep herself afloat in this very bloated economy, thinks she has to do PR for a product she doesn’t believe in and is in a relationship that is not satisfying to her.  

Her health is precarious and her fear of her future is immense. She got the flu and swears it made her lactose intolerant. You figure that one out. She feels locked into routines she never wanted and never planned to have to face in her late sixties.  

The other woman is truly happy, with a life she orchestrated and created bit by bit – a well-adjusted, artistic, creative mother who loves being a mother and enjoys the life she and her husband of ten years have created. He is a creative musician who has figured out how to channel his creativity into government-funded projects exposing families to music and all the pleasure it can bring.   

It is always a joy to be with her because she confirms my theory that happiness is something we each create for ourselves no matter what the circumstances.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Last two diary postings from critic Kate Copstick in Kenya were over a week ago

More edited extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary. Full versions on her Facebook page. She is in Kenya where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

Mama Biashara (‘Business Mother’) gives small sums to impoverished individuals and small groups to help them start self-supporting small businesses.

Yesterday, she posted on her Facebook page: “So sorry not been in touch. Bit poorly.”

Below are her last two diary entries posted before that.


Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

Tuesday 7th November

Still in stalemate regarding the Kisii refugees. Things have worsened there and the local Big Bad Boys have come in and done the refugees some serious bodily harm. So now they are scattered. We await an update from Vicky, but I am losing confidence that we can do much good for this community.

I hit the market and get the usual collection of people looking shocked (“Today? Was it not next week?”), sleekit (“Er, it got lost on the way coming…”) or, in the case of Oscar The Soapstone, just having got the order wrong.

However I do get some fab huge cow horns (my new Christmas campaign “Give Someone You Love The Horn For Christmas” will be kicking off as soon as I get back to the UK).

I chat to Mrs Mwangi about her making some gift bags and tote bags for Mama Biashara. They are not that cheap, but I am so impressed with Kenya’s ‘no plastic bags’ thing that I want to try and reduce the number we use in the shop in London.

I meet Doris and a group of eighteen young people who have been trained by our mechanic boys. They have a sliver of a shack out of which they work repairing cars and trucks. What they need from me is a bit of a budget for widgets and brake pads and fan belts so that they do not need to be buying piecemeal from their immediate competition.

As soon as they are able, they will expand and train more young people. They are absolutely admirable.

Doris and I repair to a local hostelry where we are joined by David. Tusker beer is drunk, and we dance. We dance quite a lot. I have not danced for a long time. My ability to move, despite my advanced age and total lack of bottom, is remarked upon by a table of men next to the dance floor. I dance with one of them. He invites me back to his house and I decline gracefully. Either I look particularly desperate or courtship is turbocharged in Uthiru.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Wednesday 8th November

David is in recalcitrant mode. He is moody because Doris has successfully taken her ex-husband to court and forced him to help with school fees and other things he has failed to do for seven years.

This is unacceptable in David’s eyes.

This is not really surprising, given that he is A Real Kikkuyu Man.

When coming back from Dagoretti market on Monday, we bought a big chunk of pumpkin. David likes pumpkin. We stopped on the road close to where his house is. He wanted to drop it off. I handed it to him and he just looked at me.

He called his wife who schlepped her way through the mud from the house to collect it and take it back while David sat with me. Kikkuyu men do not carry fruit or vegetables. That is a woman’s work. Kikkuyu men MIGHT allow themselves to be seen to carry meat. But nothing else. All else is for the woman to carry. True.

Anyway, he is not happy that a Kikkuyu man is being forced to pay for his children’s anything. He takes a wrong turning and Doris and I have to get out into ankle-deep black slime. I would say mud but I do not think it is mere mud.

I drag Doris around the labyrinth of Kamkunji where prices have shot up. We get what we can – eight dozen mugs and six tea urns – and call David. He has parked a considerable distance away. And orders us to come there. I say something down the phone which turns heads up and down the hill we are ascending.

I get a mkokoteni (porter) and I tell David we will be outside the police station. There is the usual minor stand-off and delay and then he calls to say we have to go across to the other side of the main road. We do. We wait. He calls to say he is at the police station. We say we have crossed the road. He wants to know why.

Eventually, he rolls up and refuses to put anything in the boot, so I am in the back seat under our purchases.

The news from Kisii just gets worse. Now there has been some raping. We are not sure of whom, by whom, but that has set off more violence and it looks like my plans for Peace and Harmony in Kisii will not be bearing fruit.

First thing in the morning, we had our Big Meeting with the group of mothers whose little girls have been raped and are currently staying with Joan. The mothers are almost as traumatised as the girls. And, despite the fact that child rape is endemic in the slum villages and beyond, the stigma attached to the mother is dreadful. They barely show their faces. Plus they are dealing with the knowledge that their husband / father/ boyfriend / brother has raped their child.

What we are trying to do is remake the mother/child bond and enable them to go back out into the world. So this means counselling (sort of) for both, group talks, mutual support, a place to go with problems, medical help where necessary and a way for the women to build a new life. A business.

The mother of Susan, the girl who has now been raped twice in quick succession is there. She looks haunted. Most of the other mums do not even speak. But they are positive about the project. And about being the first group.

It is a challenging couple of hours but I think we need to go very gently forward. Obviously that is out of my comfort zone. But Joan is great at it and has been doing it for a long time. The ladies decide, variously, on tea and coffee businesses, egg selling and we agree that our next meeting will be on Monday, when I will bring all the business kit.

Joan has bad news about the child she was called to see early this morning.

Three years old, raped by her father and left in the Ngong Forest in the rain.

She is dead.

The mothers nod resignedly. At least they still have their girls.

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