Tag Archives: sexism

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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A glimpse at the history of the casting couch before/during the Weinstein era

Harvey Weinstein at Cannes Film Festival (Photo, Rita Molnár)

With Harvey Weinstein in the news, I thought this was quite interesting.

The currently-posted Wikipedia entry on CASTING COUCH has these under the heading ALLEGATIONS. I have edited out the more generalised bits.

I can, of course, not confirm the truth of any.


EUROPE

• In 1930s Nazi Germany, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels allegedly ran a casting-couch operation and aided the careers of actresses such as Jenny Jugo and Irene von Meyendorff. In her memoirs, Swedish actress Zarah Leander described the “sleazy seduction scene” Goebbels arranged for her at his villa.

• In 1956, British fan magazine Picturegoer published a four-part casting-couch exposé entitled “The Perils of Show Business” featuring interviews with actresses such as Joy Webster, Dorinda Stevens, Anne Heywood and Marigold Russell.

• On an episode of The Word in 1994, English actress Kate O’Mara claimed American producer Judd Bernard pulled down her panties during a hotel-room audition for the Elvis Presley vehicle Double Trouble (1967). In her autobiography Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003), O’Mara described this alleged casting couch incident (p. 61) and “many other close encounters with… this very unpleasant and humiliating procedure” (p. 32), including a well-known television casting director (pp. 32–33), the boss of Associated Television at Elstree Studios (pp. 34–35) and the director of Great Catherine (pp. 41–42).

• In 1998, writer-director Bruce Robinson described how as a 20-year-old young actor he was given a role in Romeo and Juliet (1968) after Franco Zeffirelli went down on him in Rome.

• In 2002, actress Lesley-Anne Down (b. 1954) spoke of finding fame in the late 1960s: “The casting couch was in full swing, people expected it… My teen-age years were pretty intense, a lot of pressure and a lot of horrible old men out there”. In a 1977 interview, she had also said: “I was promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them… Believe me, the casting couch is no myth”. In 2015, Down discussed her experiences of sexual harassment in the 1970s by an unnamed legendary Hollywood actor and also by producer Sam Spiegel, saying that she had never really enjoyed her acting career: “Partly that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers and directors. There was so much running away and hiding under tables. Anyway, I started when I was ten and I’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

• In 2005, French film director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty of sexually harassing two actresses between 1999 and 2001 during auditions for Choses Secrètes (2002).

• In 2008, actress Ingrid Pitt described the unwelcome advances of two producers in hotels.

• In August 2012, actress Julie Delpy spoke out about casting-couch paedophiles in France in the 1980s.

• In October 2012, filmmaker Ben Fellows published claims that the casting couch was rife in the worlds of British television, theatre and advertising when he worked as a child actor and model in the 1980s. He claimed “the problem is both institutional and systemic in the entertainment industry.”

• In 2013, Myleene Klass stated that, “I don’t think there’s a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn’t, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing”. Earlier, in 2010, she revealed a major Hollywood star (named in 2017 as Harvey Weinstein) wanted to sign a sex contract with her.

• In 2013, Thandie Newton told CNN of how, aged 18, she was auditioned by a male director and a female casting director. “The director asked me to sit with my legs apart – the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair and before I started my dialogue, [I was told] to think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialogue with and how it felt to be made love to by this person. It turned out the director used to show that video late at night to interested parties at his house – a video of me touching myself with a camera up my skirt.” She declined to name the director.

• In 2014, it was claimed that incarcerated former public relations guru Max Clifford‘s “casting couch” at his Mayfair office was “his daughter’s specially adapted disabled toilet cubicle”.

• In May 2017, actress Barbara Windsor claimed that in the 1950s an influential former actor ran his hands all over her after promising her a film role.

UNITED STATES

• In her memoir Past Imperfect: An Autobiography (1978), actress Joan Collins described her experience of the casting-couch behaviour of two 20th Century Fox execs in the 1950s.

• Since 1988, Theresa Russell has alleged in multiple interviews that she was propositioned by legendary producer Sam Spiegel during her first casting session for The Last Tycoon. According to his biographer, Spiegel had previously made liberal use of the casting couch during the making of The Chase (1966).

• In her memoir Child Star (1988), actress Shirley Temple claimed that one producer exposed himself to her in 1940 when she was 12.

• In 2003, Italian actress Asia Argento stated that Hollywood producers expect oral sex from young starlets in exchange for roles. Her semi-autobiographical film Scarlet Diva (2000) features a scene along these lines with painter Joe Coleman playing a lecherous producer inspired, as revealed in October 2017, by Argento’s alleged experience with Harvey Weinstein.

• Robert Hofler’s book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson (2005) alleged that Hollywood agent Henry Willson was a gay casting-couch predator.

• In her 2005 autobiography, actress Goldie Hawn stated that cartoonist Al Capp sexually propositioned her on a casting couch and exposed himself to her when she was nineteen years old. When she refused his advances, Capp became angry and told her that she was “never gonna make anything in your life” and that she should “go and marry a Jewish dentist. You’ll never get anywhere in this business.”

• In her autobiography Ich habe ja gewusst, dass ich fliegen kann (2006), Austrian actress Senta Berger (b. 1941) claimed that in a New York hotel suite in 1965 a producer (b. 1902) exposed himself to her beneath his silk dressing gown and offered to forgive her for the atrocities of the Nazis if she slept with him.

• In 2006, a New York City producer was accused of sexually harassing several members of the cast of the off-Broadway play Dog Sees God.

• In 2007, an article in Vanity Fair denounced former manager of boy bands the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, Lou Pearlman (who was arrested for financial related crimes such as money laundering) for improper casting couch-behavior.

• In 2009, Hollywood composer Joseph Brooks was arrested on charges of raping or sexually assaulting eleven women between 2005 and 2008, allegedly having lured them to his apartment to audition for movie roles. Brooks committed suicide in 2011 before the case came to trial.

• In a 2009 interview with OK! Magazine, actress Charlize Theron claimed that when she was 18 she was propositioned at an audition by a pajama-clad Hollywood director. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal.”

• In a 2010 interview with Elle magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that early in her career a film executive suggested that a business meeting should finish “in the bedroom”.

• In April 2010, actor Ryan Phillippe admitted on the Howard Stern Show that he had had to flee a “creepy” casting-couch session when he was 18 or 19.

• In a 2010 interview with Access Hollywood, actress Lisa Rinna said a producer had asked her for “a quickie” when she was a 24-year-old candidate for a role on a prominent television series. At the same interview, Rinna’s husband Harry Hamlin claimed that a female casting director attempted to seduce him in the late 1970s when he was 27.

• In 2011, Corey Feldman alleged that children were also victims of the casting couch. Paul Petersen said that some of the culprits are “still in the game” and Alison Arngrim claimed that Feldman and Corey Haim were given drugs and “passed around” in the 1980s.

• In the November 2012 issue of Elle, Susan Sarandon spoke of a “really disgusting” casting-couch experience in New York City in the late 1960s or early 1970s. “I just went into a room and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought. It was so badly done.”

• Amy Berg‘s documentary An Open Secret (2014) followed the stories of five former child actors whose lives were turned upside down by multiple predators, including the convicted sex offenders Marc Collins-Rector, Brian Peck, Marty Weiss and Bob Villard.

• In July 2016, television executive Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson. More than twenty other women, including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, have since come forward with similar allegations about Ailes’ predatory casting couch-like behavior in the television industry over a 50-year period.

• In October 2016, Cher posted on Twitter that she had had a “scary experience” with an unnamed and now deceased “gross” rich, important film producer at his house. She stated that she walked out and they never spoke again because “no job is worth that”.

• Also in October 2016, Rose McGowan tweeted that she had been raped by a studio head who then bought the distribution rights to one of her films. She was then shamed while her rapist was adulated despite the rape being an open secret in Hollywood. A year later, the studio head McGowan accused was revealed to have been Harvey Weinstein.

• On 1 November 2016, defence lawyers for Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by over 60 women, wrote that, “Even if proven (and it could not be), the age-old ‘casting couch’ is not unique to Mr. Cosby, and thus not a ‘signature’ nor a basis for the admissibility of these witnesses’ stories, let alone a conviction.”

• In March 2017, actress Jane Fonda claimed: “I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss”.

• In June 2017, Alison Brie claimed she was asked to take her top off during an Entourage audition and Emmy Rossum alleged she was asked to visit a film director’s office in a bikini.

• In July 2017, actress Zoe Kazan stated: “I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed”.

• On 5 October 2017, a New York Times article accused Oscar-winning film producer and mogul Harvey Weinstein of three decades of sexual harassment of and paying off settlements to actresses Ashley Judd (in 1996) and Rose McGowan (in 1997), Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez (in 2015) and several named and unnamed female Miramax and Weinstein Company production assistants, temps and other employees. Weinstein promptly issued an apology for his past behavior and denied some of the allegations before being fired by the board of his own company. Shortly thereafter, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Judith Godrèche, Heather GrahamCara DelevingneLéa Seydoux, Kate Beckinsale and many others spoke out about their experiences of being sexually harassed by Weinstein.

• In the immediate aftermath of the Weinstein scandal in October 2017, actor Terry Crews tweeted that a “high-level Hollywood executive” had groped his genitals at an industry event in 2016, actor Rob Schneider spoke of a “gross” hotel-room encounter before he was famous with a famous, now-deceased director and actor James Van Der Beek tweeted about sexual harassment by “older, powerful men” in Hollywood.

 

 

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 3: Female comic accused of blowing a male instrument

Juliette Burton: one too many female comics?

Juliette Burton shared an interesting flyering experience with me.

“Hi there,” she said to a man in the street today, “would you like to see my show The Butterfly Effect?”

“Oh, hmm,” he replied apologetically, “the thing is I’ve already booked to see TWO female comedians.”

“So,” Juliette asked him, “you can’t see three? You know female comedians are the same as male comedians just with vaginas, right?!”

“He seemed,” Juliette told me, “to shut down when I vagina-ed him, so I walked away.”

The World’s Best MC Award posters – What is the real scam?

What I have been noticing is that there seem to be a lot of posters around town for Nathan Cassidy’s World’s Best MC Award Grand Final. This is the show where I am supposedly one of the judges.

As mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago, it seems to me likely to be an attempt to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and I was convinced I will turn up to an empty room. But with all these posters, there is no way Nathan can avoid real punters turning up. So I do not know what the scam (if scam it is) can be.

The Fringe thrives on uncertainties.

The Edinburgh Students’ Union Dome at Potterrow is doomed

I was told today that the Potterrow Dome building is definitely being closed and replaced later this year. Well, presumably it might take a couple of years to rebuild, as such things tend to. It will remain a Student Union afterwards but what this means to the Pleasance Dome venue at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I know not and – hey! – I can’t be bothered to ask.

I only live in the Edinburgh bubble of Fringe shows which, at this early point, are having a slight problem of over-running. I was told that, earlier in the week, one of the Big Four venues had consecutive shows over-running to such an extent that they ended up an hour late and simply cancelled one performer’s entire show to catch up.

Kieron Nicholson – clever writer about dinosaur academia war

This morning, I saw Bone Wars, a cleverly-written show about dinosaur academia by Kieron Nicholson and Nicholas Cooke, with Michelle Wormleighton playing all the other parts, male, female and arguably other (i.e. God).

Am I the only person who never realised the logic – mentioned in Bone Wars – that, if God made Man in his own image, then God must share all Man’s many flaws?

Weird.

Which is a terrible link to the fact I had a double-dose of Weirdos at the Hive today.

Head Weirdo Adam Larter un-knowingly chose PR legend Mark Borkowski as a punter to get up onto the stage in his L’Art Nouveau show – something that could have severely damaged his future prospects if it had gone wrong. But, luckily, it may have the opposite effect.

Fellow Weirdo Ali Brice had a good audience for his Never-Ending Pencil show and was superb – pacing, audience control, improv, surrealism, serious sections, everything worked wonderfully.

Ali Brice (right) chats with Mark Dean Quinn

Ali told me before the show that, a couple of weeks ago, he had seen me in a street in Wood Green, London. But I have not been there for years; possibly not this century. A couple of hours later, Claire Smith (Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge) phoned me to say Come back and have a tea with me! as I had just walked past her in Bristo Square… Except I had been sitting in Finnegan’s Wake pub in a different part of town for the last 15 minutes or so.

So there must be someone roaming round London and Edinburgh looking like me.

He has my sympathy.

Belly Dancing in the Old Anatomy Theatre of the University of Edinburgh launched Death on The Fringe

Later I went to the launch of the annual Death on the Fringe, organised by Robert James Peacock, which showcases a range of Fringe shows to promote more open and supportive attitudes and behaviours to death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.

Always eclectic, it included belly-dancer Shantisha aka Miroslava Bronnikova, Scottish Comedian of the Year Rosco McClelland, chanteuse Woodstock Taylor and Pauline Goldsmith with a coffin.

Late night, I saw Andy Barr in Tropic of Admin on a desert island where the audience was involved in a place crash. I may have been hallucinating by this point.

Accusations against a woman blowing a didgeridoo

And, before that, I saw the ever-amiable and ever funny Martha McBrier’s show Balamory Doubtfire, in which the diminutive but plucky Glaswegian eventually plays a didgeridoo. Beforehand, she told me she was “a wee bit upset” because of an email she had received.

“This woman, “Martha explained, “emailed me on my website. She said I have subjugated an entire culture. She told me I am ignorant and that I should research culture and apparently women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo. It’s a men’s instrument.”

“So you are being racist AND sexist?” I asked.

“Apparently I’m being sexist and reverse racist.”

“What does ‘reverse racist’ mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But she quoted a rapper called Nas. As Nas said, she said, Respect.”

“Nas,” I admitted, “is a bit of a philosopher, isn’t he?”

“Women have been blowing on men’s objects”

“The thing is,” Martha told me, “women have been blowing on men’s objects for some time and no-one has complained before this.”

“Who is the offended woman?” I asked.

“It turns out she is a white sociology professor.”

“How,” I asked, “did you find that out? Did she tell you?”

“Well,” Martha told me, “I have people in the know and, by that, I mean people whose internet works in their flat in Edinburgh and they Googled her.”

“So she’s a highly-knowledgable professor?” I asked.

“Well,” Martha replied, “a didgeridoo is apparently called a yidaki and I’m a musician, so I’ll know that, obviously. But she spelled it wrong. She’s probably using the white reverse racist spelling. The thing is, I took up the didgeridoo on medical advice.”

“For your lungs?” I asked.

“Yes, to increase my peak flow and to reduce stress.”

“To increase your what?” I asked.

“My peak flow,” replied Martha.

“Ah,” I said.

“My flow has peaked,” Martha informed me, “but they want it even better. They told me the didgeridoo is commonly used to help sleep apnea, snoring, asthma.”

“But, if you play the didgeridoo in bed to help sleep apnea,” I suggested, “it’s not going to increase your partner’s happiness in bed.”

“Well,” said Martha, “I’ve had no complaints so far.”

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Lewis Schaffer and the unopened letters from his mother: “All women are crazy”

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his Leicester Square audience

The penultimate time I saw London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer, he was touting a show in a venue “near Leicester Square” in which the audience had to turn up at a corner of the square and be led to a highly secret venue.

When the audience assembled, he took them to the upstairs floor of a Burger King bar on the corner of the square, where he found a table and sat around chatting to them.

Now, in the lead-up to the Edinburgh Fringe, he is performing a new Monday night show in a more conventional venue – a room above a pub near London Bridge, an hour-and-a-half after his weekly Resonance FM Radio show which is transmitted live. His radio show is allegedly specifically for Americans living in Nunhead, London. But the guests are almost never American and rarely come from or have any link to Nunhead.

“Come along to the radio show and sit in the corner,” he told me. “You don’t have to say anything.”

Lucy Frederick with radio hosts Lisa Moyle and Lewis Schaffer

The actual guest on the radio show last Monday was comic Lucy Frederick, though he did ask me a couple of questions, introducing me as “the worst guest ever”.

In a pub after the radio show, he talked about his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Unopened Letters From My Mother

He has a whole batch of letters sent to him in London from his mother in New York over a ten year period. Each night, he will genuinely open a different sealed letter received from her which he has never read.

“Every woman that I know,” he told us in the pub, “has said their mother was insane, so it has given me the impression that maybe all mothers are insane.”

“I am not a parent,” said Lucy Frederick, “and I don’t really plan to be, but maybe maternal love almost drives you insane. The weight of my mother’s affection and love was quite a burden. Which sounds a dreadful thing to say, but I think living up to that was…”

“I have a feeling,” interrupted Lewis Schaffer, “that is what’s going to be in my mother’s letters. The burden of my mother’s love.”

“You’re riddled with guilt,” suggested Lucy. “Guilt and gratitude: two very heavy things.”

“These are letters,” I asked Lewis, “which you received after you came over here in 2000?”

“Yeah.”

“And she died when?”

“2011.”

“So why did you not open the letters?”

Lewis Schaffer’s unopened letters from his mother (He has since – long ago – changed his address)

“We don’t know why,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “There were six I did open. The first six. I looked in the envelopes to see if there was any money. I didn’t read the letters and just put them aside. After the first six, I didn’t open any of them. I thought: The chance of there being money in them is… But I didn’t want those letters to go to waste, so I kept them.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, we don’t know,” he replied.

“And why,” I asked, “for the first time in your life, are you using the word ‘We’?”

“I’m thinking for the show,” he explained. “We as an audience, and me, are going to find out.”

“But you have no idea why you have never read the letters?” I asked.

“I think I have an idea. I could give you an answer but, whether that would be the real answer… It’s been 17 years.”

“You have no idea,” I said, “what is in the letters. They might be very emotionally upsetting. What happens if, on the second night, you break down with paranoid fear of what’s going to be in tomorrow’s letter?”

“We don’t know,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You know, for the past two years I’ve sort-of wound down my comedy because, two years ago, I had a 5-star review at Edinburgh and, that year, I achieved all the goals I wanted to with comedy: which weren’t very much… To do a ‘regular’ type show and to have people appreciate it. And I acted in a play. And I also organised a tour with over 50 dates. After that, I felt: Why bother? Why do I need to continue? That’s what I’m really afraid of: that I don’t really have a desire to do stand-up comedy any more.”

That was what Lewis Schaffer said to us in the pub.

Lewis Schaffer kicks off a show every Monday

An hour later, in his weekly comedy show, upstairs in another pub, he told the audience:

“When I open the letters, people are going to cry – Moms or people with moms. We all have moms. I thought: People are going to cry and that is going to get me an award. The way you win a comedy award in Edinburgh is by making people cry. Heartfelt. I have to do this show now, because I promised to do it.

“I kind of know why I didn’t open the letters, but I don’t know what’s in the letters. My mother is dead. So I am thinking: How can this be funny? Does it mean I didn’t love my mother? Does it make me a bad person?”

A woman in the audience said: “Yes.”

“Does it?” said Lewis Schaffer. “I left my mother behind in New York. I have a sister. I’ve noticed this about daughters… they think their mothers are crazy.

“I would say all women are crazy. I got married late and the mother of my children threw me out. I’ve had a lot of dealings with women and I’ve noticed how crazy they are. My father would say to me: Your mother’s crazy, but that woman over there is not crazy. He said that because he wasn’t married to that woman over there. That’s when I started to think that all women are crazy. I don’t hear many people calling men crazy. They call them shits.

“At some point, you have to say that women are a different species from men and you have to learn to love them for what they are, otherwise you will be very unhappy. My father never understood that. He would say Your mother’s crazy so I grew up thinking my mother was literally crazy. But, when I look back at her now, based on the other women I’ve met in my life, she was just a normal woman. I didn’t open the letters because…”

Well, you will have to see the show.

As always with Lewis Schaffer shows, it will be different every night. With insight and an element of crazy.

Lewis Schaffer (Photograph by Garry Platt)

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It appears you CAN make a success of “nice, kind, friendly, accessible comedy”

Quantum Leopard boss James Ross at King’s Cross

Quantum boss James Ross at King’s Cross

The monthly-ish Quantum Leopard comedy show in London this Saturday is sold out in advance – as always.

Organiser James Ross does not have a website for the shows. He thinks it would be a waste of time and money. He says: “The Quantum Leopard Facebook group is very much the key mechanism for publicity.”

His shows are also booked solid with acts for the next six months. Clearly, he must be doing something right.

I met James at King’s Cross station in London. He had just returned from a tour of Scotland and the North of England and performing in people’s front rooms in Edinburgh and Newcastle.

“Was that” I asked, “just a ploy to get free accommodation in people’s front rooms?”

“That helps.” laughed James. “Don’t get me wrong. But popping along, doing my show for an hour is a good way of meeting people properly. Interesting places, interesting people and it’s a fun thing.”

“How many people fit into a living room?” I asked.

“About a dozen, which is all I need.”

“How,” I asked, “do you find people who want comedy performed in their front rooms?”

“So far, most are ones I met when I was doing my ‘bucket speech’ at the end of my Edinburgh Fringe show last year. I did one show last Thursday in London. One in Edinburgh on Saturday. And I’m booking some more in.”

“Your policy on comedy material at the regular Quantum Leopard shows in London,” I said, “is quite restrictive.”

“Yes,” James agreed. “The content policy is no racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, chav bashing… No picking on the audience, no rape jokes… And, in return, no heckling from the audience.”

James Ross show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

The James Ross comedy show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

“If you ban all that,” I suggested, “there’s nothing much left.”

“I strongly but politely disagree,” he told me.

“You allow plenty of four-letter words, though.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine. That’s yesterday’s taboo.”

“So why this policy on what material comics can use?” I asked.

“The mini-manifesto behind it is that there is an audience for nice, kind, friendly accessible comedy that is not really very well served by a lot of comedy clubs. There are so many people who just get put off going to mainstream comedy clubs. There are a lot of MCs out there who are channeling some really quite barely-controlled rage. And a lot of men who have a problem with women or picking victims and thinking that ‘really horrible’ is the same as ‘funny’. It’s just not on and audiences don’t like it. A lot of the comedy circuit is horrible and our gigs are so much more fun for much nicer people.

“The reason why we get full houses at Quantum Leopard and why people come back month after month is because people know it is a safe place to be. They CAN sit on the front row to have a good view of a nice show and they know they’re not going to have the piss ripped out of them. If people want the ‘intimate bullying’ experience, there are plenty of places that serve it up.”

“Do you have a real job?” I asked.

“At the moment, I’m working for a non-partisan political fact-checking charity. My specialism is media monitoring. I don’t really want to do comedy full time.”

“Why?”

James hosts a Quantum Leopard show

James hosts a Quantum Leopard show

“Because the pay is terrible and it is really insecure. It’s not the sort of wage or stability you can raise a family on, unless you’re happy to live on lentils in the back of your car. Also, a lot of the decision-makers in comedy are really unpleasant people and I don’t want to have to suck up to them in order to make enough money to live. I always want to have the option to turn down a terrible gig or a gig for a terrible promoter.”

“So you really want to do politics?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, really. I think there are enough people like me in politics already – pale, male, Oxbridge.”

“So you are not going to stand for Parliament?”

“No way. You have to be polite to a lot more people than I’m constitutional capable of being.”

“Where are you going to be in ten year’s time?”

“Comedy-wise, I would like to be one of these people who do ‘a fun hour’ every August (at the Edinburgh Fringe) and who gets asked to do the fun gigs rather than having to chase them. A nice second income from something that I enjoy. I don’t want to have to do something for a living that I would otherwise enjoy. If you become financially dependent on it and you have to do it, then it’s much less compelling.

“I think the idea that you must enjoy what you do is an incredibly self-indulgent modern thing. Over 95% of human history, 95% of human beings worked at something they didn’t enjoy and probably died at 30 or in childbirth. So saying: Oh! This job doesn’t creatively fulfil me! is…  Well, if you enjoyed your job, you would be paying them to do it because it would then be a hobby. Expecting labour to be anything other than alienating under a capitalist system one of whose fundamental precepts is the alienation of labour is nonsense and foolish and self-regarding hippie nonsense. That’s the type of philosophy you get on the back of a carton of Innocent Smoothies. That’s not a way to live.”

“So you like Mr Corbyn?” I asked.

“Mr Corbyn is brilliant.”

“I get him muddled up,” I said, “with Mr Corbett, who had his hand up Sooty.”

Sooty

Sooty – in no way related to Jeremy Corbyn’s hand

“Sooty & Sweep were my introduction to comedy,” said James. “I was always taken by my parents to Southport. There’s this big Scottish Dancing Convention there and they met while Scottish dancing. In the other big theatre part of this big hall there was always The Sooty Show. So my grandma would take me and my little brother to see Sooty & Sweep while my parents were off doing their Scottish dancing in the other room.”

“Why were they interested in Scottish Dancing?” I asked. “A Scottish background? Or a love of the surreal?”

“I honestly don’t know,” James replied. “I love my parents very much, but I think their sense of the surreal is really quite limited. My dad is a Scout leader; my mum is a Guide leader. They are both pillars of the community. I think they are a little puzzled where this strange changeling child came from.

“But I get my love of admin and organisation from them. The number of spreadsheets that back up what I do is colossal and there’s a bit of Public Service ethos behind Quantum Leopard. It’s got like a mission.”

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Will Franken revert from being Sarah?

Lewis Schaffer (left) with Will/Sarah Franken and apple pie/cheeseburger

Lewis Schaffer (left) + Will and/or Sarah Franken in London last night plus an apple pie and one of three cheeseburgers

A few months ago, London-based American comic Will Franken decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken.

I met Will/Sarah last night for a chat with fellow American comedian Lewis Schaffer. Will/Sarah was wearing men’s clothes, so I shall call him Will in what follows.

We met at a branch of McDonald’s in Holborn. Lewis Schaffer ordered apple pie and brought his own water. Will Franken ordered three double cheeseburgers and a small Coke. They are Americans. What can I say?


Sarah Franken’s current stage show

“When I became Sarah… a feeling of being accepted.”

“So,” I asked Will, “are you going to revert to being Will again?”

“Well,” he replied, “I was making a pros and cons list…”

“So Sarah might be a pro and Will a con?” I asked.

“I look on this as a prolonged break,” he said.

“Dressing as a man?”

“Yes. When I became Sarah, there was a feeling of being accepted, but there were a lot of comments and abuse in East London – I’m 6’5”; I stick out like a sore thumb. A lot of people were nasty. They shouted out: Gay boy! Trans-sexual!”

“This was in Bethnal Green,” I said, “and I’ve heard you say there were particular problems from Moslems.”

“…and sometimes,” said Will, “you would get the tourists who just wanted a photo like you were the Ronald McDonald clown.”

“You could charge them,” I told him.

“I’m a whore,” he replied, “but I never sell out when the opportunity presents itself.”

“Because you don’t want to be a success,” suggested Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, that’s not being a success,” argued Will. “Being a tranny and getting your photo taken.”

“That’s why you did it,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Because you knew it would annoy people.”

“That’s not why I did it,” countered Will.

“That’s why I would do it,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But the other problem,” said Will, “is I fancy women and I think I was like kinda swept up in this idea: Oh! Women love confidence! It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. As long as you’re confident. That’s what women are attracted to. But I found it was just utterly confusing. I didn’t know when to make the move. I mean, I never knew when to make a move when I was Will either, but Sarah confused the hell out of me.”

Will/Sarah Franken - "I didn’t know when to make the move"

Will/Sarah Franken – “I didn’t know when to make the move”

“A female friend,” I said, “once told me the biggest turn-on line for any woman was a man saying: I think I MIGHT be gay. Then it’s a challenge… So, surely, if you dress in women’s clothing but say you’re still heterosexual that might surely be even more of a turn-on?”

“Women want to hunt,” suggested Lewis Schaffer. “Like men. It’s human nature to want to hunt. But women, unfortunately, are not really allowed to hunt so, if you give them an opportunity, I think they really enjoy that.”

“I need people,” said Will, “but I’m very afraid of them too. I think I’m really shy and withdrawn in a lot of ways.”

“That’s all comedians,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Comedians,” I suggested, “are often extroverts who want to hide in a cave.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Will.

“I am like a refrigerator light bulb,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You open the door and I’m on… If I’m at home or with someone I know, I’m miserable but – out and about, if I meet strangers…”

“That’s where you and I differ,” Will told him, then turned to me: “Lewis Schaffer will be a really good friend and he will stand with you in Leicester Square and say: Look, you DON’T wanna get the razor blades. There’s no reason to put your wrist in the way. And then he sees someone passing and it’s: Tommy! How are ya? and he’ll go right off. When somebody passes by that he knows – he could hate their guts – but he will…”

“Because,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “I’m happy to see them.”

“But why,” asked Will, “would you be happy to see someone you don’t like?”

“Because,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “I know the guy, so I think I must like him, else why would I know him?”

“And then,” said Will, “I have to remind you that you don’t like them.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But,” I said to Will, “to get back on the Sarah track, you found there were drawbacks…”

SarahFranken_photoMihaelaBodlovic

By the time you get to the 15th or 20th interview …

“Yes,” said Will. “The stares, the comments, the wanting to get laid by women. And then there was feeling like I was a poster child for trans-genderism. The first interview you do about trans-genderism feels really cool but, by the time you get to the 15th or 20th, you’re like… I mean, you know I do other things apart from being trans-gender? I developed sympathy for what black comedians must go through in interviews – black, black, black, black, clack, black, black.

“I think one of the most interesting things in the show I’m doing right now at the Museum of Comedy – Who Keeps Making All These People? – is that it’s completely blasphemous towards radical Islam… I think that is more newsworthy, given recent events.”

“I think,” said Lewis Schaffer, “the reason you’re not a huge success is you get bored. In order to be a success in comedy – a success in anything – you gotta do the same shit all the time, over and over and over again.”

“I love,” said Will, “how you don’t consider yourself a success, yet you sit here and hold court on how to be a success.”

“That’s right,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t think I’m a success – I think, objectively speaking, a guy who lives in his living room, who has to buy a phone in Tesco’s, is not a success.”

“Back on the Sarah and Will track,” I said. “Will, your current show…”

“It’s the one I did in Edinburgh,” Will told me. “Who Keeps Making All These People?

“You know what your show is about?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “It’s about How can I annoy people?

“That’s not true,” said Will.

“Yes it is,” insisted Lewis Schaffer.

“What are you talking about?” asked Will.

“That’s what your show is about.”

“No it’s not.”

“You,” I told Lewis Schaffer, “are just trying to be annoying.”

“Your thing,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “is similar to mine, except I have a filter on what I say… I’m trying to make it funny. You will say it whether it’s funny or not…”

“But,” said Will, “my show IS funny!”

“…and then it becomes funny,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “You will say things even if you haven’t figured out how to make them funny.”

“Excuse me,” I said to Lewis Schaffer. “Pot kettle black.”

The Division Bell started ringing for Will in 2014

Did The Division Bell start ringing for Will back in 2014?

“My show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – in 2014,” said Will, “was like a Pink Floyd album. Weird sound cues and everything. It just felt like a psychedelic experience. I liked it. This year’s show – when I came out as Sarah – it felt more like Johnny Rotten. Like the style was the same but I began riffing. I’m starting to do some stuff off the top of my head. I feel more vulnerable doing that.”

“Because you’re being you?” I asked.

“Yeah. Cos, if I’m putting on an accent, it could be that guy’s beliefs. If I’m speaking as myself, it’s really scary.”

“What,” I asked, “was your act like five years ago? Were you not you?”

“Never was,” said Will. “The first Edinburgh show I did, I started off as a British butler and I think I ended as a disabled teenage American girl.”

“In 2014” said Lewis Schaffer, “you were BBC Radio and you were drinking and you were talking to somebody on the phone.”

“So coming out as Sarah,” I said, “is just another way of not being you – another mask.”

“No,” said Will, “I don’t think so. I felt Sarah was me.”

“But,” I said, “you were wearing clothes you were not wearing before, therefore that’s a costume, in a sense.”

“Well, I think that’s why the riffing this year. I felt I just had to go out there and just explain: I’m a character comedian, but this is not a character and here’s some of the shit I deal with. This show is so heavy. There is about ten minutes of peripherally related trans-gender related stuff and then it reaches a point where it just flips and I go after over-diagnosis and the psychiatric industry and ISIS and that was my reaction to what I thought would be people expecting me to write a nice little show about coming out – which I didn’t want to write. I got even angrier and less-PC as a result.”

(TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW)

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Comedy and variety in Bethnal Green + crime, stripping and porn films in Rome

Rich Rose (left, without shirt) and Gareth Ellis (right, in dress) last night

Rose (left, without shirt) and Ellis (right, in dress) last night

Things are on the up. There seem to be a rising number of comedy clubs in London which are not just putting on very samey bills of 5-male-comics-doing-stand-up. There are several now staging genuine variety nights and filling their venues.

Among them are the highly-esteemed Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead and Peckham, the occasional Spectacular Spectrum of Now shows in King’s Cross and the occasional Brainwash Comedy nights run by Ellis & Rose at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green.

I saw a Brainwash show last night, headlined by Harry Hill who, although he could be described as a straight stand-up, is considerably more weird than that.

I won’t even attempt to explain what was going on here

I won’t even attempt to explain what was going on here

Tom Ward was, I suppose, the genuine token stand-up act. Other acts on the bill were sketch trio The Birthday Girls, Neil Frost (of The Spectacular Spectrum of Now) as moustachioed Victorian ‘Gentleman Johnson’ who ended up in a boxing match with a genuinely feisty girl from the audience, Casual Violence creator James Hamilton in a double character act, Mr Susie only partially on planet Earth and Lipstick & Wax doing a standard but nonetheless astonishing magic act.

So… one stand-up, six excellent variety acts, not a dud anywhere and Ellis & Rose impressively managing to be both effective MCs and constantly anarchic in themselves.

Perhaps London comedy clubs are changing.

They certainly have to.

Joe Palermo, Italian stallion, tonight

Joe Palermo, Italian stallion, in Soho tonight

In the meantime, people are preparing potential Edinburgh Fringe shows for next year.

One of the most interesting could be Joe Palermo’s Mémoires of an Italian Stallion.

I saw an initial try-out tonight which took around 70 minutes and did not get even halfway through the story, which involves his somewhat colourful life.

From what I heard tonight and during a post-show chat at the Grouchy Club, I reckon his story might take about four hours or longer to tell – if heavily edited.

It will be interesting to see how this fits into a 55-minute Edinburgh Fringe slot. The briefest of headings would include:

  • him as a child in Italy (watching porn on TV in the back garden)
  • attempts to be a Roman teenage gigolo
  • crime and the drug trade
  • athletics
  • modelling and becoming a male stripper
  • porn movie experiences
  • encounters with ‘proper’ movie people including stories of Cinecittà, famous actors and spaghetti western people

Joe says: “The show at this stage is mainly for a male audience, however open minded women or girls are welcome.”

I told him I thought Edinburgh audiences might crucify him atop Arthur’s Seat for sexism.

But, if his Mémoires of an Italian Stallion show does make the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, it will surely be an interesting ride.

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