Tag Archives: Shelley Cooper

So there was this comedian who was a psychotherapist who wrote this book…

Shelley at the Soho Theatre yesterday

Shelley talked to me at the Soho Theatre in London yesterday

Shelley Bridgman has been married for 40 years, has two grown up daughters and a grandchild.

Remember that.

In February 2011, I wrote a blog which started:

“I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read.”

Well, now she is Shelley Bridgman and she has published the book. It is called Stand-Up For Yourself with the subtitle… and become the hero or shero you were born to be.

“People tell me it’s an inspiring story,” Shelley told me yesterday at the Soho Theatre. “It’s about overcoming crap and then sorting your life out.”

“And it is crying out to be a movie,” I said.

“Of course,” laughed Shelley.

“Who would play you?” I asked.

“Vanessa Redgrave.”

“You and I talked about you writing your autobiography years ago,” I said.

“Well,” said Shelley, “I wanted to write it, but I didn’t quite know how to do it. I had this voice ringing in my ears saying: Who are you to write an autobiography?”

“So why write it?”

“I think it was having so much rubbish written about me. I got fed up with it. In the end, for the book, I broke my life down into eight sections and, at the end of each one, I have an imaginary conversation with a different hero. People like Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan, Joan Rivers, Oscar Wilde, even Oprah Winfrey because she does an amazing chat show. And my grandmother pops up as a hero.”

Shelley is now in the final year of a doctorate in psychotherapy.

Shelley Bridgman - Stand-up for Yoursef

Shelley became the shero of her own life

“When I got my masters degree in psychotherapy,” Shelley told me, “I was talking to this professor and he said Why don’t you do a doctorate? and my response was: Because I’m not academic

“I mean, I left school at 15 without a single O level. I was born in a prefab. I had humble beginnings and then went downhill.

“This professor looked me in the eye and said: Fucking get over it. You just got a masters degree. Do a doctorate. That inspired me.

Shelley became a stand-up comic around the turn of the century.

“That,” she says, “was as a result of winning a speech competition and the judge saying: That was funny. You should do stand-up.”

“So how,” I asked, “did you get from being a stand-up comic to being a psychotherapist?”

“I was doing that before. I ran a travel business, then I became a counsellor to make sense of my own madness, really, and got more serious about it.”

“Are you using the name Shelley Bridgman for everything now?” I asked. “No longer Shelley Cooper for comedy?”

“As you know,” Shelley said, “my real name is Bridgman, but I was angry with my dad for a long time, so I rejected the family name. About three years ago, I wasn’t doing very much stand-up as Shelley Cooper, so I thought This is a good time to change it. Cooper was my mum’s maiden name. In fact, it was Fenimore Cooper but they dropped the Fenimore because they thought it was a bit pretentious.”

“You are related,” I said, “to the bloke who wrote The Last of The Mohicans.”

“Yes,” said Shelley, “But I think it’s a bit distant.”

“And you’ve done at least one autobiographical comedy show.”

Shelley Cooper had Growing Pains at the Edinburgh Fringe

Shelley Cooper had Fringe Growing Pains

“The first one I ever did was called Growing Pains. You made an interesting comment when I did my second show Shelley Cooper Rewrites History. I always remember because it resonated a lot with me. You wroteShelley has still to find her own post-transsexual voice.”

“Oh God, did I?” I said.

“I thought it was valid,” said Shelley. “What happened was I had allowed people to tell me what I should be talking about on stage and it wasn’t really my voice. Everyone else thought it was interesting, but I was bored to hell with it.”

“And you were talking about…?”

“The fact I’m a trans-gender woman. And I didn’t really want to talk about that. I do accept that – especially when I do 20-minute comedy sets in a rough club – I have to nail it and move on… so I still deal with it… but I don’t talk about it any more because I’m not interested.”

I prefer to think of Shelley not as trans-gender person but as trans-genre person. The blurb on her book cover reads:

Shelley Bridgman is an award-winning stand-up comic, actor, scriptwriter, professional speaker and a leading psychotherapist – but it wasn’t always this way. 

First she survived the hedonistic sixties with the inevitable round of clubbing, fashion and drugs; then she made the most of the seventies, travelling to over sixty countries whilst running a travel business – but it was the eighties that tested her to her limits. Battling depression, bankruptcy, addiction and suicide attempts, Shelley found the strength to confront her need to change gender and achieve harmony with herself. 

A unique story told with delightfully dry humour about identity, self-discovery, acceptance and courage. It is also testament to a profoundly touching love story that has lasted over forty years.

“I spent a year writing the book,” Shelley told me yesterday, “and 18 months letting go of it. It was being edited but there comes a point where you have to say: Enough! Get it proof-read and get the damn thing out!

“A lot of the painful stuff I talk about, I’ve already dealt with. One of the challenges with writing my story is the first half is pretty miserable and the second half is very positive and, if it’s too linear, the reader is gonna think: When are we going to get to something a bit uplifting?

“You’re still doing stand-up comedy,” I said.

“I won that Silver Stand-Up award at the Leicester Comedy Festival in 2012,” said Shelley. “It was for old fogeys.”

The award was for best stand-up comedian over the age of 55.

Shelley Cooper / Shelley Bridgman

Shelley Cooper/Shelley Bridgman – trans genre success story

“What I’ve done in the last two years,” she told me, “is to take a step back. I was enjoying doing proper comedy clubs like The King’s Head, but getting sick to death of doing rooms above a pub with a load of drunks on a Friday night. So I decided I wanted to do more political humour, which is what I’m doing now. I’m writing a show at the moment and I’m compering a show out in Bucks, because it gives me the chance to say what I want on stage.

“I watch one or two people who talk about being political comics but there’s no such thing anymore because people, by and large, don’t want to hear it. I thought: Make a statement. Say what you really think – without being a left wing ranter because that’s just easy. Calling George Osborne a C U Next Tuesday might be true, but it’s hardly cutting-edge rapier wit. I thought: For God’s sake do what YOU want to do now and start to enjoy it again.

“The show I enjoyed performing most was Britishness in 2007/2008. I filled up the room every night at the Edinburgh Fringe and went to New York and Rome with it. That was really fun and that was the thing which sparked me into thinking: Oh screw it! Just do what you want to do.”

“Which now is?” I asked.

“I’ve just started doing a podcast interviewing comics – The Comedy Studio. It’s part of my dastardly plan to show people I’m capable of interviewing. I’d like to do a chat show on the radio, but it’s got to have an angle. I think the art of interviewing has died, because most – though not all – chat shows now are about the hosts. The reason Michael Parkinson was good in his early days was because he knew when to shut up – having asked a question that made the guest really think – rather than ask: Do you like coffee of tea?”

“Well,” I said, “Parkinson was an experienced journalist, whereas almost all the chat show people now are stars who have been given a chat show because they are popular.”

“I’m not a journalist,” said Shelley, “but I’m a psychotherapist, so I’m used to teasing out things from people with questions. I wanna be given a chance because I think I can do it and that’s really what I’m aiming at. I’m still enjoying stand-up comedy, but not seven nights a week.”

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British comedians seem to be turning to electronic book publishing – maybe

I have blogged before about the galloping-blindly-towards-an-unknown-destination changes in book publishing.

In 2003, the late Malcolm Hardee and I put together Sit-Down Comedy for Random House. It was an anthology of original writing (some of it very dark) by comedians Ed Byrne, John Dowie, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Frost, Boothby Graffoe, Ricky Grover, Malcolm Hardee, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Dominic Holland, Jeff Innocent, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Owen O’Neill, Arthur Smith, Linda Smith, Jim Tavare, Dave Thompson and Tim Vine.

Sit-Down Comedy has just been issued in both iBook (for iPads) and Kindle downloadable electronic editions.

Apparently, in the US market, electronic books now account for 20% of total book sales. In the UK, it is still only 5%, but it is expected to double in the next year.

In the last week, two of the contributors to Sit-Down Comedy have mentioned to me that they are thinking of publishing electronic books, probably via lulu.com, the same print-on-demand (not to be confused with self-publishing) company which comedy writer Mark Kelly has used to publish his books Pleased as Punch, This Is Why We Are Going to Die and (free to download) Every Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? Comic Shelley Cooper told me she is also looking into print-on-demand publishing.

A highly relevant factor is that print-on-demand publishers may take 20% of your book’s earnings to arrange print and electronic versions… while conventional print publishers doing the same thing normally give the author royalties of only 7.5% of paperback sales. With print-on-demand  you have to market the book yourself, but you also have to factor in that significant difference between getting 80% or getting the conventional 7.5%.

I have blogged before that am thinking of re-publishing Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (probably revised back to its original version) as an e-book… but that is only if I can actually pull my finger out – always a major factor in the production of any book.

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How to pretend in a blog that you are successful in showbusiness by targeted, relentless b***sh****ng…

Three things have always held me back from a glittering and financially wildly successful career in showbiz: I’m not gay, I’m not Jewish and I’m shit at schmoozing.

Ooh – and I’m spectacularly lacking in any discernible performing talent of any kind.

However, I can bullshit quite well after many years of turning occasional sows’ ears of TV schedules into silk purses in on-air channel trailers.

Someone bemoaning the naivety of North Korean government propaganda in the 1980s once said to me: “You can only do good propaganda if you do NOT believe in what you’re saying. The trouble we have here is that these people believe what they’re saying.”

So, with that in mind, let me tell you all about my glamour-filled afternoon in London’s showbizzy Soho district yesterday.

After lunch, I went to St Martin’s College of Art in Charing Cross Road, forever immortalised in Pulp’s Top Ten hit Common People – “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge… She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College”.

(See what I did there? It might have sounded irrelevant, but you get tiny amounts of reflected glory from selective name-dropping. Unless that name is Gary Glitter)

The comedian Charmian Hughes was already at the photo studio in St Martin’s, getting publicity shots taken for her upcoming Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments.

(Always mention quality show names in passing and, again, you will get some slight reflected glory. Never mention inept productions unless it’s the current IKEA TV ad and even then only if you’re trying to capitalise on shitloads of previous hits on your blog.)

I was at St Martin’s to get photos taken of myself for use as publicity at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I know, up there in August, I will be directing one show, producing another and chairing two debates.

(Always self-promote, however crass it seems. All publicity is good publicity, unless it involves Gary Glitter.)

Director Mel Brooks once told me (name-drop) during a very brief encounter:

“Always open your mouth when you do it – a publicity shot. It makes you look happier, more extrovert, more full of confidence and that’s half the job!”

A female comedienne, who had better remain nameless (never annoy the Talent) once told me:

“Don’t allow the photographer to take shots of you from a level lower than your chin because a shot taken looking upwards at your face will accentuate any double chins, jowls and flabby bits.”

And I learned a lot once by going to a photo shoot with the very lovely Isla St Clair (name-drop) who was a revelation (give credit where credit is due), offering the camera a continually changing range of angles and expressions for the photographer to choose from.

I am not a natural and I tried my best at St Martin’s, though I seem to have trouble doing that old Hollywood standby – looking over my shoulder at the camera. My neck – like my good self, perhaps – seems to be either too thick or too stiff.

(Self-deprecation can be appealing in the UK, though don’t try it in the US – they see it as lack of self-confidence.)

I hate photos of myself. I may be turning into a luvvie, but I have always realised one thing – I am very definitely not photogenic. (Again, use self-deprecation sparingly if you have a US audience)

Towards the end of the photo session, I started jumping in the air, something The Beatles (name-drop) did much more successfully on a beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1963. My legs are not as good as the 21 year old Paul McCartney’s. (name-drop combined with self-deprecation)

At the very end of the session, I was pouring water into my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it turned out not to be. Don’t ask.

After that, I went off to Leicester Square to have tea with stand-up comedian, qualified psychotherapist and occasional PR/marketing guru Shelley Cooper. She told me she has accidentally developed a new on-stage confidence and I advised her to adopt a new approach to performing her comedy. I told her:

“Don’t think of writing comedy material. Instead, think of what really, genuinely gets up your nose, go on stage and rant about it and, through personality, natural comic tendencies and experience, the comedy element will add itself in.”

(That’s more than a bit pompous and a therefore a bit iffy, but the pro factor of being seen to give advice to a psychotherapist probably just-about outweighs the negative factors.)

As I left Shelley outside the Prince Charles Cinema, she turned left, I turned right and almost immediately I bumped into John Park, editor of Fringe Report – he is the man who did not design the Baghdad metro system. I always think he did, but he didn’t. It’s a long story. I still lament the passing of his monthly Fringe Report parties. Fringe Report also gave me an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’ – basically an award for being the best awarder of awards – something which has always endeared them and him to me. (True, but beware of too-blatant crawling to John Park)

John P told me he has written a play about love called Wild Elusive Butterfly which the Wireless Theatre Company will be recording in the next couple of months for internet streaming and download.

(Always plug something which sounds like it may be very good in the hope of some reflected glory.)

“Is it all singing, all dancing and with a dolphin in it?” I asked John P.

“You know?” he asked me. “Someone mentioned it?”


“We have a porpoise,” John told me.

“You have a purpose?”

“We have a porpoise – in the play. You know the story of Freddie the Dolphin?”

“I don’t.”

“There was a court case where a man was accused of assaulting a dolphin because he…”

“Ah!,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “The dolphin-wanking case! I loved it.”

In 1991, animal-rights campaigner Alan Cooper was accused in Newcastle of “outraging public decency” with local aquatic celebrity Freddie The Dolphin by masturbating the dolphin’s penis with his armpit.

“In court,” explained John, “one of the Defence Counsel’s angles was that a dolphin’s penis is a means of communication.”

“I heard it’s not uncommon,” I said. “All round Britain, dolphins are swimming up to people and sticking their penises in the swimmers’ armpits to have a wank. People are too embarrassed to complain or even mention it and you can hardly prosecute a dolphin for sexual harassment. I think that the…”

“Anyway,” said John, “it was a great line and I felt had to have it in the play. A dolphin’s penis is a means of communication. A great line. Although, in my play, it’s a porpoise. I think they may be different.”

“Everyone needs a purpose,” I said.

“I think I have to be going,” said John, looking at his watch.

(When in doubt, make up dialogue, but keep it close to what was actually said and try to add in a dash of self-deprecating humour, if possible. Unless you are trying to impress people in the US.)

Glamour? Glitz? Showbiz sparkle?

I live it every day, luv.

While we were walking through Soho, Shelley Cooper said to me: “That was Suggs.”


“On that corner, back there. That was Suggs of Madness talking to Boy George’s ex-boyfriend.”

“Did he recognise me?”

“It’s unlikely,” Shelley said.

“I suppose so,” I agreed.

By the way, the dolphin man was found innocent after several expert witnesses were called.

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The printed book is dead… and libraries… and newspapers… but literacy lives on my iPad!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented transsexual comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read. She is thinking of publishing it online via a print-on-demand site.

I am also thinking about re-publishing the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an online print-on-demand book. The costs are so low as to be negligible and the percentages to the writer are much higher – on a traditionally printed paperback book the author usually only gets 7.5% of the cover price. People can buy a print-on-demand book as a well-produced traditional paperback or download it from iTunes or Amazon.

Traditional paper books and physical libraries in towns and cities will soon be dead. A book is not bought because it is an object, it is bought an experience or for information. Content is king. The printed word is not dying – it is thriving on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, mobile phone texting, everywhere. But the printed book will die.

The husband of a friend of mine is the straightest person I know. For many years, he never watched ITV – only BBC TV -because ITV was not respectable, merely a young whippersnapper upstart TV station. Yet he is now thinking of investing in an iPad or the duller and much more limited Kindle because, that way, he could take a whole library of books with him on holiday and read anything he likes when he gets there.

Ultimately, Project Gutenberg and its ilk will put almost all out-of-copyright fiction online; and Wikipedia and Google and the web in general give ultimately unlimited access to known facts. Yes, there are old books, newspapers and magazines with content which cannot be accessed online, but only because they have not yet been digitised.

Online publishers have no reason to ever declare any new ‘book’ out-of-print because the online file can remain in cyberspace forever at no extra production cost. The traditional paper book is dead and so are traditional physical libraries.

A library is just a building to keep books in. Unless they re-invent themselves as leisure centres for the printed word and computer gaming, they will soon be dead too.

What is worrying the printed media industry more immediately, of course, is what is happening and what will happen to newspapers, whose printed, paid-for editions are sliding down a seemingly bottomless pit in circulation terms.

Newspapers were always printing yesterday’s news but there used to be no alternative.

But why should I buy a print newspaper carrying out-of-date news when I can watch live street demonstrations in Cairo or around the Middle East on 24-hour live TV news channels? Why should I buy a UK newspaper when I can read other UK news sources free online and get access to Australian, Chinese, Russian and US print sources free online? AND watch Al Jazeera, BBC TV News, Sky News, Press TV from Tehran or, god forbid, the terminally dull Russia Today channel direct from Moscow?

On my iPad, I have apps giving me access to the Huffington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Straits Times and the Moscow Times. I can access a wider variety of sources worldwide via my Fluent News, Pulse News and Stuff apps. I get daily news update e-mails from The Scotsman and from China Daily.

Why should  buy a newspaper except for a free DVD?

On the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s launch less than a couple of weeks ago of his iPad-only newspaper The Daily is interesting, though it is only available le in the US at the moment. If, as rumours say, he really does price a future full UK daily electronic newspaper automatically delivered to you every morning at a cost of only 79p per week…

Well, even I might be tempted… but it’s still going go be news I can get elsewhere for free.

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