Tag Archives: Simon Jay

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 10: Why I don’t like character comedy + Donald Trump

Simon Jay in character after today’s show

“It has come a long way since you saw it in that basement room in London,” Simon Jay told me this afternoon.

I first met Simon when he staged Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm at the Bread & Roses venue in Clapham in April 2015. But he was talking about his Donald Trump comedy show in 2016, which has now transformed into Trumpageddon and is playing to full houses at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh.

It cannot be easy to perform as Donald Trump – part real person, part Timothy Burton living fantasy character – in a scripted show with so much back story Simon has to know and the nightmare of up-dating as the real-life Trump bandwagon careers off in wild new directions every day. The show is, of course, scripted and some of the audience interaction can be prepared, but not all. And yesterday, the previous day’s North Korean lunacy had been incorporated into the narrative.

I tend not to like character comedy but with a caveat.

Simon Jay being made into the leader of the free world

The closer the act is to what might be a real person, the less I like it.

I spent much of my TV life finding bizarre acts and eccentric people. If I see a character act pretending to be an eccentric who could be real, I think: Why am I watching this theatre school performance of someone who is not being themselves pretending to be an interesting person when I could actually be watching the real interesting person?

The less ‘real’ and the more ‘cartoony’ the character is, the more likely I am to appreciate the act.

Charlie Chuck, for example, was/is believable to the point that people would/do ask me: Is he really like that? (No, of course he is not.) But ‘Charlie Chuck’ was/is an OTT cartoon-style character.

The interesting thing about Donald Trump and Trumpageddon is that it is an impression of a totally real person but the real Trump is pretty-much a cartoon character.

Perhaps all this is why stand-up comedy attracts me.

I am interested in people. Real people. Ideally eccentric people.

Sally Beaton – fluently funny, fascinating and real

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award contender Cally Beaton is a not eccentric, but she is assuredly real. Her show Cally Beaton’s Super Cally Fragile Lipstick is about her autistic son (who agreed to be mentioned on stage after negotiations over a meal at Nando’s), bisexuality and things menopausal. Sounds like a tough comedy show to sell, but Cally is fluently funny, fascinating and manages to pitch herself to Edinburgh Fringe AND Radio 4 audiences. She comes across as a real person chatting to the audience. Which is what the best modern stand-up is.

On stage, modern stand-up comics tend to perform as (slightly heightened versions of) themselves.

Actors pretend to be characters totally different from themselves.

I prefer comics.

A character comedian with caveats and cravat

Which makes Milo McCabe’s show interesting, because he is performing as a character: the slightly anachronistic Terry-Thomas-ish, dressing gown and cravat-wearing Talented Mr Hawke. It sort-of could-be a real, very well-observed person from a slightly early era, but it is also (successfully) a cartoon character.

In reality, the character would be rather sleazy and unlikable. In Milo’s audience-pleasing, fleshed-out character act, he is rather loveable. The audience totally believes in the character. But Milo also cleverly – by reading letters to Mr Hawke from other people – briefly slips in two or three totally different voices which remind the audience (and demonstrate to any agents/promoters present) that they are watching a skilled comic actor who would be equally interesting in other situations.

Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

As mentioned in previous blogs, Milo McCabe’s father Mike McCabe is performing at the Fringe as the late comic Frank Carson. That is another genre entirely and my brain is too sleep-deprived and befuddled to go into it.

One reason I tend to see no point in watching comic actors who are performing as fictional characters who are too close to ‘real’ people who could actually exist is that the lives of real people are always wildly more OTT than anything anyone could possibly think up.

Hello Scott Agnew.

Scott Agnew puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’

His show is titled Spunk on My Lady’s Face which is an extreme under-selling of the outrageousness of some of his stories. Scott always puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’.

Tonight he was playing to an audience of what seemed to me to be mostly straight couples and I initially thought: Oh dear, this could go ether way! But they were guffawing-away pretty much all the way through Scott’s wild, true gay stories.

It was a bit like running through the highlights of the Emperor Nero’s excesses during the most decadent days of the Roman Empire. If you think you have heard outrageously excessive stories, you ain’t heard nothing till you have sat through 55 minutes of Scott Agnew.

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Simon Jay on the inauguration thoughts of the OTHER President Donald Trump

Simon Jay - Donald Trump

Simon Jay’s show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Simon was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

For about nine months, Simon Jay has been getting noticed for his one-man show Trumpageddon in which he riffs as the esteemed President Elect, who gets inaugurated this Friday.

“Are you doing anything to celebrate?” I asked Simon via Skype this morning.

“I’m going to go on Facebook Live,” he told me, “and, at 5.00pm (UK time), as you watch the inauguration on TV, you’ll be able to hear his thoughts streamed via Facebook Live –  as voiced by me.”

“When you first started doing Trump,” I said, “you must have thought: I want Trump to be elected President because I can get a four-year-long act out of this.”

“I was hoping he would LOSE for two reasons. One, obviously, for the good of the planet. But also because, genuinely, I think he has a very limited shelf-life as effective satire. It will become less effective.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there are three possibilities. One: he will get shot. Two: he will get impeached. Three: he might turn into a good President because you don’t want a nice, principled man as President. Jimmy Carter, apparently nice man: ineffective President. Richard Nixon, a right shit: internationally, a pretty good President.”

“I think that’s a little over-simplistic view of American politics!” laughed Simon.

“That’s my speciality,” I told him. “The trouble is Trump is not a hard, cynical politician. He’s a little schoolboy throwing tantrums and trying to bully people… So do you feel an affinity to him? How do you ‘become’ Trump?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “it’s like drag. You put on the orange make-up, put on the suit and red tie and flop the hair about.”

Simon Jay being made into Donald Trump

“It’s like drag. You put on orange make-up and flop the hair”

“You wear a wig as Trump?” I asked.

“No! It’s my own hair. Unlike him, I actually use my own hair.”

“He wears a wig?” I asked.

“It’s monkey glands,” Simon replied. “Implants, like Elton John. Trump’s hairline goes in two different directions. Half of it grows from one angle and the other half from another angle. It’s like M.C.Escher hair.”

“And his psychology?” I asked.

“He’s so easy to play,” said Simon, “because he thinks everyone loves him. No matter what happens or what I say, I will be loved – so it’s perfect. It’s a wonderful narcissistic power trip.”

“How,” I asked, “do you put yourself inside his mindset?”

“I just go blank,” explained Simon. “It’s a kind of Zen state, because he doesn’t say anything particularly. His verbal mannerisms are just so airy, it’s almost like Beat Poetry – the same couple of phrases and words over and over again. It’s not like thought, is it?”

“He really IS like a school kid stamping his feet,” I said.

“Well,” said Simon, “if you look at his childhood, he used to bite his nannies and attack them. Terrible anger issues.”

“Have you,” I asked, “watched Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live?”

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

Alec Baldwin in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

“Yes. It is really interesting to see Saturday Night Live go a bit further in its takedown of a politician, but it’s still nowhere near like our satire. We are a lot more horrible to our politicians. Saturday Night Live say: Oh, Trump is obsessed by money and is a bit sexist! On Spitting Image, we had Thatcher as Adolf Hitler, gassing people! They could be a bit tougher. When Tina Fey did Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was still a nod and a wink and the real Sarah Palin actually appeared with her.”

“Trump has gone wrong on the PR,” I suggested, “by attacking Saturday Night Live. Politicians have to be seen to laugh with comedy digs.”

“But maybe Trump is very clever,” Simon replied. “Everyone is reporting: Look at him! He can’t even take a joke! That distracts people from the politics: Look! He’s appointed this cabinet that are going to roll-back so many things. They’re pro-life, anti-gay, racist. People are talking less about that when they’re talking about him and Alec Baldwin.”

“So,” I asked, “how do you differ from Alec Baldwin?”

“I’m nowhere near as famous!” laughed Simon, “and I have nowhere near the same influence.”

“Will you be doing 20-minute spots in comedy clubs as Trump?”

“No, because it’s not an impression; it’s a whole hour-long show. It’s a characterisation in its own surreal world. So seeing it for a few minutes would not work in the same way.”

“Is there a risk,” I asked, “that you get so typed as Trump in the next four years that Simon Jay will lose-out as a performer?”

“Yeah. I’ll do other projects. I want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe and do Trump AND something else. Everyone is advising me against doing two shows again, but I would like to.”

“So your Trump show at this year’s Fringe…?” I prompted.

Orange is the new black in the US Donald Trump Simon Jay

For voters in the USA, it seems orange really is the new black

“The Trump thing has been taken on by a proper producer now – James Seabright – so it will be more packaged and slick though it will still be the same raw, slightly unpalatable truth it was last time.”

“Any reaction so far from the man in the Trump Tower?” I asked.

“No,” said Simon. “Part of the previous show was a bit where I was molesting a rabbit and I got the audience to take pictures of it and said: Can you Tweet the pictures to me? meaning me. But some people sent them to the real Donald Trump. So he maybe has a lot of photos of me looking like him, molesting a rabbit, but I have had no complaint from him yet.”

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Hilary Clinton in drag. Warwick Davis on shortlist. “The Best Sex of Our Lives”

SimonJayThe last time I met Simon Jay, he talked about How To Survive Being Attacked With a Miniature Flame-Thrower For Being GayIn other words, he was plugging his autobiography – Bastardography.

“Remind me,” I asked him yesterday in the Soho Theatre Bar, “why are we meeting up?”

“I dunno,” replied Simon.

“Neither do I… How’s your book going?”

“Very well, It’s coming out in paperback next year. I have to go to Belfast to finish it. I’m writing two new chapters for the paperback edition.”

“Why?”

“I don’t ask these questions. I’m getting a free trip to Belfast. Who could say No to that?”

“They’ve started killing each other again,” I told him. “But you really want to tell me about the play you’re doing.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. I saw some Event thing on Facebook.”

Simon Jay - Universally Speaking

Simon Jay – Universally Speaking next month in London

Universally Speaking,” said Simon. “It’s five monologues. Originally it was written for IdeasTap. They asked me to direct these prize-winning plays, but then they went out of business. But I’m directing and producing them anyway in October for charity – for the UN Refugee Agency.

“I’m also developing another play – a one-man Titus Andronicus written by Peter John Cooper – possibly at the Southwark Playhouse and we’re looking for funding, because we’re going to get a ‘Name’ to star in it. Our money limit is Martin Clunes. We know we can afford him. Do you want to hear who else is on the short list? Warwick Davis, Matt Lucas, David Mitchell.”

“Warwick Davis is on the shortlist for Titus Andronicus?” I asked.

“It’s seen from the clown’s perspective,” explained Simon. “He only has about six lines in the original, but everything in this new play is seen from his perspective. It’s a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. All the bits we haven’t seen.”

“You could see if the Soho Theatre is interested,” I suggested.

“I don’t think they’d touch it with a barge pole.”

“Why?’

“Because it’s intellectual with a small ‘i’ – it’s harking back to a sort of different, older kind of one-man show. It’s more in the tradition of when John Gielgud used to do The Seven Ages of Man… but this time it’s with Martin Clunes.”

“Would you take it to the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“No. I’m doing three shows at the Fringe next year. I’m doing Mr Twonkey’s Jennifer’s Robot Arm, which I’m directing and acting in. And a show about Hilary Clinton.”

“A serious one?”

“Semi-comedy-serious. It’s satire, but it still tells a story, like Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho.”

“Hilary Clinton,” I asked, “would be played by…?”

“Me,” said Simon, “obviously.”

“Obviously,” I said.

“I suggested it to Battersea Arts Centre,” Simon told me, “and they rejected it. I think people are a bit worried about doing a big, prominent American politician. The whole impetus behind the show was…

Hilary Clinton

“…You wanted to dress up as a woman?” – “Obviously”

“…you wanted to dress up as a woman,” I suggested.

“Well, that, obviously,” agreed Simon. “But also I don’t think UK audiences have a very good engagement in American politics. They don’t understand Primaries; they don’t understand how to win states; they don’t understand how she could still be with Bill after he’s shagged half the world. It’s a good fun story.”

“Do you have a title for the show?”

“Yes… It’s Hilary, Bitch!”

“What’s the poster going to be?”

“A big picture of Hilary, maybe astride a bomb or having a Wikileak. It’s going to be very camp.”

“Surely not?” I said.

“…and she sings as well,” Simon added.

“It’s a musical?”

“They do all manner of stupid things to get elected. She danced on a show with Ellen DeGeneres… I’m not against Hilary per se. I want to assassinate her at the end, but I think that might be a bit…

“It’s the American way,” I said.

“The reason Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho worked so well,” said Simon, “is it’s not just a drag Thatcher. There’s a good story as well: about Section 28. I’m not copying. It’s SO different, because it’s about  American politics and it’s a living figure, so it will be updated. I’m really worried Hilary might not win the Primary. If she doesn’t, then the idea might change to Jeremy Corbyn: The Musical.”

“And your third show next year,” I asked, “is…?”

cThe Best Sex of Our Lives

Coming soon? – the poster artwork

“It’s called The Best Sex of Our Lives. I’ve been commissioned to write and direct it by a man called Rich in Sussex who came and saw my show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in 2013 and said I want you to write me a drag act and he paid me a couple of grand to write a full-length drag show but, once I had finished writing it, he was like: It’s really good, but I don’t want to do that any more. I want you to edit a novel I’m writing. Another couple of grand. Edited the novel. He said: I’m not writing the novel any more. Can you write an Edinburgh Fringe show? Cost everything for me and I’ll pay it. So I’ve written it. but now he’s being iffy again. So it might not happen but, if it gets to the point where we put it in the Fringe Programme, then we’ll do it.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“The A-Z of sex. All the different sexual practices.”

“What’s Z?” I asked. “Zebra?”

“It IS zebra. Do you know what ‘furries’ are?”

“Not necessarily,” I said.

“People who dress up as their animal alter egos.”

“A whole new world opens up to me,” I told him.

“I could tell you some things that would make your nose bleed,” Simon said.

“Provided,” I told him, “it’s only my nose.”

“You could be a butterfly,” Simon suggested. “You go to a party and people might put nectar on you. It’s basically weird, dress-up bestiality without the animals… Anyway, so I thought Sex sells in Edinburgh and I want to do a commercially popular show.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “a furry Hilary Clinton.”

“Oh God!” said Simon. “People put her face on porn. There’s a lot of that on there.”

“Where?” I asked.

“On the internet.”

Wikipedia’s illustration of Furries (Photograph by Laurence ‘GreenReape’ Parry.

Wikipedia’s illustration of two Furries (Photo by Laurence ‘GreenReaper’ Parry)

“Is The Best Sex of Our Lives a musical?” I asked.

“No. It’s vignettes.”

“A one man show?”

“No. Three actors.”

“Any animals?”

“No. They dress up as animals; they don’t fuck animals.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked.

“Sorry, John,” said Simon.

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How to survive being attacked with a miniature flame-thrower for being gay

Simon Jay and Myra Dubois performing Jennifer’s Robot Arm last month (Photograph by Antony)

Simon Jay (right) & Myra Dubois performing Jennifer’s Robot Arm by Mr Twonkey last month (Photograph by Antony)

Simon Jay appeared peripherally in this blog last month, when he staged and directed Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm.

“What’s the attraction of Mr Twonkey?” I asked Simon Jay this week.

“He says the most ridiculous things,” Simon told me, “in a very naturalistic, deadpan way and the detail of his fantasy world fits very well with the way my mind works. In fact, my partner says: It’s almost like someone has put your mind on stage. It’s the non-sequitur humour that I love – talking about a character that’s half witch/half accountant or the House of Cheese or the Wheel of Knickers. Very specific details and lots of stuff that comes from a really dark place, which I really respond to.”

Simon’s autobiography – Bastardography – was published this week.

The blurb reads:

Telling this story is important for not only a generation affected by mental health and sexuality issues, but also for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider looking in. Growing up with a Combat Stressed Naval Officer Father, a neurotic Mother who flosses her teeth with her hair and an extended family of alcoholic eccentrics is bad enough, especially on a rough South London estate in the 90s. But that is just the tip of the trashy iceberg. Life in such a place is barely tolerable if you tow the line, but Simon didn’t even know where the line was.

“Why call it Bastardograhy? I asked.

Simon Jay’s tell-all Bastardography

Simon Jay’s tell-all Bastardography

“Because I’m completely unflattering about everyone, including myself. It’s about how creativity kept me going – just writing and performing.

“I first went with my parents to a psychiatrist when I was thirteen or fourteen for ‘family therapy’ because I wasn’t sleeping and was up at 3 o’clock in the morning. This was before I ‘came out’. People like to re-write history and say Oh! It was because you were being bullied at school! But this was before that. I was already fucked-up.

“I ‘came out’ when I was 14, at a really rough all-boys school near Sutton in South London. Added to which, I was very mentally unbalanced as a child, which wasn’t treated until my late adolescence/early twenties when I started having breakdowns and going into hospital.”

“You ‘came out’ at 14??” I asked.

“I announced it in a history lesson,” replied Simon. “Well, I didn’t announce it… In an all-boys school, everyone is obsessed with everyone’s sexuality and, in this one lesson, this boy – the skinhead boy – was asking everyone if they were gay.”

“Why in a history lesson?” I asked.

“Because,” explained Simon, “they were going on about What if Hitler was gay…because there was this rumour that Hitler was gay and that’s why he committed genocide… So this skinhead boy went round the classroom and everyone was saying: No… No… No… No… and I said Yes, just because it was the truth and I didn’t really think about it. And then there was this massive backlash and it just spread. It was my first viral hit. There were 1,000 kids at that school. By the end of the week, everyone knew who I was. I was infamous already.”

“That sounds great if you’re a 14 year-old,” I said.

“Until they start beating you up,” Simon pointed out.

“What did the history teacher,” I asked, “say when the skinhead boy was asking everyone if they were gay?”

“He didn’t hear it. Teachers are oblivious to what students talk about.”

“So you were bullied at school for being gay,” I said.

“Most of it was verbal,” said Simon, “but there were times when stones were thrown at me, aerosols sprayed over me and they tried to set me on fire; it was very creative.”

“Tried to set you on fire?” I asked.

Simon Jay - always comes straight to the point

Simon Jay – always comes straight to the point

“There was a boy who sat behind me in the tutorial lesson and, one day, I could feel this wet at the back of my neck and a tschhhhhhh sound. And I thought: Why are they spraying an aerosol at the back of my head? and then I heard a match being struck. They lit the match while they were spraying the aerosol to make a little mini flame thrower. At the time, none of it seemed very remarkable. When you’re a teenager, you’re resilient; you’re invincible; you don’t feel threatened by…”

“…the miniature flame thrower?” I suggested.

“The worst one,” said Simon, “was having stones thrown at me. Big stones.”

“What happened when they used a flame thrower on you?” I asked. “It sounds like it might have had an effect.”

“Luckily, it just singed hair, because I moved out of the way in time.”

“There was teacher present?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And…”

“They did nothing. Sometimes they laughed when I was bullied. Sometimes they purposely turned a blind eye and went out of the room. There was a Christian art teacher who liked to laugh at one boy who liked to revel in very gratuitous homophobic rhetoric. It was just fun for him.”

“You said you were mentally unbalanced as a child,” I said. “Isn’t everyone mentally unbalanced at 14?”

“To some extent,” agreed Simon, “But I was very withdrawn as a child and was obsessed with death and had existential crises.”

“That still sounds normal for a 14 year-old,” I said.

“It is normal – or maybe you’re just as weird as I am. No, it is normal, but I didn’t function very well and I wasn’t very happy and it progressed into adolescence.”

“What do you mean you didn’t function?”

“I didn’t interact with the world in a way that would ensure survival. I didn’t eat or sleep properly. Didn’t urinate properly – never urinated in the toilet, just in the bed. I was a very strange child in a very quiet, unassuming family.”

Sion’s father was in the Navy

Simon’s father was in the Navy

“Did you come out to your parents before or after you came out at school?”

“Six months later. I did that by letter. I left it on the kitchen table. Saying what had gone on for the last six months: that I had come out and I’d been bullied because of it. I was very passive. Once the other kids realised I wouldn’t fight back, they saw it as open season on me.

“I left secondary school after taking seven months of being bullied. Then they put me in a ‘special’ school when I was 15 for the rest of my secondary education and I failed all my GCSEs: I could do them, but I was completely detached. I was completely out of it, not in the real world any more. Completely separate from reality.”

“Drugs?” I asked.

“I started smoking,” said Simon, “but I’ve never really taken (recreational) drugs.”

“So you started smoking weed?” I asked.

“No, no. Cigarettes.”

“That’s bad,” I said. “Weed OK; nicotine bad. So why haven’t you taken recreational drugs?”

“Because my mum said: If you take drugs, you die. And I’ve always been frightened I’ll have some sort of seizure.

“Anyway, I flunked all my GCSEs, then I broke down and didn’t sleep for a couple of weeks and thought my parents were ghosts. I had a complete mental breakdown. So they popped me in the hospital – the psychiatric unit – and that was the beginning of my recovery, really.”

“They filled you full of uppers?” I asked.

“Oh yes. An anti-psychotic called olanzapine that makes you like a zombie.”

“But you weren’t seeing visions?” I asked.

“Vaguely seeing visions. I thought I was a woman at one point. I thought I had ovaries they were not telling me about. One thing that was not a vision was I had to have a Northern Irish male nurse scrub me down. But I was so fucked-up I couldn’t enjoy it.”

“Just scrubbing you down?” I asked.

“I had pissed myself. So I was covered in piss and they had to put me in a shower and I couldn’t wash myself, so they had to do it for me. But I wasn’t into it because I wasn’t there. That’s the most disappointing moment of that era: the lack of male nurse action.

Simon at the Freshers’ Fair in 2009 (Photo by Sarah-Jane Bird)

Simon at the student Freshers’ Fair in 2009 (Photograph by Sarah-Jane Bird)

“Then, as I was getting better, I went to college and did an access course which allowed me to go to university without having GCSEs. I was going to do drama, but I was 15 minutes late to be auditioned, so I did Media Studies instead – Screenwriting for Film & Television at Bournemouth.”

“At what point did you want to be a performer?” I asked. “All this mental stuff sounds like it’s pushing you towards performance.”

“I was a complete neurotic fuck-up,” agreed Simon, “until I got in front of people in a theatrical way and I was safe then: because I had control then.”

“When does the book finish?” I asked.

“Last year – 2014, when I had my last breakdown and finally recovered properly. I had a really bad breakdown in 2013 and nearly died.”

“Why?”

“It was almost like a mid-life crisis. Basically everything broke down. I think it was worse than the one I had when I was a teenager.”

“You’re still with the partner you met at university?”

“Yes. But I should say my book is not a misery memoir. It’s a very funny book. There are jokes on every page.”

“Did I tell you,” I asked, “that my blog has been nominated as the Funniest Blog in the UK?”

“Yes,” replied Simon.

“I am not convinced they have read it,” I said.

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Comedy’s Captain Beefheart Twonkey ruminates on robot arms and replicants

Paul Vickers on Skype yesterday

Paul Vickers talked to me from Edinburgh via Skype yesterday

Paul Vickers performs on stage as Mr Twonkey.

“I went to art college and that’s when it all went wrong,” he told me yesterday. “That’s when I started on this road of creative adventure…”

“You mean you started on this road to fame and penury?” I suggested.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Once you get started, you can’t stop and then you realise you’ve wasted your life so you might as well keep going.”

“Why are you Mr Twonkey?” I asked him, which I thought was an easy question.

There was a long pause.

“You don’t know?” I asked.

“Not entirely, no,” said Paul. “I was using a little puppet and I dropped it on the floor and I said: Oh, Twonkey! and it seemed like a good name for the puppet. I think the puppet was originally called Twinkey and, when I dropped it, it became Twonkey. It was Claire Smith of The Scotsman who coined the term Mr Twonkey.”

Paul suffering for his Art with some prop pigs yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

Paul suffering for his Art with some prop pigs (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

“So critics have some use,” I said.

“Well, yes, they are useful,” said Paul. “Sometimes they punish you; sometimes they praise you; but it’s always useful to have an outside perspective on what you’re doing because obviously it’s very difficult to have full awareness of what you’re doing.”

“Have you full awareness of what you’re doing?” I asked.

“No. Not quite,” said Paul.

“I’m seeing a read-through of your play Jennifer’s Robot Arm on Monday,” I said, “Is it your first play?”

“Yes,” said Paul decisively, then added: “Well, not entirely. No. I did a short radio play called Pissed as a Postman and I also attempted to write a musical called Itchy Grumble, which was released as an album. I re-salvaged what I could of it and wrote a little novella Itchy Grumble about it which I sell as a book at my shows.”

There is a trailer for the book on YouTube.

“Was Pissed as a Postman taken up for broadcast by BBC Radio 4?” I asked. “It’s an interesting title.”

“Eh… No,” said Paul. “It was something I wrote years ago. It was originally called Dusty Bottles. It was about a bunch of barflies who are drinking and then they realise one of the people they’re drinking with is God and one of them dies and they dance themselves to death. For a long time, it was the only decent thing I’d ever written. When you first start evolving creatively, you sometimes have those moments where you do one thing that’s really good, then you have difficulty replicating it and it takes a while to get your ‘voice’ and your style. So I re-booted Dusty Bottles as Pissed as a Postman and did that recently and it opened up the idea of me maybe writing plays.”

You can hear Pissed as a Postman on SoundCloud.

“What’s the difference between a play and a 60-minute show?” I asked.

I suppose,” said Paul, “that you expect a play to be in two acts and last at least 90 minutes.”

“How long is your play?” I asked.

“About 60 minutes. It’s got a narrative that’s quite clearly defined whereas my Twonkey things don’t really have a narrative. They’re more just like a scrapbook to incorporate what I do, which is sing, do a bit of comedy and tell fairy tale like stories. Jennifer’s Robot Arm is an expanded one of those miniatures, cos there was a short story called Jennifer’s Robot Arm which I expanded.”

“What is it about?” I asked.

Jennifer’s Robot Arm - the read-through on Monday

Jennifer’s Robot Arm – in London, Monday

“It’s about a little girl who thinks she’s the sister of Pinocchio and her mother is quite a careless drunk and the little girl is lost in her fantasy world. She has a friend called Patrick Promise, who is like a little goblin and he wants her to prove that she is made of wood by showing him her tree rings but, of course, she’s not. She saws her arm off and her family panic and try to work out what to do about the fact she’s lost her arm. And this guy just walks in off the streets and they find him in the mother’s bedroom, raking around in her lingerie drawers and, when they confront him about why he’s there doing that, he says it doesn’t really matter, that nothing really matters.

“It turns out he is an inventor and he can help them by making a robot arm. There’s money under the fruit bowl, but it’s not enough to pay for the arm. He starts off with a bit about Admiral Nelson and how Nelson lost his arm in Tenerife and how they tried to make him a porcelain arm. So the fruit bowl is the Admiral Nelson Memorial Fruit Bowl. But it’s not enough to pay for the arm, so the catch is that the mother has to sleep with him over a certain period of time to pay off the debt for the robot arm. They enter into a sexual deal which goes wrong.

“The man says: I’ve been trying this on for years. I go from house to house and this is the first time it’s actually worked.”

Mr Twonkey in full absurdist flow yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

Mr Twonkey in full absurdist flow yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

“You are not performing in the play,” I said, “but Myra Dubois and Simon Jay are?”

“Yes,” said Paul. “In a way, it’s kind of been taken out of my hands this one. Simon Jay is a big Twonkey fan and was performing in The Counting House at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and came about four times to see my show, which is a lot for anyone to tolerate. And I went to see his show: he’s a one-man theatre. His show was about un-picking a man’s life through an autopsy and he played about five or six different characters and rummaged around in carrier bags.

“I had been trying to get my play off the ground up here in Scotland. I got £300 from the Tom McGrath Trust. But then Simon took the baton and said he’d try to get it staged in London.

“When I was writing it, I imagined Myra Dubois in the role: it’s a perfect role for a transvestite. She’s the best drag act in London. It works for the woman to be quite a formidable force. Myra can really control a room and she’s a brilliant stand-up comedian.”

“Have you got a new show for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

Dawn of The Replcants’ album Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late

The younger Paul Vickers on the Dawn of The Replcants’ album Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late

“Yes. Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop. It’s about how I’ve been sacked from Looney Tunes during a purple patch, which is partly true because Warner Bros own Looney Tunes and the band that I used to be in – Dawn of The Replicants – was signed to East West, which was a subsidiary of Warner Bros and they dropped us in the late 1990s. They had people like Simply Red and the Led Zeppelin back catalogue and The Doors in Britain. They were looking for something like The Beta Band, a big alternative Scottish band at the time and we did a couple of albums for them.”

“So,” I asked, “is Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop about that?”

“Not really,” said Paul.

“Are you frustrated at the moment, because you’re not in a band?”

“There’s an element of that,” said Paul. “Except I am in a band, but we’re just not active all the time. The band’s called Paul Vickers and The Leg… The Leg are an entity in themselves but sometimes they also do records with me. We’ve just released an album called The Greengrocer.”

“Songs from your previous shows?” I asked.

“There’s a couple of songs from previous shows. My Trifle was in last year’s show Twonkey’s Private Restaurant.”

There is a clip from Twonkey’s Private Restaurant on YouTube.

“Is The Greengrocer a novelty album?” I asked.

Paul Vickers and The Leg

Paul Vickers and The Leg, their beefhearts in the right place

“No,” said Paul. “It’s a proper album with a band. It’s in the Tom Waits/Captain Beefheart area. No-one does absurdist Blues-rock like Captain Beefheart. Basically, the over-all theme is the idea that you can be creative, but you’ve still got to sell vegetables; you’ve still got to have a shop. It’s not a concept album but, on the back, it’s got a picture of an aubergine filled with carrots, which are supposed to be sticks of dynamite.

The new Greengrocer album by Paul Vickers and The Leg

The new Greengrocer album by Paul Vickers and The Leg

“I think a lot of my things recently have been about that idea that I have a job… I have to do that job to survive. I think The Greengrocer is partly about that. Obviously, I’m not a greengrocer, but…

“You could be if you wanted to be,” I suggested.

“I could be,” agreed Paul. “It’s that level you walk between being an artist and actually surviving.“

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