Tag Archives: S&M

“The only dominatrix I have ever known was head of marketing for IBM…”

Sara Mason (left) faces up to Kate Copstick at the Grouchy Club

Sara Mason (left) faces Kate Copstick at The Grouchy Club

“The only dominatrix I have ever known,” said someone in the audience, “used to be the head of marketing for IBM.”

“How much money did she make in marketing?” Martha McBrier asked.

“She was earning a really, really decent living. Her name is Jacky Donovan; she has written a book about it. She got into a relationship with a bloke at work, realised she liked it and then set up a business doing it and made a load off money.”

At next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Sara Mason is going to perform a show titled A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage. Obviously, she has researched the subject in detail and this came up at a recent live meet-up of The Grouchy Club, which I co-host with comedy critic Kate Copstick.

The audience that evening included comics Martha McBrier and Giacinto Palmieri.

“There are all types of clients,” Sara told them. “I mean, Rubbish Boy comes in and wants to be put in a wheelie bin and covered with rubbish and moved about. He has a love of dirty things and he wants to be called Rubbish Boy. And then there’s Nose Man.”

“Nose Man?” I asked.

“Nose-aphilia. He pays money to come in and have his nose touched. You stroke his nose, then ask about his fantasies and he will talk about them. One time the girl with him got so bored sitting there for 30 minutes just playing with his nose that she lent forward and licked it.”

“What did he say?” asked Martha McBrier. “Don’t lick it, I’m not a pervert?

“No,” Sara replied. “He looked very excited. I think A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage will be a fun show. There are things like lactophilia – men who like women who are lactating. Where do you find a constant supply of pregnant women who are lactating who will breast-feed you when it’s not your wife?

“My life is so boring,” said Giacinto Palmieri.

“And then there’s CBT,” continued Sara.

“Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?” I asked.

“Cock and ball torture,” replied Sara.

“I can see,” said Copstick, “a sitcom entirely based on the notion of someone applying for CBT and it all going horribly wrong.”

“It’s emotionally draining,” said Sara. “A lot of the girls crack up because they can’t deal with it. It does take a certain personality to deal with it. It’s a bit like being a psychotherapist sometimes and some of the shit people come out with is… I mean, if someone comes in and pays you a lot of money and says Can I tell you everything? and he explains how he likes to wear nappies with his girlfriend and walk round the park and piss and poo. Inside, the girl is laughing but trying not to laugh or look disgusted and hoping he will never call again.”

“But,” said Copstick, “how dare people laugh! It’s different strokes for different folks.”

“Yes,” said Sara. “but some of them you can vibe with and some of them you will find deeply offensive. People specialise in what they like.”

“I have a friend who likes to be a human toilet,” said Copstick. “I don’t understand it at all.”

“When you say a human toilet…?” asked Sara.

“He likes people to shit into his mouth,” replied Copstick. “I don’t understand it. He’s such a lovely guy… But, if people decide to live in this world, to paddle in this pool, then you can’t suddenly go Oh! I think that’s funny! or think That’s offensive!

Well,” said Sara, “they thought Rubbish Boy was very funny. They used to keep him around for hours to make them laugh. They taught him ballet and made him dance around because he was so funny. He was hilarious and he loved it. He loved the fact he might pay for an hour but he could stay there half the day because he was making them laugh.”

“You can still,” I said to Copstick, “think something is bizarre and funny and laugh at it but still accept it, provided it doesn’t adversely affect anyone else.”

Live Grouchy Club meet-ups. Free to enter. Free to leave. Free to say anything you like.

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82-year-old comic Lynn Ruth Miller on S&M and sexual products in the kitchen

Lynn Ruth Miller at home in Brighton

Lynn Ruth: butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth

This week’s Grouchy Club Podcast was supposed to feature British-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller chatting with me and Scotsman comedy critics and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges Kate Copstick and Claire Smith at Lynn Ruth’s home in Brighton, but Claire was tied-up elsewhere and Copstick slept through the whole thing in London.

So the podcast ended up as a 24-minute edited version of the five-hour chat Lynn Ruth and I had. 

She told me she was soon going to be starting her own online blog and she showed me some as-yet-unposted ones. We started talking about the subjects she was going to write about in her blog.

Absolutely amazing. This woman in Kent has a dungeon – an S&M dungeon – which is evidently located on the high street and the residents are upset because they think the children are going to get a bad idea when they see these men walking out of there looking nervous. Do you know what they do? I looked it up on the internet.

I’m just guessing: probably domination…?

No, no. What they do…

…It’s a stab in the dark.

…they’ll chain you to a bed and they’ll whip you – if you ask for it. But they’re very, very definite that No means No – and I thought that was a good thing for children to learn… Did you know that, in the 1940s…

I will just do another ‘Help!’ (text message) to Copstick…

…In the 1940s, there was a shortening… Do you know what shortening is in this country? No you don’t. Shortening. It has nothing to do with height. Shortening is a hydrogenated fat that is a substitute for lard and for butter and it’s called, in America, shortening. And the main brands were Spry…

JOHN (singing)
My baby loves shortnin, shortnin…

That’s it! That’s it! And the other brand was Crisco.

We have Spry, so maybe we do know what it is in this country.

No, no, that’s not the same thing. That’s not the same thing. Alright, so Crisco was what my mother used to fry potato pancakes and to make potato kugels – potato pudding – and for pie crust. When you used Crisco for pie crust, there was a special method. It was called The Crisco Method and my mother swore by The Crisco Method.

It turns out you can’t get Crisco any more – except in this country, at Nice n Naughty and Good Vibrations.

They’re sex shops, are they?

Mmmm. It’s in the same can with the same label. It looks exactly the same as the one my mother used to buy all the time that we always had. It was a staple on our pantry shelf.

Your mother had hidden depths…

That’s what I discovered, yeah. Because, evidently, it’s very good for fisting.


My mother always swore by The Crisco Method… which explains why my father was always so bent-over… I thought she just cut it into flour.

The 24-minute Grouchy Club Podcast is available HERE, covering more sex, Lynn Ruth’s upcoming London show Get a Grip, thoughts on starting a hamster support group, the UK comedy business, World War II, US TV sets, nostalgia, Italians, the Irish, marriage and the British Royal Family.

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Award-winning comedy performer John Robertson: Blood and Charm and S&M

John Robertson - 17th December 2014

John Robertson in Dean Street, Soho, yesterday afternoon

Comedy performer John Robertson was brought up in Perth, Australia and now lives with his wife Jo Marsh in London. He is probably best known as creator of The Dark Room show. I had tea with John yesterday afternoon in Soho. He was on his way to the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society’s British Comedy Awards to receive an award.

“What is tonight’s award for?” I asked.

“The awards which are being given out,” he told me, “are not for anything. People were booked for the evening on the basis of whether they wanted to present or receive an award. I quite like the idea of going to an un-real awards ceremony to not receive an award. So I have to go and say Thankyou for something that isn’t occurring.”

“Have a pen,” I said and gave him a pen. “It’s an award from my blog.”

“I always take the title of your blog – So It Goes,” said John, “to be a Kurt Vonnegut reference.”

“Yes,” I said. “Also, in my erstwhile youth, Tony Wilson – you know the movie 24 Hour Party People? – he used to present a Granada TV music programme from Manchester called So It Goes. Presumably also a hommage to Slaughterhouse-Five.”

“Manchester,” said John, “is a place I never end up in.”

“At that time,” I said, “it was nicknamed Madchester. I had the chance to go to Tony Wilson’s Hacienda club a few times but never went because I thought it was probably some naff disco. It wasn’t, of course. I should have gone.”

“In Perth,” said John, “I used to go to a Goth club called Sin and everyone there was crapping on about how much better it was when it was called Dominion.

“But I really preferred Sin cos Dominion I just associated with… Dominion was where my really dumb 14-year-old friends were getting in without being carded and then coming back having done some dull, faint half-S&M with each other.”

“S&M?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said John. “A little bit of the old bondage. The third time I went to Sin, I took a crucifix and all the girls kept trying to sit on it to prove a point. They were trying to do The Exorcist.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“About 18.”

“Aged 16,” I asked, “what did you want to be?”

John Robertson

Aged 16, John Robertson wanted to be lawyer

“I wanted to be a lawyer, because I understood that’s where the money was. But, at school, someone’s dad was a very well-known barrister. He came in, gave us a talk and just revealed himself to be the most dull man on the planet. So I gave up on that dream. It was a bit dry and boring.”

At this point, I started to take some photographs of John.

“Let me see?” he asked. “Oh, can you send me that one? I like the crucifixion imagery behind me.”

“What am I going to write a blog about?” I asked. “What have you been up to?”

“Last week,” said John, “I went down to the face-sitting protest outside Parliament.”

“That was,” I checked, “something about protesting against restrictive new pornography laws?”


“Did you sit on a face or were you sat on?”

“I watched,” said John. “I defaulted to my usual position. There was some Dutch TV talk show host running around inviting people to penetrate themselves with his microphone. But the whole thing was really deeply charming. All these very English people: We’re here to protect our rights. We’re being quirky and eccentric. It was the most English style of protest I can imagine. There was a woman wearing jodhpurs and tweed sitting on someone’s face while drinking a cup of tea.”

By this time, John was drawing with the pen I had given him.

John’s drawing of a man with a tie

John’s drawing of a man with a tie & big nose

“All I can do is just variations of men in a tie,” he told me. “That’s all I do. Men in ties.”

“Looks a bit like a dodgy Fagin,” I said.

“When I was a kid in Perth and used to draw people,” said John, “I was always roundly criticised because I gave everyone a nose that looked like a dick. Just a big phallic nose. And I still do. Everyone ends up with this distended, bulbous thing.”

“What was growing up in Perth like?” I asked.

“When I was a boy, there was a news report which started: If you were to take a rifle and fire it down St George’s Terrace at midnight, you would normally hit nothing. Except last night, when you would have hit a stolen Army personnel carrier. A guy had broken into the barracks, stolen an Army personnel carrier and just driven it through the completely empty middle of Perth.”

“Nowadays,” I said, “that would go viral on YouTube.”

“I once watched a documentary,” John continued, “where a porn star was asked: What do you like? And she said: Well, I like stuff in my mouth. Because, since I was a child, people have been shoving things into my mouth. The interview didn’t take it any further than that but she said to cope with it she fetishised it.”

“Shoving things into her mouth?” I asked.

“Whether she meant dummies or dentists or abuse I don’t know,” said John. “I hope it wasn’t abuse. I took it to be more of a dental thing. Perhaps she just had a particularly bad reaction to oral dental work and needed to build something to cope with it. Strange, isn’t it?

This morning’s newspaper headline in London

This morning’s newspaper headline in London

“I woke up this morning to news of the massacre in Pakistan and I thought: That’s too difficult. 132 schoolchildren have been murdered. That’s too hard to process. But imagine the luxury of being able to say: That’s too hard to process. I mean, Life is too hard to process.

“I also just read the note points – the summary – of the CIA torture report and, as someone who’s into S&M, that makes very uncomfortable reading. You’re thinking Oh, that’s dreadful, but getting a faint tingle. S&M is a combination of the things that horrify you and sex.”

“Are you into S&M?” I asked.

“Hugely,” said John. “Hugely. I’m a bondage man.”

“Is it OK to quote that?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said John. “I went to the face-sitting demonstration. I wasn’t there for no reason. I’m fascinated because, since coming to London, through all this ‘British repression’, you just have to say You know what I like? Bondage and other people will say Oh, yes, actually, I do too… and everyone comes out.”

“It’s not my thing,” I said. “I’m into M&S not S&M. I think it may be an English rather than a British thing. The cliché explanation is that it’s the English public school system does it…”

“I’ve been to a Scottish bondage club,” said John. “They were playing The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ The Impression That I Get, which is a great song for a bondage club.

“But the thing about English public schools… I went to an all-boys school in Australia and, on the first day of being in the ‘big school’, we were not given lockers, we were given these cages that were roughly the size of a boy. Within about an hour, a kid called Cayden had been shoved in and locked in one. He ended up getting stabbed with various things.”

“You should do an Edinburgh Fringe show about it,” I suggested.

“I did,” said John. “In 2012. It was called Blood and Charm.”

“Well,” I said, “that destroys any pretence I might have that I know what’s happening or happened at the Fringe. Why Blood and Charm?”

“I saw a show done by a very dear friend of mine and the opening line was: The things in this show didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. So I thought: What if I take a whole bunch of true stuff and I complement it with real fantasy nonsense – a lot of bloodthirsty fairy tales and things like that – and treat both with the same disdain? So I started with: My father killed himself.

“Did he?”

“Yes, my dad hung himself. So I thought I’ll weave that through and do this Hansel & Gretel thing and then this thing that sounds like it’s real and which ends with this zombie vagina and then…”

“What’s a zombie vagina?” I asked.

John Robertson - Blood and Charm

John Robertson – Blood and Charm at the Edinburgh Fringe

“The vagina of a zombie. It kills you. It’s the end of a story where this man looks at this woman and then suddenly this hand shoots out of her vagina and gouges out his eyes and pulls him in and eats him, really chomps on him.”

“Well,” I said, “I could say We’ve all been there… but…”

“All I ever wanted,” said John, “was to be isolated and left with my thoughts that may or may not be real.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“I thought, if I said that, it would make a good end to your blog.”

“It possibly needs explanation,” I suggested.

“I just wanted to be left alone with the people I love and the people I want to do strange and terrible things to and have a great time and make a great deal of money telling you what I think.”

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Critic Kate Copstick talks about S&M at the Edinburgh Fringe’s Grouchy Club

Copstick with Simon after the Grouchy Club

Copstick and Simon after yesterday’s Grouchy Club, her broken arm recovering in a sling

The Grouchy Club has been running at the Edinburgh Fringe for sixteen days now and we are getting regular members of the audience – both comedians and ordinary members of the public – coming back day after day. Yesterday, notable newcomers included a CNN reporter and a large man in a leather jacket.

“The gent in the back row looks vaguely ‘industry’ to me,” I said. “An ageing roadie, perhaps.”

“Well,” said my co-host, Kate Copstick, her arm in a sling after a fall the previous day. “I first worked with Simon in…”

“What does Simon do?” I asked.

“Well,” Simon said, “I used to be a TV producer and then went on to other things…”

“We did programmes on motor bikes,” said Copstick, “and then we did sex. We did porn.”

“Do we talk about this?” I asked.

“Well,” said Copstick, “he’s a happily-married man with two children; I don’t see why not.”

We were also graced with the presence of Miss Behave, co-presenter with comedian Janey Godley of next Friday’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. Copstick is presenting the actual Awards at the show.

“You know,” I said to Miss Behave, “that Copstick has smashed her elbow in now?”

“I know,” said Miss Behave. “I think there should be a slave for Copstick on the show. I don’t care which forums we scout. It could be Fringe forums; it could be other forums. You just need someone whose idea of heaven would be to jump when Copstick blinks – goes and makes her coffee or helps her to the toilet.”

Kate Copstick cares in Kenya

Kate Copstick used to go clubbing (not baby seals)

“I think those people might be few and far between,” said Copstick. “Though, when I used to go clubbing – to SM clubs – I went as a sub but, because of the way I dressed, everyone thought I was not. So I was constantly getting sad little men coming up wanting to be my slave and the one time I said Yes, it was just embarrassing.

“I only went there so someone would rip three kinds of shit out of me with a whip and then I had this strange little man following me around and I had to spend hours every day working out things for him to do… I’ll do that… No, let me do it!

“This year,” I said, “the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is lacking in nudity because we don’t have the Greatest Show On Legs.”

“We could,” suggested Miss Behave, “just cough and Bob Slayer would pop up.”

“We could run an advert,” suggested Copstick: “Someone needed to get their cock out on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

“And who better than you?” I suggested. “But the CNN lady looked particularly interested when S&M clubs were mentioned.”

“I have a friend who has a slave,” said Miss Behave, “and, in return for her walking on him with heels or whatever, he cleans her house, he cleans her shoes…”

“There’s a lot of ‘sissy mates’,” said Copstick.

“I personally would not be able to handle it,” said Miss Behave.

“I,” said Copstick, “have a friend who married her slave and he was something like a really high-up merchant banker or investment banker who comes home to run around in an apron and heels.”

“As far as I can gather,” I said, “the men who want to be submissive tend to be in positions of power at work whereas I, being only increasingly prestigious, don’t need it.”

“But,” said Copstick, “once you become truly prestigious…”

“Ah, then,” I said, “I guess I will suddenly have an urge to head for the apron, will I?”

“Have we,” asked Miss Behave, “got Russian Egg Roulette at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Have we got ponchos?” asked Miss Behave.

“If anyone wants one,” I said.

Miss Behave’s Game Show

This year, Miss Behave has gone all glittery golden

“Can I play again?” asked Miss Behave.

“Of course,” I said.

“I won’t be in rubber this year,” said Miss Behave, “I will be wearing gold and I don’t want to get eggs all over it.”

This will be worth seeing.

On Friday. Be there.

Malcolm Hardee Show 2014

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A visit to a fetish club and the recent death of a unique British comedy performer

I blogged yesterday about a Pull the Other One show in Herne Hill, South East London, run by Vivienne and Martin Soan.

Before the show, Martin told me: “I’m in the final of a mime competition at the Royal Festival Hall on 29th May. It’s going to be me against France.”

“The whole of France?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Martin. “It’s in honour of Malcolm Hardee because he admired the art of mime so much.”

(Malcolm thought mime was “a tragic waste of time”)

“You’re competing against the whole of France?” I asked Martin.

“Yes. I’ve actually got a real French mime artist to take part and I’m going to win. The contest is rigged because Malcolm would have approved of that.”

“Have there been any heats?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “No heats. But it’s called The England v France Mime-Off and I’ve got through to the final.”

I think he was joking but, with a surreal comedian, you can never be altogether certain.

It was also an interesting night at Pull the Other One because Tony Green was performing in his guise as The Obnoxious Man, whose act is to shout two-minutes of ad-libbed vitriolic abuse at the audience.

I first met him in the early 1990s, when the late Malcolm Hardee suggested I see Tony compere at a now long-forgotten comedy night called T’others at The Ship in Kennington, South London.

A few months later, Tony somehow persuaded me it would be interesting to go to the monthly fetish club Torture Garden which, that month, was being held in a three-storey warehouse in Islington. The top floor was given over to unconventional cabaret acts and Tony’s chum Sophie Seashell, the partner of one of The Tiger Lillies, had booked bizarre acts for the night. That month’s acts included the extraordinary Andrew Bailey.

Torture Garden still exists and, earlier this year, Adolf Hitler singing act Frank Sanazi told me he was performing there, so their taste for the bizarre clearly still remain high.

There was and I presume still is a dress code at Torture Garden and perhaps rather naively, when I went, my concession to fetishism was wearing an ageing hippie Indian-style shirt and colourful trousers while Tony was wearing a white straw hat and rather louche suit and looked a bit like Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who.

When we arrived, Tony was told: “You’re OK, you look perverted,” but my shirt was not deemed good enough as a costume. The people on the door suggested I take off my shirt so I was naked from the waist up, then take off my black leather belt and tie it diagonally across my chest with the buckle at the front. I think it may have been some personal fantasy of the man on the door.

“If I take my belt off, my trousers may fall down,” I said.

“All the better,” the man replied.

“It won’t be a pretty sight,” I warned him.

“All the better,” the man replied.

That’s the good thing about sado-masochists – they always see half a glass – although whether it is half-full or half-empty depends on their particular tendencies.

I was not reassured a fetish club was my scene, but it was certainly interesting. I think Americans take to such things much more wholeheartedly – there was a look in the more outrageously dressed (or un-dressed) people’s eyes at Torture Garden which made me think a strong British sense of irony and an active sense of the ridiculous don’t gel (if that’s the word) with wearing outlandish sado-masochistic costumes for sexual thrills.

Tony Green took in his stride such things as a slightly-self-conscious naked fat man ‘walking’ his wife like a dog on a lead. She was scrambling about on all-fours and I think her knees were playing up a bit. Presumably in suburbia there are carpets.

At Pull the Other One, Tony told me things are looking up for him at the moment as he is performing in the play Reign at 4th Floor West Studios in Commercial Road this week. Tony is a man never short of an interesting story.

When I mentioned that Pull the Other One has more than a touch of Andy Kaufman’s experimental anarchy about it, inevitably, Tony had an Andy Kaufman story.

He told me of an evening in the early 1980s when Comedy Store founder Pete Rosengard phoned up Andy Kaufman, who was in London, and persuaded him to come down and perform at the Store. Andy appeared as his ‘women’s wrestling champion’ character, challenging any women in the audience to wrestle him on stage… and was gonged off. This was the early 1980s and Tony himself led heckles of “Fuck off, you sexist pig!” perhaps not unconnected to the fact he himself had been gonged off earlier.

Andy Kaufman was not amused.

Tony also told me sad news which I had not heard – that the extraordinary performance artist and comedy performer Ian Hinchliffe drowned in Arkansas around two months ago. He was there with his American partner and, the way Tony told it, Ian was fishing in a boat on a lake with a 94-year-old friend. They caught a whopper of a large fish, both got excited, both fell out of the boat and the 94-year-old man survived but Ian, 68, drowned.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (Malcolm drowned too, in 2005) quoted an anecdote about Ian Hinchliffe and Ian was not amused because his surname was mis-spelled ‘Hinchcliffe’ – not surprising as, even though I wrote the manuscript, publishers Fourth Estate never showed me a proof copy and the result was a plethora of mis-prints throughout the book.

I had not met Ian at the time the book was published but I met him later and he was most certainly a one-off. We exchanged slightly odd Christmas cards for a while although I hadn’t seen him for years.

The reference to him in I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is below (with the spelling of his name corrected):


Some acts, of course, are just too weird to ever make it. Like Ian Hinchliffe.

I heard about him years and years ago, even before I started with The Greatest Show on Legs. Someone asked me:

“Do you want to go and see this bloke called Ian Hinchliffe who eats glass?”

I never went to see him but, years later, I bumped into him when he was in his fifties and saw him in various pub shows where he threw bits of liver around. He was, he said, a performance artist and in one part of his act he pretended to disembowel himself. He had liver and bits of offal in a bag that he pretended was coming out of his stomach. Then he started throwing it at the audience.

One show I saw was in an East End pub with a particularly rough landlord. The liver and offal flew right over the audience’s head, hit the landlord and knocked the optics off behind the bar. The landlord came over to beat him up and Ian Hinchliffe jumped out of the first floor window. He landed on the landlord’s car, putting a big dent in the bonnet. He didn’t perform at that pub again.

At another gig in Birmingham, a member of the audience got up halfway through and left. Ian Hinchliffe stopped the show and followed him home. Quite what the audience felt, I don’t know.


Tony Green tells me an Ian Hinchliffe Memorial Day is being organised on Saturday 2nd July, probably starting around 2.00pm, at Beaconsfield arts studio in Newport Street, SE11 which will include Tony Allen’s Jazz Tea Party and a host of prominent early alternative comedians.

If the day is anything like Ian Hinchliffe, it will be truly original.

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Stand-up comedians: are they funny people?

(This article previously appeared in Mensa Magazine)


by John Fleming

You are a stand-up comedian. You get up alone on stage. A spotlight shines on you. If you now perform the greatest show of your life, your future is downhill. If you get badly rejected by the audience, their objective reaction reinforces your own insecurities. You’re in a Lose-Lose situation. Who can be attracted to that? A masochist. That’s what I thought. So I asked Jewish comedian Ivor Dembina who has run many successful comedy clubs over 20 years, has seen comedy talent of all types fail and succeed and who, in his show Sadojudaism, jokes at length about his penchant for sadomasochism.

“Well, stand-up can be painful,” he initially agrees, “but the point about masochism is that it’s a state where pain is pleasurable and I’ve never heard a comic describe the frustrations and humiliations of public failure as something to be enjoyed.”

So why does he do it?

“I’m aware of a a core desire within me to please others which I can trace back to early childhood, being rewarded by my parents with smiles and approval whenever I made them laugh.  In adulthood I’ve acquired a desire to control situations and an irrepressible need to prove I’m right. Stand-up comedy is the best outlet I’ve found for both characteristics.”

Comedian Ricky Grover comes from London’s East End:

“Whether they admit it or not,” Ricky suggests, “most comedians live their life in depression, even feeling suicidal. They feel like they’re shit, feel like they’re not going to be able to do it again. If you don’t laugh you’d cry. That’s your options.

“There was a lot of violence going on in my childhood and sadness and depression and one of the ways to escape from all that was humour. I would make ‘em laugh and sometimes I’d make my stepfather laugh to deflect a confrontational situation. A lot of humour where I came from was quite dark. I wanted to be like my stepfather – an armed robber – because that was the only person I had to look up to. I had him or my little skinny grandad who was really quite verbally spiteful to me. I thought, well, if it’s between the little skinny grandad or the ex-boxer/armed robber, I’ll be the ex-boxer/armed robber and I suppose that’s why I went into… boxing.”

Scottish comedienne Janey Godley was raped by her uncle between the ages of 5 and 13; at 19 she married into a gangster family; at 21 her mother was murdered; for 14 years she ran a pub in Glasgow’s tough East End; and, in a 22-month period, 17 of her friends died from heroin.

“I do sometimes think everything I say’s shite,” she admits, “and I do sometimes think nobody’s ever gonna laugh at it and I get worried.”

So why get up on stage and face total personal rejection?

“Because it’s challenging,” she explains. “Because, with me, every show’s different. I don’t really tell jokes; I tell anecdotes that are unusual in that I talk about child abuse and murder and gangsters and social issues. I get up and do something different every time and it’s a really exciting challenge because I think: I wonder how that’ll work? And, when it really works it makes me really happy. When it completely dies, I think, I’m going to do that another twenty times, cos that was strange. Most of the stuff I do is reality with bits of surrealism. I tell a big true story with funny bits and talking animals in it and sometimes glittery tortoises. It might not affect their lives, but the audience WILL remember it because it’s different.”

So what is the X Factor?

“In my case, delusions about my own self-importance,” says Ivor firmly. “That’s why I decided to become a comic.”

“You’re split between two extremes,” says Ricky. “Really low self-esteem and a massive ego. They’re the two things you need to do stand-up and they come hand-in-hand. Deep down inside, there’s a little voice inside that tells you you’re shit but you want to prove you’re not. Stand-up comedy is the nearest you’ll ever get to being a boxer, because you’re on your own and you’re worried about the one same thing and that is making yourself look a cunt in front of everyone.”

Ivor believes: “Successful comedians tend to be characterised by a slightly ‘don’t care’ attitude. They can be philosophical about failure and speedily get over things like bad gigs and hostile reviews and move on to the next performance without dwelling on setbacks.”

“I have the confidence to get up on stage,” Janey tells me, “because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

“Boxers ain’t worried about getting hurt,” explains Ricky, “because, when your adrenaline’s flowing there is no real pain. In fact the pain’s quite enjoyable. I used to like soaking up the pain in the ring and smashing it back into them. My favourite comedy gigs are when I’m watching comedian after comedian go under and get heckled and I think, Right, I’m going to conquer this. And I sort of go into battle and then I can turn a gig round and make something happen.”

“I’ve had gigs which were going too well,” says Janey, “and I’ve intentionally ‘lost’ the audience just so I can work hard to get them back again.”

“Yeah, sometimes,” says Ricky, “There can be a really happy great big roar on every word you say and the gig’s almost too easy and you think, I’m going to throw something in here and make this a little bit hard, and I’ll come out and say something that may be offensive to some people and the whole room will go quiet and then you can play with that quietness and see where you go with it and that can be an interesting gig. So it’s a battle going in your head all the time.”

The late great club owner Malcolm Hardee once told me he was unimpressed by jugglers because, if anyone practised for several hours every day over several years, anyone could become good. “Juggling is a skill you can learn,” he insisted. “Stand-up comedy is a talent. However hard you work, you can’t become a great stand-up without underlying talent.”

So is comedy a skill or a talent? Can you learn it?

“All that’s required,” believes Ivor, “is a bit of talent, a modicum of common sense, a thick skin and an ability to learn from your mistakes. Stand-up isn’t nearly as difficult as people imagine. I started by running small comedy clubs and witnessed the efforts of many others whom I thought I could be better than. It was as simple as that.”

“It’s not just one thing,” Janey believes. “Thirty things are important on stage. There’s talent, confidence, timing, connecting with the audience, empathy, humour, the human touch. People have said the most bizarre things to me on stage. A woman once stood up and told me she’d been raped a couple of weeks ago and this was the first night she’d laughed since then. That’s not talent or technique; that’s being able to connect with another human being in a room full of people. But I do it for me, not really for them, because there’s nothing better than standing on stage. I don’t do it because of ego or because of lack of confidence. I do it for the experience of doing it because I love the applause.”

“I suppose,” admits Ricky, “that you’re looking for someone to say This bloke is a comedy genius. But, if someone does say that, there’s this little voice inside your head which disagrees: No you’re not, you’re shit. Then, if someone writes a review and says you’re shit, you think: No I’m not, I’m a comedy genius.”

Rejection is the thing that binds comedians together,” says Ivor, “because they’ve all experienced it at some time or other. What separates those of us who eventually become stand-ups from those who give up is that we are prepared to risk rejection time and time again.”

“You know what I think it is?” says Ricky “What all us comedians have in common? What we want? It’s not about being famous. It’s not about having fortunes. I think it’s just about having a bit of recognition. The thing that drives us all mad is not getting recognition for what we do.”

But, once you have proved you can do it once or ten times or fifty times, why keep doing it? Why constantly risk rejection?

“If you have the best sex of your life,” suggests Janey, “It doesn’t stop you doing it again. You’ll keep on doing it and keep on doing it.”

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