Tag Archives: Soho Theatre

Agent/manager Hollie Ebdon’s Strip Light, big shout-out & Comedy Project

Angelic agent/manager Hollie Ebdon

Angelic Hollie Ebdon has a Comedy Project

So, last night was the first Strip Light show at London’s Museum of Comedy.

“It’s monthly?” I asked Hollie Ebdon of Ebdon Management.

“Yes. Tamara Cowan, who runs the Musical Comedy Awards, and I decided to set up a production arm together – Strip Light Productions. And the Strip Light show is a monthly night at the Museum of Comedy every first Thursday until August, when we go up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“It’s a stage production company?”

“Yes. Live production company. We are interested in developing acts that could tour. We felt there was a bit of a gap in the market for acts that maybe aren’t quite so straight stand-uppy and for people who want to do more interesting concept nights and make them into something bigger.”

“And, separate from that,” I said, “you’re involved in The Comedy Project.”

“Yes. Starting on Monday and every Monday for a month there are Comedy Project shows at the Soho Theatre. It’s a separate thing. It’s not part of Strip Light or Ebdon Management. The Comedy Project has been going longer even than I have been working. It was started by actress/comedy writer Rosalind Adler in the late 1990s and has continuously pushed through loads of great new comedy writing.”

“So just the same thing year after year?” I asked.

The Comedy Project 2017

Not the same annual thing: it has evolved

“No. It’s sort of evolved. There was a time when judges came in to give feedback, but the acts were kind of uncomfortable with that.”

“It was a competition?” I asked.

“No. But I think it maybe felt a bit confrontational getting feedback in a room with an audience.”

“So you run it with Rosalind Adler?”

“The last couple of years we’ve been doing it together.”

“And the idea of the Comedy Project,” I asked, “is two new scripts – one by an experienced writer and another by a less experienced writer?”

“It doesn’t matter, really,” Hollie told me. “It’s a balancing thing. It’s the mixture of the scripts and how they sit together. We don’t want to put anything too similar on together. We want acts that will complement each other tonally. So something surreal might sit next to something that could be a big BBC1 sitcom.”

“The object,” I asked, “is to find a TV sitcom?”

“The object,” said Hollie, “is to get the scripts seen by industry people who might take an option on one of them… to present the writers to commissioners – so they can learn who they are before they are pitched to them. And for the acts to be able to hear their scripts performed. They get so much feedback and they can really see what’s working.”

“They are all your clients?” I asked.

“No. Only three are my clients. We do a big shout-out to other agents and lots of other comedy writers.”

Hollie Ebdon acts

Ready to cross-pollinate

“Why are you,” I asked, “a presumably hard-headed agent, touting the work of other agents’ clients? – You can’t make any money out of them.”

“You gotta share the love,” Hollie explained.

“But,” I said, “if Fred Bloggs, a writer or actor from another agency gets a break from this, you get nowt.”

“Yeah, but that’s life. My writers and performers will cross-pollinate with other agencies’ writers and performers. It’s a community and a great thing to be able to do. I’m always going to support new writing, whoever it is.”

“You could always nick someone else’s clients,” I suggested.

“I think my eyes are good enough to pick out the best talent without having to take it off anybody else. I have a little bit of a spine left, despite being an agent, so I try my best.”

“It takes time,” I suggested, “to make money.”

“Nobody starts as a money-maker. You do have to put the time in. Things don’t happen overnight.”

“How did you become an agent?”

“The agency has been going just over 2 years. I used to work in TV production as a runner and was going up to co-ordinator level, but then I got the hump because I wanted to be a producer and I didn’t feel I was being pushed in that direction.”

“You go for the quirky end of the market,” I suggested.

“Not on purpose. I don’t feel like that. And I don’t like the word quirky. They’re just different; more interesting; unique voices.”

Ed Aczel

Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ed Aczel – What?

“Anyone who wins the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award is quirky.” I suggested. “You have Ed Aczel.”

“But he’s so inspiring,” said Hollie. “Everybody I ever put him in front of says: I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, but I want him. He gets cast in great films, Call The Midwife, whatever.”

“Are your parents in showbiz?” I asked.

“My dad’s a plumber.”

“He has loads of money, then,” I laughed. “There’s more money in plumbing than most showbiz.”

“He only recently retrained in his 50s,” said Hollie. “Before that, he used to work in a print finishers in Hackney where, essentially, you cut up flyers. He’s happy now. Everyone needs a plumber.”

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Why Richard Gadd won a Perrier Prize at the Edinburgh Fringe but justifiably failed to get a Cunning Stunt Award

Richard Gadd with his used-to-be Perrier Award

Richard Gadd with what used to be called the Perrier Award

Richard Gadd’s first words to me were: “You thought I would cancel this meeting, didn’t you, John? You thought I would be too big for you now. But I like you, John, even though everyone else doesn’t.”

He was joking.

I think.

After he was nominated for – but failed to win – this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award back in August, he texted me a message saying: “You. Are. Dead. To. Me.”

He was joking.

I think.

Yes, he was.

Yes.

We nominated him for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that he had caused a buzz at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe with his show Waiting For Gaddot – mostly because it was stunningly original but also because it was almost impossible to get in to see it because there were far more people wanting to see it than there was space in the small room he had booked at the Banshee Labyrinth venue.

So, this year, he booked his new show Monkey See, Monkey Do into an even smaller room at the Banshee Labyrinth, meaning the difficulty of getting in – and the consequent buzz – was even greater. We checked with him and he said, Yes, indeed he had booked himself into the smaller room as a cunning stunt to create more buzz.

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ award in Edinburgh

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ comedy award in Edinburgh

He failed to win our award, but he did go on to win the other main comedy prize at the Fringe – the one that is forever called the Perrier Award even though the sponsors have changed over the years.

“So,” I told him this week, “booking yourself into a smaller room was a very clever cunning stunt…”

“Well, no,” he replied. “It wasn’t a stunt.”

“You told us it was!” I said.

“No, it wasn’t a stunt,” Richard repeated. “When I visualised the show, there was only one room in the whole of Edinburgh I visualised – the Banshee Labyrinth Cinema Room. I needed a screen that was bigger than me. I needed a screen that would engulf me and engulf the audience.

“I thought: What do I do? Do I sacrifice audience numbers and money for artistic gain? And the answer was: Absolutely. I didn’t do it to create a buzz or as a cunning stunt or anything like that. It was a genuine artistic decision that I made.”

The poster image for Monkey See, Monkey Do

The poster image for award-winning Monkey See, Monkey Do

“And Monkey See, Monkey Do went on to win the Perrier,” I said. “That can be life-changing.”

“Well,” he replied, “I’ve had a lot of interest since then, but I’m not a mainstream act. It used to be, back in the day, that someone would win it and get a TV series straight away. But those days are over.

“I think now, if you win the Perrier, there is a more logical route towards the Have I Got News For Yous and Mock The Weeks. But that’s not my route either because I’m a very alternative act.

“I’m very interested in the art performance and I’m very theatrical, so those sort of (panel show) offers did not come through the door, but a whole bunch of people did get in touch who do want to work with me. Television companies and theatre companies. Writing work, drama work, stage work. And better acting auditions.

“People seem to take you more seriously. They know who you are – you’re not just a sort of underground comedian this, cult comedian that. People now know who I am and I think that’s important – and they know I take myself seriously and I’m still young – I’m 26.

“People don’t really trust people in their mid-twenties but, if you win the Perrier, if they have whittled down 1,000-odd shows in Edinburgh, it’s no easy feat to win that award. So at least I’m not being patronised any more.”

“A lot of people,” I said, “thought you should have been nominated for the Perrier last year.”

Richard Gadd wearing nob shoes to promote his Soho Theatre show

“All my other comedies have been very -in-your-face romps”

“Well, I think my work until very recently has been very polarising, very in-your-face and some people don’t like their eardums blasted or their eyes tainted with images of this and that. I think this year it set out to make a difference and to change opinions on things and it did tackle some big subjects.

“All my other comedies have been joyful romps or very -in-your-face romps but this year it set out to say something. I’ve had a challenging and complicated life in a lot of ways and this year I was tackling a subject that not many people speak about.”

“There is,” I prompted, “an autobiographical revelation in the show.”

“Yes, I use an autobiographical account in the show to reveal this information about myself. It’s an incident I went through that no person should go through and it caused a lot of turmoil and upheaval in my life, especially as a man.”

“I don’t want to give too much away,” I said.

“You can say sexual assault,” Richard told me.

“So the type of show you did,” I said, “was different this year…”

“I think the difference,” replied Richard, “was that, this year, it had a lot of heart and a lot of soul. It was trying to challenge views on masculinity. That was quite important to me. I’ve always felt I was a man but, after the incident, my masculinity was taken away from me.”

“Can I include that?” I asked.

“You can put what you like but just put me in a bloody good light, for the love of fuckery.”

“Righto,” I said.

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

“I wanted,” Richard continued, “to challenge the mainstream media definition of masculinity, cos masculinity needs to shift now, in this day and age of feminism and emotion on your sleeve. I feel masculinity needs to become synonymous with openness, But there is still this keeping-it-all-bottled-up masculinity; being ‘the man’.

“I bottled it up for so long because I felt it was a dent in my masculinity. That was the difficult part. But then, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you realise: Jesus Christ! It’s just a word. It doesn’t exist.

“Your masculinity is as fickle as sexuality. These words that just cause people so much pain and don’t mean anything in the end, because boundaries are blurred. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is concrete. They’re just words, but they can cause so much misery.”

“It must,” I suggested, “have been scary to decide to talk about it openly.”

“I hinted about it in every single thing I did. Every single show I did, there were big overtones of it.”

“You seem,” I said, “very commendably serious about what you do as being art.”

“Yes, I am. I care. I kick myself if things aren’t good enough. I always try my best. If I’ve made mistakes, I will try to learn from them. I’m interested in the process of art and what it can achieve. And I’m interested in always doing things differently. You just have to keep staying one step ahead of what people expect you to do and expect you to be.”

“So what is your next step ahead?” I asked.

“I’m going to chop my cock off on stage and then eat it and regurgitate it and use it as a flute.”

“And,” I asked, “in reality?”

“I have ideas about what next, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them to you, Mr Fleming.”

“Would these new things,” I asked, “be like writing a different type of comedy drama or coming out of a totally unexpected trap like writing a musical?”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd: “I wasn’t doing anything different”

“I did Cheese and Crack Whores. Then Breaking Gadd the year after… and Breaking Gadd was Cheese and Crack Whores in a different setting with a different group of characters but sort of the same. Despite the fact it did well and got well-reviewed, I realised that the buzz was elsewhere because I wasn’t doing anything different. So the next year Waiting For Gaddot was a big shift in a different direction and that got the buzz.”

“Some people,” I said, “equate arty success with low audiences.”

“Yes,” said Richard, “Some people think: I like being cult. I like being not for everyone. I’m too cool for mainstream. But it’s ridiculous to think I would write a piece of work so only the cool people can enjoy it. I would like to be as mainstream as possible. But I still like to bring these off-kilter themes into the mainstream and still be challenging. You can be challenging in the mainstream: you just need to figure out how to do it. To rebel against it is wrong. Charlie Brooker is a good example of someone who manages to be quite challenging in the mainstream.

“I don’t care about money. I was brought up better than that. I don’t care about that. I would like to expand my audience size but, at the same time, get my message over and do a piece of work in the best possible way it can be done.”

“We are having a chat,” I reminded him, “to plug your Monkey See, Monkey Do show at the Soho Theatre in London, so when is it on?”

richardgadd_sohotheatre_cut

Richard trying to keep one step ahead outside Soho Theatre

“We are doing a live recording for the DVD this Saturday at 5.30pm. Then the show runs 18th October to the 12th November. That run is completely sold out already, so it will probably be back in the New Year.”

“So this blog is completely pointless,” I said. “You don’t need the publicity.”

“No, I don’t,” agreed Richard. “But I like talking to you, so that’s fine.”

I do not think he was joking.

But who can tell with comedians and actors?

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

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Mr Twonkey’s world of rubber pigs and blow-up women

Mr Twonkey’s selfie, taken yesterday

Mr Twonkey’s selfie, taken at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday

I met Mr Twonkey in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday. He was on a two-day trip to London from Edinburgh to see the opening night of his play Jennifer’s Robot Arm, which is on for three days at the Bread & Roses venue in Clapham. I blogged about a read-through of the play in February.

Mr Twonkey wrote the play but does not appear in it.

He told me: “It’ll the the first time I’ve sat in the back of a theatre and watched people perform a play of mine without me in it. I think I’ll laugh because I’ll just be amazed it’s happening. – What am I putting these poor people through? – I’ve changed a few bits since you saw the read-through and it doesn’t have Auntie Myra in it any more. But we do have a guy who isn’t really a drag act who is going to dress up as a woman for us.”

“Isn’t a man who is not a drag act who dresses up as a woman a drag act by definition?” I asked.

“Mmmm…” said Twonkey.

Time Out has described his shows as “oddly entertaining and utterly bizarre” and my fellow Grouchy Club podcaster Kate Copstick says he “makes Edward Lear sound like the Six O’Clock News”

Twonkey’s Acid House Circus Tour poster

Twonkey’s Acid House Circus Tour poster

I had forgotten, but it turned out we were having a chat because he was plugging Twonkey’s Acid House Circus Tour – a fair title for two different shows in three different cities next month.

He is performing his new show Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop at the Brighton Fringe and last year’s show Twonkey’s Private Restaurant at London’s Soho Theatre and at the Prague Fringe.

“I was going to promote it as Twonkey Goes To Eastern Europe but they told me: It will be taken the wrong way.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’ve no idea,” said Twonkey. “They said calling it ‘Eastern Europe’ might be offensive.”

He is appearing at the Divadlo na Prádle venue in Prague.

“Apparently,” Twonkey told me, “that means Theatre of Lingerie.”

I checked Google Translate when I got home and it reckoned Divadlo na Prádle simply means Theatre on Prádle. But then I did a search for ‘lingerie’ in Czech and it turns out that the Lingerie Football League is “a league of American football played by women”. It does not elaborate on what they wear as their team strip. One must never forget that the actual name of Prague is Praha and it can be almost as bizarre as Mr Twonkey.

Yesterday he showed me his flyer for the Prague show.

Mr Twonkey’s Prague Fringe flyer

Mr Twonkey’s Prague Fringe flyer, with fish

“Why,” I asked, “are you opening a can of tuna in the photograph?”

“Well,” he said, “I’ve been buying a lot of things from a prop store.”

“Specialising in fish?” I asked.

“I’m kind of addicted to the prop store,” he continued, “sometimes to the point where I buy the prop before I come up with the sketch or the…”

“Is there,” I asked, “much demand in the props world for half-opened tins of fish?”

“Not really,” he admitted, “and, to be honest, I haven’t been able to incorporate it into the show. But I suppose it suggests I’ve got a restaurant and the show is called Twonkey’s Private Restaurant. One of the problems in Edinburgh last year was that there was sometimes a bit of confusion because some people expected food.”

“What was the show’s origin?” I asked.

“I’ve always wanted to run a restaurant and a lot of my shows take place in outer space or in different dimensions, so I thought it would be good to just restrict myself to an actual place. Also it’s easier to do. You just need a tablecloth, some plastic food and a candle.”

“No cutlery?” I asked.

“It would be a bad idea,” replied Twonkey, “to give the audience knives.”

Mr Twonkey (left) with unexpected red drag act

Mr Twonkey (left) with an unexpected red drag act yesterday

At this point, a drag artist wearing a bright red dress appeared in the Soho Theatre Bar; she had her own film crew following her around. Or him around.

“I like that show,” Twonkey told me.

“Which show is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Twonkey.

“Why,” I asked, “is your new show called Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop?”

“The idea,” he told me, “is I’ve been kicked out of the restaurant and I’m now been demoted to a…”

“Bishop?” I suggested.

“No,” said Twonkey, “I’m at the cheese and drinks counter of the log flume centre.”

“The log flume centre?” I asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “The log flume centre of a small hamlet. But it has a massive catchment area.”

‘Is the show built round props?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s got a big trick in it involving two cheese wheels an a chain and some pigs and some padlocks. It’s basically like an escape act, where a pig escapes from a mountain of cheese.”

“Can to do a re-cap here,” I asked. “… a pig?”

Swedish farmer holds pig, early 20th century

A Swedish farmer holds a pig, sometime before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe

“Not a live pig,” Twonkey re-assured me.

“A dead pig?” I asked. “So is it a bacon sandwich?”

“It could be seen as a bacon sandwich,” he agreed.

“Though,” I said, “I suppose any pig can be seen as a bacon sandwich.”

“It is a humorous pig,” explained Twonkey. “It is made of rubber. I actually have eight of them, because I’m predicting something bad is going to happen to them. They are quite fragile. Last year, at the Private Restaurant, quite a few things got damaged. People kicked the bag and my puppet’s faces imploded and a balloon burst. So I keep being paranoid about the rubber pigs bursting. I’m also worried about… Can you take a hot air balloon onto an aeroplane?”

“Surely,” I suggested, “if you have a hot air balloon, you do not need an aeroplane?”

“It is only about a foot wide,” explained Twonkey.

“The aeroplane?” I asked.

Mr Twonkey tries not to display his worries

Mr Twonkey tries not to display his worries

“The balloon. I am worried that air pressure in the aeroplane will make it decrease in size or explode.”

“Can’t you deflate it?” I asked. “That’s how balloons work.”

“No. It’s permanently inflated.”

“If you have a permanently inflated balloon,” I suggested, “is that not really a ball?”

“Yes,” said Twonkey, “it could be classed as a ball. Have you ever known of exploding beachballs?’

“I have never,” I told him, “had exploding balls myself.”

“I am hoping,” said Twonkey, “that my balls won’t explode on the plane. The only reason I’m worried is that I have heard tales of women who have had breast implants… If they go on aeroplanes, apparently there is a chance their breasts will explode. I’m sure I have read that some woman blew up.”

“Could this be a new type of terrorist suicide bomber?” I asked. “Women with exploding bosoms.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Twonkey. “I suppose no-one’s going to check at security, are they?”

At this point, the drag act in the red costume left the bar.

Producer/director Simon Jay (left) & Mr Twonkey (right) after Jennifer’s Robot Arm show last night.

Producer/director Simon Jay (left) & Mr Twonkey (right) after Jennifer’s Robot Arm show last night.

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Malcolm Hardee Award winners Ellis & Rose rumbled in Soho Theatre ruse

Jams Hamilton at Soho Theatre (connoisseurs of the Malcolm Hardee Awards might want to look more carefully at what is in this picture)

The original James Hamilton photo with the rogue photograph directly above his head

In this blog back in December last year, I ran a chat with writer/performer James Hamilton. Included in the blog was a photo which had the (I thought) intriguing caption:

James Hamilton at Soho Theatre, London (connoisseurs of comedy & Malcolm Hardee Awards might appreciate what is also seen)

No-one asked why.

In fact, I had photographed him at the Soho Theatre Bar in London, sitting beneath one of the photos on a wall dedicated to the great and good acts who have performed at Soho Theatre.

The photo directly above his head was of Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning double act Ellis & Rose. But they have never appeared at Soho Theatre.

So why was it there?

Because they put it up themselves.

I spotted it in November last year. I told Gareth Ellis and Rich Rose that, if they managed to keep the picture on the wall until the start of the Edinburgh Fringe in August, I might well give them a special Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

The Soho Theatre’s Tweet yesterday about Ellis & Rose

The Soho Theatre’s Tweet yesterday

Alas, yesterday, Soho Theatre spotted the rogue photograph and took it down. The esteemed London theatre Tweeted:

HA! This lot have skipped the Soho show & put themselves ont’ photo wall regardless. 5* for Effort. (@jameshamilton).

Why was James Hamilton mentioned? Because the caption on the photo said:

Ellis & Rose (2014)
Photo J Hamilton

In fact, James had not taken the photo and had not even known about it until I told him last December when I, as it were, shot him underneath it. (The spoof photograph was actually taken by Charlie Dinkin.)

Obviously, today I had a chat with Gareth Ellis about all these shenanigans.

“We put the picture up in October last year,” he told me. “We met Steve Marmion (the artistic director of Soho Theatre) once at a party and he knew about our Edinburgh shows but said he didn’t think we were ready to appear in the Soho Theatre.

Gareth shocked by Soho Theatre’s removal

Gareth, shocked earlier today, with Wall of Fame behind him

“So we decided we would appear but we would skip doing a show and just go straight to appearing on the Wall of Fame. We had a bigger picture than Tim Minchin.

“We sat in the booth one day and, just out of curiosity, decided to see if we could take the pictures off the wall. We took Lady Rizo’s picture off the wall and measured up the photo using the Soho Theatre’s laminated menu.

“We had access to a photo studio rig and we took pictures and then they were edited to look like we were performing in a ‘black box’ studio theatre space and then we copied the style of the captions and got one printed.

“We went to Soho Theatre with it in a bag, ready to put it up but then realised they had replaced Lady Rizo’s A4 picture with an A3 one. So we grabbed another performer’s picture and replaced his photo.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you put James Hamilton on the caption as the photographer?”

Gareth, stunned at the loss of a Malcolm Hardee Award

Realising loss of a potential Malcolm Hardee Award

“We just wanted to put on the name of someone who would find it amusing. We told him he should go to the Soho Theatre and have a look around, but apparently he didn’t see it for a month.”

“Not until I showed it to him,” I said. “But, judging from their Tweet yesterday, Soho Theatre seem to have taken it all in good spirit.”

“Yes,” said Gareth, “And I see from their photo on Twitter that they’ve actually re-framed our picture in another frame. So they must rate it. Are they going to put it up somewhere in their office or what?”

“Probably what,” I told him.

The rogue photograph. The face of Soho Theatre’s artistic director Steve Marmian is dawn on the balloon.

The rogue photograph with face of Soho Theatre’s artistic director Steve Marmion drawn on balloon. (Photograph by Charlie Dinkin.)

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And does that sardonic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green? Well, yes.

David Mills at the Soho Theatre Bar this week

David at the Soho Theatre Bar last week

Shortly after chatting with American comic David Mills in London, I met my eternally-un-named friend, who is a fan of David’s sophistication.

For some reason, I said to her – it may have been some after-effect of the flu – “And did that dark Satanic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green?”

“Not Satanic,” she corrected me. “Sardonic.” And she is, of course, right.

“Americans!” I said to David when we met at Soho Theatre. “So appallingly upbeat, so depressingly, eternally optimistic.”

“Don’t tar me with that brush!” David shot back.

Have I mentioned before in this blog that I have a shit memory? And there is now the continuing post-flu vagueness to add to my innate vagueness.

“Have I never done a full blog on you before?” I asked David.

“No,” he told me. “I have sort-of flitted in and out your blogs. I have been a bit player in your cyber life…”

“When did you come to the UK?” I asked.

“2000… The point is I am not 22. I had other lives prior to the one I have at the moment. I was the only person who said I was going to leave the US if George Bush got elected who actually did.”

“So was that your reason for coming here?” I asked.

“No. I came over in a different career in a whole different world and just stayed.”

“What was your career before?”

“Different.”

“And it was what?” I asked.

“Too tedious to get into,” replied David. “So I’m not going to. It was literally another life. I was a different type of person. Do you know how long it’s taken me to put that behind me?”

“How often I have heard you say that,” I told him. “What were you into? Business? Sex? Espionage? Butter-sculpting? International drug-running?”

“None of those things,” said David. “It was super-uninteresting.”

“You are an international man of mystery,” I said.

“I’m not going into it,” said David.

“I can keep this going for hours,” I told him.

“I was doing something else,” said David, “and had a breakdown and stopped doing that.”

“You had a breakdown?”

“No. I was being hyperbolic… Alright, I went off the grid and lived in Lewisham.”

“You did?”

David Mills

David is not a Lewisham man

“No,” said David. “Of course not. That is ridiculous. I certainly did not live in Lewisham. Anyway, I had been an actor and cabaret act and stand-up in San Francisco in the 1990s and then moved to New York to be a big star and was a huge failure and then stopped performing and got a professional job and that brought me to London and I did that career for about eight or ten years.”

“And that career was?” I asked.

“The other one,” said David. “But finally I decided I needed to get back on stage, because I was having a breakdown – a ten-year-long breakdown. So I got back on stage and the rest is herstory.”

“So,” I said, “you left the US, the place where all showbiz people dream of ending up…”

“I would like to have a career over there,” said David, “but it’s a weird, weird place. Super weird. Super fundamentalist. And, in terms of unspoken rules… You put a foot wrong in the US and they come at you.”

“But,” I said, “you’re talking about the middle, aren’t you? The coasts are more European. The East Coast, anyway.”

“Yes and no,” said David. “Compared to the middle, yes. But there are plenty of restrictions in comedy on what you can and can’t talk about. There’s a lot of consensus in the US. They talk about being divided. The truth is there’s tons of consensus. Anyone who has been there two weeks… they have all signed-up to this American vision. You can be in Britain for generations and you’re still not British.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “I think the opposite. You go down the East End in London and the son of some West Indian immigrant couple is talking like Hello, luv, ‘ow are you? to people and he’s become British after one generation. In America, there’s the Italian areas, the Swedish town, the German town, the Jewish thing…”

“There is that,” admitted David. “But they all believe the same shit. And, in the US too, no-one retains their accent. They become an amalgam of American. If they’re in New York for two weeks, they’re saying: I’m a Noo Yoiker! Here, when do you ever really become a Londoner?”

“That’s not true,” I argued. “Almost no-one in London was actually born in London.”

“Tell that to an East Ender,” said David.

“They’re all from the Indian sub-continent!” I told him.

“The point is.” said David. “The point is, let’s focus, John. I have a show happening here at the Soho Theatre from the 3rd to the 7th February. Me. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas. Me and my band.”

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas with edge

“Your band?”

“Yeah. Rock band. The Memes.”

“How many Memes are there?” I asked.

“Two.”

“Male?” I asked.

“One of them. I don’t see what gender has to do with it. There’s a guitar and a keyboard. We’re very stripped down.”

“That was my next question,” I said. “And this is what? A sophisticated 1950s Monte Carlo style cabaret show?”

“More 1970s scuzzy New York basement,” said David. “Because that’s me.”

“But you are Mr Sophisticated West Coast American,” I argued.

“There’s going to be sophistication,” said David. “Don’t worry. But I’m mixing it up. I’m sort-of bored with cabaret land. There will be some of that, but it’s gonna have an edge.”

“What sort of an edge?”

“Rock ’n’ roll.”

“You’re going to be wearing a leather jacket?”

“No. I’m going to look dynamite, don’t worry. The suit is the act, let’s be honest.”

“It’s a great act,” I said.

“It’s a great suit,” said David.

“And you are going to sing?”

“My version of singing. And jokes. Don’t worry.”

“Why is it called Don’t Get Any Ideas?” I asked.

“It’s a threat. I’ve got edge. Take a look at me. I’ve got edge.”

“When you started off in the US,” I asked, “were you always this sophisticated on-stage guy?”

Dave Allen - influencial in the US?

Dave Allen was influencial in the US?

“I always liked Dave Allen’s style,” explained David.

“Dave Allen?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, a stool and a suit. That sort-of says it…”

“You saw Dave Allen in the US?”

“When I was growing up, they showed his old British shows on PBS. I was influenced by him. And people like Paul Lynde, who was a big US homo in the 1970s. He was like – I don’t want to say Kenneth  Williams, but… He had this sort of bitchy kind of homo humour that was not overt but was certainly there. And I liked Stephen Colbert a lot. He didn’t wink with the jokes. He just told them in character and the audience had to get the fact he was joking. In the 1990s, he was around being funny as an actor.”

“This Soho Theatre show Don’t Get Any Ideas is going to be your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

David Mills - A view of life off-kilter

David Mills – always looking for an original angle – in Soho

“Edinburgh will be a version of this. I’m a topical comic, not political, so the topics change. Let’s focus, John. My show here at the Soho Theatre from this Tuesday coming to Saturday. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas.”

“Your mysterious previous career was not selling double-glazing?”

“No.”

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Performer Richard Gadd on ego, anxiety and why comedians are like strippers

Richard Gadd flyering outside Soho Theatre

Richard Gadd flyering his show outside Soho Theatre

Performer Richard Gadd played Macbeth in a school play.

“I enjoyed the nerves and the adrenaline,” he told me yesterday. “And the sense of accomplishment at the end. I liked that. I wanted that.”

Ten years later, he was playing Macbeth on stage at the Globe Theatre in London. But he is currently in his own show (categorised as comedy) at London’s Soho Theatre.

“Are you a comedian or an actor?” I asked.

“I’m difficult to pigeonhole,” he agreed, “but I like that. I am not a comedian, but I do comedy.”

“What does your agent say you are?” I asked.

“I think he’s as confused as I am,” he laughed.

“If you had to put your profession on your passport,” I asked, “what would you be?”

“A writer-performer. If someone introduces me as a comedian, I think Oh fuck! Don’t say that! Comedy is limiting. I am not a comedian in the purest sense – I can’t tell jokes.”

“And you don’t play the comedy circuit,” I said.

“The circuit is a circle,” said Richard. “You need to figure a way to get off it, otherwise you keep going round and round and then, all of a sudden, you’re 40 years old and what the fuck have you done? I was not mainstream enough and I was not good enough to make it as a full-time circuit act.”

“Which is?” I asked.

Richard Gadd - Cheese and Crack Whores - not mainstream

Richard Gadd – Cheese and Crack Whores – not mainstream

“A circuit act is a good, reliable, dependable act who can earn money and knows where to get the laughs. I wasn’t like that. I would go on with a wig and a stuffed parrot and stuff my face with cake and whip myself with a belt. You can’t guarantee that’s going to go well every single time.”

“So what is your schtick?” I asked.

“Heightened surrealism.”

“Your show last year,” I said. “Cheese and Crack Whores. What was that about?”

“That was about a break-up I had with a lady and I stalked her and my life spiralled out-of-control. It was more-or-less a veiled truth. I never stalked her. I would never stalk anyone.”

“It was heightened reality?” I asked.

“Yes. I was going through a break-up and I teased it out. You know when you go through a break-up and you sort-of go insane and you think those thoughts: I’m going to do this… I’m going to do that…?  But you can’t do them, because no sane person would. So I did a show about What would I have done if…? But, in fact, I don’t like cheese and I don’t like crack whores.”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd – Richard’s calming current show

“You’re halfway through your current show – Breaking Gadd – at the Soho Theatre. The Guardian called it a comedy of relentless degradation.”

“Yes. Up until 20th December.”

“What is this one about?” I asked.

“In this one, I lose my memory after getting attacked in an Edinburgh street and then I have to piece my life back together, because nobody comes to my bedside in hospital. I piece my life back together only to find out that my life probably wasn’t worth remembering.”

“That’s most people’s reality,” I said. “What was this fabricated truth based on?”

“A fractured family,” said Richard. “Not that I had a fractured family. There’s no reality. I’m from a place in Fife called Wormit, which sounds like what you do to a dog. Kids from St Andrews had their teddy bears. I grew up hugging a bottle of Buckfast.”

“You told me you got drunk on Buckfast after the show last night,” I said.

“That’s what I do,” said Richard. “A bottle of Buckfast before bed. It’s got a lot of caffeine in it, so it doesn’t really work, but I pass out awake.”

“Why did you shave your hair off?” I asked. “You used to have long hair.”

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

“So I look more like a psychopath on stage.”

“Are you interested,” I asked, “in damaged characters?”

“Yeah. All comedians are like strippers.”

“You’ve been preparing your quotes,” I said.

“I don’t even think it’s my quote,” said Richard. “I think it’s a bastardisation of some well-known quote, but it’s a good analogy. In comedy, you strip your emotions in front of an audience. Good comedy is always revealing and truthful. You emotionally unravel in front of an audience, like a stripper physically unravels in front of an audience. The difference is a stripper is attractive and a comedian is often ugly and neurotic.”

“And the difference between comedians and actors is…?” I asked.

“Comedy is, at least, interested in pure art,” said Richard. “Comedians create something which they then tell an audience. Actors are very much conduits of someone else’s text: they are an echo of someone else’s work. They probably require the biggest egos and the biggest inflated sense of self-worth. But, in reality, they’re the least important part of the artistic process. Their art wouldn’t exist unless there was an original creator and actors are not original creators unless it’s improvisation. I get more annoyed at actors than I do at comedians.”

“Why annoyed?” I asked.

“Because comedy is creativity and ego, whereas a lot of acting is solely I want to be an actor because I want to be adored. It’s pure ego a lot of the time.

“I think I used to chase that and, when I realised I was chasing it, I decided I wanted to step away and wanted to write and want to create stuff. I was chasing ego and adoration and I don’t think that’s good. I don’t think that leads to happiness.”

“Being adored doesn’t lead to happiness?” I asked, surprised.

“No it doesn’t,” said Richard. “You need to learn how to self-critique and not chase your own ego. You need to learn to appreciate what you have, not what is waiting for you in the future because you’ll just keep chasing your own ego. The ego inflates and inflates and inflates and never pops; it never bursts.”

“Sounds a bit Buddhist,” I said.

“Well,” said Richard, “I do meditate.”

“What type?” I asked.

Transcendental meditation,” replied Richard. “Two 20-minute sessions a day.”

Maharishi?” I asked.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - an unlikely role model?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – unlikely role model?

“Maharishi, yup,” said Richard. “It’s very important, transcendental mediation. I used to have so many performance anxieties, so much anxiety in life. I still have in certain cases, but I’m a lot better than I was. It teaches you to focus your mind on one thing and not let it run away with itself. The second I did it, I realised my life was getting better. It’s like being given the keys to a secret truth. It genuinely is.

“And I’m not spiritual. I’m not into the hokey-pokey spiritual side. I don’t believe in that side to it. But I believe there is a practical, extremely useful, scientific, proven methodology behind transcendental meditation.”

“So you’re not doing it for philosophical reasons,” I said. “You’re doing it for physical reasons?”

“Yeah. It takes your anxiety levels down. I used to not be able to get on public transport. I used to hate the tube. I used to not be able to make eye contact with people. Once, I would have found talking to you quite difficult.”

“What was the problem with the tube?” I asked. “Too many people?”

“A mixture of claustrophobia and the fact you are forced to be in other people’s gazes. The public’s gaze can be quite hard sometimes – if you catch eyes with someone. What are they thinking of me? I used to very much care how I was coming across in every single situation.

“Everybody makes a faux-pas every now and again but, if I made a faux-pas back then, it would stay with me for days. I would think about things I did when I was 16 that still made me embarrassed. I would ruin a day. It was affecting me professionally. I wasn’t performing well on stage or when I went to auditions. I was too anxious.

“Meditation has really helped me. I’m still a long way from being perfect, but it helps. I’m very manic on stage, but that has to come from a place of stability. The one tool I lacked was mental stability. I have not got it yet, but at least I’ve got the hammer and chisel towards getting my full tool box.

“I don’t have inner peace, but performance is something I do because I think it’s important.”

“Do you enjoy performing on stage?” I asked.

“I’m still not sure,” said Richard. “It’s not something I enjoy particularly. I don’t enjoy it like I used to when I was a kid. But I enjoy writing and putting stuff out there that’s different.”

“What you’re telling me,” I said, “is you used to enjoy it when you were terrified. Now you are less terrified, you don’t enjoy it so much.”

“Yeah,” said Richard. “It’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t want to play the stereotype of the suffering artist, but I definitely feel like I’m sometimes one of those awful fucking guys saying I dunno why I do it; I hate it so much! but then can’t stop doing it.”

“Adrenaline?” I asked.

“Adrenaline,” agreed Richard. “Fear of failure. Fear of What if in 20 years time? Plus the fact of those rare instances when you do enjoy it and you do feel proud of yourself or you meet someone who says they were touched by your stuff. That is a priceless feeling.”

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Casual Violence no-show at Ed Fringe + new Malcolm Hardee Award concept

Jams Hamilton at Soho Theatre (connoisseurs of the Malcolm Hardee Awards might want to look more carefully at what is in this picture)

James Hamilton at Soho Theatre, London (connoisseurs of comedy & Malcolm Hardee Awards might appreciate what is also seen)

“Why have you changed your hairstyle?” I asked James Hamilton at the Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’ve going for the shit Wolverine style,” he replied.

“I have a shit memory,” I told him. “Why am I meeting you?”

Casual Violence Live!” he said.

Casual Violence are one of my favourite acts at the Edinburgh Fringe. They have been twice nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

“Ah yes!” I said. “Casual Violence. How long have you been going? I’ve forgotten.”

“Fucking ages,” said James. “In our current post-studenty form, almost five years now.”

“And this is your first DVD?” I asked.

“Yes… Well, we don’t have the money to make it a DVD, but we’re putting it online as a download. It’s uploading as we speak”

I think I have seen all the Casual Violence shows – in Edinburgh, Brighton and London – except this year’s one The Great Fire of Nostril. At the Edinburgh Fringe, its show times clashed with my own Grouchy Club shows.

Casual Violence's 2014 Edinburgh show

Casual Violence’s 2014 Edinburgh show

“You’ve done four different shows and a Best Of show?” I asked.

“Yes,” said James. “But the most recent show – The Great Fire of Nostril – is not really a sketch show. So the DVD is a mix of stuff from the first three shows plus a few sketches that didn’t fit into any particular show. Well, it’s not a DVD; it’s a download. Maybe a third of the material in it wasn’t in any Edinburgh Fringe show but stuff which we’ve occasionally done out-and-about. “

“There must,” I asked, “be some sketches which work live but not on a screen?”

“Yes, we found that with the seven web series sketches we did. The one with the Human Defence League guys in a shed… We spent 16 hours in a normal-sized garden shed with five people. It was horrible and then the sketch wasn’t as good on screen as it is live. The three sketches I wrote specifically for the web work very well on screen but can’t be done live.”

There are several Casual Violence taster sketches on YouTube.

“So,” I said, “at the Edinburgh Fringe next year…?”

“Casual Violence are not going to do a new Edinburgh show next year,” said James. “But I may be doing a solo show. We’ve done five shows in a row together. We’ve basically got Edinburgh fatigue and, by developing what we do, we found ourselves… confined is probably the right word… by that particular style

Casual Violence - not appearing at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

Casual Violence – not appearing at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

“We love doing stories because, when it works, it’s better than doing a ‘normal’ sketch show. But it’s so much more difficult and we don’t realistically have another one in us. We could say: Oh, let’s just churn out an hour of sketches, but that’s lazy and none of us really wants to do that. So, instead, we are filling our time with all the projects we always wanted to do but can’t do because Edinburgh takes over all our time.”

“They’re solo projects?” I asked.

“Yes. But also group stuff. We’re making a podcast. You came to see the Obsoletium read-through a year ago. We’re going to do that as a podcast and we’re currently writing the second episode. We’ve re-titled it Hector vs The Future because no-one could spell Obsoletium.”

“You’re writing that alone?”

“I’m co-writing it with James Huntrods, our co-producer. He’s got a very good handle on story structure, which I tend to be weaker at.”

“Is that why you’ve done sketches within a single situation in the past, rather than a single linear narrative?”

“Pretty much, although The Great Fire of Nostril had one complete narrative even if it’s a very weird narrative – a bizarre, surrealist one. We’re performing it at the Soho Theatre in the first week of February.”

A picture painted by William Frederick Yeames in 1878

A picture painted by William Frederick Yeames in 1878

“How’s your father?” I asked. “Is he no longer trapped in the depths of the London Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane?”

“I don’t know where he is,” said James. “Since leaving the depths, he’s been gallivanting around the… I dunno… I dunno… I tend to leave him to it… He’s just working in…I dunno where he goes… Wherever he goes… God knows where he is.”

“And you?” I asked.

“It wasn’t planned,” said James, “but, over the course of the next couple of months, we have so many projects all happening at the same time. Casual Violence are doing the podcast and the Soho run and I’m developing my solo project and there’s the Casual Violence Live! DVD… erm download. We filmed it at the Brighton Fringe in May which was advantageous, because we won an award specifically for the show we filmed.”

“Which award?” I asked.

Argus Angel Award

Argus Angel Award

“The Argus Angel Award. I think they used to do trophies, but now they just e-mail you a PDF of the award certificate, so it’s an award that actually costs you, because you have to print it out yourself if you want a physical version.”

“That’s quite a good idea,” I said. “Perhaps I should do that with the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. In 2007, I had trophies made for every year up to 2017. After that, I could just send people PDFs of photos of the trophy they might have won if I had bothered to have one made.”

“Or,” suggested James, “part of the prize could be that the winners this year have to design and make trophies for next year’s winners.”

“It would be in the spirit of Malcolm,” I said, “that the winners lose money. I did originally have the idea that part of the prize for each winner would be that they had to buy the judges drinks. But, as I don’t drink alcohol or spirits, it seemed a rather pointless idea… and it doesn’t really work as a concept if they have to buy the judges tap water. It would somehow diminish the award. Although there did used to be the Tap Water Awards. Perhaps I should reconsider the idea.”

On YouTube, there is a trailer for Casual Violence Live!

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