Tag Archives: spaghetti juggling

Why I am pictured in Mensa Magazine (twice) holding a man with an erection

How did a man sporting an erect penis with a dog on the end of it get published (twice) in the current issue of Mensa Magazine, the glossy monthly publication for members of British Mensa?

And why am I holding the man?

Well, that’s an interesting question. Thankyou for asking.

Sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and pay close attention.

Preparing for Edinburgh Fringe shows in August tends to start way back in December or January each year.

I am organising Malcolm Hardee Week in the final week of the Fringe – basically two debates, two spaghetti-juggling contests (anything to get noticed at the over-crowded Fringe!) and a two-hour variety show during which the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented.

I am normally a shrinking wallflower where self-publicity is concerned but, because I am chairing the two Malcolm Hardee Debates and there are precious few other photo opportunities, I had some pictures taken, courtesy of lecturer Peter Cattrell, by photography students at St Martin’s College of Art (where, it turned out, no girl came from Greece, though they did have a thirst for knowledge).

I had brought along a giant dice box for no reason other than the fact it looked interesting. Student Cody Cai had brought along a pair of comedy spectacles and student Kerstin Diegel took a photo of me wearing the glasses and holding the box.

I remember thinking, “Oy! Oy! Malcolm Hardee could be Photoshopped into this, popping up out of the box!”

So now, dear reader, we have to take a time trip with wobbly special effects transitions back into the mists of last century – probably to the late 1990s, when the world was young and the Twin Towers still stood in New York…

London photographer David Tuck took some photos of comedian and club owner Malcolm Hardee, including an iconic one of Malcolm apparently doing shadow puppetry with his hands – you know the routine – you link your open hands together, flap them and it allegedly looks like a bird – except that the shadow on the wall behind Malcolm looks like a dog and, with the shadow of his arm included, it also looks like he has a giant penis rising out of his groin in the foreground… with a dog on the end of it.

David Tuck cannot remember exactly when the picture was taken, but it was a couple of weeks before Malcolm opened a short-lived comedy club in Harlesden, which would make it the late 1990s. Memories of Malcolm seldom come with exact dates.

David tells me: “The image Malcolm originally had in mind was that he would be doing a simple bird shape with his hands and a magnificent eagle would be the shadow image. This was before the days of Photoshop so, to get the image onto a piece of black and white photographic paper, I had to cut the image out of card and physically lay it on top of the picture during the darkroom process.

“My abilities with the scalpel weren’t exactly up to creating a photo-accurate eagle in full flight, so we talked about other possibilities and, when he mentioned a dog, I thought: Yeah, a dog I can do!

“I remember afterwards someone saying that it was funny because it appears to be coming out of Malcolm’s flies, like some sort of shadow penis. Just to set the record straight, that wasn’t the joke. I didn’t even notice until someone said it.”

From such random accidents do iconic photos come!

For anyone who knew Malcolm, it will come as no surprise that he never actually got round to paying David Tuck for the publicity photos he took and that this shadow puppet photo was used widely for years afterwards without David ever getting any money or even any credit for taking the photo.

When I used the photo on Malcolm’s website after he drowned in 2005, I found out David had taken it and have always tried to give him credit for it.

Around 2006, comic Brian Damage, at heart an arty sort, was playing around with images. Brian says:

“I was in the middle of my second or possibly third mid-life crisis. (You lose count after a while) It could have been age-related or something to do with giving up smoking or both.”

He played around with the David Tuck photo of Malcolm and basically ‘cartoonised’ it.

I thought it was excellent and got Vinny Lewis to design a poster using this image for all subsequent Malcolm Hardee shows at the Fringe.

Vinny had designed occasional artwork for Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club and had created the printed programme for both Malcolm’s funeral and the first Hackney Empire memorial show in 2006.

He added a coloured background to the cartoon and played with details.

So, when I got the St Martin’s photo back from Kerstin Diegel, I got Vinny to Photoshop the Malcolm shadow puppet image into the photo and the result is now available for The Scotsman or anyone else to publish to plug Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

‘Anybody else’ turned out to be Mensa Magazine who printed the image on the contents page of their July issue and, inside, to illustrate a piece on Malcolm Hardee Week.

I suspect it may be the first time Mensa Magazine has published a photo of a man displaying an apparent cartoon erection with a dog on the end of it. Their defence is clear – that even David Tuck and (possibly not even) Malcolm noticed that the shadow was of an erect penis.

It’s a funny old world.

You can see the photo here.

It was created by Kerstin Diegel, Cody Cai, David Tuck, Brian Damage and Vinny Lewis.

Nothing is ever simple.

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Sucking up or sucking off? UK Prime Ministers, Rupert Murdoch and a puff

Look, I only plug people and things I believe in on this blog so, with that in mind, read on…

British Prime Ministers have been sucking Rupert Murdoch’s corporate cock since the 1960s. It’s nothing new. Nor is amorality.

Lance Price was a special advisor to Tony Blair. In 1998, he became deputy to Blair’s Communications Director, Alastair Campbell; and he was the Labour Party’s Director of Communications from 2000 until the General Election of 2001. Price says Blair was under Murdoch’s thumb from the beginning:

“I started working for Tony Blair a year after he became Prime Minister. I was shocked to be told by one of those who’d been closely involved with the talks in Australia, and subsequently, that: ‘We’ve promised News International we won’t make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them’.”

But – hey! ho! – political pragmatism, like journalistic amorality, is good news for some…

My elfin comedian chum Laura Lexx is staging her first straight play Ink at the Edinburgh Fringe in three weeks time.

The play is actually about the London 7/7 terrorist bombings and the media intrusion into victims’ lives but, of course, the subject of where the journalistic tipping point lies between investigative illumination and amoral intrusion is timeless.

Laura’s press release (written months ago) says: When reporting the news is business, is there space for truth and a conscience?… Will we accept hack journalism as a necessary evil for swift information?

It could have been written last week about the phone hacking scandal and the closure of the News of the World. It is a subject, as the red-tops might themselves say, RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES – but of eternal relevance.

The play’s billing reads: “Ordinary man blown up by terrorists – he made jam and had a son. Nothing special. The media made that clear as they conjured headlines from victims and sprinkled them between crosswords.”

My elfin chum Laura Lexx was both a Chortle and Paramount Student comedy finalist in her first six months of live stand-up performance; then she went on to reach the semi-finals of both the Laughing Horse and Funny Women competitions.

I saw Ink when it was a student production at the University of Kent.

It was impressive then.

With the number of actors in the cast cut back for financial reasons and the writing sharpened up even more, it will be interesting to see how it fares at the Edinburgh Fringe, given its accidentally up-to-the-minute relevance.

Now.. if only I could see some RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES angle for my own two spaghetti-juggling events at the Fringe…

My head is spinning.

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As the climax to a show it is one of the best things I have ever seen on stage, because you can’t expect it.

Juggler Mat Ricardo worries me.

Last night, I went to his 60-minute show Three Balls and a Good Suit because I had seen him perform maybe 15-20 minutes at Pull The Other One in Nunhead just over a week ago and he had said – correctly – that what he would do at the end of his act was physically impossible. It was. And it is. But he did it.

Far be it from me to lapse into cliché, but I could not believe my eyes in Nunhead.

I had never seen anyone else do what he did and I have seen quite a few acts. Mat tells me that, as far as he knows, he is the only person in the world doing it, because he himself figured out how it could be done.

He did it again last night and it is still astonishing. As the climax to a show it is one of the best things I have ever seen on stage, because you don’t expect it. You can’t expect it – it is theoretically impossible.

And the build-up is impeccable because Mat – a sometime street performer – has some great audience-manipulation patter. There is an earlier dagger-juggling section in the show which is a joy to watch just from a structural point of view. Forget the juggling – the verbal patter, the build-up and the control over what the audience thinks it is seeing are a joy in themselves. It is a tribute to his experience.

But he worries me because I try to be aware of good acts and, until just over a week ago, I had never heard of Mat Ricardo. And he is more than just good.

It seems Mat has mostly worked abroad and on cruise ships though originally in street theatre, so I have some excuse, but not much. The full title of his show is Three Balls and a Good Suit: Tales From the Life of a Jaded Novelty Act. I missed it at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and should be ashamed of myself – although it was only on for the first two weeks and, in my opinion, you have to play all four weeks (especially the last two) for three consecutive years to get noticed. But still I am ashamed of myself-ish. I have a high threshold of shame. Fringe Guru not surprisingly gave the show a 5-star review – and that was without the extraordinary new final climax which is so gobsmacking.

Because it was a good show even without the final stunt. Three Balls and a Good Suit also includes one of the best dissections of the street performer’s art I have ever heard and a wonderfully caustic attack on Britain’s Got Talent – it was no news to me but it might be to some that Britain’s Got Talent regularly approaches professional acts and invites them to the auditions (with no waiting in line). No guarantee that they will get chosen, but an assumption that part of their audition will get screened, potentially getting them 2 million hits and upwards on YouTube.

Personally, I have no problem with this but Mat does and I can understand why. Still, in my opinion, 2 million hits on YouTube and a live TV audience of 8 or 10 million is worth a punt. Anyway…

I was interested that Mat said he was partly inspired to become a juggler by old re-runs of W.C.Fields movies on TV – Fields was a great stage juggler before he became a great movie comedian.

And Mat can juggle five balls.

Although I could not do it myself because I am crap at manual co-ordination, I have never been impressed by anyone juggling three balls. As far as I understand it, at any given time, one ball is in or leaving/entering one hand. Another ball is leaving/entering the other hand. So those two balls can be mentally ignored because their trajectory is certain. You only have to concentrate on the one remaining ball in mid-air.

If, you juggle four balls, there are two balls in mid-air at any given time, so to juggle four balls is twice as difficult as juggling three balls.

And if you juggle five balls, there are three balls in mid-air. So juggling five balls is three times as difficult as juggling three balls. It is bloody, bloody, bloody difficult to do.

According to Mat, his idol Enrico Rastelli could juggle ten balls.

My mind can barely comprehend the complications. I find it almost incredible.

But then Mat himself has already done one thing that is impossible.

For 25 years, I have wanted to see a man or woman juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute.

Mat Ricardo gives me hope.

(SPAGHETTI-JUGGLING POSTSCRIPT: Steve Ochs tells me that US comic Lenny Schultz, who was in the cast of the revived Laugh In TV show in the early 1980s, “would get club audiences to yell, Go crazy, Lenny! while he did crazy shit. Among his nutty bits, performed after he was stripped down to a Speedo, was, that’s right; cooked spaghetti juggling!”… He couldn’t actually do it, though, so my search continues.)

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Memories of Hanoi twenty two years ago – and the woman with the robin redbreast face

I received an e-mail today from a friend who is in Vietnam for business. She is staying at a 6 star resort near Hoi An, south of Da Nang.

“I did a double take in Hanoi,” she wrote, “when I saw the brand new, enormous and heavily branded Hanoi Hilton near the main square.”

Apparently the new Hanoi Hilton hotel is opposite the Opera House. I was in Hanoi in November 1989 and the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ I passed was the original one – the notorious Hoa Lo PrisonI recognised its crumbling colonial front from photos. I asked my guide: “What’s that building?”

“I don’t know,” he said, straight-faced, but with a twinkle in his eye which meant we both knew we were playing a game. I kept a diary when I was in Hanoi in 1989. This is an extract:

THURSDAY 30th NOVEMBER – HANOI

Out of my window, there’s the constant sounds of car and moped horns tooting intermingled with the sounds of cheap engines.

The hotel is a simultaneous mountaineering and orienteering expedition… along endless corridors, up endless stairs, through a darkened room with a hidden comedy step to trip the unwary and finally through a half-darkened fire escape landing. The room is small but just about OK (no wardrobe or drawers) and the shower room looks like it’s seen better days at Auschwitz. But I call it home and it’s interesting to see what East Germans consider an international hotel. (There is a big East German group here.)

Nightlife in Hanoi is quite something. Bright white lightbulbs and shops are open everywhere in what I think is the main shopping street. It’s a bit like a cross between Earls Court Road on a Saturday night and a 1950s American Graffiti street with cruising. I did see three little old wrinkled ladies curling up inside blankets in a shop doorway. One cafe was doing a roaring trade because it was showing Thai rock videos. And children were playing everywhere. Children of all sizes. This was at about 8.45pm.

Teenagers listen to American rock music everywhere. It must be strange for their fathers and grandfathers.

They fought the French in the 1940s and 1950s and defeated them.

They fought the Americans in the 1960s and 1970s and defeated them.

But they lost the peace.

Now their children listen to US rock music.

FRIDAY 1st DECEMBER – HANOI

I now have a new hotel room with television (my first in Vietnam). This is probably a result of changing money with the driver and an excessively expensive $50 trip to Halong Bay. The guide is now paranoid about me telling anyone:

“This is still a Socialist country – like Russia, da?”

He keeps absent-mindedly saying “da” instead of “yes”.

People are mostly ignoring me in the street. I think I have now worked out the economics. Beggars ask locals for money but don’t ask me. They think I am a Russian. Everyone thinks I am a Russian. The Vietnamese have no time for Russians because (a) they don’t smile and (b) they have no money. No-one wants roubles only dollars and, even if they did want roubles, the Russians don’t have spare cash.

The problem with using travellers cheques is the US economic embargo on Vietnam – US companies can’t trade with the Vietnamese. My Hanoi guide tells me credit cards are “many many years” away because there are very few computers in Vietnam.

When we passed the very flash Opera House, he told me it was intended for the people, but only the very rich can afford it. This implies there is a group of very rich (as opposed to just very privileged) people.

At lunchtime, I took a walk and met Hanoi’s equivalent of a bag lady in ragged-sleeved jacket. The bottom half of her face was entirely red. Her face looked like a robin redbreast. Brown top half. Red bottom half. I think she must have been knocking-back some particularly brutal local equivalent of meths. She muttered (and probably cursed) at me, then staggered away.

I missed a photo opportunity this afternoon: two Russians buying blue jeans in the Hanoi equivalent of Oxford Street/Petticoat Lane. Further on, another Russian was toying with the idea of buying a Sony Walkman, insisting the shopkeeper put a cassette in it to test the sound quality.

I’m getting obsessed by the Russians. One TV channel at teatime had three particularly dreary Russian cartoons followed by their equivalent of Tomorrow’s World – Programme 2 – The Wonderful World of Computers. The Vietnamese channel carried a programme about a factory.

I had dinner tonight with the two Hong Kong Brits I met in Da Nang plus a couple of Canadians. When he was in Da Nang, one of the Canadians had a T-shirt printed saying in Vietnamese:

I AM NOT A RUSSIAN

He lives in an apartment in Calgary with a one-metre long iguana which, he says, craps in a sandbox behind the television set. He feeds it on cat food and says it can sense when he is about to go away because it pines and goes off its food. The iguana has its own dead tree in the apartment, so it can climb occasionally. It normally sleeps on its own heated pad although once the Canadian found it curled inside his pillowcase. The only problem is it likes to climb up the Canadian’s leg and has sharp claws. In the same apartment block, a neighbour keeps a pet boa constrictor.

I must remember to avoid Calgary.

The Hong Kong Brit told me he used to keep a pet monkey in Lagos; one of their neighbours in Hong Kong keeps a baboon which has a habit of flushing his toilet in the middle of the night.

I think I am beginning to hallucinate.

All I want is to find someone who can juggle cooked spaghetti on television for one minute.

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