Tag Archives: stand up

The serious subject of performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday, someone asked me for advice about their next Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

The Fringe does not start until next August, but now is the time people begin their preparation.

His problem was that he had a factually-based one-hour show and has fallen out with his on-stage partner. It happens. Fortunately, the person asking me had written the entire show on his own, otherwise there might have been tears over ownership.

“My show is written for two people” he told me. “It’s written for me and a sidekick/straight man. How do I translate that into just me? How would Eric do his act without Ernie? I don’t think I’m gonna find another partner in time. And the show is funny but factually-based. It’s going to end up sounding/feeling like a talk/lecture. How do I manage to keep the thing bubbling?”

“Well,” I suggested. “It’s already a show about true facts. You could tell the truth, say there was going to another person and it fell through. Then you play both parts straight but, in the way you tell the story and in the nature of playing two parts straight, it will be funny. The fact that the other guy is not appearing becomes part of the show, another layer, a sub-plot, added texture.”

“But how do I actually physically perform it?” the newly-solo act asked me.

“Just as a monologue,” I suggested. “Or you could do the old Tommy Cooper thing of literally wearing two different hats, depending on which person you are. That might get a bit tiresome over 55 minutes… Or it might work.

“Personally, I think you should just do it as a talk/lecture. It is the style and personality that makes it interesting. All one-hour stand-up shows are really just lectures made funny by the personality of the performer.

“If you have a one-hour comedy show, it has to be about one central thing, unless you’re a brilliant gag-machine act like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones or Tim Vine.

“Most of the really creatively successful Edinburgh shows since 2004 (I date everything from Janey Godley’s jaw-dropping confessional Edinburgh Fringe show Good Godley!) have been about one aspect of the performer’s life or a series of anecdotes strung together with one central thread running through.

“That’s the difference between a comedy act that can last 20 minutes in a club (a series of unconnected gags) and a comedy show that lasts 55 minutes (smoothly-linked anecdotes that have an over-all subject and shape).

“In your case, you already have the subject. The trick in an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show is not to find enough gags to fill-up 55 minutes. The trick is to find one story that will last 55 minutes and which, in the telling, will be incidentally funny at regular intervals.

“You should see one of Janey Godley’s shows,” I suggested. “She is possibly the best storyteller I have ever seen and I have seen a few. A lot of other comedians do not understand why she gets such totally OTT rave review quotes for her shows because, as fellow performers on a bill with her at some club, they have only ever seen little bits and pieces of her club act. She doesn’t really do traditional gags. She does personality. She does very good 20 or 30 minute spots, but her real forte is 60 or 90 minute shows.

“And the fascinating thing about her full-length shows is that there is almost nothing ‘funny’ in them at all. The subjects are all serious and very often horrendously sad. But her personality and storytelling makes them very, very funny. I don’t think of her as a stand-up comic. She is a very, very funny storyteller. It’s that Frank Carson line – It’s the way you tell ‘em.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the worried performer said, “You go on about Janey and she may be brilliant. But what do you yourself actually know about performing an Edinburgh show?”

“Nothing,” I admitted. “But most people don’t notice.”

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No joke: a secret list of people you cannot joke about on ITV in the UK

A scriptwriter for a very well-known comedian told me this week that one of his jokes was recently rejected for inclusion in an ITV programme not because it was not good enough, not because the producer did not like it, but because it was a joke about a celebrity (a rock star, as it happens) who is on an ITV list of people who are considered too litigious to make jokes about.

Whether this is true or not, I cannot guarantee. But the producer showed the list to the scriptwriter.

“I am not even supposed to tell you it exists, let alone show it to you,” the producer said.

No joke.

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Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer reacts to the Palestinian refugee camps myth

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about Palestinian so-called refugee camps.

I asked London-based Jewish American comedian Lewis Schaffer if he had any opinion on it.

I do not know why I foolishly asked if he has an opinion.

Of course he does.

He has an opinion on everything.

You might spot a of self-marketing in it.

This is his response…

_____

You are not going to pull me into an argument.

I grew up supporting and loving Israel but I also see the devastation the creation of the State of Israel has caused on the Palestinians.

Keeping in mind that more Muslims come to my show than Jews (Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous at the Source Below – 8.00pm Tuesdays and Wednesday; reserve at www.sourcebelow.com), I lean to siding with Palestinians, solely for business purposes.

The great American humorist Will Rogers (and all Americans are great, but this dude was GREAT even by American standards), once said:  “You’re dead as a comic if you take yourself seriously or if the audience takes you seriously”.  

I am lucky because I barely have an audience to alienate and the more I take myself seriously the more people think I am just kidding.

An analogy of the situation in Israel/Palestine is a sad vignette presented on BBC’s Frozen Planet with David Attenborough this week. They showed a fight to the death between a wolf and buffalo in the cold snowy north of Canada – actually Canada is all cold snowy north.

David Attenborough expressed the modern view that humans shouldn’t take a side in this natural fight between two species. He felt both the wolf and the buffalo had a right to live. A few years ago we might have sided with the gentle grazer bison and not the hunting wolf but now we see the wolf’s side, too.

And rightly so.

I have Wolfs in my family on my father’s side. They moved out to Phoenix after the War and did quite well in the furniture business.  On the other hand, my mother’s maiden name was Buffalofsky.

_____

Well, that’s the Palestinian problem sorted then.

Tomorrow, back to the blog…

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Filed under Comedy, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Politics

Jewish comedian Jerry Sadowitz and the Palestinian refugee camps myth

A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from someone saying: “I disagree violently with some of the things you say on your blog, but I usually find it interesting – which is a partial definition of a good blog I suppose.”

I guess so.

A problem arises when there is nothing overwhelmingly interesting to blog about.

Last night, I was at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s always bizarre Pull The Other One comedy club in Peckham. This time, one of the acts was a  genuine local choir of 25 people who trooped on stage but did not sing.

In the audience was comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly.

He told me that, many years ago, when the world was young – well, 1990 – he owned a new-fangled video recorder which included, unusually for the time, single frame advance.

He recorded an episode of the Channel 4 series The Other Side of Jerry Sadowitz in which Jerry, best-known for his controversially offensive stand-up comedy, showed his equally extraordinary skill as a close-up magician. One particular trick Jerry performed was one that Mark Kelly knew about.

Mark knew how the trick was done.

He used the single fame advance on his video recorder to watch it in detail…

“And I still could not see the point at which Jerry pulled the trick,” Mark told me. “I looked at every single frame and I just could not see it. Jerry is that good.”

He is, indeed.

But that is not really enough for a blog.

Saying nice things about people is not good copy.

It is far more interesting to annoy people – which is why I occasionally mention my professional admiration for the late comedian Bernard Manning.

It always gets knee-jerk reactions of annoyance, mostly from people who never saw him perform live.

As ever-reliable Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being noticed is not being noticed.”

I can but try.

I looked back at what was in my e-diary ten years ago, on 26th November 2001.

I wrote this to a friend:

_____

There’s a load of bollocks talked about the number of Palestinian refugees in camps. The host Arab countries (like Lebanon) tend to bar them from getting proper jobs and living freely where they like, so as to maintain them as an aggrieved, definable entity living in poverty in ghetto-like enclaves which are called ‘camps’ but aren’t at all.

I have walked down the Airport Road in Beirut and seen the Shatila so-called refugee camp where there was a massacre in 1982.

It is not a camp; it is just another brick and stone built part of Beirut with normal houses. It is like saying Golders Green in London is a Jewish refugee camp.

The Palestinian refugees would have been assimilated within any other host countries decades ago without this intentional ghettoising of them by the other Arab countries they fled to. 

Some of these Palestinians have been ‘refugees’ since 1948. It really is like saying the Jews who fled from Hitler to Golders Green are ‘refugees’. They WERE refugees in 1936 or 1939, but not now.

It is pushing it a bit to say someone who was born in Lebanon, whose parents and possibly grandparents were born in Lebanon is actually a citizen of Bethlehem (or wherever).

It is a complicated problem, because the people in Lebanon continue to be Palestinians like the Jews in Golders Green continue to be Jews… but being Jewish is an ethnicity and a religion, not a nationality. Are you an Indian although you were born and brought up in Liverpool? I would say you are British of Indian origin but you ain’t an Indian any more than I’m a Fleming from Flanders. 

If, however, you and your parents had only been allowed to live in one small area within Southall which contained nothing but ex-pat Indians and you were not allowed to work normally and  integrate within the British social or economic system then, of course, it might be another matter. 

I blame the neighbouring Arab countries equally with Israel for the problem. The Arab countries have just used the so-called refugees over the decades as political pawns. 

_____

I wrote that to a friend in 2001. If I had had a blog then, I would have blogged it.

There are still alleged Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries.

I blog it now to try to cause random offence.

Though, in causing offence, I am but a lowly beginner at the feet of  Jerry Sadowitz, brilliant magician but also still astonishingly offensive comedian.

It is good to try to cause offence but credit where credit is due.

****

Jewish American comedian Lewis Schaffer’s reaction to this blog was quoted in my blog the following day.

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Filed under Comedy, Israel, Lebanon, Magic, Middle East, Palestine, Politics

Comedian Malcolm Hardee’s affair with Moors Murderer Myra Hindley

Yesterday afternoon, I had tea in Soho with comedy scriptwriter and former stand-up Mark Kelly, who recently seems to have published a tsunami of his books via lulu.com

So far, these include Pleased as Punch, Put Your Foot on the Housing Ladder and Enter the World of WorkMurdoch Murder Merchandise and This Is Why We Are Going To Die.

“I misunderstood the rules for the Book of the Month Club,” he told me. “I thought you had to publish a book every month.”

I said I was considering re-publishing Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake via lulu.com, but had not pulled my finger out because I was thinking of partly reverting the text to an earlier, more interesting draft version which was not saved electronically, only as a paper print-out. So it was an extra hassle.

“I’m just being bloody lazy,” I explained. “I’d have to go through it making finicky changes.”

Mark has always had anarchic leanings – he once advertised a play of his called Cancelled at Essex University and the performance did not exist when people arrived to see it.

“You could,” he suggested, “just make things up. You can’t say Malcolm had an affair with Princess Diana, because that would be too unbelievable. But having an affair with Malcolm McLaren might be believable. That way, at the point of sexual climax, you could say they each shouted out their own name – Malcolm…”

“I would prefer making up a story that Malcolm had a long-term affair with Bernard Manning,” I said. “Whenever I mention Bernard Manning in a blog, it really gets up people’s noses, so it would get noticed more. But I don’t think any gay affair involving Malcolm would be believable. And any heterosexual affair… Well, however bizarre it seems, it might actually have happened. He might actually have had sex with any woman, however unlikely. He had it off with the most unlikely women.”

“Provided they are dead, you can say anything,” Mark said.

“There’s always Myra Hindley, I suppose,” I mused.

“Mmmmm….” said Mark

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The night comedian Malcolm Hardee urinated on a member of his audience

Legends grow in the telling and re-telling of them.

When comedian and club owner Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005, The Stage called him “a larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary”.

I told one definitive anecdote about him in yesterday’s blog.

But one of the most famous stories told about Malcolm was the night he pissed on a member of the audience at his legendarily rowdy comedy club The Tunnel.

Comedian Mark Lamarr was there that night. He says:

Jerry Sadowitz was on stage, very loud and noisy and, while he was on, this bloke was fast asleep in the front row with his head down, just absolutely gone. And Jerry rants, There’s this fucking bloke fell asleep here!… but at no point did he wake up.

“After Jerry finished, Malcolm walked on and said, Oy Oy There’s a bloke asleep and the audience – who were a vicious Klan Rally of an audience – all started shouting Piss on him, Malcolm! Piss on him!

“And he said, Yeah, alright.

“But he didn’t do it immediately. He had the most perfect comedy timing. He just started telling jokes and drinking to fill up his bladder.”

Ben Burke, who was also there in the audience that night, says: “It was Stuart North… sadly demised now, though not from being pissed on.”

Mark Lamarr remembers well what happened: “The audience is yelling: Piss on him, Malcolm! and he’s saying, Yeah, alright, and for five minutes he’s saying this and the bloke is still fast asleep.”

Ben Oakley, who was also in the audience that night, says: “It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Malcolm looked down at the bloke and nudged his boots which were up on the stage. After no response, Malcolm casually whipped it out.”

Ben Burke says: “As I recall, Malcolm took Stuart North’s furry Russian hat off and pissed in that.”

“Then,” Ben Oakley says, “Malcolm continued to drink his beer whilst streaming full pelt onto the bloke’s head.”

“He pissed all over this bloke,” Mark Lamarr recalls, “But it wasn’t a dribbly piss. From where I was standing, no-one could have lit this better. There was a big arc of piss coming over and dribbling down this bloke’s face and the crowd, as a man – 300 people – stood up and yelled: Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!!!!! And the bloke still hadn’t woken up.

“For a minute or so, there’s this stream – like a waterfall of piss – just going down his designer clothes. He’s there asleep and it’s going on and on and on.

“Eventually, Malcolm zips himself up and says, Alright. That’s it. See you next week. Goodnight, and that’s the end of the night and everyone leaves and there’s this bloke who’s sat there, covered in piss, still fast asleep and eventually his mates nudge him and wake him up and, from across the room, I saw his mates were miming to him how Malcolm pissed on him and he looked down and looked up and opened his mouth in happy excitement. He was over the moon that he’d somehow been a big part of the show, just as a piss recipient.”

Ben Oakley remembers is differently. He says, when Malcolm pissed on Stuart North, “The bloke woke up slowly at first by licking his piss-covered lips and face, then wiped his hand across his cheek and looked at it, at which point the whole place erupted. He got up and ran/staggered out the place.”

When Malcolm told me the story of what had happened, he said that, the following week at The Tunnel, he saw the same guy in the bar. The guy walked up to him and Malcolm thought, Oy Oy He’s going to hit me but, in fact, he beamed at Malcolm, shook him by the hand and thanked him.

“I’ve been dining out on the story all week,” he told Malcolm.

I asked Ben Burke if he thought it would be OK to name Stuart North in this story.

“Please do,” he told me. “It would make Stuart’s family very proud!”

Legends grow in the telling and re-telling of them.

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The definitive story about anarchic comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer is nothing if not quotable.

In my blog yesterday, I quoted his views about racial and racist jokes. In the same conversation, we also talked about Malcolm Hardee, the late godfather of British alternative comedy who was known for random outbreaks of nudity onstage and renowned for having “the biggest bollocks in showbusiness”.

I met Malcolm around 1985 or 1986 and wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in 1995. He drowned in 2005.

Also present when Lewis and I talked was a friend of mine who knew Malcolm far longer than I did.

“I never met Malcolm,” Lewis said, “but I would say he is he is someone who is ‘best remembered’… I never experienced what Malcolm Hardee was. The impression I get for the guy is that he didn’t really have much respect for other people. He was always messing with people. In a way, he brought people on stage at his clubs just to humiliate them.”

“No,” I answered. “They humiliated themselves.They knew how tough Malcolm’s audiences could be. They knew if they could survive the Sunday night audience at Up The Creek and, even more so at The Tunnel, then they had a good act. I always thought the Tunnel audience was firm but fair. If you had a good act, they would listen and applaud. If the act was not so good, they would shout out razor-sharp heckles. If your act was shit, they would throw beer glasses at you. Firm but fair. And, if you died on stage with good reason, when you went off, Malcolm would say: Well, he was shit, wasn’t he? or That was shit, wasn’t it, but I’d fuck her.

“He let the acts do what they did,” my friend said. “He was secure in his own world, because he lived and worked in the area he came from, so he was very secure. He was amongst people he had grown up with.”

“He half-joked he didn’t like going north of the River Thames,” I said. “and that was partly true because, when he opened a comedy club at Harlesden in north west London, he didn’t really have very much interest in it because it took a bit of time to travel up there and people didn’t know who he was.

“He said to me once that he liked being in Greenwich because he was a big fish in a small pond. He liked being recognised in the street. I once asked him why he was so attractive to women and he said: Because, to them, I’m a celebrity here. No-one knows who I am in Huddersfield but, in Greenwich, I’m a local showbiz celebrity.”

“But,” Lewis asked me, “what was he thinking when he peed at the back of the stage when someone was performing and the audience saw him and laughed but the act did not see him? That’s so disrespectful to an act.”

“It was like he was at home,” my friend said. “He felt at home. He felt so comfortable, he could say and do anything. He was…”

“But he urinated on the wall…” Lewis interrupted.

“He probably just thought,” I suggested, “I need a piss and it’s going to get a laugh. It’s as simple as that.”

The definitive Malcolm story, I think, is this one which Australian comic Matthew Hardy posted on the web page I set up after Malcolm died.

__________

He took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.

Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.

I wanted to hit him, and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy.

We laugh… NOW!”.

__________

“Malcolm could have killed them and himself,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “The only reason he did it was because he knew it would get a laugh when it was told as a story later. He would do something because he thought, Oy Oy. That’ll get a laugh; I’ll do it, and just not care about the consequences.”

“People can’t help but admire that sort of thing,” my friend said. “They wish they could do it themselves.”

“They admired Malcolm’s balls,” I said.

“Literally and figuratively,” my friend said.

What I wrote about Malcolm at the time of his death was:

__________

Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.

People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.

He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.

I remember being in his living room one afternoon. For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. Not a piece of carrot. A real goldfish. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.

At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not again, Malcolm.”

He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.

The irony, of course, is that with his trousers down he was never embarrassed.

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What Mensa members have in common with mental retards and paedophiles

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

UK-based German comedian Paco Erhard is a freak of nature, just as much as a sheep born with two heads is a freak.

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, his stand-up show got two 5-star reviews.

Edinburgh Guide wrote he is a “stand-up genius… Paco Erhard is going to be big” and Broadway Baby said he is “insightful and hysterical” with “endless original jokes”.

I wrote a blog about him back in August

He is very amiable. But he s still a freak. By definition.

The newly-published November issue of Mensa Magazine has an article about him. There were at least two other Mensa members performing stand-up comedy at the Fringe this year, but I have not asked them if it is OK to ‘out’ them, so they shall remain nameless.

I have, however, asked Paco.

“I don’t mind being outed as a Mensa member,” he told me. “though I have no real idea what the reaction to this in Britain would be. In Germany I think some people fear and mistrust you a bit when you ‘out’ yourself as a Mensa member. But – Hey – Who cares? Just out me.”

Thus this blog.

UK-based German comedian Paco Erhard, like a mental retard, is a freak.

To get into Mensa, you have to get an IQ test score higher than can be achieved by 98% of the population. That does not put you in the ‘top’ 2%… It puts you in a 2% minority of freaks. Anyone different from 98% of the general population is a freak by definition.

IQ tests do not test intelligence. They only test the ability to score high in IQ tests.

They do not test intelligence because intelligence is as changeable as the Atlantic Ocean or a politician’s beliefs.

If I were travelling across the Sahara Desert in a Land Rover which developed a mechanical fault, even given surrealism as part of the trip, I do not think I would want to be travelling with Albert Einstein, because I doubt if Albert Einstein would be able to get the Land Rover going again. I would prefer to be travelling with some spotty, uneducated 16-year-old who is brilliant at mending engines but who is probably thought of as an idiot by everyone who knows him.

If he is in the top 2% of the population in his knowledge of engines, then he is a freak.

Education has nothing to do with intelligence just as IQ tests have nothing to do with intelligence. They test something but no-one can quite define what it is. People in Mensa tend to be computer programmers, teachers and socially inept. They do not tend to be raging successes at anything which would impress the Guardian.

I think the most interesting thing about IQ tests is the curve showing the distribution of IQ scores.

There are various numerical results according to which type of test you take – so a score of 110 may be given a totally different number on another test though it is scored by the same percentage of the population. By definition, the average IQ is always 100. And almost everyone lumps together in a fairly tight bunch on either side of that. The further someone’s IQ score separates from 100, the more freakish and odder that person is.

By 90 or 110, the graph of people’s scores falls precipitously. The interesting thing is that it falls evenly on both sides. The percentage of people scoring over 140 is roughly the same percentage as the percentage scoring under 60.

On the scale that Mensa uses, people have to score over 148 to get into the organisation – that is 2% of the population.

People who score over 148 are very definitely not ‘geniuses’.

They are freaks.

In very round numbers, the UK population is 60 million. The US population is 300 million. With 2% of the population eligible for Mensa membership, that would mean the UK has 1.2 million ‘geniuses’ and the US has 6 million ‘geniuses’.

That is obviously bollocks.

What IQ tests measure – in fact, what any tests about anything reveal – is divergence from the norm.

I remember hearing a radio programme quote the IQ figure at which people are clinically said to be mentally retarded. And it was higher than 52 – in other words, it was less far below the 100 average than Mensa’s 148 score is above the 100 average.

Let us not be PC, here. The people whom doctors used to call ‘mentally retarded’ do clearly think slightly different from Mr, Miss and Mrs 100 Average. That does not mean they are any better or worse. But they do not think in exactly the same way. As a result, they sometimes behave in what are seen as socially inept ways. The ‘bottom’ 2% of IQ scorers are, by definition, ‘freaks’.

For exactly the same mathematical reason, the ‘top’ 2% of scorers are freaks of nature. Anyone who is in the 2% furthest from the 100 score is a freak, especially as most IQ scores are bunched very close to that 100 average mark.

In very rough round figures, 70% of the population have IQs between 85 and 115 – that’s 70% scoring 15 on either side of the 100 average.

People who score between 70-85 (another 15 points away from 100) and 115-130 together account for only another 25%.

By the time you look at scores of 130-145 (another 15 point divergence) you are only talking about 2% of the population.

Mensa entry is 148.

You are not talking about ‘better’ or ‘worse’. You are talking, at both ends of the scores, about divergence from the norm, about brains and thought processes being wired-up ‘incorrectly’. You are talking about freaks of nature.

And, yes, the mathematics do not quite add up. They are rough numbers and I have always been shit at mathematics.

The point is that admitting you are a member of Mensa is a socially and professionally dangerous thing to do, because people get tremendously defensive, therefore aggressive and think you are a twat.

“I think some people fear and mistrust you a bit when you ‘out’ yourself as a Mensa member,” says Paco Erhard.

The Mensa Magazine piece that has just been published about him is, basically, the blog I wrote about him in August.

I joined Mensa in 1969 but never mentioned it to anyone, except a very very few friends, until the early years of this century. By that time, I was old enough to not give a flying fuck what people thought of me.

I took the test in 1969 in much the same spirit that I wandered into the Scientology testing centre in Tottenham Court Road in London one rainy day around the same time. It sounded interesting. And Scientology was certainly… interesting.

No, I did not become a Scientologist.

Nor am I a paedophile. Though admitting you are a paedophile and admitting you are member of Mensa are pretty much on the same scale of social acceptability.

I partly joined because I thought it might, on my CV, offset the fact I had decided to go to (what was then) The Regent Street Polytechnic and study for a Diploma rather than go to a university which would have given me a degree. The irony, of course, was that I could never mention Mensa membership because it makes you less attractive to any employer. No-one wants to employ an up-their-own-arse know-it-all. Which is the perception.

In the early 1970s, through bizarre circumstances, I happened to talk to someone about IQs and mentioned that I had joined Mensa – well, I don’t give a shit about name-dropping either – it was comedian Peter Cook’s then-wife. She said to me:

“You’ve got my sympathy. I know someone else with the same problem.”

She meant it.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

US comic Lewis Schaffer explains why there are so few US comics on UK TV

There are some very good US comedians living and working in the UK. Yesterday morning, I wrote a blog lamenting the fact that few of them appear on British TV and radio. One of the American comics I included was Lewis Schaffer, a performer with an almost admirable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Last night, I went to see a screening of a re-cut version of documentary film The Tunnel, about the late Malcolm Hardee’s legendary London comedy club.

Lewis Schaffer was there too. Afterwards, he told me this:

__________

You know why Americans who live in Britain are not on TV over here?

Because the English know that really funny Americans

(a) they would have heard of already and

(b) would live in America.

Have people heard of Jerry Seinfeld? Yes.

Have people heard of Lewis Schaffer? No.

The American comedians who are not on TV in this country… are not on TV because the TV producers and the audience look at them and think, “This guy’s a nobody. Why do we have to have him here?”

They know that the Australians who are on TV in this country are top comedians in Australia. That is why they are here in Britain.

The Australians who are successful in Australia have to come here.

The American comedians who are successful or could be successful in America don’t come here to live and work; they are in America.

The truth is, if I was a ‘somebody’ I would never have come here. I have two kids now who keep me here. But I did not have kids when I came here. I was a loser in America. I am a loser here, but I would still have been a loser if I had stayed in America.

When the English see an Australian on TV, they think, “He might be as good as us. That’s why he’s here – because he was too big for Australia and he got the hell out.”

When they see someone from New Zealand, they think the same thing.

When they see an American here, unless they’re famous already, they think “What? He couldn’t get work in America?”

And they’re right. He couldn’t.

__________

A couple of nights ago, Lewis Schaffer played his 250th Free Until Famous show at the Source Below in Soho – London’s longest-running solo comedy show.

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Is there a bias against American comics performing on TV and radio in Britain?

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last night, American comic Lewis Schaffer played his 250th show at the Source Below in Soho – London’s longest-running solo comedy show. He has been playing there every Tuesday and Wednesday (and sometimes also Mondays) since well before we failed to elect a government.

I could not see his show last night because I had long-promised to go to Daphna Baram and Alex Love’s always interesting Cantaloopy comedy club in Shoreditch. Arthur Smith was headlining but also on the bill was the wonderfully charismatic American David Mills.

I first saw David perform earlier this year at Cantaloopy and was shocked I had never heard of him despite the fact he won the 2011 Hackney Empire New Act of the Year. I must pay more attention to what is going on outside my living room. As a result of being so impressed by David, I also went to see the wonderful Edinburgh Fringe chat show Scott Capurro’s Position hosted by Scott and David and booked the two of them to very successfully host this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.

All three of these comedians have totally different acts. I will get crucified by the three of them for my trite descriptions. But I guess Lewis Schaffer is a rollercoaster observational ride with a brilliant butterfly mind. Scott Capurro is an insightful camp comic with a razor-sharp tongue that could cut a heckler’s throat across a crowded room. And David Mills is an American reincarnation of Noel Coward who could play the O2 Arena and make it seem cosy and friendly.

What these three utterly different acts share is that they are American, they have been based in the UK for at least ten years (so there is no cultural problem) and television & radio have not picked up on them (in general – obviously Scott does have some profile, but you could not say he is an established TV or radio star).

All three can be cutting-edge but are perfectly acceptable for middle-of-the-road audiences.

So why do they not get the TV and radio exposure they deserve?

Following on from my recent blog about what TV and radio producers actually want, I think there may be the possibility that, if an American comedian suddenly appears on TV or radio from nowhere, there is (as seen by producers) the risk that the audience may think they are vast successes in the US and have not been ‘discovered’ and whisked up from the relative obscurity of comedy clubs by talented UK producers. And/or there may be the complaint that producers should be showcasing British comics not American comics.

I can think of no other reasons.

Reginald D.Hunter has had some success on shows like Have I Got News For You, but (unsayable as it may be) he has the distinct advantage of being a black American rather than just an American and the advantage of the first adjective is strong enough to outweigh the disadvantage of the second. He is also very funny and very talented, of course, which helps – though it is not vital, as many BBC3 shows demonstrate.

Three comedians – Scott Capurro, David Mills, Lewis Schaffer – all different but all with two defining characteristics – they are American and they are funny.

Three of a kind. But different.

It sounds like a format for a TV show, doesn’t it?

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PS Someone pointed out I forgot Rich Hall, of course. Oh lord. Exception. Rule. Proves. Re-arrange.

I blogged about Lewis Schaffer’s response to this blog the following day.

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