Tag Archives: Steve Coogan

25 Years of Shooting Comedians and the recent new devaluation of artistic talent

Rich Hardcastle has photographed comedians for 25 years.

Now he has a Kickstarter campaign to publish a large-format coffee-table book of 110 extraordinary photos and text: 25 Years of Shooting Comedians. Ricky Gervais has written a foreword for it and says: “Rich has a way of making even a rainy day spent standing in a muddy field look glamorous and important.”

Fellow photographer Idil Sukan recently wrote on Facebook about Rich Hardcastle:

“His photos of comedians are completely amazing. His work was the only reason I thought there was hope for the industry instead of just wacky head scratching photos of needy boys wearing red shirts. His photos are beautiful and touching and always stand out, always.

“He, like all of us comedy photographers, has done so much work under such high pressure circumstances, not always been paid at full rates, been messed around by producers, but regardless, consistently, always produced incredible work that supported comedians, sold tickets, made fans happy. The comedy photography industry really only opened up because of him, because he was taking risks and doing things differently.”

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Photograph: Rich Hardcastle)

Some comedians are in the National Portrait Gallery because of Rich Hardcastle – Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Phill Jupitus et al.

“25 years as a photographer,” I said to Rich when we met. “Ever since you were at Edinburgh College of Art. So you had decided back then you wanted to be a professional photographer?”

“Well, I wanted to photograph rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do Terry O’Neill type shots: beautifully-framed shots showing the real person behind the facade. This was back in the day when celebrity meant something.”

“But you didn’t,” I asked, “want to be an ad agency photographer shooting pack shots and well-lit plates of food?”

“No. though I’d love to be in advertising now, because of the money…”

“Of course,” I said.

“Though there is not,” he added, “as much as there used to be.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“No. There’s no real money in photography. In terms of me in comedy, I think I’m the Ramones. I’ve influenced loads of people. I started something, but I haven’t made any money from it and I don’t even have the revenue from T-shirt sales.”

“So why, 25 years ago,” I asked, “did you start shooting comedians and not rock stars?”

“They were there, they were easy to get to and I liked comedy. I love the comedy industry. They’ve been very good to me and a lot of my success has been through things that happened in the comedy industry.”

“Why a book now?” I asked.

Director Terry Gilliam, as photographed by Rich Hardcastle

“25 years. I was there for 25 years, documenting that world opening up. I want it to be a big, beautiful, important book. It’s a snapshot of a generation of British comedy.”

“Surely anyone,” I prompted, “can photograph comedians? You just get them to open their mouths and wave their hands about in a zany way.”

“But I wanted to photograph them like rock stars,” explained Rich. “To try to make them look cool.”

“So what did you decide to do instead of wacky comedy shots?”

“Photograph them like I would a musician or a movie star. Nice, cool portraits of people who happen to be comedians.”

“There must have been,” I suggested, “no money in photographing people who were, at that time, relative nonentities.”

“I was an art student when I started (in the early 1990s); then I started photographing other things – editorial stuff like GQ; but I kept photographing comedians – maybe 90% was not commissioned. I did it because I was interested. No, there was not really any money in it.”

“There’s little money in anything creative now,” I said. “It started with music being free, then books, then videos. People expect all the creative stuff to be free or dirt cheap.”

Greg Davies (Photo by Rich Hardcastle)

“I used to do posters for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,”  said Rich. “The greatest thing was when people would steal the posters because they were such lovely images. It changed around the time digital cameras took off and people were using almost snapshot photos of themselves. Russell Howard had a poster which was just him standing in a Vietnamese street market or sitting on a wall or something, obviously when he was on tour.

“Things changed around then. It looked like a bit of a movement, but it wasn’t. It was just someone’s tour manager taking a photo and thinking: Oh, we don’t have to pay a photographer to do this and you can take like 3,000 on one card – so one of ‘em’s going to be good. Phil Nichols said to me: The problem is what you do is now considered ‘Art’ and people now baulk at the idea of having to pay someone to come up with a concept and shoot it.”

I suggested: “Maybe all creative things are undervalued now. Everyone thinks they can write novels because they can type on their computer and self-publish a paperback book. And anyone can take a free photograph now because they have a smartphone.”

“This is the thing,” said Rich, “you can take 6,000 photos on your phone and print one up that might look good. But I can do it with one shot.”

“Everyone thinks they can be an artist,” I said.

“Yes,” Rich agreed. “The creative arts have been de-valued.”

“To create a music album,” I said, “you used to have to rent Abbey Road Studios for a month and pay George Martin to produce it. Now I can record something for free on GarageBand on my iPhone and upload it onto iTunes for people to hear worldwide.”

“In a way, though,” said Rich, “it’s quite nice because bands are finding the only way they can make money is to play live, which is what they are supposed to do and sort-of great. Rather than a manufactured pop band who have never actually played live selling out the O2…”

“But then,” I said, “anyone can write a novel, self-publish it and call themselves a novelist…”

“…And that devalues the word ‘novelist’,” agreed Rich. “Brooklyn Beckham is a ‘photographer’ and has a book out and a show.”

“Have you seen it and do you want to be quoted?” I asked.

Rich Hardcastle (Photo by Sarah M Lee)

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rich, “because, if he’s serious about wanting to be a photographer and he actually develops any talent over the years, then that’s fucked him. That book and that whole launch has fucked his career because people are going to think he’s a joke and real, creative people are not going to want to be associated with him. Which is a real shame.

“It’s like the Australian actor Guy Pearce. It has taken a long, long time for people to forget he was in Neighbours. Now it’s ‘Guy Pearce, Hollywood actor’ whereas, at the start of his career, it was ‘that guy who used to be in Neighbours’.”

Malcolm Hardee,” I told Rich, “used to say that any normal person who practises juggling for 10 hours a day, every day, for 3 years, can become a very good juggler. Because it’s a skill not a talent, but…”

“That’s what I hate about jugglers,” said Rich. “I think: You’re doing the same thing that every other juggler does. Yes, you are standing on a chair and the things you’re juggling are on fire, but you are still just juggling.”

“But,” I continued, “Malcolm said, without talent, you could practise forever and never became a great comedian because performing comedy has a large element of talent involved; it’s not just a skill… It’s the same with photography, I think. To be a great photographer, you need talent not just skill. It’s an art.”

“Yes,” said Rich. “You can take 3,000 photos on a camera and call yourself a photographer, but you are not. You’re just like a monkey taking 6,000 photos and one of them could be a good composition by accident.”

Stewart Lee, photographed by Rich Hardcastle

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An impossible ball and a granny flat plus Steve Coogan as Reggie Kray

A man was asleep in a train in a London tube

A man was asleep in a train in a London tube

Ah! The perils of long chats with people which I then have to transcribe before I can write a blog. Especially if I have to go out earlier than I thought today.

So I have to think of a shorter blog…

A few nights ago, in the middle of the night, asleep in bed, I heard a strange sound in the ceiling.

The sound of a solid ball running on wood across the floor of the loft above my head. It rolled from the front of my bedroom ceiling towards the back.

My loft does not have a flat floor. It has beams with gaps between. It is impossible for a hard, spherical object to roll across the floor because there is no floor. And the beams and gaps between have got fluffy soft fibrous insulation over six inches thick on top of them. Nothing can roll anywhere. And the sound I heard cannot have been something rolling across the tiles of my roof from front to back, because it would have had to roll uphill and against the overlapping of the tiles.

Albert Einstein in a sphere

One spherical object seen at one relative point in some time

It was a real sound I heard. Some spherical object rolling on wood.

But it must have been a dream.

I normally do not remember my dreams at all, which is a pity.

But I have been remembering them a tiny bit more recently.

Last night, this might have been a result of me waking up because my already damaged left shoulder is still sore from tripping over a kerb in darkness during Arthur Smith’s midnight tour of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in August and falling awkwardly on the cobbles.

Or because I keep getting cramp in my legs at night.

Or because the sole of my right foot is in pain.

Or because last night I only had five hours sleep.

Two men were at the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Two men were at the May Fair Hotel yesterday

In any case, I woke up this morning thinking I must remember to blog about the two comedians who are standing for political elections – one in Britain and one abroad. Then I remembered I had been dreaming. Then I thought maybe I was only dreaming I was dreaming and in fact it was true. Then I realised it actually really was a dream but wondered why I had dreamt of that. Then I remembered comedian Eddie Izzard has talked about running for Mayor of London and that the late Malcolm Hardee had run for Parliament 1978.

Malcolm’s manifesto commitments included a cable car for pensioners to the top of Greenwich Hill… Bringing proper fog back to London for old times’ sake… Re-launching the Cutty Sark… And concreting-over the River Thames so people could travel about more easily.

He got more votes than the Communist Party and the National Front.

Since then, a cable car has been built across the Thames.

So it can only be a matter of time before the concrete mixers arrive.

On the train home late last night, I remember two people were talking.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky (left) with Reggie Kray and Reggie’s wife Frances

They were talking about performing as a pantomime horse over the Christmas period and arguing over whether it was better to be the front half or the rear end.

Yesterday, I also had tea with Micky Fawcett, a former associate of gangsters The Kray Twins, at the May Fair Hotel. Micky said he thought Steve Coogan would make a very good Reggie Kray in a movie.

Over the Christmas period, Italian comedian Luca Cupani told me he had been looking for a new flat. He had seen one advertised but had decided not to make contact. I thought he should. The ad read:

AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION CLAPHAM COMMON
CLAPHAM, WEST LONDON

Luca flats ad

A flat was offered for rental in London with no internet access

Shared bedroom small flat with limited space for a flatmate M/F.

NO TV, landline, internet, just radios. Has suited ambitious but impecunious students/workers prepared to share partitioned bedroom with a granny.

Nearest tube Clapham Common / bus 35/37/137/345

Everything above was real.

I think.

Who can tell?

Not me.

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Neil Mullarkey of The Comedy Store Players on 1980s alternative comedy

The Comedy Store in London last night

The Comedy Store, London, yesterday evening

I went to see The Comedy Store Players’ improvisation show last night. They perform twice weekly at The Comedy Store in London. Before the show, I chatted to Neil Mullarkey, one of the founding members, in the dressing room.

“In the old Comedy Store in Leicester Square,” said Neil, “there was no toilet in the dressing room. There was a sink you could pee in. Sometimes a woman would say: I’m going to have a pee; do you mind leaving the room? And we did. Otherwise they’d have had to go all round and queue up with the punters. But now we have a toilet.”

“Most comedians,” I said, “are barking mad, but you’re now a businessman, so you can’t be that mad.”

Neil runs improvisation workshops under the name Improv Your Biz – “using improvisational theatre to enhance people’s skills in communication, leadership and innovation.”

He told me last night: “I apply the skills and ethos of improv to business people, but I don’t consider myself a business person. I still do the Comedy Store Players, but that’s about the only showbiz I do these days. I really enjoy teaching people and looking at how organisations run. I have made my choices and I feel very pleased by them.

“The idea of getting in a car or a train and going to some distant place and doing a gig to some people who are drunk and not that interested and then coming home again does not appeal to me greatly. In how many professions do you want the customer to be inebriated? I can only think of two – gambling and prostitution.

“It drives me mad sometimes when I do a corporate gig and they tell me: It’s cabaret seating. And I say: No, what you mean is it’s catering seating. I tell them: I would like a theatre style, if possible, so the audience can be as close to one another as possible because laughter is social. You need to be near someone else laughing, facing the stage and not at a table where you’re half looking over your shoulder. And I also say: Can I go on before dinner?”

“Why?” I asked.

Because the audience then is not drunk and tired. A friend of mine says the audience loses interest exponentially every minute after 9.30pm. That’s at a corporate gig where they haven’t invested to come and see the show. In a club it’s slightly different because they have decided to come and watch a comedy show.”

“Which audience is more drunk, though?” I asked.

“In the 1980s,” said Neil, “when the Comedy Store Players did corporate gigs and asked for suggestions from the audience, I was shocked by the level of filth the audience would shout out. These were people in front of their boss! But those were the days when there was an unlimited bar, so all social convention went out the window.”

Neil used to be in a double act – Mullarkey & Myers – with Mike Myers, who went on to appear in Saturday Night Live on US TV and to write and star in the Austin Powers movies. There is a YouTube video of Mullarkey & Myers in their 1985 Edinburgh Fringe show.

“The Comedy Store Players started in 1985,” Neil told me, “and around that time I used to host the Tuesday night and Mike and I did a longer 40-minute version of our show. We were on the bill with people like The Brown Paper Bag Brothers (Otis Cannelloni and John Hegley) and then, starting at 10.00pm or 10.30pm was the Open Mike Night and, by 2.00am, it was very odd. You had people with musical instruments talking about their time in mental health institutions.

“An Open Mike night at a comedy club back then did attract a certain kind of strange person. Now they have social media and other places to say what they might want to say. But that’s what the alternative comedy circuit was like in the 1980s. You’d be in some dodgy pub, there would be three people in the audience and twelve people performing and you would split the door take of £3. It was great fun.”

“Sounds much like it is now,” I said. “but there was maybe more of a variety of different types of act back then.”

“There was The Iceman,” said Neil.

The Iceman’s act – as previously blogged about – was simply to melt a block of ice. But he usually failed.

“I remember,” said Neil, “being at Banana Cabaret – a vast space – and there were three people howling with laughter at The Iceman – me, Mike Myers and Ian McPherson – all performers. All the ‘normal’ people were thinking: Where’s the entertainment in this? What’s going on? What’s the point? It was just brilliant, wonderful. It was such a riposte to showbiz smoothness and slickness that it was a joy to behold.”

“Did he have the repetitious music?” I asked.

I can’t realise you love me,” sang Neil enthusiastically. “And the sounds. Shhh-wssshhhhh. With the thunder and the rain. And then, after about 15 or 18 minutes it was I can’t realise you love me – But I don’t love you! – What?

“That was a joy to us. A joy. Because we had seen boring, hack performers.”

“Even then?” I asked.

“When I started in the 1980s with Mike Myers and Nick Hancock and occasionally on my own,” said Neil, “there would be a room above a pub and the other acts were weird non-professional stand-ups in their work clothes. Mike and I had rehearsed and put on different clothes to do the show. We did theatrical sketches that asked you to create the fourth wall.

“I remember one time in the mid-to-late 1980s seeing this very talented young guy – an open spot – who had incredible stage presence doing characters. He ran offstage between characters to change his costume and he had his manager with him. A manager! I had not heard this idea of having a manager. Surely you just turned up and took the cash? The act was a man called Steve Coogan.

Neil in the Comedy Store dressing room last night

Neil in the London Comedy Store’s dressing room last night

“Now there are people who were born after I started who leave university or college and say I want to be a comedian and they have a manager who will give them £50 a week and get them on the road and they can get better at their job and make a career. That was unheard-of in my day.

“When I started, there was The Comedy Store, Jongleurs, the Earth Exchange, a few student gigs and CAST New Variety. So there wasn’t much chance of making a career of it until, gradually, people like Off the Kerb and Avalon started opening up the idea of student shows and clubs outside London.”

“Aah! the Earth Exchange,” I said, “there’s the story of some act who threw meat at the audience and was not booked again.”

The Earth Exchange in Archway Road served only vegetarian food and the room was so tiny it felt as if the performers were almost sitting on your table.

“Steve Bowditch of The Greatest Show On Legs,” remembered Neil, “used to do a show called Naff Cabaret with a guy called Fred and the story is that, at the Earth Exchange, he pulled a top hat out of a rabbit.”

“Presumably a stuffed rabbit?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” said Neil. “It was one of those stories you hear.”

I think both of us hoped it was a real rabbit.

I asked Steve Bowditch about it this morning.

“Did you really pull a top hat out of a rabbit?” I asked him.

“Not that I remember,” said Steve. “But I might have done…”

Memory fades after a career in surrealism.

Neil also remembered: “They had a toilet onstage – Naff Cabaret – a toilet! and there would be showbiz music and – Ta-Daaah!! – they would pull a sausage out of the toilet as if it was a poo. Freud would have applauded this because comedy is We’re laughing at death and poo is death. Scatology is our escape from the inevitability of mortality.”

“I didn’t go to Cambridge University like you,” I said, “so I’ve not heard the idea that Comedy is laughing at death before.”

“Who knows?” said Neil. “Something like that. I haven’t read it myself, but I’m prepared to quote it. Why do we want laughter?… Is it to purge ourselves of the dark thoughts we have – and so the clown, the jester, the comedian brings out the darkness and makes it somehow acceptable?

Howard Jacobson writes wonderfully about how Comedy should be gritty and earthy and bring out all the snot and filth, because that’s its job. I dunno that I agree with that, but I can see there’s a role. You could say Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr are bringing out all the stuff that we dare not speak in regular discourse and making it entertainment, making the world somehow cleansed or purged.”

… CONTINUED HERE

ADDENDUM

Comedian Nick Revell tells me that the ‘Top Hat Out Of The Rabbit’ routine was done by Lumiere and Son in their 1980 show Circus Lumiere… and the act banned from the Earth Exchange for throwing meat was The Port Stanley Amateur Dramatic Society (Andy Linden and Cliff Parisi).

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Working class/middle class comedy, Malcolm Hardee, Mr Methane, the Macc Lads & singer Robbie Williams

Patrick Monahan lost to Tim Fitzhigham in Russian Egg Roulette

Patrick Monahan on stage with Tim Fitzhigham last Friday (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

In yesterday’s blog, I quoted a Facebook conversation with comedian Bob Walsh about last Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It got some reaction from readers, including Bob Walsh himself. On Facebook, he posted (and I’m not quite sure what the first seven words mean):

“If the press put on a show DONT SAY A WORD about it whatever you do. This so called Journalist has turned a 4am drunken rant on Facebook into a thinly veiled advert at my expense, classy ground breaking work. Even if wrong CAN NOBODY CRITICSISE THE CRITISISER without a sad bitter self obsessed old man attempting to ruin their career?”

And, although I was actually not annoyed by his Facebook comments, merely interested to hear in more detail what they were, Bob has commented at the bottom of yesterday’s blog:

“While I understand you may be annoyed a drunken 4am rant on Facebook of mine after the MH Awards which was a garbled mess I admit and I read your article with interest.. I find it difficult to understand why you would take it all so seriously frankly, a drunken comedian acting out on social media about comedy stuff ! NO !
I did withdraw the thread as I realised it was drunken rubbish that had upset people but really you in your job reacting to a few contrary opinions with an article like that. Pathetic.
As for my sources some people have conversations not statements and I am allowed to allude to a conversation with my friends on Facebook without naming them thank you. Is nobody allowed wether correctly or otherwise to CRITICISE THE CRITICISER !”

Another reaction came from Mr Methane, the farter of alternative comedy. He was slightly miffed by Bob Walsh’s quoted comment:

“I hope y’all enjoyed the MH awards whilst the people that actually worked with him DIDNT GET INVITED! The people that headlined his shows ARE NOT INVITED! And his whole ethos has been ignored by middle class cunts who he would have HATED enjoyed yourselves.”

I got this reaction from Mr Methane today, before he set off to appear at a week long steam fair in Dorset:

____________________________________________________

Mr Methane in a train at Crumpsall station, now on Manchester Metrolink

Mr Methane in the cab of a train at Crumpsall, Manchester

Interesting stuff and a strange rant. In my case at least as I worked with Malcolm Hardee. In 1992 I did a short spot at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh in the Pleasance at which Frank Skinner saw me.

A few years later, in 1997, Frank had a TV chat show and mentioned me to Gene Wilder during an interview – making a casual remark about me being a bit out of tune.

I contacted Frank who said he was only joking and would I like to come on the show and sing a duet which I did… Then it got banned by the BBC and was released on a video which then had an injunction placed on it by Phil Spector as he didn’t like our duet of Da Do Ron Ron.

Frank later wrote in his autobiography that Spector had ranted about our defilement of his masterpiece during an Australian music awards ceremony to which Frank replied: You can have your wall of sound, Phil, and I’ll have mine.

All of the above happened because Malcolm had invited me to make an appearance on his Edinburgh show.

I came to appear at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh because Malcolm knew me from cameo appearances at his Up The Creek club with Charlie Chuck.

These performances allegedly led to Vic & Bob’s El Petomane characters in their Smell of Reeves & Mortimer TV series – They saw what a big laugh a fart gag got.

In the year Malcolm was promoting Jools Holland in Edinburgh he also asked me and Charlie to do a spot at the old Gilded Balloon’s Late ‘n’ Live show.

All these above events happened because of Malcolm’s role as a hub through which comedy ideas and characters flowed and connected with one another.

So, in my case, it’s a very big pair of Malcolm’s Bollocks when someone says I never worked with him and that he would have hated me.

If so, why would he have kept putting opportunities my way?

As for middle class… Well, sorry, Bob Walsh lost me there.

I come from a working class background and think the Guardian is for champagne socialist wankers. I was a staff rep for ASLEF in the 1980s – the union which, after the NUM, was Margaret Thatcher’s most hated trade union and a hotbed of ‘Commie Bastards’ according to most of the tabloid press.

I don’t, however, wear my working class pedigree like a badge of honour or alternatively a chip on my shoulder.

I am very proud of my working class roots as I feel working class values have a far greater depth of meaning, value and integrity than some of the valueless values of being middle class.

The old saying that there is more warmth in a Working Class insult than there is in a Middle Class greeting is, I feel, very true… But, that said, I can live with the middle and don’t endlessly need to slag them off as I believe in respect for others.

As you know, I drove up to do the gig in Edinburgh at my own expense and didn’t stop to network afterwards as I had a drive home ahead of me. In fact, I don’t really network after comedy shows in any case.

So, to summarise & clarify: I let just my arse do the talking and, on this particular night, it seems I was not the only person doing so.

Yours flatulently,
Mr Methane!

____________________________________________________

A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane yesterday

Mr Methane showcased his talents at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Mr Methane had performed for a week at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, then returned home and, as he said, he came back up to perform on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show for free, paying his own expenses.

All proceeds from the show are donated to the Mama Biashara charity and no personal expenses (including mine) are reimbursed. While Mr Methane was in Edinburgh for his week-long Fringe run, he stayed in my rented Edinburgh flat and we talked of many things, including his time touring with the infamously offensive Macc Lads punk band. (Macc = Macclesfield in Cheshire)

“The ironic thing is, when I was on tour with them, I was the only one who was actually born in Macclesfield,” he told me. “The original line-up were public schoolboys taking the piss out of the homophobic, sexist and…”

“They were all public schoolboys?” I asked.

“All except Stez 2,” said Mr Methane. “He was actually a drummer in The Icicle Works. And he was also Eddie Shit, one of Malcolm Hardee’s favourite acts.”

“People took the Macc Lads too literally,” explained Mr Methane. “Jeff, the beta – the lead guitarist – he’s now a postman – he lived with a nice girl. Her family were quite well-off, because they ran one of those car and home stereo businesses. So he’s all right; he doesn’t have to do too much.

“He didn’t like it when people threw urine at him and one night he got upset because he said: Someone must have thrown a turd at me, cos me teeshirt smells of shit.

“He was only doing it for the money. His love was jazz. Back at that time, he was living in Didsbury (a well-to-do part of Manchester) and he was into jazz guitar. So, really, playing in the Macc Lads was below him. It was something he’d done at school. It was something he could still go out on the road and earn a few hundred quid a night in cash from.

“The Macc Lads used to sell out Rock City in Nottingham which is a 1,700 capacity venue. They used to do two tours a year – so, 20 years ago, they were getting a cash income of about £9,000 a year after all expenses were paid.

“Mutley was the lead singer and he was the brains behind it. He started the Macc Lads because he wanted to make a social commentary. He came from Liverpool – I think he came from Fazakerley – and he wanted to make a social comment because he came to this small town – Macclesfield – where people just drank and farted and fought and did very little else and were these strange sexist and racist stereotypes. He decided, rather than write about it, he would make a social commentary, which was the Macc Lads, and he’d take the mickey out of it. But people took them seriously.

“At the time, he was co-promoting it with Sandy Gort. Mutley eventually bought him out or they parted in some way and Sandy went to Manchester to manage various acts which became Steve Coogan, John Thomson and Caroline Aherne.

“Mutley now runs a corporate voting system. When you go to conferences and people ask Do you agree with this? and you press the keypad and you immediately see on the screen what several hundred people think… that’s him. He makes a shedload of money from that.

“But he’s also got this huge back catalogue of social commentary which he sort of shies away from. He’s a reluctant cult superstar. He’s known but he doesn’t like to be known. He’s a very complex intellectual. His house is full of books like Power of The Mind and psychology books. He’s into what goes on in your head.

“Eventually, it all became too much when somebody threw a paving slab at him in Chester and it severed a main artery in his head and, because he had to play this tough guy, he had to carry on to the end of the show.

“Afterwards, he was like something off a horror movie – just congealed blood around his face. It had pumped out of his body. He walked offstage, collapsed in the back and they carried him off to the A&E. In his own words, he said They put me on the machine that goes beep. They pumped a load of blood into him and he said, after that, he was never going to do a gig again because they’d said to him Your artery’s weak there now. You only need another bang there. I think it was near death enough for him to give up. Rock City, at one point, were offering him £6,000 to play Christmas but he said No thankyou.” 

“So there will never be a reunion of the Macc Lads?” I asked.

“We had a reunion when Al O’Peesha Peter Bossley died. He’s the guy who everybody walks away from in the bar scene of the Newcy Brown video. Mutley had brought him in when Sandy Gort left because he needed a PR man and Peter came in from the South Manchester News where he was a journalist and then, when the Macc Lads finished, he went to work for The Sentinel in Stoke and won some national award for his investigative journalism.

Robbie Williams (left) in the Newcy Brown video

Robbie Williams (left) in the Macc Lads’ Newcy Brown video

Robbie Williams is in the Newcy Brown video,” Mr Methane told me. “I think that was his first taste of the music business. He was a big Macc Lads fan. His dad was – still is – a singer called Pete Conway – a Sinatra type crooner. If you go to an over-50s hotel, he’ll be there singing Spanish Eyes or something.

“Like Amy Winehouse learned off her dad, I guess Robbie Williams learned off his dad about singing but, in the early days, it wasn’t working out for him. Robbie was struggling. I remember his dad sent him down to Stoke railway station for a job. But it was the early 1990s and there was a recession, so they weren’t taking on staff.

“So he went away and, a few months later, he got the gig with Take That. Whether he got it on the basis of being in a Macc Lads video, I wouldn’t know.

“The Newcy Brown video is a segment of a whole bigger video of different tunes. I was in a tune called Mr Methane where I solve all the world’s problems – You ring me up and I fart down the telephone.”

“You’re well known for your ring,” I said.

Mr Methane did not react.

“I sort out German unity,” he continued, “and I tell you with a fart who will win the 2 o’clock at York racecourse. At the time, it wasn’t the high point of my career but, because the Macc Lads have got such a strong fanbase and it’s so cult, people are always telling me: It must have been incredible when you were on tour with the Macc Lads. It must have been fantastic!

“At the time, I just remember we were all very young, so everyone had big strong egos and wanted to be top of the pile.

“I think their downfall was that Oasis took it to the mainstream. Oasis behaved like a real Macc Lads. They were real working class and did the whole rock carry-on, so really the Macc Lads became very tame… And then your rap artists had all these horrible, sexist lyrics contained within the culture of their whole thing. So the Macc Lads weren’t shocking any more.”

So it goes.

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Gay love hopes of two Celtic comics dashed at Israeli killer’s comedy gig

Daphna Baram providing killer last night

Daphna Baram – killer comic last night

I went to Miss D’s Silver Hammer last night – the weekly London comedy night run by Israeli comic Daphna Baram who tends to successfully deter any potential hecklers by pointing out in advance that she has diabetes and has been trained to kill by the IDF. Not, as I at first thought, the International Diabetes Federation but the Israeli Defence Forces.

Next Monday, she has an entirely Irish group of comedians performing her day-after-St-Patrick’s-Day show, but she did pretty well on the Celtic line-up last night too.

I was there to see Irish podcast supremo Christian Talbot perform and also because he and Daphna Baram had mightily pushed to me the talents of camp-ish Dubliner Al Porter.

Also performing were two Glaswegians – non-gay Gary Sansome (soon to de-camp to Australia) and extremely talented and gay-in-both-senses-of-the-word Larry Dean.

Al Porter - ooh yes, missus, t’be sure

Al Porter last night, ooh missus, t’be sure

Al Porter was, indeed, as good as Christian and Daphna had told me. Both reckon he will become very successful very soon and he well might do, though one can never tell.

Talent is usually never enough but sure Al has the gift of rapid patter in depth, great audience controlling charm and very good clothes sense (never something to underestimate with this sort of act).

He claimed on-stage that the only reason he had accepted the gig was to meet the afore-mentioned gay Glaswegian Larry Dean who tragically, between booking and performance, had become tied-up in a monogamous relationship, thus scuppering Al’s cherished hopes.

In other circumstances, I might have thought this was part of the act.

Sadly, I fear the wreckage of Al’s shattered dreams may have been a reality.

I had been told there was an element of Frankie Howerd in Al’s act. I could see very faint traces, but only because the idea had been planted in my mind. The delivery was so fast, so smooth and so overwhelming that the act was nothing like the blessed Frankie.

Oddly, what last night reminded me of was seeing an early-ish stage performance by Steve Coogan at Manchester University Students’ Union in what, I guess, must have been 1992.

There was something about the self-confidence of the delivery and movements, something about the sharpness of the costume and something of the ambitiousness behind the eyes which reminded me of that 1992 Steve Coogan both on and off stage.

Christian and Daphna may be right.

Al Porter may well be very successful very fast.

But, as I say, you can never tell.

Sometimes talent – and even sharp, driving ambition – are not enough.

On the other hand, if I were being superficial – “perish the thought” as my dead father used to say (before his death) – a flamboyantly gay, brightly dressed, highly-self-confident Irish comedian with strong audience empathy is a good starting point and a good selling point for English and American audiences.

I expect to see him on the David Letterman show within five years.

Or maybe Al will have his own chat show in Ireland or the UK.

But my comic expectations are often dashed.

And, as I oft quote: Nobody Knows Anything (Saying © William Goldman, 1983)

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Kevin Bishop – consolidating a career combining comedy and ‘proper’ acting

Kevin Bishop seems to be consolidating his showbiz career by overlapping comedy and ‘proper’ acting rather well, without getting any distracting Russell Brand front page coverage.

Channel 4’s Star Stories got him attention in 2006 and The Kevin Bishop Show got him even more profile in 2008-2009. But he had already paid his dues. He started his showbiz career in that by-now almost classic training ground of BBC TV kids’ series Grange Hill and his first movie role had been as Jim Hawkins in Muppet Treasure Island back in 1996, when he was only 16 years old.

This week, he started filming a new comedy movie May I Kill U? about the recent London riots and, two nights ago, I was at the first recording of his new BBC Radio series Les Kelly’s Britain, produced by Bill Dare and written by Bill Dare & Julian Dutton

The show was interesting for several reasons.

One interesting thing was that, during the recording, there were two heckles from the audience, which I hope stay in after the edit. I have to admit I have not seen that many radio recordings, but I think I can say that heckles are not that common and Kevin dealt with them so smoothly that I actually wondered if they had been set-up… though I think they were genuine.

Unusually, Kevin did not use a stand microphone. He had one of those little headset mikes with a thin strip coming down the cheek of the type that Madonna and other singers have so they can strut freely around the stage.

This allowed him to wander the stage and to come down into the audience while the other four performers used traditional stand mikes.

The show was notable for excellent casting of the four supporting actors and for two spot-on Scots accents from them, one of which got laughs from me and from the cast themselves just for the accent itself – it was a rather oily Gordon Brown accent – you had to be there.

The show’s producer/co-writer Bill Dare has a long pedigree in comedy – including The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Dead Ringers, The Now Show and ITV’s Spitting Image 1990-1993. He is also, to me rather startlingly, the son of actor Peter Jones who, to my generation, was star of The Rag Trade and, to a later generation, was the voice of The Book in the original BBC Radio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

There is a slight problem with Les Kelly’s Britain in that the basic comedy situation is that a show is being presented by a radio host who lacks self-awareness and Alan Partridge has explored and carved out that territory already.

So, although Les Kelly is a distinct character, it is a dodgy creative proposition.

The publicity says Les Kelly is like “the love child of Jeremy Kyle and Jeremy Clarkson” and “the natural heir to classic comic creations Alan Partridge, The Pub Landlord and Count Arthur Strong” which is fair enough, though the inclusion of Count Arthur Strong mystifies me.

The show sounds as if it might be slightly un-original but, in fact, that is misleading. The Les Kelly script, superbly delivered by all five performers when I saw it, has some genuinely wonderful surreal moments and occasional dark humour – it managed to fit in a joke about the wartime bombing of Dresden, though one of the re-takes at the end was, according to Bill Dare, “in case we need to cut the cancer joke”.

I hope they keep it in and that Les Kelly’s Britain prospers.

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Is Matt Roper the new Steve Coogan or is that just a trite headline for this blog?

Comedian and actor Matt Roper got his first Fringe review yesterday. It was a 4-star review from What’s On Stage and began:

“It’s always an especial joy at the fringe when a show you had feared could be a stinker comes up smelling of roses…”

Matt is the son of George Roper, one of The Comedians in the seminal 1970s ITV series which introduced the rest of the UK to successful Northern comics including Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Stan Boardman and Jim Bowen.

Whether it is correct to call Matt a “comedian” is a moot point. I think he is really an actor with deep comic genes built-into his body.

I saw his Wilfredo – Erecto! show at the Underbelly in Edinburgh last night. I had previously seen it in London, but it has been tweaked and refined (not a word you might normally associate with the character Wilfredo).

The audience reaction last night was extraordinary. There were two points at which he had to actually pause before continuing the show because the giggling was so loudly overwhelming.

There was an entire row composed of Underbelly staff who had come in to see the show (I suspect not for the first time) and they had almost lost all self-control, doubling over in giggles. But the giggling and laughter was widespread throughout the audience.

We are not talking single belly-laughs at specific jokes here. We are talking uncontrollable giggles at the character, the performance and nuances of the script/ad libs. And the whole audience was very definitely laughing WITH not at the character of Wilfredo – a spittle-spewing, slightly seedy Spanish singer and would-be Lothario.

The 4-star What’s On Stage review makes one highly perceptive observation which I would not have thought of but which is spot-on. It says Matt “at his best, shows traces of Steve Coogan in his ability to embody a preposterous alter-ego”.

In a sense, if you see only his Wilfredo character you might underestimate Matt Roper’s full potential.

At the Phoenix, as part of the Free Festival, he plays a Satanic spin doctor in the political satire Lucifer: My Part in the New Labour Project (And How I Invented Coalition Government) – I saw an earlier version of the play at the Canal Cafe in London.

It is only when you see the two totally different characters – and, indeed, meet the real Matt Roper off stage – that you realise how much you are taken in by the characterisation. You are suckered into a willing suspension of disbelief almost without realising it. They are all clearly created characters not 100% realistic (just as Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge is not truly realistic but a semi-cartoon character). But audiences are engulfed by the fantasy.

I have not been so impressed by an actor’s range since I saw Robert Carlyle in The Full Monty and then, two days later, in Face. He performed the characters and their body language so utterly differently yet so believably within their own context that… I would not have realised just how good an actor he is if I had not seen them so close together. It was a bit like the shock of listening to Robert Carlyle’s totally convincing Northern England and South London accents in those movies, then hearing him speak in his own very strong Glaswegian accent.

Matt Roper moves, speaks and looks so totally different in his Wilfredo, French and political spin doctor characters that you only realise just how good he is and what his potential is when you see all of them close together.

Charlie Chuck currently sings a song on stage at the Fringe – I’m Not All There: There’s Something Missing.

With Matt Roper, there is even more there than at first meets the eye and I suspect much more to come.

Next year at the Fringe, he should perform a show comprising multiple characters as a showcase for his immense potential. It would be difficult to pull off because of the costume changes but not impossible.

There is a fascinating potential here.

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