Tag Archives: storytelling

Cameryn Moore’s Smut Slam comes to the UK & I learn about ovipositor porn

So I got this email: from Cameryn Moore:


camerynmooreWe’ve met once before, the night that I told a story about one of my phone sex clients at Stand Up Tragedy, in the spring of 2015. Now I’m collaborating with Stand Up Tragedy‘s Dave Pickering to bring the UK something entirely new.

You could call me the Pied Piper of pervs; my Smut Slam storytelling open mic has drawn tawdry true-life tales out of people all across the U.S. and Canada. This January I’m leaving a network of eight Smut Slam branches around North America and coming to the UK to launch an entire circuit there. I’ll be hitting Bristol (Jan 10), London (Jan 11), and Brighton (Jan 12) in rapid succession, with Manchester rolling around later in the month (Jan 31)

Open mic hosts know that one unexpectedly “blue” anecdote can derail a show. What happens when the whole show is blue?


Cameryn Moore performs in New York City (Photo by Ed Barnas)

Cameryn performs in New York (Photograph by Ed Barnas)

Obviously, I had to talk to her.

“So it’s like a poetry slam?” I asked, “but with smut.”

“Yes,” said Cameryn, “Slam and dirty stories. Poetry slams are set up for championships and are very competitive. In this case, we only called it a ‘slam’ because people are competing for sex toys. It is an astounding motivator for most people.

“Every time I do a Smut Slam, I get a local sponsor so the Sh! Erotic Emporium in Hoxton is providing various sex toys for the London show. Stores in Brighton and Bristol are also providing sexy prizes.”

“It is like an open mic night?” I asked.

“The way I do it at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes is it’s like a cabaret. But the Smut Slams in London and Bristol and Brighton and Manchester are open mics. Every Smut Slam I have ever done since 2011 has had an amazing mix of stories.”

“How many have you staged since 2011?”

“Probably close to 50 or 60. It’s been on a monthly basis in Montreal since 2011. I’ve done them in between 15-17 cities around North America every year.”

“What sort of audience do you get turning up to hear smutty stories?”

Smut Slam poster

“What sort of audience do you get turning up to hear smut?”

“It depends, to a large part, on who I am collaborating with. In the UK, I have found co-producers for  every city. In London, it’s Dave Pickering from Stand-Up Tragedy so he is drawing on his storytelling audience. In Brighton, it’s Mathilda Gregory, who does storytelling and erotica. I do outreach to the kink communities and to comedy audiences because, while the point of Smut Slam is not comedy, most sex stories can get awkward and funny pretty quickly.”

“So,” I asked, “the attraction is ‘awkward and funny’?”

“I would say,” Cameryn laughed, “that ‘awkward and funny’ are definitely high points.”

“And you want to set up a circuit of Smut Slams in the UK?”

“My goal is to relocate to the UK, so I want to set up a circuit – like the old-time travelling preachers.”

“I am,” I told her, “sure preachers will be honoured for their sermons to be compared to your shows.”

“Well,” she replied, “I have had people say I am doing God’s work and, while I don’t believe in God, I do believe there is something important in gathering people together and having some open, honest, authentic discussions about sex. That is one thing lacking in our society today. There is sex-sex-sex everywhere. But it’s all about sales and marketing. There is nothing being sold at Smut Slams except this sharing opportunity that most of us don’t have.”

“But,” I asked, “are you not titillating the audience to get some cash?”

“Sure,” she replied. “I am hoping to make some living money, but I don’t think that’s any more of a problem than social workers who get money just for listening to people. I have a sense of mission about it, but I’m not an altruist. Obviously sex will titillate, but people will come to these things and find out it goes a lot deeper than that.”

“Into which depths does it go?” I asked.

“What Smut Slam offers is a safer place where people can share. That is cathartic; it is community-building. People can hear their own experiences reflected from on stage. Or share entirely new experiences they maybe haven’t known before. It’s almost educational. Those are the deeper things. It’s a learning experience.”

“So you’re a preacher and a teacher?” I asked.

Cameryn Moore with Pavement Pornography at the Manchester Fringe

Cameryn preached some Sidewalk Smut at Manchester Fringe

“I tell the opening story. I set the guidelines. I build the segues between the storytellers. But the great thing is it’s not me doing any educating or outreaching. It’s other people who are willing to be brave and stand up.”

“Isn’t this,” I asked, “the audio equivalent of voyeurism?”

“It is. Exhibitionists need voyeurs. There are going to be people who just rush the mic, desperate to tell their stories. But there will also people who are feeling a little intimidated by the microphone.

“We have something called the Fuck Bucket – a receptacle into which people put an anonymous question or confession. That is a raffle pot for the end of the evening but I also read the slips during the course of the night. And people feel they are contributing and sharing even if no-one knows it’s them.”

“Some people,” I suggested, “will surely make up fantasies?”

“I don’t have any way of verifying. But the guidelines are that all the stories need to be real life.”

“What is your background?” I asked.

“I identify first and foremost as a playwright and performer. I have done five solo shows since 2010 and I have done phone sex for the last 7½ years, which I have now quit.”

“Phone sex?” I asked.

“Engaging in other people’s fantasies over the phone: so 7½ years of working with other people’s stories. Everything dovetails.”

“Why do you want to relocate to the UK?”

“I have spent three summers touring the UK and feel there are markets for the Smut Slams and my own shows because ‘Fringe’ is such a strong culture in the UK but not in the US. I am a non-traditional performer – I started late – I’m 46, I’m what you would call unconventional looking. Also, I will be honest. I am following true love. It is a Brit I met when I was touring the UK in 2014.”

“Male? Female?” I asked. “Animal, vegetable, mineral?”

“He’s a dude.”

“Why settle in the UK not the US?”

“When we talked about where we could be together, there was the States or the UK and – after the major electoral events in 2016 – both are turning into these incredibly horrible pits of bigotry, right? – it came down to: Which place has more guns? Let us not go there.”

“You are,” I said, “a multi-award-winner for your shows.”

The award winning Phone Whore

Her stage show Phone Whore won multiple awards…

Phone Whore got a number of awards across Canada,” said Cameryn. “Slut Revolution got an award. My fifth show is Nerdfucker, which I’m bringing to the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes this year.”

“You have,” I said, “written ‘pornography as street performance’… Is this legal??”

“In most places,” said Cameryn. “Unless the police tell me to hustle along.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, she explained, “It is not strictly pornography; it is erotica, But the phrase ‘pavement pornography’ has nice alliteration. In North America, I call it Sidewalk Smut. I just set up my manual typewriter on the sidewalk and do custom erotica for people who come up and commission it. I will be doing more of that in the UK when the weather is good which is – what? – maybe two weeks in the year?”

“You are an optimist,” I told her.

“I managed to do it in Edinburgh,” she explained. “Underneath the arches in Cowgate.”

“So,” I asked, “if I came along and asked for a bit of stuff about having sex with a giraffe, you would write me a short story about it?”

“Only if I really felt you were erotically attracted to giraffes. I don’t do novelty pieces. I want people to have fun but also be serious. I have never done giraffe smut, but I have done ovipositor porn.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“Insects or aliens laying eggs inside you,” explained Cameryn. “That’s something people like.”

“Giraffes seem less exotic now,” I said.

Rule 34,” said Cameryn, “is very much alive and well, even with ovipositor porn.”

“Rule 34?” I asked.

“If it exists, there is porn about it,” explained Cameryn.

After we ended our conversation, I googled ‘giraffe porn’.

It does, indeed, exist.

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Comic Matt Price “can offer experience on how to do it. I’ve made the mistakes”

Matt Price keeps his eye out for good stories

Matt Price keeps an eye out for good stories

There is a section on superb comedian Matt Price’s website which says, in his trademark self-effacing way:

“I’ve performed in 30 countries, received an award nomination for a solo show in Australia, performed 5 solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and have received many 4 and 5 stars reviews. I’ve also received a few bad reviews over the years too.”

Yesterday, he told me:

“For the first time in my life, I’m fashionable. I first started telling stories on stage in 2004 and people said: Oh! You’re mad telling stories! Why are you doing that? And now, if you look, nearly everybody describes themselves as a storyteller. So I’m quite lucky, because now I can offer some experience on how to do it. I’ve made all the mistakes over the years.

“A few weeks ago, I did my first ever Storytelling Workshop for Comedians and I’m doing another one this coming Sunday in Putney. There might be another one in January.”

“How long is the workshop?” I asked.

“One session of about five hours.”

“Storytelling clubs could take over from comedy clubs,” I said, “if someone can think up a sexier name for storytelling – like ‘alternative comedy’ was an attractive new name in the 1980s.”

“At the moment,” said Matt, “there’s the comedy circuit, where people tell stories and the storytelling circuit who don’t really like stand-ups – that’s still very much, for the most part, earnest men with big beards.”

“There’s no storytelling circuit as such, is there?” I asked. “It’s just about three places in London?”

“I think you get the odd storytelling thing in Bristol,” said Matt, “and Jo Caulfield does some storytelling stuff in Scotland – and she’s a great comic.”

“Your workshop,” I asked, “is aimed at actual comedians? Not just random punters who think they could become comedians?”

“Yes,” said Matt. “Some of them are quite new but I’ve had some who’ve been around a bit come and do it as well. I had someone who came along who has written a book and is going to be doing book readings and he came along to improve his stagecraft. It’s a lot of fun and sort of stimulates that part of my brain that doesn’t get activated very often. It’s nice to step out of yourself and do something creative and productive but not just comedy. You get caught up in your own thing.”

“Like the Edinburgh Fringe…” I prompted.

“Yes, I’m getting ready for my show next year,” said Matt, “and I know what it’s about.”

“Which is…?” I asked.

“Well, you know what it’s like when there is what something’s about and then what it’s REALLY about?”

“Yes.”

“So I haven’t found out what it’s really about yet. On the surface, it appears to be about arguments that I wish I had won. But it’s set in Cornwall and the central thing is about being in the remedial class at school and getting knocked off my bike on a dual carriageway when I was 13 and I nearly died.”

And that, I guess, is another story.

And, knowing Matt, it will be a great story and very funny too.

But… If only someone could come up with a generic name to describe that type of comedic storytelling show…

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Mansplaining storyteller Dave Pickering

SennMicrophone_wikipedia

Comedy – the new rock ’n’ roll. Storytelling – the new comedy?

I’ve blogged before about the interesting rise of storytelling nights in London, one of which is Stand Up Tragedy. Their next event is this Saturday at the Hackney Attic in London.

I talked to Dave Pickering, who runs the events. He also runs a storytelling night called Spark London – next one is on Monday, also at the Hackney Attic.

When I pressed record on my iPhone, he said:

“I’m very used to being recorded. I record people all the time myself. Very few moments of my life aren’t audio form on the internet these days it seems to me.”

“Except sex,” I joked.

“There is stuff about my sex life that is online,” Dave replied. “I told a story about sex for the Risk! podcast, which Kevin Allison does in America.”

“What’s the difference between Stand Up Tragedy and Spark London?” I asked.

Dave Pickering comperes Stand Up Tragedy

Dave Pickering is compere of Stand Up Tragedy in London

Spark is true storytelling. Stand-up Tragedy is tragedy which can involve true storytelling but can also involve other disciplines.

“My podcast Getting Better Acquainted is about me trying to get to know people I know. I’ve had conversations with my stepdad, my mother, my dad, my friends about things I would never actually normally talk to them about.

“It’s been a fascinating four years of doing that show. It’s about people. For a lot of years, I didn’t really think of my day job as being very connected to outside of it. I was doing that job just to scrape by so I could do what I wanted: I was in bands; I write novels; I write plays; I do lots of different things. Which is why I call myself a storyteller: because that broadly covers all of them.”

“And your day job was…?” I asked.

“My background work-wise, day-job-wise was that I worked as a library assistant for quite a lot of years and then I slowly but surely moved into doing stories and songs for children in libraries – generally under-fives. Then that became my full-time job: I went into children’s centres on behalf of the library service, like an ambassador for the libraries. But then my job was not needed any more: it was part of the government cuts. And that’s how I ended up being a freelance storyteller – whatever that really means.

“I got involved in Spark London about five or six years ago through storytelling. I came along and told a story, got addicted to telling stories and then they decided to put me on stage getting other people to tell stories. Now I run the Hackney branch of Spark.

“We’ve go Spark Preston and Spark Bristol both starting up and we’ve got Spark Brixton and we’ve got a show in Exmouth market every month.”

“Storytelling,” I said, “is getting to be a big thing in America.”

“I think it started with The Moth,” said Dave. “A storytelling podcast. That’s the moment when storytelling hit people’s imagination. Then there are other storytelling shows in America like Risk!

Dave Pickering is a very busy storyteller

“When comedians come to perform at Stand-Up Tragedy, they find it a unsettling – laughs don’t work in the same way”

“I think it’s growing in this country too – people standing on the stage and talking – whether it’s comedy or storytelling – people want a live experience. Comedy has had storytelling moments before. It’s a pendulum, I guess. I think more comedians are moving out of the necessity to make people laugh all the time. When comedians come to perform at Stand-Up Tragedy, they find it a bit unsettling, though, because the laughs don’t work in the same way in a room where you’ve had sad things and then happy things.”

“I think,” I said, “that storytelling needs a better, sexier name to break through. Alternative Comedy took off because it had a sexy name, but Storytelling isn’t quite a strong enough name.”

“Though,” argued Dave, “once you get someone along to a storytelling show, they kinda go Wow! This is something I’ve not seen before and then they come back and, thorough that, I think it is growing. Doing Spark in three parts of London, we’re getting big audiences now.

“One of the things you get out of a storytelling show is you get to be voyeuristic about other people’s lives in a way you don’t feel guilty about and I think we all are interested in each other’s lives.”

“I have,” I said, “been involved in some autobiography books and I’ve told the people writing them: It’s not about facts; it’s about thoughts and emotions. People aren’t interested in a list of facts; they’re interested in people people people.

“With true storytelling,” said Dave, “people think it’s about narrative, but I think it’s about character. When people stand up on stage and reveal something of themselves, we forgive them if they’re clumsy with their words if they’re being genuine and authentic.”

“You are,” I checked, “doing your first solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?”

“I guess so,” Dave replied. “It’s called What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity.”

Dave’s Edinburgh Fringe show

Dave’s Edinburgh Fringe show: all explained in the title

“It talks about things that have hurt me because I’m a man. Being bullied. The way my mum treated me when I was growing up. The way my stepdad treated me when I was growing up. Violence and stuff. Emotional abuse. It is going to be revealing bad things that have happened to me, but also bad things I’ve done.

“I do think there’s something important in sharing the worst of ourselves as well as the best. Not just bad things but awkwardness. On stage, I try to be an awkward presence. That gives audiences permission to think: Right. We’re all awkward.

“I’ve been doing a survey of men’s experience of being a man. How patriarchy has affected them and how they’ve hurt other people. Lots of men have got very angry about the word patriarchy, but that anger’s also part of the response to my survey of nearly 1,000 men.”

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How a non-comedy fan got turned on to UK comedy by one man and a TV show

Sandra Smith outside soho Theatre yesterday

Sandra Smith – not originally a comedy fan

I was first aware of Sandra Smith when she turned up every day at a week of chat shows which I chaired at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Since then, she has been turning up at all sorts of comedy shows. Yesterday I said to her:

“You told me you ‘discovered’ comedy two or three years ago. How can you suddenly have discovered comedy?”

“When I was growing up,” she told me, “I didn’t like comedy at all, because I grew up in a time when everyone wanted to tell you a joke and I found it excruciating. I just wished they wouldn’t.”

“Why was people telling you a joke excruciating?”

“Because I felt I would have to ‘get’ it and I would have to laugh, because they’d be embarrassed if I didn’t. It was just a nightmare. I didn’t like comedy and, even today, I’d prefer a drama over a comedy film.

“So I didn’t engage with people like – I guess they were stand-up comedians – Bob Monkhouse and Bob Hope and all that sort of thing. I just thought: What are they doing?

“So,” I asked, “how did you start to get interested in comedy?”

“It was after I had been with a friend to see Paul O’Grady recording a TV show on the South Bank and Pat Monahan was doing the warm-up. I didn’t know anything about warm-ups, but I thought Pat was really good with the people.

“I was not going to go again, because it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, but then I was told Jo Brand was going to be hosting the Paul O’Grady show, so I went along again. Then I watched a Graham Norton Show being recorded.

Show Me The Funny with Pat Monahan second from left

ITV Show Me The Funny with Pat Monahan second from left

“And then I saw Show Me The Funny on ITV, which I liked. I think I am the only person in the world who did.”

“Why on earth,” I asked, “did you like it?”

“Because it was all very new to me and I thought: Oh! There’s that bloke from Paul O’Grady (Patrick Monahan) on it. Comedians were starting to come into my awareness a bit.”

Show Me The Funny,” I said, “was a terrible dog’s dinner of a format.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Sandra told me. “I was seeing all these comedians and I thought they were all new. I thought Pat was new. I hadn’t got a clue. I would have loved it more if there had been more stand-up instead of all the chitter-chatter, but I liked the exchanges between the comedians. I enjoyed it.”

“You say you wanted more stand-up in it,” I pointed out, “yet you said you hated jokes.”

“Yes, but it was different, somehow. I was getting to like it, because it’s not really just jokes nowadays, is it? It’s more observational stuff. It’s different.

Billy Connolly with Janey Godley

Scots Billy Connolly and Janey Godley

“Before that, I had seen Billy Connolly and I hadn’t realised that he was a stand-up. I thought he was just a great storyteller and I thought: How does he do that? I loved that.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re the perfect audience for modern comedy, because it used to be short gags but now it’s mostly storytelling… So you were getting to like it…”

“Yes,” explained Sandra. “And then Pat Monahan came to Brighton where I live and, because it was someone I knew of, I went with a friend to see him at the Komedia. I hadn’t been there before. It was great.

“Then I was up in London one day and saw that Pat was on at the 99 Club and it was quite a big deal for me to walk into a comedy club by myself. And from then on, I started to like comedy and saw more. It was like opening a door and seeing this different world.

“I like performance – I always have. In my early years, my mum used to take me to the Theatre Royal in Brighton and we’d sit in the gods. I wasn’t particularly engaged with that; I just went along; I went to the cinema a lot; and a friend would take me up to London for ballet and music and her mum was in the theatre as a dancer. But not comedy before I saw Pat.”

“And then you went up to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes. I went up for two weeks in 2013. I just loved it. I had a fabulous time. I went to your show that year (John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show) because I had been reading your blog.”

“How had you stumbled on my blog?”

“I can’t remember, but I started reading it and it just seemed interesting. Then I saw you were doing a show and, as is my wont, I just booked a ticket for every day.”

Kate Copstick co-hosted that show most days,” I said. “Did you know of Copstick?”

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick at my 2013 Fringe chat show

“Yes. Because she was a judge on Show Me The Funny. But I went to your show because there were going to be people there I had never seen before. I had never heard of Arthur Smith.”

“How on earth had you avoided Arthur Smith?” I asked. “He’s ubiquitous.”

“By not watching comedy. My daughter knew about him because she’d heard him on the radio.”

“And you like him now because…?”

“Because he’s just an engaging bloke. I saw him singing Leonard Cohen. And I saw Sol Bernstein a few weeks ago. I loved him.”

“Did you think he was really an American comedian?” I asked.

“I wasn’t sure.”

I told Sandra: “I saw him play a Monkey Business show a few weeks ago and I think about 80% of the audience thought he was real.”

“I did,” admitted Sandra, “watching it. I wasn’t sure. Then I thought: Perhaps he’s not. It was just delightful at the time.”

“Do you think Lewis Schaffer is a character act?” I asked.

“I don’t know what to make of him. I’ve only seen him twice. Is he really as insecure as he seems? Or is that put on?”

I answered her, but let us not go yet again into the psychology and/or performance art of Lewis Schaffer.

Sandra said of Lewis Schaffer: “I thought maybe he was a totally different person away from the stage. I will have to see him again. I can’t get a handle on his act. I think it’s probably different every time. Somebody walked out of the first show I saw him in. That was great. It was wonderful. I think it was the Madeleine McCann joke she objected to. She had given a sort-of warning sound Ooooaarghh! and then it was Oh! This is too much! and she stamped out. It was funny, because she walked out and, somehow, her jacket got caught on the door and landed on the floor and she didn’t come back for it: one of the staff did.”

“Who else do you like now?” I asked.

“I liked seeing Dr Brown because watching it was exciting because I didn’t know what he would do next – It was like Red Bastard, who I’ve seen three times. And I like the fellah who stands upside down on his head – Terry Alderton.”

“So you like a bit of bizarre,” I said.

Sandra Smith - fan of the bizarre

Sandra Smith – fan of the bizarre – at Soho Theatre yesterday

“Yes. Oh yes. And I like Luisa Omielan. She’s just funny and uplifting. And Janey Godley. Every time I go into one of her shows, I feel very welcome – it’s a real rush of Oh! I feel welcome! But, at the same time, she can be a tartar.”

“Have you read her autobiography?”

“Yes. Oh yes. It’s not the sort of book I would normally read, but I couldn’t put it down. It’s amazing. She’s a natural storyteller. I like storytelling.”

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Comic Matt Price: hypnotherapy, sperm, Australia and marijuana

Matt Price in Camden Town last night

Matt Price, natural born storyteller, in Camden last night

Last Sunday’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was supposed to be recorded with Kate Copstick et moi talking to comic Matt Price before the second Best of Natural Born Storytellers shows at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, London. Alas, Copstick was ill, so it was done from her flat.

Matt Price runs monthly Natural Born Storytellers shows with Michael Kossew in Camden Town and, last night, I went along to see this month’s show. As always, true stories told straight: extraordinary, revealing, cathartic, sometimes funny, sad, empathic. Matt had just returned from performing at the Perth and Adelaide comedy festivals.

“Was it was your first trip to Australia?” I asked.

“Yes,” Matt told me, “My friends were running a book on whether I would get deep vein thrombosis. But I wore the deep vein thrombosis socks and took an aspirin. The other problem was I used to have a phobia about flying. But Martha (his partner, comic Martha McBrier) is a qualified hypnotherapist. She tried to hypnotise me and it kind-of worked.”

“She’s a qualified hypnotherapist?” I asked, surprised.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier encountered a major problem as a sperm

“Yes,” said Matt. “As part of her training, she had to be hypnotised herself and she did past-life regression. They regressed her and asked: Who are you? And she said: I’m a sperm.”

“That’s not strictly a past life,” I suggested. “That’s more the beginning of her current life.”

Ignoring this – I thought valid – point, Matt continued: “They asked her: Are you OK?”

“Was it,” I suggested, “a bit crowded in among all the other sperm?”

“No,” said Matt. She told them: Everybody wants to go swimming and I’m not really into swimming and they’re all so competitive – That’s a true story.

“She did encourage me to do hypnotherapy, though, so I got some tapes and listened to them. The first thing I did afterwards was fly over to Hungary and normally I would have been really frightened but I wasn’t. And then I flew to Australia and back again without any bother. I even really enjoyed it.”

“Australia,” I observed, “is just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

“But,” said Matt brightly, “I found that banter and taking-the-piss is a universal thing. And some of the heckles were very helpful. You would ask What’s a bogan? (the equivalent of a chav in England or Ned in Scotland) and they would explain it in depth because they really want you to know about their culture.”

“Their culture?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt. “One guy got up and left after I’d been doing my act for about 30 seconds and he came back in about two minutes later saying: Oh sorry, mate, I was thirsty. I got me and me missus a beer and I got one for you as well. Australia must be the only place in the world where you can be heckled with generosity.”

I asked Matt: “What was your show called?”

A British Bloke’s Guide to Being a Man.

“And,” I asked, “your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

“I don’t want to tell you the title,” replied Matt. “Not until it is in the Programme. What I do have is story I’m finally able to tell, because the person involved in it is no longer involved in illegal activity. Basically, in December 2005, I received a package through the post and that package was illegal…”

“Not something wrapped in another stab vest?” I asked.

Matt Price demonstrates in a Camden street that the stab vest does not fit

Last year, Matt Price demonstrated in a Camden street that his stab vest did not fit

“No. It was 10 oz of marijuana sent to me by someone very close to me as a present and, because that person had not given me many presents before and because I’m not really involved in that world, I did not really want to… I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t want to give it away. Giving away weed when you’re not involved in that world is very hard. And I didn’t want to throw it away. And I didn’t want to sell it, because that would make me a drug dealer. So it’s all about what I did in order to get rid of this weed and find it a good home. I am going to promote the show as Cornish Breaking Bad meets Only Fools and Horses. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.”

“You have met some dodgy people,” I observed. “I know you know dodgy people in three countries – Scotland, England and Turkey.”

“Yes. Someone I know bought a car at an auction and pretended it was a police car.”

Pretended it was a police car?” I asked.

“Yeah. He wrote POLITE on the side of the car and he and his friend were driving around with a radio, listening to what the police were saying and then following cars. They ended up stopping a police car just for a bet.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“They got arrested,” said Matt.

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I have no subject for my blog today but, in East London last night, I saw a very successful comedy show with no jokes.

(From left) Trevor Lock, Devvo & Chris Dangerfield at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

(From left) Trevor Lock, Devvo and Chris Dangerfield outside their Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012

In general, I do not review shows – I preview them – because, in my experience, reviewing shows just results in a performer calling you a cunt when they bump into you five years later. I also prefer to blog about performers and their lives rather than shows. In general, this blog is about people, people, people.

But that is not what today’s blog is about.

Every year I go to the Edinburgh Fringe and I have a problem.

I know a fair number of comedians to varying degrees and each of them expects me to go to his or her new hour-long show which they have sweated blood to create. Some get a bit miffed if I do not see their shows but, frankly, I do not want to see their shows.

As comedians, I know they are good. I know their schtick. I do not want to see acts I have seen before, however good. And I can, by and large, see them any time in London.

At the Edinburgh Fringe, I want to see bizarre new acts who may get nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award. And, for my own enjoyment, I want to see acts I have never seen before – ideally comedians and performers I have never even heard of.

To quote the late Malcolm Hardee, they “might be shit, might be good. Dunno.” That is the risk you take but it is worth it.

This year, I did not see comedian Trevor Lock’s show. But I should have done. He usually does what I might call “intelligent surreal verbal comedy”. Last night he was performing a show called Not Joking which had, on the poster:

WARNING: THIS SHOW DOES NOT CONTAIN JOKES, ROUTINES, STAND UP COMEDY OR BANANAS

The poster for last night’s show promoted by Poppy Hillstead

The poster for last night’s unusual show

People go to comedy clubs to laugh and to be given happiness.

A joke is a constructed sentence or two designed to elicit one major burst of laughter at the end and, with luck, maybe some minor titter-making points along the way. The problem a comic has in a one hour show is that each traditionally constructed joke with punchline will only last, at heart, perhaps one minute. In the hands of a highly-experienced and talented performer, this can be stretched to several minutes. But the show is an hour long.

A joke is structured Set-Up / Detail / Climactic Laughter.

As comic Lewis Schaffer might – and possibly will – say, a joke is a bit like sex.

It is:

Foreplay / Build-up / Climax.

After the climax of the joke, a comedian, however skilled, has to start at ground zero again to build-up the next joke to its climax. To make this constant stopping and re-starting invisibly smooth takes both talent and a lot of experience but, at heart, it is arguably not as smooth as the warm-up to a show.

Most comedians start their gag-based shows with a series of Hello. Where are you from? What do you do? questions to individuals sitting in different parts of the audience to try to warm-up little sections and, by warming-up these isolated little sections, to warm up the audience over-all. They try to make the audience feel warm, cuddly, happy and, most of all, involved in the show.

Then the show proper starts – a series of (hopefully disguised) joke-based stops and starts. The best Edinburgh Fringe shows now often avoid telling traditionally-structured stop-start jokes by using one unifying story and the audience’s enjoyment comes as much from the well-told story as from the laugh points.

This idea of telling stories rather than gags has now filtered down to comedy club level where, often, the best comics are telling longer stories with laughs rather than just a series of unrelated shorter gags strung together. And this has begat pure storytelling shows and clubs, as I blogged about four days ago in piece rather niftily titled: If alternative comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll, is storytelling the new comedy?

Trevor Lock’s show last night was slightly different.

Trevor Lock performed in front of a blank white wall

Trevor performed in front of a blank white wall to a full house

My heart sank when I heard it was intentionally going to have no jokes.

This is usually something inexperienced comics say when they (a) cannot tell jokes (b) have no performance skills and (c) are either bullshitting desperately or have possibly cocaine-induced delusions of their own genius.

Trevor Lock fits none of these three categories. He is funny, talented and as level-headed as any comedian (given that all comedians are, in their heart and soul, barking mad).

The nearest I can describe last night’s show was that it was a one-hour warm-up of the audience by a skilled performer who made something very difficult look very easy.

That makes it sound less than it was.

Basically, Trevor bonded the three-sided audience at the start in a very clever way (involving eye-contact) which I won’t describe. He then involved members of the audience in a basically non-structured show. (I noticed a couple of set-ups.)

Usually picking on audience members is awkward, even from a skilled performer – you are either going to get people who do not want to be picked-on and who have to be coaxed, which takes care and time unrelated to the basic show, or you get barely-controllable people who want to be the centre of attention and who have to be controlled and dampened-down.

Trevor avoided this by turning the show into what I think seemed to the audience to be something akin to a chat show with Trevor actually controlling what happened without seeming to be dominating. The consequence was a very very happy, constantly-bubbling-with-various-levels-of-laughter audience.

Remember that the object of going to see a comedy show is to laugh and to be given  happiness. Not necessarily to laugh in a near-mathematically-structured way at a pre-structured series of prepared jokes told in an order decided before the performer has actually encountered that specific audience.

Last night Trevor was, in effect, riding and guiding the emotions of the audience, rather than performing a pre-ordained show.

That is not easy for over an hour.

He managed it and, at the end, when they show was over, there was a loud, rising WHOOOOSHH! of clapping and cheers from a totally satisfied audience. Lots of smiling and chatter on the way out.

A highly intelligent, highly talented comedy performer at the top of his game.

If you can perform comedy without jokes and create an hour’s worth of constant laughter and happiness, then you must be doing something right.

Trevor Lock (left) & Chris Dangerfield, by Poppy Hillstead

Trevor Lock (left) and Chris Dangerfield – artwork courtesy of Poppy Hillstead, the promoter of Trevor’s show last night

This has not been a review, it has been an observation.

I would mostly be happy talking to performers about themselves and not seeing their shows. Last night was different. And it was interesting that, in the audience, were (I suppose I would describe them as) highly original performers Chris Dangerfield and Karl Schultz and rising promoter of the unusual Adam Taffler.

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Comic performer John Henry Falle on being an alien and an aspiring wizard

The Beta Males with John Henry Falle (left) (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

The Beta Males comedy troupe with John Henry Falle (left) (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

Yesterday, my blog was about the rise of storytelling nights in the UK – I was talking to comedians Matt Price/Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre in London. About two minutes after they left, John Henry Falle wandered past. He is a quarter of The Beta Males comedy group and 100% of The Story Beast.

My first words were:

“We should have a chat.”

And then:

“You are always taking your clothes off.”

“That did come up in your blog at some point.” said John Henry and then, apparently jokingly, “It’s possibly a way of… eh… dealing with any body dysmorphia I might ever have had.”

“The Beta Males are still going strong,” I said.

“Yes, we’re all doing little bits and pieces. We did half an hour each at the Edinburgh Fringe and I was doing my character The Story Beast, which is modern-day bardolatry. I tell the old stories in new ways and new stories in old ways. I want it to be three things. A cross between Ziggy Stardust, Tom Baker as Doctor Who and John Hurt as The Storyteller. They were all big influences on me.”

“I was talking earlier,” I said, “to Matt Price and Michael Kossew about their evenings at the Camden Head.”

“That’s where I first got naked,” said John Henry. “Well, in public.”

“They do storytelling,” I said.

“It’s the oldest art form,” said John Henry, “and it does appear to be having a bit of a resurgence at the moment. There are fewer gag merchants around and more storytellers.”

“The Story Beast tells new stories in old ways?” I asked.

“At the moment,” said John Henry, “I’m writing a load of poems about internet memes and YouTube videos, but in a heightened mock-heroic style.”

“And,” I asked, “you tell old stories in new ways?”

Beowulf is all told in gibberish.”

“Well,” I said. No change there.”

“But,” added John Henry, “there are references to Ray Winstone and the Beowulf film.

“I think,” I said, “I saw you at Jorik Mol’s Comedian’s Bookshelf evening doing… was it Beowulf?”

John Henry as The Story Beast

John Henry is The Story Beast but not the Son of Beowulf

“That’s my showpiece at the moment for The Story Beast,” said John Henry. “I failed Beowulf and, indeed, the whole of Old English as a language in my first year at university, but I always loved the story of Beowulf, even if I didn’t have a hang of the language.”

“You have a good voice for telling heroic sagas,” I suggested.

“It’s all about the resonance,” explained John Henry. “My dad was a… you call it a barrister here. He is an advocate in Jersey. So he taught me to project my voice.”

“Heavens!” I told him, relieved. “When you said ‘you call it a barrister here’ I thought you were going to reveal you were an alien from Mars.”

“That’s the way I do see myself as a Jerseyman,” replied John Henry. “I’m very much an alien in this country.”

“Years ago,” I told him, “I interviewed Nigel Kneale, who wrote Quatermass. He was from the Isle of Man and he thought it had made him a better writer, because he was ‘British’ but, at the same time, was not British, so he could view things simultaneously as an outsider and an insider.”

John Henry perked up at talk of Nigel Neale.

“In the three Quatermasses,” he said, “Nigel Kneale wrote the three basic types of science fiction… We go to them… They come to us… and They’ve been here all along. You can almost pop every sci-fi story into that.”

“You like sci-fi?” I asked.

“Science fiction and fantasy. I was a big Doctor Who fan.”

“Who was your Doctor?” I asked.

JohnHenryFalle2

John Henry, suspiciously alien-like, at Soho Theatre this week

“I was in the dead space,” said John Henry. “It wasn’t on TV.

“Someone who must have hated me gave me, when I was seven, a Doctor Who video – Time and The Rani, which is a terrible story.

“It’s the one where Sylvester McCoy regenerates after falling off an exercise bike. It’s really bad, but I fell unconditionally in love with it.”

“You must like the superhero films,” I suggested.

“Oh the Marvel films, certainly,” said John Henry, “once they became this on-going serial.”

“So you sat in Jersey…” I prompted.

“… believing I was some sort of wizard,” said John Henry. “Growing up with Harry Potter.”

“You could still become a wizard even now,” I said. “You have a beard.”

“Some. It was my girlfriend’s birthday recently and I decided I would cut off most of my beard and most of my hair and try to look a bit presentable for her dad.”

“What does she do?”

“She teaches English Literature.”

Beowulf and Old English?”

“No. She did her PhD on English travel literature from EM Forster to the present. Stories about Britishness abroad. Ideas of the Englishman as an alien.”

“More aliens,” I said. “But your beard still says ‘wizard’ to me.”

Alan Moore: a man with a fine beard and stick

Alan Moore: a man with a fine beard and staff

“I’m a big Alan Moore fan,” admitted John Henry, “and he walks around with a giant snake-headed staff, worshipping a snake god called Glycon who was revealed to be a sock puppet in the 6th century. The idea is you know magic is all nonsense, but you go after it and you try and make it happen.”

“So,” I said, “when you were a kid in Jersey, did you ever want to be a comedy performer?”

“I wanted to be a Time Lord wizard superhero.”

“With power over people?”

“I was terribly bullied. I don’t know if that fits this profile of the loner child who is in love with science fiction, but… I think kids nowadays are quite lucky in that things like Harry Potter and Doctor Who are in the mainstream. I don’t know what lonely children are like now particularly, but there’s enough room for them on the internet and the culture at large to provide them with something.

“I used to love The Hulk, who was so angry and repressed that he would become this immense creature and I always felt an affinity with him. And I think my dad quite liked him too because my dad was a body builder when he was younger.”

“And then he became a barrister,” I said. “Is there much connection between being a barrister and a wizard?”

“There is a legal spell in Jersey.,” said John Henry. “The Clameur de Haro. If someone is encroaching on your property or on common land, you say to them in front of witnesses: Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort. which means Hear me! Hear me! Hear me! Help me, Duke Rollo! Wrong is being done unto me. And then you recite the Lord’s Prayer in Jersey-Norman French and they have to stop what they’re doing or they go to prison. That’s an interesting spell. A bit of ancient Norman custom which is still there as part of the legal system in Jersey. My dad has brought three of those cases in the past 20 years.”

“What do they speak in Jersey?” I asked. “A sort on Norman-French-Scandinavian? Where were the Normans from anyway? They’re not French.”

“They had close connections to the kings of Norway,” John Henry told me. “So around 1066, when Jersey conquered England, there was a Harold Hardrada who was King of Norway who was also trying to get his greasy mitts on England, but only William had the proper claim and a mass of army. I’m intensely proud of Jersey. I love it deeply.”

“It’s an interesting thing,” I suggested, “like Nigel Kneale having an outsider’s insider view of Britain.”

John Henry or the Pret a Manger cup: which is more alien

John Henry and a Pret a Manger coffee cup sit in the Soho Theatre Bar: which is more alien?

“I do feel a certain alien-ness as a Jewish Jerseyman,” said John Henry. “I’m too Jewish for Jersey and too Jersey to be here and too odd an atheist around my Jewish family in North London.”

John Henry’s mother is Jewish from North London. His father is a Jerseyman.

“But maybe it’s a cultivated alien-ness,” said John Henry. “You choose who you are and I’ve decided to be an alien in London and in Jersey too. Or, looking at it another way, I can choose to be accepted in three communities and can pass for whatever I want to be within those communities. That’s a pleasure.”

“So,” I said, “whither John Henry now?”

“The Story Beast. I’m starting to do some proper YouTube videos and have one already – All The Kings and Queens of England. And I’m in a new Horrible Histories film – shot it in March, coming out next February. It’s called Bill and is a comedy about William Shakespeare. I’m a Spanish assassin: one of a load of Spanish assassins trying to kill Queen Elizabeth. I got a fight sequence with Damian Lewis; I was supposed to get a head butt from him.”

“And after that?” I asked.

“I don’t know what The Story Beast will do. Either I will become incredibly successful or I will go out onto a moor or a barrow somewhere and just freeze to death and be buried with my various accoutrements – my swords and wands.”

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