Tag Archives: street

How do street artists make money and who is this trendy DRB matchbox guy?

DRB (left) and Ben Oakley at the exhibition yesterday

DRB (obscured left) & Ben Oakley at the exhibition yesterday

Yesterday, I went to the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich, to see the last day of artist DRB’s exhibition Firestarter – basically matchboxes custom-made by DRB.

But we are not talking normal matchboxes here, we are talking Art.

Some of DRB’s matchboxes are now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection in London. The boxes are being displayed at a gallery in Hong Kong in about a week and DRB has a duck with hands for ears which is in Boston in the US at a liquid arts venue.

“When I trained as a printmaker,” DRB told me, “there were no computers – well, there WERE but they weren’t on my radar – and then, just as I graduated, computers basically made me redundant. All of my printmaking skills were irrelevant and I had to learn how to use computers.”

“And you do now?” I asked.

“Yeah. All of my creative career has been computers, so I’ve done websites, videos and all that. I had a creative career but, twenty years later, I’m doing printmaking again.”

“Though the world is different…” I prompted.

Ceci nest pas un Magritte - c'est un DRB

Ceci n’est pas un Magritte de Belge… C’est un DRB de Sarf Eest Londres.

“I trained to be a gallery artist,” DRB said. “I expected to be represented by a gallery and paid by a gallery. Whereas now a lot of my friends are street artists. They essentially represent themselves – on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – and they don’t even show in galleries because their work is selling before it even hits a wall. Whereas I’m still a gallery artist. I do put things on the streets but, essentially, I think of whole shows whereas those guys will do just one piece and it sells before it hits the wall.”

“How does that street art thing work?” I asked.

“They have maybe 20,000 followers online,” explained DRB. “They have huge followings. They’re like rock stars compared to traditional painters. What they’re doing is they record every stage of the journey – their ideas, their sketches, their preliminary, everything – and people engage them on their social media.”

“So,” I asked, “I say I’m going to paint a giraffe on a wall next week and someone buys it before it hits the wall?”

DRB looks at a wall of his boxes

DRB looks at a wall of his boxes in Greenwich

“No,” explained DRB. “They call themselves street artists in the sense that they put something on the street first. So, if they make something, it has to go on the street first – that’s their own rule – and then they’ll make a print edition of it and sell it to people who liked it on the wall.”

“Do you do street art?” I asked.

“I put things on the street,” DRB replied, “but that’s just me being playful. I’m not really a street artist, I’m a gallery artist.

“I did study fine art, so I was a gallery artist for about four years, I had a residency in Norway for a year and there’s work of mine in Australia all up the west coast. I painted walls there when I was in my twenties in the 1990s and they’re still touching them up. Not graffiti. More like murals… They don’t know who I am.”

“So they maintain your artworks, but they don’t know you originated them?” I asked.

DRB’s publicity for the Ben Oakley exhibition

DRB’s publicity for the Ben Oakley exhibition

“There’s a town – Carnarvon in Western Australia,” said DRB, “where there’s a 20 foot wall with a mural. I was in the papers for that. I got run out of town by the police. I was about 20. I’ve had a creative career but, in terms of recognition it’s been this last year. I had my first solo show in Hoxton last summer and I’ve had about 20 shows since then.”

“Are DRB the initials of your real name?” I asked.

“No. It stands for Dirty Rotten Bleeder…It’s a play on words with the printing term ‘bleeding’ – printing that goes over the edge of another image or the edge of the displayed area. I call myself Dirty Rotten Bleeder like I could call myself a Messy Print Maker.”

DRB, the faceless artist at his Firerstarter yesterday

DRB at the last day of his Firerstarter yesterday

“Have you got a website?” I asked.

“I’m making one,” said DRB. “I find it hard to write. I have a blog, but what I tend to do is get really wrapped up in paradoxes and all of that and it doesn’t read in a way I would want someone to read it. “

“But you said you know how to design websites,” I said.

“Well” replied DRB, “there’s a difference between designing the look of something and populating it with content – actually putting words in there. And it’s harder to write words about yourself; I could probably write something about somebody else.”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

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Filed under Art, Painting

Tablecloth maestro Mat Ricardo on comedy club barriers & juggling dogs

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo in March 2012

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo, March 2012

I first blogged about Mat Ricardo in February 2011 after I saw him do the impossible at Pull The Other One comedy club.

He performed the standard routine of pulling a tablecloth out from under real crockery…

But then, after a pause, he whipped the tablecloth back ONto the table UNDER the crockery. Since then, I have been a fan. His act is faultless; his patter is perfect.

Since February this year, he has been performing monthly shows – Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties with a full bill of genuinely top acts at the Leicester Square Theatre. He later uploads the full shows onto Vimeo.

“The viewing public have always enjoyed Variety,” said Mat. “It’s just that it’s seen as unfashionable by people who make TV shows and fund big theatre shows. It just got taken away from them. When Variety died – when the music halls closed – Variety performers didn’t stop doing what they do. They just did it in other places – Butlins Holiday Camps or the end-of-the-pier or working men’s clubs or cruise ships or on the streets like me. I earned a living for 20-odd years before the supposed cabaret resurgence happened. For a good 15 years, the majority of my income came from street performing. I’ve worked Butlins, shopping centres, festivals, cruise ships, everywhere.”

“I’m always surprised you were a street performer,” I said. “I always think of you as more classy Monte Carlo and Paul Daniels Show…”

“When I was a street performer, that was my gimmick,” said Mat. “I wore a smart suit.

“I’m not a real street performer any more in that I don’t need to do it for money in the hat, but I do love it and, if you don’t have to do it, then it becomes more enjoyable. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to be invited to street performing festivals. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done Christchurch, New Zealand; Fremantle, Australia; the Landshut Festival in Austria – also on that gig was The Boy With Tape On His Face…”

“Was he street?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mat. “Not doing that character. He did a stunt show. There was also the great Portuguese clown Pedro Tochas who mainly works theatres now.”

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome in London

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome

“And, after you finish talking to me,” I prompted, “you’re playing the Hippodrome casino in the West End.”

“Yes, the Hippodrome’s great,” enthused Mat, “because it’s got such history. It was The Talk of The Town, it was Judy Garland’s last show. You go backstage and there’s all these old programmes framed on the wall. Everyone has worked there and you feel it when you go on stage. I’m lucky enough to have played a few of the key Variety venues in this country. I’ve played the London Palladium and Leeds City Varieties and all these places you walk on and you can feel it.

“I played Leeds City Varieties a couple of months ago and you walk on that stage, you look into the spotlight and you’re seeing the exact same thing that Harry Houdini saw. That’s amazing. These venues have been refurbished, but they haven’t changed: the shape you see from the stage is still the same; the only thing that’s different is I’ve got a slightly more modern suit on.”

“The gentleman juggler,” I said.

“I consider myself as much a comedian as a juggler,” Mat told me. “And being a juggler is still seen as unfashionable. If you call a comedy club and say you’re a juggler, there’s a little pause while they giggle.

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the gentleman juggler of comedy

“I’ve got a few goals left. I’d like to get booked consistently at a high level in comedy clubs. They don’t book jugglers. The people who book the good big comedy clubs where there’s some prestige and some money think their audiences will only watch straight stand-up. They’ll occasionally book a magician who is basically a stand-up with a few tricks or occasionally a stand-up who might do a ukelele song. But it’s still quite a challenge for someone like me to get booked into those clubs. I’d like to crack that just out of sheer bloodymindedness.”

“Club owner Malcolm Hardee,” I ventured, “used to say he didn’t respect jugglers as much as comics because juggling was a skill not a talent: with enough practice, anyone could be a juggler.”

“Well,” replied Mat, “I have to tell you Malcolm Hardee saw me perform on the street in Greenwich in the early 1990s and he gave me money. So he was lying. He did like my show at least.”

“For Malcolm to give anyone money,” I said, “was a miracle and, indeed, a massive sign of deep respect,”

“He gave me a quid,” said Mat. “I remember thinking I know who you are… But that’s what you get. People say Oh, I don’t want to go see a juggler. But then, if you take them to see an act like mine – and I’m not the only one – they’ll love it.”

“You did the tablecloth act in a TV ad for Unum Insurance,” I said. “that must have given you good exposure.”

“It got me an appearance on the Jonathan Ross TV show,” Mat said, “because Jonathan saw the ad and apparently put my name into YouTube, spent an afternoon watching all my stuff and said We gotta book this guy! That’s the great thing about the internet. I didn’t need a manager to leverage me onto TV: I just had to do interesting work and upload it.

“And also Unum Insurance booked me for a bunch of their annual meetings and parties and funded the current London Varieties shows – so they’re paying everyone’s wages including mine. I couldn’t put this show on without their support. Everyone’s getting paid and getting paid well. If I book Paul Daniels, as I did last month, who is a legitimate legend, I wanna make sure he gets paid well. I pay my acts well because I expect to get paid well myself. This is a childhood dream: to have my own variety show in the West End.”

This week’s London Varieties show billing

This week’s billing for Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties

“And you set yourself a new juggling challenge each month,” I said. “Last month, I saw you juggle three cordless electric carving knives when they were switched on.”

“That was genuinely very dangerous to learn,” said Mat. “My wife Lesley did not like it.”

“And you are juggling spaghetti at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh this August?” I reassured myself.

“Indeed,” said Mat. “And for the last London Varieties show this year on 24th July, I think I might invite the audience to… it’s an old Variety gag – The Flying Karamazov Brothers revived it in the 1970s but it was an old routine before that – You get the audience to bring objects to your show – anything bigger than a grape and smaller than a breadbox. The audience then selects three of the objects and you have to juggle them. I can make two adjustments, then I have to juggle the three objects for ten throws or I get a pie in the face. There is one thing you can bring along which could screw it up – a water-filled balloon. That’s just impossible and I might disallow it.”

“I’m going to bring along a hedgehog,” I said.

“Well, on the London Varieties show this Thursday,” said Mat, I will be doing a juggling trick with a live dog.”

“What breed?” I asked.

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles, soon to be ‘tableclothed’

“Chihuahua… Piff The Magic Dragon is on the show on Thursday and has this dog, Mr Piffles, which is a chihuahua in a dragon suit. I might or might not juggle him, but I’m certainly going to put him on the table, pull the tablecloth from under him and put the tablecloth back on.”

“What if a prominent American act thought of stealing your tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“Well,” said Mat. “you can copyright an act of choreography which, technically, is what it is and all you have to do is say I copyright it, which I’ve just said. But you can waste your life trying to sue somebody and you don’t want to sue a millionaire. I did create both the effect and the technique and people know that.”

“And people have seen it and it’s on YouTube with dates,” I said.

“It’s not like writing a gag,” said Mat. “A comedian can sit down and write some jokes and just do them. I have to sit down, write something, then go off and practice it for a year.”

“How long did it take you to perfect the tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“It took me a couple of years before it pretty much worked every single time. I smashed a lot of crockery.”

“Difficult to top,” I said.

“I have a way to top it,” said Mat.

“No!” I said.

And then he told me what it was.

“Fuck me,” I said. “Jesus Christ…. Now THAT would be AMAZING…”

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Filed under Comedy, Juggling, Television, Theatre

A remarkable fire-eater talks about a death and British alternative comedy

A poster for the Nell Gwynn/Gargoyle Club

A poster for the Nell Gwynn/Gargoyle Club

In a blog a couple of weeks ago, the So It Goes blog’s occasional correspondent Anna Smith wondered what had happened to her acquaintance, an exotic dancer from Winnipeg called Karen, who was last heard-of in London.

Unfortunately, I can tell her.

I had a drink this week with Philip Herbert, best-known to me as fire-eating comedy act Randolph The Remarkable.

“Sadly Karen passed away,” Philip told me. “She got knocked off her bike in London. She was overtaking a lorry and a bus came towards her.”

“When was this? I asked.

“About 15 years ago,” Philip told me.

“The last time I saw her, she was on her bike and I shouted: Careful on that bike!

“That was the last thing I said to her. And, about a fortnight after that, she was dead.

“At the time, I was on a 12-week tour, doing A Tale of Two Cities at the Oxford Playhouse. So I couldn’t get to the funeral. Her parents thought she was working as an au pair and teaching; they had no idea she was working on the strip circuit. All her friends were freaks, were punks, were entertainers. Apparently the wake was weird because everyone was pretending they knew Karen through her teaching.

“She was going into comedy. She was beginning to speak and tell stories and do poetry.

“In the old days, there was a cross-over between stripping and comedy. 69 Dean Street was the Nell Gwynne strip club until about 11 o’clock and then it suddenly turned into The Comedy Store. When it got successful, they stopped doing the stripping on Friday and Saturday and they did two comedy shows – an 8 o’clock and a midnight.

“If you were on the circuit then, you’d do first act in the first house at the Comedy Store, then go off and do a pub in Stoke Newington or wherever, then rush back and do second or third on the bill in the second show at the Comedy Store. If you were good, you were working in more than one place. Everyone worked round each other and there was a cross-over between street acts and alternative acts”

Philip performed feats of skill as Randolph The Remarkable

Philip performed feats of skill as Randolph The Remarkable

“I must have first seen you in the 1980s,” I said, “when you were Randolph The Remarkable.”

“I still do Randolph The Remarkable: Fire-Eater Extraordinaire. Feats of Skill Involving Fire and a Blue Bowl of Lukewarm Water. The only trouble is now, because of Health & Safety, you have to have a Risk Assessment and Public Indemnity Insurance and a fireman standing in the wings who holds a bucket of sand. If you can do all that, then they’re prepared to book you. In the old days at the Comedy Store, you’d get £5 and a drink token and I used to work under a sprinkler and there couldn’t be anything more dangerous than that. I don’t suppose they’d allow that now.”

Philip (right) as Hugh Jelly with Julian Clary

Philip (right) often performed as Hugh Jelly with Julian Clary

“Back in the 1980s, it was much more risky and exciting and there was that cross-over from people who worked as street performers – I started off as Randolph at Covent Garden and Camden Lock… and people saw the act and said Oh, you must do the Comedy Store. Then people would see you at the Comedy Store above the Nell Gwynne strip club and say Oh, you must do the new variety Cast circuit.

“How did you get into fire-eating?” I asked.

“I was an actor in a community company,” explained Philip, “and we were asked if we wanted to learn how to fire-eat for a historical tour. We did Southampton and Portsmouth. We took people round different historical sites and pubs and re-enacted history – it was a pub crawl, really – and then, as the light faded, we stood on the city wall and did fire-eating and fire-blowing.

“Then I was out of work for months and I thought This is ridiculous. I’ve got this skill. So I did it at Covent Garden and, back then in the early 1980s, you could just turn up and do it. You didn’t need a licence; you didn’t need to audition. Now you have to go through this whole rigmarole and they don’t allow fire there any more because there was a silly accident where somebody spilled paraffin into the crowd.

“I still do Randolph at the Punch & Judy Festival at Covent Garden every year.

Philip as Drag Idol favourite Nora (photograph by John Tsangarides)

Philip as Drag Idol favourite Nora (photograph by John Tsangarides)

“And I did Gay Pride last year and I also do a drag act now called Nora Bone. I was a finalist in last year’s Drag Idol. I was in the last four out of 200-odd acts. I wear a red wig; I’ve been described as a bloated Geri Halliwell, because I wear a Union Jack dress. Not a mini – just below the knee. And white tights and very low heels, because I used to be on a higher heel and I fell. A lower heel is much more sensible for a lady of my age.”

“Are you an attractive woman?” I asked.

“Beautiful. I make the boys’ heads turn. I’m trying to do songs that other people don’t do. Not Life’s a Cabaret or I Did It My Way. I do I’m Too Sexy For My Skirt, Save All Your Kisses For Me, Madonna’s Holiday. The idea is that I’m an ex-recording artist that people don’t remember; an ex-supersize model; that I did a lot of ‘before’ photographs in diet magazines; and I’m a stand-in for Adele.”

“Do you regret not being a full-time actor?”

“Well, Nora is all acting. And doing circus, doing panto… a lot of straight actors knock panto. But I tell them To do panto well is as difficult as doing Shakespeare well – because it’s a set piece. You’ve got all the set stuff with the audience, the interaction. And you’ve got men playing women and women playing men.”

“You’re a character actor, really,” I suggested.

“Last year,” said Philip, “I was in a play about music hall legend Dan LenoThe Hard Boiled Egg and The Wasp. When he was committed to what his wife thought was a care home but turned out to be an asylum, I played the warder.

Philip The Poet

…Philip The Poet…

“I also do a character called Philip The Poet. I’ve always written poetry. I met John Hegley on a bus on National Poetry Day and he said to me Why don’t you do a couple of poems? because he runs a regular night at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon. He knew I wrote poems but I didn’t perform them. So I performed at John Hegley’s venue and I really enjoyed it, so I’m doing more and more of that.”

“Would you like to be a straight poet?” I asked.

“Straight-ish,” replied Philip. “With a comical kick at the end. I like my poetry. I comment on things I see. I can write a poem that isn’t a funny poem – that doesn’t need a smile at the end – but I think if you can say something that gets a sharp intake of breath that leads to a laugh… That’s as rewarding as a big guffaw. If you say something that’s quite shocking or meaningful and people gasp and then you undercut it with something that’s funny, then the gasp changes into a laugh and there’s a relief in the laughter. I do like my poetry, but there’s no money in it.

“I sometimes compere gigs as a character called Sebastian Cloy. He comes on in a big frilly shirt – old school compere but not gay – he tells jokes and does the odd song, if required.

“You’re always doing characters,” I said.

“If you create a character then you, in a way, hide behind that character. It’s like a mask. A clown nose. Basically, you put on the clown nose and that allows you to behave in a foolish way. I think it takes a lot of courage just to stand in front of people and say I’m now going to attempt to make you laugh or I’m now going to attempt to sing you a song which I hope will move you.”

“Do you ever actually perform as yourself?” I asked.

“Hardly ever,” said Philip. “though I’ve been doing a one-man show on-and-off for about three or four years. It’s called Naked Splendour. I’ve done life modelling for artists for as long as I’ve been an actor. When I started, the pay was £1.94p clothed and £1.98p naked – 4p difference.

His ongoing one-man show is Naked Splendour (photograph by John Tsangarides)

The man himself in his own Naked Splendour (photograph by John Tsangarides)

“I’ve performed Naked Splendour at the Hackney Empire, the Edinburgh Fringe, Soho Theatre and The Rosemary Branch.

“In it, I sit and pose. People can draw – they’re given materials as they come in. I start dressed, then I undress and I sit and pose and tell true stories. Funny stories. Not all funny. Stories like falling asleep. When you’re in a long pose lying down, you do nod off sometimes. And then, at the end, I get dressed and invite people to bring their work down. They put it on the floor and we have a mini-exhibition like a show-and-tell.

“The trouble is, being on your own, you end up doing four months promoting via the computer. For me to do it again, I’d need someone to take it on.”

“So in Naked Splendour,” I said, “you are yourself.”

“But,” came the reply, “I always cringe slightly if I’m introduced as Philip Herbert, because I’m not used to it. When people say Philip Herbert’s here, I look round and say Who? Whereas, if someone says Randolph The Remarkable or Hugh Jelly from Julian Clary’s show… then I know that’s me.”

YouTube has a video of Philip in bed with Julian Clary:

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Filed under Comedy, Gay, Theatre

Edinburgh Fringe’s Stuart Goldsmith £700 down; Ian Fox suffers “small cut”

Comedian Stuart Goldsmith won this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting an Edinburgh Fringe show. It was a multi-part stunt, but part of it (mentioned in my blog back in July) involved a YouTube video

in which he said that he would donate £1,000 of his own money to the Waverley Care HIV charity…

“…unless I see a single instance of the title of my show being used in a pun… If any puns at all based on the title of my show being Prick are used in any piece of comedy review or criticism, either in a magazine, in a paper or online then for every instance I will remove £100 from my charitable donation.”

Now that the Fringe is over, he told me today…

“I’m not parting with any cash until I get the final info back, as reviews occasionally come out after the Festival has finished, so I’m clinging on but…  at the moment, it’s looking like I’m going to lose £700 in total, thanks to the words ‘spunky’, ‘wider and deeper’ and ‘tackles the issues’.  I am very happy however that my loss will be Waverley Care’s gain!

“I thought it was too funny an idea not to try, even if quite expensive in the long run!”

Police say Ian Fox suffered “a small cut to his nose”

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh Evening News has reported the street attack on comedian Ian Fox last week. According to the police, the suspect is “male, white, in his 30s, between 5ft 9in and 6ft tall with a medium build and short blond hair. He was wearing a black T-shirt with green stripes on the sleeves and blue jeans.”

I might be dubious about police descriptions, though, as the same police source says of Ian Fox: “The victim suffered a small cut to his nose during the incident.”

Looking at the above photo of Ian, taken three days after the attack, that seems more than a little under-stated.

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Women pray for God to strike down feared UK comedy critic Kate Copstick

Ian Fox yesterday, at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh

Last night, after I posted my blog chat with Ian Fox about how he got attacked in the streets of Edinburgh, I got a Tweet from Ian Hawkins saying: “I’ve felt very unsafe flyering in Grassmarket sometimes.”

It’s good to know someone reads my blog.

I drove down from Edinburgh to London overnight last night with a couple of sleeps in service station car parks and, when I was somewhere around Milton Keynes, I got a phone call from Alan McEwen at the Edinburgh Evening News.

He had just read my blog about the attack on Ian.

The Edinburgh Evening News should be running an article about the assault tomorrow, in an attempt to find the attackers.

And, indeed, the Huffington Post this afternoon carried my blog piece about the attack.

So, with luck, the psycho yobbo duo of Edinburgh may get their comeuppance.

Meanwhile, I have asked Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival to pencil in Friday 23rd August 2013 for next year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe and (I hope) have booked Miss Behave to compere, Andy Dunlop of the World Egg Throwing Federation to supervise another Russian Egg Roulette competition and Kate Copstick to hand out the prizes.

Although she does much more than that.

She has been a judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards since they started.

Although she does much more than that.

I ran a blog back in February this year headlined Top comedy critic Kate Copstick spends $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi, Kenya.

All the money donated by audience members after the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards goes to Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara. No money is deducted for any show costs nor for any expenses of any kind; 100% is passed on to the charity.

The Mama Biashara charity works in the slums of Kenya, setting mainly women up in small businesses to help them pull themselves out of the absolute poverty in which they are living. Copstick spends four months of every year in Kenya, mostly in the slums of Nairobi. Below is a diary extract from one of her visits this year. It may give an insight into Copstick beyond her being the feared doyenne of British comedy critics:

______________________________________________________________________

Kate Copstick spends four months of every year in Kenya

Wednesday

I meet up with Doris in Kawangware and we head for the next workshop. This time out in a place called Wangiki, about an hour from Nairobi.

Doris is looking uncharacteristically nervous and asks the women who meet us at the matatu stage if we should get piki pikis to the meeting place. The women say “No, no, we are meeting ‘hapa tu’ (just here)”. They point at a building just down the hill.

Turns out it wasn’t really that one they were pointing at. It was one about half a mile further on. Kenyan distances are very much like Kenyan time – having the elasticity of a bungee rope over the Grand Canyon.

As we walk down the muddy lanes, I am increasingly fascinated by Doris’ bottom. It is an extraordinary thing which moves entirely independently of her skeleton. With each step forward it sways from side to side with a very attractive fluidity. But I digress.

The room is packed with women and the occasional spluttering child. We kick off with the ground rules of Mama Biashara:

– The money is only for business

– Know your status

– Respect for all

It is this last that causes consternation.

I explain that Mama Biashara has respect for all races, colours, religions and sexuality. I do not believe in God but I am fine if you do. You simply cannot refuse to help someone on the grounds that their beliefs/colour/sexuality etc are not yours.

There is much chatter. I start the workshop.

There is the usual litany of disaster, illness, abandonment etc but a lot of these women have good business heads. And good ideas. We are getting along well up to about number 12, when the increasing din outside reaches a crescendo. I get up and look out.

There is a… let us call it a group… outside the house. Animated to say the least. They are not happy that I do not believe in God. They say my money is corrupt and they have been off to the church opposite to pray to God to strike me down.

Doris wades in and emphasises that no-one needs to take my money, I am here only to help and just because I do not believe in God, I do not care if they do. She asks if I want to stop the workshop and leave. I say, “No”. We continue. With some terrific women. Good business plans.

At around number 28, there is another commotion at the gate.

This time, the women have brought the heads of the local Mungiki.

They are (to be fair) the most feared gang/sect in Kenya.

They are (or were originally) very strict Christians. And many Kenyans wish they were running the country now. They are real… errrr… disciplinarians.

We go out and Doris explains again what we are about. I shake hands and nod along with what she says. The Mungiki ask if we are forcing the money on the women. I laugh. We explain. The Mungiki say that is absolutely fine with them and shoo the women away. The remaining women relax visibly.

The rest of the afternoon passes in financing, medication, back rubs, demonstrations of stretching exercises, nutritional advice and the usual whole nine yards.

I get an escort of about fifteen women back to the matatu stage. Doris suggests we leave ASAP. It turns out that Wangiki is not really the safest of areas. Doris says she was shocked by what happened today. She has been working with this group for three months and had not imagined they would pull a stunt like that.

I end the day munching delicious mutura (a sort of barbecued sausage made from goat intestine) washed down with a can of Tusker. With jelly babies for pudding.

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Filed under Charity, Comedy, Crime, Edinburgh, Kenya

Comedians punched and headbutted in the street at the Edinburgh Fringe

Ian Fox in Edinburgh earlier today

Before I left Edinburgh this evening, I had a drink with comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  who was attacked in the street on Wednesday night.

When I was with him today, he got a phone call from the police.

“It was around 11.30 at night and I was coming up that curved street Candlemakers Row, just before you get to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby,” he told me. “There were loads of people walking about, because the Tattoo had just finished.”

Throughout the Edinburgh Fringe, Ian has been taking nighttime photos of Edinburgh between around 10.00pm and midnight.

“I’d taken a photo in the Cowgate,” he told me, “ but put my camera away because there isn’t anything else to take photos of until you get to Bristo Square. The camera was round my neck, but underneath my top, so they didn’t see it. But it wasn’t a mugging.

“Some students were arsing about on the left hand side of the road, kicking a traffic cone about, so I crossed over the road to avoid them. I was in the road and only vaguely aware there were people walking down the other footpath then, as soon as the guy got level with me, he just hit me. He was wearing a ring, which is what cut me.

“I hit the ground, mainly out of surprise, then I heard another guy say: He’s gone down. I think the first guy had passed me, the second guy then hit me and I think the first guy had turned  to watch, because he knew what was about to happen and then he was celebrating the fact I’d gone down.

“When I heard him say He’s gone down! I thought to myself This probably isn’t the best place to be because I’ll get a kicking when I’m down on the ground. I’d quite like it if this was over now. So I stood up and turned around and walked to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar.

“There was a chef outside. I thought he must have seen the whole thing, but he later told the police he hadn’t seen anything. I asked him if he could help me. He took about three seconds to make a decision on that. He obviously just thought it was drunks fighting but then I think he could tell from the way I was dressed and the way I was speaking that I wasn’t drunk.

“So I went into Bobby’s Bar and the waitress in there took over; she started handing me all the blue papery stuff to soak up the blood.  They phoned the police and the paramedics, because they were worried about how much blood was coming out of me. My cheek was bleeding; my nose was bleeding; so there was a lot of blood.

“The woman in there told me they’d just refused service to two blokes because they were very loud and very aggressive so the chances are it was these two blokes who had just got refused who walked outside and clocked the first person they saw.

“From the way they had been moving, I think they were on speed or something. They were on something, they’d had a skinful and the adrenaline buzz of hitting someone was the next thing they were after.

“The police said they hoped the cameras inside Bobby’s Bar had got a clear shot of them coming through the door, but that phone call I just got was the police saying it turned out the CCTV inside Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar has not been working since the 12th of August. The police said they’re now going to look at the Council’s CCTV in the street. But I’ve had a look three times and I can’t see a camera around there. I’m guessing somebody who behaves like that has probably done it before so would not do it near cameras.”

“You had another check-up today, didn’t you?” I asked.

Ian Fox with his mending eye in Edinburgh earlier today

“Yes, at the specialist Facial Injury unit in Livingston at 9 o’clock this morning,” said Ian. “It turned out everyone was given a 9 o’clock appointment, so it was first come, first served.”

“Livingston?” I said. “That’s miles away! That’s about 15 miles away!”

“It still counts as Edinburgh,” Ian said, “because it’s got an EH postcode.”

“Good job you brought your car up here,” I said. “You might easily not have done.”

“They told me I don’t need any further treatment,” said Ian, “but I may have a permanent scar beside my nose and the nurse advised me to avoid being punched in the face for a few months.”

“She didn’t,” I said.

“She did,” said Ian. “and I’m sure that’s very good advice.”

“I imagine the police won’t do anything about it,” I told him. “Did you read that blog of mine a couple of days ago, where a comedian had his computer stolen and he told the police where it was from the Apple GPS positioning and they wouldn’t do anything about it?”

“Well,” Ian said, “a deli I go into every day here… The guy there told me he had an incident a while back where one of his fridges wasn’t working and he called a repair man from an advert in the paper. The guy came and gave him a ridiculously high quote, so he said No.

“A couple of hours later, the cafe owner goes to the bank. Whilst he’s away, the repair man comes back, tells the girls behind the counter he’s there to fix the fridge, moves the fridges, hacks all the wiring at the back, tells the girls the griddle’s broken and says he needs to take it away for repair and leaves with the griddle.

“The cafe owner comes back, finds all the fridges are knackered and the griddle’s missing. So it’s criminal damage and theft. He rings the police, gives them the phone number of the advert and tells them this is the bloke who has done it – the girls have given a description of the guy… That was five months ago and he hasn’t heard anything since.

“He says he opens at 7.00am in the morning and has trouble with drunks coming in and, in the past, he’s tried to get the police to come and shift them and they won’t do it.”

“I love Edinburgh,” I said, “and it’s physically beautiful, but it’s a tough town under the surface. I’m surprised more comedians don’t have problems.”

Seymour Mace got head-butted outside the ScotMid in Nicolson Street in 2009,” Ian told me.

“Was that unmotivated as well?” I asked.

“Exactly the same thing as me,” Ian said. “Except he got headbutted instead of punched. Never even saw them. Though headbutting seems a lot more personal, somehow.”

“More Glaswegian,” I suggested.

“Seymour had a black eye for a week,” Ian said, “and he was doing a children’s show, so he had to explain to the children that he’d hit his head on a door. You can’t tell children there are random nutters out there in Edinburgh who will just headbutt you for no reason.”

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The best way to flyer for an Edinburgh Fringe show – use mice and terrorists

Sameena Zehra and husband Mike in Edinburgh yesterday

Yesterday, I went to see Sameena Zehra’s totally fascinating Edinburgh Fringe show Tea With Terrorists.

Afterwards, I got talking to her husband Mike, who flyers in the street for her show.

“I’ve been a musician all my life,” he told me. “A Blues singer. My name is Dr Blue.

“I love flyering. I love the challenge of flyering because it’s a 5 or 6 second performance. It’s the time it takes for someone to walk past you. I’ve got to get their attention in those few seconds. They need to know what the show is; where it is; and I need to get them to take one of the flyers.

“I never ever give a flyer to anybody. They always take them from me. Because, if you force a flyer on someone, they will throw it on the ground. I’ve got a patter which I use. It’s got various forms. It’s about getting someone’s attention but mostly their eye contact. As soon as I’ve got eye contact, they’re going to take a flyer.”

“So,” I asked, “why am I, a passing person, going to be interested in this show by a comedian I’ve possibly never heard of?”

“Well,” Mike explained, “the show itself has got to have a very catchy title. So Tea With Terrorists... Immediately people’s ears prick up. If I get eye contact, then I have another line – where it is, what time it’s on, the fact it’s free. But, if they’re waivering and they’re still smiling as they walk away, I’ll go:

Sameena has the full backing of her husband

No tourists or terrorists are harmed during the performance of Tea With Terrorists.

“And that’s when I’ve got them… Then you can extend that 5 or 6 second window by adding a bit more patter. Once they’ve taken the flyer, I can usually stop them and talk to them.”

“Do you say And it’s my wife?” I asked.

“I do sometimes,” he told me. “Once I’ve got them, there’s then a patter which I’ll use to talk about the show. I give them four key elements without giving anything away.”

“And they are?”

“Sameena did actually accidentally have tea with terrorists. She was nearly shot in the Green Zone in Kabul. She has got a grandmother who curses. And a friend who is frightened of sheep… Now you’re smiling,” he told me.

“If they’re not smiling by the end of those four,” he continued, “they’re probably not going to come to the show.”

“Flyering does work better,” I suggested, “if you’re a performer or a close blood relation.”

“Well, obviously,” agreed Mike, “I have a huge emotional commitment in this. I’ve watched the process develop. This show hasn’t just fallen out of the sky. It’s a writing process that’s been going on for 18 months. Sameena brought the show here to Edinburgh last year, when it was called Punching Mice.”

Punching mice?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “that was an even better title to sell. I just stood on the street corner yelling PUNCHING MICE! and people came up to me and asked What the bloody hell are you talking about?”

“It was an earlier version of this show?” I asked.

“Yes. There used to be a sequence in the old show about punching mice as a form of stress relief.”

Sameena Zehra and her good luck panda without Jon Snow

Later, I asked Sameena about this.

“It’s pretty much the same story,” she said, “but it’s changed and it’s tighter. When I did Edinburgh last year, I had no idea what I was doing; I was pissing in the wind and it was a steep learning curve, but it was brilliant.”

“There are only really three comedians who tell gags in this country,” I suggested to Sameena, vastly over-generalising. “Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine. Everyone else is telling stories not gags.”

“Well, I’m not a punchline comedian,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half. I’m not a comedian yet. I am a storyteller and I will be a comedian. The new show I’m writing is much more comic, but I’ll still be a storytelling comedian.

“Tea With Terrorists is very much about fear being redundant: you have to live with joy, you have to deal with stuff. The next show I’m writing is about how we end up becoming the people we are.

“The working title is If Jon Snow Were My Dad, because I love Jon Snow and if he had been my dad instead of the emotionally incontinent parents I had, would I have been a different person? How much of our lives is inborn, how much accidental? I’m not going to say any of that directly in my show, but it will come out through the stories.

“It’s going to have lots of stories from by my boarding school days in India. I went to a school run by a Socialist headmaster and started by Henry Lawrence, who was a British army officer. He started it in 1857 for the children of British Army officers. It was very very weird.”

Sounds ideal for Edinburgh.

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