Tag Archives: success

Pompous advice to an as-yet unknown comedian spotted by a TV company

The Elgin Marble from the charity shop

Who is behind the mask? Me, giving advice.

I know someone.

I felt I should share that with you.

I occasionally go out onto the streets and meet people.

This person I know is clearly deranged, like many people I know. He is a performer, obviously. And he is not yet entirely successful, like many people I know.

I know he is deranged because today he contacted me for advice.

No sane person would do this.

He is being considered for a TV series.

His question to me was: “Should I do this or is the format too tacky…?”

My answer went thus:


You can never tell how things will turn out. I know someone who turned down being a judge on what is now a long-running Top Ten TV series because, in an earlier version, it sounded like a bad idea and slightly tacky.

The show you are being considered for will get you exposure. If it is shit, people will soon forget and also they will blame the TV people, not you. Your profile will rise because the TV people saw fit to book you on the show.

If it is a complete and utter 100% failure, you might get seen by 500,000 people in one episode. And this is a series of more than one episode. At the Edinburgh Fringe, you might not get seen by 500 people in the whole month.

You have to be in the right place at the right time, so say Yes to anything unless it involves setting fire to small woodland creatures or sticking children’s heads on spikes on London Bridge.

If you come across as brilliant, that’s good. If you are edited to look shit, that’s good. If you are edited to look dull (which would be bloody difficult) that’s not great, but it’s still hundreds of thousands of people having seen you and it is better than not being seen at all.

To be totally and brutally honest, no-one in the executive corridors of TV Land has ever heard of you and, if the series goes arse-over-tit you will not get the blame. But you WILL get seen. And the freelance people working on the show will be off on other future projects they do not yet know about and you may be perfect for one of those as-yet-un-conceived-of shows.

Don’t forget the independent TV production companies employ people solely for one-off projects. So, at the end, they will scatter onto other shows made by other companies for other channels.

Always explore every avenue because you never know what unseen side turnings may be down each of those unexplored avenues.

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Lewis Schaffer and the clenched fist of comedian Tim Renkow’s cerebral palsy

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer and failed moustache last night

“I can see why you are not a success,” comedian Lewis Schaffer told me,”but why am I not a success?”

“Why am I not a success?” I asked.

“Because you started too late,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Maybe I was doing other things before I didn’t become this,” I said.

“Everyone who’s a success,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is a success because they started young.”

George Eliot,” I countered.

“Him too,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “When you write that in your blog, John, add in as Lewis Schaffer said with a wink.”

Frank Skinner,” said Tim Renkow.

It was last night. We were sitting in a branch of the Subway sandwich shop near London Bridge. Comedian Tim Renkow had just been a guest on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly Resonance FM radio show Nunhead American Radio, allegedly aimed at Americans living in Nunhead, which is part of Peckham in South East London. He had invited me along to sit on the floor during the recording.

“How many Americans are actually living in Nunhead?” I had asked.

“Thirteen,” Lewis Schaffer replied. “Maybe twelve.”

“Do you meet up?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Frank Skinner,” repeated Tim Renkow.

“Maybe he started in his thirties,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But he didn’t start as a blogger.”

“They didn’t have blogs when Frank Skinner started,” I said.

“You’ve been doing this blog,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “At the end of the day, it’s just a blog. I’ve been doing two free shows every week since the start of 2009; I’ve been doing my Sunday paid shows at the Leicester Square Theatre all this year; I’ve been doing a weekly radio show since 2009…. And nothing. I’ve got nothing out of it… What’s happened to you with your blog? Nothing. You’ve been focussing on the smallest aspect of the entertainment business, which is…”

“Lewis Schaffer?” I suggested.

“Lewis Schaffer,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “is the smallest part of the smallest part of the entertainment business. Even if you were focussing on somebody really big – John Bishop or Michael McIntyre – there’s only a limited number of people who want to read about stand-up comedians. “

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – He is famous in little Britain

“No-one’s famous,” I said. “No-one’s heard of John Bishop or Michael McIntyre even in America.”

“You’ll never get big writing about stand-up comedy,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “Even worse, you’re picking on the dregs of the stand-up comedy business, which is Lewis Schaffer.”

I pulled down my shirt and exposed my right nipple to Lewis Schaffer.

“No-one wants to see your body, John. It’s not funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’d rather look at Tim Renkow’s drooling.”

“It IS funny,” said Tim Renkow.

“You make a note, John” said Lewis Schaffer, “that I was the first stranger to tell Tim Renkow that he needs to tidy himself up.”

“I dress like a homeless person,” agreed Tim.

“You too, John,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “I’ve also criticised your dress sense.”

“What dress sense?” I asked.

“My point is…” said Lewis Schaffer. “My point is… At one point, I thought to myself Well, it’s only because I moved countries from America to England that I’m not famous or it’s because I’m an artist or something but… I’m never going to make it, okay?”

“You can never tell,” I said. “Someone picks you up for a TV show, you can become famous within a week. Supposedly famous.”

“Was it a good radio show tonight?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“It was,” I said. And it had been.

“You’re from America,” Lewis Schaffer had asked Tim Renkow on the show. “You’re doing comedy here in England. How did you get here? Why did you get here?”

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer last night in Subway

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer joking last night in Subway

“I got here cos I burned every bridge I had,” Tim told him. “I told a couple of promoters in New York to fu… to do something I can’t say on the radio at 6.30 at night.”

“What is it?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Is it an anger you have?”

“In New York,” said Tim, “when you start out, they make you bring your friends to the show and then they charge ‘em like 50 bucks and I didn’t like that and I told them that and they didn’t like me telling them that.”

“Why here? Why Nunhead?” asked Lewis Schaffer’s co-presenter Lisa Moyle.

“I’ve been asking myself ever since,” laughed Tim. “I like that you don’t drive here.”

“…So you can get around,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “You’ve got cerebral palsy.”

“Yeah,” said Tim. “So I COULD drive, but it would be a disaster.”

“You’re a rebel,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re constantly drooling all over the place.”

“Is that an act of rebellion?” asked Lisa Moyle.

“I only do it on Lewis Schaffer,” said Tim.

“Is that true?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“No,” said Tim.

“It that a act of rebellion?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes,” said Tim.

“Is it really?”

“No.”

“Are you having an argument with me?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m trying,” said Tim.

“Is there a cerebral palsy community?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “When you see someone with CP do you go up to them?”

“Yes,” said Tim, “I give ‘em the Black Power fist. But that’s only cos I can’t open my hands.”

“How did you meet Lewis?” asked Lisa Moyle. “And would you call him a friend?”

“What would you call Lewis?” mused Tim. “An interesting case study… I like Lewis. I like anyone with the balls to tell me to Walk right, which is what Lewis said the first time he met me.”

Tim Renkow at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Tim Renkow outside Bob’s Bookshop at the Edinburgh Fringe during August this year (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Well, he goes around with no shoes on” said Lewis Schaffer.

“That’s dangerous,” said Lisa Moyle.

“Especially in some of the comedy clubs we have,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, I can’t walk with shoes,” said Tim. “And it bothers people. I like that it bothers people.”

“That’s what I like about you,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re very similar to me.”

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Filed under Comedy, Medical, Radio

Jewish comic Sol Bernstein soars while Lewis Schaffer frets about good news

“Ah! You’re John Fleming. You don’t like character comedy,” said character comic Sol Bernstein when he saw me leaving Vivienne and Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One comedy club in SE London last night.

“I generally don’t,” I replied. “But you were brilliant tonight. Utterly brilliant.”

And he was.

In fact, there was not an even remotely duff act on the show.

PTOO's Silver Peevil last night

PTOO’s Silver Peevil last night

Character act Barbara Nice had the entire audience on its feet singing and dancing along. Oram & Meeten were as crowd-pleasing as always (that’s a compliment); Danish comedian Sofie Hagen, in only a three-minute spot, appeared to successfully go way off script in highly-confident and highly-successful audience interaction; and there was what was claimed to be the world premiere of extraordinary character act The Silver Peevil – very funny – a scantily-clad retro visitor from Venus circa 1935.

All this plus the Greatest Show on Legs in a pre-show-start act which involved Martin Soan  with a Campbell’s soup can round his neck a la The Producers and a post-show event in which he literally carried his wife Vivienne off stage.

I think the word “variety” springs to mind.

That has been the word of the week.

The previous night I saw the penultimate Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties at the Leicester Square Theatre (last show this year and possibly forever is next month). That managed to smoothly blend admirably foul-mouthed Jenny Eclair, an extraordinary ping-pong act by Rod Laver (not the tennis champion), a So and So Circus dance acrobat duo and veteran comic Jimmy Cricket.

Susan Harrison’s  Cabarera audience

Susan Harrison’s Cabarera audience might be new alternative

The previous day, I had chatted to Susan Harrison about her Cabarera Club (more on that in a future blog) and been interviewed by Si Hawkins for an upcoming piece in Fest magazine about what may or may not follow ‘alternative comedy’.

It feels as if Variety/Cabaret may be the answer, though who knows? Not me.

‘Alternative Comedy’ at the late Malcolm Hardee’s clubs – and many others in the days when it really was alternative – meant shows where you saw some stand-up comedians and perhaps a music act, a juggler, a possibly psychotic indescribable act and perhaps a man torturing teddy bears (bring back that act!)

Possibly the most bizarre two things in a very odd evening last night, though, happened outside the venue after Pull The Other One had finished.

Vivienne Soan told me she had stumbled on what was, to both of us, an unknown sub-culture of Laughter Clubs scattered around the country.

“I’ve never heard of them,” I said.

“Neither had I,” said Vivienne. “They’re all over the country.”

“Maybe they are like Fight Clubs,” I suggested. “You must never talk about them.”

“They have £175 lessons,” Vivienne told me, “where they teach you how to laugh. And they give you a certificate afterwards. I think they really ARE having a laugh.”

Shortly afterwards, I had a chat with comedian Lewis Schaffer, who does not normally go to other people’s shows but had been bullied into going to Pull The Other One by his tenant. (He has tenants; he’s Jewish; what can I say?)

“I’m depressed,” he told me.

“Great,” I said. “You’re at your best when you’re depressed. What has happened?”

“My Leicester Square show has been extended again,” he said, glumly.

Lewis Schaffer, shoeless man

Lewis Schaffer, with no shoes

His weekly show Lewis Schaffer’s American Guide To England started in March this year, for an 8-week run. It was then extended for a few weeks. Then extended to the end of July. And now it has been extended again until next March (with a break for the Edinburgh Fringe in August).

“It’s a disaster,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“You mean it sounds too successful and Lewis Schaffer does not ‘do’ success?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It will all end in tears.”

“You could always start torturing teddy bears on stage,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer looked at me. There was a pause.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” he said. “It’s going to be a disaster.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m Lewis Schaffer,” he said.

“You have a point there,” I agreed. “But don’t worry. Look on the bright side. Maybe it will never happen. Success.”

Despite my attempt at reassurance, Lewis Schaffer walked into the night, his brow furrowed, fretting about the unwelcome possibility of success.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

TV success or total creative satisfaction? The eternal choice facing comedians.

Creative excess or compromised, homogenised TV success?

My blog yesterday was about when performers should just give up because they are not going to ‘make it’.

Someone criticised me for apparently setting the choice up as: Appear on TV or fail.

That is not quite the situation, but it is, alas, very close to it.

It depends on your definition of ’success’.

To make money, to be really successful, you currently pretty-much have to do TV. (The internet may enter more into the equation at a later date.)

Of course, creative and aesthetic success is not the same as making lots of money. But, if you are the greatest artist/creator/performer in the world and no-one sees what you do, then there is little point in doing it – you are doing it for yourself. Making money is a sign of acceptance and appreciation by a large section of the population.

But, when I go to the Edinburgh Fringe, I tend not to see the already-famous, already highly-financially-successful acts because I prefer to find what I perceive as more ‘original’ acts. To get any form of mainstream success, I think you have to homogenise your act to some extent and lose some of the unpredictable originality.

I am not saying that is a good or a bad thing. I just happen to prefer to see less well-known acts. I am prepared to plough through 90% mud to find a diamond rather than watch perfection in plastic. And, to an extent, you learn more watching imperfect shows than perfect homogenised shows.

I was recently in North Korea, where the level of stage and event professionalism makes shows on Broadway, in Las Vegas and in London’s West End look like amateur night at the village hall. But – hey! – I could not face seeing those OTT North Korean mega-shows too often…

For the British comedian, struggling to eke out a living and get more than three people to come to his/her show, television is the Holy Grail. And it is simple mathematics.

If you do a shit TV series that is an appalling, disastrous failure and “gets no ratings”, that means it may be getting 300,000 viewers. That is no audience at all in TV terms. But, to be seen by that number of people in sold-out 100 or 150-seater venues would take forever and have less impact.

If you play the Edinburgh Fringe for 29 nights and sell out your 100-seater venue every night, that is a massive success in Fringe terms, but it is only 2,900 people over the course of a month compared to 300,000 people in one night on a failed TV show. And those 300,000 people are possibly seeing you in each of six episodes of the TV show and are more likely to pay to see you live and to buy your DVDs…

If you appear on a successful TV series, you may get 5 million viewers or top-of-the-range 9 million viewers in one night. If only 1% of them like you, that is 50,000 or 90,000 people as opposed to 2,900 in a smash-hit, month-long Edinburgh Fringe show. If only 50% of the TV show’s audience like you, it is 2.5 million or 4.5 million new fans aware of you, possibly in a single night. And, of course, in actual awareness terms, it is 5 million or 9 million who have suddenly seen you ‘selling’ your ‘product’.

The best thing Michael McIntyre ever did in career terms was go on Britain’s Got Talent as a judge. He was already well-known by live comedy fans and TV comedy fans, but Britain’s Got Talent has phenomenal ratings across the board.

TV creates wider awareness.

But getting a TV break, of course, is well-nigh impossible – especially if you are a truly original act.

You have to be able to replicate the act for the TV director or, at least, make a good stab at it. On a big show, the director is maybe going to see the act rehearse twice in the afternoon and then shoot the show in the evening. In the rehearsals, he needs to see where the pauses are, where the glances are.

So, if you have an only-average comedian who performs a set script, who can do the words and pauses exactly the same then – to a lot of TV directors and producers – that is preferable to a really, really original act which is totally unpredictable. And, if the only-average act’s material runs to the same duration within 5 seconds every time it is delivered, then Christmas, New Year, the director’s 18th birthday and the Royal Jubilee have all come together.

A not-utterly-brilliant, not-utterly-original but OK act that is dependable is ‘better’ for TV than an utterly original, unpredictable act that is not going to be the same every single time it’s done.

With TV shows, you are talking about large amounts of money, even on the cheap ones. And, if you are talking about a peaktime show on BBC1 or ITV1 – which is where the large audiences are – you are talking serious, serious money. You cannot waste it by risking it on people who are brilliant only 60% or even 75% of the time.

Some acts – maybe not the best acts – CAN deliver good dependable performances and acceptable material 100% or 98% of the time.

You can edit an act’s material in theory but, with some of the best, most original, most unpredictable acts, it is very difficult to edit out material and keep up the TV pace.

Televised performances tend to need a faster pace than stage performances because there is no ‘atmosphere’ as such. In a live show, you can feel the atmosphere in the air. The adrenaline in the air keeps you ‘high’. On TV, the ‘atmosphere’ that keeps you ‘high’ on interest and excitement is artificially created by the timing of the visual cuts and the mixing of the sound from various microphones.

I know one comedian who has been on TV a fair amount, but he is never likely to become a major star in his own show, or even headline a big show, because he does not know, even when he starts to perform, exactly what he will say. If you give him a script, he may diverge from it.

I can think of another act who has perhaps four or five hours of comedy material which they use all the time – with occasional new additions and lots of reactions to the audience – but the stage show is never the same twice.

And another act – sublimely brilliant – where there may be ‘headings’ in the person’s brain, but it is totally ad-libbed.

Those last two acts would make great TV presenters on pre-recorded shows – presenting their own documentaries, for example, where a strong personality would dominate – but neither tells brief punchlined gags. They are not stand-up comedians in TV terms.

A TV stand-up comedian is someone who can deliver two minutes to camera. Or someone who can be on a panel show delivering some pre-scripted lines and perhaps ad-libbing one or two short sentences in a sequence. Brief. Succinct. With a traditional punch-line every time. Guaranteed laugh-laugh-laugh material.

Being a personality-based comedian is great on some TV shows, but not for stand-up comedy shows. TV wants sound-bites. It wants sequences which can be edited to fit into a greater jigsaw.

Comedians who are brilliant at long-form storytelling have no real outlet on TV at the moment.

There is one comedian who always gets amazing reviews. Amazingly-stonking reviews. You could die happy if you got even one of those reviews. You could not write better reviews for yourself. And, I think, a lot of other acts do not understand why this person gets those reviews because they have only seen bits-and-pieces of this particular act.

At 5 minutes, the act is nothing special, because they’re not a gag-based act. They’re not Jimmy Carr or Milton Jones or Tim Vine (all of whom are superbly creatively successful in the gag-based comedy genre which TV requires).

At 20 minutes, the act is fine. But doesn’t stand out totally from other acts.

At 30 minutes in length, it’s better.

At 60 minutes or 90 minutes or 120 minutes it is amazing. Utterly brilliant.

But this is not an act which can be shoe-horned into Live at The Apollo.

It would work on a chat show or if the person were used as a presenter, because it is a personality-based act. But, because it is not a gag-based act and cannot be chopped in the editing process, it is not an act which can really be screened as part of a show with multiple comedians in it.

To get a useful TV break, by and large, comedians with true originality have to compromise. To a certain extent, they have to choose between lots and lots of money by appealing to a wide TV audience… or being able to do totally original stuff on stage (but not on TV) with quite a high risk of failure.

There is an act, famous on the circuit and among fans of alternative comedy but unknown by the woman standing in a bus queue in Leamington Spa.

This performer’s act used to contain maybe 5% of extraordinary, near-genius originality. But there was often 40% that did not work at all, 40% that was average and 15% that was quite good. I liked seeing the act. But that sort of act would never get on TV because it has 80% of nothing exceptional, 15% of sort-of-so-so-OK material and 5% of really good stuff.

That particular comic has evened the act out a bit more now: maybe 85% is good and 15% is average.; occasionally maybe 1% of near-genius peeps through. So he has much more likelihood of getting TV success. But I preferred watching the old act where you got 5% of amazing near-genius with 40% of stuff that didn’t work at all..

To be cynical, it is a choice between compromised financial comfort with the added bonus of ego satisfaction… and creative satisfaction over something which is likely to be widely unseen and unknown by audiences.

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Filed under Celebrity, Comedy, Television

Comedians are the arseholes of entertainment – from one who knows

I recently wrote a blog about fame which mentioned the music business and the comedy industry. It provoked an interesting response from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing farter.

There is, of course, that famous old saying (usually credited to Janet Street-Porter) that “Comedy is the new Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

Mr Methane’s view is:

“Comedy was not, is not and never will be on a par with rock ‘n’ roll stardom. You do not wake up in the morning humming a joke you heard fifteen years ago because a joke does not take you back in your mind those fifteen years – unless you a comedy trainspotter.

“Music finds pathways into a nation’s soul and gets very deeply rooted there. It is valued as a great work of art by those who listen to it.

“Comedy, though a very serious business and labour of love for the artist, is generally seen as nothing more than a throw-away laugh by the consumer.

Ringo Starr was not the only drummer in the Beatles – and, according to a joke by John Lennon, he wasn’t the best either – but let’s just say you have a choice between Ringo Starr and someone currently at the very top of the comedy tree coming round for dinner – maybe that Michael McIntyre bloke.

“It’s going go be Ringo Star every time for 90% of the British population. That is just how it is.

“We ain’t rock stars. We are the comedy arseholes of entertainment. In my case, literally.”

Is Mr Methane talking out of his arse (something he surprisingly rarely does) or clearing the air?

My thoughts are divided.

Comedians certainly rarely get respect as performing artists whereas singers do – although the increasing amount of money swilling around the upper, rarefied reaches of comedy success may be slowly changing that.

Nothing breeds admiration more than millions in the bank.

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Filed under Comedy, Music

What is success? Global fame, Simon Cowell or a big fish in a small pond?

Yesterday, 20-year-old American comedian Bo Burnham started a two-week tour of England. He has his first album out, has been commissioned to write a movie, MTV recently ordered a television pilot from him and, in January this year, he finished Number One in Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown in the US – a public vote on the twenty greatest Comedy Central performances. But he is still mostly unknown in the UK, despite being that new phenomenon ‘an internet sensation’ and winning the much-publicised Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe.

I wrote a blog a while ago about Ken Dodd which started off “Morecambe and Wise were not famous” and mentioned, as an aside, that “fame is relative and mostly regional

One response was from Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing farter. He has performed all over the place and, at various times, been fairly famous in Sweden and in Japan because of his television appearances there. Far more famous than in Britain, where farting in peaktime is still frowned on.

He responded to my blog by saying: “I always find it interesting when I go abroad and do a TV show with a person who is that country’s Steve Wright or Jonathan Woss – a big fish in a small pond but none-the-less raking it in. My problem has always been that awareness of Mr Methane is spread globally rather than condensed in a certain geographical area which makes it harder to get bums on seats and make some serious money.”

The Scots comedienne Janey Godley has had a Top Ten bestselling hardback and paperback book in the UK and regularly (I have seen the figures) gets over 500,000 worldwide hits per week on her widely-posted blog. But if she were to play a theatre in, say, Cleethorpes in England or Peoria in the US, she would not necessarily sell out the venue’s tickets in the first half hour they went on sale, because she has had relatively little English TV exposure and her fame and fanbase is spread worldwide not concentrated locally.

To be a big ‘live’ star in a country, you still have to be on that country’s television screens fairly regularly. A massive internet following may not be enough for you to make shedloads of money on tour. I would lay bets that some amiable but relatively talentless British stand-up comedian who appears on a BBC3 panel show will make better box office money on a UK tour than the equally amiable and immeasurably more talented Bo Burnham who is, indeed, that legendary beast ‘an internet sensation’.

In 2009, Mr Methane was on Britain’s Got Talent. Several clips of that appearance have been posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing, one of those clips

has had over ten million hits. But those ten million plus people are spread across the globe, so how does Mr Methane, in that awful American phrase, ‘monetise’ the awareness of his existence? He can market products online, which I know he does very successfully but, if he were playing a live venue in Peoria, would he fill the auditorium?

The result is that, as Mr Methane observes, you can often make more money and be more ‘successful’ by being a big fish in a small pond rather than being an internationally recognised performer. Financially, it is usually still better to have 10 million fans in the UK than 30 million fans worldwide.

iTunes, YouTube and other online phenomena are still in their infancy and may well change all that and Bo Burnham may be one of the trailblazers.

The now-dying record business created international stars selling millions of discs worldwide who could tour on the back of that success. But without television exposure and with only a few exceptions, that has not yet happened for comedy acts. You still need local TV exposure.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Internet, Television, Theatre

The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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