WARNING! THERE ARE MULTIPLE USES OF THE ‘F’ WORD AND THE ‘C’ WORD IN THIS PIECE… PROCEED AT YOUR PERIL IF YOU ARE OF A NERVOUS OR EASILY-OFFENDED DISPOSITION… OTHER BLOGS ARE WIDELY AVAILABLE TO READ ELSEWHERE…
The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz in September 1990
The other was an episode of Noel Gay’s series The Last Laugh.
The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz was recorded to be a 55-minute show though it was later transmitted as a 45-minute show (for general scheduling reasons, not because of content).
BSB had a fairly liberal remit for comedy content.
Comedians were allowed to swear, within reason, and could use the words ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ if they were an integral and essential component of the routine – ie if removing or changing the words would weaken the gag.
However, as Jerry tended to have a high level of expletives in his act – and, indeed, at one time used to say, with some justification, that “The word ‘cunt’ is a term of affection in Glasgow”, I thought trying to bar him from using the F and the C words altogether would damage the flow of his delivery of the lines.
So I told him in advance something like (I can’t remember the precise words nor the exact number):
“Try not to swear but we can probably cope with a couple of ‘cunts’ and four or five ‘fucks’. We won’t cut them out or bleep them but, if you try not to use them at all then, if a few slip through in the nature of the act… that’s OK.”
Imagine my surprise when he did the whole comedy and magic act, full-on for 55 minutes without a single ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’. And he was still able to maintain the offensiveness of the act.
There was one, not really surprising, problem though.
During the show, there were two lesbians in the audience whom Jerry spotted and, inevitably, he started making them the butt of some of his material.
Afterwards they made clear to me and others how outraged they had been by all this “offensive” material aimed at them.
I can’t remember whether Jerry was there when they complained or whether I told him afterwards.
But he was, in my opinion, genuinely taken aback that anyone would or could be actually offended and complain about the content of his comedy show. His reaction was – and again I paraphrase here – “But it’s a comedy show!”
I tend to agree with him.
(The lesbians were cut out of the transmitted show for flow-of-the-programme reasons, not for offensiveness reasons.)
The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz but without lesbians, for time reasons…
The Edinburgh Fringe – or what passes for the Fringe in this let’s-hope-it’s-almost-over-Covid-pandemic netherworld – finishes this coming weekend. It started on 6th August.
The former Sir Gideon Vein with a very personal look…
I have not been up there but, when I chatted to performer Tony Green aka Sir Gideon Vein for a blog posted a fortnight ago, I mentioned that he might like to give his view of what it is like this year. He lives in Edinburgh for a lot of the year.
I have just received his highly-personal account…
I say ‘highly-personal’… That is exactly what I asked him for but, in other words, if you are an act who is mentioned, don’t send the hit-men to shoot ME…
The Duke of Wellington had developed a pointed head
A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Duke of Wellington’ had a cone placed upon his head. It seemed to herald the beginning of The Fringe (albeit a severely pared-down version). Although Queen Victoria’s statue at the top end of Leith Walk where the down and outs invariably assemble is frequently treated to a cone.
Anyway, as I mentioned to you, there has been practically no-one flyering up here – only the occasional one around the St Giles area giving out flyers for their own shows.
I went to see Walshy’s (formerly a homeless geezer whose face tells the story) show (A Number of Stand-Ups) in Niddry Street.
It turned out to be in the back annexe of a basement. No distancing and about sixty people (a capacity audience) crammed into one small oblong room about 20ft by 9ft with some wearing masks, some not.
There was no way I felt I could go in especially with a partner (not actually with me) who is totally vulnerable as regards this bloody virus.
So I walked along to The Canons’ Gait in the Canongate to see PBH’s Show (I’ve known him for years)… It turned out to be his night off. The compere was a woman called Kate Smurthwaite who opened with a stream of extraneous expletives.
I see the objective here but personally don’t feel it is necessary.
Kate Smurthswaite’s own one-woman show
Not that she actually said this but it could just as well have been something like: “Right, so Jack and Jill went up the fucking hill to fetch a fucking pail of water…”
I certainly have no objection to so-called ‘bad language’ – far from it – just the way it is used… e.g. When Malcolm Hardee used the ‘Fuck’ it was necessary AND funny in a lighthearted way – but this is a different arena.
Then there was a bit about about her ‘bush’ and pubic hair removal, then onto asking the audience intrusive questions (par for the course these days it would seem) e.g. “And what do you do for a living…?”
I was not asked – a pity perhaps.
Although the Oxbridge-educated Kate, who was formerly an investment banker in London and Japan, is a deeply politically-motivated comic as well as an activist and teacher, she didn’t touch on politics in her opener. Perhaps she was saving the political stuff for her midnight chat show.
I later saw her on the internet clashing with Laurence Fox – this was a TV link-up.
So the Chat Show would indeed have the potential for an explosive midnight hour and it is, by the way, the only midnight show at the Fringe.
The first comic on was a very young Norwegian bloke called Thor. He was alright, I suppose, and not unlikeable but nothing there really for someone like me – also asking the audience personal questions and explaining the problems he’d encountered regarding his ethnicity.
His English was actually better than many English people’s. Early days for him though.
It started to look a bit packed and there were no precautions or any distancing so I left early which may have been a pity.
Critic Kate Copstick went there last week and gave the night she went a 5-star review and later I believe Kate Smurthwaite’s own show was also highly commended.
A couple of days ago I saw a bloke – ‘Edinburgh Fringe Favourite’ Robert Inston – doing a one-man show about Jack the Ripper – a subject I know a fair bit about.
He attempted to portray five characters all of whom were closely associated with the Whitechapel Murders. This was in the large basement (so it was possible to sit far back) called Maggie’s Chamber at The Three Sisters in the Cowgate.
I appreciated his effort but, as he said, he is used to performing as women.
The trouble was (for me) ALL of the characters were portrayed in an overtly camp manner (fair enough with Queen Victoria) and his depiction of Walter Sickert (about whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell has a definite bee in her bonnet) as a nasty homosexual bitch hardly tied up with what is actually known about the man who was allegedly born with a malformed penis but who was married a couple of times (to women).
‘Leather Apron’ (John Pizer) was depicted as a fey gay (or that was the impression given).
An opportunity missed I thought.
Some people put as little as a penny in the collection bucket. The audience nevertheless were very well behaved throughout. My partner fell asleep (a large area and we were able to sit at the back).
Few posters at the Fringe in 2021
It sort of reminded me of a production of Dorian Gray (merit-wise) that I saw up here a few years ago. Oscar Wilde would have taken out a lawsuit – to call it lacking in subtlety would be a gross understatement.
The board with the posters at the end of the Cowgate is virtually the same board ALL over town. I haven’t seen Daniel Sloss or Craig Hill and somehow can’t imagine I ever will. The former I know got good reviews up here a few years ago.
In Hill Square (Hill Place), off Nicholson Street, there is a marquee with a raised platform. The venue is called The Space. On stage there were about six or seven young English girls by the sound of them singing pop songs a cappella, often with interpolation. It was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive I heard. No disrespect to them, but hardly my bag. They had a reasonable audience.
It is a pity I couldn’t have said something nice about a show. The Free Fringe is hit and miss as expected. And this year there was not exactly a great deal to choose from…
The a cappella girls got a reasonable audience in Hill Square…
Here’s my moan and, believe it or not, I speak on behalf of hundreds if not thousands of others in the same situation.
I’ve been uploading stupid videos to YouTube for more than 20 years. Until now, it’s never been a problem.
I am a musical comedian … part of a musical double act on the UK comedy circuit called Brian & Krysstal. Hardly the most revolutionary act on the circuit. We sing stupid songs.
Granted this latest one is Brexit-related and happens to contain the ‘C’ word (like hundreds or thousands of other YouTube videos).
I can see this might be part of the problem… but, to be honest, I thought it might fit in quite nicely.
As a rule, our videos mean absolutely nothing to man nor beast. They are quite simply an attempt to cheer people up a bit…
I recently tried to upload our latest single… a video called Bunch of Cunts which apparently YouTube didn’t like as much as we did. I instantly received a message from YouTube saying: “Your channel is SUSPENDED!”
No warning, no explanation, nothing! I have since found out that, according to YouTube’s new regulations (February 2019) a warning would be standard.
If they had said, “We don’t like your video. You can’t upload it,” I wouldn’t have minded in the least.
But, no. all I got was: “Your channel is suspended… You can appeal if you click here.”
I was shocked, but I took their advice… I clicked ‘here’ and appealed.
After ten days, still no reply.
By now, I’m stressed. I have links to my Various ouTube videos all over the internet and, if you click on any one of them, all you get is: “This page doesn’t exist!”
Is that fair?
So I appealed again.
This time, I admit I was a bit snarky. I said: “Could somebody HUMAN and preferably with a SENSE OF HUMOUR please have a look at the video I tried to upload and please tell me what the problem is?”
Two hours later, I got a reply…
“Your account has been TERMINATED!”
After 20 years????
Am I terminated because of my video?…
Or my lack of email etiquette?
I still don’t know.
Some people make a living off of YouTube… Not me! I can’t stand ads and I wouldn’t want to inflict them on my friends or people who enjoy what I do.
I waited a couple of more weeks… until I eventually (relatively) calmed down… and I made one final attempt at getting some kind of reasonable response.
I wrote an extremely polite and calm message apologising profusely for whatever it could possibly have been that caused me to transgress YouTube’s incredibly reasonable rules and regulations.
(I almost grovelled.)
I pointed out that, in spite of all my protestations (which I was apparently not entitled to make), I still have absolutely no idea whatsoever what I am supposed to have done wrong.
It didn’t work.
I got a reply saying the termination could not or would not be reversed.
I give up!
The YouTube approach to this kind of problem seems to me to be like if you have committed a motoring offence you get an extreme penalty.
You say: “What have I done wrong?”
And they say: “Here is a book of our rules and regulations… pick a crime!”
Well if that’s their attitude… as Malcolm Hardee would have said: “Fuck ’em!”
We talked about strange acts, swearing, David Cameron’s penis and the pig, the Moth’s storytelling, free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and UK comedy in general.
Janey published her jaw-dropping best-selling autobiography Handstands in The Dark in 2005 and also started blogging regularly in early 2005. So, during the podcast, we talked about her widespread social media presence. Here is a short extract:
You stopped blogging regularly. Why? Were you just going with the trend.
Yeah, well, I use Twitter, I use Instagram, I use Vine and people have got access to lots of different… And I Periscope! I was one of the first British comics to use Periscope.
Well, you were one of the first bloggers. The sad thing is now you are very Twittery and Periscopey and they’re all transient. They don’t last at all. So people, in two years time, will never see what you’ve done whereas, when you used to blog, there’s something there. But I suppose that’s like live comedy as opposed to recorded comedy.
I like the fact that I can Tweet and Periscope. One of the amazing things about Periscope was that, as soon as I started Periscoping, my book started selling (even more) because people all over the world were watching me. Periscope’s a great medium for comedians and people who aren’t worried about folk being abusive online. You get all these beautiful women that go: I’m going to be doing a make-over online and you can talk to me and I’ll be in my bikini. And then you get all these men who go: You’re an ugly bastard! And she’s: Oh my Gawd! I can’t believe you said that! Whereas, if you say that to me, I’ll say : Shut up! Away and fuck yer mother and get burnt in a caravan! I don’t care, y’know?
Whenever I see tags for your Periscope, they seem to include things like Kim Kardashian.
Yeah, sometimes I dress up as… What I do is sometimes I’ll put on loads of make-up and put on a big hairpiece and I’ll say KIM KARDASHIAN – LIVE ON PERISCOPE! – VIP ACCESS ONLY – There’s no such thing as VIP Access on Periscope. But, immediately, the whole of Turkey… cos Turkish men really love Periscope and they’re really, really abusive and misogynistic on it… I know that sounds like I’m racially profiling, but I can back it up by news reports. Other people have had to ban the majority of men in Turkey who come on Periscope and go: Open boobs! Open boobs! We have a hashtag Open Boobs. They’re asking you to show them your breasts, as opposed to heart surgery.
I know. Open boobs! doesn’t quite compute, does it?
And we have a song: Open boobs! Open boobs! Open boobs and anal!
They sometimes ask for anal.
Abso-fuckin-lutely. If your opening gambit is Open boobs! Anal sex – and sex is spelled SEXCT, which is bizarre… They want sex; they want anal. They want open boobs… So the minute they do that, I abuse them back. It’s a really weird thing that some people think they can abuse you if you’re in the public eye but, if you immediately say: Go fuck yourself! (and sing)
Go fuck your mother And if your mother’s dead Dig her up and fuck her instead
… they’re horrified you say that.
But it’s OK for them to say Anal.
And this sells books.
It does. All my Periscope followers will say: Sing the song, Janey! So, as soon as someone says SEXCT! OPEN BOOBS! I say: Go and fuck your mother! – And there’s a dance – And if your mother’s dead Dig her up and fuck her instead – They’re like: That’s horrific! and I say: You started this, ya cunt!
This is a serious point: Periscope is selling your books, but Twitter isn’t?
Twitter does as well, but it’s mostly Periscope.
And you’re still in print, which is a rare thing, because it’s ten years old, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah. It is still in print and it’s going great.
I still think there should be a sequel, but there we go.
Yeah, shut the fuck up about the sequel. I don’t want to hear about that any more.
You could self-publish the sequel. That’s where the money is.
John, there’s nothing to talk about.
JOHN Janey Godley: My Rise To Infamy… I can see it now.
The anonymous Poster Menace has e-mailed me another photograph. It is of an food trolley standing unattended in the street after some unknown accident. Unexplained. It could be an exhibit from Tate Modern. To me, it looks like abstract vomit. And a sign of the former essential anarchy now largely missing from the Edinburgh Fringe.
Walking round the streets of Edinburgh this last week, I have realised there is something odd this year.
Things are neater.
They were neater last year.
They are even neater this year.
The Fringe is sick.
The original basis of the Fringe is that it is an open festival. No-one is invited; no-one is organised. Anyone can come, put on any show they like in any place they can get and no-one actually controls what they do. The central Fringe Office simply issues a Fringe Programme with information provided by the performers. It does not control what goes into the Programme or what the performers do.
Except now it does.
As of this year, it has censored shows’ titles, it has censored shows’ descriptions, it has even insisted that the written description of shows printed in the Fringe Programme should use correct English grammar in the phrasing. It has become a schoolmasterly control freak.
Parallel to this, Edinburgh Council has controlled how shows are advertised on the streets. You can still say COCK, PRICK, SHIT in large letters on your posters prominently displayed in public thoroughfares throughout the city (although the Fringe Office has banned these words in its printed Programme – despite the fact they were acceptable in previous years).
In a seemingly reasonable move a couple of years ago, Edinburgh Council stopped turning a blind eye to random postering in the streets by rogue postering companies. This seemed reasonable enough. You cannot, so the argument goes, have people randomly postering on private and public properties and walls all over the city. It also meant the Council could charge for postering. But there was a consequence.
Now you can only poster in designated ways on designated sites using designated postering companies.
Look around the streets of Edinburgh and it still seems like hundreds of different shows are being advertised. But, look closer, and you see that (ignoring the mega big posters which were always put there by big companies) the ‘normal’ sized posters on the streets are almost all for the Big Four venues or for acts being put on by the big promoters.
Any small or middling shows have been marginalised to the half-glimpsed windows and doorways of small shops or, almost invisibly, inside and to a tiny extent outside the smaller venues.
The original basic and essential anarchy and uncontrollability of the Fringe is being reined in and controlled. The big venues are becoming bar areas with performance rooms not performance rooms with bars. The Fringe Programme is becoming a magazine where people have to pay to advertise but have no final control over their own paid-for words. The street advertising has already been moved into more corporate control.
The Fringe has been officialised, standardised and controlled. The PBH Free Fringe and Laughing Horse Free Festival (occasionally bitter rivals) have re-invented the spirit of the old Fringe. But it may be too late.
On the other hand, there are still some free spirits and uncontrollable events.
Janey Godley and Paul Provenza in Edinburgh last night
Last night I went to see my comedy chum Janey Godley perform on Paul Provenza‘s (terrifying for performers) improvisation-based Set List. She stormed it, but told me afterwards: “It’s like the opposite of normal comedy. Set List gets harder the more you do it. You run on adrenaline the first time but then, the more you do it, the more your brain knows how difficult it is and tries to sabotage you!”
An extra last-minute guest on the show was Phil Kay, who arrived without a plectrum for his guitar. Someone lent him a credit card and he played with that. There will probably be some Fringe rule preventing this soon, unless the credit card belongs to a Fringe-sponsoring bank.
When I got back to my flat at 3.30am, I found Free Festival/Alternative Fringe promoter Bob Slayer had sent me yet another e-mail. Is there no end to his quest for self-publicity? Let us hope not.
His venue The Hive is on Niddry Street, a narrow, steep street linking the higher Royal Mile with the lower Cowgate. A couple of doors down from his venue is the rival PBH Free Fringe venue The Banshee Labyrinth. At the bottom of the street are Bannerman’s pub and some Just The Tonic venues.
Bob’s latest e-mail reads :
Bob Slayer’s show has ended up in the gutter
I want you to know that it wasn’t me!
The blocked drains at the PBH Banshee Labyrinth that are causing poo and pee to flow down the street into PBH Bannermans are nothing to do with me! The Alternative Fringe flyers which are floating out of the drain and along the river of tepid toilet water are merely a coincidence…
Earlier in the week, Daryl at Just The Tonic came up and asked me if I had anything to do with their power cut.
And now I am getting fingered for blocking drains…____________________
Some people will do – or, at least, suggest – anything to get mentioned in this blog.
Last week, I was talking to someone about the Isle of Man and the subject of political corruption came up.
“I think maybe the Isle of Man is too small to be a country,” I said. “It’s like Ireland. Almost everyone in any position of power in Dublin seems to have gone to school or college or is very matey with everyone else in any position of power. The place is inherently corrupt because it is too small.”
And, indeed, I worry about an independent Scotland for the same reason.
This conversation came back to me when I saw the Irish movie The Guard yesterday, which has collected a fair amount of word-of-mouth enthusiasm. It has been called “subversive”, presumably because of its casual acceptance of corruption.
The phrase ‘The Guard’, by the way, is used as in someone who is a member of the Irish police force, the Garda
It is a very funny little film starring the always-good Brendan Gleeson as a village policeman in the West of Ireland. He uses prostitutes, has taken cocaine and ecstasy and swears casually. Which I found was part of the slight (but only slight) problem with the script.
The Guard is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, who has said (obviously) he would be quite happy if his $6 million movie did the same amount of business at the box office as The King’s Speech (which has currently grossed around $386 million on a $15 million budget).
In fact, I think The Guard stood more chance as another Full Monty ($257 million gross on a $3.5 million budget) because it has neither the big historic story nor the middle-of-the-road appeal of The King’s Speech.
The plot of The Guard is spiced up with the arrival of FBI agent Don Cheadle, who is black, allowing for streams of non-PC comment from the local cop – which we are never totally sure is real or tongue-in-cheek.
Which is fine.
The trouble is the swearing.
There is too much of it.
The first 20 minutes is full of “fucking” this and “fucking” that, as if the film is nervous it is too middle-of-the-road and is trying to establish itself as a movie not just for middle-aged lovers of Victoria Wood humour but for ‘the kids’ in ‘the Projects’. The trouble is that the excessive swearing is likely to alienate the audience that made The King’s Speech such a blockbuster and, as far as I can see, it is just plain unrealistic.
I just do not buy into the fact that the local policemen, whatever his foibles, and his mother and, it seems most of the population of rural Connemara/Galway are going around swearing like fucking troopers in fucking casual fucking conversation. It tails off after the first 20 minutes, but it remains distracting and unnecessary. It is as if North Dublin speech rhythms had been imported into a rural West of Ireland setting.
I also did not swallow the idea that three down-market scumbag heroin smugglers (and they are established as that) would be discussing Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and Dylan Thomas… nor that locals would be mentioning Dostoyevsky and Gogol in casual conversation.
Perhaps this is an attempt to ‘do a Tarantino’ with the script, but his characters tend to discuss Madonna lyrics and hamburgers.
It was, at the very least, distracting.
But I am being far too critical of The Guard. It is a very enjoyable small-scale film – and very funny – though I think it has been damaged by trying to make it more commercial.
But, then, who am I to tell anyone how to make a more commercial film?
On Monday night, I went to the New Act of the Year auditions at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, one of the jolliest and most brightly-coloured comedy clubs in Britain. A film crew was coincidentally filming scenes for an upcoming movie called The Comedian.
The Comedy Cafe’s owner, Noel Faulkner, has had a ‘colourful’ past which he revealed in his astonishing 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel. I first met him when we were both helping-out our mutual chum Ricky Grover by appearing in an early pilot/showreel for his planned movie Bulla, which Ricky has recently completed as a ‘pucka’ feature film with Steven Berkoff, Omid Djalili, Peter Capaldi etc.
Noel has Tourette’s Syndrome which doesn’t mean he swears uncontrollably but does mean he occasionally twitches uncontrollably… except, oddly, he doesn’t do it when he’s performing on stage or on film. This non-twitching while performing caused surreal problems during the autobiographical Shake, Rattle and Noel show, as he was talking about how he twitched uncontrollably without actually twitching uncontrollably.
Noel has lived a life-and-a-half and he isn’t through with it yet.
After being brought up in Ireland by the Christian Brothers and working on fishing trawlers and having some peripheral encounters with the IRA, he was in Swinging London at its height where he got involved with the young Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood and sold Gary Glitter his first glitter suit. Noel’s twitching made him a wow in discos – people thought he was a great disco dancer – and it was assumed to be drug-induced, so he fitted perfectly into the very Swinging London scene.
Then he went to hippie San Francisco before Haight Ashbury turned into Hate Ashbury and became a friend of the young, before-he-was-famous Robin Williams. Noel ended up on the run from the FBI, went to New York as an actor and comic, dealt directly with and smuggled dope for the early Colombian drug cartels, was caught and deported from the US, returned to London and set up the Comedy Cafe, one of the few purpose-built comedy venues in the capital.
So this – the Comedy Cafe – was where I found myself on Monday night for the New Act of the Year comedy auditions, the 28th year of the contest – it used to be called the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year (Eddie Izzard came 12th one year). The final used to be held a the Hackney Empire, which organisers Roland & Claire Muldoon ran. This year, the final takes place at The Barbican on Saturday 19th March.
It was well worth going because I saw for a second time the promising up-and-coming stand-up Pat Cahill and, for the first time, the very interesting indeed Duncan Hart who had a dark and very well-crafted set about a heart problem in a hospital, a drug overdose, a mugging at gunpoint and much more. Not obvious comedy subjects and potentially difficult to tailor for comedy in a 5-minute spot, but he performed it flawlessly.
The only downside was that, looking around the Comedy Cafe’s full room, I was, as usual, almost certainly the oldest punter in the room. This depressing scenario is even more depressing when I am up at the Edinburgh Fringe and street flyerers ignore me without a second glance because – clearly, at my age – I can’t possibly be interested in comedy.
Ricky Grover cast me as a bank manager in his Bulla showreel because he has always said I look like a banker (and I don’t think he was using Cockney rhyming slang). After the financial meltdown, I should take this as an insult. And I will. But I won’t tell him.
(This blog later appeared on Chortle, the UK comedy industry website)
I once put on a show at the Hackney Empire theatre in London where a top-name comic refused to introduce or be on stage with comedian Jimmy Carr because, in the preceding week, Jimmy had been much criticised in the press for jokes about gypsies. Especially one gag:
“The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away – and that fact also works if you remove the word ‘moth’.”
I had no problem with Jimmy Carr nor with the joke. Told in his particular dead-pan persona, it is a beautifully-crafted joke. From some other comic, it could have been very ethnically offensive. From the Jimmy Carr on-stage character, it did not seem to me to be offensive. It is/was a joke.
In a Guardian interview in 2006, Jimmy said, “If you’re doing wordplay, there is no real place to take offence. It’s like taking offence at a crossword puzzle… People don’t come and see my show and go, ‘That’s what he thinks’.”
I think if the late Bernard Manning’s live act – much attacked by knee-jerk PC supporters who never saw it – were performed today, word-for-word, by Jimmy Carr or Jerry Sadowitz, then trendy journalists would give it a four or five star review. Because they don’t believe (despite the gypsy jokes) that Jimmy Carr or Jerry Sadowitz are actually themselves bigoted.
But people do believe in retrospect and without having seen and heard him deliver jokes live on stage, that Bernard Manning’s live act was racist. Because they’ve read or heard other people say it’s a fact.
I did see Bernard Manning perform live three times. He was very funny. I also once had lunch with him. It seemed to me he had a bit of a superiority complex – he thought he was a bit better than the other Northern Comics of the time – but then he probably was. And he was very funny in a hard-edged, cynical way not un-reminiscent of the current Jimmy Carr on-stage persona.
The first time I saw Bernard perform live, at his own Embassy Club in Manchester, was probably in the early 1980s. It was one of the slickest professional shows I have ever seen in my life, performed in tacky, glittery decor like a cheap Hong Kong Christmas party that Butlins had staged for holiday campers in the mid 1950s.
The room was filled with ordinary down-market punters who clearly seldom went out and were be-suited and dolled-up for their Big Night Out. The only comparable thing I’ve seen was a Sunday night show at a Masonic hall in Easterhouse, Glasgow, which felt like it was set in South Vietnam circa 1968. The exterior (the walls were topped with barbed wire & broken glass) and location of the venue (a lone building in the middle of what felt like and very possibly was a free-fire zone) looked like something out of Escape From New York and the punters were middle-aged blue-rinsed women in over-tight sparkly dresses and dark-suited men looking uncomfortable wearing tightly-collared shirts and seldom-used ties.
What struck me about Bernard Manning’s act at the Embassy Club in Manchester for his very mainstream, very middle-of-the-road, probably Labour-voting but very conservative early-1980s audience was that, for the first third of the act, he used the word “cunt” very liberally. It was all over the place. This was at a time when the word was unacceptable in alternative comedy shows (which were only barely starting) and never heard on feature films, let alone in straight middle-of-the-road live punter shows. The use of the word “cunt” tailed-off after the first third of the act and had disappeared entirely by the final third.
It only struck me the next day that this was part of Bernard’s professionalism.
The show had been due to start at 8.00pm.
At 30 seconds before 8.00pm, Bernard appeared on stage and briefly introduced the first act. There then followed competent singers, competent comics. Nothing hyper-special. But satisfying. There were two breaks. In one, there was a charity raffle. In the other, chicken-in-a-basket. Throughout the show (as was the way with Northern clubs) you could order drinks at your table and there was a constant flow of staff bringing drinks from the bar to tables. It was a visible money-making machine and the paying punters got value -for-money. They got what they paid for.
At the climax of the show, they got Bernard Manning doing his stand-up act – he was the one they had come to see – and they expected his act to be rude and shocking. That was why they had come. He delivered. It was cunt-this and cunt-that and cunt-the-other at the start. After he had established the act was rude and shocking, he just got on with good, solid gags and had no need to say “cunt”. He had delivered what they expected and, next day, those punters would be able to tell their friends and workmates: “Ooh, our Bernard, he were so rude. It were proper dirty.”
Even there, I am perpetuating a stereotype.
The second time I saw Bernard perform live, there was a young honeymoon couple in the very front row who foolishly admitted the fact to him. He, of course, went for sexual jokes throughout. They loved it. At the same show, there was a black couple in the audience. He went for them as well. They loved it. Afterwards, they were laughing and joking with him.
I also saw him make anti-Semitic jokes.
He was part-Jewish.
I have seen the brilliant Jerry Sadowitz make what most people would consider anti-Semitic jokes.
He is Jewish.
The London-based New York comic Lewis Schaffer tells the best Holocaust joke I have ever heard.
He is Jewish.
Recently, I saw a new-ish comic, a British Asian, make an anti-Indian joke.
It should have felt OK – like a Jew telling a Jewish joke against Jews – but, to me, it felt racist.
It is relevant that he is a new-ish comic.
It’s the way they tell ’em.
A joke is a joke is a joke.
It’s the way it’s told that makes it funny. Or racist.
There is a difference between racial and racist jokes.
The sign of a non-racist society is that anyone can be the butt of a good joke.
My blog seems to have almost doubled the number of hits it gets in the last few days. I guess that’s what comes of writing about the words “fuck” and “cunt”.
It’s a great thing – the Google search engine.
I used to have photographs on my website. One was what I thought was an interesting picture of the interior of a mid-1980s school room under Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. (I have since got a life.) Imagine my surprise at the number of people who found my photos page because of their Google searches for “Albanian schoolboys”.
Who is reading my blog now?
Some of the search engine phrases put in by people who found my blog by accident yesterday were:
– john fleming east belfast
– is kate middleton jew
– how to act manic
– racism addressed on tv
– swearing / c word
From this, I can only assume my readers include:
– a sectarian stalker and/or hit man
– an anti Semite with Royalist tendencies
– a stand up comic and/or depressive with manic/depressive aspirations
– a racist media academic
– a BBC Radio 4 presenter
And who is to say that is a bad collection of people?
But I have added “rampant meerkats” and “Baby Spice in chocolate” to the tags of this blog entry to get a better class of reader.
On Monday, BBC Radio 4 managed to amuse some and horrify others when highly-respected and experienced Today programme presenter James Naughtie managed to Spoonerise the live on-air trail for an upcoming interview with government minister Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, by announcing “We’re going to be talking to Jeremy Cunt, the…” and then attempting to stop himself from laughing.
…and then – blow me – just another hour later, equally highly-respected and experienced political commentator Andrew Marr repeated the blunder live on air. It might have been less unwise if Jeremy Hunt were not the government minister in charge of setting the BBC’s Licence Fee.
News of this double gaffe (now on YouTube etc) has now reached uber-promoter Calvin Wynter over in New York and he tells me much the same thing happened in the refined streets of Edinburgh back in August.
I wish he’d told me at the time and I might have got some extra publicity out of it!
I sponsor the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, one of which – the one for best publicity stunt – is called the Cunning Stunt Award. Oh yes it is. This year, one of the nominees was Manos The Greek whose shows were very successfully promoted by Calvin’s then-outfit The Green Room Presents (since then, he has gone on to bigger and better things with his new production and promotion company Inbrook).
Calvin tells me:
“One member of our flyering team shouted in the street for 30 minutes: Manos the Greek!… Stunning Cunt Award Nominee… and wondered why she was gathering such a big crowd. People were taking lots of flyers from her. She thought she must be doing her promotion work really well. Finally, four guys pointed out to her exactly what she was saying… In fact, I now wonder if maybe it was no accident, because they took her out for drinks after she finished her shift… It might have been her own unique way of attracting young men…”