Tag Archives: therapy

Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

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Why has comedian Akin Omobitan started a podcast called IT DIES HERE?

JOHN: So you have started a podcast. Why not do a blog? – Or is that too old-fashioned?

AKIN: I did do a blog back in the day and someone did once call me a blogger and I really didn’t know how to take that.

JOHN: Are you sure it was a blogger he called you?

AKIN: Yes. You have a blog. How do you describe yourself?

JOHN: The former John Fleming. 

AKIN: I used to blog back in 2004. I had wanted to do a podcast for ages but never had an idea I thought would be ‘for people’. 

JOHN: And now you have. Why is it called It Dies Here?

AKIN: It is pretty much a celebration of idiocy, calamity, regret, stupidity, misfortune, mishaps. So, each week, I have a different guest and they bring a story, a situation or an event which plays in circles in their head because, in hindsight, they now know how they could have handled it differently and better. So, instead of it living in their head, they bring it to the podcast and it can die.

JOHN: Sounds like online therapy.

A couple of people have said: “Oh wow! This is like therapy!

AKIN: A couple of people have come on and said: Oh wow! This is like therapy! but none of them has agreed to pay for my services yet.

JOHN: Do you have a couch to lie on?

AKIN: I do. But, if I invited people to my home to lie on a couch, it might just lead to misinterpretations.

JOHN: People might queue.

AKIN: Well, since releasing the trailer and putting Episodes 1 and 2 online, people have got in touch with me asking to be on the podcast.

JOHN: Do you edit it?”

AKIN: No. Because of the time it takes. And because I think it’s good for the listener to get the full conversation.

JOHN: Are the guests all comedians?

AKIN: No. Coming up, we have a couple of comedians, a financial journalist, a DJ and a TV presenter.

JOHN: Despite having co-hosted 101 Grouchy Club podcasts, I am not really a podcast listener. I have a feeling there’s something else I could do – like watch two-thirds of an old British comedy movie on TV.

AKIN: Or you could listen to a podcast and hear about the demise of an individual who started his own business, was offered millions for it and a job in Silicon Valley and all of that crumbled.

JOHN: But will it have knob gags? Anyway… where is this new weekly podcast leading? To a ‘proper’ broadcast radio show?

AKIN: I don’t know. It’s a different way of expressing yourself creatively. I used to write; that was one method. Doing stand-up comedy is another method. I MC shows as well; that’s different. And the podcast is such a different platform.

JOHN: How?

AKIN: With a lot of my stand-up, it is scripted. I may go off on tangents and play around a bit, but the majority of it is premeditated… When you are MCing, you can have a chat with the audience, but there are lots of different people and you are not really having a conversation with them; you are just trying to make the room fizz… When you do a podcast, you sit one-on-one with someone and have a good in-depth conversation for around 45 minutes.

JOHN: I find listening to what people say is over-rated.

“…I had things which ran around in MY head…”

AKIN: Part of what inspired…

JOHN: What?

AKIN: Part of what inspired the podcast is that I had things which ran around in MY head much longer than they should have… You know when you are a teenager and you are just very broody and moody and miserable? And that can go from adolescence into adulthood. Break-ups, different careers, failures. I was fired from jobs on a number of occasions. There were lots of things I had to let go of and, in letting go of them, I realised that I myself was the main reason I was not happy.

When I realised that and took a bit more control of my own happiness, I became a happier, nicer person.

And, because I had this reference point of me being a moody, miserable, self-indulgent person, I never wanted to be that person again. It inspired me to drift away from that aspect of my personality and more towards embracing the good things of life.

JOHN: You are a Christian. Did you go through a period in your teens of not being a Christian?

AKIN: I wouldn’t describe myself as re-born. I think a big part of it, actually, is that, when you grow up in a Christian household, there are a lot of beliefs and belief systems which you adopt without really making a choice. I guess part of my ‘liberation’ was stepping away from a lot of things. 

I guess I stepped away from a lot of the formalities of Christianity and the closeness I had with my parents. I quit my job. A lot of things: friendships, relationships, even myself. Lots of things I just stepped away from entirely.

Akin will be appearing with Lew Fitz at the Edinburgh Fesival Fringe this August

And then, one-by-one, I started re-connecting to all of these things, but under my terms. My relationship with my family is great, but I no longer feel the need to pander to my parents’ wishes for my life. I have tailored my friendship circles, so it is people who I genuinely want to be friends with, as opposed to people who I have just known for a long time.

Even with my Faith, I would say I am a lot more liberal in my views and outlooks. I guess there are different ideals and morals and stuff which I agree with. I just connect with things very differently. I guess there’s just a certain amount of freedom now.

JOHN: So you are more liberal in accepting other people’s ideas and beliefs?

AKIN: Definitely. I would always have described myself as liberal but I think, until you step away from your ideas then re-connect to them as you want, you are not really living your Truth.

When I decided who I wanted to be and who I wanted to connect with, I then started thinking: Why do I?

So, as opposed to Oh! I just love everyone, man! I then started thinking Why do I believe that?

I guess a lot of my beliefs and ideologies now are bounded more in me personally, not just: Oh. Because I’m a Christian, this is why I love everyone… or Because I’m a black person, this is why I behave this way. I just separated myself from a lot of parts of my identity and found a way of re-connecting… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

AKIN: Maybe that sounds a bit hippyish and… Yeah…

JOHN: Yeah.

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Filed under Christianity, Comedy, Podcasts, Psychology, Religion

Mad comics, facts and fantasy exposed at yesterday’s Edinburgh Fringe shows

Somewhere under the rainbow, mad comedians in Edinburgh

Yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was told the true story of a comedian who, a few years ago, staged his Fringe show at a free venue, thus saving himself a lot of money. He reasoned that he could spend the money he saved on hiring a PR person and on posters, flyers, advertisements: the full works. He worked his proverbial ass off and got no reviews, no media coverage, no audience. Well, on a good day, he got a handful or less of people in his audience; some days literally no-one. He lost £10,000. This is the reality of the Fringe for a lot of performers.

It could be argued you have to be barking mad to be a comedian, which is what I suggested to someone at yesterday’s Gilded Balloon launch party, but more of that later.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw award-winning Eric’s Tales of the Sea again: a beautifully-crafted show by the utterly sane (he may take that as an insult) Eric about his life on Royal Navy submarines, with a completely unexpected and devastatingly emotional ending. It has successfully played around the world. Eric was persuaded to become a stand-up comedian after being a regular audience member at  the late Malcolm Hardee‘s Up The Creek club.

Johnny Sorrow (right) and Sir Richard Swan yesterday

The occasionally Gollum-like (his own description) Johnny Sorrow, won last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe. Last year he was performing as part of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society – as he is this year. He was the funniest act I saw at the 2011 Fringe and you can take ‘funny’ in both its meanings.

He may be the same this year. What a full-throttle performance yesterday!

Originality is certainly the word – plus sometimes strangely experimental touches.

A Japanese couple walked in halfway through the hour-long show and watched in dazed incomprehension the unexplained parade of animal heads, weird noises, abstract speeches and dated cultural references which probably go way over the heads of even most Brits under the age of about thirty. What the Japanese made of it all I cannot even begin to imagine. Perhaps they thought it was experimental theatre, high performance art or just an example of impenetrable British humour.

And maybe they would have been partially right on all three counts.

Peyvand the Iranian & Daphna the Israeli – Fringe Frenemies

For more understandable comedy, they might have had more luck with Daphna Baram’s show Frenemies where she teams up with comedienne Shappi Khorsandi’s brother Peyvand for an Israeli-Iranian comedy hour. Daphna told me (and the audience) that she regards this as her ‘coming out’ show.

Until now, she has been known on the London comedy circuit as ‘Miss D’ to separate her night-time comedic persona from her day job as a serious political commentator and journalist. Now she is going to be ‘Daphna Baram’ in both worlds.

I have always thought she should not separate the two, as this strange diversity is her Unique Selling Proposition. And she can give an outsider’s inside view with both hats on.

Denis Krasnov: the very epitome of intellectual filth

Which I guess, to an extent, is what Denis Krasnov gives in his late-night Hour of Intellectual Filth. An outsider’s view. I saw him perform a few years ago at London’s eccentric Pear Shaped comedy club. Two people in the audience walked out back then and they were so highly-offended that they wrote to the club complaining about the specific offensive sequence in Denis’ act.

Pear Shaped’s Mr Fixit Anthony Miller checked an audio recording of the show and found that the highly offensive sequence they complained about did not actually exist. It simply had not happened. And I had been in the audience. They thought he had said something – a whole load of specific somethings – but he had not. Which was a bizarre tribute to his performance skills.

Back then, he was surprised that people found him offensive. This year, now New York based, he is intentionally trying to be offensive at the Fringe. At one point in last night’s show, he said, “I’m a comedian. My job is to expose lies,” but really his show is, as always, about playing with concepts of the mind. The show is neither off-puttingly intellectual nor is it actually definitively filthy. But it is mesmerisingly fascinating as he turns real comments about real situations into a bizarre form of fantasy without really ever lapsing into surreality. Indescribably interesting and highly original.

I find comedians a fascinating breed.

Taylor Glenn, former psychotherapist, at the Gilded party

Which brings me back to that Gilded Balloon’s launch party earlier in the evening, where I met for the first time my Facebook Friend  Taylor Glenn, a former psychotherapist.

“So you were a psychotherapist with a steady income for eight years and then you decided to become a comedian with no sensible income,” I said. “For heaven’s sake why?”

“I was treating patients who were facing lots of life challenges,” she replied, smiling “so I thought why not create the biggest one in the world for myself.”

“But comedians are all mad,” I suggested.

“I actually don’t think we’re any worse off in the mental health department than the rest of the world,” she replied, “but we’re allowed to act a little crazy. We have our own therapy behind a microphone… We have the ultimate outlet to express our angst.”

“So everyone’s mad, but comedians can show they’re mad?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, “I think if you’re too ‘normal’ you fall by the wayside as a comedian.”

“So how are you mad?” I asked.

“I’m just,” she said, “a classic North Eastern American neurotic, constantly self-evaluating, constantly worrying and actually thinking I’m a lot more important than I am.”

“The thing which gets me,” I said, “is that comedians – who you would think must be extroverts – are actually very often introverted and are terrified of exposing themselves. They perform but they’re frightened of revealing themselves.”

“There’s more of a mix of people,” Taylor said. “You come across a lot more introverted people when you’re working with actors and there are a lot of exhibitionist comics who, in their daily life, are constantly seeking attention and then cracking jokes. So I think we fall into two or three categories.”

Taylor’s Fringe show is called Reverse Psycomedy and, as a stunt (or maybe it wasn’t) she offered to give free psychotherapy to any comic who wanted/needed it at the Fringe.

“I think doing the Edinburgh Fringe,” Taylor told me yesterday, “has been a real experience for me: to allow myself to be vulnerable and really tell the truth on stage. And there’s no character to hide that. I’m an exaggerated version of myself up there, but I’m very much me.”

“Is that through doing a 60-minute show as opposed to shorter sets?” I asked.

“I think doing an hour,” she said, “you have to find some kind of narrative: it doesn’t mean you have to have a theme, but you’ve got to find a way to fill in the gaps. People can’t just laugh constantly for an hour. So you’re telling a story along with the laughter.”

“And that has to be somehow more truthful?” I asked.

“Well,” said Taylor, “I’ve found that for sure. Because I’m telling a story that has to do with my own life and, if I’m not being truthful, it’s not gonna work.”

Me? I think there’s still a lot of howling at the moon goes on when comedians come off stage and are alone with their thoughts.

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