Tag Archives: Time Out

UK comedy – Three deaths and a birth

DEATH ONE

Time Out listings from 1986 featuring an even-younger-than-now Arthur Smith

Time Out listings in 1986 with an even-younger Arthur Smith

Last week, the UK listings magazine Time Out ended its Comedy Section. When British alternative comedy started in the mid-1980s, one reason it flourished was that Time Out allowed people who lived in one part of London to know that gigs were happening in various other parts of London.

Now, with the internet, comedy gigs can be found instantly, though not with short, objective descriptions in one easy-to-use single list.

DEATH TWO

This daily blog, which I hope has had a tendency to publicise the fringe and less-publicised comedy acts – interesting people doing interesting things. – will end as a daily blog on 31st December.

BIRTH ONE

Up The Creek with new bar to left and Lord Hood pub to right

Up The Creek with new bar to left and Lord Hood pub to right

Last night, I went to Up the Creek comedy club in Greenwich where they have opened an adjoining bar and cafe. Well, that is rather understating what they have done.

A long strip of Creek Road is being re-developed into multi-storey, up-market flats. The two brothers who own Up The Creek fought a long battle against the knocking-down of their building. The developers’ plan had been to buy and knock down the entire interior of the building, retaining only the frontage (which is ‘listed’ and cannot be knocked down).

Now the club has lost its back section, which used to be the bar area, and the developers are turning that part into town houses costing, I understand, £750,000 each. But Up The Creek – still under its old owners – has survived.

New bar and box office area opened last night

New Up the Creek bar and box office area opened last night

A new bar and cafe area has been added at ground floor level to the left of the existing building above which the developers are building (I think three storeys of) luxury flats.

Over the last three months, a new bar and cafe have been built in this new area, extending into what used to be the entrance area and box office of the old Up The Creek club. Inside, the stage has been moved, there are new stairs to a new upstairs bar etc etc etc.

Weathered look to the cafe Up the Creek

A weathered look to the cafe/bar, with ceiling still incomplete

The building’s interior is spectacularly successful in a low-key way (if such a thing can be possible) because the new cafe and interior look as though they have been there forever.

Old wood has been extensively used, the bricks have been ‘weathered’ to make them look even older and nothing looks ‘new’.

All this has been done over the last three months without closing the club at any time.

The new Up The Creek cafe and bar opened last night, although a few minor bits-and-pieces of detailing are still to be done.

DEATH THREE

Up The Creek was started by now-dead comic Malcolm Hardee. He originally owned 25% of the club. Three brothers (one has since died) owned the other 75%.

Last night, outside the doomed Lord hood pub

Last night, I stood outside the now doomed Lord Hood pub (Photograph by MEUNF)

Malcolm had a routine (especially for his Sunday night shows) in which he used to go into the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek, drink, then walk next door to the club and start the show.

Up The Creek was at risk of being knocked down but has now been saved.

But the Lord Hood is going to be knocked down in the continuing redevelopment of that strip of Creek Road. The pub closes on 31st December. There is talk that the developers may replace it with a gastro-pub, but that might be five years away.

CODA

Shiva Najaraja dances the Tandava

Shiva becomes Najaraja, The Lord of The Dance

I used to own a company called Shivadance Services.

It was named after The Dance of Shiva in Hindu mythology.

When Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, dances the Tandava – the Dance of Eternity – the world and everything in it is destroyed.

But, out of the thin vapours, life and matter are re-created.

When you create something, you destroy what existed there before.

When you destroy something, you are creating something new in its place.

So it goes.

Punters outside the new Up the Creek extension last night

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

How ex-garbage handler Bruce Dessau owes his career as a comedy critic to the ‘uninteresting’ comedian Stewart Lee

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

In yesterday’s blog, highly-regarded London Evening Standard comedy critic Bruce Dessau defended his profession. But how did he become a comedy critic?

“Did you ever perform?” I asked him.

“No. Absolutely never performed. Not really had any interest in it,” he said.

“You came up through local newspapers?” I asked. ”Reports on garden shows?”

“Never really had any interest in journalism either,” he told me. “Never wrote anything for the college magazine. After I left London University, I wanted to stay in London because I was a music fan. I was staying at a house in Camberwell with a typewriter and thought I’ll write a review of that gig I saw last night. I sent it to the NME. They said: We really liked it. Why don’t you tell us what gigs you’d like to review and we might commission you and we’ll pay you. So I became a music journalist, but never trained.”

“So you went straight from university to journalism?”

“Via being a dustman in Belsize Park,” explained Bruce. “I was Peter Cook’s dustman. The funny thing is when I left my house in Camberwell at 6.30am I often saw a near-neighbour Peter Richardson (of The Comic Strip) coming home from a late night out, so it was a bit of a comedy route as well as my comedy roots. But that’s the only other job I’ve ever had. Being a dustman.

“I was at Time Out for about 8 or 9 years – started on music, then more on the TV section and then edited things from there. But, when I was doing TV, they used to call me ‘Mr Comedy’ – I would always do Vic & Bob or The Fast Show or Harry Enfield.

“The 1990s were my Time Out years. I handed in my notice the day the New Year Millennium edition went to press. I planned to go freelance – there were actually jobs in journalism in those days – only 14 years ago! – but, out of the blue, I got offered a job editing the TV section of the Saturday Express magazine. That was when the paper was edited by Rosie Boycott, so it was a different paper then, with different aspirations. About a year later, it was taken over by Richard Desmond and he wanted to strip everything back – no pun intended – so I left to go freelance again and… basically I owe everything to Stewart Lee.

Stewart Lee’s North American friend Baconface at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (Photography by Keir O’Donnell)

Comic Stewart Lee’s Canadian friend Baconface performs at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Awards (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

“I got sent a copy of one of Stewart Lee’s books when he was in the doldrums and he wasn’t doing very well and no-one was interested – I think it was the one called The Perfect Fool. I was getting quite pressured from his agency (Avalon) to do an interview with him but I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in Stewart Lee. As a courtesy, I thought Oh, I might as well pitch this to someone, so I emailed the Arts editor of the Evening Standard – I had never written for them before – and they said No, we’re not remotely interested in Stewart Lee, but we ARE looking for a new comedy critic. So I started at the Evening Standard in the summer of 2001, just before 9/11 and I never did do the Stewart Lee interview, but I owe it all to him.”

“The fickle finger of fate,” I said. “Now everyone wants a Stewart Lee interview. You can never tell who is going to succeed.”

“Sometimes you know when people are going to be stars,” said Bruce. “Maybe I should have stayed a music journalist. I would be much better spotting future music stars than future comedy stars. I saw U2 at the Half Moon and it was obvious Bono should be climbing on amplifiers at the O2 Arena and not at a pub in Herne Hill.

“But, with comedy, the acts I have really loved I’ve usually thought They’re never going to be big and often I was wrong.

“Like Micky Flanagan who I used to see doing stuff at The Hob when he was about 40. I thought Yeah, he’s very good. I like him very much. But this is kind of his level. Then somehow, when the Comedy Gods decided to make comedy for arenas, he got swept up and I think he now does more dates at the O2 than Beyoncé.

“The main case of me being wrong was Vic & Bob. When they had their residency in Deptford and they did pubs, I used to go and see them every Thursday night long before they did TV. I thought: This is brilliant. They can attract 100 people every Thursday night in South London but, if they try North London, they’ll get 3 people. I could never have predicted Vic & Bob would get as big as they did. But, once they make it, it kind of makes sense.

“The interesting thing I’ve seen in comedy in the last few years is a whole new generation becoming the establishment. And the whole conveyor belt nature of comedians where they fall off the other end and fall out of favour – or not even fall out of favour, but people like Vic & Bob and Harry Enfield or Ben Elton.

“I used to watch the TV series Skins and suddenly all the comics I thought were young, hip comedians were suddenly all playing the parents. Harry Enfield, Morwenna Banks, Bill Bailey and even at one point Chris Addison cropped up as a dad.

“It all moves on. Jack Dee is a bit Tony Hancock and a bit Les Dawson. And you now can’t imagine Alexei Sayle as an angry 21-year-old.”

Bruce’s book on the dark side of comedy

Bruce’s book on comedy’s dark side

“Your latest book is Beyond a Joke,” I said, “about the dark side of comedians.”

“It was about the history of comedy,” said Bruce, “and the history of all these troubled comedians from Grimaldi to Tony Hancock and so on and I kind of thought it was a thing of the past – comedians being slightly dysfunctional.

“I wrote the book around the time Russell Brand was breaking through and he’s in the book, but it’s quite obvious there are plenty of other stories – Malcolm Hardee’s in the book, obviously.

“My dilemma to resolve was Are strange people attracted to stand-up comedy or does stand-up comedy make people strange? I think I concluded it’s a bit of both. Strange people are attracted to it but, if you’re normal and you’re attracted to it, you’ll end up strange. It doesn’t make strange people normal, but it does make normal people strange.

“It’s like Jimmy Carr says – You’re the only person in a room with 2,000 people facing the wrong way. You’re on your own. That’s why it’s weirder than being in a band. It’s a solo thing. And it’s weirder than being an actor because you’re supposedly saying your own words, particularly this autobiographical, authentic comedy. Various comedians say It’s like therapy but, rather than us pay a therapist, we do our gigs and we get paid for the therapy. But I don’t know if it’s effective as therapy, because they still seem a pretty screwed-up bunch.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Journalism

Edinburgh Fringe news: cookies, gays, Jews & will Guardian newspaper close?

It is not just lines of coke confusing life at Edinburgh Fringe

Being at the Edinburgh Fringe can be a bit like the long-gestating new tram system: no-one knows what’s going on. It is like being in a self-contained bubble. The outside world disappears into mist. All the moreso this year as BBC TV News appears to have given up reporting most news except the Olympics. I have been watching Al Jazeera and, superb as they are, they tend not to report too much UK news trivia.

I completely missed the news that London’s Time Out listings magazine announced last week that it is going to become a free publication.

We live – as the Chinese curse goes – in interesting times.

Someone told me this morning that the Guardian is currently selling so few copies per day of its print edition that Alan Rusbridger, the editor, is no longer committed to the print edition and is inclined to cease publication of the printed paper within a year, relying on the millions who access it online. Even now, there is more Guardian content free to access online than in the pay-to-read print newspaper. So why buy it?

Is this true or is it gossip or is it spin?

It is not happening inside the Fringe bubble in Edinburgh in the next three weeks. So who cares?

Meanwhile, Fringe life continues apace. After I saw Half Past Bitch at the Hive yesterday afternoon, its co-star Daphna Baram told me:

Daphna Baram shares cookies yesterday

“Last night I got on a taxi at 5.00am. The driver immediately asks me if I am a comedian and took an interest in my shows. He was in his 50s and he said he was a Scottish Moroccan. I told him that Mina Znaidi, my partner in Half Past Bitch, is Moroccan. He looked at her photo on the flyer and said She’s a good looking woman. Is she good?

“I embarked in praise of Mina’s comedic mirth but he dismissed it all, saying By ‘Is she good’ I mean does she do as she’s told? I was quite shocked and very drunk but not enough to realise that it would probably not be a good idea to quote back at him Mina’s joke: I was raised to be an obedient girl; I never say no to anal… You don’t want to know his reaction.”

Daphna and Mina’s show has a good selling point for would-be punters. They are given free cookies when they come into the room at The Hive. “Our slogan,” says Daphna, “is Free comedy. Free cookies. Free shelter from the rain. Three for the price of none.”

The downside is that the show is only on until Friday.

Wedding Bells? David Mills and Daphna Baram? No.

I stayed on at the Hive yesterday afternoon to see David Mills’ show David Mills is Smart Casual – Free.

“How do you stay stylish in this weather?” I asked David.

“Stay indoors,” he replied.

“I’m the best-dressed female comic in Edinburgh,” Daphna Baram said as she left. “And David’s the best-dressed male comic.”

“I don’t want to be in this competition,” said David. “This is the Fringe. How can you compete with half-naked teenagers doing an all-male version of The Diary of Anne Frank in a sweaty basement?”

“What was that I saw last year on your chat show with Scott Capurro?” I asked. “I seem to remember semi-naked men.”

David celling his show at The Hive

“It was the all-male version of Sweet Charity,” David reminded me.

“Ah, yes!” I said. “Did you enjoy that?”

“Well, I enjoyed watching (chat show guest) Simon Callow try not to pop a boner.”

“Can I say that in my blog?” I asked. “Has Simon Callow come out?”

“Out, John? He was never in!. What are you? Nuts?”

“Well, I don’t follow the ins and outs of gay life,” I said defensively. “Is your show this year your first solo Fringe show?”

“Yes,” said David, “it’s me on a stool looking great talking for laughs. Is your eternally-un-named friend up in Edinburgh with you?”

“No,” I said. “She doesn’t fancy the crowds and the thought of being with comedians en masse talking about themselves.”

“Well,” said David, “it is like being a therapist because it’s just one clown after another talking about themselves. Me too.”

“I’m sure you enjoy it.”

“Are you kidding? It’s a nightmare. This is a complete nightmare. When I do my show on the continent, it’s mostly non-verbal.”

“Do you?” I said, amazed, “But you’re not a non-verbal comedian. You…”

“I was joking, John,” said David. “It was a joke.”

“I really shouldn’t mix with comedians, should I?” I said. “You’re like Dave Allen; very verbal. Including the chair. I guess you never saw Dave Allen in the US?”

Dave Allen – an influence in the US?

“Yeah,” said David. “They used to show Dave Allen on Public Television when I was growing up in Pennsylvania before we moved to the West Coast and I would sit there literally going Who is this old freak with half a finger, drinking and sitting on a stool? I couldn’t understand most of it because the accent was too thick. But the style of it was so great. It was really compelling.”

“Did he actually inspire you?” I asked. “I want to sit on a stool and do that sort of stuff?

“Well,” said David. “I saw it as a kid and many years passed and I was doing comedy and I did a bit of cabaret, sitting on a stool and then it came back to me and I Googled it and found the name Dave Allen and thought That’s it! That’s the guy! and I started watching and thought That’s it! almost like I had retained it in my mind without remembering his name.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that Dave Allen was really doing a 1930s American cabaret format.”

“Exactly!” said David. “I knew that style already from the US scene, but Dave Allen really crystallised it although American cabaret is very different from British cabaret. British cabaret has that end-of-the-pier and music hall element. American cabaret is literally sat-on-a-stool, singing show tunes, bantering with the audience. I was doing that, getting nowhere and simply cut the piano player.”

David will be singing on my two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 24th August.

“The song I’m thinking of singing on your show,” David told me, “isn’t really a comedy song.”

“I’ll have to hear it,” I said. “But variation is good. If I put it after or before slapstick it might work.”

David’s show at The Hive was followed by one of Lewis Schaffer’s two daily Fringe shows. I made my excuses and left (look, I know Lewis – and The Scotsman gave him a 4-star review today – he doesn’t need me). On the way out, bumped into my Facebook friend Laura Levites. She told me that she and Lewis both came from Great Neck in New York.

Lewis tells me Great Neck is “an iconic location for rich, flashy, post-poor Jews and a smattering of the failed Jews”.

“It sounds like an interesting blog if I can get you and Laura together,” I said.

“I just want to stand next to her,” said Lewis.

Lewis Schaffer counts one of his plates

Entirely coincidentally, through six degrees of accident, my evening was rounded-off by a meal with Lewis Schaffer (an American living in England), Spring Day (an American living in Japan) and Billy Watson (a Scot living in Turkey). That epitomises the Edinburgh Fringe.

At the end of the meal, we divided the cost and Lewis decided to collect our notes and pay the £50 bill with his small change.

This passes for normal during the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

The Edinburgh Fringe in 2005

I wrote this article for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s magazine UK Writer in 2005.

With this year’s Edinburgh Fringe rapidly approaching, it might be of interest.

Though plus ça change.

_________________________________________________________________________________

LIFE ON THE FRINGE

I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out-of-town in a smallish room in what appeared to be a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe Programme.

In that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy and anarchy.

The man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy, with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.

I run his website – www.malcolmhardee.co.uk – and I am currently available for work via my website – www.thejohnfleming.com.

This blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard, your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen despite a market so full of product it’s as if the eleven largest hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.

Every year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.

It is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says: IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN – FRIEND OF THE UNION ?

I mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, “Of course, it’s only The Scotsman that counts,” or “Of course, The Scotsman doesn’t really count,” depending on their relative numbers of stars and adding, “Good review, but it’s disgraceful he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.”

Writers tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe is a performers’ showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.

This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.

Malcolm Hardee became a genuine legend by – while in the nude – driving a fork lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show… followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.

Betwixt all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers’ egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those most dangerous of creatures – airheads with degrees. With no opinions or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to ‘the word on the street’ in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or – far worse – coked out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will impress their Soho House friends most.

They all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out, because they assume those two publications above all will know what shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.

The Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier Award selling itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years, acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking for pure talent.

Until the last weekend of this year’s fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly.

Seldom visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff acts you wouldn’t want to see even when drunk and in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts – some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Tavern’s Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for “Kopfraper’s Syndrome” while, with less of a fanfare, their “Desperately Seeking Sorrow” (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Award.

Vicky De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts that used to play Malcolm’s venues – like the legendary Pigeon Man Phil Zimmerman – are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.

So, while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and sign up the Douglas Bader end of the creative spectrum – acts with no legs – the really interesting acts have been passing them by.

It will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.

One is that Pear Shaped at the Holyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey Godley.

She handed out flyers for her show outside the McTaggart Lecture – the centrepiece of the Edinburgh International Television Festival. And this, again, epitomises the Fringe.

As Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt – with stomach-cramps and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before to raw Japanese fish – touted her show on the steps, she was being physically shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths. Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers and shakers.

“You could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted!” she yelled at them.

At this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show: “JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT – The only Scottish female solo stand-up show on the Fringe!”

A camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their way.

“I was here first,” she shouted at them. “You move your fucking camera!”

“She’s not moving,” the shirt-sleeved man told them.

She didn’t move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message from Janey.

“Who is Greg Dyke?” it asked. “He was a nice man who helped me flyer.”

Janey Godley’s website is www.janeygodley.com

My website is www.thejohnfleming.com

We are both available.

This is the Fringe.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Well, that was the Fringe in 2005.

The Holyrood Tavern has since been ‘modernised’. Pear Shaped no longer runs a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, though its adventurous London club continues.

The Perrier Awards no longer exist as they keep changing their name.

Janey Godley will not be performing an hour-long show at the Fringe this year – her show The Godley Hour is at the Soho Theatre in London during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe. But, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, she will be taking part in one of two new annual Malcolm Hardee Debates on the proposition “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – on Monday 22nd August at The Hive. Details here.

At the Fringe, publicity is all-important.

Remember the wise advice of Max Bialystock.

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR, Scotland, Television, Theatre

The Sex Life of a Comedian is to be revealed by Lulu in print-on-demand

A week ago, I wrote a blog blatantly plugging the fact that Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology written by 19 comedians which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee, is now available as an iBook from iTunes and in a Kindle edition.

I said two of the Sit-Down Comedy contributors were considering publishing print-on-demand books. Now a third tells me he, too, is doing the same thing. He is currently checking the proofs.

Dave Thompson co-wrote a very quirky short story for Sit-Down Comedy with Jim Tavare and tells me:  “I am about to publish my novel The Sex Life of a Comedian via Lulu.com after having fallen out with a ‘proper’ publisher.”

Dave explains: “It was what I witnessed at the London book launch of another comedian’s book that made me realise what a shambles I’d got involved with. And then I bought a copy of a book by another comedian I knew and it was bursting with errors. There were so many mistakes, it looked like it hadn’t been proof read…

“From what I hear from other people who get involved in publishing books, publishers rival comedy promoters for incompetence and greed.”

Dave is highly-original. He has written for Ben Elton (they have been friends since schooldays); ITV’s BAFTA Award winning series The Sketch Show with Jim Tavare; Harry Hill’s TV Burp; and, uncredited, for many other Big Name comics. He has even amazingly written for the newly-enobled (as-of today) Sir Bruce ForsythTime Out called Dave “one of the finest joke writers in the country”. But, to the public, he is mostly known for the Tinky Winky incident in 1997.

He played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the world-famous children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired after American fundamentalist tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell warned parents that handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because “he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol”. Ragdoll, the show’s British production company, decided that Dave’s “interpretation of the role was inappropriate” and sacked him.

In Kazakhstan, the Teletubbies are still banned by order of the president who considers Tinky Winky to be a pervert.

The Sex Life of a Comedian is about a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Well, at least no-one in the television or comedy worlds has to worry about it being autobiographical, then.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Sex, Television

This comic cross between a dating website and Time Out listings magazine

Yesterday, I read Jon Kudlick’s article on the Chortle comedy website explaining why he was quitting his life as a stand-up comic after four years.

“Basically,” he says, “stand-up is not compatible with being married and having a family to support. And the vast majority of the comics I’ve met on the professional circuit are divorced or single.”

My experience of comedians also brings me to he conclusion that stand-up is not ideally compatible with a relationship because most comedians are barking mad and could provide a good psychiatric researcher with original material for a period at least as long as Ken Dodd’s career.

An hour after reading Jon Kudlick’s piece, an unsolicited e-mail plopped into my InBox from DoingSomething.co.uk

How this new dating site got my address or why is a mystery to me. But they offered “a three month trial period” if I used the code “haha” when I joined. Their selling line was: “Lots of comedy happenings in the next few months in London. You could do a lot worse than taking someone new to some comedy…” and they plugged five upcoming comedy events including Dave Gorman’s Screen Guild at Hoxton Hall, one of the current Heroes of Alternative Comedy gigs organised by Bob Slayer and – just generally – the Soho Theatre.

If these are paid-for ads, they could be on to a winner – half dating site/half Time Out. And, given Jon Kudlick’s assertion that most comedians are not in a steady relationship, targeting anyone connected with the comedy world seems a shrewd marketing idea.

Yes, I did sign up for the site, partly because I am a Scot brought up among Jews and it was free, partly because I wanted to see what was on the site and partly because I can also see three months blogging potential in it.

If you look like Katharine Ross in The Graduate or Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid – and you win the lottery – do get in touch.

It must be bizarrely difficult to start a dating site from scratch and they seem to be offering free three-month trials to all and sundry. There seem to be plenty of twentysomethings on it, but people in that age range barely need a dating site. In my age range (well, the one I put in to test it out) there was just one single woman in the whole of the UK suitable for me. And I put in anyone anywhere. She is interested in baking. That’s a start. Maybe not.

I may stay on the site for three months and see what happens. If you scour the site for me, THIS what my profile picture looks like.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Internet, Psychology, Sex

How a comedy night out in London’s Soho led to what some might call this misanthropic anti-Japanese blog

I had been going to write a blog about American comic Lewis Schaffer’s show Free Until Famous which runs in Soho every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Almost as a joke, he started saying it was the longest-running solo comedy show in London’s West End. Then he realised that, in fact, it probably was.

He’s been performing it in various nightly configurations since October 2008. Initially, he played it Tuesdays and Wednesdays then, because too many people were turning up, he occasionally played it twice-nightly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – at 8.00pm and 9.30pm. For the last few weeks, he’s been running it every Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday night at 8.00pm.

He successfully brought the model of Edinburgh’s Free Fringe to London. You don’t pay anything as you go into the venue but as you leave at the end, if you liked the show, you pay whatever you think it was worth.

Lewis tells me: “When I started, there were no free shows in London and now there are millions. What makes my show unique is that all the other shows are group shows with maybe one or two acts the punters will like and the rest not to their liking. I am akin to a single malt in a world of blends. If you like it, you love it; if you don’t you won’t; but the ones who like it…”

Whenever I have gone, his audience is always, eclectic and bizarrely international. Last Wednesday, that meant three Saudi women who were coming to his show for the third time. They don’t live in London but, every few months, when they are over here, they make a pilgrimage to Lewis’ comedy show. He doesn’t know why. I don’t know why. Even they probably don’t know why.

I asked Lewis about this after the show.

“They have told me directly We are fans!,” he said, bemused. “But they cover their faces after every joke! Maybe it’s the guilty pleasure of listening to dirty things from a double infidel – I’m an American AND I’m a Jew – plus maybe they find my Semitic look attractive, with my naturally dark hair.”

(Lewis tried not dying his hair the other week; I told him it really wasn’t a success.)

He always moans to me that it’s hard to get people in – moan moan moan these bloody Colonials – but, when I went last Wednesday night, it was a full house – it always is when I wander along – and Lewis was on unusually good form. Normally, he plays a blindingly good first half then loses confidence and tries to persuade the audience they’re not enjoying themselves as much as they think they are. Or he starts the show by saying he’s shit tonight but, by at least halfway through, he’s storming it. Last week, he stormed it for about 95% of the time though, of course, afterwards he was complaining to me that he hadn’t done very well.

Much like Lewis’ rollercoaster shows, it’s always worth any trip to Soho anytime because there are always unexpected and eccentric things happening. Last Wednesday, after the show, my friend and I had to plough through a crowded Brewer Street, which was being used for location shooting of some big-budget Bollywood movie. When I asked one of the crew who the star was, we were told:

“All I know is he’s a mega-star in Bollywood. Their equivalent of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise combined. I don’t know who the fuck he is.”

O vanitas vanitatum. A good overview of superstardom.

Then, in a doorway, we passed two red-faced drunks sitting on a doorstep between a sex shop and a pub, clutching bottles, almost falling sideways as they slurred a drunken conversation with each other. As we passed, I only heard the words:

“Ave you ‘eard 50 Cent’s latest? It ain’t nowhere near as good as his last one.”

Drunks who follow 50 Cent and the latest music trends. Only in Soho.

So I WAS going to blog about all that but decided not to.

Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier.

Anyway, during the show, Lewis made a joke about how people gave money to Japan following their triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear ‘accident’. Remember we are talking here about a comic who, to my mind, has the best Holocaust joke(s) I have ever heard.

The audience reaction to Lewis’ Japanese joke was to gasp – possibly because it was a truth spoken openly for the first time – and then to laugh. I won’t tell the full joke as it’s one to be heard live on stage.

But there was a news item yesterday that the owners of the stricken Japanese nuclear power plant say it will take another 6-9 months to sort out the mess.

I have a friend who has worked at Oxfam for many years. So I’m not unsympathetic to disaster-hit countries. She was recently in a country even I had barely heard of.

But people in the UK donating aid and holding charity gigs to raise money to supply aid to Japan? Give me a break.

Japan has the third biggest economy in the world, after the US and China. It has a stronger economy that Germany, France and – in 6th place – the United Kingdom.

Haiti is largely ignored now. It is still an impoverished disaster area. And people have been donating money to Japan? That’s an example of people donating money to charity to make themselves feel better not to make a disastrous situation any better.

Countries in Africa and Asia where babies are routinely living for a few days or hours or being born dead because of the poverty are not as ‘sexy’ as Japan was for a few weeks because the TV pictures were not there on TV screens.

There were 62 tornado reports in North Carolina on Saturday. Communities across Oklahoma and the Carolinas have been devastated.

Do I feel sorry for people in those areas? Am I sad at the deaths? Yes.

Am I going to donate money to the world’s strongest economy to alleviate my own sadness and cheer myself up about the USA’s tragedy? No.

Will I donate money to children in certain parts of Africa? Yes.

If some tragedy occurs in Hampstead or Islington, I would not expect the good people of Haiti to have a whip-round or put on charity gigs to raise money to help.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Racism, Theatre

Rutger Hauer says more about life in “Blade Runner” than the Bible, the Koran and Douglas Adams

Last night, I watched Brian De Palma’s movie The Untouchables on TV. The music is by Ennio Morricone.

“That music is very sad,” I said to the friend who was watching it with me. “An old man’s music. He composed the music for Once Upon a Time in the West too. That’s melancholic.”

I think you have to be over a certain age to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not about death, it’s about dying and it’s very long.

On YouTube recently, I stumbled on the closing sequence of Richard Attenborough’s movie Oh! What a Lovely War.

I cried.

I watched it five times over the next week. I cried each time I saw the final shot. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it with a (slightly younger) friend. I cried at the closing sequence, watching the final shot. One single shot, held for over two minutes. She didn’t understand why.

Clearly the cancer and cancer scares swirling amid my friends must be having their toll.

Someone has put online all issues of the British hippie/alternative culture newspaper International Times (aka “it”).

I was the Film Section editor for one of its incarnations in 1974.

Tempus fugit or would that be better as the Nicer sentence Ars Longa Vita Brevis?

There comes a point where I guess everyone gets slightly pretentious and feels like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.

Especially when you look round comedy clubs and you’re by far the oldest person in the room and you don’t laugh as much because you’ve heard what must be literally thousands of jokes told live on stage over decades.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

With me, it’s flashes of memories from the 1960s.

I remember working at the long-forgotten Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was really just a garage in a mews and people donated second hand books to it but – hey! man! – wouldn’t it be great if everything was free? I remember going downstairs in the Arts Lab in Drury Lane to see experimental films; I think I saw the long-forgotten Herostratus movie there. I remember walking among people holding daffodils in the darkened streets around the Royal Albert Hall when we all came out of a Donovan concert. Or was it an Incredible String Band gig? I remember the two amazingly talented members of the Incredible String Band sitting in a pile of mostly eccentric musical instruments on stage at the Royal Albert Hall; they played them all at one point or another.

No, I was right originally. It was a Donovan concert in January 1967. It’s in Wikipedia, so it must be true. On stage at Donovan’s gig, a ballerina danced during a 12-minute performance of Golden Apples.

I remember it.

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

It’s not true when they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.

I remember being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (or was it the Purcell Room?) on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, seeing the two-man hippie group Tyrannosaurus Rex perform before Marc Bolan dumped Steve Peregrine Took and formed what Tyrannosaurus Rex fans like me mostly felt was the far-inferior T Rex. And the Tyrannosaurus Rex support act that night on the South Bank was a mime artist who did not impress me called David Jones who later re-invented himself as David Bowie. I still didn’t rate him much as David Bowie: he was just a jumped-up mime artist who sang.

No, it wasn’t in the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Purcell Room. It didn’t happen there. It was in the Royal Festival Hall on Whit Monday, 3rd June 1968. There’s an ad for it on the back cover of International Times issue 31.

The gig was organised by Blackhill Enterprises, who were part-owned by Pink Floyd.

The ad says DJ John Peel was providing “vibrations” and the wonderful Roy Harper was supporting.

I remember that now.

But the ad says “David Bowie” was supporting.

I’m sure he was introduced on stage as “David Jones”.

I think.

I used to go to the early free rock concerts which Blackhill Enterprises organised in a small-ish natural grass amphitheatre called ‘the cockpit’ in Hyde Park. Not many people went. Just enough to sit on the grass and listen comfortably. I think I may have been in the audience by the stage on the cover of the second issue of the new Time Out listings magazine.

I realised Pink Floyd – whom I hadn’t much rated before – were better heard at a distance when their sounds were drifting over water – like bagpipes – so I meandered over and listened to them from the other side of the Serpentine.

I remember a few months or a few weeks later turning up ten minutes before the Rolling Stones were due to start their free Hyde Park gig and found thousands of people had turned up and the gig had been moved to a flatter area. I think maybe I had not realised the Stones would draw a crowd. I gave up and went home. The Hyde Park gigs never recovered. Too many people from then on.

I remember going to The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity on the Isle of Wight in 1968. I went to see seeing Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fairport Convention. I didn’t go back the next year to the re-named Isle of Wight Festival because top-of-the-bill was the horribly pretentious and whiney non-singer Bob Dylan. What have people ever seen in him?

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

You can look it up on Wikipedia.

Though equally good, I reckon is the ancient saying:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, maybe I spent too much time in the 1960s…

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Drugs, History, Movies, Music, Record Industry

Wikileaks in reverse? Am I paranoid? Or are the Powers That Be reading every word I write?

Today there are reports that ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown thinks the News of the World may have hacked into his phone calls. Well Whoop-di-doop, Gordon, welcome to the 21st century.

In the late 1960s, I remember the London magazine Time Out reported that MI5 was listening in to all diplomatic telephone calls via a telephone exchange in (if memory serves me correctly) Kensington. A computer was scanning all calls and listening-in for keywords. This sounded very futuristic back then.

When the extremely right wing and, in my opinion, neo-Fascist Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he had no problem attempting to create profoundly anti-democratic laws. I remember one bright idea he had (never actually implemented) was to detain known football hooligans to prevent them going to a match if the police believed they might be thinking of perhaps planning to commit a crime. In other words he believed it would be OK to make Thought Crime an imprisonable offence.

Yet the one thing he was strangely opposed to throughout his Orwellian reign was allowing intercepts – phone taps – to be used in evidence in criminal trials. This continues to fascinate me. Why would he object?

He claimed that allowing intercepts to be used in evidence in open court would expose their origin. But, if we are talking about phone tap evidence, what is the problem?

Criminals know that anything they say on a telephone line may be legally and perfectly reasonably intercepted. They know that already. Everyone knows that. So saying in court that evidence has come from a wire tapped by the police or security services is not ‘revealing’ anything. It would only be revealing a hidden source if evidence had been collected and intercepted in some way other than from a wire tap… in which case, of course, the security services would not want to reveal that they had access to that unrevealed form of interception.

So what could that unrevealed and secret form of intercept be if it were not traditional phone tapping?

Telephones are two-way communication devices with built-in microphones. They are transmitters as well as receivers. You no longer need to install listening devices at telephone exchanges to tap phones. You can remotely make the microphones in the handsets active and thus listen in to anything said in a room. Most people have telephones in their living rooms and often their bedrooms; these can listen to and transmit anything said in the rooms. People with mobile phones not only carry transmitters with built-in microphones everywhere they go, but they are carrying GPS devices which can pinpoint their position to within a few feet.

But this is merely a variation on traditional eavesdropping. Would that really be why Tony Blair was so wary of the security services having to reveal in open court what their intercept sources might be?

I remember back in the late 1960s or early 1970s – certainly more than 30 years ago and before the really vast advances in computer development – a Cheltenham taxi driver called Barry Prime was tried in camera under the Official Secrets Act on charges which were never made public. The Sunday Times reported at the time he had told the Soviets that Britain’s GCHQ and America’s NSA had a satellite in (I think geostationary) orbit over the Soviet Union which could listen in to all above-ground communications – listening for keywords in all phone calls sent via the normal microwave system, walkie talkie calls, radio phone calls between, say, a Politburo member in his car and someone sitting in the Kremlin and possibly even a politician sitting in his office talking to his secretary on a wireless intercom. As a result, the Soviets buried all their sensitive communications in landlines, the West lost invaluable intelligence and Barry Prime was sentenced to a staggering number of years in jail (and seems to have been wiped from history and thus Google searches).

Journalist Duncan Campbell also got into trouble in 1985-1986 for revealing that GCHQ intended to launch a SigInt satellite called Zircon.

At one time, one of the words you were never supposed to speak on a telephone line in the UK was the word “Echelon” because it triggered all sorts of intelligence computers listening-in for keywords. Presumably if you mentioned “Echelon” AND “Burlington” AND “Turnstile” or even “Corsham”, then the eavesdropping computers would have had an orgasm of excitement. If, way back then, you had also mentioned “Stockwell”, “Site 3” and “Hawthorn“, then the Men in Black would probably have been sitting in a car outside your house the next day.

Modern satellites’ cameras can read the markings on the epaulettes of a soldier standing in a field outside Vladivostok or travelling in an open Jeep in Iraq. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that satellites which, more than 30 years ago, could listen in on all above-ground electronically-transmitted voice chatter can now listen-in to all human voice communication on a small area of the surface of the earth – let’s say the whole of the UK – and filter out bird song, traffic noises, water sounds etc to leave only the sounds created by human voices… and then to listen-in for keywords.

There was a saying in the late 1960s: “However paranoid you are, they’re always doing more than you think.”

What if any conversation on any street, in any room could be listened-in to by a satellite? What if anything you say out loud can be heard by the computers?

Plus ça change.

Though, in fact, I don’t object.

It’s a fact of modern British life.

The British public have no real objection to street security cameras. So why object to blanket voice surveillance?  After all, it was us who created 1984 not some foreign johnny. All e-mails leaving or entering the UK are scanned; presumably all blogs are scanned; presumably everything on the World Wide Web is scanned because the Internet was originally a military project.

If Google can do it, then I certainly hope Echelon, GCHQ and the NSA can do it.

And let’s not even start to think about Google Street View.

1 Comment

Filed under Crime, History, Newspapers, Politics, Science