Tag Archives: tour

Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith’s usually anarchic, sometimes illegal night-time tours of the Royal Mile

Arthur Smith at the 2010 Malcolm Hardee Awards

This Friday at 11.pm, The two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show starts at the Counting House in Edinburgh, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. Have I mentioned that before?

The show will include the Greatest Show on Legs performing their Naked Balloon Dance and a Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, international president of the World Egg Throwing Federation. So it’s all respectable stuff, not just people randomly smashing raw eggs in their faces.

Among those taking part in the Russian Egg Roulette will be comedians Richard Herring and Arthur Smith. After our show finishes at 1.00am, Arthur will be legging it up to the gates of Edinburgh Castle for 2.00am which is when he starts one of his legendary night time tours of the Royal Mile. To give a flavour of these always impressive cultural events, here are two extracts from Arthur’s autobiography My Name is Daphne Fairfax, available from all good bookshops and a few dodgy ones:


My tour of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh that year, a genre I now described as ‘radical site–specific outdoor promenade performance art,’ was a riot, ending outside John Thomson’s flat. John, a funny man and a mean impressionist had, that night, collected his Perrier award with Steve Coogan. He spoke from the shadows of the flat convincing a number of my crowd that I was talking to Sean Connery. We dispersed minutes before several police vans full of coppers arrived.

By now the tour began long after midnight; the most extreme starting time – 4am – is, surely, both the latest and earliest show to appear at the festival. The historical element of the event had been largely replaced by more muscular antics. I paid members of the crowd to climb onto an empty plinth, strip naked and sing Scotland the Brave; offered the squaddies guarding the castle a joint to slowmarch (yes, they usually did); induced residents of the Royal Mile to open their window and burst into song; staged kissing contests; introduced guest speakers such as Paul Merton, Hank Wangford, Mike McShane and Big Bobbie the armpit-farter; I might hush the audience to sneak up on a drunk enjoying a solitary piss against a wall, or stop by a shop displaying mannequins in tweed suits, introducing them as The Oxford Revue; I led everyone onto the back of an empty lorry and once ended the show at the Station where I got on the first train to Galashiels.

Oh, we had some laughs.

A DVD of my 1990 tour turned up recently, and watching it alone in the sober light of a Monday morning. I was appalled at how dangerous it now seems, how reckless I was, and how fortunate that no-one was ever seriously injured or even killed.  A fire breaks out, a pissed member of the Doug Anthony All Stars accepts twenty pounds to clamber up the scaffolding clinging to a building, a policeman appears in the background, and then mounts the portacabin on which Malcolm Hardee is standing in his traditional uniform of two socks.

In the previous year’s baccanal, I had turned up with an unruly mob of two hundred at a police lock-up round the back of the Royal Mile.  It was while Nelson Mandela was in prison so I informed the throng that he was in this very jail.  On cue everyone started singing, “Free -ee Nelson Mand-e-la!” until a small old policeman appeared and barked, “Will you please be quiet?  You’re keeping the poor prisoners awake.” Big laugh. Emboldened by my witty foe, I declared, “We will go when you release Nelson Mandela,” to which the gaoler responded, “We’ll be letting him out through the side door further up the road.”  Everyone roared and clapped and we moved on. The funny copper, whoever he was, was a class act, a Scottish Syd, a man of style who diffused a tricky moment with charm and humour.

Although I never did the day-time Royal Mile walks again after ‘83, I have presented a couple of more elaborate and innocent promenades shows elsewhere in town, My eccentric take on Swan Lake unfolded unpredictably round the back of the Pleasance

* * * * *

It was a full, fat, hard-drinking festival for me in 2000, with a suitably dramatic finale which contained the words

‘I am arresting you for breach of the peace and possession of a megaphone.’

I was in an Edinburgh Police Station at 5am when a police officer spoke this sentence to me. How did this unfortunate situation come about?

The story starts in the small hours of Sunday August 27th m’lud. A large crowd is gathered opposite the Tron church watching a man standing on a wall talking through a megaphone.  His underpants are on display and he seems somewhat the worse for wear.  It is myself and I am declaring an end to my tour; what remains of my audience are drifting off home. A couple of policemen arrive on the scene. Unsurprisingly, there is some light jeering from the remaining tourists. But now there are 5 police cars, a van and an armoured black maria. A couple of revellers hustle me round a corner where I put my trousers on and return in time to see post-renaissance comedian Simon Munnery being handcuffed and bundled into one of the cars.

At the time Simon had just taken the sacred megaphone from me, which he was perfectly entitled to do, since he had taken hilarious part in the improvised promenade, having reprised the role of Heinrich, the deranged Nietzschean German tourist.  Now a new part was thrust upon him – arrested man sitting in a cell feeling very pissed off indeed. I felt guilty that it had been Simon, and not me, the police had nabbed, so I led a few stragglers, whose outrage briefly outranked their tiredness, to the Police Station to await his release.  It was a long, strange night. At around 5am Rich Hall came by, fresh from collecting the Perrier award, and joined our vigil for as long as his eyes were able to remain open.  Not long after he left I was taken into a room, charged and immediately released. Later, when I was less angry, I was able to laugh at an imaginary conversation between the coppers.

PC:                  This Arthur Smith is obviously the Mr Big, Sarge.

SARGE:          Aye, we’d better arrest him.

PC:                  I wonder where he could be?

SARGE:          Let’s try the waiting room.

They seek him here, they seek him there…..

At approximately 8am, your honour, Simon was released from custody.  I decided to stay up since my last Leonard Cohen show was at lunch-time and it felt like Simon and I should top the night off together. We repaired to my nearby digs and an unlikely bottle of Asti Spumante. Sipping it, smoking, dazed at the chaos that had led us here, I grimaced at the realisation that I would have to tell Syd about this one. And then I laughed at the thought that I was forty-five years old. It was a beautiful, sunny, late-summer morning.  ‘Goodness me,’ I thought, ‘if this is what I have to do to avoid being bored, it’s pretty damn exhausting.’

“One must have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star” – Nietzsche

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Comedian Lewis Schaffer’s strange offer of Edinburgh Fringe show sponsorship

In Soho - Peter Goddard - He’s a nice guy!

Yesterday, I blogged about problems over free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and quoted one of the most prominent free performers, London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer.

He crops up in quite a few of my blogs.

I like to have subsidiary characters and plot threads running through my blogs so that anyone regularly reading the blogs can – or, if I were to turn them into an annual e-book, anyone reading the chronological collected blogs could – follow these threads as they develop.

I recently encouraged Lewis Schaffer to start his own blog, which means he occasionally mentions me in his blog.

I aspire to being a subsidiary character myself.

Yesterday, in his blog, Lewis Schaffer wrote about his show the previous night (pay attention, dear reader): “My personal blogger John Fleming was there last night with the ‘un-named’ woman who makes his presence bearable – actually he is a welcome sight for anyone who wishes to be loved and accepted as an artist.”

I think this has the semi-unfortunate side-effect of making me seem a little creepy but – hey! – a little creepy gets you noticed.

The other slightly odd thing Lewis Schaffer wrote in his blog yesterday was: “Peter Goddard – the man whose hair I was stroking – he’s a nice guy – told me afterward that I had the audience laughing many times but stopped them as if I didn’t like them enjoying themselves.”

Stroking a man’s hair during a gig where the comedian tries to stop the audience laughing may seem odd enough but what, you might ponder, is with the odd sentence construction: “Peter Goddard – the man whose hair I was stroking – he’s a nice guy – told me…”??

Well, this goes back to two nights ago, when I saw Lewis Schaffer’s ongoing twice-weekly show Free Until Famous in London’s Soho.

There was a man there who laughed throughout. It turned out he was this Peter Goddard.

After the show, Peter Goddard, his female friend, Lewis Schaffer and my eternally-un-named friend had a meal in Soho and Peter Goddard decided he wanted to sponsor the publicity  costs of Lewis Schaffer’s Edinburgh Fringe show in August.

Peter Goddard had thought the whole idea through before he came to the gig.

The only thing he wanted in return was that a picture of his head and his hand giving a thumbs-up sign should appear in the corner of every flyer and every poster for Lewis Schaffer’s show with the slogan “PETER GODDARD – HE’S A NICE GUY!”

He had loved Lewis Schaffer’s show that night. So did Lewis Schaffer. They both loved the fact it had been ‘uncomfortable’.

“Being in your show tonight,” said Peter Goddard, “was like sitting INSIDE The Office as opposed to sitting at home, watching The Office on TV. If you watch The Office on TV, you can laugh. If you were actually sitting inside The Office itself for real, you wouldn’t laugh. It would be very uncomfortable. Imagine going to a comedy club and not being sure if the comedian was David Brent or Ricky Gervais.”

That was what Peter Goddard said. And that was why he had enjoyed Lewis Schaffer’s show so much.

Lewis Schaffer was – of course – this is Lewis Schaffer, after all – indecisive about the idea.

“What do you get out of it?” Lewis Schaffer asked Peter Goddard.

“Nothing,” Peter Goddard replied. “It’s just funny… and I’m a nice guy.”

“It would have to be a photo of you with a cheesy grin,” I suggested, “like you were recommending a hamburger or a washing machine in some naff 1950s ad.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed Peter Goddard.

“I flyer for myself in Edinburgh,” Lewis Schaffer said. “People are going to ask me a thousand times – five thousand times – who you are and what you get out of it. It’ll drive me crazy talking about you and not talking about me. I hand out 5,000 flyers in Edinburgh.”

“You just say,” I suggested. “Peter Goddard – He’s a nice guy… That’s all I am contractually allowed to say.

“What do you do?” Lewis Schaffer asked Peter Goddard.

“I’m a project manager for banks,” Peter Goddard replied.

Lewis Schaffer looked at me. I looked at Lewis Schaffer.

“I think it’s a great idea,” I said.

Afterwards, I asked Lewis Schaffer, “How long have you known him?”

“I’ve met him twice but I only remember meeting him once. Maybe more. But I don’t remember. I don’t know why he chose me.”

I opened my mouth to say something.

“I don’t know,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“It’s a great idea,” I told him. “It will get you attention and get your posters and flyers talked about, like Cockgate. Well, not quite as much as that.”

“As what?”



Lewis Schaffer pondered this for a few long seconds.

“Do I want that?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I told him. “It’s at least worth two-inch pieces in three or four newspapers or magazines during the Fringe.”

“Ah,” he said.

We said nothing for a few long seconds.

“Even saying No comment to 5,000 people would drive me crazy,” he said. “I want to be talking to them about Lewis Schaffer.”

We said nothing for a few long seconds.

“Tomorrow I could contact MegaBus,” Lewis Schaffer eventually said, “They could be my tour sponsor. Peter Goddard could sponsor my Edinburgh Fringe publicity and MegaBus could sponsor my Free Until Famous tour…  £1 Until Famous.”

“But,” I suggested, “maybe you don’t get people with disposable incomes taking the MegaBus. Are they your target audience for comedy shows where you want people to give you as much money as they can at the end of the show?”

“You’re not going to see famous people take the coach,” said Lewis Schaffer “£1 Until Famous… In New York, I got free Oliver Peoples glasses for travelling by bus. They are the glasses of choice of American psychos.”

“Have you stopped drinking?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I’ve stopped drinking,” replied Lewis Schaffer.

“What about Peter Goddard?” asked my eternally-un-named friend, as the three of us walked through Soho.

“He’s a nice guy,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“It’s a start,” I said.

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Researching Bob Slayer’s comedy show in the Australian outback with a goat

Jimbo, Gary the Goat and Bob Slayer on a research trip

I spent most of yesterday driving from London to Plymouth in Devon and then to Penzance in Cornwall.

Who knew Penzance was that far away? Not me. And why are some of the road signs in Cornwall printed in Cornish? Who speaks Cornish? It is bad enough Tesco supermarkets in South Wales have signs in Welsh in areas where people don’t speak Welsh.

My friend and I are staying in a very nice 4-star seafront hotel in Penzance.

She complained to the hotel that the room was too cold; I took my sweater off because it was so hot. Mind you, she had been sleep-deprived the night before. (I had nothing to do with that.)

Hot water came out of the cold tap and cold water came out of the hot tap; then hot water came out of the hot tap and hot water came out of the cold tap.

Then the ends of the taps saying HOT and COLD fell off.

My friend was by now getting hysterical with laughter.

There was a slight creaking from the wall. She put her dressing gown over the wall-mounted trouser press.

“Was the trouser press creaking?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

Meanwhile, from Australia…

British comedian Eric sent me an e-mail saying:

Just three days until the Adelaide Fringe kicks off and I have just found out that my opening night is sold out! And ‘Little E’ had her first bogey today. (I am so proud.)

Little E is his newish-born daughter Erica.

I found it rather worrying that the Adelaide Fringe starts in three days, because British comedian Bob Slayer is supposed to be performing there and, yesterday, I got an e-mail from him in the outback.

When last heard from, Bob had disappeared in the desert on his way to the Adelaide Fringe. He was stuck in Coober Pedy, the opal mining centre of the world, accompanied by Australian comic Jimbo and by Jimbo’s amiable animal mate Gary the Goat. They had encountered a Czech opal miner who might or might not have a daughter he is trying to marry off.

Yesterday’s e-mail told me all three have now reappeared in Roxby Downs – a town, Bob tells me, which was built to house the miners of what is set to become the largest mine in the world – the Olympic Dam mine. This is what he told me:


Extremely well-paid employees are pulling copper, gold and uranium out of the ground in vast quantities. Instead of Coober Pedy’s beat-up trucks and utility vehicles, Roxby streets are lined with 4x4s that have never seen anything other than tarmac. The streets are lined with green manicured grass and there is not a real local in site.

We go into the smart environs of Roxby Downs Community Club and I am pleasantly surprised when they are happy for us to put on a gig the following night. They initially have concerns about being able to drum up a crowd, but the presence of Gary the Goat swings it. We have a feed and then, after seeing how expensive the motel is, we decide to sleep rough on the football oval. I doubt the motel would be very happy with Gary anyway. In the morning, we are woken by the sprinklers and then, before we can have a shower, we are moved on by the parkies. 

The three of us go for a swim in the outdoor swimming pool at the community leisure centre but then staff change their mind about Gary the Goat because someone has complained. If they had thrown us out because Jimbo and I had turned their pool cloudy then I would understand. But Gary the Goat was happily chewing grass and being patted by the local kids while we had a swim. 

The nice staff at the pool tell us that the complaint comes from a lady with a dog. It seems that if her little poodle isn’t allowed into the pool area then why should a goat be? Well little vegetarian goat droppings are very different to dog shit. People are odd complaining about someone else’s happiness. When we take Gary out of the pool area, a little girl cries because she wanted to pat Gary some more.

We decide to go for breakfast before doing some promotion. The cafe is next to the school and Gary the Goat somehow gets into a classroom. Woops! There follows a heated lecture from the principal who tells us that Gary is a danger to the children. While she is telling us this a dozen toddlers, who are now leaving morning playgroup, are taking it in turns to pat Gary. 

A council lady turns up. She is nice but says we have to take Gary the Goat to the park. We explain that we have already been thrown out of there. We take Gary away and more children cry. Two of the mothers get angry with the principal. We are causing a bit of a scene. 

In the middle of all this commotion, the kinder garden teacher tells us that her husband Julian runs the local radio station and would like to interview Gary the Goat. As we leave the radio station, two girls turn up from the Roxby Downs Monitor and we give them an exclusive on the Gary situation. When they leave a man from the Roxby Downs Sun turns up and we give him an exclusive as well!

In the evening, at the gig, our gorilla promotions seem to have worked as over 100 paying punters turn up to see just who are these people with the goat. We have a great show and a good old knees-up afterwards.

We now have more than enough money to afford the Roxby Downs motel but we sleep on the football oval, this time by choice!


That was yesterday. When I woke up this morning, there was another e-mail from Bob – a Press Release saying he has been doing preparation and research in the outback for his Adelaide Fringe show Bob Slayer Will Outdrink Australia, including a visit to Wineries in McLaren Vale “where I spent the last couple of days working on the new vintage for Alpha Box & Dice winery who paid me in my weight in wine!”

I looked up the Alpha Box & Dice website. Their slogan is: “Where all your dreams come true”.

According to Bob’s Press Release, there will be two shows each day at the Austral venue in Adelaide:

5:45 – Early show (first drink of the day) – a solo show.

Midnight – Late show (still drinking) – includes special guests.

Bob describes himself in the Press Release as a “hilariously drunk and deranged rock & roll tour manager turned Edinburgh Fringe award winning comedian. Wilder than the acts he has looked after (Iggy Pop, Snoop Dogg, Grinspoon, Bloodhound Gang, Regurgitator, Electric Eel Shock etc).

“I have been to Australia once before, maybe five years ago,” he says, “when I was tour manager of Nashville Pussy (from the USA). This time I wanted to take in the real Australia.”

Apparently his escapades are being filmed for a future documentary and “reported on a highly-regarded UK Comedy Blog.

I am beginning to worry about Bob’s views. Is this blog highly-regarded? I feel it should be less respectable.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Drink

Comedian Bob Slayer finds a mate in the Australian Outback: Gary the Goat

Bob Slayer’s mates in Australia: Gary the Goat and Jimbo

After references in my blog yesterday to sightings of British comedian Bob Slayer in Perth and to him going AWOL in Australia, he has re-surfaced in the Outback, 800 km from Adelaide.

Last night, I got this message from him:


I have finally managed to escape Perth, the city that did not agree with my digestive tract… I went to out-drink the town and it crushed me like a beetle.

I did two shows – they went “gang busters” (a local saying for ‘they went rather spiffing’) – then I went a bit mental in the hot sun with a few ales inside me – Did you know how strict the licensing laws are over here? Crazy. I really thought I could  steer this into an adventure but I just sailed the ship up a muddy creek of epic shit proportions.

I did have a bit of a Perth send-off, though: a hastily-arranged free gig to make up for the cancelled ones. Ten minutes before show-time I was sat in a bar with no microphone or stage and five locals, thinking Why did I set this up?

But, ten minutes later, people started arriving and they kept coming. Around 100 of them came to see me off – or to make sure I did in fact leave Perth. A great 90 minute show and $500 in the hat….

OK, maybe I will come back one day. But right now I am all about the Outback. The real life. Where men are hairy and made of leather.


At this point, I should mention Gary the Goat.

In my blog yesterday, Eric made an unexplained reference to Bob Slayer and a goat.

Comedian Jimbo Bazoobi bills himself as “Australia’s crudest comedian” and, allegedly, used to be “Sydney’s most popular children’s party clown throughout the 1990s”. Also, according to Jimbo, goats have often been part of his performances and, last year, he traded a case of beer for Gary the Goat. Now they are “friends for life”. They have performed at almost 200 rural towns across Australia and have released a CD called Goats Need Love Too!

The very thought of Bob Slayer travelling unsupervised with Jimbo and Gary the Goat is almost too much for my fantasy brain to cope with. It sounds like the basis for a particularly weird Tim Burton movie.

But it has now happened. Bob tells me:


I set off for the Outback with a man and his goat in an old beat-up $400 Ford something-or-other.

We decided to drive through the night. We have to make regular stops for Gary to piss and poo. Jimbo also grabs a bit of scrub bush at every opportunity so that Gary the Goat has something other than the car seat to chew on while he is sat in the back. He is a happy travelling companion who surprisingly does not smell. Well… not as bad as Jimbo. The pair have clearly bonded and Jimbo cannot stop telling me about how much his life has improved since he got a goat.

Shortly after sun-up, I take over driving the goat transporter. Within five minutes of getting behind the wheel, a giant rat jumps across the road in front of us. There is a Blam!! The car does a jump and Skippy is not going to bounce any more. There is an old Outback saying – You are not a real Aussie until you have killed your first roo – Well hello Australia; Bob Slayer is now one of you.

I want to dig a hole by the side of the road and bury him but Jimbo, although not insensitive to the welfare of animals – as he has displayed in his love for Gary the Goat – points out that we pass a road-kill kangaroo probably every couple of kilometers and we would need to do a lot of digging to respect them all.

At midday, with the temperature in the 40s, we pull into Coober Pedy, the opal mining centre of the world. Less than 2,000 people live here. That is half the capacity of the London Apollo. Half of these folks live underground cos it is so hot. The landscape of mines and caves has been used in Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, Mad Max, Pitch Black and a bunch of other films.

My first impression is: What a hot and dusty shithole!

We have no gig booked but, after an hour of walking around town with Gary the Goat, we have a gig set up for tomorrow evening in the Opal – a place to stay underground, beer and a good feed. This seems to be how they roll out here. If they like you then they take you in.

We had a sleep and then spent the evening putting up posters in the town’s four shops, two servos, two pubs and four-and-a-half restaurants. We meet the local cops, who are coming down for a knees-up tomorrow. We also meet a Czech opal miner called Vic who has been over here for 30 years. He has invited us for a kangaroo Bar-B-Q tomorrow. I did not ask if it was a bring-your-own. Jimbo suspects that the Czech opal miner might have a daughter he is trying to marry off.

Gary the Goat has just done a little bleat outside our cave. He is the most low-maintenance travelling partner you could ever imagine. So long as you give him a bit of old tree and a splash of water every now and then he is happy. He is sleeping on top of Jimbo’s car.


I fear we may hear no more of Bob Slayer and he will disappear from the known world, living in a menage-a-quatre in a cave with Jimbo, a Czech opal miner’s daughter and Gary the Goat.

My sympathy is with the goat.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy

Suspicious Italian lawyers and a warning to Australian comedy lovers

Yesterday, I took a trip to Lake Como in Italy or, rather, to the town of Como, which has easy access to Switzerland across the lake and seems to have a suspiciously high number of “studio legale” – solicitors’ offices.

Apart from that, my day seemed to be mostly taken up with traffic jams.

I did, though, get an e-mail from comedian Bob Slayer back in the UK, who tells me he is preparing to go to Perth Fringe World in Australia and is looking forward to a month in the sun.

“After Perth,” he tells me, “I will be doing a comedy tour of mining and rural towns around the outback all the way to the Adelaide Fringe. I will be travelling in a Ute that runs on cooking oil… with a goat called Gary and a comic called Jimbo who drinks his own wee.”

Confusingly, there are two comics called Jimbo.

This is the one whose website bills him as “Australia’s crudest comedian”.

Only a soul as hardy as this could even contemplate the terrifying thought of traversing the outback with a Bob Slayer who will have easy access to beer and be in the home country of Priscilla Queen of The Desert.

Bob has promised, dear reader, to be one of this blog’s ‘foreign correspondents’. I fear reports on his escapades Down Under may well make Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seem like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

You have been warned.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Italy

Christmas with Malcolm Hardee: police blowjobs and The Tunnel Palladium

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Digger Dave’s memories of his late friend Malcolm Hardee, the late ‘godfather of alternative comedy’.  He mentioned “the Great Christmas Can Can Tour of London’s East End pubs” by The Greatest Show on Legs, the act Malcolm performed in. This was only one of The Greatest Show on Legs’ pub-crawling performances.

Malcolm wrote about them – and how he started his infamous comedy club The Tunnel Palladium –  in his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Malcolm drowned in 2005.


Back in 1983, The Greatest Show on Legs got fed up with touring and we split up as a full-time act, though we’re still going. We’re a bit like the folk group Fairport Convention. We keep having reunions. But when we stopped being The Greatest Show on Legs full-time, I started The Tunnel Palladium, an early alternative comedy venue. It all started by accident.

Every year we did two Greatest Show on Legs Pub Crawls. We selected four or five local South East London pubs where we’d go and give a show for free. We did one Pub Crawl in the Winter, round Christmas; and one in the summer.

One of these pubs we picked was The Mitre in a very rough area of Greenwich, about 50 yards from the southern exit of the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames. Our show there was on a Sunday night and we couldn’t give it for free because the landlord insisted it was part of his Licence that he had to charge something to get in. So I think he charged £2.

When we did our show, The Mitre was packed: about 300 people were in there watching us.

The Mitre was split into two bars. The Greatest Show on Legs performed in one bar and, in the other bar, there was a stag night for the local constabulary. It wasn’t just a stag night. They had strippers who performed full sex.

They were giving blowjobs and wiping the result on the beer mats and all that sort of stuff. I went into this other bar and was sitting next to a copper who thought I was part of the stag night crowd. In front of me was a stripper sucking this bloke’s knob and I said to this copper:

“What’s that all about?”

“Oh,” he said: “That’s alright. He’s getting married tomorrow”.

After that night, I spoke to this very woman we’d been watching. She said she recognised me because she used to go out with my mate Dexie Doug Davies and it came back to me in a flash. I remembered their relationship and I remembered Dexie Doug complaining that this woman Frances wouldn’t go the whole way but spent 90% of her waking hours giving him blow jobs. (I’ve heard other complaints about other relationships, but they were the exact opposite.)

So there was Frances all these years later putting her considerable skills to good use and presumably getting paid for it.

It was a very odd experience. Two different audiences. A lot of trendy Lefties watching The Greatest Show on Legs in one bar. And, in the other bar, a load of coppers being serviced by strippers.

The next Sunday, I went back and there was a Heavy Metal band on with about four people in the audience and they were just friends of the band. I said:

“Last week, when we were here, there were 300 people. What’s going on?”

So the person who was rock promoter there, Steve Black, suggested I run a Sunday comedy club at The Mitre.

I named it The Tunnel because it was next to the Blackwall Tunnel.

Strangely enough, the landlord had ‘tunnel vision’.

But that was just an odd coincidence.

Martin Potter, who had helped us on the pilot for OTT and the audition for Game For a Laugh became my partner for our Sunday Night at The Tunnel Palladium  shows. We very quickly made some promotional flyers and the club was an instant success.

Our first show was on 8th January 1984

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Filed under Comedy, Police, Sex

Star guitarist Hank Marvin used to knock-up mothers on Sunday mornings

I was talking to someone in West Wales today about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, like you do, and the subject of Hank Marvin of The Shadows cropped up.

I don’t know if this is an urban myth, but I have heard it more than once over the years and it has always had the ring of truth about it.

Cliff Richard and The Shadows are famously Christian.

Lead guitarist Hank Marvin became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1973.

Whenever Cliff Richard and The Shadows toured the UK after that – wherever they performed on a particular Saturday night – every Sunday morning Hank Marvin would go round knocking on people’s doors, carrying copies of The Watchtower and spreading the Word of God.

Quite how mothers of a certain age reacted when they opened the door, bleary-eyed, on a Sunday morning to find their teenage pop idol Hank Marvin asking, “Have you ever thought of giving your life to Jesus?” I cannot imagine.

Well, I CAN imagine it and it gives me warm smiles of happiness whenever I do.

Even more surreal is the story that Frank Zappa apparently said Hank Marvin’s guitar style heavily influenced the first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out! and that guitarist Carlos Santana’s early nickname was ‘Apache’ after The Shadows’ famous tune of that name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Books, Comedy, Internet, Television, Theatre

The god-like comedian Ken Dodd is more mugger than con man + he got a standing ovation in Bournemouth

Morecambe and Wise were not famous.

Yes, they were justifiably famous in the UK. But go to some village in western China and ask them who Morecambe and Wise were.

M&W are and always were total unknowns except in the British Isles.

Fame is relative and mostly regional.

To save my life, I could not tell you who the world water ski champion is. But presumably he or she is a Big Name if you follow water skiing.

The world is full of champions, each famous in their own little world.

I see quite a lot of club comedy and what is still called alternative comedy. Some of the acts are called comedy stars; some may even think they are stars. Audiences even flock to and fill large venues to see some of these people who have appeared in TV panel shows.

But they are not big stars even in the UK. They are minor and transient cults with a few disciples. Admittedly they have more disciples than Jesus did when he started but, just because you can get more than twelve people to listen to you in a room above a pub in Camden Town, don’t start thinking you are more famous than the Son of God.

Unless you are known and regarded in awe by a random 50-year-old housewife in a bus queue in Leamington Spa, you are not famous in UK terms. If you can fill a big venue at the Edinburgh Fringe with 23 year old fans for 27 nights, you are not famous. You are a very minor cult.

Last night, I saw Ken Dodd’s show Happiness at The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. Ken Dodd is unquestionably famous in the UK and the venue was filled with a well-heeled middle-of-the-road, middle class Middle England audience of the type TV commissioners mystifyingly ignore. This audience was the great TV-viewing audience en masse on a rare trip out to see a live show.

Upcoming shows at The Pavilion include The Gazza and Greavsie Show, Roy Chubby Brown, Joe Pasquale, Jethro and Jim Davidson. Never, never, never underestimate the Daily Mail. Their readers are the mass audience. Admittedly Dylan Moran and Russell Kane also have upcoming shows at The Pavilion, but the phrases “sore thumbs” and “stand out” spring to mind.

London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer has a routine in which he says his ex-manager told him he will never become famous unless, like a currently ‘famous’ alternative comedian, he can be a true professional and tell the same jokes in every show and repeat each show exactly.

Last night, the first half of Ken Dodd’s 5-hour show proved the danger of being too experienced and too professional a performer if you are on a long tour.

There was an audibility problem.

This was partly because the sound system at The Pavilion was occasionally indistinct – certainly where I was sitting, centre right in the audience – and partly because Ken Dodd, after 55 years in showbiz and on his seemingly endless UK tour, has been doing the same routines and telling the same stories for too long. He came on stage and spoke what, for the first part of the show seemed to be a script which he had got so used to he didn’t actually perform it: he just threw the words out. He galloped and gabbled through the words and syllables with the result perhaps a quarter of what he was saying was indecipherable.

And this was an audience with possible inbuilt hearing problems where I half expected the colostomy bags to break during the show to create a tsunami that could have washed the entire population of Bournemouth into the English Channel.

When an established act, instead of saying “Ladies and gentlemen” says “lay-ge-me” and all the other words and phrases are gabbled and elided indistinctly in much the same way, he is not performing an act, he is going through the motions on autopilot. He has heard the jokes 1,000 times; the audience has not (well, not most of them).

His saving grace was an astonishing gag rate of perhaps one potential laugh every ten seconds. And the material is gold. You couldn’t go wrong with that material. But Doddy was getting laughs because the jokes (when heard) were good, not because of any technical skill in the delivery.

There are very few successful gag tellers in modern alternative comedy – Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine are exceptions not the rule. Most successful alternative comedians nowadays tell stories: not necessarily funny stories, but stories told funny.

Ken Dodd mostly told gags in the first half and funny stories in the second half (in which he found his feet more). But it struck me that his slightly more old-fashioned (or let’s say traditional) approach was very similar to inexperienced circuit comics today.

He told stories as if they were gags, with token links between each story, but with no over-all arc. If he told ten stories, the first and second might have a token link and the seventh and eighth might have a token link, but there was no over-all progression, no shape, no thread to the stories. So the over-all effect was like getting beaten round the head with gags by a mugger for five hours, not drawn into a personal fantasy world by a con man, which is what a stand-up comedian is.

It struck me Doddy’s unlinked gag structure was very like comics new to the current comedy circuit who have some material but can’t stitch it into a unitary act. They can do 10 or 15 or 20 minutes but are not yet capable of putting on a 60 minute Edinburgh Fringe show.

I suppose the transition from beating people into submission with barrages of gags rather than bringing them into your own personal world with smoothly-linked stories is a relatively recent development which Doddy has no need to embrace because he has so many gags and stories which he can throw at the audience from his years of experience.

Because he is so experienced and so good, I could not tell how much of the second half was scripted and how much he was just plucking and throwing in gags and stories from a mental storehouse.

One ad-lib which surely must have been planned and, indeed, ‘planted’ was a piece of banter with the audience in which Dodd asked a woman “How many children do you have?”

“Eight!” came the unexpected reply.

Dodd professed bewilderment at this and meandered for a couple of sentences about her husband, then asked:

“Have you sewn up the gap in his pyjamas yet?…. (pause)… You know what they say… A stitch in time saves…” (Immediate audience laughter – though strangely not as much as it deserved)

This cannot possibly have been an ad-lib. It had to have been planted in the audience because he feigned bewilderment at the initial reply of “Eight,” which he would not have done in the way that he did if it were not a lead-up to the punchline.

There were also glimpses of an unexpected (to me) Ken Dodd – a ventriloquist act with a Diddy Man doll that almost verged on being post-modernist and a sequence in which he was doing a series of very passable regional accents and which went into a whole non-Ken-Dodd realm.

Small numbers of the audience left during the single interval – including the friend I went with, who had been exhausted by the first two and a half hours – she went paddling in the sea by the pier and then found a strange Greek Orthodox priest intoning his way through a Paschal Celebration in a small chapel watching by an old woman with a bell and an old man in a shabby grey suit. He had started at 10.00pm – about halfway through Doddy’s show – and was still intoning, watched by his two fans, at 15 minutes past midnight after Doddy’s show had ended and we went to see if he was still going strong.

Whether Christianity or Ken Dodd’s shows will last longer is a moot point, but they probably have the same fans.

At the end of Ken Dodd’s Happiness show, people rose from their seats to leave while still clapping and, partially blocked from leaving by other people possibly with mobility problems, this turned into a standing ovation and a sudden flutter of flashes as people with mobile phones snatched quick photos of the god-like Doddy on stage.

The standing ovation in both the stalls and the balcony was warm and heartfelt and passionate but perhaps was more for being a national institution than for the show itself.

It was an event as much as a show.

Much like Jesus preaching to the converted, in retrospect, it will be loved, treasured and much talked about and the Master’s fame will spread, though perhaps neither further nor wider nor to western China.


Filed under Comedy, Religion, Theatre