News reaches me in London from far-off Europe that, if you are ever hungry in Brussels, there are multiple options…
The official Brussels travel website has one suggestion… and that option is available in a variety of outlets…
News reaches me in London from far-off Europe that, if you are ever hungry in Brussels, there are multiple options…
The official Brussels travel website has one suggestion… and that option is available in a variety of outlets…
My advice to people going to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time to see shows:
Don’t assume that, because a show is tucked away at 0930 or midday or 1600 that it is any less good than one at 2000 or 2300… and see lots of shows by people you have never heard of – take a punt. If you have already heard of them, you can probably see them in London (other cities are available), so ignore them in Edinburgh…
…and, in the Old Town, beware of swooping seagulls after dark…
Lynn Ruth Miller concludes her 4-blog jaunt around SouthEast Asia…
I was in Singapore to open for Jinx Yeo, a young man who has become a hit in Asia. Wherever I go in this part of the world, the bookers know and respect him. He lived in London for a short time hoping to make a profitable career but his mother died and he returned to Singapore. Here he is a name and does corporate gigs as well as conventional stand-up performances.
The show was held at The Merry Lion. The place had been refurbished since I was there last. It used to be a very plain, no-frills place that looked more like an upstairs meeting room with a bar, but now it is painted with caricatures of comedians on the wall and a cute little lion to decorate the stage. The lighting has improved, as well.
All this is thanks to Aidan Killian who took over direct management of the place several months ago. The Merry Lion now looks like a proper comedy club and since it does performances every night it will soon become the major club in Singapore. It is the place for both local and traveling comedians to get a good audience, proper payment and have a good, well-supported show.
I opened for Jinx and did a 30-minute set. The audience was large but anxious to laugh and the response was wonderful. I stayed to hear Jinx because I love his comedy.
The thing I have to remember is that comedy is artistry with words and Jinx is performing in his second language, while I am using my native tongue. That anyone can get laughs in a foreign tongue is amazing to me, yet I know many comedians do this: Eddie Izzard, Des Bishop to name two
I returned the next evening to do my solo show I Never Said I Was Nice and there were about 30 people there, most of them ex-pats. I did the show to ecstatic response, which was not easy because the first act was filled with novice comedians who, nice as they are as people, had not mastered the art of stand-up enough to connect with this audience.
The exciting thing for me was that I was able to pick up a totally dead and very tired audience and make them laugh.
I got up at 6:30am the next day because Gary Tan, my wonderful friend, fellow comedian and taxi driver, wanted to be sure I caught the plane to Kuala Lumpur.
My plane was late (of course it was) and when I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport I was met by Neal Kang, a 19-year-old Communication student whose brother Nat is a comedian and who had conned him into waiting several hours at the airport until I finally arrived.
Neal goes to an international school. He and his family only speak English at home although he can also speak Malay. His parents are both Chinese but each one speaks a different dialect. Actually, his father is Indian but he was abandoned as a child and a Chinese couple adopted him.
Neal filled me in on the inadequate educational system in Kuala Lumpur “They have no sex education,” he said. “No-one knows how to use a condom.”
At 15? They are doing it? And using condoms? And this is a Muslim country ruled by Sharia Law?
One of the required subjects is Morals (?) and, unless you pass it, you cannot get out of high school
In ‘Morals’, they teach you the basic rules of politeness that our parents taught us in Western countries.
The laws appear very restrictive but they do not seem to limit people’s lives. For example, you can only divorce if the man approves.
Many couples separate and do not divorce unless the woman finds someone else and wants to marry him. In that case, they have to pay the first husband money to get him to approve the divorce.
If the man wants to remarry, he can initiate a divorce with no problem.
Abortion is illegal but still people do it.
Being gay is illegal but there is a very large gay population in Kuala Lumpur.
If you are a Muslim, you must abide by Sharia law but, if you are not, you need not worry.
The Chinese in Malaysia are considered the wealthy faction of the population and the Indians are suspect.
I do a joke where I say, “I say something no black person ever says: The policeman is my friend.” When I did my set at the Crack House in Kuala Lumpur, I changed ‘black’ to ‘brown’. It got a huge laugh.
The traffic in Kuala Lumpur is horrid but not as bad as Jakarta.
Still, it took two hours to get from the airport to my hotel and I had just enough time to unpack, grab some food and get dressed for the gig that night.
Neal’s brother Nat picked me up along with Prakash, the MC for the evening and an amazing performer.
That night, a huge contingent from Starbucks Coffee came to the show and drank a lot of liquid that was not coffee. The entire audience was one of the best I have ever seen and the four comedians (all men) who made up the first act were unbelievably funny. Every comedian was spot on. I thought: Thank God there is an interval because I could never follow that much laughter.
I did 45 minutes in the second half and it went down to thunderous applause. Afterwards, all the comedians stayed to drink, dance and chat. It was lovely to see how they all form a very close supportive community.
The next day I met a magnificent, seasoned cabaret performer, Joanne Kam. It was her birthday but SHE took ME to lunch. She has been performing for over thirty years so she initiated the comedy cabaret scene in Kuala Lumpur.
She is a single mother but has managed to create a very respected and well-paid niche for herself in her part of the world. She must have had huge and daunting blocks to overcome: a woman performing in a male-dominated culture. But she has obviously won her game. She puts on her own shows and packs houses with hundreds of patrons. She is amazing and more important a very kind, giving human being. I never felt any sense of competition with either Joanne or any of the comedians I worked with in Kuala Lumpur and the standard there is exceptionally high.
After Joanne dropped me off at my hotel, I met Jai and Mark, (with their one-year-old Elezer), a couple I met in London two years ago. We have kept in touch and they also were with me when I did the Merry Lion in Singapore.
I am beginning to have friends I look forward to seeing again in every country I visit and that makes these trips even more exciting and rewarding.
And then it was time for the grand finale of my trip to Southeast Asia.
I did I Never Said I Was Nice – my one hour show – as the second half of the show at the Crack House and it was a hit. Thank goodness for that.
After the show, all the comedians went out with me for a late dinner and wonderful talk about the meaning of being human, what love is about and why we do comedy. I have to say this comes pretty close to being THE most exciting evening of my life (so far, of course.)
Wherever we live, whatever we believe, we all share similar goals and aspirations.
I had a friend from St Petersburg who once told me: “Everybody needs a place to live, to stay warm and eat delicious.”
I guess that says it all.
In immediately preceding blogs, she wrote about performing comedy in Cambodia, then in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi and Jakarta. Now London-based American Lynn Ruth Miller continues in Part 3 of a 4-part blog…
My next stop was Singapore.
The comedy scene there is not a good one in which to polish your craft. The open mike opportunities are sparse and, unlike London or even San Francisco, the only audiences at these events are other comedians and that is no way to judge if your comedy has a broad appeal.
When I had been doing comedy for seven years I had already been elevated to paying gigs and could improve by listening to the reaction I got from larger more diverse audiences
In Singapore, they have only two outlets.
Umar Rana runs Masala and he always has international headliners. He is very good at employing locals, but his shows are only once a week and he cannot have the same person week after week. That means there is little opportunity to practice your craft with a real audience. There are too many comedians and too few slots to fill.
The Merry Lion began two years ago and is not as established. I was very interested to see if it had improved. It had been a very basic room with few comforts or amenities when I last performed there.
The result of this paucity of opportunity – only two outlets – is that the ‘big’ names here are not that effective in the larger international scene.
Here they are local headliners; in European venues throughout the world they are mediocre at best.
Comedians in Singapore who feel they have an edge want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to get reviews and make an international name for themselves.
I find that appalling because they do not understand the true nature of what the Edinburgh Fringe has become.
It will cost them an inordinate amount of money. The cost of getting a show listed and advertising it – even if they are part of the Free Fringe or Free Festival – is very high.
They will be paying twice as much for food and three times as much for lodging as they would anywhere else in the world. The reviews they receive for the most part will be by amateur reviewers hired for no pay by the reviewing outlets who do not understand the challenges of doing comedy in your second language.
They may very well fill the house in Edinburgh (although I have my doubts about that) but, when they launch their career internationally, it founders because they are simply not sharp or experienced enough.
And that is not because they are not funny.
It is because, despite what people think, it takes years and years to polish a set so it has universal appeal.
I have been doing this for 16 years and I have a natural talent for comedy. Yet, I am still far from there… and I have had plenty of opportunities to practice and to work on my delivery.
People in this part of Asia do not have those outlets.
Furthermore, standup comedy has become a business. You have to have a name that people recognize if you are to be booked at the major clubs who make a profit from their shows.
That becomes a Catch-22 situation because you cannot get that name unless you have the opportunity to perform and those chances are given to people who are already established.
I always tell comedians that they have to truly love doing what we do for its own sake. This is easy enough for me to say because I am on a pension and only have myself to support. If you have a family and expensive tastes, I do not know what to advise. It is true that money can get you pretty far in the field but then even kids with rich daddies (and I see far too many of them on the scene) grind to a halt.
Stand up comedy has changed my own life for the better. I am not sure even now if this is an individual thing because my previous life was such an unflushed toilet or something I can say will happen to anyone who devotes himself to it.
IN SINGAPORE and KUALA LUMPUR
The irrepressible and apparently indefatigable British-based American comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller recently returned from another of her globetrotting trips. Here she is, in Part 1 of a 4-part jaunt…
This was my third time in Asia but my second time in Cambodia. The anticipation and excitement in this trip was getting to see people I have grown to love.
The man who books me in Cambodia is a prince. His name is Dan Riley and he is a kind, thoughtful man and a devoted father to his 8-year-old daughter whom he calls The Curley Girly. When I saw her last, she was six years old, shy and very quiet. This year, however, she has developed attitude. She is as tall as I am (which isn’t that difficult to achieve) and locked to her mobile phone.
This visit, Dan has an assistant, JB, who helps him get people to the comedy shows he produces, run the shows and take care of the visiting comedians.
In Cambodia, especially, comedians come to do shows from all over the area. Dan works closely with Nick Ross in Saigon, Don Dockery in Hanoi, Eamonn Sandler in Jakarta (all British), Umar Rana in Singapore and Matthew Wharf in Bangkok plus various others in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Pakistan, and beyond to create tours for international comedians with big names and little nothings like me.
I have grown inordinately fond of all these men and now, instead of coming here to this part of the world only for comedy, I return because I want to see them all again and find out how they are.
You cannot just enter most of these countries without a visa – tourism is a money-making operation these days.
In Cambodia, you must pay $35 American dollars to get a visitor’s visa. American money has become an international currency in this part of the world and in Cambodia and Vietnam you can often pay for products in that currency and receive your change in the country’s currency.
JB was waiting for me at the airport and we took a cab to the same hotel I stayed in the last time: The House Boutique Eco Hotel.
It is a charming hotel with a big swimming pool, a rustic bar and lovely, understated rooms, nothing like the Hilton or the Ramada. The rooms are small but adequate with a sink in front of the shower and toilet rooms with air conditioners that sometimes work and showers that eventually give you hot water if you wait long enough. You cannot drink the tap water in most of these countries. The hotels give you a ration of bottled water and a fully equipped fridge filled with beer that you pay for.
Phnom Penh is a crowded city. The roads are clogged with cars, bumper to bumper and they are all lined with open shops where people sell anything and everything. The air is thick and pungent and the humidity makes it almost suffocating for me. Evidently, you get used to it if you live here.
The saving grace here is the people.
Cambodians are smiling, welcoming human beings and it is sad to me that the expats are all living lives far more luxurious than they would in more Westernized countries. But the natives are very poor and work long hours to earn enough to feed their families. There is no such thing as disposable income for them.
Everyone you meet has an interesting story because they have all decided to leave the place where they were born for more opportunities and different lifestyles.
JB is British and so is his wife, but they have lived all over the world. Many of the expats here teach English at various levels and his wife teaches in a university. Dan Riley does promotion for a casino. Running a comedy club is a not very lucrative sideline for both Dan and JB though both have hopes of doing comedy eventually on a professional level.
I arrived on a Friday evening and my show was the next day at The Box Office, the same place I was in the last time. It is upstairs in a small bar. The show is in a small room that Dan and JB pack with people. The overflow watch the show on a video downstairs.
The host this time was Paul Glew, a very funny competent performer who has lived in Phnom Penh for a long time. Usually the line-ups are all male but not this time. Dan had also booked a local woman and Francesca Flores, a female comedian who is now living in Saigon but who will be joining the Peace Corps in Guatemala in 2020. Women are finally getting noticed in this all-male, very white profession.
The house was filled to overflowing and included a lovely, well-behaved dog, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of us, probably because the dog only drank (bottled) water.
I performed the entire last half this time, which was also a wonderful experience for me because, the first time I was there, I featured for Gina Yashere (always an honor). This time I was the headliner… so I had graduated to a higher level!!!
I had a late afternoon plane back to Bangkok the next day, so Dan kept me company for a bit before JB took me to the airport. The waiting area at the gate was very crowded and London has spoiled me.
I expect people to stand up and offer me their seats when I appear, now that I am of a certain age – much as they once swooned with admiration when I was younger.
Evidently, in Cambodia it is only the children who get special consideration.
However, as I stood there trying to create sufficient guilt to get someone to notice that I was standing, a woman got up, gave me her seat and then said something I could not understand to someone I assume was her husband.
He took out his phone and showed me text in English that said: “How old?”
I typed in “86” and everyone oh-ed and ah-ed and whispered to one another.
I felt like a museum piece.
…IN BANGKOK, SAIGON, HANOI and JAKARTA…
Lynn Ruth Miller (86 years old physically; in her twenties mentally and creatively) is an American comic and burlesque performer living very happily in London. But she has been off on her travels again, performing in Amsterdam.
Here she tells all…
Everyone thinks Amsterdam is all about marijuana and prostitution, but that isn’t the way it is for me these days. It could be because my estrogen has flown the coop or I am so small they don’t notice me but my Amsterdam experience is like a warm, fluffy blanket. I always feel like I have just flown into a cozy cloud of senior love even before I land in Schiphol.
While I was waiting for my plane, I met Fred, a man from the south of the Netherlands who does publicity for theatres. He offered to charge my phone but I am a very proper lady and I do not plug into strangers until I am confident I won’t get a shock.
However, we did have a spirited conversation about Dutch theatre and love. Fred told me why he married his second wife. I asked him why they couldn’t just live together until one or the other of them got bored and he said: “When you love a beautiful woman, (I realized immediately that I was out of the running… but I was still curious) you are so proud that she loves you back that you want to show her off to all your friends and say You see? This gorgeous creature wants only me!”
I have to say that was how it was with my father and mother.
My daddy was a very homely man – short, and stocky with a bad complexion and horn-rimmed glasses. My mama was exquisite. She was a tiny redhead with sparkling blue eyes and she was built like a brick shit-house.
When my father took her out to a movie or to someone’s home for dinner, he wore my mother like a jewel.
Listening to Fred’s defence of marriage clarified why my two husbands left me so quickly. Obviously, if you are stuck with a dreamy idealist who is flat chested and clomps around the place in sensible shoes, you want to hide her under the carpet as soon as possible.
But I digress.
On the plane, I chatted with Emma who is from Paris, studying economics at UCL in London. She and I bonded over our cream cheese and spinach (that is what the label SAID was in that little sandwich; although it tasted like nothing at all to me) because Emma has a dog named Balthus, a beautiful Jack Russell mix. I am confident that I will be occupying her Parisian guest room in the spring. Oui, in effet.
I understand her bathroom is equipped with a luxury bidet and a hot tub big enough for two. I am thinking Balthus and me, of course… not that I would refuse her father. French men are quite an experience, so I hear.
As soon as I disembarked from the plane, I felt like a miniature Lilliputian among a horde of blond giants. The average height of a Dutch gentleman is well over 6 feet and the women are all about 5’7”.
I am now 4’10” and I spend all my time in Amsterdam staring at belt buckles while I make scintillating conversation (in English of course).
If I am particularly witty (which is all the time) I am often aware of a visible male reaction… and THAT is surprisingly rewarding for me.
I got a cab to take me to my lodging. And that was when I met Mustafa.
Mustafa’s father escaped from Afghanistan when he was a little tyke of eight years old. His daddy hid out in another country, but he sent Mustafa, his sister and his mother to Amsterdam and followed a couple years later.
Everyone always thinks people who are granted asylum are hysterically grateful for being granted a safe haven in a benevolent foreign land, but we are wrong. Mustafa told he how terrified he was moving to a city filled with tall, blond people he couldn’t understand, who made fun of little brown boys. His mother couldn’t find the foods that comforted him because she had no way of communicating what they were to the local grocer.
And the weather was abysmal.
In January, the weather in Holland is a wet, rainy 36 degrees Fahrenheit while in Mustafa’s hometown in Afghanistan it was always a sunny 44.
I was staying in Edo Berger’s guest house this trip.
Nina, Edo’s beautiful wife, met me at the door with Doris, their 14-month-old daughter. The two decided to name their daughter Doris because they wanted her to be able to spell her name. They wanted to keep it simple – only 5 letters. After all, one never knows how intelligent one’s offspring will be.
They need not have worried about Doris, however. At 14 months, she carries on an only slightly unintelligible conversation, expresses her opinions vociferously and crawls with great energy into toilets, cupboards and under tables.
Nina is an abortion doctor and we discussed the strict limiting laws against abortion in some of the American states.
She explained abortion is not an issue in Holland because anyone can have one whenever they please. However, she recalled when her clinic had to close for a couple months and she read about a woman who had hanged herself.
“I am pretty sure she was one of my patients,” Nina said.
It was Anna Quinlan who said: “When men legislate for women’s bodies, the coat hangers come out.”
So do the ropes.
Take heed all you men who think you know best about a woman’s right to give birth.
That night I was booked to headline at Mezrab, a wonderfully vibrant club in Amsterdam and Mustafa drove me there. He even walked me to the door and, as we made our way together, I thought: Here we two are, a Muslim and a Jew, who just love to be together sharing stories.
Listen up, Israel and Palestine.
Mezrab is a crowded, exciting place to perform comedy.
Their line up is always diverse.
This time, they had Aidan Killian from Dublin, Henrik Elmer from Sweden, Raul Kohli from Manchester (a foreign country to me) and Jia Yuan from China, now living in Amsterdam.
On Sunday afternoon, I met Mikaelia a comedian who is originally from Detroit. I was born a mere 40 miles away in Toledo, Ohio, a town that borders a dead great lake, Lake Erie. The town fathers there were so upset to have this polluted dead body of water on their shore that in 2018 they passed a law creating a Bill of Rights for the lake. They agreed that their residents were deliberately dumping garbage into the dead lake and letting objectionable creatures pollute it.
Would that they would pass a similar law for their politics.
Ohio was one of the states that gave the world Donald Trump, a man one of my friends refers to as That Orange Turd.
Mikaelia and I went to the Amsterdam Affordable Art Fair and I was shocked at how different the art was there from the same fair in London.
Although the London Affordable Art Fair is always very original and interesting, the one in Amsterdam had a completely different definition of what visual art can be.
There were many three dimensional pieces, many that used unusual optical illusions, a great deal of photography combined with paint and collage. It was a spectacular exhibition.
But, in Amsterdam, the frosting on the cake for me is always my gigs at The Comedy Café run by Tim van’t Hul, a very capable comedian in his own right. He will be coming to London to make everyone here laugh at the beginning of January.
His shows are always filled with tourists, which means I can do the same set over and over without boring anyone but myself. Sunday was especially good with a packed house and a lot of funny men on stage. Sadly no women in the line up except me and, at my age, I think I am more neutral.
My plane left on Monday and Mustafa drove me to the airport for my good-bye gift. It was both beautiful and touching to share life experiences with this very young man who had endured far more trauma in his life that I have yet to see, yet is so generous with his time and so kind to old ladies.
In many ways, our friendship should be an example of what can happen in this angry turbulent world of ours to make it a more comfortable place to live. Recycling isn’t the only way to make our lives better.
The plane was an hour late. Evidently, KLM has a problem with timetables. I am guessing their schedule is Jewish.
I did arrive home in London in time to have two very lovely men cook me a vegetarian dinner.
I now have two blissful weeks in London basking in the autumn downpours and debilitating winds, until I hurry off to sunshine and political unrest in Southeast Asia.
The bug spray has been purchased and I am so ready to sweat.
American comedian and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has been on her travels again…
Here she tells all…
I finally got to Japan after two days worth of flights.
It was HOT: about 30 C and humid.
My first gig was burlesque in an after-hours club. This was a girly-girly revue with a difference; there were four acts altogether and the finale was a trio of contortionist dancers that were absolutely amazing, synchronized and graceful. After each performance, the performer greeted each member of the tiny audience personally (I would guess there were 15 people there, mostly men) and each person tucked money in their clothing. Since the women were not wearing much, it was easy to tuck in a 10,000 bill and get a little extra.
The audience tucked nine of those bills in my little chemise and told me I was amazing. I said no, I was not – I was just old.
On the way home, I was struck with how bright the streets are in Tokyo no matter how late the hour. The city is filled with flashing lights and tall buildings that create the same aura as Times Square in New York without the noise, the honking horns, the crowded streets or the smoke. No-one is allowed to smoke on the street in Japan.
The Japanese are very security-conscious and I needed a code to get into the building itself and another to get into the room. When you are my age with no memory whatsoever there is a real danger of spending the night on the streets. The consolation is that the streets are very safe.
The next night was the reason I took the trip to Japan: Alex Camp had booked me to headline at his venue The Good Heavens Comedy Club. The event is held in an English Bar and the menu is very British featuring fish and chips, pork pies and a lovely chicken curry. The audience is just about all English-speaking.
The first half of the show was a standard comedy line-up with four comedians doing five to ten minute sets. There was an interval and then I took the stage to do my hour-long comedy show, I Never Said I Was Nice. I got a standing ovation (actually, it was one person… but still) and, to my surprise, the following was posted on Facebook the next day:
What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens? The world’s oldest comedian, 86 years old Jewish lady, flew over to Tokyo, wore her blue chiffon dress, silver bracelet, stepped on the stage, held that microphone and broke our chests – first with that laughter we couldn’t resist and then with those tears we had to breathe really deep to hold down.
Her story took one hour to tell and the whole life to build.
We sat there, sat still, all equally amazed – learning each his own lesson, smiling each at his own angle.
But then she sang. A 86 years old Jewish lady, in her blue chiffon dress and silver bracelet who crossed the ocean to tell us her story, was choking with happiness on that stage singing to us and to the Universe.
“I don’t know if I make it to the end of the year,” she sang… “I don’t know if I make to the end of the show,” she ended. “But all I need is time. Please give me time, as I’ve got plans.”
What I was lucky to witness today is a great storytelling talent. Great comedy talent. But, most importantly, a talent of praising the gift of life.
When I grow up, I want to be like her.
ELENA DAVYDOVA FROM THE UKRAINE
I almost literally floated home to my hotel I was so happy.
The next day, Alex Camp and I were both in a show in Yokohama. It was run by a young Southern American named Taylor at a place called Antenna America.
The audience was mostly American, many from the military bases there. The show felt more like the ones I did in San Francisco, probably because almost all of the comics had American accents. After the show, we walked the streets of Yokohama to find a restaurant and I was struck with how modern Yokohama was.
Alex explained that was because it had to be totally rebuilt after World War II.
In 1945, over 42% of it was reduced to rubble in a little over an hour after one disastrous bombing. Now it is clean and modern with wide streets and pedestrian walkways.
On the Friday, Taylor Wanstall created a show just for me, called the Tokyo Closet Ball. This was burlesque variety and it reminded me very much of the old fashioned British Music Hall shows. Casual, outlandish and camp, it was another highlight of this trip. I finished the show with my standard Stripping Granny routine and everyone went wild. Taylor bought drinks for the cast afterwards and promised to have me back in April.
The next morning, Alex took me to the train station to go to Fukuoka for my final show. This was to be my big finale since Fukuoka Comedy is very well known and features major English speaking comedians. The train was immaculate and very spacious. Everyone is very quiet on the trains in Japan: no music; no conversation. Fukuoka was also torn apart during World War II and had been rebuilt extensively. It is a beautiful, clean port city and, in 2006, it was voted one of Newsweek’s 10 most dynamic cities.
Sadly for me and happily for the country, Japan had won the rugby games the night before. So my audience was six people, two of whom were the comedians in the show.
I did the same performance I did for Alex at the Good Heavens Comedy Club and, small though the audience was, it was very appreciative. After the show, we all went out for dinner at a place that served every part of the chicken on skewers. Yes, even the part that goes over the fence last (my favorite part…which says something very negative about my personality). It was a delicious meal and a memorable evening.
Whenever I do these long jaunts across a couple of oceans and several time zones I am so jet lagged when I get back to London that it takes me days to figure out where I am and what time to eat dinner. This time, however, I did not have the luxury of lolling around trying to figure out when it was night and when it was day.
I had a rehearsal for two shows coming up and a dinner date.
Thank goodness for Melatonin.
Here, in the latest of her travelogues, 85-year-old globetrotting American comedienne and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, tells us about her latest jaunt…
I went to Farfa in Italy.
When we landed in Rome, I apologised to the officer because my passport photo was so bad but he said he could recognise me. I said I had to wait ten years before I got a new one and that one would be even worse than the one I had.
Maddie from Wales was waiting for me. She and Nader Shabahangi – my dearest of friends from San Francisco – are running an Eldership Academy in Farfa and I was an honoured guest.
Nadar’s mother Elizabeth is convinced that I am a burden to her son, taking disgusting advantage of him. I have tired him out; I have incurred huge expenses, what with his having to rent a car and forcing her darling baby to stay awake hours past his bedtime. Nader is 62 years old.
Throughout the ride home she reminded me that, if my plane had not landed so late, Nader could have gotten his much-needed rest. She also pointed out that, because of me, he had to drive at night and it was very difficult for him because the road was dark. She told me repeatedly that they had to leave Farfa early because of my late arrival and now had to drive back on an unfamiliar road, which was a hardship for all of them. She explained several times that both she and Nader desperately needed their rest and I had thoughtlessly and deliberately deprived them both of that requirement.
Nader’s car had a navigating device that spoke to him in Italian. Maddie helped him interpret the route and we only got lost three times. We arrived at the monastery in Farfa at midnight.
Many people from around the world go to this monastery because it is a well-known B&B.
My beautiful room was on the third floor of the immaculate monastery with a lovely view of the hills. I had a private bathroom, plenty of hot water and a desk for my computer. But NOT a WiFi connection.
Nader, who does not share his mother’s opinion of my value (whew), brought me some yogurt and a galley copy of my brand new book Ridiculously Old and Getting Better, which is my take on living a good, productive and satisfying life. At that point, though, I thought the title should have been: Why the Fuck Am I Still Around Making Everyone Suffer?
I managed to read half the book and then drifted off to sleep in that very quiet peaceful place where the air smells sweet and you can actually hear birds singing without a hearing aid.
I awoke the next morning feeling a bit more like the title of my book and met the first of three of the most charming nuns ever. The first was Citadel (really) originally from the Philippines who fixed the plug on my computer and explained that I could get WiFi in the sitting rooms, but the entire monastery loses its wi-fi when the wind blows. Ordinarily, I would think this is a tragedy but somehow it felt like a blessed relief.
Gabriella came to clean my room, extolled over the book and Justine made me a special breakfast. They are all three happy, smiling people. The interesting thing is that ALL the nuns there are happy, smiling people. It makes me wonder if a celibate life is the secret to happiness.
Statistics say that single women without children are the most content and, if the nuns are any indication, the answer to the world‘s malaise is to confine all men in a separate camp where women who want to ruin their lives can get it on and have a baby. The rest of us can just go about our business growing flowers and dancing in the sunlight, as women do.
Elizabeth came to get me because she is a devout Christian woman who believes in being kind to the vermin of this world. She scampered down four flights of stairs to remind me that she is in better shape than I am. She hugged Justine several times and gave me a triumphant look to remind me that I am scum and she is blessed.
Maddie told me a bit about herself. She is a potter from Wales. Her husband died three years ago but had vascular dementia for about 20 years. She has two sons both very intelligent and creative and an artistic daughter. She and Nader along with Julia from Australia have been running the workshop at the monastery for three years.
In the garden, I met two others on the course: Iris whose real name is Ruth and her husband Spider who is really interesting and very well-travelled because his father was in the military. He lived his early years in Paris but cannot speak a word of French. The two met in a cooking school some forty years ago, have one child and are both fun to be with. They are from Sonoma in California. They work with the elderly there and are interested now in coming to terms with their own advancing years.
Another person I met in the garden was from Cape Town, South Africa. His name is Rayne. He has a small company that provides services to care homes in Cape Town and is without doubt the most well-read human being on the planet.
I am quite a reader but there is not one book I mentioned that he has not only read but can discuss the plot of far more intelligently than I. (I AM American) He is a delight.
We all met in the garden because it was the only place where you could get on the Internet (sometimes).
The rest of the group had arrived by dinner time: all truly wonderful, innovative, creative people from all over the world.
Joyce and Ed were from Denver, Colorado; Anna from near Brighton, England; and Bernie, a doctor, from Redding, California.
They were all there (some had returned from previous years) to explore who they are and where they are going in their lives as older people. Of course, they all looked like children to me, but I am guessing most are in their sixties with the exception of Bernie who is 52.
Ageing is a frightening thing to contemplate in this plastic world that worships muscular, fit bodies, healthy diets, endless plastic surgery and non-surgical techniques to make us all look like teenagers without the angst.
I do not fit into this picture.
That first night, I took a late-night walk with Spider. He said it was his losses that made him strong. His closest friend, the man who married him to Iris whose real name is Ruth, died of multiple sclerosis at 62 and he has never yet come to terms with his own loss. He is making up for the gap in his life with the elderly people he is helping now in Sonoma.
Joyce is 72 and into mysticism and The Kabala. She brought up her daughter alone and managed to travel the world and experiment in a variety of life styles, always supporting herself and her daughter. Ed just retired from a counselling type thing in Berkeley and he has been her best friend for at least forty years.
Everyone in the group connected with one another. The discussions were hugely interesting and very spirited.
One of the more interesting topics was how we listen to one another. Ed showed us there are three levels of listening. One is about the hearer, one is about the listener and the third when it is about what the speaker is feeling. We listen not just with our ears, but with our eyes and with our body.
This is why Facebook and Instagram are robbing us of the ability to hear what our friends mean when they type in a remark online.
The finale of my stay was my talk on Optimistic Ageing, which I have already done in the UK for the Brighton Women’s Institute, the retired NHS workers of South Croydon and the Mental Health Unit in Birmingham.
This time though, I was preaching to the choir because every one of the people in this group takes risks and makes waves in an effort to live the fullest, most meaningful life possible. It was an exhilarating experience to be part of their search for meaning and direction.
I am now home in London, practising bowing and saying “Ah! So!” to prepare for my trip to Japan where I am planning to tell jokes and rip off my clothes.
Maybe then they will forgive me for Hiroshima.
Incorrigible globe-trotting 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller has just returned from a performance in Stockholm… This is her story…
I flew Scandinavian Airlines to Stockholm and those people REALLY respect the elderly. I was assigned a middle seat and when I got on the plane I asked the senior flight attendant if there was an aisle or a window seat available. She actually kicked a middle-aged woman out of a seat so I could sit on an aisle. That is a real first. Usually the elderly are relegated to the toilet to sit it out until the flight finishes.
When I got to Stockholm, I could not believe how clean the city was – and everyone spoke AMERICAN English, which meant I could understand them – a change from Britain where they all talk like they are trying out for a Noël Coward play.
Magdalena Bibik-Westerlund, the woman who booked me for the Stockholm show, warned me to dress really warm because it was going to be bitter cold. However, I hail from Ohio where cold means that your breath forms a cloud so dense you cannot see your hand in front of your face and your nose is in danger of falling off if you do not protect it. This cold was comparatively mild, with no wind to intensify it.
My hotel room was very Scandinavian: it was about the size of a disabled toilet but it had everything you could possibly need in it, including a microwave, a refrigerator and a giant bed made for people who are at least 6 feet tall, which they all are in Sweden. I had to stand on a chair to get into it.
Small as the room was, the shower was huge. It was so big I could do a wild erotic dance between the drops of water. Not that I did. But it was comforting to know I COULD if I really wanted to.
The night manager Abraham had lived in Cardiff but, from what I could gather, his wife and two children decided they needed to get away from him and from Cardiff, so they emigrated to Sweden. Abraham refused to be parted from his children and followed them to Stockholm.
This attitude is totally unlike my own father’s, who could not wait to get the hell out of the house the minute I arrived.
He disappeared within seconds after inhaling the pungent odor of a new baby in the place.
According to my mother, he wrinkled his nose when he was introduced to me and said: “This kid stinks.” We didn’t see him again for over a year.
When he did return, he asked: ”Is she toilet trained?”
My mother, who had put a plug up my you-know-what, said: ”Of course she is. What would you like for dinner?”
Back to Stockholm.
The morning after I arrived, I went down to meet Magdalena, the woman who made it all happen.
She and her husband, comedian Janne Westerlund, founded the Stockholm Comedy Club. They do several shows a week, but Fridays are their all female shows and they are always a sell out: Female Fridays at the Gröna Lund-teatern where the Beatles, Abba and all the Swedish greats performed.
Magdalena and I had lots to talk about because she had lived in Bialystok, Poland, until she was seven years old.
My grandparents were from that very city and were such prominent citizens at the time that my grandfather’s name was Joseph Bialystotsky. However, when he arrived at Ellis Island in New York, the immigration officer asked my grandfather to spell his name and, as a result, he walked out of that office as Joseph Miller.
Civil servants cannot spell worth a damn.
That evening in Stockholm was the Big Show and it was very big indeed. There were five of us booked plus the most amazing MC ever. It was all in Swedish so I have no idea what anyone said, but every woman on that stage brought down the house.
I had been terrified. What if they didn’t understand me? What if they didn’t like me? And this is the worst: What if they did not laugh?
I walked on that stage feeling like it was the guillotine. But it was not. It was heaven. Everyone clustered around me after I finished and told me I was wonderful (in English of course). All I could think of was: Why didn’t I record this and send it to my first husband so he could see what he missed?
While all of us had been making the ladies (and about five men) in the audience laugh, the elements had been at work swirling around the buildings and trees like whirling dervishes.
When we emerged, it was a winter wonderland. Everything was covered with snow and the wind felt like it was 100 miles an hour. But this is Sweden where men are men and 30 below is balmy.
Magdalena and I had about 75 miles to drive to get to her home in Skebobruk, nestled in the Swedish countryside. When we got there, I met Janne, her husband and Zumo their magnificent Border Collie/Labrador mix baby.
It wasn’t until the next day however that I got a glimpse of how beautiful winter can be in the Swedish countryside. All the houses in the little cluster of homes the Westerlunds live in are bright red and they stood out like jewels against the white of the landscape and the tall evergreens that surround them.
We drove into the village for another one of those Swedish buffets with sufficient food to nourish a refugee camp overlooking a shimmering frozen lake. And then we came home to watch the Swedish Eurovision finals.
Evidently every single person in all of Sweden watched that show and called in their votes. There were two telephone numbers on the screen: one where you voted for free and one where you added a contribution for charity. That program alone raised thousands for charity and John Lundvik, a former sprinter, won hands down. He will represent his country in Tel Aviv singing the winning number Too Late for Love.
I listened to this young man’s lyrics about the danger of waiting too long for romance and I thought: You do not know what procrastination is, darling. Try waiting 85 years before you start shopping for a bit of nookie. I would have better luck snagging a hippopotamus than I would getting a date on Tinder. And at least a hippo wouldn’t be able to out-run me.
And there is always the problem of which body part to put on Tinder.
Now I am back in London.
My next stops are Barcelona and Amsterdam.
I do not let the grass grow under my feet, but then I personally have not seen my feet in 20 years.
… CONTINUED HERE …
Late last night, I received this from from Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Becky Fury…
I am travelling in Morocco.
John said there was probably a blog in it.
I told him I wasn’t sure where.
He said: “Find someone interesting to interview.”
So I asked her about that.
BECKY: When we first met, you had just graduated from Kings College, London, with a law degree and now you are a globetrotting Tantra educator on a mission to give yourself and the world better orgasms… What happened?
JADE: By the time I finished my law degree, I realised law was really boring and I wanted to do something more fun with my life. But I still wanted to help people and realised if people got more help with their sexuality than maybe they would need less help with their divorce papers. So being a Tantra educator was a win-win situation for everyone.
JADE: I think people should only feel ashamed if they hurt other people. Shame and guilt is a mechanism of social control that is used to stop people blossoming. We are in Morocco which is a country ridden with shame and guilt: sexual shame in particular. You would be hard-pressed to find someone here who isn’t deeply ashamed of their body and their desires – and unfortunately people pay for this in many ways, not just sexual enjoyment.
In terms of sex. we should not feel ashamed unless what we do doesn’t involve consent.
We are sexual beings and shame is a psychological barrier that stops us from fulfilling our potential.
As I mentioned before, we are in Morocco.
The dirt on the streets, the tatty buildings and the broken sign at the railway station that reads ‘Gare Evil’ or ‘Evil Station’ is a reflection of the manifestation of hell on earth that sexual shame creates.
BECKY: So is good sex a revolutionary act?
JADE: Yes. When a person is stuck in a cycle of sex as tension-release instead of getting the full experience of sex, they are stuck in a low-grade experience and this will be reflected in their life.
We are in Morocco. People earn tiny wages, there are no workers rights and therefore people are treated badly as employees. This is a projection of the sexual repression.
If we can dispose of the shame and guilt associated with sex, then we open ourselves as people and as a society and we can start to evolve. The more pleasure we find in sex, the more value we find in ourselves as individuals and in each other.
Good sex is a beautiful, peaceful revolutionary act that has the power to overhaul ourselves and eventually the world.
BECKY: In your GIF, the boy has a magic penis. Just the boy in the GIF? Or all boys?
JADE: All boys have magic penises. All penises are magic and all vaginas are magic. (LAUGHS) All sexual organs hold energy.
Most men think sex is about ejaculation. Imagine if we channeled that energy, that life force, into healing ourselves. If we used that energy to feed our intelligence, our creativity, our projects, to get what we want in life rather than throwing it away. That’s a big part of Tantra.
BECKY: So how do you know that that’s not just hippy bollocks?
JADE: ’The hippy’ is a recent phenomenon. This is old knowledge and people have been using these practices for thousands of years. They’ve been passed on despite the efforts of governments to repress and destroy them and they are gathering in popularity again because they work.
Telling men to have sex and not ejaculate sounds crazy but, with some effort, men have found they can have full body orgasms, find more energy, focus… and that their lives have been changed in amazing positive ways.
Misdirected male sexual energy is a dangerous force, even within Tantra.
There have been lots of scandals recently and all of the scandals have involved male teachers who just use it to try to get laid.
That is one of the reasons Tantra is traditionally taught by women.