Tag Archives: US

Simon Jay on the inauguration thoughts of the OTHER President Donald Trump

Simon Jay - Donald Trump

Simon Jay’s show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Simon was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

For about nine months, Simon Jay has been getting noticed for his one-man show Trumpageddon in which he riffs as the esteemed President Elect, who gets inaugurated this Friday.

“Are you doing anything to celebrate?” I asked Simon via Skype this morning.

“I’m going to go on Facebook Live,” he told me, “and, at 5.00pm (UK time), as you watch the inauguration on TV, you’ll be able to hear his thoughts streamed via Facebook Live –  as voiced by me.”

“When you first started doing Trump,” I said, “you must have thought: I want Trump to be elected President because I can get a four-year-long act out of this.”

“I was hoping he would LOSE for two reasons. One, obviously, for the good of the planet. But also because, genuinely, I think he has a very limited shelf-life as effective satire. It will become less effective.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there are three possibilities. One: he will get shot. Two: he will get impeached. Three: he might turn into a good President because you don’t want a nice, principled man as President. Jimmy Carter, apparently nice man: ineffective President. Richard Nixon, a right shit: internationally, a pretty good President.”

“I think that’s a little over-simplistic view of American politics!” laughed Simon.

“That’s my speciality,” I told him. “The trouble is Trump is not a hard, cynical politician. He’s a little schoolboy throwing tantrums and trying to bully people… So do you feel an affinity to him? How do you ‘become’ Trump?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “it’s like drag. You put on the orange make-up, put on the suit and red tie and flop the hair about.”

Simon Jay being made into Donald Trump

“It’s like drag. You put on orange make-up and flop the hair”

“You wear a wig as Trump?” I asked.

“No! It’s my own hair. Unlike him, I actually use my own hair.”

“He wears a wig?” I asked.

“It’s monkey glands,” Simon replied. “Implants, like Elton John. Trump’s hairline goes in two different directions. Half of it grows from one angle and the other half from another angle. It’s like M.C.Escher hair.”

“And his psychology?” I asked.

“He’s so easy to play,” said Simon, “because he thinks everyone loves him. No matter what happens or what I say, I will be loved – so it’s perfect. It’s a wonderful narcissistic power trip.”

“How,” I asked, “do you put yourself inside his mindset?”

“I just go blank,” explained Simon. “It’s a kind of Zen state, because he doesn’t say anything particularly. His verbal mannerisms are just so airy, it’s almost like Beat Poetry – the same couple of phrases and words over and over again. It’s not like thought, is it?”

“He really IS like a school kid stamping his feet,” I said.

“Well,” said Simon, “if you look at his childhood, he used to bite his nannies and attack them. Terrible anger issues.”

“Have you,” I asked, “watched Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live?”

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

Alec Baldwin in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

“Yes. It is really interesting to see Saturday Night Live go a bit further in its takedown of a politician, but it’s still nowhere near like our satire. We are a lot more horrible to our politicians. Saturday Night Live say: Oh, Trump is obsessed by money and is a bit sexist! On Spitting Image, we had Thatcher as Adolf Hitler, gassing people! They could be a bit tougher. When Tina Fey did Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was still a nod and a wink and the real Sarah Palin actually appeared with her.”

“Trump has gone wrong on the PR,” I suggested, “by attacking Saturday Night Live. Politicians have to be seen to laugh with comedy digs.”

“But maybe Trump is very clever,” Simon replied. “Everyone is reporting: Look at him! He can’t even take a joke! That distracts people from the politics: Look! He’s appointed this cabinet that are going to roll-back so many things. They’re pro-life, anti-gay, racist. People are talking less about that when they’re talking about him and Alec Baldwin.”

“So,” I asked, “how do you differ from Alec Baldwin?”

“I’m nowhere near as famous!” laughed Simon, “and I have nowhere near the same influence.”

“Will you be doing 20-minute spots in comedy clubs as Trump?”

“No, because it’s not an impression; it’s a whole hour-long show. It’s a characterisation in its own surreal world. So seeing it for a few minutes would not work in the same way.”

“Is there a risk,” I asked, “that you get so typed as Trump in the next four years that Simon Jay will lose-out as a performer?”

“Yeah. I’ll do other projects. I want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe and do Trump AND something else. Everyone is advising me against doing two shows again, but I would like to.”

“So your Trump show at this year’s Fringe…?” I prompted.

Orange is the new black in the US Donald Trump Simon Jay

For voters in the USA, it seems orange really is the new black

“The Trump thing has been taken on by a proper producer now – James Seabright – so it will be more packaged and slick though it will still be the same raw, slightly unpalatable truth it was last time.”

“Any reaction so far from the man in the Trump Tower?” I asked.

“No,” said Simon. “Part of the previous show was a bit where I was molesting a rabbit and I got the audience to take pictures of it and said: Can you Tweet the pictures to me? meaning me. But some people sent them to the real Donald Trump. So he maybe has a lot of photos of me looking like him, molesting a rabbit, but I have had no complaint from him yet.”

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Filed under Acting, Humor, Humour, Politics

Scott Capurro is going back to Australia despite what happened last time…

Publicity for Scott Capurro’s show Yuletide Queer

Publicity for Scott Capurro’s stage show Yuletide Queer

I have been getting a flurry of automated emails about comedian Scott Capurro’s shows in California.

So, because I think of him as being London-based, I FaceTimed him a couple of days ago in San Francisco.

“I produced a show here,” he told me, “so I’m on this thing called Eventbrite and they send out a reminder every day of the show.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I’ve had this apartment here for 25 years,” he told me. “My husband, Edson, likes it here; my family’s here; and I’m trying to decide where we should live. London is easier for me in a lot of ways. I own a home there whereas, a renter in San Francisco has fewer rights. Also, there’s so much work in London and I can work all the time. Here, I’m on a local radio show in San Francisco. I’ve been on it for 17 years; I come on once a week.”

“What sort of show is it?” I asked.

“It’s morning radio in America. So it’s Hey! Puppies! Kitties! Let’s talk about celebrities! It’s like Italian girls in the 1950s: all we talk about is celebrities and our pets. Seriously. I love these people, but we are penned-in on what we can talk about, especially me.”

“It must be difficult for you to be squeaky-clean?” I asked.

“No.” Scott told me, “I do morning TV in Britain all the time. I do The Wright Stuff a lot. I love it and I really like Matthew because he likes comics. I’ve been doing that for eight years and I know I sometimes push it, but I’ve never been in trouble, really.

Scott Capurro - a regular on The Wright stuff on UK TV

Scott Capurro – a regular on UK Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff

“Also, I started on radio in college. I kind of understand the limits of it and I can be clean if necessary. When performers perform live, the expectations are different. I was really into stand-up as a kid and I would hear rumours that these comics I saw on TV were – Oh! If you see them live! Oh my God! It’s so shocking and different! My mother would say: Oh my God! Red Foxx! The things he says about women, live! He seems so nice! and that really intrigued me. The idea that, when you perform live, it’s like Jekyll & Hyde: you are someone else.”

“So,” I said, “at the moment, you are doing radio and live stage shows in California.”

“I do my own stage show,” said Scott. “An hour or an hour-and-a-half in different venues. And I make more money per show doing that here, but the production stuff is a lot of work. I work less often and make more money here but it’s harder work than in Britain.

“In a way, if you’re a comic in London, you can be lazy and make a decent living. You just show up and do your 20 minutes. You are not expected to do anything other than hit a home run when you’re on stage.

“I have been playing the (London) Comedy Store more the last two years and it’s so hard to fail at the Store. I mean, you’re only on stage really for 18-20 minutes and people walk in there assuming they are seeing the best. So they’re on your side although, if you fuck up and lose them, it’s impossible to get them back because you’re only on stage for 18-20 minutes. It’s a bit tenuous if you mess up, but messing up there is almost impossible on a weekend.”

“It’s maybe easy for you,” I suggested, “because you are so professional.”

“It’s not easy,” said Scott. “But it’s hard to fail. If they hire you, it’s usually because you’ve been doing it for a while and can do 20 minutes without failing. And I also play a lot at The Top Secret Comedy Club on Drury Lane, where my husband runs the bar – it’s like an Edinburgh venue but well-run and clean. The guy who runs it – Mark Rothman – is a performer so he can get big names at the weekends.”

“Is Edson with you in San Francisco?” I asked.

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

“He’s in Brazil, with his family, but I’m going there in January, then we come back here and then I go to Australia from February 22nd to March 5th.

“Then I’m doing a solo show on March 25th at Blackfriars in Glasgow and hosting and appearing in other Glasgow Comedy Festival shows over that weekend. After that, I’m going to Berlin for a week. I did one show there two months ago and they’re bringing me back for a week. April 18th to the 23rd.”

“So you’re all over the world,” I said. “Do you go to Australia a lot?”

“I was banned from there 14 years ago.”

“You can probably see the excitement on my face,” I said. “Why were you banned?”

“In the 1990s, I had been going to Australia for a while and really liked it. then my management made me stop, because the trip is really long and they didn’t want me there that long.

“But I was invited back in 2001, so I went, and I was really excited because, at that time, Ross Noble was going over a lot and Stephen K Amos. I thought: Oh this will be fun because I’ll see my friends and maybe I can start spending time in Australia, because it’s pretty and it’s nice during the winter and it might be a good outlet for me writing good stuff. I could get established in Australia.

Scott Capurro: "Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal?"

“Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal?” Scott asked them.

“So I arrive in Melbourne and they say: Oh, we want you to do a live TV spot right away! OK, fine. It was a live programme called Rove, which is like their Tonight show or Jonathan Ross. There was going to be an interview, which they cut but there was also stand-up too and I said: Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal? – They said: No, we don’t want to see it. We’re fine.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“Yeah,” replied Scott. “So I sent them the script. I was just going to do the first seven minutes from my Holocaust, Schmolocaust show…”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“So,” said Scott, “I objectified Jesus and jacked-off to Jesus a bit, but I didn’t get my cock out. I just did the hand motion.”

“Were you jet-lagged from the journey?” I asked.

“I was terribly jet-lagged because I had come from England, but also I had been to a party with the TV executives right before the taping of the show. I showed one of the execs this joke and he said: You’ll be fine. It’s after the watershed.”

“And what happened?” I asked.

“They got 300 calls, which was a lot for them and they freaked out and they went to the press and it became this huge thing where they tried to pull my stage show from the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Cardinal of Melbourne had me banned… Yeah… It became this thing where, apparently, I had made jokes about raping the Virgin Mary – which I didn’t… I mean, if I’d had them, I might have, but I didn’t have those jokes, so… It became a myth is what I mean.

“Now there is a word over there – Don’t pull a ‘Capurro’ on us on TV – Don’t go out there and do something you didn’t say you were going to do. Don’t fuck us. Apparently some people got fired. Anyway, I never got invited back.”

“It all seems a bit unfair,” I said, “if they saw your stuff on paper before the show was transmitted.”

“But did they even read it?” Scott asked. “Did they even look at it? Who the fuck knows?

Scott capurro: "“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided to run with it"

“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided…”

“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided to run with it to get press for the show and didn’t care about me. And, I think, because my management wasn’t in Australia and wasn’t there to help me, I was left to my own devices. I tried to fix it myself and I think I might have fucked it up even more.

“Soon after that, Australia went through the roof economically and everyone wanted to play there and I’m like: I fucked it up! I fucked it up!

“Then a couple of writers from Australia contacted me and said: You should come back. But I couldn’t find anyone who would produce me. Then the Comedy Store said they would, but it took three years to get a date. Now I’m going over to Sydney for two weeks to play the Store and we will see. They might hate me.”

“Well,” I told him, “the good news is you are bound to get interviewed again after that back story.”

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Filed under Australia, Censorship, Comedy, Radio, Television, US

A visit to a Chicago sex summit and how to get through the Canada-US border

This morning I received a message from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, who lives on a boat in Vancouver.

I felt I should share it.


Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna looks back on her recent trip visiting a Chicago Virgin

I am back from Chicago.

I was there for four days to help initiate the first North American Sex Worker Summit.

Sex workers (including strippers) are technically not allowed to enter the United States because of our moral turpitude, whatever that means.

Fortunately, Richard Branson doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, so we stayed in his hotel – The Chicago Virgin – where we sat in a spacious conference room around an enormous table which was decorated with flags of the United States, Canada and the United Nations. The standard blue and white United Nations flags had the words United Nations of Sex Workers added to the bottom. We discussed problems and defined policy for the North American region of the international Network of Sex Work Projects.

There are many problems. The United States currently has the 12th highest rate of AIDS infection in the entire world, ahead of most countries in Africa and Asia. Sex workers have always been on the leading edge of disease prevention, not only practicing safer sex, but producing films, performing at benefits, educating medical professionals, students and youth and doing outreach work including distributing condoms, lube and safe injection supplies where needed. I have done all of those things. Shockingly, in the United States

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin, with one of her editors

Anna with one of her editors at the Virgin hotel

The hotel was lovely: a 26-storey former office tower. It now has a rooftop bar with an encircling patio and other fashionable bars and restaurants interspersed throughout the building with a spa in the basement.

In the homey coffee shop, I glanced through a little book of photos called Horrible London. While I sat at the coffee bar looking out the window, the Cream song Tales of Brave Ulysses was playing on a record player and that made me feel happy because it reminded me of my friend, dear Martin Sharp, who wrote the lyrics and I knew it would have made him happy that I heard them at that time when I was feeling a bit lonely, before the conference started.

I had been very concerned about crossing the border because, although I used to do that all the time as a dancer, I had not done it in a while.

A lawyer working for the conference had advised me not to bring my cell phone, high heels, lingerie or condoms or anything to indicate I was planning on having a good time – and under no circumstances was I to say I was going to attend a hookers’ convention. I felt a bit lost without the necessities of life and tried to figure out how to explain why I was going all the way to Chicago. Was it to just look at Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting? Why had someone else paid for my airfare and hotel?

Fortunately, I had visited a drop-in center for street girls a few days before my trip (there are no drop-in centers for boat girls). I was looking for some more normal clothing, since most of my clothes are either costumes or rags or a combination of both. I found a nice thin loose grey sweater, a cheap quilted pastel plaid vest and a bulky grey below-the-knee skirt. Best of all I met a capable, bright young lady with a shaved head and skin riddled with piercings and tattoos who told me the secret of crossing the border. She said she did it all the time.

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna reflects on cross-border dress protocol

How, I wondered, did she get away with it? Surely she would have been detained for hours and scoured for drugs?

They held my sister for an hour – and she dresses in fine hand-woven fabrics and she’s an archaeologist (not my priest sister – she is totally fashionable).

My archaeologist sister is a textile conservator. Well I guess she does look a bit suspicious, because she often wears hand-made clothing rather like what they wore in the Middle Ages.

She’s in Colombia right now because the museum she works for sends her abroad to deliver artefacts because she is entirely trustworthy. She has to carry the artefacts in her hand luggage. If the artefacts are extremely valuable – like some beaten-up flag from an Arctic expedition – they send an armed guard to accompany her. If she has to use the toilet at an airport, the guard watches her luggage. Sometimes, because of the way she dresses, she gets mistaken for a Buddhist monk and that causes confusion, because Buddhist monks don’t usually have armed guards.

She says the rest of her work is bureaucratic and mostly tedious, but I think it’s great. She usually gets to listen to the CBC at work and she has a washing machine and ironing boards in her office. In the summertime, they sometimes park John Lennon’s yellow Rolls Royce in the lobby of the museum and put barriers around it so nobody can touch it. When this happens, my sister goes into a closet and fetches a special long duster that says Rolls Royce Only written on it by hand. She puts on white cotton gloves, slips under the barrier and she dusts each part of the exterior very modestly and precisely, almost like a dance. Japanese tourists especially like to watch her do the dusting.

Anyway, at The Chicago Virgin hotel, I was very, very well behaved and only used the sink for the purpose for which it was designed.

Anna Smith’s Virgin Chicago sheep present

The Virgin Hotel shower sheep present from Richard Branson

I found a little sheep in the shower. I think it is a hotel thing. Someone did a study. A sheep in the shower. I heard some hotels put a doll on your bed, which would be revolting. The sheep I found to be mildly intrusive, but then I took it for a walk.

The main thing I bought in Chicago was crisps – a surprising request from a relative in Vancouver. He wanted foreign crisps.

I found the secret to crossing the Canada/US border is, when they ask the reason for your trip, to say: I am going to a Women’s Health Conference.

The immigration official will blanche and hurry you along without many more questions.


As Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses was mentioned, here is a video on YouTube with annoyingly tinny vocals.

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And does that sardonic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green? Well, yes.

David Mills at the Soho Theatre Bar this week

David at the Soho Theatre Bar last week

Shortly after chatting with American comic David Mills in London, I met my eternally-un-named friend, who is a fan of David’s sophistication.

For some reason, I said to her – it may have been some after-effect of the flu – “And did that dark Satanic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green?”

“Not Satanic,” she corrected me. “Sardonic.” And she is, of course, right.

“Americans!” I said to David when we met at Soho Theatre. “So appallingly upbeat, so depressingly, eternally optimistic.”

“Don’t tar me with that brush!” David shot back.

Have I mentioned before in this blog that I have a shit memory? And there is now the continuing post-flu vagueness to add to my innate vagueness.

“Have I never done a full blog on you before?” I asked David.

“No,” he told me. “I have sort-of flitted in and out your blogs. I have been a bit player in your cyber life…”

“When did you come to the UK?” I asked.

“2000… The point is I am not 22. I had other lives prior to the one I have at the moment. I was the only person who said I was going to leave the US if George Bush got elected who actually did.”

“So was that your reason for coming here?” I asked.

“No. I came over in a different career in a whole different world and just stayed.”

“What was your career before?”

“Different.”

“And it was what?” I asked.

“Too tedious to get into,” replied David. “So I’m not going to. It was literally another life. I was a different type of person. Do you know how long it’s taken me to put that behind me?”

“How often I have heard you say that,” I told him. “What were you into? Business? Sex? Espionage? Butter-sculpting? International drug-running?”

“None of those things,” said David. “It was super-uninteresting.”

“You are an international man of mystery,” I said.

“I’m not going into it,” said David.

“I can keep this going for hours,” I told him.

“I was doing something else,” said David, “and had a breakdown and stopped doing that.”

“You had a breakdown?”

“No. I was being hyperbolic… Alright, I went off the grid and lived in Lewisham.”

“You did?”

David Mills

David is not a Lewisham man

“No,” said David. “Of course not. That is ridiculous. I certainly did not live in Lewisham. Anyway, I had been an actor and cabaret act and stand-up in San Francisco in the 1990s and then moved to New York to be a big star and was a huge failure and then stopped performing and got a professional job and that brought me to London and I did that career for about eight or ten years.”

“And that career was?” I asked.

“The other one,” said David. “But finally I decided I needed to get back on stage, because I was having a breakdown – a ten-year-long breakdown. So I got back on stage and the rest is herstory.”

“So,” I said, “you left the US, the place where all showbiz people dream of ending up…”

“I would like to have a career over there,” said David, “but it’s a weird, weird place. Super weird. Super fundamentalist. And, in terms of unspoken rules… You put a foot wrong in the US and they come at you.”

“But,” I said, “you’re talking about the middle, aren’t you? The coasts are more European. The East Coast, anyway.”

“Yes and no,” said David. “Compared to the middle, yes. But there are plenty of restrictions in comedy on what you can and can’t talk about. There’s a lot of consensus in the US. They talk about being divided. The truth is there’s tons of consensus. Anyone who has been there two weeks… they have all signed-up to this American vision. You can be in Britain for generations and you’re still not British.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “I think the opposite. You go down the East End in London and the son of some West Indian immigrant couple is talking like Hello, luv, ‘ow are you? to people and he’s become British after one generation. In America, there’s the Italian areas, the Swedish town, the German town, the Jewish thing…”

“There is that,” admitted David. “But they all believe the same shit. And, in the US too, no-one retains their accent. They become an amalgam of American. If they’re in New York for two weeks, they’re saying: I’m a Noo Yoiker! Here, when do you ever really become a Londoner?”

“That’s not true,” I argued. “Almost no-one in London was actually born in London.”

“Tell that to an East Ender,” said David.

“They’re all from the Indian sub-continent!” I told him.

“The point is.” said David. “The point is, let’s focus, John. I have a show happening here at the Soho Theatre from the 3rd to the 7th February. Me. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas. Me and my band.”

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas

David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas with edge

“Your band?”

“Yeah. Rock band. The Memes.”

“How many Memes are there?” I asked.

“Two.”

“Male?” I asked.

“One of them. I don’t see what gender has to do with it. There’s a guitar and a keyboard. We’re very stripped down.”

“That was my next question,” I said. “And this is what? A sophisticated 1950s Monte Carlo style cabaret show?”

“More 1970s scuzzy New York basement,” said David. “Because that’s me.”

“But you are Mr Sophisticated West Coast American,” I argued.

“There’s going to be sophistication,” said David. “Don’t worry. But I’m mixing it up. I’m sort-of bored with cabaret land. There will be some of that, but it’s gonna have an edge.”

“What sort of an edge?”

“Rock ’n’ roll.”

“You’re going to be wearing a leather jacket?”

“No. I’m going to look dynamite, don’t worry. The suit is the act, let’s be honest.”

“It’s a great act,” I said.

“It’s a great suit,” said David.

“And you are going to sing?”

“My version of singing. And jokes. Don’t worry.”

“Why is it called Don’t Get Any Ideas?” I asked.

“It’s a threat. I’ve got edge. Take a look at me. I’ve got edge.”

“When you started off in the US,” I asked, “were you always this sophisticated on-stage guy?”

Dave Allen - influencial in the US?

Dave Allen was influencial in the US?

“I always liked Dave Allen’s style,” explained David.

“Dave Allen?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, a stool and a suit. That sort-of says it…”

“You saw Dave Allen in the US?”

“When I was growing up, they showed his old British shows on PBS. I was influenced by him. And people like Paul Lynde, who was a big US homo in the 1970s. He was like – I don’t want to say Kenneth  Williams, but… He had this sort of bitchy kind of homo humour that was not overt but was certainly there. And I liked Stephen Colbert a lot. He didn’t wink with the jokes. He just told them in character and the audience had to get the fact he was joking. In the 1990s, he was around being funny as an actor.”

“This Soho Theatre show Don’t Get Any Ideas is going to be your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

David Mills - A view of life off-kilter

David Mills – always looking for an original angle – in Soho

“Edinburgh will be a version of this. I’m a topical comic, not political, so the topics change. Let’s focus, John. My show here at the Soho Theatre from this Tuesday coming to Saturday. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas.”

“Your mysterious previous career was not selling double-glazing?”

“No.”

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Reports reach Britain of self-rape in Arizona and cunning stunts in Canada

Anna says that, nowadays, she does her best to remain incognito

Anna says that, nowadays, she tries her best to remain incognito

Yesterday’s blog was about the current Save Soho! campaign.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work in Soho.

Last night, she told me in an e-mail:

“I enjoyed the song about Soho. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynn club at 69 Dean Street is where I met nearly all the people who befriended me in London. It was the first place I went to look for work and I got hired immediately and then found spots in the surrounding clubs.

“In Canada we mostly worked at clubs for one week at a time but in Soho, at most clubs, we did one show at a set time and then basically the job went on forever. It seemed like some of the Gargoyle girls had been there for decades! Some seemed to have done the same show for years.

Anna spent many years in very rude health

Anna spent many years in very rude health

“I spent so many years being a pretend nurse that, to this day, I refer to nurses as ‘real nurses’. I remember one exhausted looking woman dressed like a French maid who looked so bored, clomping in platform heels clockwise and then counter clockwise. She could barely be bothered to lift her feather duster. The men did not usually applaud, being busy with their rain coats.”

Anna now lives in Vancouver, somewhere I increasingly think of as a hotbed of oddities.

“Last week on the bus,” she told me, “I saw an octegenarian lady start punching a young man who had offered her a seat on the bus.  She was wearing a long pink plaid skirt, an emerald green beret and carrying a nice cloth New York Public Library bag. People on the bus, including me, comforted the skinny, shaken young man and assured him he had done nothing wrong.

“Meanwhile, adult education is developing at a good pace here. At a meeting last night I learned that local sex workers have been training the Vancouver Police Department as well as selected urology nurses – not in the same room though.

“We also learned about the situation in Arizona, where we were told there is apparently a new law to prevent ‘self rape’.

“Everybody looked confused and asked what that meant.

“A woman explained it is what morbidly Christian Arizona calls masturbation. She said the first person charged under the new law was a teenage boy whose mother called the police when she caught him wanking. The boy was 15 when it happened on 15th November this year and is now in jail facing a three to thirteen year sentence.”

Anna looked further into the boy facing prison for self-rape, which turned up in a National Report online.

She found that “if you Google ‘Paul Horner’ there are links to that name associated with Banksy and the same name has been used in other hoaxes.”

An ideal Christmas gift marketed for those of 5+

An ideal Christmas gift from Stop Masturbation Now group

Sadly, too, a Queerty website report that, in the US, the Stop Masturbation Now organisation – which claims to be dedicated to “educating the world about the dangers of self-rape” and which has an extensive website – has begun marketing an anti-masturbation cross for your self-loved one at the bargain price of $199… is an elaborate joke.

But it is good to know that well-planned and backgrounded cunning stunts are alive and well in the Colonies.

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Filed under Canada, Humor, Humour, Sex

If alternative comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll, is storytelling the new comedy?

Natural Born Storytellers at The Lost Theatre

Natural Born Storytellers went theatrical at The Lost Theatre

Comedy clubs in the UK are said to be on the decline. But storytelling is teetering on the brink of the possibility of becoming the new comedy.

Nowadays, by and large – especially at the Edinburgh Fringe – comedians do not perform traditional gag routines. They tell stories with laughs. Some – often the more interesting – do not even tell funny stories. They tell serious stories in a way that makes people laugh. I often say that my very talented chum Scottish comedienne Janey Godley does not tell funny stories: she tells stories funny.

A couple of weekends ago, at The Lost Theatre in London, I saw a Natural Born Storytellers show – their first in a theatre. It was packed. Their normal monthly shows are at the Camden Head pub. The next is tomorrow night. It is like sitting in some Icelandic hut thousands of years ago, listening to short sagas. Fascinating and entirely successful.

Natural Born Storytellers is run by comedians Michael Kossew and Matt Price. I talked to them at Soho Theatre yesterday.

“Storytelling clubs could take off big,” I told them. “But it’s a marketing problem. The word ‘storytelling’ is not as sexy as the phrase ‘stand-up comedy’.”

Matt Price (left) and Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre

Matt Price (left) & Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre yesterday

Michael said: “If I tell people it’s a true storytelling night, they want to know more. I think the themes help to get people in.”

“We have a different theme every month,” explained Matt. “And it’s the ‘true’ element that attracts people. It’s true, alternative, raw storytelling. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Michael said: “I did Natural Born Storytellers at the Burning Nest Festival in May and I told one story. The rest of the 1 hour and 45 minutes was made up by everyone sitting round in a circle taking turns to tell their own stories. I thought This works! This really works! – in a festival environment, in a theatre environment. It works. People are really interested.”

“And in a corporate environment,” suggested Matt. “I am not lowering ourselves quite to the level of karaoke but, if you’ve ever seen a karaoke night, once one person has a go at singing, everybody else wants to have a go. We find our audiences stay behind after the show and people are telling stories. It’s a different vibe to a comedy night. Everyone has a story. It’s no different, really, to sitting round the dinner table. The difference is we are in a club and you have to walk into a building with strangers but, by the end, people become inspired and want to hear more stories and tell more stories.”

“It’s massive in America,” said Michael. “There’s a thing called The Moth.”

The Moth has taken off in the US

The Moth storytelling outfit has taken off in the United States

“The Myth?” I asked.

“The Moth,” said Michael. “It is like a fly-on-the-wall, but it’s a Moth. I’d never heard of them until we had been going a few months, but they do very similar things to us.”

“And there’s also RISK!” said Matt, “and CRINGE. I think raw and honest is the direction we want to go in although we have room for everybody – so long as their story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s what drives me mad sometimes. It’s such a simple concept and I can’t understand why some people don’t get it.”

“Even comedians?” I asked.

“Especially comedians,” said Matt.

“Surely in comedy,” I said, “comics are used to heading towards a strong end – a punchline?”

“But,” said Michael, “they are looking for laughs. They are not so comfortable with telling an eight-minute story – we have an eight-minute time limit – with no-one laughing. People can be sitting on the edge of their seats absolutely enthralled and then the comedian slips in a joke just to hear a laugh and the audience loses interest because it feels too contrived. People will laugh if it’s a funny story, but it’s a more natural laugh coming from empathy with the person telling the story. Not because there is a punch line. You don’t need that.”

“I guess,” I said, “that most of your current storytellers are comedians or showbiz people because of your contacts?”

“We’re looking to find a wider variety of storytellers,” said Michael.

“I don’t know if we want comedians, really,” said Matt.

“Some do get it,” said Michael. “They get on stage, use their normal voice and tell a story. That’s what we’re looking for. People to be themselves on stage. If you can’t be yourself, it’s going to be hard to tell a true story.”

“And you’ll hate it,” said Matt. “And the audience will hate it.”

“Eight minutes is not some arbitrary number,” explained Michael. “It’s pretty much the exact point where people will start losing interest in a short night. If you keep it to eight minutes, you’ve got them gripped the whole way through.”

“And the storytellers are restricted to the monthly theme…” I said.

Natural Born Storytellers Each month a different theme

For the last 18 months, a stage for Natural Born Storytellers

“The themes are designed to be flexible,” said Matt. “So, for example, with My Hands Were Tied there was the moral decision element, the sado-masochism element and we even had a guy who was a former escapologist who talked about the politics of being an escapologist.”

“In a future show,” said Michael, “we have a story about a man who boiled a parrot.”

“Perfect,” said Matt.

“I’m going to make up a special theme,” said Michael, “just so he can tell that story. It is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my life.”

“But,” I said, “the stories do not necessarily have to be funny.”

“Oh no,” said Matt.

“We have had people crying,” said Michael.

“It’s lovely to hear a gasp followed by a laugh,” said Matt, “and then people even crying.”

“Sounds like a synopsis of my sex life,” I said.

“There have been one or two occasions,” said Michael, “where events have happened almost too close to the person getting on stage and telling the story. To them, it’s more like venting and that’s not really what we’re about. We want a coherent story rather that a psychiatrist’s couch.”

Matt said: “We like to think of ourselves as alternative storytellers. We’re so modern, we don’t even know where we are going.”

“How can you develop it?” I asked.

“At the Camden Head,” said Michael, “we’re going to do a live podcast.”

“And,” I suggested, “although people don’t want to listen to the same jokes again and again, they will listen to the same song lots of times and still enjoy it. It can be the same with good stories.”

Chris Dangerfield’s 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show

Dangerfield’s Edinburgh Fringe show – quite a story to tell

“At the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” said Matt, “I went four times to see Chris Dangerfield’s show. The reason was because it felt like going back to listen to a really good music album. It was not radically different every night, but it took on a different tone each night. With stories, they evolve as you tell them. Some of the best stories are ones you can hear again and again and you actually gather more each time you hear them.”

“Well,” said Michael, “with any story, the more you tell it, the better you are going to get at telling it. I’m going to run a three-hour storytelling workshop starting in November – about techniques and figuring out how to elicit stories from your past and how to construct them. But every person tells stories completely differently. It’s mostly about constructing an atmosphere for sharing and constructive feedback between a group.”

“But if you can do workshops,” I said, “it implies there is no such thing as a natural born storyteller: the technique can be taught.”

“There are natural born storytellers,” said Matt, “but you may have to bring that natural talent out.”

“Some people,” said Michael, “need a little bit of coaxing out of their shell. It’s also about structure. Finding what is relevant. What is the story REALLY about?”

Can storytelling clubs ever become as widespread or as populist as comedy clubs?

At the end of each edition of BBC TV’s highly popular Graham Norton Show featuring ‘A’ List stars, he has ordinary members of the public tell stories in ‘the red chair’. If the story is not interesting enough, they get tilted out of the chair – a bit like a storytelling Gong Show.

Storytelling clubs could catch on now that the appetite for pure gag-based comedy appears to be waning.

The story told by Matt Price at Natural Born Storytellers in the Lost Theatre show is on YouTube.

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Why “Peep Show” led one American in Los Angeles to love British comedy

The current image on Naomi’s Twitter page

The current public  image displayed on Naomi’s Twitter page

I have had a Twitter account – @thejohnfleming – since March 2009 but, honestly, I have never got the hang of it. Nonetheless, people follow me – only 2,026 at the moment, but every little helps.

Naomi Rohatyn started to follow me last week. Her profile says: “Wildly unsuccessful comedy writer in LA. Aspiring to become wildly unsuccessful comedy writer in London.”

I thought this was fairly interesting as most comedy writers in London seem to aspire to be writers in Los Angeles.

Brandon Burkhart with Naomi with The Pun Dumpster site

Brandon Burkhart with Naomi with The Pun Dumpster site

But just as interesting was the fact she runs a Tumblr website called Pun Dumpster.

It is just a series of pictures of PhotoShopped graffiti on large waste containers.

So, obviously, I FaceTimed her in Los Angeles this morning.

“You like British comedy?” I asked.

Naomi via FaceTime from Los Angeles this morning

Naomi spoke via FaceTime from Los Angeles this morning

“I think the real obsession for me,” she explained, “started a couple of years ago with Peep Show. I think people of my generation in America grew up watching Monty Python… AbFab was on in the 1990s and even The Young Ones played here I think on Comedy Central in the 1990s.

“A couple of years ago I was just tootling around on Hulu and found Peep Show and now I’m obssesed. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about it. So then I became obsessed by everything David Mitchell and Robert Webb did and Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong have ever done and followed the threads. I could follow David Mitchell round all day and listen to his brilliance.”

“You know he’s taken now?” I asked. “He married Victoria Coren.”

“Yes. I hadn’t really been aware of her before. The only panel shows I’d watched were a fair amount of QI because, of course, Stephen Fry is brilliant, but then I sought out Victoria Coren’s panel show and she’s very funny and witty and… this is so embarrassing… I wanna pretend I have fine taste, but.. I was watching 8 Out of 10 Cats and she had this great riff on Goldfinger. David Mitchell and Victoria Coren are perfect for each other.”

There is a clip of Peep Show on YouTube.

“Where do you see all this stuff?” I asked. “On PBS?”

“All on my computer,” said Naomi. “On YouTube or Hulu or Netflix. All the panel shows have been on YouTube.”

“Have you got BBC America?” I asked.

“I don’t have cable. I just watch everything online.”

“Why UK stuff?” I asked.

“Part of why I love British comedy so much,” explained Naomi, “is what I perceive as bleakness in the British soul; a way of looking at the world with a knowing smirk. So much of British comedy starts from the premise that life is basically a series of humiliations and disappointments – whereas American humour is perhaps still uplifting at its core – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just doesn’t have the same gaping ennui, which is something I just love about British comedy.

Naomi Rohatyn

Naomi insists Americans hold no sole patent on stupidity

“I think we do political satire and social satire really well, but there’s still something missing – a different approach to the human experience. In scripted shows, we still tend to default to things that are ultimately uplifting or protagonists that are either utterly likeable or a a clear anti-hero – they’re not just flawed fuck-ups.

“There is also that stereotype – for a good reason – that British humour is wittier and more intelligent than some American stuff. That has a foundation in truth, though it’s not because Americans hold the sole patent on stupidity and ignorance. But I do think there’s a strange cultural rejection here for anything perceived as intellectual.

“Even if you look at something like (the British TV show) The Thick of It and (its US re-make) Veep. I feel Veep is smooth peanut butter as opposed to the chunky original.”

There is a BBC trailer for The Thick of It on YouTube.

“We do have this weird proto-populist rejection of anything that is too intelligent. In The Big Bang Theory – even though they’re supposed to be super-intelligent – it’s low-brow humour.

“When I watch Peep Show it is so grim and vérité, but then they make allusions to Stalingrad and I feel that would come off as somehow so elitist here or people simply wouldn’t get the references. It’s not part of discourse here except in academia. And there’s not such a culture of self-deprecation here as there is in Britain.”

“You’re a writer or stand-up or both?” I asked.

“I would say 90% writer and 10% performer. What I mostly am is a dork.”

“And you write for…?” I asked.

“Yeaahhh…” said Naomi. “We are still working on that.”

“What did you study at college?” I asked.

“Critical Social Thought,” replied Naomi. “Probably the subject least applicable to any actual career. It was the liberaliest arts degree one could get. Our joke was it made you even less employable than an English Major.

Naomi Rohatyn_selfie2

When she moved to LA, Naomi worked on the devil’s testicles

“When I first moved to Los Angeles (from San Diego) I started at the very bottom rung of the entertainment industry, production assisting on many horrible TV reality shows which are woven of the devil’s testicles. I did a lot of random crewing – art department, sound department, post production stuff. Then the 14-hour days started getting to me and I wasn’t writing enough, so I took a day job at a law school for a couple of years and I’ve gone in a straight downward trajectory and now I walk dogs for cash in hand to support my writing habit.

“I feel like now I have goodish contacts here in LA: a lot of friends many of whom do have representation and are legitimate, functioning, employable human beings.”

“What are you writing at the moment?” I asked.

“I’m working on a satirical travel book. A satirical guide to Britain for American travellers. All utterly worthless information – a satire on those Rough Guides.”

“Have far back does your British comedy knowledge go?” I asked. “Do you know British acts like Morecambe and Wise?”

“Yes. This was why Peep Show was such a great gateway drug because it got me into the history of the double act. That’s something we don’t have as much of.”

“Off the top of my head,” I said, “I have to think back to Burns & Allen.”

There is a clip of George Burns and Gracie Allen on YouTube.

“We had Nichols & May,” said Naomi.

“But, in the UK,” I said, “they were not really known as a double act. They were a film director and a writer and, in fact, sadly, Elaine May was not much known here.”

“That’s too bad,” said Naomi.

“Indeed it is,” I said.

“There’s Key & Peele today,” said Naomi, “but double acts seem more of a tradition in British comedy.”

There is a clip of Key & Peele on YouTube.

“I suppose there is a British tradition,” I said. “Reeves & Mortimer, Little & Large, Cannon & Ball… Do you know Tommy Cooper who, in Britain, is really the comedians’ comedian?”

“I don’t know him.”

“You wouldn’t want to live in Britain, though,” I said. “Living in Los Angeles has some advantages. For example, there is sunshine.”

“It is wasted on me,” said Naomi. “I don’t care about the weather, I don’t care about the beach. I can’t swim very well, I don’t surf, I don’t need sunshine. To me, rainy, cold, foggy miserable, dark, damp, grey Britain is perfect because it gives me an excuse to hate everyone and be in a coffee shop writing.”

“You should move to Glasgow,” I said. “You will love the weather and the fact you hate humanity will be much appreciated. If you go round being aggressive, you will fit in perfectly. In fact, if you like bleakness in the British soul… I think Scottish humour is much more dark and dour and straight-faced than English humour – Scotch & Wry or Rikki Fulton or Rab C.Nesbitt.”

“I’ve seen Frankie Boyle on the panel shows,” said Naomi, “but most of my concept of Scottish comedy – or Scottish life in general – is English comedians slagging it off – drug addicts and reprobates and fried Mars bars.”

“That is not comedy,” I said. “That is social realism and reportage.”

There is a clip from Rab C.Nesbitt on YouTube.

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