Tag Archives: variety

“Variety is Back and it’s Slightly Fat…”

“It is a marketing nightmare,” Slightly Fat Features originator Goronwy Thomas aka Goronwy Thom told me.

Wednesday to Saturday this coming week, Slightly Fat Features are back at the Leicester Square Theatre in London with The Slightly Fat Show. Six shows in four days – four evening shows; two matinees. Their blurb reads:

“Stuffed to the seams with staggering stunts, lots of laughs and orchestrated mayhem to dazzle and delight. Hard to describe until you witness it live. Suitable for kids but not a kids’ show. Cirque du Soliel meets Monty Python. This unique group has to be seen live to be truly understood!”

For once, a marketing blurb that is true.

“So why a marketing nightmare?” I asked.

“Because,” Goronwy told me, “we are straddling two things. We are a family-friendly show – it is totally clean; there’s no swearing. But, as soon as you are seen as a family show, you can lose a comedy audience, because they don’t want to see a kids’ show. And, if you are billed as a comedy show, you can lose the kids’ audience. That really has been a marketing problem for us.”

“Is that why you are doing matinees AND evening shows?” I asked.

Showstoppers do two shows,” said Goronwy. “There is Showstoppers For Kids and then there is also the normal one as well. We have done some late-night stuff and all-adult stuff. In Leicester Square, the 4.00pm shows will be very very family-based and the 7.00pm ones won’t be so much but, to be honest, the show stays exactly the same. We are straddling two things.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for the show?” I asked. “A strapline?”

“Variety is back and it’s Slightly Fat,” said Goronwy.

When I saw their show in 2014, it included juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine (presumably we won’t be seeing that again!), a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience. The show got a standing ovation from the genuinely ordinary punter-filled audience at the end.

Before that, I had seen Slightly Fat member Herbie Treehead at the Glastonbury Festival; he also performed in this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Will they,” I asked Goronwy, “be the same seven people I saw in 2014?”

“Always the same seven since 2010. But, of course, with lots of new material.”

“You been trying it out somewhere?” I asked.

“Lancaster, Canterbury, York, Sidmouth, a lot of places to run it in.”

“All seven of you?”

“Mostly. One of our members – Richard Garaghty – has been filming Tim Burton’s Dumbo. He’s been doing that most of this year, dipping in and out of our try-outs, but he’s doing all the shows in Leicester Square.”

“Where did you started Slightly Fat Features?” I asked.

“Sidmouth in Devon.”

“That’s a slightly odd place to start.”

Slightly Fat Features – extremely indescribable

“A lot of us were old friends from street performing in Covent Garden. Some had known each other since the early 1990s though I didn’t meet any of them until about 2000. Then, when I moved from London to Sidmouth, I wanted an excuse for my mates to come down, so I put on a gig. We did that again and again and brought in guest variety and speciality acts until, in 2010, we said: Let’s just do it as the seven of us.

“We did stuff at the Roundhouse in London and it went on from there. The Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Montreal in 2014. London’s West End in 2014. We all still work individually or as duos. We come together as Slightly Fat three or four or five times a year.”

“It must be a nightmare finding gaps in your schedules and getting together.”

“It is, but it’s worth it.”

“But you won’t,” I suggested, “have any creative clashes because your skills don’t particularly overlap.”

“Not really. And, since about 2013, Petra Massey has done additional direction on top of it and she acts as a sort of UN peacemaker. Where a routine ends. Certain lines. Certain gags. Looking at the bigger picture sometimes. If you get that laugh there, it might underwhelm the bigger picture. Especially with character comedy. Yeah, it DOES get a laugh, but let’s lose it so we can get a bigger laugh later on. Those kind of discussions. And avoiding in-jokes.”

“Why these seven people? Was there a conscious balancing of skills?”

“Originally, we were nine. Then one moved to New Zealand and one dropped out. I don’t think there was any conscious deciding: Oh, he’s a juggler; he’s an escapologist. It was just people who liked spending time together and developing stuff.”

“All seven of you continue to do separate street acts?” I asked.

“Yes. Apart from Robert Lee, who’s a musician. Me and Richard Garaghty have worked a lot as a double act for years now, mainly at European street festivals. And ‘booked street performing’, where you are invited to a town to perform. About a third of my work is probably still outdoor work and you can’t beat it for the immediacy and improvisation with stuff happening. It’s unbeatable for that, though you have to be careful you don’t get too stylistically lost in it.”

“How?”

“Sometimes, in order to keep an audience and sustain them and make them pay you, you have to… Well, I have seen brilliant street performers go inside on a stage in a theatre and their style needs a bit of tweaking, otherwise it can be a bit shouty. Because you have more focus from an audience in a theatre. Street performers are just talking and talking and talking and talking. In a theatre, you can get away with more quiet parts. Street style can sometimes be too fast in a theatre.”

“With seven people to divide it between, you’re not going to make money.”

“No,” Goronwy laughed. “We are seven plus a stage manager sometimes plus accommodation, travel. We are absolutely not going to be hugely rich from it. But it’s a place where we can develop material; that’s a golden thing to have.”

“Have you got a five-year plan?” I asked.

“No. My five-year plan is not to have a five-year plan.”

“I understand,” I said, “that The Boy With Tape on His Face has always had five-year plans.”

“I think it’s destined to underwhelm you – you might not get there. Or you might find it too easy to get there and it puts up a barrier I don’t think we need. But there have been discussions about whether or not we should have one – exactly because of The Boy With Tape on His Face. Exactly that.”

“Have you thought,” I asked, “about America’s Got Talent?”

“That is,” agreed Goronwy, “what Boy With Tape on His Face did. And Piff and Paul Zerdin.”

“I think,” I said, “Mr Methane, farteur of this parish, was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent. He is not German.”

“We haven’t been approached by America’s Got Talent yet,” said Goronwy, “but we have been by Britain’s Got Talent.”

“Well,” I said, “I think everyone should appear on anything and everything because you never know where things may lead, but a lot of people disagree.”

“In the professional industry,” Goronwy replied, “as far as I can tell, America’s Got Talent has got more prestige than Britain’s Got Talent; and it might break you into the States – Piff went over there and now he is touring the US.”

“The seven of you are good enough for Vegas,” I said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Music Halls

Comedy and variety in Bethnal Green + crime, stripping and porn films in Rome

Rich Rose (left, without shirt) and Gareth Ellis (right, in dress) last night

Rose (left, without shirt) and Ellis (right, in dress) last night

Things are on the up. There seem to be a rising number of comedy clubs in London which are not just putting on very samey bills of 5-male-comics-doing-stand-up. There are several now staging genuine variety nights and filling their venues.

Among them are the highly-esteemed Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead and Peckham, the occasional Spectacular Spectrum of Now shows in King’s Cross and the occasional Brainwash Comedy nights run by Ellis & Rose at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green.

I saw a Brainwash show last night, headlined by Harry Hill who, although he could be described as a straight stand-up, is considerably more weird than that.

I won’t even attempt to explain what was going on here

I won’t even attempt to explain what was going on here

Tom Ward was, I suppose, the genuine token stand-up act. Other acts on the bill were sketch trio The Birthday Girls, Neil Frost (of The Spectacular Spectrum of Now) as moustachioed Victorian ‘Gentleman Johnson’ who ended up in a boxing match with a genuinely feisty girl from the audience, Casual Violence creator James Hamilton in a double character act, Mr Susie only partially on planet Earth and Lipstick & Wax doing a standard but nonetheless astonishing magic act.

So… one stand-up, six excellent variety acts, not a dud anywhere and Ellis & Rose impressively managing to be both effective MCs and constantly anarchic in themselves.

Perhaps London comedy clubs are changing.

They certainly have to.

Joe Palermo, Italian stallion, tonight

Joe Palermo, Italian stallion, in Soho tonight

In the meantime, people are preparing potential Edinburgh Fringe shows for next year.

One of the most interesting could be Joe Palermo’s Mémoires of an Italian Stallion.

I saw an initial try-out tonight which took around 70 minutes and did not get even halfway through the story, which involves his somewhat colourful life.

From what I heard tonight and during a post-show chat at the Grouchy Club, I reckon his story might take about four hours or longer to tell – if heavily edited.

It will be interesting to see how this fits into a 55-minute Edinburgh Fringe slot. The briefest of headings would include:

  • him as a child in Italy (watching porn on TV in the back garden)
  • attempts to be a Roman teenage gigolo
  • crime and the drug trade
  • athletics
  • modelling and becoming a male stripper
  • porn movie experiences
  • encounters with ‘proper’ movie people including stories of Cinecittà, famous actors and spaghetti western people

Joe says: “The show at this stage is mainly for a male audience, however open minded women or girls are welcome.”

I told him I thought Edinburgh audiences might crucify him atop Arthur’s Seat for sexism.

But, if his Mémoires of an Italian Stallion show does make the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, it will surely be an interesting ride.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Sex, Theatre

100% successful comedy shows can get standing ovations but then fail as blogs

A statue of Charles Aznavour in Gyumri, Armenia (Well, he was really Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian)

A statue of Charles Aznavour in Gyumri, Armenia (Well, he was really Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian)

I thought I was onto a winner for today’s blog. Seeing a show AND comedy news from Germany.

It was not to be.

I once heard French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour being interviewed and asked why his songs were almost always about sad things not happy things and he explained it was because everyone is sad in different ways for different reasons but what can you say about being happy? Being happy is fairly uniform and therefore there is nothing to analyse and dissect.

In a sense, the same goes for successful stage shows. Awful stage shows are interesting to dissect and write and read about. Totally successful shows? What can you say about them? Not much. There are about ten enthusiastic adjectives of exultation you can use and that’s it without giving too much of the show away.

In this blog, I keep rattling on about how pure, straight stand-up comedy is getting a bit dull and there should be more Variety in comedy shows.

A fortnight ago, I saw the first night of Slightly Fat FeaturesVariety Soup show at the Leicester Square Theatre. It was wonderful and I did not write a blog about it…

–  partly because this is not a review blog – straight reviews are transient and of very little interest if you read them five years later (which blogs or potential e-books can be) or if you live in a different country or continent

–  partly because I had a built-up blog-jam of interviews at the time

–  partly because I had no ‘angle’ and had no idea what to say about it

A successful show is a successful show. You can only roll out adjectives.

Last night, with comedy couple Martin & Vivienne Soan, I saw Variety Soup for a second time. It was just as perfect as the first time.

An utterly brilliant script and flawless performances from seven men (only men) at the top of their performing game.

Variety Soup - Leicester Square Theatre flyer

Variety Soup – 100% successful show even with the fake dwarf

A great opening, then juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine, a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience.

Each short routine would have been a featured speciality act in the original Sunday Night at The London Palladium (before ITV ballsed-it-up in their recent re-make).

In other words, Variety Soup is a show so 100% successful I have nothing to say about it.

Well, it is 99.5% successful. There is one highly dubious routine involving a supposed dwarf cowboy. I abhor over-PC zealots and this routine was all done with such charm and originality that the audience loved it – in fact, the packed audience loved the entire show and gave it a standing ovation at the end – but, at this point, we were being suckered-by-professionalism into to laughing AT the antics of the fake dwarf, not WITH his antics.

I still feel the show was a 100% triumph, though.

Just not a blog.

Comedy news from Germany? There wasn’t enough time to ask Martin and Vivienne about their recent visit to Leipzig.

Tomorrow, I have high hopes of a proper blog.

Perhaps I will see a less-brilliant show.

Perhaps I will have tea in Mayfair with a man who did not once firebomb a house.

Life is full of surprises.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Theatre

Odd UK comic acts: teddy bear torture and the man who ate his own brain

Comic investigator Liam Lonergan

Comic academic Liam Lonergan

Starting last week, I have posted three extracts from a chat I had with Liam Lonergan for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

This is final extract:

__________

John: In the 1980s you went to alternative comedy shows and got a stand-up bloke talking about Margaret Thatcher. You got a juggler. You got a man who came on and read awful poetry. And you got a man who came and set fire to his hair or something. Lots of variety.

Whereas now if you go to a comedy club it’s stand-up followed by stand-up followed by stand-up followed by a bigger stand-up.

Liam: Variety is sort of dead, isn’t it?

John: Yeah. So you’ve got, like, five people all basically doing the same thing and there actually isn’t any variety on the bill, whereas the original alternative comedy actually had variety. The last two years at the Edinburgh Fringe I thought the funniest acts were mostly listed in the Cabaret section.

The last two years – possibly three years – there’s been a Cabaret section separate from the Comedy section and I’ve seen quite a lot of the shows and a lot of the funnier shows have actually been the cabaret section shows and not the comedy section. In the Comedy section they’re either doing straight stand-up or they’re doing quite good storytelling or they’re doing “I’m a student being wild and wacky”. God help us! If you ever see the word ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’ in a listing, avoid it like the plague.

Liam: That’s it. Toxic.

John: Whereas, in the Cabaret section, just weird things are going on. And very, very funny.

Liam: I didn’t know whether, within the dissertation articles I’m doing, to incorporate comedy revue and local theatre as well because there’s lots of that going on…

John: Small comedy clubs are closing and people are getting less interested in new comedy. You can see the big comedians with guaranteed quality in a big venue like the O2.

So why should you go to a small comedy club with acts you’ve never heard of? Acts who may be good but you’ve never heard of them so it’s a matter of luck. And, if you go to a comedy club, you’re going to get five or six people doing the same thing: stand-up. Whereas in the 1980s and early 1990s you got variety so you’d no idea what you were going to see. I mean, you would get Chris Lynam coming on and sticking a firework between his buttocks and they’d play No Business Like Showbusiness. Now THAT is entertainment.

There used to be an act who just came on and tortured teddy bears. There was a wheel of pain and the teddy bear got strapped to the wheel of pain and got tortured. Someone told me the guy is now a social worker in Tower Hamlets.

That’s what we want. That’s entertainment. Have you seen Hannibal? The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs?

Liam: The sequel to the film? Yes. Yes I have.

John: He eats someone else’s brain while the guy is still alive.

Liam: Oh, yeah.

John: There used to be a variety act in the 1980s or 1990s – someone told me he was a psychiatrist, I don’t know if he was – and he used to go round the comedy clubs with an act and the act was that he wore a fez and he had a spoon and he used to eat his own brain. He put the spoon inside the top of the fez and brought out grey stuff which he ate. And, as he ate different parts of his brain, different parts of his ability to communicate and to function disappeared. So he’d eat one part of his brain and he’d keep talking to the audience all the way through, then he starts twitching. So then he eats another bit and his speech starts to slur or the words get mixed up. It was simultaneously funny and very unsettling and scary because it like a flash forward to your own senility. You don’t get many of those type of acts anymore.

Liam: It’s a shame that’s dead because that’s the kind of stuff I’d… the audience reaction to that would be so mixed. It would be so…

John: You couldn’t altogether say it was funny but it was unsettling all the way through. It certainly wasn’t straight stand-up.

Liam: But that’s what I love. That’s what I…

John: Last year I sat through an entire evening of BBC3 comedy. There were four shows in a row. Not a titter. And I was sitting there thinking These people are sitting there trying to write a series of funny gag lines and that’s not really…

Liam: I think weird stuff can tap into humanity and the visceral reactions a lot more than the clever stuff.

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy, UK

Tablecloth maestro Mat Ricardo on comedy club barriers & juggling dogs

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo in March 2012

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo, March 2012

I first blogged about Mat Ricardo in February 2011 after I saw him do the impossible at Pull The Other One comedy club.

He performed the standard routine of pulling a tablecloth out from under real crockery…

But then, after a pause, he whipped the tablecloth back ONto the table UNDER the crockery. Since then, I have been a fan. His act is faultless; his patter is perfect.

Since February this year, he has been performing monthly shows – Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties with a full bill of genuinely top acts at the Leicester Square Theatre. He later uploads the full shows onto Vimeo.

“The viewing public have always enjoyed Variety,” said Mat. “It’s just that it’s seen as unfashionable by people who make TV shows and fund big theatre shows. It just got taken away from them. When Variety died – when the music halls closed – Variety performers didn’t stop doing what they do. They just did it in other places – Butlins Holiday Camps or the end-of-the-pier or working men’s clubs or cruise ships or on the streets like me. I earned a living for 20-odd years before the supposed cabaret resurgence happened. For a good 15 years, the majority of my income came from street performing. I’ve worked Butlins, shopping centres, festivals, cruise ships, everywhere.”

“I’m always surprised you were a street performer,” I said. “I always think of you as more classy Monte Carlo and Paul Daniels Show…”

“When I was a street performer, that was my gimmick,” said Mat. “I wore a smart suit.

“I’m not a real street performer any more in that I don’t need to do it for money in the hat, but I do love it and, if you don’t have to do it, then it becomes more enjoyable. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to be invited to street performing festivals. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done Christchurch, New Zealand; Fremantle, Australia; the Landshut Festival in Austria – also on that gig was The Boy With Tape On His Face…”

“Was he street?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mat. “Not doing that character. He did a stunt show. There was also the great Portuguese clown Pedro Tochas who mainly works theatres now.”

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome in London

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome

“And, after you finish talking to me,” I prompted, “you’re playing the Hippodrome casino in the West End.”

“Yes, the Hippodrome’s great,” enthused Mat, “because it’s got such history. It was The Talk of The Town, it was Judy Garland’s last show. You go backstage and there’s all these old programmes framed on the wall. Everyone has worked there and you feel it when you go on stage. I’m lucky enough to have played a few of the key Variety venues in this country. I’ve played the London Palladium and Leeds City Varieties and all these places you walk on and you can feel it.

“I played Leeds City Varieties a couple of months ago and you walk on that stage, you look into the spotlight and you’re seeing the exact same thing that Harry Houdini saw. That’s amazing. These venues have been refurbished, but they haven’t changed: the shape you see from the stage is still the same; the only thing that’s different is I’ve got a slightly more modern suit on.”

“The gentleman juggler,” I said.

“I consider myself as much a comedian as a juggler,” Mat told me. “And being a juggler is still seen as unfashionable. If you call a comedy club and say you’re a juggler, there’s a little pause while they giggle.

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the gentleman juggler of comedy

“I’ve got a few goals left. I’d like to get booked consistently at a high level in comedy clubs. They don’t book jugglers. The people who book the good big comedy clubs where there’s some prestige and some money think their audiences will only watch straight stand-up. They’ll occasionally book a magician who is basically a stand-up with a few tricks or occasionally a stand-up who might do a ukelele song. But it’s still quite a challenge for someone like me to get booked into those clubs. I’d like to crack that just out of sheer bloodymindedness.”

“Club owner Malcolm Hardee,” I ventured, “used to say he didn’t respect jugglers as much as comics because juggling was a skill not a talent: with enough practice, anyone could be a juggler.”

“Well,” replied Mat, “I have to tell you Malcolm Hardee saw me perform on the street in Greenwich in the early 1990s and he gave me money. So he was lying. He did like my show at least.”

“For Malcolm to give anyone money,” I said, “was a miracle and, indeed, a massive sign of deep respect,”

“He gave me a quid,” said Mat. “I remember thinking I know who you are… But that’s what you get. People say Oh, I don’t want to go see a juggler. But then, if you take them to see an act like mine – and I’m not the only one – they’ll love it.”

“You did the tablecloth act in a TV ad for Unum Insurance,” I said. “that must have given you good exposure.”

“It got me an appearance on the Jonathan Ross TV show,” Mat said, “because Jonathan saw the ad and apparently put my name into YouTube, spent an afternoon watching all my stuff and said We gotta book this guy! That’s the great thing about the internet. I didn’t need a manager to leverage me onto TV: I just had to do interesting work and upload it.

“And also Unum Insurance booked me for a bunch of their annual meetings and parties and funded the current London Varieties shows – so they’re paying everyone’s wages including mine. I couldn’t put this show on without their support. Everyone’s getting paid and getting paid well. If I book Paul Daniels, as I did last month, who is a legitimate legend, I wanna make sure he gets paid well. I pay my acts well because I expect to get paid well myself. This is a childhood dream: to have my own variety show in the West End.”

This week’s London Varieties show billing

This week’s billing for Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties

“And you set yourself a new juggling challenge each month,” I said. “Last month, I saw you juggle three cordless electric carving knives when they were switched on.”

“That was genuinely very dangerous to learn,” said Mat. “My wife Lesley did not like it.”

“And you are juggling spaghetti at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh this August?” I reassured myself.

“Indeed,” said Mat. “And for the last London Varieties show this year on 24th July, I think I might invite the audience to… it’s an old Variety gag – The Flying Karamazov Brothers revived it in the 1970s but it was an old routine before that – You get the audience to bring objects to your show – anything bigger than a grape and smaller than a breadbox. The audience then selects three of the objects and you have to juggle them. I can make two adjustments, then I have to juggle the three objects for ten throws or I get a pie in the face. There is one thing you can bring along which could screw it up – a water-filled balloon. That’s just impossible and I might disallow it.”

“I’m going to bring along a hedgehog,” I said.

“Well, on the London Varieties show this Thursday,” said Mat, I will be doing a juggling trick with a live dog.”

“What breed?” I asked.

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles, soon to be ‘tableclothed’

“Chihuahua… Piff The Magic Dragon is on the show on Thursday and has this dog, Mr Piffles, which is a chihuahua in a dragon suit. I might or might not juggle him, but I’m certainly going to put him on the table, pull the tablecloth from under him and put the tablecloth back on.”

“What if a prominent American act thought of stealing your tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“Well,” said Mat. “you can copyright an act of choreography which, technically, is what it is and all you have to do is say I copyright it, which I’ve just said. But you can waste your life trying to sue somebody and you don’t want to sue a millionaire. I did create both the effect and the technique and people know that.”

“And people have seen it and it’s on YouTube with dates,” I said.

“It’s not like writing a gag,” said Mat. “A comedian can sit down and write some jokes and just do them. I have to sit down, write something, then go off and practice it for a year.”

“How long did it take you to perfect the tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“It took me a couple of years before it pretty much worked every single time. I smashed a lot of crockery.”

“Difficult to top,” I said.

“I have a way to top it,” said Mat.

“No!” I said.

And then he told me what it was.

“Fuck me,” I said. “Jesus Christ…. Now THAT would be AMAZING…”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Juggling, Television, Theatre

How to become famous overnight on TV, according to magician Paul Daniels

An extraordinarily good variety show every month

An extraordinarily good London Varieties show every month

I went to see multi-talented Mat Ricardo’s monthly London Varieties at the Leicester Square Theatre last night – a show so good it could transfer straight to TV.

Every month, amid the hula-hoop acts, the cabaret singers, the juggling and the indescribably odd acts, Mat does a sit-down interview.

On previous shows, he talked in depth to Omid Djalili and Al Murray.

Last night it was magician Paul Daniels who told, among other things, how he got his first big break on British TV. People remember his Paul Daniels Magic Show which ran for 16 years on BBC TV, but his big break actually came on ITV.

Legendary Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp followed the success of his series The Comedians (which intercut Northern club comics doing straight stand-up) with The Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club – a series which recreated in the studio a Northern working men’s club with its whole gamut of variety acts.

The rule-of-thumb for acts on this show (and on television in general) was/is that they should run three minutes, but more was often recorded so that the producer/director could edit the best bits fast and tight.

Paul Daniels performed three magic tricks for the cameras but…

– During the first trick, he mentioned what would be in the second and third tricks.

– During the second trick, he referred back to the first trick and referred forward to the next trick.

– During the third trick, he mentioned the first two tricks.

Afterwards, Johnny Hamp came up to him and said: “I don’t know if you’re stupid or lucky… but I can’t edit that.”

As a result, instead of a 3-minute spot, Paul Daniels got a full 12 minutes on the networked peak time show.

The way Paul Daniels told it last night, he was invited back on the show and did fifteen minutes, becoming an overnight star.

Johnnie Hamp realised Paul was neither stupid nor lucky: he was very shrewd.

The extraordinarily good show I saw last night – the third of Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties’ monthly shows – will be on Vimeo in a couple of weeks. The two previous shows are already online HERE and HERE.

2 Comments

Filed under Magic, Television, Theatre

Copstick comedy audience attack + Charlie Chuck fetish + Janey Godley Twitter play + Bob Slayer bum tattoo

An extraordinary show showcasing cabaret

When I arrived in town yesterday, the first thing I did was go buy a cup of tea.

“Oh,” said the girl at the till, “I’m still confused. They put the prices up this week because it’s the Fringe and I can’t remember what’s what now.”

Welcome to Edinburgh during the Festival.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, I was in a daze. I had had two hours sleep in a layby just outside Edinburgh at 5.00am plus an hour’s sleep at 2.00pm. My rented flat has WiFi access which is, unfortunately, provided by the ever-incompetent TalkTalk. This means that all access to any Facebook or Twitter or WordPress (which hosts this blog you are reading) is blocked because.. well, who knows?

Later, crossing North Bridge on my way to the Voodoo Rooms, I saw a double rainbow over Edinburgh. This presumably means either double my luck at the Fringe or twice the shit. But it started well.

Mat Ricardo, the man who can not only pull a tablecloth OUT from under crockery on a table but who can also sweep it back UNDER the crockery again in one fast move has brought his London Varieties format to Edinburgh as the Voodoo Varieties.

This involves an admirably zealous pushing of variety acts, different top-notch cabaret acts each night, a different chat guest each night and not a stand-up comedian in sight.

I was caught unawares (left) by Ian Fox’s camera last night

Last night, this meant an audience with a high percentage of Edinburgh’s best cabaret acts in it. This also meant that, on-stage, ukelele chanteuse Tricity Vogue accidentally ended up with audience member participation from singer Lili La Scala whose own Fringe show is called Another Fucking Variety Show

I had not realised until I got there that last night’s chat guest was doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers (and fellow Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge) Kate Copstick.

After watching Up and Over It’s (Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding’s) extraordinarily rousing electro-pop hands-beating-on-amplified-table-while-physically-attacking-each-other pastiche of Riverdance style music, Copstick and I just looked at each other in awe.

Kate Copstick: “A lot of comedy audiences are muppets”

Copstick, in her own chat with Mat Ricardo was raving about Paul Provenza’s Set List, Tom Flanagan’s Kaput and the fact that “in comedy, the audience is dwindling up the arse-hole of television.

“You could have a crock of shit live on stage at one of the major venues,” she suggested, “and, if they add an As Seen on Mock The Week or Star of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow strap on the poster, it would sell out at £16 a pop. A lot of comedy audiences are muppets…

“And then you get somebody who’s dragged up the arse-end of a tour that has been every place in the UK except Edinburgh to do seven nights at the (large) EICC or somewhere. Fuck you! The Fringe isn’t the place to do that. This is the place to do new stuff, interesting stuff. Don’t just schlep up some tired old crap because you know there’s enough dumb people who’ll pay £16 a ticket for it!”

“I kind of think,” said Mat Ricardo, “that pretty much every show up here… the person doing it should be unsure of whether it’s going to work or not.”

“Absolutely,” said Copstick. “The Fringe should be where you take risks. If the Fringe can be killed, it will be comedy that kills the Fringe.”

Copstick is not big on safe comedy. She mentioned Bob Slayer’s Alternative Fringe shows at The Hive venue.

“Things don’t get much more unacceptable than Bob Slayer,” she told Mat admiringly. “I was absolutely gutted that, last night, I couldn’t go to the Alternative Fringe launch party. I had been offered free beer and, normally, that will have me flat on my back with my legs in the air. I was asked to go and tattoo someone at the launch party. I told Bob But I can’t tattoo anyone! and his reaction was Ooh no problem, no problem! He’s got a very high pain threshold!

Later last night, at the Free Festival launch party, I asked Bob Slayer about this.

Surprisingly sober Bob Slayer talked arse tattoo at the party

“It was my friend Miles Lloyd,” he told me. “Miles has got the biggest collection of terrible tattoos in the world. He is happy to be tattooed anywhere by anyone, provided it isn’t on his face or hands. It couldn’t be worse than what he’s got. He’s got a tattoo of a band that he didn’t even know. He just saw it as a logo on a skateboard and thought Oh, that looks cool. But then he found out they are a band and they are shit!”

“What did you do when Copstick didn’t turn up?” I asked.

“Well, we didn’t tattoo him.”

“You should have tattooed him yourself,” I said. “Anyone can do it.”

“Well the tattoo needle thing didn’t turn up either. We’ll get Copstick to do it at a later date. This is an open call to Copstick!” Bob started shouting. “We need you at the Alternative Fringe to come and tattoo Miles’ arse!”

Charlie Chuck to host a monthly Fetish Fair

I then checked my phone and found I had received a tweet from the monthly London Fetish Fair, which I went to a few weeks ago but did not blog about. There was a Twitpic of a poster which said:

CHARLIE CHUCK HAS GONE TO THE DARK SIDE

London Fetish Fair… The world’s longest running fetish fair & alternative cabaret party welcomes our new, iconic compere to interpret the world of the bizarre with a riotous, irrepressible hilarity. 2nd Sunday of every month, starting October 14th 2012.

I had actually gone with Charlie Chuck to last month’s Fetish Fair where he talked to them about this. (No pictures!) There had been talk, I think, of them providing a latex suit for him. I must ask him about this when he arrives in Edinburgh on Sunday.

Janey Godley’s viral sensation goes dramatically live on stage

The other thing I need to catch up on is the half-hour play based on Janey Godley’s extraordinary Twitter viral story about an overheard conversation in a train.

This is now going to be staged as #timandfreya – a special one-off, one-night-only event at the Pleasance venue on Monday 20th August, dramatised by Janey’s daughter Ashley Storrie. Their selling line is:

For one night only, the world gets to see the account of two people, one horse and an internet sensation that provoked worldwide debate on privacy laws.

Whether the real Tim is going to turn up at the performance, I don’t know. I expect details when Janey and Ashley descend on Edinburgh to overnight in my flat tonight. Pity they can’t access Twitter from it.

Lewis Schaffer at the party last night, desperate for posters

Last chat of last night at the Free Festival launch party, before I went to an early bed, was with comedian Lewis Schaffer, whose posters went missing after they arrived in Edinburgh. No doubt spurred on by Britain’s double-gold-medal win at yesterday’s Olympics and with the glittering hope of winning a second increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award, he tells me he is going to have a competition.

He says there will be a prize offered for the person correctly guessing the time and date when his misplaced Edinburgh Fringe posters will be located.

“I’m also offering a prize,” he told me, “for the best suggestion of what that prize should be.”

“What’s the prize for that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I may have another prize competition about that.”

The strange thing is that, unlike most people performing at the Fringe, Lewis does not drink much.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cabaret, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Marketing, PR, Television